Lifestyles of the lumpen middle-class, Millenial Generation edition

Lumpenprofessoriat recently offered some interesting comments on my post last week on book buy-back schemes (and on Ortho’s comments on that post, too.)  Hir post inspired me to write about something that’s been on my mind for several years now, even if it does threaten to out me as a young fogey complaining about “kids these days…and their music, it’s just noise!”  Well, actually, I don’t mind the music so much, but I do have questions about the kids these days. 

LumpenProf writes, “Right now, every cut in student aid and every increase in tuition, fees, parking, textbooks, housing, and food creates a cadre of students who can only afford to look at the bottom line and will approach higher education with the same eye towards cost savings they use in a trip to Wal-mart.”  Ze argues (like Ortho) that students are just responding rationally when they sell their books, although ze disagrees with Ortho’s notion that cooperating in book buyback schemes will bring on the Revolution faster.  “Students are behaving like poorly paid workers. They want payday to get here as soon as possible,” says LumpenProf.  I get this–and don’t entirely disagree–but I want to address the costs of higher education in this post.  There is a lot of money being spent, but I’m afraid it’s not just state legislatures and university administrations that are making bad decisions about investing in higher education.  (The following comments apply only to my university–I realize that there are all kinds of different institutions and all kinds of different college students these days, so your mileage may vary.  I’ll be interested to get your opinions vis-a-vis what you see at your institutions of higher learning, whether you’re a faculty member, a student, or simply an informed and interested member of your community.

A few years ago, when I was fairly new at my current university (my one and only experience with a large, public university), I commented on how many of my students seemed to have full-time or nearly full-time jobs, and how that inevitably interfered with their educations.  Jobs, not their educational needs or personal interests, seemed to dictate their schedules (as in, “I can’t take any afternoon MWF classes because of my job.”  “I have to take all Tuesday-Thursday classes because of my job.”  What if the senior seminar you need is Wednesday at 2 p.m.?  Guess we’ll be seeing you semester after next, too.)  I commented sympathetically about this, saying that I felt sorry that so many of our students had to work so hard, until a senior colleague of mine (who’s a hard-edged libertarian) said, “I don’t feel sorry for them at all.”  I was shocked by what I heard as his callousness–we teach at a large, public university.  Many of our students who seem like traditional, full-time college-aged students have children already, in addition to jobs, and are enmeshed in webs of responsibilities that I (like most of my colleagues) was largely free of until my early thirties.  Many other of our students are in their late twenties to mid-forties, trying to earn that B.A. that eluded them when they partied too hard/got married/had a child/ran out of money the first time around.  My colleague continued, “When I was in college [in the late 1970s] we lived in a dorm.  We didn’t have apartments, we didn’t have cars, we didn’t go out.  We had a an appropriately simple lifestyle.  Most of our students are working to support an adult lifestyle, not to put themselves through school.”

More after the flip… Continue reading

Like a pig to the slaughter

Via Feminist Law ProfessorsNature reports on a study by Sherry Towers, a former Fermilab physicist, showing a consistent pattern of discrimination against women postdocs at Fermilab from 1998-2006.  (You can read the whole data-rich study here.)  In sum:  women worked harder but were consistently rewarded less than their male peers.  Surprise!  “Women did 40% more maintenance work than their male counterparts, and . . . female postdocs produced significantly more ‘internal papers’ per year. But based on that productivity they were only one-third as likely to be allocated conference talks as their male peers.”  The article in Nature explains the importance of conference papers to building a strong resume: 

Conference presentations are critical to a young particle physicist’s career. Papers from collaborations such as DZero have hundreds of authors in alphabetical order. Being given the chance to present results at a meeting is a major way for young researchers to stand out. “It’s important,” says Pauline Gagnon, a physicist with the ATLAS detector at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland. “Being able to give talks is a way of rewarding individuals for their work.”

Most particle detectors have internal committees that allocate conference presentations to researchers. These committees are frequently male-dominated, and Towers believes this lies behind the discrimination. “I don’t think for a second that there is a conscious bias going on,” she says. But the committees “are in danger of being prone to patronage and cronyism”. Male committee members are more likely to nominate male protégés to receive presentation time, she claims.

