Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This Recession Is a Killer

Earlier today, I came across some jolting news -- "Early Data Suggest Suicides Are Rising":
[T]he number of suicides in the U.S. crept up during the worst recession in decades... The precise reasons for the rise in suicides aren't yet known. But suicide rates have historically risen during tough economic times, when unemployment is high, suicide experts say....

"We're hearing from people who might not have sought help before," said John Draper, project director [for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline]. Some crisis centers note that financial problems outpace depression as reasons for the calls, he said. "There's a lot more anxiety and fear related to paying bills and finding a job. Certainly there's some hopelessness about the future...."

The number of suicides tends to rise with a state's unemployment rate, said Christopher J. Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who has studied the health effects of recessions. His research suggests that for every one percentage point increase in a state's unemployment rate, the number of suicides increases 1.3%.
Good to know, living in a state with an 11% unemployment rate. And what about "suicide expert"? There's some job. (All jokes aside, those verses from the Moody Blues' "Question" keep playing in my head: "In the grey of the morning, my mind becomes confused, between the dead and the sleeping and the road that I must choose.")

I'm reminded of mass suicides in history -- where things get so awful, suicide becomes a preferable route. Consider (as Wikipedia does) Masada and Okinawa:
  • The rampart [assault ramp] was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April 16. When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery or execution by their enemies.
  • With the impending victory of American troops, civilians often committed mass suicide, urged on by the Japanese soldiers who told locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, wrote in 2007: "There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide. There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers (to blow themselves up)."Some of the civilians, having been induced by Japanese propaganda to believe that U.S. soldiers were barbarians who committed horrible atrocities, killed their families and themselves to avoid capture. Some of them threw themselves and their family members from the cliffs where the Peace Museum now resides.
With the recession as bad as it is, it's no wonder that Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), like crisis centers, are getting more calls. Surveys conducted by EAP provider ComPsych found that
  • Some 92 percent of employees say financial worries are keeping them up at night... Only 8 percent of employees described themselves as “not worried.”
  • More than half of U.S. workers said their work atmosphere felt worried due to the economy... Of respondents, 16 percent described their workplace as "panicky....""Workers are shouldering more work due to layoffs, and finding it difficult not to be distracted by future uncertainties," said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. "We have seen a record number of calls for on-site counselors due to layoffs as well as requests for ongoing stress management counseling."
If it's this lousy for folks who are working, you can imagine how stressful it is for people who aren't. You'd think, if a company had any heart, they'd at least extend EAP services to individuals who are let go. Consider this proposal from Perspectives, another EAP provider:
EAPs can help HR executives design a plan that meets the organization’s objectives while treating employees with compassion, consideration and respect. That plan may include transition tactics, having an EAP counselor on hand to help mitigate the downsizing effort and extending EAP benefits to the departing employees at no cost to them.

In fact, extending your EAP benefits for up to 18 months may be one of the most rewarding tactics you deploy – because it’s extremely cost effective (costing far less than other employee benefits) and helps to resolve potential conflicts before they escalate.

Offering an extended EAP and helping employees understand the value and benefit of it beyond their employment is an important measure that is often overlooked. Not only does the EAP help minimize the risk of employee retaliation by allowing them to “vent” natural emotions like shock, resentment and denial to a trained, qualified third-party source that respects their situation, but it helps them come to terms with the change. The EAP can also help former employees refocus on potential growth opportunities and next steps by guiding them through development of a personal transition plan and providing resources for job searches, retraining and education.

A wonderful idea, especially as this "recession problem" isn't going away soon (some experts predict that the unemployment rate will keep rising until summer 2010). Despite a few promising indicators, there doesn't seem to be any foreseeable relief on the job front. A Nov. 25 story in the Washington Post tells us that
The unemployment rate will remain elevated for years to come, according to a forecast released Tuesday by the Federal Reserve... Top Fed officials expect the unemployment rate to remain in the 6.8 to 7.5 percent range at the end of 2012 and said it could take "about five or six years" from now for economic activity to return to normal.

The math is simple: The U.S. economy is capable of growing at roughly 2.5 to 3 percent a year, thanks to population growth and technological improvement, and needs to grow faster than that to create large numbers of jobs and significantly improved standards of living.... the five current Fed governors and 12 presidents of regional Fed banks expect growth of 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2010 -- which would be enough to bring the unemployment rate down only slightly.

