Wednesday, January 24, 2007

On finding a job in an uncivil society:

I believe we are witnessing the decline of civil society. I have quite a few reasons for thinking this way, but what’s on my mind today is the modern job search. Once-- not so long ago-- if you submitted a resume to a prospective employer, you had to have it printed on fancy paper and send it, along with a tailored cover letter, via the mail to a “sir “or “madam” and follow up with a phone call. And no matter how pitiful your resume, that sir or madam had to send you a letter saying, “we are in receipt of your credentials and if we are interested you’ll hear from us soon.” If you didn’t hear within, say, 3 months you could assume that your stuff was in the circular file.

I used to think all these formalities were kind of silly. Recently however, I’ve begun a job search after many years of not being out there. While I’ve been teaching and mommying, the protocol has apparently changed. Web postings for job openings say that electronic submissions are preferred. In a lot of ways this is actually easier for the applicant as well. So I send all my hard work out into the ether bound for someone known only as “Hiring Manager“: my labored cover letter, a resume I’ve customized for this particular employer and a writing sample from the last incarnation of my fundraising career that I’ve dug out of my basement or resurrected from a previous hard drive. Can I expect to hear that they’ve received my credentials? Despite the fact that the information age has also brought the option of an automatic response to any message received by Hiring Manager’s box, I hear nothing. Can I call to confirm that my application has successfully navigated the fiber optic cable between here and there? “No phone calls please.” Or worse, no mention of whether calls are frowned upon. It’s just very difficult to find a number for Hiring Manager and my instincts say s/he doesn‘t want to be bothered.

Today I got an email from Hiring Manager at one office saying “we got your credentials…” I haven’t had an interview yet, but if I have a choice, this place is already my first. Call me old fashioned but I still believe that when one is making a first impression in the world of work, she should put her best foot forward, be over-polite, wear a suit (and stockings even in summer), send acknowledgements. And that goes for the human beings on both sides of the interview table.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

[Letters Never Printed] On misinfotainment:

My husband and I wrote this letter to NBC and the Boston Globe soon after the West Wing episode "King Corn" aired in January 2005. The West Wing is not the only program that has misrepresented Turks and other muslims. I'm posting this now because I think the information and opinions here are still relevant and may be new to some writers, producers, TV viewers and blogwatchers.

You can rent Season 7 of The West Wing including "King Corn" from Netflix. I've provided a link below.

We enjoy The West Wing and generally find its treatment of issues intelligent, which is why its characterization of Turkey in a recent episode was particularly disturbing.

In “King Corn” (January 26, 2005), news broadcasts told of a Turkish woman who was to be executed by beheading as punishment for adultery. This storyline was obviously meant to evoke a recent real-life news item about Turkey’s debate of a proposed law that would make adultery a crime. The fictional case strays too far from the real one, however. (The proposal was later dropped and it certainly never called for execution as punishment.) The West Wing irresponsibly portrays Turkey, which is a modern, secular democracy, as an Islamic state engaging in the kind of barbarism being used by terrorists but which many Americans wrongly associate with Islam itself. Americans who know little about Turkey might believe this case is either real or really indicative of the kind of country Turkey is. In fact Turkey has not executed anyone since the early 80's. (How many have been executed in the U.S. since then, I wonder?) As part of its bid to gain admission to the European Union it moved to ban the death penalty completely 2 years ago.

Turkey’s population is 99% Muslim but it is not a religious state. It has a secular parliamentary system modeled on European governments. Turkey once had a female Prime Minister and has many female representatives in its parliament. Women can choose whether to cover their heads and many do not (in fact, women are not allowed to wear head scarves on the campus of a state university or while working in a government office). Women can divorce and remarry freely. Turkey is an important long time ally of the U.S. and is proof that “Islamic country” and “democratic country” are not mutually exclusive identities.

West Wing is a drama and its producers may choose to fictionalize real events to lend maximum drama to the show. But if they do this, they need to invent country names as well as events-- they did this with “Qumar,” which is Iraq thinly disguised. In our society, where entertainment and news are so often indistinguishable from one another, it is irresponsible to give the impression of telling the truth while leaving a perception that is outright false and damaging to the image of a people.

Netflix: West Wing Season 7, 2005 (including "King Corn")

[Letters Never Printed] On nanotechnology:

My dad was an avid writer of letters to the editor rife with $10 words. Of course, he got published-- often. I, on the other hand, am a many time reject. In honor of my dad and as part of a series I'm calling "Letters Never Printed," I'm posting letters to the editor that should see the light of day since I bothered to open my dictionary...

The links to the Brown Alumni Monthly and the Boston Globe articles are below. (The Globe article was actually entitled, "What do Pants and the Space Shuttle Have in Common?") There's also a link to The Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies which offers a list of products that contain nanomaterials.

As I read "Mass.'s Nanotech Rivals are on the Move" in Monday's Business section, an article that touts the positive aspects of nanomaterials while it discusses their potential for improving Massachusetts' economy, I kept waiting for Hiawatha Bray to get to their possible negatives. Nanomaterials are completely new and while they have many advantageous properties, much remains unknown. According to "The New Atomic Scientists" by Emily Gold Boutilier in the Brown Alumni Magazine (September/October 2006), what is known is that at least some of these materials bear a resemblance to asbestos-- "they are the right size to be inhaled, they are unlikely to be broken down by the body and their needle-like shape could damage tissue." Carbon nanotubes have even been found to "cause lung irritation and granulomas in animals." Scientists at Brown University have made researching the risks an integral part of their work with nanomaterials. So serious are their concerns that they will only work with these materials using rules for chemical hygiene and hoods or respirators. Some of these same materials may be in your golf clubs, your chinos, your sunscreen, face powder, paint, air sanitizer-- nearly 300 consumer products that are already being sold. I am guessing consumers are not wearing respirators while spraying air sanitizer!

I am disappointed that the Globe neglected this important part of the story. As usual, the money that can be made from a new product is taking precedence over human health. No matter what the potential revenues for universities, industry and the state, I believe we need to exercise extreme caution in the use of nanomaterials. Until the government does more to protect consumers from the possible risks of nanomaterials, I hope readers will access (where the Woodrow Wilson Center's Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies has posted a list of products containing nanomaterials) and protect themselves.

Source: "What do pants and the space shuttle have in common?" Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe, 11/13/2006

Brown Alumni Monthly: "The New Atomic Scientists" Sept./Oct. 2006

Sunday, January 21, 2007

On banning tag:

Recently there was a story on WBUR's Here and Now about schools in Massachusetts banning tag at recess because it caused so much conflict among students.

Click on the link below to listen to the story.

Tag has been around for as long as anyone can remember and never had to be banned before. I think the problem today lies not with the game but with the schools and parents who provide only organized, supervised activities.

I am a 2nd Grade Teacher in the Boston Public Schools (currently on maternity leave). Unfortunately schools today are (under extreme pressure from the government) pushing harder and harder on academics with the youngest kids at the expense of free play. From my teacher education in child development I know that free play is how children learn to set and follow rules, to be fair, to treat others as they wish to be treated-- literally how to get along. There's no better way to teach them than through play since they learn by their own experience in a context that matters to them. In fact there may be no other way. When kids miss opportunities for free play in their pre-school, kindergarten and elementary years, they can become the agressive, "hyper" bullies who are causing schools to ban tag.

Here & Now Story : "Schoolyard Game Banned" 10/20/2006