Summer Jobs For Young And Old

If you’re looking for work this summer, you might just want to go to Maine.

Changes to the federal immigration laws that govern the ability of foreign workers to come to America and obtain seasonal employment have created a kind of labor shortage for cooks, waiters, bike shop workers, and other job staples during the Maine summer tourist season.   The laws permit 33,000 people to obtain visa to do seasonal work in the United States, but the way in which those workers are counted has changed.  Before, returning workers weren’t counted toward that 33,000 number; now they are.  As a result, the 33,000 ceiling has already been reached, primarily by hiring in the southern states.  Maine, where the season won’t really begin for a month or so, gets the short end of the stick.

IMG_0441Will the Maine businesses that used to hire foreign workers just close up shop?  No, of course not — because it’s not a real labor shortage until the entrepreneurs that run those businesses try to address the issue through other means.  If foreign workers aren’t available, maybe something can be done to attract non-foreign workers to fill the open jobs.  So Maine businesses are looking at offering higher wages, flexible work schedules that might be appealing to older workers, and other approaches that will allow them to get the jobs done with locals.  It’s a classic example of the law of supply and demand and the invisible hand at work (pun intended).

Of course, Maine’s elected representatives are attempting to change the law to reinstitute the exception for returning workers that will allow more foreign hiring to occur, because for local businesses it’s no doubt cheaper and easier to hire those workers than it is to recruit, train, and deal with locals who might be more demanding about pay and hours and other job conditions.  But for now, at least, opportunity can be found in Maine, if you’re a kid, or a retiree, who’s willing to serve up lobster rolls or work in a bike shop or serve as a deck hand on a tour boat in order to put some extra dollars in your pocket.

As someone who left Columbus, Ohio and spent a wonderful summer working at the Alpine Village resort in Lake George, New York in 1976 — an experience you can read about here and here — I don’t think changes in our federal immigration laws that incentivize businesses to hire local teenagers and seniors for summer jobs is a bad thing.  If the changes open the way for more American kids to get used to the concept of holding down a job, keeping the boss happy, earning a paycheck, and putting money in the bank, that’s a good thing in my book.

Board Game Indoctrination

Of course, I played Monopoly as a kid.  What American kid didn’t?  And Life, and Chutes and Ladders, and Risk.  They were fun games that everybody had, and a great way to pass the time on a cold and rainy weekend afternoon.  And, as I was moving my little tin race car or cannon around the board, trying to purchase selected properties, work out trades to establish my monopolies, build hotels before everyone else did, and then hope that other players would land on my properties and pay me lots of that colorful Monopoly money — especially those rich gold $500 bills — I wasn’t thinking that basic cultural and social training was being drilled into me with every move.

img_5823But, of course, it was.  Part of the training was just the idea of a game that had rules that you and every other player had to follow, or else the game wouldn’t work.  Monopoly players, for example, couldn’t just move their pieces to whichever spot they chose or freely take money from the bank; they had to roll the dice and count out the spaces and pay for houses and hotels to make their properties more valuable and take their medicine if they landed on Boardwalk and accept getting knocked out of the game if their money was gone.

But while kids moving their pieces around the board might not realize it, there was deeper social and cultural training, too, in the sense of what you needed to do to win the game.  If you played Monopoly, you wanted to buy property, make the most advantageous trades imaginable even if it meant ruthlessly taking advantage of your kid sister while doing so, accumulate every monopoly, drive other people out of business and into bankruptcy, and have the biggest bank account ever.  What better introduction to the American capitalist model of the world than Monopoly?  And you learned about the desired behavioral norms in other games, too.  In Life, you wanted to get that college degree and land on those pay days.  In Chutes and Ladders, you saw that if you landed on a space that showed good behavior, you could climb up the ladder to the top, but if you landed on a space where the kid had broken a window with a baseball, it was down the chute to the bottom.  And in Risk, you wanted to build armies in your corner of the world and then have them sweep across other territories until you conquered and dominated the entire globe.

I thought about the social and cultural aspects of board games when I saw this article about board games sold during the Nazi era in Germany.  When you think about it, it’s no surprise that some Nazi board games would reflect core concepts of the Nazi system.  The games feature swastikas, goose-stepping and Seig Heiling soldiers, and heroic defense of the Fatherland, and encouraged players to plot attacks on the English coast, shoot down Allied planes, or defeat troublesome Jews.  What kid growing up in Germany playing these games wouldn’t be subconsciously channeled into specific, officially sanctioned ways of looking at the world?  And the same is true of the early Soviet Union, which featured games like Electrification, Revolution, Reds vs. Whites, and Maneuvers:  A Game for Young Pioneers, all of which tackled pressing issues that the country was confronting in the ’20s and ’30s and indoctrinated the players in the accepted, official view of those issues along the way.  (Presumably people didn’t have to pay for the communist games.)