"Business contacts reported that they would be cautious in their hiring and would continue to aggressively seek cost savings," said minutes of the Fed policymaking meeting earlier this month, which were released alongside the forecast. The officials "expected that businesses would be able to meet any increases in demand in the near term by raising their employees' hours and boosting productivity, thus delaying the need to add to their payrolls."
Which raises the critical question: "With such an anemic forecast, what do people have to feel hopeful about?" With dwindling assets and limited options, how long can unemployed folks hold out? Will a call to an EAP or a visit with a counselor save your marriage or your house? What can you realistically expect from employers, mortgage companies, and the government (the same entities that helped get us into this mess)?

Have no fear -- the White House is hosting a "jobs summit." As the Wall Street Journal reports: "Mr. Obama invited business and labor leaders, as well as academics and economists" (all of whom are
, presumably, employed).

Democrats in Congress say they hope to pass a bill in coming months aimed at creating jobs. White House aides are being more circumspect. "Hiring often takes time to catch up to economic growth," said Valerie Jarrett, an adviser on business issues to President Barack Obama. "At the same time, there are limits to what government can and should do, even during such difficult times...." Ms. Jarret said the aim is to create "a climate that will spur short-term job creation." Other officials say Mr. Obama is seeking ways to work with the private sector but will offer no concrete proposals at the event.

If that doesn't instill confidence, I don't know what does ("limits to what the government can do" -- tell that to the poor sucker facing foreclosure).

So we return to that constant, dispiriting drumbeat: What can people do? Where can they turn?

In this season of thanksgiving, I say "Turn to the bird." Not just any bird -- a heritage turkey.
Heritage turkeys can be differentiated from other domestic turkeys in that they are... raised in a manner that more closely matches the natural behavior and life cycle of wild turkeys [as opposed to their unfortunate "industrial agriculture" cousins].
We learn from the Heritage Turkey Foundation that
Most breeds of heritage turkey were developed in the United States and Europe over hundreds of years, and were identified in the American Poultry Association's turkey Standard of Perfection of 1874. These breeds include the Standard Bronze, Bourbon Red, Narragansett, Jersey Buff, Slate, Black Spanish, and White Holland. Later added to the standard were the Royal Palm, White Midget and Beltsville Small White.

Large corporations have dominated turkey production and breeding since the 1960's, choosing the Broad Breasted Whites because of high breast meat production in a short period. But Heritage Breeds have been quietly gaining a renewed market and respect due to their flavor and superior biological diversity.

An article in the New York Times concurs:
Although these breeds make up far less than one percent of the 265 million turkeys produced in America... many chefs consider them the best thing to eat on Thanksgiving.
I understand: in the turkey world, this holiday is shorthand for slaughter. Like their human counterparts, millions of turkeys are "getting the axe." But if you're going to gorge yourself, why not choose a heritage bird, the "Standard of Perfection"? Go on. Treat yourself. (And don't forget that, albeit temporary, bonus of the post-meal tryptophan trance -- the welcome stupor, the blessed Lethe and Nepenthe where you're blissfully crashed out on the couch, oblivious to setback or sorrow.)

No matter our crushing concerns, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to recognize, and appreciate, the simple things. Time with family and friends. A savory, bounteous meal. And, by Jove, it helps put things in perspective.
If you think you have it bad, just remember: you're luckier than that big bird -- golden, glorious, dead, weighing down the table.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Perils and Possibilities

This from Craigslist:
Tails Pet Media Group, Inc. is seeking a part-time editor to join our growing collection of award-winning pet magazines.... We are seeking a motivated, detail-oriented journalist who enjoys writing about animals and is capable of assisting in editorial-related tasks. Main duties include writing local pet news, maintaining and compiling local pet resources, and assisting in content management for website.... Candidates who are involved in the Chicago pet community or who have pet(s) are encouraged to apply.
I'm familiar with Tails (the magazine). I used to get my copy in the recreational center where my daughter had her tennis lessons. I particularly remember the August 2009 issue on pet loss: what happens to the dog, cat, or iguana who survive us? Who will look after them?
According to Chicago estate planning attorney Lindsey Markus (LindseyMarkus.com), 40 states and the District of Columbia currently have pet-trust laws enacted or statutes allowing for the creation of a pet trust....

