Check Out the Other Me

The truth is, I don’t have as much to say as I thought. I find that most of what I really think about winds up on my other blog, claudiaputnam.com. So, while you’re welcome to scroll through the rants and constructive proposals (some of them quite good, I think) here, you may want to follow my deeper, more reflective side over there. The other blog feels like the me-er me. Not saying I’ll never show up here again, so I’ll leave this up for now.

An Opportunity for Clean Coal

People say there’s no such thing as clean coal, but there is a such a thing as cleaner coal. Coal gasification plants convert coal to gas, and emit much less carbon than regular coal plants. The Bush Administration made much of this—then permitted around 30 coal plants in the American West, none of which were gasification plants.

The rationale? Too expensive. These plants do cost more to build, and of course, that drives up the cost of power, which in turn drives up the cost of most everything else. Coal is one of the cheapest sources of electricity we have. In a recession, who wants to pay more for such a basic commodity?

But now we have a major opportunity to clean up our air, one the Obama Administration, the Democrats—and everyone else, really—might be hypocritical to miss.

As I mentioned in my last post, China, India, and other rapidly growing third-world economies are making a bid to buy U.S. coal. Which means coal prices are going up anyway. If that’s the case, why not say no to foreign buyers, build the gasification plants—build even more of them than we planned, and consume more of our own coal? Our own demand would compensate U.S. suppliers.

And then, while we’re generating all that extra capacity, why not hook it up to some factories to build some wind turbines and solar panels for the large-scale production we’re going to need not too far down the road?

U.S. consumers are going to take a hit in coal prices either way. We might as well channel that production domestically and gain the benefit of cleaner air and a direct investment in the coming switch.

A Dear John Letter to the Democrats

You’ve taken me for granted, haven’t you? Women have been a core constituency of yours and now we’re deserting you. Wondering what you did wrong? I heard you were telling yourself we wanted to spend more time with the girls—you know, Sarah Palin and the other cool chicks—but that’s ridiculous. We didn’t even like girls like her in school.

You and me, we never got married. I always stayed unaffiliated, but all the same, I never voted for anyone else. I never even dated anyone else. I’m not sure I’ve ever even slept with a Republican. It just didn’t sound like any fun.

So, I won’t be voting for them, even if you tell me it’s the same thing. But for the first time in my life, I don’t think I’ll actually be voting for many of you. I know, I know. I’ve heard all the arguments about opting out of democracy. I’ve even made them time and again. But I think I’m going to try celibacy for a while. Wake me up when it’s over.

Oh, you’re asking why? Well, you never call, you never write. Then, every six months or so, you send this slick, handsome guy to sweet talk me, on TV usually, or on a whirlwind tour though my state. He’s hot all right, and he says all the right things. But it’s always too little, too late, and (in)actions speak louder than words. Mom always said so, and you know what? She was right.

One thing I’ve noticed about you, and the same is true about the other party, is that you don’t know or care about the middle class. Oh, you get the poor, and you get the rich, but you don’t get me. When you talked about healthcare, you were all about insuring the poor. Don’t get me wrong, I think they need access to medical care, and I guess it’s all just as well, because by the time you get around to me, I’ll be among them anyway.

I just read that China and India will be buying up U.S. coal, and apparently you will allow this to happen. That means the cost of power will go up, which means the cost of everything will go up for middle-class people like me. Of course, I would like it if we didn’t need so much coal, but I can’t trust you to be effective at leading the switch to renewables. And anyway, we need our coal today in order to manufacture enough wind turbines and solar arrays to deliver our future power needs. I was expecting you to have started doing way more of that already, by the way. Selling off our coal advances neither economic nor environmental recovery, and it shows how little attention you are paying to anything.

You might not have been the one who got me into this mess, but you sure kicked me when I was down, and I’m not going to forgive you. I’m going to the polls, because I believe in voting, but I won’t be voting for most of the mainline candidates.

I saw an ad from recently from the Democratic party with a bunch of people saying how they “just can’t” vote for a Republican senatorial candidate in Colorado. Neither can I. But I just can’t support you, either.

I can’t stand being taken for granted.

Withholding Benefits on New Hires

This’ll be a short post because I’m nearly speechless. It’s bad enough to be without a job. But it turns out people who are finally getting them are being told that there’s a waiting period before they can have benefits. Three, and in some cases, six months. Before they can have health insurance.

I’ve experienced this practice with 401(k)s, and that was obnoxious enough, with all the job hopping we’ve had to do in the past 10 years and the spottiness this has led to regarding our retirement savings. But health insurance? Um, what are people and their families supposed to do? It’s pretty hard as it is with companies not paying for dependent premiums, which can run  to outlays of $700-$900 per family per month (think of all the college savings that’s not happening because of this), which if you’re a teacher or work in public child welfare or something can eat close to half your salary.