The study suggests (once again!) that informal networking is key.  “Female physicists contacted by Nature said Towers’s data matched their personal experiences of institutional sexism in physics. ‘You often see a young guy with an older guy gossiping and having coffee, but never a woman,’ says Freya Blekman, a physicist on the CMS experiment at CERN.”  If you check out the Nature article, be sure to read through some of the comments, particularly the first one (and the many replies it inspired), which is as sparkling an example of defensive asshattery as I’ve ever seen.  Says Dr. Paul Kantorek:

My experience as a physicist working with the occasional female colleagues leads me to a subjective impression that women really think differently. Female thinking seems to be more lateral then vertical. By that I mean, women in physics are generally harder working than male colleagues and are great co-workers in terms of encouragement, diligence, and backup support. They do not, however, contribute a great deal of original ideas and rigorous logical analysis to the research. Female judgment seems to more emotionally biased.

Um, yeah.  Inadvertently, he gives an excellent explanation for why women are so underrrepresented in physics:  a**hole gatekeepers like himself.  Paging Dr. Kantorek–the twenty-first century is calling!  Just be glad that you’re not a student or faculty member at Ryerson University in Toronto, where the esteemed Dr. Kantorek teaches.  (Unless you are–in which case, my condolences if you have to work with him.)  Other reactions to Kantorek here, and here

Fortunately, the other commenters (women and men alike) at Nature seem to have him in hand.  As Tanja Schmidt suggests, “Imagine Kantorek would have said the same things about jews, gays, black, foreigners or other minorities.”  Well–that’s the thing.  We can’t imagine that he would have eagerly jumped to the head of the line to say the same thing about an entire ethnic group.  (Not so sure she’s right about the gays, who are after all gender queer, just like women physicists!)  He might think it–but he wouldn’t probably say it out loud or write it under his real name.  As we have learned this year, it’s permissible to say absolutely anything about high-achieving women, even to engage in eliminationist fantasies and rhetoric.  It’s all good, if you’re just putting teh bitchez in their place!

Potterville in the spring, and a girl's thoughts turn to books. And pregnancy in captivity.

Here in Potterville, Colorado, it’s the most beautiful two weeks of the year.  The many crabapple, apple, plum, peach, and cherry trees are in full bloom, as are the tulips; if the forsythia holds on, just about every flowering tree and bush in my yard will be abloom at the same time. 

What, you say?  Historiann lives in the High Plains desert?  What the hell is she doing with a veritable fruit orchard in her garden?  Trees are integral to the history of (the pseudonymous) Potterville, which started out in 1870 as a Utopian experiment called the Union Colony, and was organized around the principles of teetotalism, anti-capitalist communitarianism, and bringing trees to the Great American Desert.  Well, one of out three goals outlasted the first decade, and it makes for a spectacular show of blossoms in late April and early May.

According to Enduring Roots:  Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape by Gayle Brandow Samuels (1999), town founder Nathan Meeker spent the princely sum of $1,490.00 on bringing Eastern trees west–apple trees, maples, and evergreens–and in the first season, watched most of them wither and die (pp. 97-99).  They were replaced by trees that were given much more water and attention, hence the odd landscape Potterville presents today:  when you cross the town line and kick the tumbleweeds out of the front grille of your car, you’re greeted with flora that recall the Delaware and Ohio River valleys. 

I’ve heard it suggested by local house museum docents that Meeker’s death was an indirect result of his sumptuous budget for trees.  Before coming to Colorado, Meeker was the agricultural editor of the New York Tribune, and the newspaper’s publisher, Horace Greeley, encouraged him to “go west, young man,” and provided a great deal of financial backing for the fledgling Union Colony.  When Greeley died and his estate called in the loans, Meeker didn’t have the money, and legend suggests that it had gone to his profligate tree budget.  (I can’t verify that yet, however.)  So, in 1878 he took a job as an Indian agent on the Western slope at the White River Indian Agency, where he annoyed the Utes so much with his utopian reformist zeal (especially his insistence that they adopt his farming techniques) that the following year they rose up and killed him and took his wife Arvilla and youngest daughter Josephine captive, along with the other U.S. women and children in the settlement.  Their captivity was short lived–only 23 days–but Josephine had time enough to stitch together a fitted, fashionable dress made of Indian blankets, which is on permanent display at the local museum.  It was rumored that when released, she was pregnant by a Ute man, a rumor that gained credence when she was sent to Washington, D.C. to work for a Colorado congressman.  However, she died of pneumonia shortly thereafter, before any putative child would have been born.  (Source for the verified information in this paragraph is here.)  Was Meeker doomed by his commitment to importing an Eastern landscape to the high plains desert?