It is imperative to establish a legally binding method of ensuring that your pet is cared for if you die or become disabled. In addition to making informal, temporary arrangements for the care of your pet, you must also make formal arrangements that specifically address the long-term care of your pet.
This is serious stuff -- I'm glad Tails brought it to my attention. Pet owners agonize over finding a reliable pet sitter for the weekend. What if your pooch or pussycat needs a permanent sitter... for years? That's the scenario if you're out of commission or you've "slipped this mortal coil." If you value your pet, you have to look at contingency planning.

Tails also has a delightful site. How can you resist celebrities and their pets, Tails' Reader Poll ("What do you think should be the maximum number of pets allowed per household?") or the Furry Forum ("Our experts answer your questions")?

When I saw that Tails had an opening,
I thought "I know these folks. I like their work. Neat job." Until I reached the end of the ad. "This is an on-site position" (their office is located too far from my home in the hinterlands) and the "pay is $10-$12 an hour depending on experience" ("Depending on experience"? Sheesh. Unemployment compensation "pays" $12/hour.)

I didn't have long to bemoan the loss. Later that day, I received a
chilling email:
The Dairyland Race Track in Kenosha, Wisconsin, will be closing on December 31, 2009. Some 900 Greyhounds need to be adopted or they will be euthanized. Only 6 weeks to get this task done.
As a pet owner, I was alarmed. As a greyhound admirer, I was appalled (greyhounds are the best argument for intelligent design). To think: used for sport, then tossed aside.

Thankfully, euthanasia isn't a given. There seems to be another, encouraging side to the story (if we can believe it) -- in a Nov. 19 press release, Dairyland Greyhound Park claims that

Wisconsin State law provides that the greyhounds are to be adopted to new homes, sent to another racetrack for racing purposes or returned to their owners. Our kennel compound will remain open until all greyhounds are properly placed.
We do not know at this current time how many greyhounds in total will become available for adoption until we finish racing on December 31st, 2009.
I'm no authority on Wisconsin State law. I just hope the race track honors its word. (For those interested, a Nov. 10 article in the Racine Journal Times discusses the track's closing and its impact, including the loss of 180 jobs.)

If you know of anyone who might want to adopt one of these magnificent creatures: "Contact Joanne Kehoe, Operations Director at 312.559.0887 or the Dairyland Race Track Adoption Center direct at (262) 612-825."

I'd consider adopting one of my own. Because I'm unemployed, I have ample time to walk a dog (and the exercise would do me good). However, we already have enough pets. And, as we know, greyhounds are sight dogs prized for their coursing (
that astounding, innate ability to spot and chase game). Put him/her in a household of cats... The last thing I need is a 60-pound racing machine rocketing through the dining room. (Others contend that "It is a myth that no greyhound can live with cats. Many greyhounds and cats live happily together.")

While we debate whether the "greyhound can abide with the tabby," let's end with this uplifting video on greyhound adoption.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ways Not to Earn a Living

The (un)employment news grows increasingly dire, especially here on Chicago's South Side. On a statewide level:
The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rose from 10.5 percent to 11 percent between September and October, bringing the rate to its highest mark since August 1983.... Maureen O'Donnell, the department's director, said the "slowing pace of job loss and other leading economic indicators bring with it cautious optimism." But, she said, "they are of little comfort to those seeking meaningful employment during this national recession."
As for the South Side:

According to a Chicago Reporter analysis of employment data collected in the [U.S. Census Bureau's] 2008 American Community Survey, the collective unemployment rate for South Side neighborhoods Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Washington Heights and West Englewood was 23.2 percent. Those four community areas are grouped together in what the Census Bureau defines as a public use microdata area -- or PUMA. With a rate of 28.5 percent, only the PUMA covering the northeast corner of Detroit had a higher level of unemployment in 2008, according to the Reporter's analysis.

Granted, I don't live in any of the four neighborhoods cited, but this is still sobering news. With so many people unemployed and so few jobs, folks are starving for work. Heck, their homes, their families, their very sanity are hanging in the balance. They'll do anything for cash. (Listen and you'll hear. That restless, irrepressible cacophony: "What can I offer? What can I sell?")

