united states


I was going to write about the fun weekend I had – one of my best friends from high school got married and I was honored to be part of the bridal party. She was the most stunning bride.

But then, as I checked the news, got text alerts, triple checked Twitter, and refreshed several news articles at once, I knew I couldn’t. At least, not now. This morning, one, possibly two, shooters fired at and wounded over a dozen people at the US Navy Yard in Washington, DC. As of right now, 13 people are dead. At first, there were a million conflicting stories, each news agency wanting to be first – and in doing so, wrong. There have already been comparisons to the Red Line metro crash in 2009, which killed 9 people. I was here that summer, too.

I’ve lived in the “DMV” region for 3 years now (DC-MD-VA). The kind of security here is unlike any other. It’s disconcerting to get these kinds of reminders: I live in one of the most targeted, secure places in the country. My last post was on 9/11, and there have been various incidents since then. The DC Sniper. Shots fired near the Capitol, near the White House. Is everything related? Of course not. Violence comes with living anywhere, with living in cities. But the capital of the country, of the “free world,” cannot be overlooked. And so, while it alarms me when I see security officers with M16s (or close equivalent) as well as the traditional handguns and tasers, it’s also a not-so-subtle reminder of where I am. I go about my life not overly concerned with much else besides getting out the door on time, being productive at work, making time for friends, finding good food and things to do, and getting back to my loving bed at the end of a long day. This is interspersed with reminders that, by virtue of living in an area bustling with federal buildings, political organizations, and the people who make this country’s major decisions, I am one of the targets. Did the shooter(s) have a nit with the US Navy? The US military? The US in general? Maybe. Maybe not. These mass shootings tend to have very little relevance to who the victims are – they are random, they are just people, they are just the random innocent people, so that we become scared. As we saw from 9/11, as we see from Boston Strong, and as we will see from this, we are more than that.

Still, it doesn’t do much to take the edge off when I see extra police officers keeping an eye on every metro station on seemingly random days; when the ripple effect of one incident leads to closure of several other buildings and evacuations; when, as in today, the region receives a shelter-in-place alert from both local and national police forces. When the people who spend their careers protecting us get killed in the relative safety of their home offices. The US Navy Yard ought to feel like one of the safest locations for these men and women. Today proved, again, that even the safest places have a risk.

My heart and prayers goes out to all victims today, along with families, friends, and coworkers, as it does whenever anything of this nature happens. Mother Nature has also had some things to say this week: in the midst of our wedding festivities, flooding rolled into Colorado, destroying over 1,000 homes. The “unaccounted for” number continues to decrease, but keep Colorado in your hearts as well as this other tragedy unfolds.

new friends new school

the rural rolling hills

so different from the New York suburb

I used to know.

Morning drama class,

a Russian girl could not understand

so we acted it out

and became the tragedy.

it was a game

 


but fires were

still burning,

the innocent

still dying,

the towers

crash down

on all of us

I came from an event last night honoring retailers who went above and beyond to support our veterans. I know, random. My star of a father co-owns and edits a retailer magazine that is jumping up the charts in the business. Everyone knows him; we could hardly get across the room without 5 people stopping him, saying to me, “Your father is a great man. He has done so much for this industry, this business, [my product], etc.” To be fair, I thought the event/award was going to be about some stores giving away free food and picking up the tab on some grocery bills, but it was so much more than that. It was sponsoring trips for WWII vets to visit the WWII Memorial in DC. It was baking thousands of cookies for troops overseas. It was the man who started an organization that gives $30,000 in education scholarships to every child of a Marine killed in the line of duty. Millions of dollars in donations to the Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Care – Afghanistan, sending soccer balls to kids in Afghanistan and Iraq, to kids who “didn’t start anything. They just want to be kids.”