Rumors of pregnancy resulting from captivity are an occasionally recurring theme in the history of North American Indian captivity.  There was a suggestion that 170 years earlier and 2,400 miles away, Esther Wheelwright conceived a child in captivity.  (I haven’t written about Wheelwright here for a while–to recap, she’s the topic of the book I’m writing now.)  In The Unredeemed Captive(1994) on p. 92, John Demos quotes the one letter I’ve ever seen with that suggestion that “mr whellrites dafter is with child by an indian.”  The letter, dated February 28, 1710, was written by former captive Esther Williams, who received the intelligence about “whellrites dafter” and other captives from another local ex-captive, John Arms, who returned home in the winter of 1710.  I’ve never credited the report–because at the time, Esther was enrolled at the Ursuline convent school, and had been since January 1709.  Moreover, she was a month shy of her fourteenth birthday in late February 1710, and far, far too young to have been considered sexually mature or marriageable in either Abenaki or colonial French society.  And because the goal of both cultures was to include her in family life and persuade her to remain by gentle means, I think it’s highly unlikely that she was raped.  Finally, there is no other evidence that corroborates this one account, suggesting to me that Esther Williams was either misinformed or she misreported information about another captive.

Last week, someone found their way to by googling the phrase “Esther Wheelwright pregnant by Abenaki.”  If you’re still out there, the above paragraph is my two cents.  As for the connections between crabapple trees and Esther Wheelwright–I dunno.  Something about captives thriving in a new environment?  The challenges of “going native” in a new environment?  The perserverence of Esther Wheelwright, Josephine Meeker, and the flowering almond in my back garden that will not die? 

"Baby Mama"'s baby haka* reader and commenter ej writes in with some thoughts on the new movie, Baby Mama:  “I think Historiann should tackle the topic of women of a certain age not being able to get pregnant. I love Tina Fey, but I’m so tired of the media perpetuating this myth that women who wait ‘too long’ to have a baby, usually because they’re busy pursuing their careers, find themselves s.o.l. when their biological clock stops ticking.  This is nonsense. I was after 35 when I got pregnant, and both attempts were successful on the first or second try. Other friends who are my age hit the jackpot on the second try. Not to mention that fact that infertility studies have proven that 40% of cases are the result of the man, but no one makes a movie about that!”  (When you think about it, movies about male infertility promise to be so much funnier than movies about female infertility!  All of those spank mags and masturbation jokes, y’know.  Speculums?  Not teh funny.) 

I think ej’s right that the “ZOMG I forgot to have children and now it’s too late because I’m not 29 anymore” plot is a little played out, and actually not true.  (Then again, Seth Rogen having a chance with anyone who looks anything like Katherine HeigelNot true, either!  It’s only in the movies that men who look like Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Rogen have any kind of sex life at all.)  Given the fact that the modern movie industry is designed to cater to the warped fantasy life of 14-28 year old boys and men, I’m inclined to give this movie the benefit of the doubt, mostly because it promises to be something we haven’t seen a lot of lately–an actual female buddy movie that doesn’t end in a suicide pact!  There are so few decent roles for women actors that don’t relegate them to the male lead’s wife or girlfriend these days, let alone a movie starring TWO FUNNY WOMEN, without the Judd Apatow the-(female) hottie-and-the-(male, undeserving) nottie plot. 