It makes you wonder what the board games in North Korea, Iran, or ISIS-controlled territories look like.  I’m guessing that, in North Korea these days, they play a lot of their version of Risk.

Feet Off The Furniture!

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway has come under fierce criticism on social media after a picture showed her perched on one of the couches in the Oval Office, with her feet tucked under her.  Close-ups showed that she was wearing shoes at the time, and her heels were digging in to the fabric.

TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-TRUMPGasp!

Critics said she was being disrespectful of the Oval Office through her pose and her treatment of the furniture.  Conway says she meant no disrespect, and her defenders say she was just getting ready to use her phone to take a photo of President Trump meeting with leaders of historic black colleges.  They also cite pictures of President Obama with his feet up on the desk in the Oval Office.  (And, of course, it’s not just any desk, it’s the famous Resolute desk made from timbers of the British vessel  H.M.S. Resolute and presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880, and therefore presumably has a lot more history going for it than the sofa on which Conway was perched.)

Only one month or so into the new Administration, and already we’ve reached the point of arguing about treatment of furniture!  Hey, I know — let’s call it “Sofagate”!

desk1Maybe some of the angst about the furniture in the Oval Office comes from people whose parents were hyper-concerned about maintaining the condition the furniture in their home, and covered it with uncomfortable plastic slip covers for daily use so the furniture would always look brand new for company.  These were the people whose mothers were always yelling “feet off the furniture!” when you went over to their house as kids.  Other people, like the Webners, grew up in households where furniture was not viewed as a some kind of sacred item and putting your feet up on the coffee table, or stretching out on the sofa to watch TV, was a perfectly acceptable practice and a little wear and tear on the couch and chairs was to be expected.  And still other people recognize that putting your feet up on a wooden desk is different than putting shoe-clad feet up on a fabric-covered sofa.

This is a classic example of the kind of tempest in a teapot that makes Washington so baffling and weird, with people with an inside-the-Beltway mentality consciously trying to blow little things up into huge disputes.  It’s gotten worse in the social media age, where Twitter allows anyone (including our new President) to immediately make snide comments about anything and everything and create purportedly hilarious “memes.”

In the grand scheme of things, shoes with heels on an anonymous sofa, even one in the Oval Office, aren’t that big a deal.  With President Trump in office, there’s lots of meaningful, substantive stuff to argue about.  Can’t we at least focus on that, rather than feet on the furniture?

Changing Over Time

Here’s some welcome, but not especially surprising, news:  scientists have concluded that our personalities change over time.

seniors_teensThe University of Edinburgh did an interesting study that confirms what should be obvious — people in their teenage years are a lot different from those same people as geriatrics.  The study looked at data compiled about the personality and character traits of people who were evaluated in 1947, at age 14, as part of the Scottish Mental Survey, and then tried to track down those same people down years later, when they hit age 77, to evaluate them again.  The study looked a personal qualities like self-confidence, perseverance, stability of moods, conscientiousness, originality, and desire to excel, and found very little correlation between the 14-year-olds and the 77-year-olds on the conscientiousness and stability of moods qualities, and no correlation on the others.

Any study of personality and character traits is not going to be as precise as, say, measuring the flow or neutrinos, because of observer bias.  The University of Edinburgh results, for example, rely on teacher assessments of the 14-year-olds — it’s not hard to imagine that your gym teacher might have a different take on self-confidence than your English teacher, for example —  and the 77-year-olds rated themselves and identified a close friend or family member to complete the survey.  I imagine, however, that by age 77 most people are going to drop the posturing and evaluate themselves pretty honestly.

So life, and time, change you.  No surprise there!  It would be weird indeed if a lifetime of experiences, good and bad, didn’t actually alter the way you reacted to other people and the world at large.  I carry around memories from my 14-year-old self, but other than that I don’t really feel a great connection to that awkward, tubby, dreamy, self-absorbed person on the verge of high school — which is kind of a relief, really.  I imagine that if most of us met our 14-year-old selves, we’d find it fascinating, but then conclude that we really weren’t all that likable back then, and give our parents, siblings, and friends a lot more credit for putting up with us.

The key, of course, is to change for the better.  It’s a worthy goal.

My First Phone Number

The other day the Jersey Girl and I were discussing the wonderful movie Lion, and specifically the part where a five-year-old boy, suddenly finding himself in a strange city a thousand miles from home, was unable to communicate his home town or his mother’s name — but nevertheless could fend for himself and survive for months.