It was an incredible night, far more than I thought it would be. I sat with a US Marine Corps Colonel who looked like James Bond (and who, care of my dad, introduced himself to me as “Bond. James Bond.”) who has been serving for over 25 years. I sat with a just-retired Lance Corporal who lost three limbs because of an IED (who happened to remind me of Prince Harry), and is making the most of it, working with prosthetic legs, determined to work with wildlife or land so he can still be outdoors.

I got back to my apartment, where I found out that one of the men I met and frequently spoke to during my internship with the National Park Service had died. He didn’t always get a great rep from the press but he was always laughing and joking with me, and frequently had me into his office to talk or give advice, or bought me and the other few interns lunch in the cafeteria. He was a great man. And he committed suicide. I won’t go into the particulars of why – and we’ll never know, truly – but does it matter?

We take life for granted. The incredible servicemen I met last night, the men and women I never will, Bill, they have all struggled. Some got lucky, many will not. Life is too short. Tonight gave me the highs and lows of the harsh reality. Make the most of it. Go get your dreams. I know I am going to try.

Are unpaid internships worth the frustration of not getting paid? Are unpaid internships “immoral,” as one article says?

There has been a lot of (revived) debate in the past week or two about the concept or worth of unpaid internships for college grads. Full disclosure: I’ve never had a completely unpaid internship: I’ve either gotten paid or gotten a living stipend. But I did live at home with my parents for one.

Are Unpaid Internships Over? (N0.)

Time says the unpaid internship is over. I disagree. The unpaid internship is far from over. The opening of this particular article draws us into the plight of a young woman who has had seven internships:

In August 2011, when Diana Wang began her seventh unpaid internship, this time at Harper’s Bazaar, the legendary high-end fashion magazine, she figured that her previous six internships – at a modeling agency, a PR firm, a jewelry designer, a magazine, an art gallery and a state governor’s office – had prepared her for the demands of New York’s fashion world.

First of all, why seven? The thing about internships is to pick them well, and then stop when it’s good for you. I mean, at first glance, that looks great: wow, she’s been able to land seven internships! For starters, it is in your best interest to get at least one or two paid ones. People, especially college grads, simply cannot afford to do seven unpaid internships. Also: you are worth more than that. It’s okay to turn down unpaid internships, to say “no” when you find out you’ll get nothing to live on. Three internships, between college courses, is great, and I’d suggest leaving it at that if you’ve gotten that far. As for during the school year, your focus should really be on not falling asleep in class. If it fits with your schedule, is educational, and doesn’t leave you scrambling to keep up in the school you’re paying a bucketload to attend, go for it during the semester. Otherwise, cool it.

As it turned out, Wang’s internship was just like many of the thousands of others: unrewarding in terms of both pay and marketable experience — not to mention the lack of a job offer.

That sucks. But, without knowing particulars, my word of caution and response to this is: do your research. Don’t take an internship for the sake of taking an internship. Study the organization or company, and the job description. Ask about it in the interview. What should you end up with when you finish this internship? Does the program lead to potential job offers? Every job you get, think: how will I put this on my resume? If you might as well be working at a grocery store, skip it and move on (and in late spring, start thinking about applying to a grocery store). Thanks but no thanks. Applying for internships is much like applying for jobs in this age: you will get far more rejections than acceptances. Far, far more. Keep counting. You’ve got to become an application machine. Keep a file of your writing samples, information many online applications ask for so you can do a copy/paste, and knock out cover letters customized to the organization. Yes, it is hard work, but so is the internship (hopefully in a good way), so it’s worth it.

As for the suing, both by Wang and the interns at Fox, I support them. If those were really their experiences, then that’s absurd. But I disagree that everyone ever must get paid, no matter what. Again, ask the right questions. Maybe these laws need to be reviewed, but if an internship passes the test, it’s legal and both parties are aware of it:

As more internships sprouted across the country, Congress passed a number of laws regulating them, including the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which specifically lays out a 6-point test, still in use today, for hiring unpaid interns:

1. The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship must be for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees;
4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the intern;
5. The intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship; and
6. The intern understands that he or she is not entitled to wages.