Another thing to like about Baby Mama:  In an interview with Amy Poehler in Salon last week, she affirmed in no uncertain terms that “absolutely I am!” a feminist.  Salon‘s review of the movie was blandly positive, calling it an “essentially sweet-natured picture that doesn’t go as far as it could in satirizing both our child-centric culture and the fact that, now that there are so many scientific advances to help people conceive and bear children, sometimes the basic desire to have a baby can turn into a desperation bordering on mania.”  The New Yorker’s review was similar, although it did feature this strikingly odd passage: 

Angie [Poehler] is skinny to Kate’s [Fey’s] curves, loose-tongued to her zipped-up sense of fun, fertile to her barren jealousy. Angie wears pedal pushers and tank tops, whereas Kate stalks around bare-legged in skirts that lurch to a halt two inches above the knee, which is a length that Christy Turlington would struggle to carry off. It’s possible that Fey, like other television stars, is unused to being framed in full length, and, though in complete command of her delivery—dry, spiky, but unthreatening—she hasn’t yet made up her mind how funny her body is meant to be. She isn’t big enough to make a joke of her ripeness, like Bette Midler, but she’s no Lily Tomlin, either. She could do worse than steal a trick from Lucille Ball—a lovely, elegant figure who taught herself to be graceless.

Is Anthony Lane actually suggesting that Tina Fey is zaftig?  Oh, no he di’nt.  Reading this review is like shopping at Barney’s, the store that unfailingly makes me feel fat and poor.  (And did he really write the phrase, “fertile to her barren jealousy?”  Hmmm.  Standards really have slipped, haven’t they?  Is no one, you know, editing the magazine any more?)  Comme toujours, Jezebel has a comprehensive roundup of reviews.

Have any of you seen Baby Mama yet?  I haven’t had the pleasure, but may have to make a point of getting out one of these days to see it.  (What do you say, ej–shall we take in a matinee?)

*haka is a term I’ve borrowed from Corrente.  They use the term to mean a coordinated and usually very loud message meant to intimidate those who hear it despite the lack of truth in the message.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shrine

A Historiann family member has questions about Thursday’s Mallard Fillmore.  (Click here to see it–there are copyright issues if I pasted a copy in here, I believe.)

  • Why are compact fluorescent bulbs linked to Senator Obama rather than any other presidential candidate here?  (I am unaware that CFL’s are a particular advocacy issue for Obama.)
  • Does the way the bulb is drawn make it look like a turban?
  • Is this reading of the cartoon just as nutty as the insinuations about Hillary Clinton’s “Kitchen” ad, which never mentioned Obama at all and briefly featured a still photo of Osama bin Laden as part of a montage of problems that will face the next President.  (See the comments to the previous post.)
  • Or, is there something to the interpretation that the troubled Bruce Tinsley is trying to link Obama to scary turban-wearing men?  (And isn’t it pathetic and juvenille, if this is what he intended to do?)
  • Which scares you more:  turbaned men walking around, or drunk men driving cars?

The anti-Mallard Fillmore blog Duck and Cover commented this week on the randomness of the connections in this cartoon, and one of the commenters suggests that his drawing of the light bulb resembled a turban.  By the way, here’s a photo of a real compact fluorescent bulb.  It doesn’t look droopy or turban-like at all now, does it?

Shhhh. . . don’t tell anyone that a secret society with highly placed white, Protestant male members everywhere for two-hundred years now still openly parades around in turbans and fezzes, freely engages in Orientalist mysticism, and occasionally, drives tiny cars.  The image at left is from a Detroit News article describing the 1937 arrival of 100,000 shriners in Detroit, where they held three massive parades (at least one of which was led by a “Moslem Drill Team”), and turned Washington Boulevard into the “Garden of Allah.”  The parades featured “potentates [shrine officers], bands and platoons with pantaloons and turbans. . . . They marched to the music of 75 large bands dressed in bright satin costumes.”

Historiann had not just one but two grandfathers (Zenobia Shrine, Scottish rite) who were Shriners, and one of whom drove a tiny car in parades.  Who knew that they might have been the vanguard of the “Moslem” takeover of America!  Imagine an invading army, 100,000 strong, every man driving one of these into your town.

 Be afraid, America.  Be very afraid.  And remember:  they go after the children first,  with their parades and pediatric burn hospitals.  They’re very sneaky, those Shriners–watch out!


