Tag Archives: William Faulkner

How a 10 cent increase in the minimum wage put me on page one of the Centre Daily Times

Note: Sunday, September 9, 2012, State College, PA 5:57 PM, EDT.  My friend Philip Moery is fond of quoting William Faulkner’s observation, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even the past.” This observation became trenchant yesterday when I received a post from Scott W., who, like me, is a member of a lively discussion group on politics. Scott W. sent group members an article for comment entitled, “Why the Minimum Wage Doesn’t Explain Stagnant Wages.”

As it turns out, I have a part-time job at Penn State‘s virtual reality laboratory for the construction industry where I am paid a minimum wage out of funds provided by Experience Works,  a U.S. Department of Labor program for disabled and elderly individuals.

As my sister Sarah Schmerler points out, brevity is not my strong suit. I will delay additional comments on  the subject until you have the opportunity to read the story which appeared on page one–indeed the event taking place on a slow July news day, it was not only an above-the-fold front page story, it was the lead story in the Centre Daily Times published in State College PA. The occasion was the increase in July 2009 to $7.25 cents an hour. Reporter Nick Malawskey asked me how I felt about earning an additional 10 cents an hour. Below is the story as published.

While interviewing me, I told Nick about that marvelous song, “7 1/2 cents” from the musical comedy The Pajama Game. The Pajama Game, which first appeared on Broadway in 1954 and became a Doris-Day-starring movie in 1957–a movie I vividly remember but understandably before Nick’s time. After the article appeared, I emailed Nick the MP3 of “7 1/2 cents” which I had purchased on iTunes, but sadly the Centre Daily Times’ email system limited the bandwidth of emails to reporters. What with one thing and another, Nick never had the opportunity to hear the song.

For your  pleasure, here is Doris Day on YouTube:

The following is the lead story that appeared on Friday, July 24, 2009 of the Centre Daily Times (known locally as “The CDT“). Readers are encouraged to subscribe to the hard-copy version of the CDT not only to learn when, if ever, I receive another 10-cent an hour increase in pay. Also, the CDT has been covering in detail the aftermath of the child molestation scandal at Penn State, the largest employer in the county. This scandal has thus far hit Centre County with greater force than a 9.o earthquake on the  Richter Magnitude Scale.

After the article, see Afternote.

++++

Friday, Jul. 24, 2009

MINIMUM WAGE

Workers praise 10 cent increase

Nick Malawskey

STATE COLLEGE — While most companies are scaling back on annual raises this year, about 15 million Americans will receive at least a small bump in pay today when the federal minimum wage increases to $7.25 an hour.

In Pennsylvania, the wage increase will amount to only 10 cents an hour for the roughly 200,000 people who earn the standard. That’s because Pennsylvania raised its minimum wage above the federal standard to $7.15 per hour two years ago.

But those living on the margin say every little bit helps.

In Centre County, the region’s largest employer — Penn State — said the increase will affect about 240 of its part-time workers.

They include Joel Solkoff, who works part-time at the university through Experience Works, an employment training program for older or disabled Pennsylvanians.

“I guess there are two sides to it,” said Solkoff, a 61-year-old technical writer. “One is that any increase in income, especially if you make as little as I do, is appreciated.”

Solkoff, who is disabled, uses his monthly earning to supplement his Social Security income while building skills he hopes will land him a permanent job.

“The other aspect of it is that one hopes that the work that you’re doing will be appreciated,” he said. “And the encouragement that comes from getting a little more money in your paycheck is very much appreciated. It serves as an inducement for me to continue doing this, so I can get out in the marketplace and find a job that gets me off Social Security.”

Penn State said the wage hike will increase the university system’s payroll costs by only about $15,000 a year.

Relatively few county workers are affected, with most convenience and retail stores reporting they already pay workers more than the minimum wage. The county’s second largest employer, the State College Area School District, said none of its 1,100-plus workers will be affected.

Still, not everyone welcomes the increase.

“Wage hikes always cause a spike in the unemployment rate, and with the country in the middle of a recession, businesses are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Kristen Lopez Eastlick, a senior research analyst at the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C. “The economy will continue to hemorrhage entry-level jobs unless legislators stop this summer’s minimum wage hike from happening.”

Despite the increases, the federal minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation.

David Passmore, with Penn State’s Workforce Education and Development program, said the gap between average and minimum wage pay of nonsupervisory workers has grown remarkably since the 1970s.

“When you take in the erosion of purchasing power through inflation, the so-called ‘real’ minimum wage has declined by one-third since 1968,” he said in an e-mail.

Passmore said the effects of an increase in the minimum wage are often complex.

“In Pennsylvania, it is estimated that 8.9 percent of the workforce were affected by a minimum wage increase in 2009 amounting to 7.8 percent of wages,” he wrote. “At the same time, the minimum wage increase is estimated to have brought about an 0.37 percent increase in production costs (fuel, capital, labor) and a 0.25 percent decrease in Pennsylvania employment.”

