Wednesday, April 1, 2015

There Is No Zucchini Shortage

I hate to keep banging the same drum over and over again, but to reiterate:

There is no zucchini shortage. 

The people at the American Zucchini Society can't be bothered to track the production of zucchini in garden beds across America. I know that vital photosynthesis is done by zucchini plants across the country, but: 

There is no zucchini shortage. 

I know that restaurants across the country are claiming that it's harder and harder to find zucchini in restaurants, but that doesn't seem to track with their composting of thousands of zucchini a year! It's a shame that recruiters claim that kitchens across the country demand zucchini, when we know that their signs read "No Zucchini Sliced Here."  

There is no zucchini shortage!


  1. I joined the AZS specifically to get into more "stem" jobs.

  2. This makes no sense. How come there is no zucchini shortage when there is a stem shortage?

  3. Any comment on the alleged courgette shortage in the EU?

  4. What I've learned is that most people can possibly understand the plight of one beautiful green zucchini, at all, unless you are one of the crop.

    Very Frustrating.

    People think: "Gosh! You've ripened so well! You have such a lovely dark green color! Certainly you will be harvested!"

    But you look around you and see all the other beautiful Zucchini's on the vine, and know you may never be harvested.

    You could be hacked up and sent down the disposal, you tell yourself.

    So you stay on the vine, hoping, praying, that one day you will be harvested....


  5. Hey NMH - There's always another farmer's market next week. And another after that, probably in another city.

  6. Yes, I can be an itenerant zuchinni, going from one farmers marker to the other. I dream Ill make it to the market of the state fair! I just know I will! And I'll be compared to the other most beautiful zauchinni's collected through the state, and I'll win! Because I will only be judged by the quality of my size and greeness! Doesn't matter what farmer threw the seed!

    Ah, yes! Sweet dreams for a young zucchini.

    Until you see all of the others being harvested and your left rotting on the vine.


    *calls in sick and goes home to a darkened room, reading Hemingway*

  7. They call it Squash, Tomato, Eggplant and leguMes, but it's really just Tomato and Eggplant....

  8. Meanwhile, the president called for more H-1B Zucchini.

    1. Which president? In the White House or the ACS? If the latter, then do you have a link to the URL?

  9. CucurbitaPeplosionApril 1, 2015 at 3:12 PM

    In reality, I think the domestic horticulture programs produce an unsustainable number of zucchini.

  10. It would be interesting to see if the Prez has an official statement on H1-Bs. Even more so, if we, the people who elected her, were allowed to comment on the sageness of that statement.

    If we can't find any jobs as chemists, then can be at least buy zucchini with our food stamps?

    1. From personal experience I can say the following:
      - people will comment on anything, especially when they are not allowed to comment;
      - H1-B users are not likely to comment. The level of anxiety induced by the GC process prevents any formation of coherent thought;
      - No, you can't get food stamps on H1-B;
      - You can buy zucchini with food stamps but why would you want to? I chose okra over zucchini every day, food stamps or not.

    2. Okra? I've never had any luck cooking the stuff; but the stuff in restaurants (Chinese?) is tasty. Until I get lucky with another "job" then, there are no more restaurants in the future. And so home-cooked zucchini with tomato sauce and mozzarella will remain my fave.

      Am currently trying to reconcile the zucchini parable with my chemical sharecropper analogy. Would it be correct to speak of zucchini sharecroppers?

    3. A parable of an analogy? That works for the next 34 min only, at least in EDT :).
      Cooking okra works better when using milk-water 1:1 (just like Brussels sprouts). Slight under-cooking works better as okra will continue cooking for a while after draining.
      For me zucchini is best when sliced and grilled. Grilling needs to wait since I still have good 6 inches of snow on top of the grill. Spring time :).

  11. Oh MY GOD:

    1. Thanks for the pointer. This essay is no joke and it is an excellent piece of marketing. All personal achievements are artfully put on display and there is just the right amount of distance set from the personal setbacks. The more random, more personal setbacks are kept closer as a measure of humanizing the writer. The setbacks that can be attributed to less-than-perfect choices are listed and dismissed.

      I would expect no less from an experienced executive.

      I could easily dismiss this essay as glib or inconsequential, or just use it to touch up my cover letter. However, there are those rare glimpses of an actual person shining through the self-control and I can relate to those.