The Clintons R Us


Over at Corrente, VastLeft has an interesting run-down on Obama v. Clinton.  (Obama supporters, be warned:  it’s pretty snarky, so it might just make you angry.)  However, I think he makes an excellent point here in the way these two candidates are perceived and described by Democrats and by the news media:

What? Their voting records are “virtually identical”!? Still, when Obama made those votes he was being an awesome, young, transformative progressive. When Hillary made them, she was old, machine-like, and totally Republican about it. How could anyone fail to see the difference?

It’s been interesting to watch Obama run the Bill Clinton 1992 primary and general election campaign against Hillary Clinton.  Democrats have a history of loving their Washington “outsiders” and young (or young-ish) upstarts in Presidential politics, and arguably, those candidates have been the most successful of our candidates in second half of the twentieth century.  (Think Kennedy, Carter, and Bill Clinton.)  When Democrats have nominated insider favorites like Humphrey, Mondale, Gore, and Kerry, well–let’s just say that it hasn’t worked out so well, Gore’s victory in the popular vote (and in Florida, as it turned out) notwithstanding.

Obama’s problem, especially in some of the remaining primary states in May and June, is that lots of people in those states remember the Bill Clinton years very fondly.  Historiann lived in southwestern Ohio during the second Clinton term, when gas was 89 or 99 cents a gallon, and the Ford plant in Cincinnati and the GM plant in Dayton were running three shifts turning out Explorers and GMC trucks like they were never going out of style.  A lot of those men and women are now ten years older, gas is $3.50 a gallon, and people aren’t buying trucks and SUVs like they used to, so their jobs (if they still have them) are precarious.  Their unions–if they’re still in one–have been forced to accede to contracts that erode their retirement  and health care benefits.  They’re looking at a future for their now-teenaged and older children that may not offer them as good a life as the life they enjoyed in the 1990s.  The results in from Ohio and Pennsylvania suggest that these folks don’t think that Republicans and Democrats are equally to blame for the last seven and a half years of a declining dollar and global reputation, and increasing inflation and insecurity.  Although Bill Clinton and Al Gore worked to pass NAFTA, which is part of the cause of much of their insecurity, they trust Hillary Clinton more to reform NAFTA and health care.  (Obama has done a terrible job with NAFTA.  He’s allowed H. Clinton to own fair trade, when he should have hung that around her neck like an anchor–a tactic I wouldn’t see as fair or just, but I think he missed a real political opportunity.)

Just as Hillary Clinton had to run as a wise elder stateswoman who can get the job done, so Obama had to run the Bill Clinton “third way” campaign of 1992 as the attractive, youthful outsider who can energize young voters and reform Washington, but that decision has potentially painted his campaign (and perhaps the Democratic party) into a corner.  One commenter at Corrente, wasabi, summarizes the situation succinctly:  “The only way Obama was going to knock off the [then] frontrunner was to tear the Clinton legacy apart. The only way to do that was to convince everyone that Dems and Repubs are all alike, and it’s time for a transformation.  What a shame that he had to pick this time in history, when the country finally caught on to the destructive policies of the Republicans to push the meme that it’s not really the fault of the Republicans after all, but that darn partisanship.”

Maybe this turnabout is only fair play:  after all, a lot of party people back in 1992 were backhanded by Bill Clinton’s centrist campaign, which implicitly suggested that the Democratic party had become too liberal and explicitly touted plans to help the “forgotten middle-class” (not the poor), as well as distanced him from core Democratic constituencies (a la his “Sister Souljah” moment.)  And now, where there are differences between Obama and Hillary Clinton, he is running to her right on health care reform and gay rights, for example.  Yet many of Obama’s supporters seem invested in the notion–contrary to most of the evidence–that he is the more progressive candidate.  No one thought that of Bill Clinton in 1992–as I recall, the favored candidate of the brie-and-chablis set and the college Democrats that year (to the extent that we had one) was Jerry Brown.  Bill Clinton was correctly understood as a “third way” centrist who was going to be as hard on the excesses of both liberalism and conservativism, the post-ideological policy-wonk candidate who was interested in ideas that worked, regardless of where the ideas came from.  That’s pretty much who he turned out to be as President, while dealing with losing Congress and the years-long scandal-sniffing machine that culminated in his impeachment.