And the predators out there know -- jobless Joes and Janes are highly susceptible to scams. In its "12 Scams of Christmas," security company McAfee includes:

Job search related scams: With the [national] unemployment rate at 10.2 percent, there are plenty of job seekers looking for work. Beware of online offers for high paying jobs or at-home money making schemes. Some of these sites ask for money up front, which is a good way for criminals not only to steal your "set up fee" but misuse your credit card too. [McAfee's David] Marcus said that some "get rich quick" sites are all about money laundering, asking you to accept an inbound financial transfer and pay them.
Take the bait -- you end up even worse off than before.

It's not surprising that, with so much at stake, the unemployed resort to extreme measures... like donating organs. (I was recently reminded of this by the Illinois Secretary of State, who invited me to donate an organ or two should I have a disastrous car accident.) Consider this scenario from Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (the first part of the Vengeance Trilogy, which includes Oldboy):

Ryu, a deaf-mute, works in a factory to support his ailing sister who is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Ryu tries to donate one of his kidneys to his sister, but is told that as his blood type doesn't match that of his sister, he is not a suitable donor. After being laid off from his job by the factory boss, Ryu contacts a black market organ dealer who agrees to sell him a kidney suitable for his sister in exchange for 10,000,000 Korean won (approximately $10,000), plus one of Ryu's own kidneys. He takes the severance pay from his factory job and offers the money to the organ dealers, who take the money and one of his kidneys, but then disappear completely. Three weeks later, Ryu learns from his doctor that a kidney has been found for his sister and that the operation will cost 10,000,000 won, but since the organ dealers stole his money, he won't be able to pay for it.

One tough break, eh?

Pretty grim, but not as bad as the shenanigans taking place in Peru:

A gang in the remote Peruvian jungle has been killing people for their fat, police charged Thursday, draining it from their corpses and offering it on the black market for use in cosmetics. Medical experts expressed skepticism that a major market for fat might exist.... Yale University dermatology professor Dr. Lisa Donofrio speculated that a small market may exist for "human fat extracts" to keep skin supple, though scientifically such treatments are "pure baloney...."

[P]olice received a tip four months ago that human fat from the jungle was being sold in Lima. In August... police infiltrated the band and later obtained some of the amber fluid, which a police lab confirmed as human fat.

On Nov. 3, police arrested Serapio Marcos Veramendi and Enedina Estela in a Lima bus station with a quart (a liter) of human fat in a soda bottle. Their testimony led to the arrest of [suspect Elmer Segundo] Castillejos three days later at the same bus station.... Police named the band the "Pishtacos" after a Peruvian myth dating to pre-Columbian times of men who killed to extract human fat....

Medical authorities reached by The Associated Press said human fat is used in anti-wrinkle treatments -- but is always extracted from the patient being treated, usually from the stomach or buttocks.

"There would be a risk of immunological reaction that could lead to life-threatening consequences" if fat from someone else were used, said Dr. Neil Sadick, a professor of dermatology at Cornell Weill Medical College in New York.

Dr. Adam Katz, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Virginia medical school, was incredulous when told about the Peruvian ring.

"I can't see why there would be a black market for fat," he said. "It doesn't make any sense at all because in most countries we can get fat so readily and in such amounts from people who are willing and ready to donate that I don't see why there would ever be a black market for fat, of all tissues."

Unspeakable acts. Obscene, unpardonable conduct. Heartless, savage behavior reminiscent of some tawdry drive-in feature (I Drain Your Fat). What's more: the killings were both gruesome and misguided. How very pointless -- to go through all that and there's no market for your product.

A lesson to us all: no matter how desperate you become, pause a moment and think. Retain your decency. Do your research. Determine what's truly profitable.

Last night I had a dream. I was in some dusty village bazaar. A man was selling tropical birds. An old woman brayed about her brightly colored blankets. And me? I was hawking a bottle of liquid fat... and there were no takers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


With H1N1 so prominent in the news, we're all wondering, "Am I safe from sickness?" Personally, I got my seasonal flu shot a couple weeks ago (but can't find a swine flu shot to save my life). Apparently, what I really need to worry about is getting an ordinary childhood illness.

I recently tried registering for a college class (at a college where I've been taking classes for years) and was told that I couldn't. The powers that be had placed a "hold" on my status because I didn't have a complete immunization record on file. In order to register, I had to prove that I'd been vaccinated for measles, rubella, mumps, and tetanus/diphtheria. I had to submit
a Certificate of Immunity (cue ominous music).