      The motto: “Don’t let others set the agenda, and never, ever let yourself be bullied”. Man, could I ever use that one. My native self is totally driven by my science/engineering/whatever-is-in-focus-now piece. When I had to adjust and conform to the corporate workplace it was so easy to overdo it and let myself be subservient and bullied. Science suffered and opportunities closed. For my own well-being I need my focus on science, so I had to rebalance and ask others to adapt to my needs.

      The theme song: “/ Be curious /… / Get furious / At each attempt to hold you down. /”. Re-kindling the curiosity is the key to rebuilding and moving on. Others will complain and nag. Information – this I can use. Complaints will get my hearing and I will be sympathetic to hurt feelings. Beyond that see the motto.

      There are more glimpses buried in the text. Go find them yourself.

    2. She is a good writer and her advice is solid but her story is ordinary. What is extraordinary was she fell into a rare situation where she was compensated a million a year not so much due to ability but because she was a CEO of a company (yes, company) that is part of the science publishing oligopy, which could charge ridiculously excessive rates of subscription so she could get her million dollars a year. So we have an ordinary woman with probably good, but not extraordinary skills, but she was fell into extraordinary circumstances and now we hearld her as extraordinary.

      Ain't that america...for you and me.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. you wrote "CEO of a company (yes, company) that is part of the science publishing oligopy, " Indeed, I recently asked the president of the Zucchini Growers Union who she represented: "Is it "ACS" or "ACS, Inc."? Or is the ACS just the academic division of the American Chemistry Council?" Not surprisingly, no response.

      One generalization that I will make concerns what appears to be "policy" with representatives of the Zucchini Growers Union: never, ever respond to any questions about the current demand for zucchinis.

      If the zucchini growers can organize into a professional organization -gasp! a union! ( - , then why can't the zucchinis do likewise? Or should we be treated like some sort of lower life form, e.g. a mushroom? Didn't the itinerant zucchini growers also form a union?

    5. This is getting somewhere interesting. Let’s compare the goals of the organizations at formation (based in history pages from official websites or Wikipedia and abstracted by me):

      - AAUP – “to ensure academic freedom” (1915)
      - ACS – “committed to sharing its professional work with a public audience” (1876)
      - AIChE – “Why not the [AIChE]?” (1905 – 1908)

      Below are the primary goals from current mission statements (also abbreviated):

      - AAUP – “to advance academic freedom”
      - ACS – “Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry” through publication of journals, databases, and convening conferences
      - AIChE – “to advance chemical engineering in theory and in practice”

      When I try to condense the corporate speech to plainer English I am left with:

      - AAUP – member protection
      - ACS – sales and marketing
      - AIChE – education + R&D

      This is all plainly written in any materials that encourage joining the organization. Theoretically I knew what I was signing up for.

      Now, could someone please remind me again why we complain that ACS doesn’t do enough of member protection?

    6. @NMH:
      Yes, she is ordinary and these glimpses offer advice applicable to most of us. Were she extraordinary her advice would only apply to those of us who follow extraordinary careers.

    7. SJ, your words are insightful and sage.

      The current discussion on the CJ blog may be drifting towards the conclusion that the ACS can't be reformed, and that a separate organization which unambiguously represents the interests of chemists in North America is needed. In contrast to an organization representing the interests of other organizations which, in turn use chemists as cannon fodder.

      Am taking a deep breath. Are there any prior examples of attempts to establish such an organization, whether it be for chemists or other scientists?

    8. If you want to start a labor union you may want to research the idea. Depending on state and federal laws and the character of chemists' employment (salaried, temp, contract) joining a union may or may not be possible.

      Also, recent efforts to unionize have not been very successful even in more blue collar industries. There are lots of good reasons why that happened. Just like ACS, unions come from a long gone era. Personally, I question whether they present net benefit to the workers.

      There is some interesting history of establishing AIChE in Wikipedia. I would like to see an organization that is more focused on professionalism than ACS in the science space. However, I don't see the strong membership that would jump in, do the hard work, and pay the dues. Chemistry is not a developing profession, it is a declining profession. I just can't see the burning need for revival.

    9. You can unionize, or you can limit supply of grad students. It does not help that university MS and PhD programs are great gateways for immigrants to leave their "hellholes" and come to the west. I don't have problem with them personally but I resent having to compete with cheap immigrant labor. If we unionize, I would suspect we would have to include immigrants with green cards in the unions, making the west an even more attractive destination.