Meanwhile, what are these families supposed to do if something happens in those first months on the job? And how are they covering prescription meds, especially if their savings have been exhausted by long periods of unemployment and COBRA expenditures? I was just wondering, because this new-hire situation just happened to someone I know and I’d never heard of it before.

I’ve got a feeling that #hcr is not going to address this issue.

Longer Life Spans and Social Security

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Again, they’re talking about increasing the age of social security payouts—to age 70, it’s been proposed, for those born in 1968 or later. Which means that any moment now the discussion will shift to those born in 1965. Then 1963. This is because we’re all living longer.

They say. This is based on the fact that baby boomers are living longer.

They say. Because the Greatest Generation lived pretty long.

It’ll all get better for each generation, because progress is a given in America.

Right. Here’s why I have my doubts that my generation (X-Boom cusp) will either live as long or be as healthy when we get there: 

  • We don’t have wives
  • We don’t have steady, secure jobs, so we’re spiking cortisol at the wrong time in our lives and building up lots of arterial and brain plaque
  • We work much harder, with longer hours and with shorter and fewer vacations (jeez, some of our parents took entire months at the lake or the Cape)
  • We don’t have time to work out or cook the way we used to, even 10 years ago, because of outsourcing and other demands at work—so even when we think of ourselves as fit and healthy, we’re probably not
  • We had children much later and no one knows the long-term effects of this on hormone balance, sleep patterns, and life span
  • We suffer from unprecedented levels of sleep deprivation, estimated to kill you about 10 years earlier
  • We take tons of prescription drugs for reasons no one in our parents’ generation ever even heard of, and again no one knows how this will affect us long-term
  • Obesity and diabetes are rampant, and while some of us may want to distance ourselves from those who make “lifestyle choices” associated with these conditions, this will nonetheless mess up our overall actuarials
  • Pollution, fertilizers, genetic modifications, pesticides, and general soil depletion will have unknown consequences

I see no reason to assume that the longer life spans currently enjoyed by today’s retirees can be projected for younger generations. And even if, by some streak of luck, we do live as long, there are a host of genetic issues that healthy lifestyle choices can’t change, including hearing impairment and vision degeneration (healthy choices, such as running, can even cause joint damage), and that insurance agencies and employers may not want to underwrite.

The Boomers and the Greatest Gen got to retire a few years before their quality of life was affected by these conditions, and they ran around on our tab. I hope we can enjoy a few years of retirement also, before we go blind, deaf, and lame.

By most accounts, we’ve worked harder than they did, and harder than GenY is likely to.

The End of Men? Don’t Be Silly. We’ll Save Ya.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent Atlantic cover story about the End of Men. Even Stephen Colbert brought the author, Hanna Rosin, on his show. Most of the commentary on the Atlantic site seems to indicate that readers never got past the title and assumed the article was hostile toward men, rather than concerned about them.

(Look. I have a son who just applied to colleges that are all 60% female. Don’t think for one second that I’m not concerned, even pissed, about this. More on that another time.)

But actually, the article, which argues that men are falling behind at work, on the homefront, and in school isn’t anti-men. If anything, at least how I read it, it’s a little melancholic. Rosin argues that certain male behaviors and perhaps attitudes have made them less adaptive to the post-industrial (and, I would suggest, post-agricultural, post-hunting, post-military) economy.

When it comes to Rosin’s assertions about women’s greater “adaptability,” here’s my hypothesis: women are currently rocking because of always having been Plan B. When you’re the fallback, you cannot fail. Men went off to war, and the women stayed behind. Women had to do women’s work and men’s work. Women had to rig up systems for the heavy lifting. Work arounds, whatever it took.

If the village got attacked, women had to fight off the invaders. If women got raped, women had to survive. If the invaders moved in, women made accommodations. If there was plague, women nursed the survivors. sadler

If women lost children, women coped. If husbands lost jobs, women went to work. Women dealt, and dealt, and dealt. Of course that makes you more adaptable.

Whereas men had the option of dying/being killed, going insane, becoming drunks, losing their jobs. Failure was always an option.

That’s the simple version, and it wasn’t always that simple. Of course there men who coped.

But for most of history, women have been Plan B.

In the fallback role, you learn to adapt because you have to. You learn to be less specialized. More versatile.

(For more on the above photo, check out this cool blog: http://thefbomb.org/2009/07/wwii-women-pilots-honored/)

This hallowed multitasking ability of women? I don’t for one minute believe that men can’t multitask, or that women are naturally better.  I sucked at it till I had a kid. Then I had to learn. I noticed that my ex-husband later married someone who was even worse at multitasking than I was. Nowadays he drives down the road talking on a cell phone, steering with his knees, jotting notes. AND handing toys and bottles to his two toddlers in the backseat. (Get off the road when you see him coming.)