I'd recently received my once-a-decade tetanus shot so that was covered. But the others? Like everyone else, I'd gotten the standard round of vaccinations when I was a tyke. Unfortunately, both the records (and the physician who administered the shots) were long gone (one of the liabilities of being an older student).

I asked the college's Immunization Officer, "What are my choices?" I could petition for a waiver or I could get tested to see whether my blood contained antibodies to the aforementioned diseases
(contacting my childhood doctor via seance wasn't an option). So off I went to my (current) doctor. And learned they have a test for just this thing -- the titer test.

As MedlinePlus explains, the titer test (or antibody titer -- "titer" means "amount") is
a laboratory test that measures the presence and amount of antibodies in blood. The antibody level in the blood is a reflection of past exposure to an antigen or to something that the body does not recognize as belonging to itself. The body uses antibodies to attack and remove foreign substances.
To which I say -- thank you, body. Whether you have a strong or weak titer determines whether you need to be vaccinated/receive a booster shot.

Although we don't hear much about titer tests for humans
(unless you need one to get a job or travel overseas), they're commonplace for pets. In the pet-loving community, there's a debate as to how often dogs should be tested and vaccinated. The blog Truth4Dogs notes that
Enlightened veterinarians and pet parents have become increasingly wary of the health risks, and lack of benefits, associated with repeatedly vaccinating dogs after their initial “puppy shots.” Is titer testing the solution to the over-vaccination problem?
Like many titer-challenged Americans, I can't answer that (I'm just glad they're not testing me for parvovirus, distemper, or rabies). To be honest, if I had a dog, it would be an area for concern. I have to admit, I was a little scared after viewing this Truth4Dogs video:

(I also have to admit -- Ms. Rasmusen's presentation in the video seemed to ring with the same type of fear-mongering and misinformation found in the autism arena among
Jenny McCarthy and the anti-vaccine contingent. Don't believe me? Pay a visit to Jenny and Jim's www.generationrescue.org.)

I had my titer test last week and received my results today. I showed immunities (a positive reading) for two out of the three diseases (hallelujah) but, because I didn't pass all three with flying colors, I'll need an
MMR (you guessed it -- Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccination (bummer).

I'll be returning to the doctor's on Thursday for my shot o' serum. Thursday night, I'll sleep easier knowing that I won't be contracting a laundry list of deadly (or, at least, discomforting) diseases. That I won't be endangering an unsuspecting public.
That I won't be labeled "Typhoid Johnny." And that I can, once again, attend college classes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How a Blog Is Like a Dog

This past weekend we were visiting some acquaintances who have a dog. Bruno. Wonderful guy. German Shepherd mix. Getting on in age. But still engaged, active, affectionate.

The kind of dog who waits patiently (okay, maybe a whine or two) for table scraps, jumps up on the couch with you, writhes when you rub his belly. The kind of dog who barks when you leave... leading you to believe that you'll be missed. A lovable dog. The ideal dog.

Keep in mind: I don't have a dog (I was about to say "own" but that's equating pets with property). All my life, it's been cats. But I still consider myself a dog person. I like dogs. I tend to bond quickly with them (though I've had a few unnerving experiences with strays).

As I pondered what topic I should write about for today's entry, my mind drifted to Bruno. I began thinking how much a blog is like a dog:
  • You're responsible for it.
  • You'll be judged by its behavior (you don't want to be labeled a "bad dog").
  • You need to walk it (read "post") regularly.
  • It's easier to visit someone else's than to have one of your own.
  • You can learn from it.
  • You can confide in it.
  • It can provide you with years of comfort and enjoyment.
Admittedly, blogs may have a few advantages over their canine counterparts. A blog won't climb in bed with you. A blog can't get fleas. And a blog doesn't slobber.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

News Roundup

Just wanted to provide some updates to previous posts.

- "What Black Bolt Can Tell Us" - Failed to mention that Lockjaw, the Inhumans' dog, finally got his own title:
Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers is a four-issue comic book limited series published by Marvel Comics from July to October 2009.
(FYI - The Avengers is a popular, long-running superhero team comic. Members have included Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant-Man, and the Wasp.) The Wikipedia entry goes on to note that this team of super-pets (see my post "Super-Pets to the Rescue" for a discussion of rival DC's inimitable team) includes:
the cat Hairball; the diminutive dragon Lockheed; the falcon Redwing; the frog Throg and the puppyMs. Lion (actually a character from the animated series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends).
(BTW - Hairball looks a lot like my cat Ben, who's a super-pet in my book.) The good news: if you're looking for issues, don't worry -- Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers is now available as a trade paperback.