      The only hope is for these other countries to have improved living standards. That way the immigrants are less likely to come here and flood the labor market, and you are less likely to have work outsourced. Until then, Chem will be a lousy career choice for many, if not most, in the west.

    10. @NMH: My reply is simply "no". Please examine social and economics trends underlying what you observe. You can always spend money on administrative fixes. Or you can do something that matters. All choices are laid out in front of us.

    11. I have: The immigrants are coming from lands that offer little hope. At least in the US, they have, what they feel, is an open playing field, and therefore hope to have a good job and raise a family.

      I understand that is important to feel you live in freedom and you offer hope. But when you have a zillion excited immigrant scientists flooding the labor market, then there is no longer hope.

    12. Your statement reflects justifiable concern over your immediate situation. I definitely share your fear of what tomorrow will bring after being unemployed for a longer time that I care to remember. My focus now is to reject fear and rebuild around reasonable expectations.

      The specific issue you describe is a demand problem. There is no supply issue to solve.

      Yes, the immigrants are coming from lands of little hope. In professional fields (like chemistry) there are a lot of immigrants from very successful lands - France, Germany, Ireland, UK, or Poland. This diversity reflects both globalization of science and issues with college education in the US. College graduates abroad are not in the same hope league as farmers from Central America.

      Immigrants do not compete freely for graduate school openings. Immigrants are preferentially selected by PIs because their specific college education and willingness to be used and abused beyond of what is reasonable for a US national.

      This is a demand problem, not a supply problem. This demand as expressed by PIs is pathological because it is created by administratively regulated funding of research.

      You can trace the cause to the needs of the PIs which then can be traced to the funding mechanisms, which can be traced to the politics of funding institutions and so on. Cutting the supply of students from abroad will lead to temporary interruption in PIs' labs and increase the need for US nationals. The net effect will be increased abuse of US nationals and more graduates with Ph.D. and US citizenship. The numbers will bounce back in a year or two because the US college graduates don’t have that many options, either.

      While you can entice Ph.D.'s without US citizenship back to their countries of origin by exporting jobs, what are you going to do with graduates born in the US? Peace Corps is one way to export them – temporarily.

      On the job supply side the jobs were NOT taken over by immigrants. The jobs are gone. They are gone to BRIC for now. They will be gone somewhere else before long.

      This is a demand problem, not a supply problem. The demand is lacking because we (the US citizens) explicitly allowed the jobs to be exported.

      Attempting to increase demand (for job candidates) by restricting supply (kick the immigrants out) fails 100% of the time. You simply have to create demand. This is Economics 101.

  12. I diagree with your statement that restricting supply of foreign labor will not improve working conditions. There was a time when foreign labor was restricted: the 1960-70's, when labor from countries like China, India and Russia could not come here even if they wanted to. Coincident with this was a time when you got a PhD you pretty much were gruaranteed a great job, career...and even better, you did not have to post-doc. I believe it was more that co-incidence; it was, in part, casual: national graduates did not have to compete with green-card holders for good jobs like they do today. So I would argue if laws were instituted that restricted the ability of universities to bring in immigrant labor than would generally improve the options for our national graduates. Again, all of the immigrants I have met have been very nice people but I have to compete with them to keep my job, or find a new one.

    1. NMH, I am confronted with the same observations as you are. Of course, though, what sort of expectations would you have for a "AAC" (American Association of Chemists)?

      Ironically, I have asked CJ in the past if he would care to host a discussion on all of the equal opportunity nonsense. Everything else being equal, who gets the job: a white guy who is a US citizen, or a "visible minority" or lady who is not a US citizen? CJ declined to host the discussion...

    2. I dont have any solutions. I know that employers want the best people they can get, no matter what race, creed, or color. That makes sense to me.

      But shouldn't you home country try to sponsor its citizens who pay taxes into the system (graduate programs in universities are in part supported by state taxes, and NIH grants from federal taxes). If academic system brings in so much immigrant labor that reasonably talented american nationals can no longer have a good career so that they can raise a family, than I think some immigration restrictions are in order, or taxes should no longer be used to support research.

