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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

This month’s job openings at SHN Consulting Engineers & Geologists, Inc.:

  • Consulting Biologist (CEQA Expert) (Eureka)
  • Materials Testing Laboratory Manager (Willits)
  • Mid-level Civil Engineer, California PE (Willits)
  • Senior-level Civil Engineer, California PE (Redding)
  • Temporary Field Botanist/Wildlife Biologist (Eureka)

Good positions, good benefits, fun company to work for, great co-workers, wonderful area to live in.

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Sigh.  I’m sorry, I don’t actually want to be a cynic and suspect scams everywhere, but I think last Thursday’s “Courage Night” may have been one.  Ostensibly, the event was about gathering money and attention for the fight against breast cancer; however, I have serious reservations about the tenor of the event.

Key guests were Berny Dohrmann and Susie Carder, best known (and actually not that widely) for writing about, and pushing, “The Secret”.  The central tenet of this pseudo self-help book and the movement it generated is that “positive thinking” is all it takes to change your life, to ward off the bad things and instead receive wealth, health, and happiness.

While it seems fair to say that, all else being equal, strong morale is usually beneficial and helps sustain one through challenges, this is not sufficient.  I really hate philosophies that ultimately place the blame for ill fortune on the victim: if you are not wealthy, healthy, and happy, it must be because you don’t want it badly enough, right?  Big comfort and help for someone who, after a goodly dose of The Secret, or certain New Agey versions of the concept of karma, or firm belief  in the power of prayer alone, is still wrestling with cancer, unemployment, or depression.

I’m very, very fortunate, and I have always been.  Sure, there have been times of sadness and struggle, but in the end I’ve had a wonderful family, husband, and friends, good health, a career I love, and many other interests to keep me in love with life.  However, I am acutely conscious that all of this is a result of great luck.

I also know, and we all do, much worthier people with fantastic attitudes who have suffered the outrageous slings and arrow of fortune, who can’t seem to get an even break, and who die early of disease or accident.  I do not believe that lack of a positive attitude explains that.

Let’s face it: sickness, ruptures, and reversals of fortune happen because ours is a stochastic universe — in other words, shit happens.  Not because you’re a bad person or because you had a negative attitude, but because it’s random bad stuff.

The way to act against this is to develop compassion for one another, to install social and personal safety nets, to help one another, to fund research into medicine and beneficial technologies, to pick ourselves up and try again.  Magical thinking, the idea that if we wish hard enough everything will be all right, is not only silly, it’s downright dangerous and callous.

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I am getting damn tired of the proponents of health care status quo in the U.S. who use outrageous scare tactics (e.g., aged or sick people will be put to death, etc.) and shameless lies (e.g., slandering the medical systems of countries like Canada, Great-Britain, etc.)

“Don’t do this or we’ll end up with Canadian-style health care!” Really? Let me tell you, buddy, you should be so lucky.

Before I came to the U.S. and California, I had never even conceived of not being able to go to the doctor when I need to. Here, I was introduced to the wonderful world of “the health you can afford”. And at least now I’m on a halfway-decent plan — a mid-price one I selected from the many choices my company offers; but when I was on an HMO, many is the time I decided to tough it out and hope for the best when I was sick or hurt, rather than deal with the hurdles and costs.

My father passed away a year ago from inoperable lung cancer, in Canada. Before that, he was “in the system” for over three years for chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. He had unbelievably prompt, efficient, and kind care. He was not even in a big city, yet had all the most modern treatments, analyses, and specialists. All of it was free, except a very small residual amount for some optional anti-nausea medication. I remember bursting laughing — and hurting my mother’s feelings a bit — when she said it cost them over $100 a month and she had no idea how poor people managed.

Imagine. $100 a month. Do you want to know about how grossly overpriced medication is in the U.S.? The last time I had to see a doctor in Canada and get a prescription there (not something I do intentionally, by the way), it cost me less, even though I’m not currently covered there since I reside here, than it costs me here with insurance. Birth control pills? $16 CAN per box without insurance; here: $30 US for the same name brand or $15 US for the crappy knock-off with insurance.

Waiting lines? Non-emergency patient may have to wait, but certainly not like they wait under a typical insurance plan in U.S., especially HMOs, or heaven forbid under no plan at all, when you wait to be able to afford the care.