But when he was married to me? He would sit in the kitchen drinking a beer, after his “hard” day, watching me as I prepared dinner, changed a diaper, carried on a phone conversation (with his mother, probably), and mapped out a strategy for stopping an environmental catastrophe involving a local gold mine, all while shaking his head and claiming he could never do all that at once.

Yeah, right. 

So, according to me, one reason why men may not have been able to adapt to the “new reality” is that women have been backing them up. I’m not sure this is going to get better, unfortunately, with the current trend in helicopter parenting. I’ve read articles about mothers—professional women—who drive hours to do laundry for their sons at college, as if these women didn’t have enough to do. And I’m judging them for that.

Judging us all.

Workplace Health? It’ll Bring Out My Inner Teen

A recent employee satisfaction survey sent me back to 7th grade. To those awful memories of standing in the gym in PE, waiting to be the last one picked for a team.

I love my employers, and I think it’s great they take the time to ask us what we think of working for them. The section of the survey that upset me was a very small part about how to encourage employee participation in initiatives designed to improve health. Would we like to join teams? Internal teams or cross-company teams? Or just submit to regular blood pressure and weight monitoring?

The whole concept made me feel so deeply exhausted. Let me count the ways.

  1. Instead of using my free time to meditate or go for a nice walk by a stream, must I now feel obligated to push and strive during my down time, too?
  2. Isn’t this yet another way for older people, and older women in particular, to be discriminated against? What I mean is, my numbers are never going to be as good as a 25-year-old’s, so why would you pick me for your team? This goes whether you’ve already hired me or not.
  3. To build on that point, if you’re worried about the numbers, and you’ve got women closing on 50 on your team, be afraid. To maintain weight at my age, I need to exercise at least an hour per day—not counting driving to the gym, showering, changing, driving back, and fitting in lunch. To maintain vitamin D levels, I’m supposed to get 20-30 minutes of sunshine in a state of maximum undress, every day, preferably at a southern latitude. According to my chiropractor, apparently real sun is better than supplements, or fake sunlamps, and it should be on my whole body, not just my face. According a printout my doctor gave me from the local sleep clinic, I also should sleep 8-10 hours, and I should do this in line with my personal circadian rhythms, which happen to be from around 2 AM to noon. I should also minimize stress, do yoga, meditate, and eat organic meals prepared from scratch. Is my company going to give me all the extra time I need for this? Are the younger folks on my team going to be okay with it?

This all leads me to another point. Which is mounting workplace stress.  I hardly know anyone, young or old, who isn’t taking psychotropic meds—antidepressants, mood stabilizers, benzos, and whatnot—just to cope with what their jobs or schools are asking of them. How does that affect healthcare costs, I wonder? And how does workplace stress affect eating, blood pressure, sleep patterns, etc? Many of these questions have  recently been raised quite eloquently by Marc Ambinder in the The Atlantic.

It’s not realistic for companies to address all these factors. In the Secret Pulse of Time, Stefan Klein does discuss how some European companies are trying to accommodate circadian rhythms…ah, Europe! IBM has on-premises exercise facilities,  but friends who work there say they never have time to use them. Friends who used to work at StorageTek said the same.

The last time I remember having work-life balance was during the dot-com boom, when although we had crunch periods in which we put in 70-hour weeks, we mostly could get our work done in 40 hours. And as part of company policy, no meetings were scheduled from 11 AM to 1 PM, and everyone from the CEO on down was out on the Boulder Creek Path or at the local climbing gym (where had a corporate membership). That is to say, the company culture protected our health through and through, rather than just nagging us about it.

But the key, I think, was the 40-hour week. That’s hardly the norm anymore. (Incidentally, I love everything else about my job, and expanding pressures to work harder and longer are often outside the immediate control of our actual bosses and companies.)

It’s not that I’m not willing to take responsibility for my own health. I work from home on a treadmill desk (I built my own; it’s uglier but cheaper than the one depicted here; and it’s bullshit that you lose the weight this guy claims—or maybe you only do if you’re a guy). I go outside as much as my workday allows, which is less and less often. I’m a backcountry skier, which means that I climb my own mountains to ski them. But I’m also getting tired. I find that it takes a little longer to write an email, which means that when I have 20 to write before leaving for the gym, I might miss my weights class. I have less of that edge to ride myself that much harder. These days I’m just more attracted to that nice walk by the stream than I am to a sweaty spin class.

Asking me join a team and spend my dwindling free time huffing and puffing isn’t going to help me bring my numbers in line. It’s  just more likely to add to stress levels and turn me back into a sullen pre-teen.

You can make me join the team, but I see it as a sure-fire recipe for a lunch of 3 Musketeers bars.