    3. On the specific question of taxation:
      Yes, state funded institutions should absolutely be supported by taxation of the participants. The country I was born in has a tax treaty with the US. It states that the legal subjects of the US and of my country of origin are require to pay the HIGHER of the two tax rates. I was essentially exempt from taxes on my earnings from the graduate school. I did the math and my tax rate would have been near zero anyway if I paid the US tax on a 1040. I have paid the full US tax rate since graduation. I will be paying the US tax rate even if I move back to the country of origin at any point in the future.

      On the question of state sponsorship:
      I was fully sponsored by my country of origin. I received a fully funded, fully US recognized college + MS education without a penny of US tax contribution. That value of approx. $150k was imported with me to the US without prejudice. The US government recognizes this as a transfer of value to the US from abroad and restricts this by requiring the government of origin to agree to this divestment.

      Bottom line: the net tax benefit is to the US. To recognize this you need to do a full cost/benefit analysis.

    4. I think that is great that you did not use US taxes to get your education here if you are a foreign national. If I may ask, don't you think if your country supported you with $150K of your country-of-origin governments ( I presume), and therefore taxpayers (I presume again) money that you you should return to your country of origin to support its development?

      Especially in the current job circumstances in the US (I presume that is where you are), where if you returned to your country of origin, it is possible that a US national might get the job?

    5. This works as you describe only if you focus on what is now in front of you. Both nature (science) and politics are continuous and to use them well we must recognize both sources and consequences of our actions.

      Anyone is free not to do it. We have been extraordinarily successful exercising this freedom. Where did this get us?

      I have fully presented my ideas on this subject. I don't engage in personal attacks.

    6. It was not meant as a personal attack. I was trying to understand your rationale for not returning home, with some (admitibly) direct questions. I understand now. Thank you for engaging me.

    7. I will explain the personal nature once and then I will end my contribution to this subject.

      I am a US citizen. To suggest that I should stop being one is direct, personal, and insulting. I have presented my rationale to the US government. I consider this a sufficient disclosure.You are entitled to your own conclusions.

  13. I had some concern that the conversation would take this turn.

    Yes, it is true that the people who come over here from the third world for doctoral studies come from from a much lower economic starting point than do North Americans. I say "third world", and not "BRIC", because I have only ever once met a grad student from Russia or Brazil. This is also different than citizens of Western European countries who come over here.

    The lack of a job market for us is ultimately caused by our capitalist society. The correct term to use is laissez-fare. The two interrelated symptoms of this are (a) export of jobs and (b) import of cheap, docile labor. As well, chemists have a tendency to invent themselves out of a job.

    For example relating to (b) , the start-up with which I did have a job was funded by an anglo US venture capitalist and billionaire who made his money by importing Chinese furniture to the US. Ironically, just before getting canned, I purchased a sofa-bed which had been designed and manufactured in the US, and not you-know-where.

    Back to the question of a professional organization to represent the interests of chemists. Agreed, a union wouldn't work. On the other hand, by comparison, the AAUP represents professor-employees, and not universities. Why should the ACS represent us as employees, then, when they so blatantly look out for the interests of –generally speaking- employers?

    What are some realistic expectations of what sort of representation we can expect?

    1. There are plenty of successful US companies in industries that we think were fully exported. Here in NE there are several mills producing fabric that is both valuable and sought after. Your furniture example is another good one. To be successful an owner of such business must have a goal to produce and sell in the US. If the goal is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible then people get laid off.

      The job export resulted from several taxpayer sponsored experiments in reshaping China and its neighbors. This was an scientifically unsound idea and was criticized by many when it was implemented in the 80s. The corresponding idea that demolished the home job market was the trickle-down economics.

      The beneficiary of the "opening" in China was the Chinese government and associated cronies. The mechanism was technology transfer and job creation by US companies with full ideological and administrative support of the US government. To someone who witnessed and somewhat understood the mechanics of the "communist" government in countries like China the result was obvious and 100% guaranteed. The power of money naturally merged with the power of the government.

      Now we want the same administrative intervention to "fix" the local situation. Aren't we in enough trouble to stop asking for more? We want immigration restrictions when a new Pacific treaty is being finalized without almost any opposition. What are we doing?

      On the ACS subject:
      My reading of the vision/goals and the history of the organization is that ACS was not organized to represent employees. It was organized to popularize (market, sell) information about chemistry. The representative function is an add-on. I don't have any realistic expectation that the representation will ever displace the sales.

      We can design and execute any representative organization we want. What do we want, who wants it, and who will pay for it?