Solkoff has a different perspective.

“Minimum wage is supposed to guarantee that those people on the lowest part of the ladder will be given a wage that is minimally fair — high enough to support life and so on,” he said, adding that in his case, it will help pay the rent, buy a few extra cups of coffee at Webster’s — and, he said, help support the economy.

“That’s going to be economic stimulus money that I will be helping the economy out with,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not saving that 10 cents.”

Nick Malawskey can be reached at 235-3928.

++++

Afternote: During the Carter Administration (where I earned considerably more than minimum wage), I served as Special Assistant to Deputy Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown for whom I wrote several speeches on the minimum wage. Jimmy Carter would never have been elected President without the support of George Meany, President of the AFL-CIO. For those who remember the power of organized labor to affect national policy, George Meany remains sui generis. In writing about the minimum wage, I was loyal to Meany’s insistence on the significance of the minimum wage in preserving a floor for a national standard of living and for defending other legislation such as the Davis-Bacon Act providing a more-livable “prevailing wage” which helped  women and men working on federally funded projects become members of the middle-class as a result of their hard work. [Permission to use Time Magazine’s marvelous cover is requested.]

Even with the best of intentions, Walter Shapiro, whom last I heard was a columnist for USA Today, originally brought me in to the Labor Department to write a minimum wage speech for Secretary Ray Marshall. With the assistance of Tom Connoly, my drumming instructor, who also is helping me organize my files, I plan to locate the speech Walter and I wrote on the minimum wage which resulted in unanticipated consequences. Don’t leave this site; a copy of the speech with a story to go with it will be coming soon.

–30–

Teach It Diligently to Your Children


Background for the ongoing story, did I return from the Democratic Convention and Tokyo in time to coach when my first child Joanna was born? See Part 1: http://www.joelsolkoff.com/?p=604

++++

I remember clearly that astonishing first visit to the obstetrician, the one where I saw for the first time a sonic image of my first child inside her mother’s womb and heard the heartbeat. This was over 26 years ago and I remember it as clearly as if it were happening right now between the strokes on my computer keyboard.

I brought a cassette tape recorder to the obstetrician’s office and from then until Joanna’s birth, I rode around Washington DC where I lived for 17 years and where I often drove with the kind of automatic pilot that comes with familiarity. While the automatic pilot was driving, the rest of me was listening to the sound of life, primitive and vital coursing through the internal consciousness of my mind.

The heartbeat sound was surprisingly fast. There were times I heard it and remembered with clarity the sonic image of a creature who swam and looked like a frog and who would shortly be my child—the person whose umbilical cord I would cut.

What could I teach such a person? How could I flaws and all (and I was often overwhelmed by the specificity of my flaws) be a father commanded to teach, commanded to teach it diligently, commanded to teach what? This much I knew. After years of repeating the phrase from the shima, in Hebrew and in English often-multiple-times-a-day that God was not simply commanding me simply to teach my children the story of the Exodus from Egypt–unless you regard the deliverance from slavery a story that transcends that specific historic occasion and becomes a story of the universal quest for freedom and holiness.

It is germane that I have always been perplexed by the words of the havdalla service at the end of the Sabbath, lighting the multi-wicked candle, smelling the fragrence, consuming the booze (my stepfather preferred substituting 120 proof slivovitch) and recognizing that we were marking the difference between the holiness of the Sabbath and ordinary quality of the rest of the week. “Hamavdeel bein kaddish lechol.” How can we make such a distinction? Isn’t everything holy? Is there really a dividing line?

Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about being a good father—not with the intensity that drove me to drive sometimes aimlessly through the streets of DC listening to the heart beat, wondering whether I would measure up to being a good father. It is not that Joanna is 26 and Amelia is 20. We parents know that there is no end to being a parent.

I am, of course, gratified that my daughters have read Hemingway, believe strongly in the majesty of the 14 amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the promise The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing side by side with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (a great theologian in a century of great theologians), gave us—a promise of equality and the perception that no one is free until all human beings are free.

But what about being Jewish? Did I teach Joanna and Amelia what it means to be a Jew? For me especially being Jewish has been very complicated. As I contemplate the recent death of my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler, who was a Hebrew educator, I understand that some Jewish issues have always been clear and simple (as clear and simple as it is possible for Jews to let things be):

1.      We Jews are a very old people. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “Most scholars agree that the texts now found in Genesis began to be written down sometime after the establishment of the monarchy in Israel in the tenth century B.C.E.” These documents were part of an oral tradition that traces back farther than history itself. We are not only an old people; we are a clan; landsmen, people who have an obligation to each other and the world too often obscured by disagreements less important than they seem at the time.