Could we have done the same?  As five-year-olds, would we also have been unable to communicate to the authorities about how get us home?

rotaryphone-jpeg-size-custom-crop-755x650I’m quite sure that, at the age of five, I didn’t possess the kind of hardiness, stoicism, and long-term survival skills “Saroo” showed in Lion.  (After all, he and his brother were out stealing coal from trains and using other techniques to try to help feed their family, and I was just growing up in a small but tidy house in Akron, Ohio.)  But, I did have one thing that Saroo apparently lacked — my mother drilled all of the little Webners relentlessly, so we would memorize our names and our phone number.  Even as a small boy, I knew my name, my street, my city, and that seven-digit number that someone could call to let my parents know where I was.  And, in fact, when I went wandering around the block on one occasion, I told the nice people who found me my phone number, and they called and Mom came and got me.

Even now, 55 years later, that same phone number comes immediately to mind.  I can’t remember the phone numbers I had in my college apartments, or when Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C., or in our first homes after moving back to the Columbus area, but I remember that first phone number with ease.  It’s as if the drilling with Mom at the kitchen table as I ate another bowl of oatmeal on a cold winter morning engraved that phone number into the deepest synapses of my brain, where it can never be erased.

Of course, it’s totally useless information now — but still, it’s kind of comforting to know that I still remember something from so long ago.  Mom did a pretty good job.

End Of The Circus, Start Of The Circus

The Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it will make its last performance in 2017.  Home to acrobats, trapeze artists, clowns, high wire acts, men fired from cannons, ringmasters, jugglers, elephants, bareback daredevils, and lion tamers, the self-described “Greatest Show on Earth” has been thrilling Americans for 146 years.

11036258_903260603028849_2049055517179799220_nIt’s another American institution clanking to an end.  Once, people in America were excited when the circus train rolled into town, with a circus parade down Main Street to let everyone know that it was time to come out to some nearby lot, sit under the Big Top, smell the sawdust, eat some peanuts, and watch the spectacle.  But tastes change, and the organizers of the circus have cited those changing tastes, reflected in declining attendance, as one of the reasons for the end of the circus.  Other reasons include high operating costs and the impact of a long dispute with animal rights advocates about using animals in the circus — a fight that ended with the decision in 2015 to cease using elephants in the show, which itself caused a significant drop in attendance.

I remember going to the circus when I was young.  I wasn’t one of those kids who dreamed about running away to the circus and romanticized the itinerant life of circus performers, but I did enjoy the show, and so did UJ and my grandparents.  I remember the bustle of the place, and the constant activity in the three rings, and the awesome sight of the people way up on the flying trapeze so far overhead.  I also remember the distinctive smell — a wild, heady combination of animals, dust, and human sweat, all charged with a kind of electricity running through the crowd when one of the more hazardous acts was being performed.  Now, though, kids apparently don’t have the same attention span; they won’t sit still for the hours needed to watch the full run of the circus show and end up fiddling with their cell phones and texting their friends.

It’s ironic, too, that the real circus is announcing its end just as the Trump Administration is getting ready to take office.  Based on what we’ve seen in the run-up to Inauguration Day, from both the new President and his Administration, its protesters, and its diehard opponents, American politics is going to be a wild, death-defying ride, full of surprises and unexpected actions at every turn.  Who knows?  Maybe these days we can only deal with one circus at a time.

Square Dancing

The educational training I received from the American public school system included civics, algebra, English, and . . . square dancing.

At some point in my late grade school/early junior high years, the kids in my class were told that we were going to learn square dancing.  School administrators, apparently taking seriously the rampant boy talk about girls having “cooties,” concluded that the boys and girls in the class needed to interact in a social setting.  I suppose we could have learned ballroom dancing, or formal etiquette, but given the fundamental awkwardness of all boys that age, school administrators wisely decided to aim low.

3b2dea14b304989b0e9860ee74e27605So we were trooped into the school gymnasium, boys lined on one wall and girls on the other.  The male and female gym teachers then showed us what we were supposed to do as another teacher called out the steps.  Bow to your partner.  Bow to the corner.  Do si do.  Allemande left!  Allemande right!  Swing your partner.  Promenade!

The teachers acted like they were having fun, but the boys in the class viewed it all with doubtful suspicion.  Couldn’t we just go outside and play tackle football?  But then, before we knew it, the boys and girls of the class had to actually line up and do the square dancing themselves.  The boys, faces burning because they were holding a girl’s hand, stomped around in a grim exhibition of poor coordination, trying not to step on the girl’s foot, trip somebody during the “allemande,” or stumble during the “promenade.”  Of course, it really was kind of fun, but no kid was going to admit that.  So the boys groaned whenever the next square dancing class was announced, and then secretly hoped that they got to dance with the girl they kind of liked.  And then some wisecracker in the class said “Swing your partner round and round, put her in the toilet and flush her down,” and everyone laughed and the spell was broken.

Do they still teach square dancing to kids?