  14. Hey, guys, let's take a deep breath (strange that I should be saying this). In this discussion, it's too easy to accidentally step on each others' toes.

    The underlying situation is that there are too many smart people coming from diverse economic backgrounds, who understandably wish to improve their material lots. And to varying extents, they are willing to be exploited by mastrubating American university professors, horse-blinded CEOs and greedy MBAs. At least in part the reason for their willing to be exploited is the hope that someday, they may join the ranks of the tenured professors, CEOs and MBAs. But there are only so many resources to go around, and those resources are becoming increasingly lopsided. As well, people immigrating to the US also bring new ideas with them, and that isn’t all bad.

    This situation leads to some difficult questions which must nevertheless be discussed. Unless you wish to ignore them. In ignoring those questions, the ACS-ocracy is perpetuating the situation. I am proposing some open-ended questions which might lead to a new organization which represents chemists in the US. You, too should make some questions, but please be careful of how you phrase them.
    (1) Who counts as an “American chemist”? Is it someone who has a US passport, a Green Card or an H1-B visa? Does “American” mean US-American or North American?
    (2) Is a 100% laissez-fare system for science in the best interests of the “American chemist”? Or, do we need a system which has some patriotic-protectionist element to it, like is the case for other Western Democracies?
    (3) Considering the pending rise of BRIC countries’ economies, is the massive outsourcing of knowledge, science and technology to those countries in our long-term national interest?
    (3) It is vital that we develop a mechanism to communicate the truth about employment to the public and the government. Otherwise, the average news reporter will just lap up all of the shiny bullshit from an ACS-ocracy representative. How should we do this? Some ideas include (a) a lobbying organization? (b) our own Press Officer? (c) a Policy Statement, which could be directly presented to the NSF and government science/policy wanks, as well as press outlets? The latter option would allow us some anonymity (useful, from the perspective of possible future employment options). I draw your attention to the 2012 Shakhashiri report, which very recently became a discussion point with the NSF:
    (4) Data. What sort of data is available to support any claims which we could make? Here, we need to be resourceful. Do employment statistics exist? How about the number of H1-B visas which are granted on an annual basis for Chemistry graduate studies – especially relative to the numbers of job openings and unemployment levels? Are “exit survey” data available from the ACS about what happens to unemployed members after they have exhausted their membership fee waiver?
    (5) How should the federal research-support system be changed, such as to FIRST meaningfully employ the AVAILABLE chemists (and other scientists) before sucking more people into the system?
    (6) What happens to mid-career people who didn't spend time at elite US universities, but who are otherwise highly qualified?

    That’s enough for today. Now it’s time to look for work again.

    1. Your essay is great, GC. Many good questions you are asking.

      What I vaguely recall is that in some European countries there are laws on the books that allow preferenital hiring of native-born citizens to others for jobs in their country.

      I propose that as a possible solution to American Chemists woes; place preferential hiring of native-born citizens by law, or make it extremely difficult for an immigrant to become a citizen. Add to that to making it more difficult for immigrants to get a Visa then I think you will see conditions improving for American citizens who want to do chemistry research.

      Just my 2 cents.

    2. Ugh. How sad and small-minded. Trust me, my fellow Americans, there are much bigger forces in the world that are causing our current woes than immigrants terking err jerbs. Let's ignore that underlying such high-minded "patriotic-protectionist" nonsense is just the same old "got mine, fuck you" attitude.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Dear "Z", if you would kindly take the time to read all of the comments and discussion here, then I hope that you will agree that my discussion admits upfront that "immigrants" are not the cause of the situation, but rather a symptom of it.

      I have also pointed out that "As well, people immigrating to the US also bring new ideas with them, and that isn’t all bad." And, the fact that I am exchanging views with ”NMH” does not imply that I entirely agree with his/her opinions. In that context, I am sorry to see that “SJ” has decided to no longer participate in this dialogue, because I valued his/her insight and perspective.

      The questions which I have posed are, for the most part, real questions, as opposed to rhetorical ones. The purpose is to foster a discussion on what principles an organization which exclusively represents the interests of chemists in North America could have. Can you make any positive contributions to that discussion? That is what would distinguish you as a colleague, as opposed to a troll.

  15. ops. Provisional suggestion of name for organization: Society of Concerned American Chemists. It would need a name, because reports, statements etc. are more credible to simple-minded journalists when they come from organizations.