For obvious reasons, Obama must have and will continue to have a conflicted relationship with the legacy (and person) of Bill Clinton.  Obama has run a (Clintonian) centrist campaign that’s been (un-Clintonianly) vague on the details.  (Don’t take just my word for it–see Paul Krugman’s column this morning, for example.)  If Obama wins the nomination and the general election, what kind of President will he be?  I think the Clinton style and legacy will be with us for a long time, whether or not that’s the surname of the next President. 

UPDATE, 4/27/08:  Obama’s big interview on Fox News Sunday was today, and guess what?  He thinks that “there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea,” such as industry deregulation, tort reform, and charter schools.  And, he mentions Ronald Reagan as a president whose example he would hew to in revising the capital gains tax.  Whaaaaaat?  Does he realize he’s still running in the Democratic primary?  So much for the school teachers, the trial lawyers, and anyone who doesn’t want a side of e-coli with their burger.  That should put to rest those persistent delutions that he’s the more progressive candidate.  It should, but it probably won’t.  (H/t to mydd for the run-down.)

Actually, I kind of get it that he tossed out the bones of tort reform and charter schools–most people don’t know what tort reform is, and many public school teachers support and teach in charter schools.  But industry deregulation?  Is it possible to deregulate industry further after seven and a half years of Bush?  Are people really unsatisfied with the amount of lead in their consumer goods and mercury in their fish, to the point that they’re demanding more?  Sheesh.

I ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and all I got was this lousy wankstain


Clio Bluestocking once again has a tale of nastiness from inside the Ivory Tower.  To wit:

Today, the security office at our campus sent out this notice:

“Yesterday evening two female students were studying in the lower level of the library when they were approached by a man who engaged in extremely lewd behavior.”

The “lower level” is below ground and houses the majority of the book stacks and some study space, so there aren’t many librarians or other employees down there very often. This sort of thing has happened at lots of libraries that I’ve used, too. Closed, quiet spaces seem to bring out the perv in a lot of people.

The next sentence in the notice, however, bothered me for some reason:

“Personal safety practices and knowledge are your best defense against incidents of this nature.”

Exactly how does that address the issue of being accosted sexually? What exactly do they mean by “personal safety practices and knowlege”? . . . . The women, students, were studying, at school, in the library.

Like we need to give our students any other excuses to avoid studying  or to avoid the library?  Moreover, one could argue that in so doing, they were actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in an environment they presumed was safe.  How presumptuous of those students to think that they had equal rights to equal access on their own campus!  How foolish of them not to huddle in group study rooms and escort each other to the bathroom so as to avoid the notorious campus whack-off artist?

When I was in college, “campus safety” for women was handing out rape whistles in the school colors, and (true story!) installing “rape alarms” in the women’s bathrooms in the library.  (They were there at Penn in the early 1990s–I don’t know if they still are.)  But, these measures, like the advice from campus police that Clio B. reports, put the onus of women’s safety on women.  Instead of presuming that all women college students are potential victims and asking them to always walk around and study in pairs or groups, let’s just presume that male college students are potential aggressors, and make them always walk and study in groups (either with other men or women) when on campus?  Campus police would have the authority to arrest male students who were unescorted, and the women students could use their own campus with much greater confidence in their own safety. 

In the absence of policies like this, I think women college students should be charged less tuition, since they clearly aren’t free to use the campus and its resources the same way that their male peers are.  No walking home to your dorm or apartment late at night, no drinking at all in bars or at parties unless you want to be accused of asking for sexual assault, and now, no studying alone in the library!  Professor Blackwoman at W.O.C. Ph.D. had an interesting post on this a few months ago when she was threatened by a creepy dude who liked to hang out around her department, and I wonder if Breaking the Code would like to weigh in on this issue, since she’s interested in questions about gender and space, and she’s got a post up now about women being rubbed against in public.  (Read the article she links to about the MBTA’s new anti-frottage PR campaign.  Interestingly, the only time Historiann had that unfortunate experience was in fact on the green line in Boston, which is always packed above-ground heading West after work, because it’s free for outbound riders.  An elbow to the guts works pretty well, but still–who needs that crap?)

UPDATED 4/28/08:  Clio B. has an update concerning the police investigation, and the continued absence of creative thinking about how to fend off attacks like these.