Complaining about health care waiting in Canada is a lot like complaining about rush-hour traffic in Eureka: wait until you see the real thing!

No, I don’t think the Obama administration will do more than maybe offer an expanded Medicare/Medicaid to cover currently uninsured people.  But I can dream of modern health care coming to the U.S., can’t I?

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My husband and I went to the rally in Eureka last night, held in protest of Prop. 8. Rallies like this were held around the state and even the country in reaction to the California Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Proposition 8.

It’s not our first rally for this cause, standing in front of the Humboldt County courthouse. I have to say that even though I was sad about the court ruling, it’s much more encouraging to hold such a rally in Humboldt than in many other places. I love the fact that you can’t predict, just by their looks or demographics, who will be supportive. I started the rally feeling rather down, because I’m tired of seeing good people of all kinds treated unfairly, and this is one of the many instances. But by the time things were wrapping up, I felt cheered by all the support expressed. Hurray for commuters honking their horns and waving!

I do believe that we’ll continue seeing progress, and that in a few years this one battle, at least, will be won. I hope so, for the sake of my friends who want the same rights I enjoy, and all the others like them.

God knows we will still have plenty of other injustices to fight.

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ada byron lovelace

So here we are — today bloggers are celebrating the heritage of Ada Byron Lovelace and other “techie” women in science, technology, engineering, and medicine. I picked women I admire and whose excellence inspired me through the years.

Marie Curie

Maria Skłodowska Curie, the Polish-born physicist and chemist who pioneered research in radioactivity with her French husband Pierre Curie, was the first woman to win a Nobel prize and the first person of either gender to win two Nobel Prizes (Physics, 1903, with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel, and Chemistry, 1911, by herself). She won many other honours for her work and is an icon of women’s excellence in science.

Her sister Bronisława was a doctor, her elder daughter Irene would become a Nobel-prize winning chemist herself, and her younger daughter Eve a famous writer, publisher, and top NATO and UNICEF staff.

Thea Foss

Theah Christiansen Foss was a Norwegian immigrant to the United States who would go on to found the Foss Launch and Tug Company — now Foss Maritime, the largest tugboat company in the western U.S. The company’s official colours are still the same white with green trim Thea Foss used to paint her first rowboat. From rowboats she graduated to shipyards. The Thea Foss Waterway in Commencement Bay, Tacoma, is named for her.

Eleanor Helin

Pioneer asteroid researcher Eleanor F. Helin passed away this winter. She worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) and discovered or co-discovered 872 asteroids in her lifetime, as well as several comets. Asteroid 3267 Glo is named for her (“Glo” was Helin’s nickname). She did an amazing amount of work that rarely received the limelight but contributed enormously to our knowledge of the Solar system.

Rose-Aimée Lamontagne

Sister Rose-Aimée Lamontagne of the Sisters of Charity of Québec was my mathematics teacher in Secondary 3*. She was a wonderful woman, a free-thinker marching to her own beat, passionate about teaching and about science. She made fantastic efforts to help every student according to what he or she needed to get as far as possible in life, not just in terms of technical education but also in life skills and ethics. We remained close friends from 1978 to her death from cancer in 2002. She was a great person who taught by example, and passion, not just by words.

Danielle Zaikoff

Danielle Zaikoff is one of the pioneer women in Québec to obtain an engineering degree. She was the first woman (1970-75) to become a member of the Board of Directors of the Ordre des Ingénieurs du Québec (OIQ, Quebec Order of Professional Engineers), the self-governing professional licensing body in charge of regulate engineers and engineering in Québec. She was the first woman to then become president of OIQ (1975-76), then president of the Canadian Council of Engineers (1978); her career included many other firsts. Thanks to her example (and to my parents’ confidence in me), I never questioned whether a woman could be an engineer and excel.

Kathryn Foster

Kathryn was my co-worker for nine years when I was in Seattle. She is one of the best engineers I’ve ever met, and definitely the best field engineer I know, period. Although she had a background of broad interest in sciences, she was working as a house-cleaner until she decided to go back to school and earned her degree in civil engineering at age 40! She obtained her professional engineer license a few years later and proceeded to kick butt as a superb, eminently practical and sensible engineer. She also acted as the office IT manager for over a decade, reconfiguring servers on the fly.