- "A Bad Break - Part 2" - Found a medical illustration video on the ORIF procedure performed on my ankle (warning: may not be suitable for the faint of heart). I wanted to include it in my post but, unfortunately, "Embedding disabled by request." You can view it on YouTube.

- "A Beef with Beef" - Last week, I saw animal science and autism expert Temple Grandin give a presentation at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. Made me think (even more) about the humane treatment of animals. My wife, for good reason, is eager to become a vegetarian (first step: eat organic foods/meat from humanely raised livestock). She passed along this Nov. 2 story from the New York Times:
Two people, one from New Hampshire and another from upstate New York, have died after eating ground beef that may be responsible for an E. coli outbreak linked to illness in more than two dozen people....

Infection with E. coli O157:H7 can have a wide range of effects, from mild intestinal discomfort to death. The New Hampshire resident who died of it contracted hemolytic uremic syndrome, a disease that attacks red blood cells and can cause kidney failure....

While thorough cooking can kill E. coli O157:H7, it is dangerous even in microscopic doses and can be spread from utensils or cooking surfaces to other foods....

At more than 270 tons of beef, Saturday’s recall was a large one. The Agriculture Department said the median beef recall last year was 7,733 pounds.
She also shared this newser story on slaughterhouse practices (certainly not for the faint of heart).

If you know your Bible, you know that Adam and Eve (and, by extension, mankind) were entrusted with being caretakers of God's creation:
"So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, blessed them, and said, 'Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals.'" - Genesis 1:27,28
It never hurts to remember: we have an obligation to our fellow creatures.

Monday, November 2, 2009

And I Thought I Had It Rough...

Okay, so I'm unemployed. But I'm not looking at the kind of trouble Nicolas Cage is facing (hint: it's not just running from explosions and having your head turn into a flaming skull):
In a lawsuit filed Oct. 16 in Los Angeles, the National Treasure star, 45, claims that his longtime business manager, Samuel J. Levin, "lined his [own] pockets with several million dollars in business management fees while sending Cage down a path toward financial ruin."
How bad is it?
In April, Cage bid farewell to his Bavarian castle, selling it to his German advisor, lawyer Konrad Wilfurth. Now, he has placed other homes on the market in California, Las Vegas and New Orleans....

"He is now forced to sell major assets and investments at a significant loss and is faced with huge tax liabilities because of Levin's incompetence, misrepresentations and recklessness," the lawsuit alleges.(Interestingly, Cage sold off his rare comic-book collection for more than $1.6 million in 2002, a year after hiring Levin.)
I'm already one step ahead of the guy -- I don't need a business manager (and I don't have to worry about finding day help for that Bavarian castle).

To Cage's credit, he may be the hardest working man in show business.
Since 1982, and his first role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cage has appeared in over 60 films -- he's averaging over two films a year. For the past 20 years, he seems to have been in contention for every leading man role (for heaven's sake, he was slated to be Superman; he was going to be "The Wrestler" before Mickey Rourke got the part).

Sure, he's related to somebody famous.
As the story goes (the Wikipedia version):
In order to avoid the appearance of nepotism as the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, he changed his name early in his career from Nicolas Coppola to Nicolas Cage, inspired in part by the Marvel Comics superhero Luke Cage.
(With Cage, it's inevitable -- another comic book connection.) But, again, you've got to give it to him -- he's busted his behind. He's earned his place in the industry... and a "best actor" nod from the Academy for Leaving Las Vegas (which answers that age-old question: "What does a guy have to do to get an Oscar? Die?").

What's more -- he's a brand. Nobody can do Nicolas Cage like
Nicolas Cage. The arched eyebrow, the shameless mugging, the unhinged, wild-eyed, lunatic ranting. Who, honestly, has that glib style, those touching mannerisms?

So, if this guy's in demand, if he always has a movie in the theater, you'd think -- even at entry-level wages -- he'd be able to recoup his losses. Well, as long as he makes better career decisions than financial ones. As long as he stays out of howlers like The Wicker Man.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Notes from the Unemployed

'Tis the season.
The holidays are fast approaching. The birds have flown. The trees are bare. Soon the snow will start falling.