2.      Theodore Herzl was divinely inspired when, after witnessing the Dreyfus trial in what was believed to be progressive France, Herzl concluded that our people require a Jewish state located in the holy land. Today’s Middle Eastern problems may seem insoluble, but in my lifetime I have seen the fall of the Berlin wall, majority rule in South Africa, and a palpable harmony in Northern Ireland to the point where Joanna spent her junior year abroad in Belfast and her parents did not fear for her safety.

3.      The revival of the Hebrew language was one of the great miracles of the 20 century, accomplished despite opposition by the Orthodox community which stoned Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his children for speaking God’s language outside the synagogue. Not only is the majesty of the Hebrew language in the Bible—our book; we are the people of the book—better understood today than ever before. But a new, vital language has sprung up in Israeli soil. Nobel Prize committees sometimes err in their choices. The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Shmuel Yosef Agnon for using the Hebrew language to demonstrate the human ability to communicate on the highest level can be compared equally to the award to William Faulkner, kindred souls despite worlds of difference.

4.      Being the “chosen people” means we have been chosen to have an often confusing relationship with God. I have been reading James L. Kugel’s brilliant How to Read the Bible. Kugel, a former Harvard professor of Hebrew, reconciles modern Biblical scholarship, which has done so much to make the Bible accessible, with traditional Midrashic interpretation, ending in about 200 AD.

Kugel says the following about God: “As for where He is normally, He is simply elsewhere, behind the curtain of everyday reality, but from time to time He crosses into the world.”

-30-

[Note: This posting appeared in slightly different form in Brit Shalom of State College, PA’s quarterly publication The Center Scroll, January/February 2011. Copyright © by Joel Solkoff, 2011.]

State College, PA – Celebrate Hemingway and the Scholarship that Makes Penn State More Than a Party School

Greatness comes in often curious packages. The greatness I have in mind, as I sit here in my apartment in State College, is Ernest Hemingway, a genius whose link to this area – through a combination of circumstances – is strong.

“Hemingway made a difference,” wrote the late Philip Young, of Penn State’s English department. “There are people who do not admire his work, but even these are perfectly ready to admit – if only that they may deplore the fact – that he is ‘important.’ It is hard to think of a contemporary American who had more influence on modern writing, or on whom both general readers and literary critics are more likely to agree that the experience of his fiction is worth having.”

The clock on a Spanish television website is counting down 22 hours, 32 minutes, and 52 seconds. “Not long to go” the clock explains after I push the “English” button to understand. At the end of the countdown, the bulls around Pamplona, Spain, beginning every morning at 8 a.m. from July 7-14, run through the streets to the bullring. In the evening, the best of the bulls are chosen and slaughtered in a bullfight Hemingway described in loving detail in two of his best books, “The Sun Also Rises” and “Death in the Afternoon.”

There is a bust of Hemingway in downtown Pamplona where he is a national hero. State College should have a bust of Hemingway in front of the municipal building.

Certainly, it is a shame that Hemingway’s conception of manhood is linked to his glorification of brutal yet stylized death.

“Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time,” Hemingway wrote in “The Sun Also Rises.” “He did not have to emphasize their closeness. Brett saw how something that was beautiful done close to the bull was ridiculous if it were done a little way off. I told her how since the death of Joselito all the bull-fighters had been developing a technique that simulated this appearance of danger in order to give a fake emotional feeling, while the bull-fighter was really safe. Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum of exposure, while he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable, while he prepared him for the killing.”

The language is so clear. Before Hemingway, good style included ornamentation – long words, long sentences, long paragraphs, and lots of adjectives. After Hemingway, the nature of American writing changed. Certainly, there is a place for the elegance of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the beautiful intricacies of William Faulkner. However, what Hemingway gave all of us was the example of what good writing can be.

In a world where the written word still dominates communication, Hemingway showed that the best writing says what you want to say, simply, clearly, and without fuss. Anyone who teaches good writing teaches Hemingway. Hemingway’s manual on bullfighting “Death in the Afternoon” is the best model technical writers can use to describe software. Does it matter that Hemingway’s character flaws were numerous and his affectations were questionable?

For some people, greatness has no rules and the celebration of that greatness requires our admiration.

Here in State College, we live in the center where one of America’s greatest writers is studied and appreciated. Penn State’s associate professor of English Sandra Spanier, following in the scholarly tradition of Phil Young, is in the process of editing the complete letters of Ernest Hemingway.

Penn State does not need to think of itself as a party school any longer. Forget football and beer bongs. Read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and read them to your children as I have read them to mine.

The Book of John asserts, “In the beginning was the Word … ” In our midst Ernest Hemingway, warts and all, receives the appreciation he deserves for keeping the spirit of the word alive.