* In Québec we have Elementary Grades 1-6, Secondary 1-5, CEGEP or junior college 1-2 or 1-3, then university; so this would be equivalent to Grade 9 in the U.S. Incidentally, I like this system better; it groups students by more similar ages and it lets them do the really stupid stuff and the floating before they hit university. Between a different organization and better funding for student loans and scholarships, 48% of Canadians have a college or university degree, compared to 39% of Americans. Among people less than 45 years old, the proportion of college or university degrees is higher among women than men (this is reversed for ages 55 and older.)

Links of interest:

Ada Lovelace Day sites:

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“On 21 March 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid “pass laws”. In 1966, the General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to commemorate the Sharpeville tragedy (resolution 2142 (XXI) of 26 October 1966). 21 March has since then served not only to remind the international community of the dire consequences of racism, but also to recall our obligation and determination to combat racial discrimination.” – United Nations

There are a lot of UN-proclaimed international days that I was used to seeing marked in Canada, that I know my friends in other countries hear about, but that go unheard-of in the U.S., like March 8 (International Women’s Day since 1909), 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, instituted in 1999), December 1 (World AIDS Day since 1988), etc.

I would like to think about justice for all today, regardless of race or ethnic group but also of gender, nationality, sexual orientation, creed, or whatever divisions we manage to create among ourselves. Some people like to think that the fight is over, at least where they live, that the problem is somewhere else but not at home. I believe that fantastic progress has been made and it should make us proud and confident that in the end we can create a truly equal society, but I also believe that we’re not done yet and there is still a good deal of work to do.

Here’s to equality.

P.S.: If you’re on Facebook, you can participate in today’s virtual Equality Day event.

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(Continuing the discussion of women in science and technology from Part 3 last week, and leading up to Ada Lovelace Day.)

What’s so great about it?

Today I want to talk about some of the reasons science and technology are particularly interesting for women, despite any obstacles.

Let’s face it: at any job that requires raw strength, on average women are going to be disadvantaged compared to men; we expect that when brute force is a necessary ability, there will be more men than women on the job. But there really aren’t that many jobs where that is much of an issue anymore because we human have created a lot of tools to make our lives easier and increase our productivity.

If there is one arena where women should be able to compete with men on even biological footing, it’s in mental pursuits and white collar jobs. The primary obstacles are cultural; we have plenty of evidence that show how malleable the human brain is and how the first few years of life and education shape us. Children in general are bundles of possibility and creativity; only through the mill of high school and adolescence are they ground into the dust of conformity and apathy.

By the time they hit the math and science classes, high school students have often become disaffected; and evidence shows that this is worse for young women, who receive a lot less encouragement than men toward science and technology.

How can we kill the fun out of science and technology? Science is discovery, understanding, the “Ah-ha!” of figuring out what makes things work, the intricate and amazing beauty of an interconnected world. Technology is the entertainment of toys for grown-ups, gadgets, gizmos, gear. How can we make all this boring?

It’s true that math and sciences are “hard” and require a lot of work. But look at the long term: is it not a great big lot of work to be a store clerk, to wait tables, to wash floors, to be the lowest paid employee in the office and have to take on a second or third job to make ends meet? At least as an engineer, a microbiologist, a software developer, a GIS analyst, or a toxicologist, you put extra work up-front in studying, but typically you can expect a career that is respected, physically undemanding, reasonably paid, and in growing demand.

You also have access to opportunities to continue to learn and grow, stay informed about the newest developments in your field, take additional training, tackle new responsibilities, and generally avoid becoming obsolete.

If that is the kind of thing that drives you (as it drives me), you can get a job where you can make a difference. Environmental and medical careers are two obvious avenues; research and development or teaching can also provide a lot of personal satisfaction.

The pay is usually also quite fair. No, you don’t pick science and technology in order to get rich quick; and no, the glass ceiling is not gone yet. But you can definitely expect middle class or upper middle class comfort, and be more “employable” than you be without a tech-oriented skill set. And you can help break the damn ceiling.

A career where you can have fun, excitement, personal satisfaction, reasonable pay, prestige and respect, where you can compete well, where you can make a difference or get your nurturing on if that floats your boat — what’s not to love?

Other posts in this series:

Links of interest:

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