From the article, it sounds like the internships described did not follow all of these points, specifically 1, 2, and 4. I’m in no way blaming these individuals for taking these internships and then suing. I think this needs to be brought up, and students made much more aware of the facts. Then they can decide for themselves. But, be careful. Like jobs, schools, …  almost everything in life – all internships are NOT created equally.

Then there is this piece:

Then in March, another intern sued, this time a 25-year-old film student named Lucy Bickerton, who interned at “The Charlie Rose Show.”

“It’s so ingrained, especially in the film industry, that you pay your dues,” Bickerton says.“You keep your mouth shut and are thankful for anything that comes your way.”

I’m not in the film industry. I’m not sure if that’s true. But I do know one thing: you do pay your dues. Jobs are things you have to work for. You have to work very hard. The internship that led to my current job was exhausting in all capacities. I worked 50 hour weeks until they stopped allowing overtime. Then I just had to get everything done in just 40 hours. It was totally sink or swim. I was too tired, every day, to cry from the stress (most of the time). Luckily, none of those breakdowns happened in the office. Do I work for a terrible company? Of course not; I wouldn’t have accepted the job offer if it was. But my company holds its employees to high standards, and it pushes people. I have gained incredible work experience and opportunities from being there. I work with great people and know that I’m valued. You don’t have to be thankful for anything that comes your way, that’s up to you, but don’t expect to slide by. 9-5 is gone. I’d love to bring it back, but I can’t.

Bickerton says so many college students entering the workforce think internships will automatically lead to jobs.

Newsflash: internships do not automatically lead to jobs. That’s all I have to say about that. I had 4 throughout my “intern” career.

Are Free Internships Immoral? (Whoa. No?)

According to The Atlantic, work is work and free internships are immoral. First off, calm down. If we’re going the “immoral” route, I’ve got a laundry list pages upon pages long of things that are immoral. Unpaid internships is not really high on it…or there.

This article opens with a careful mix of story and hard facts:

This summer, millions of students — some graduating, some between school years — will spend the summer working. Some will work at restaurants and on retail floors, where working is called “working.” Some will work at think tanks and non-profit organizations, where working is called “interning.” Estimates put the number of unpaid interns every year between 500,000 and one million. So, in a country where working for free is mostly illegal, a student population somewhere between the size of Tucson and Dallas will be working for free, in plain view.

Interning is an actual thing, different from “work” or “jobs” in more than the name. According to Dictionary.com,

Job is defined as: a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one’s occupation or for an agreed price: She gave him the job of mowing the lawn.

Internship: any official or formal program to provide practical experience for beginners in an occupation or profession: an internship for management trainees.

I do like the “mostly illegal” line though. True, but with the exception of internships, specifically unpaid internships, which have laws from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 in place to manage them. The author, a former member of the “unpaid intern nation,” now says: “I’m coming down in the second camp: Unpaid internships aren’t morally defensible.”

Again, the “moral” thing is weird to me. Let’s dig deeper.

If you have worked in the Washington, D.C., research or non-profit sector, you know that often the roles of an intern and, say, a research assistant overlap. The reason that companies pay one and not the other is that they know they can get away with it. A 19-year old student has little bargaining power, especially if she wants to work in an industry where unpaid internships are the norm. (“If you don’t pay me, I’ll go to that other magazine that has better muffins,” is not a strong negotiating stance.)

Yes, that’s a terrible negotiating stance. Research assistant and intern roles likely do overlap. Is one getting paid because they’ve had one or five of these internships and know a lot more than the intern? Or perhaps they are in grad school and have no choice if they want to stay in their program without going into even deeper debt. Or maybe, in some instances, they are doing the exact same thing, have the exact same experience, but only one of them is getting paid. That is an issue. That needs to be brought up and handled with an appropriate level of confidence and professionalism.