 

State College, PA – Celebrate Hemingway, the Running of the Bulls and the Scholarship that Makes Penn State More Than a Party School

Self: Cultural identity Judaism

The following appeared in Brit Shalom of State College, PA’s quarterly publication The Center Scroll, January/February 2011

Teach It Diligently to Your Children

               I remember clearly that astonishing first visit to the obstetrician, the one where I saw for the first time a sonic image of my first child inside her mother’s womb and heard the heartbeat. This was over 26 years ago and I remember it as clearly as if it were happening right now between the strokes on my computer keyboard.
I brought a cassette tape recorder to the obstetrician’s office and from then until Joanna’s birth, I rode around Washington DC where I lived for 17 years and where I often drove with the kind of automatic pilot that comes with familiarity. While the automatic pilot was driving, the rest of me was listening to the sound of life, primitive and vital coursing through the internal consciousness of my mind.
The heartbeat sound was surprisingly fast. There were times I heard it and remembered with clarity the sonic image of a creature who swam and looked like a frog and who would shortly be my child—the person whose umbilical cord I would cut.
What could I teach such a person? How could I flaws and all (and I was often overwhelmed by the specificity of my flaws) be a father commanded to teach, commanded to teach it diligently, commanded to teach what? This much I knew. After years of repeating the phrase from the shima, in Hebrew and in English often-multiple-times-a-day that God was not simply commanding me simply to teach my children the story of the Exodus from Egypt–unless you regard the deliverance from slavery a story that transcends that specific historic occasion and becomes a story of the universal quest for freedom and holiness.
It is germane that I have always been perplexed by the words of the havdalla service at the end of the Sabbath, lighting the multi-wicked candle, smelling the fragrence, consuming the booze (my stepfather preferred substituting 120 proof slivovitch) and recognizing that we were marking the difference between the holiness of the Sabbath and ordinary quality of the rest of the week. “Hamavdeel bein kaddish lechol.” How can we make such a distinction? Isn’t everything holy? Is there really a dividing line?
Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about being a good father—not with the intensity that drove me to drive sometimes aimlessly through the streets of DC listening to the heart beat, wondering whether I would measure up to being a good father. It is not that Joanna is 26 and Amelia is 20. We parents know that there is no end to being a parent.
I am, of course, gratified that my daughters have read Hemingway, believe strongly in the majesty of the 14 amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the promise The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. standing side by side with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Shmuel Yosef Agnon(a great theologian in a century of great theologians), gave us—a promise of equality and the perception that no one is free until all human beings are free.
But what about being Jewish? Did I teach Joanna and Amelia what it means to be a Jew? For me especially being Jewish has been very complicated. As I contemplate the recent death of my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler, who was a Hebrew educator, I understand that some Jewish issues have always been clear and simple (as clear and simple as it is possible for Jews to let things be):
1.      We Jews are a very old people. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible, “Most scholars agree that the texts now found in Genesis began to be written down sometime after the establishment of the monarchy in Israel in the tenth century B.C.E.” These documents were part of an oral tradition that traces back farther than history itself. We are not only an old people; we are a clan; landsmen, people who have an obligation to each other and the world too often obscured by disagreements less important than they seem at the time.
2.      Theodore Herzl was divinely inspired when, after witnessing the Dreyfus trial in what was believed to be progressive France, Herzl concluded that our people require a Jewish state located in the holy land. Today’s Middle Eastern problems may seem insoluble, but in my lifetime I have seen the fall of the Berlin wall, majority rule in South Africa, and a palpable harmony in Northern Ireland to the point where Joanna spent her junior year abroad in Belfast and her parents did not fear for her safety.
3.      The revival of the Hebrew language was one of the great miracles of the 20 century, accomplished despite opposition by the Orthodox community which stoned Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his children for speaking God’s language outside the synagogue. Not only is the majesty of the Hebrew language in the Bible—our book; we are the people of the book—better understood today than ever before. But a new, vital language has sprung up in Israeli soil. Nobel Prize committees sometimes err in their choices. The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Shmuel Yosef Agnon for using the Hebrew language to demonstrate the human ability to communicate on the highest level can be compared equally to the award to William Faulkner, kindred souls despite worlds of difference.
4.      Being the “chosen people” means we have been chosen to have an often confusing relationship with God. I have been reading James L. Kugel’s brilliant How to Read the Bible. Kugel, a former Harvard professor of Hebrew, reconciles modern Biblical scholarship, which has done so much to make the Bible accessible, with traditional Midrashic interpretation, ending in about 200 AD.
Kugel says the following about God: “As for where He is normally, He is simply elsewhere, behind the curtain of everyday reality, but from time to time He crosses into the world.”
–Joel Solkoff
[Note: Congregation Brit Shalom is a reform synagogue. The article above appeared in slightly different form (ishorter than this blog posting). Material Copyright © by Joel Solkoff, 2011.