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Chemical Eye on Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
by Preston MacDougall


September 03, 2005

In springtime, everywhere you look, the rural Texas landscape is decorated with colorful wildflowers. Stop and talk to people, and you will soon find that the Lone Star State is also full of colorful characters. Take Kinky Friedman for example.

jpg Preston MacDougall

Kinky is running for Governor in 2006, and in addition to plenty of colorful language, his one-of-a-kind campaign was fertile ground for a fascinating story in The New Yorker ("Lone Star", August 22). One of his unconventional sayings in particular caught my eye: "You have your life and your work, and you should get the two as confused and mixed up as possible."

Thanks to the State of Tennessee, which has had a unique bond with Texas since statesmen Davy Crockett and Sam Houston emigrated from here to there, I am lucky to have such a worklife. Especially since many Americans feel lucky just to have a job.

Although the "giant sucking sound" (which was predicted by another colorful Texan) never quite materialized, it seems as though President Bush's first term in office produced the worst stats, jobs-wise, since the Great Depression. But rather than focusing on the jobs that Americans have lost, President Bush is pushing for revised immigration policies to fill, using his words, "jobs Americans won't do."

Presumably, he was referring to agricultural, construction and custodial jobs that employers are increasingly being found to have filled with illegal immigrants. The president's proposal, which has many good points, hasn't pleased conservatives who want to crackdown on such immigration.

Then there are the jobs that Americans can't do. Rather, not enough of us can. This is evidenced by the earliest ever exhaustion of next year's quota of H-1B visas for foreign professionals, such as scientists and engineers. This is further evidenced by the remarks of a Texas juror after the surprising decision to award $253 million in damages to the widow of a man who died from arrhythmia of the heart. (Merck was sued because clinical trials linked their drug Vioxx to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, but not arrhythmia.)

Obviously not here on a H-1B visa, he said "Whenever Merck was up there, it was like 'wah, wah, wah'" (imitating the unintelligible sounds of the teacher in the television specials about Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang). Speaking for the others in this jury box of cracker jacks (with the mega-prize): "We didn't know what the heck they were talking about."

Perhaps these jurors too often "root, root, root for the home team", and "don't care if they ever get back", to their continuing education that is. But I am afraid that in the World (Economy) Series, the 7th inning refrain goes "For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, of the new ball game."

Lastly, the chorus is growing louder, and from both sides of the political spectrum, that there are jobs that Americans shouldn't do. I am referring to either "policemen of the world" or "mercenaries for oil," depending on which side of the spectrum the "foul" call is coming from.

Maybe I'm as crazy as Kinky, or as block-headed as Charlie Brown, but I dream about the day when high school sweethearts will consider going on a date to a public lecture on chemistry, and "take me out with the crowd" will suggest speakers and abstracts, instead of peanuts and cracker jack.

Don't laugh. Here at MTSU we have an annual Golden Goggles Award Lecture that is held in the evening, and is open to the public. With well-known speakers talking about topics of wide interest, such as therapeutic cloning, herbal remedies, and green chemistry, the crowd swells to near capacity, and all age groups are represented. And, yes, some have been spotted holding hands.

If events such as these were to grow in number and popularity, perhaps instead of lamenting "would'a, could'a, should'a," more Americans will become like Kinky Friedman - dedicating their lives to work, and having a ball while they're at it.

I offer a confession in defense of a possible blitz of angry e-mails, questioning my appreciation of the multitude of blessings offered by inter-scholastic athletics. Yes, it is true that I never took my high school sweetheart to a school football game. There was always a scheduling conflict. I was a captain and quarterback of the team.



Preston MacDougall is a chemistry professor at Middle Tennessee State University. His "Chemical Eye" commentaries are featured in the Arts and Public Affairs portion of the Nashville/Murfreesboro NPR station WMOT (


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