The broader effects of unpaid internships are (a) a tendency for employers to take advantage of young labor by offering the currency of experience in lieu of actual currency,

Yes…but as the author repeatedly points out, these internships – this experience – is crucial nowadays for college grads to get jobs. So, yes, sometimes “currency” comes in the form of experience. Just note my advice above and don’t go overboard on the unpaid internship thing. It’s not worth it (in my opinion).

and (b) a widening of the social inequality gap as lower-income students are implicitly barred from this so-called  “educational” experience, which is their gateway to full-employment in the field of their choosing.

This is a good point. Not being a lower-income student or worker, I’d like to see if any of the following make a difference.

  1. Take internships nearby so you don’t have to leave home. This is much easier in big cities, where many socioeconomically disadvantaged tend to reside. Plus.
  2. Call everyone: can you stay with family somewhere else? Your best friend’s parents? A cousin? An aunt? Just for the summer. Offer to cook twice a week, look after small children or pets when they want a break, clean.
  3. Remember that you are worth paid internships, too. Go get ’em!

This is not my area of expertise. This will be a longer fight. But never say never.

So, those are my two cents. Take it or leave it.

Have you had an unpaid internship? How did it go? Leave a comment or submit your own blog post.

Up on Thursday: my advice to college grads. I was there two years ago.

So, heads-up: cancer costs a lot of money. Besides knowing how crucial health insurance is, and how much it affects the jobs my mom can take, if any, I have not really asked about the expenses. See, it’s now a pre-existing condition, and insurance has the right not to cover the treatment my dad needs. Suddenly, when I was home, the reality of insurance, coverage, dependents, spouses (and partners) came crashing down. My mom had some cool job offers. On the plus side, they’re in the medical field, which could mean it is easier for employees to switch, receive benefits, and be set. But just as easily – not. What’s interesting is how much hinges on how good your insurance is. This is something I finally learned at my current (and first) job: a lot of the cost of keeping me on as an employee is the money I don’t “see.” Procedures, specialists, medicines: these all cost money. And so far, knock on wood, the only thing I’ve had to pay is a $20 copay per visit (pretty standard), and a slight cost for medicine I need from the pharmacy. To have someone with years upon years of medical training examine me and tell me how my body is doing. Such as getting the blood test to confirm I didn’t have Lyme Disease after my boyfriend pulled 4 ticks off me. Getting baseline blood tests to see what was “normal” for me, what was high or low, and advice on how to handle it if I needed it.

How much does cancer treatment cost? I don’t know. A lot. Not $500 a lot. Tens of thousands or more, I expect. Hundreds of thousands. How much is still out of pocket? I don’t know. So I was intrigued, then ashamed, of this article I stumbled upon: “When life hands you cancer, make cancer-ade: via lemonade stand, 6yo boy raises $10K for dad’s chemo.” At first I, like the author (kind of) suddenly wondered if I shouldn’t start a lemonade stand for my dad. My parents have helped me with everything: helped pay for a very expensive private college education, added to two years of private boarding school education, my first apartment, a car…I have been incredibly lucky to have such supportive and able parents to aid me in my journey to “adulthood,” whatever that means. They’re still covering student loans for a bit, to help me get started on my own. Hah. I’m hardly on my own yet; I don’t know what I would do without such a family team. I can take my full rent, I can take accountability of my own loans, I can write a check from all I’ve saved up – not knowing if it will make a difference, a dent. Or if it’s unnecessary. Or, more likely, they wouldn’t take it.

But then…why do I have to do this? Lucky for us, this kind of cancer is more common, and the therapy shouldn’t last even half a year. In the article, she writes,

First, hooray for this child. I hope his dad gets the treatment he needs, that the treatment is successful, and that the family doesn’t go into debt or have to forego treatment for lack of funds.

But second: this is a disgrace. I hate it when stories like this are flogged in media as “feel-good” stories. This story should make America feel ashamed, not feel good. Seriously? A working father gets cancer, and the family has to rely on charity, and a lemonade stand manned by their 6 year old son, to obtain life-sustaining medical treatment?