A new month beginning... another month gone. And still unemployed.

Every day, I wake with a gnawing dread. Plagued by a nagging sense that I'm not doing enough. Striving to not succumb to "There's nothing out there" syndrome. Girding for a trying, bitter winter. Telling myself to bear down, hold fast, maintain that stiff upper lip -- fortitude, resilience, and all that. If need be, to take it to a Churchillian level: "We shall not fail or falter, we shall not weaken or tire." (While still living by Churchill's dictum to "Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.")

Today, I saw an article in the Wall Street Journal: "White House Tally Appears to Overstate Stimulus Jobs."(Cue "A Day in the Life" -- "I read the news today, oh boy.")
Among the suspect numbers submitted to the government:
Some Head Start preschool programs reported that stimulus money saved the job of every staff member who received a cost-of-living pay raise, according to their filings. Some colleges and universities counted every part-time student work-study position as a full-time job, according to their reports, which are published online at recovery.gov....

A Kentucky shoe-store owner claimed to have created or saved nine jobs with an $889.60 contract to supply work boots to the Army Corps of Engineers. The owner said he supplied nine pairs of boots and that the mistake arose from confusion over the government form.
Last week, the claim that 650,000 jobs were created or saved sparked a firestorm of criticism, with many arguing that this figure could neither be competently measured nor effectively verified. In addition to disputing/dismissing the report, many contended that, based on the billions in stimulus funds "spent" on these jobs, they weren't worth the cost to salvage.

(I, too, was left scratching my head when the White House announced that 650,000 figure. It reminded me of the line by Chico Marx in Duck Soup: "Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" Of the numerous people I know who are out of work, none have secured a permanent job in the last few months.)

I also checked out the latest (September) Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (statistics for October are scheduled to be released on Friday, November 6). The "Situation" is worth quoting at length:
Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed
persons has increased by 7.6 million to 15.1 million, and the unemployment
rate has doubled to 9.8 percent....

Among the unemployed, the number of job losers and persons who completed
temporary jobs rose by 603,000 to 10.4 million in September. The number of
long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks and over) rose by 450,000
to 5.4 million. In September, 35.6 percent of unemployed persons were job-
less for 27 weeks or more....

In September, the number of persons working part time for economic reasons
(sometimes referred to as involuntary part-time workers) was little changed
at 9.2 million. The number of such workers rose sharply throughout most of
the fall and winter but has been little changed since March....

About 2.2 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force in
September, an increase of 615,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not sea-
sonally adjusted.) These individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and
were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12
months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for
work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey....

Among the marginally attached, there were 706,000 discouraged workers in
September, up by 239,000 from a year earlier. (The data are not seasonally
adjusted.) Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work
because they believe no jobs are available for them. The other 1.5 million
persons marginally attached to the labor force in September had not searched
for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey for reasons such as school
attendance or family responsibilities.

Not to take issue with the terminology employed by the BLS, but "job losers"? (That "L" word really stings -- I can imagine someone yelling at me "Hey, job loser.") How about "involuntary part-time workers"? (Makes me think of the classification in compensation circles of "non-highly-compensated workers.") Or the "marginally attached"? (Doesn't Cosmopolitan have quizzes about them?) And I'm surprised they made a distinction for "discouraged workers." The rest of us are, what, "uncomfortable"? "Annoyed"?

On a more serious note, it's sobering to know that over a third of "unemployed persons" have been out of work for over six months (the long-term -- and possibly permanently -- unemployed). As alarming -- there are now six job seekers for every available job. With all the marketing-related layoffs and with newspapers shedding journalists left and right, it's likely that the ratio is even higher in the writing trades (my line of work).

Regardless of -- or possibly because of -- that chimerical 650,000 figure, we're bracing for the long haul. Coming to terms with reality... the new new normal. With millions of weary, hopeless Americans struggling to keep their heads above water. With families fraying from the strain -- losing their patience, their health insurance, their homes. Taking scant solace in a "jobless recovery."

Earlier today, I read the local paper, The Beverly Review (yeah, I did a lot of reading today). Glancing at the Police Blotter, I noticed this: "An unknown man stole meat from a business on the 3100 block of West 103rd Street." Is that what we've been reduced to? Is that what we've become? A society of meat stealers? Oh, the humanity.