Well, ouch. Here I was full-steam ahead and a brick wall appeared out of nowhere. As @bobrk posted on Twitter (yes, Twitter. Evidently it can be cited in papers now), “@marykvalle @chemobrainfog @xeni My wife’s mastectomy was over $102K Each chemo is $3K or so. Without insurance we’d be bankrupt.”

I…but…it…OK, so this needs to change. Somehow? But it’s not, not right now, and my dad has cancer right now. Now I feel appropriately poor and ashamed, and I am not typically either; I have a job I like and it allows me to pay all my bills and still put savings away, and I’m proud of where I am. Anyone else? Thoughts on this? Mom, Dad, can I write you a check?

Of course, now there’s the “money can’t buy love,” and how cold could I be if that’s what I offer…but, I disagree. As I wrote previously, I wish I could be around more when he is doing radiation, but I don’t live within driving distance anymore, not really, and for my job summer=workworkwork. You never quite know how strange it is to not be able to “just drive home for the weekend” until you can’t. But I digress.

Paying taxes: meh

Tax Season: no fun

Getting money back for the un-fun Tax Season: sweet

Student Loans: no good

Cancer: worse

I’m so confused.

Two specifically good things happened today:

My company won a contract with a brand new customer today, and a close friend and coworker, at long last, got his first win. Everyone cheered and clapped, and everyone’s spirits, across both offices, were lifted. I’m not super competitive by nature, I don’t think, but winning on a proposal is a pretty awesome feeling. When you write the winning proposal (not me, this time), it’s even better. It’s like…learning that the sweet apartment you were in love with was finally available and affordable. I don’t kid about finally: it can take several months, sometimes years (this is rare) for a decision to be made by an agency.

George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin, is in custody and has been charged with second degree murder. <Bad part: it took them 45 days to do this.> I look forward to this case being fought in court, not through the media or pleading websites. Justice, perhaps, though I know it will be a long battle. I’ve already discussed some of the issues I see with it.

There was some losing today – though I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. With Santorum out, the political race for President is surely heating up, and, frustratingly, the ridiculousness of today will be nothing compared to August. Today, Romney tried fighting back on the Democrat’s accusations of the “War on Women” by the GOP (and conservatives in general). It is Obama, he said, who is waging “the real war on women.”

Go ahead. Laugh. It’s okay. I did. I caught this while I was in the breakroom at work today; there was just a little blurb (more tonight! kind of deal). I stared at the TV – I could not have heard what I thought I heard. They messed that one up…right? Wrong. No, he sure did. Why, do you ask? How is someone who has supported laws that denied women certain rights – but not men – actually saying Obama has instituted a war on women? The economy. Because it is one of few weaknesses Obama has (though not if people actually looked at accurate graphs and statistics. It has been rough. But in fact, getting better. Promise. And jobs have increased.). Yessir, more women have been hurt in this economy than men; have lost more jobs. Fact: there are more women than men in this country, today. So…yes. I can’t even…just read this.

But I want to end on a good note, or I’ll rant about politics all night.

Win: Work (I can’t tell yet, but maybe later this week)

Win: Justice

Win: I may be getting a TV stand to replace my current one – which will free up my current one to serve as a wicked handy shelf under my desk! Woot!

Also, I expedited an adapter for my snazzy, but older, extra monitor so I can plug it into my laptop and have two screens. Anyone who has ever had this will tell you how awesome it is. It is sweeeeet. Also, I expedited it because I could. Yes, I actually paid more in shipping than for the actual dinglehopper, but that’s ’cause it was all paid for by a forgotten gift card. Yay!

OK. If you don’t know, I am pretty against judging people on anything but actions and words (you know, not race, or gender, or sexual identity, or class, or clothing). Also I’m liberal. I don’t want any of the current GOP candidates to win the next election; in fact it terrifies me. Really, though, that’s not the focus of this particular post. This one is on racism. I covered the ongoing anti-women issues earlier, however much I am tempted to update it every day because of hurtful people.

There are plenty of opinion pieces out right now on the killing of a young teenager, Trayvon Martin. Anyone think America is “post-racism” out there? It’s not. We are not over it. Having incredibly elected the first black president in the short history of our “let freedom ring” country does not mean the issue has gone away in any sense. Now, politicians seem to have learned a lesson (or, let’s be honest, are perhaps not as racist as they are anti-woman) and have not said as many dumb things about black people in light of this case.

However, someone else posted this video about a reaction to an anti-Obama bumper sticker: “Don’t Re-Nig in 2012”

I simultaneously recognize the racism, and about died laughing.

Okay, over it? Wiped the tears from your eyes?

This is a real issue. Talk about it. Fight it. Racism is hardly gone, or need I mention the past fiery decade of anti-Muslim (even if you look like it) slurs, or, you know, centuries of anyone-who’s-not-white slurs and laws?

Real issues. Demand better; this country was made for that. You can’t pursue happiness if you’re too scared to walk outside.

UPDATE:

Perhaps I was naive. No, I know I was, and I am in general: I really do try to see the best in people. I do. But, I was pretty surprised to see how politicians, namely Newt Gingrich, reacted – not to the Trayvon Martin case – but to President Obama’s reaction.

Story: President Obama made some remarks about the now-internationally known case, extending condolences to the family, and added:

When I think about this boy I think about my own kids. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this and that everybody pulls together – federal, state and local – to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened. You know, if I had a son he would look like Trayvon. (1)

Which is true: Obama’s son would look similar to Trayvon – as in, he would be black. If anyone is still wondering if this case, this incident, has anything to do with race, look again: “Martin was slain in the town of Sanford, Fla., on Feb. 26 in a shooting that has set off a nationwide furor over race and justice. Neighborhood crime-watch captain George Zimmerman claimed self-defense and has not been arrested, though state and federal authorities are still investigating. Since the slaying, a portrait has emerged of Martin as a laid-back young man who loved sports, was extremely close to his father, liked to crack jokes with friends and, according to a lawyer for his family, had never been in trouble with the law.” (2)

Martin was unarmed. He went to pick up a snack and drink. He was wearing a hoodie (oh no!). However, even if, somehow, his killer was not judging based on race, Gingrich has only fed the fire with this statement on Obama:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing on a nationally syndicated radio program hosted by Sean Hannity, called Obama’s remarks “disgraceful.”

“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period,” Gingrich said. “We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?” (1)

I agree with part 1: No American of any ethnic background should feel threatened just walking around. However, part 2: “president suggesting if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him.” Are you serious? Way to twist words around. Of course that’s not what Obama is suggesting. Any innocent young (or old) person should not be killed. It is a tragedy. But people should not be judged based on the color of their skin, either. Take a look at a history book – black people in this country have had to fight slavery, lack of basic human rights, for the right to be a full citizen, who was allowed to own property, who was allowed to vote, who was allowed to marry a white man or woman if they loved them. We are traditionally a country in favor of white people. And we’ve come a long way, a really long way – but it’s not over. Have you ever noticed a white person move to the edge of the sidewalk when a black person was headed their way? Wait for the next bus? Back away? It’s still here, folks. It’s still here and we still need to fight it: everyone in this country, as a US citizen, has the right to trust in the justice system. That’s why this case is important. Justice. This man, this killer, has not been arrested as of this writing. Has not even been arrested.

Wake up.

If you can stomach it, there is this article, with comments made on an article about the case posted by Fox.

(1) “Presidential candidates reflect on Trayvon Martin case.” CNN. March 23, 2012. <http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/03/23/presidential-candidates-reflect-on-trayvon-martin-case/?hpt=hp_t1&gt;

(2) Haines, Errin and Kay, Jennifer. Associated Press. March 24, 2012, Seattle Pi. <http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Attorneys-in-Trayvon-Martin-case-make-arguments-3432364.php&gt;

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