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A Climate Change Vacation

[ 7 ] August 28, 2016 |

1754_De_Fonte_Map_of_the_Northwest_Passage_(America_-_Asia_-_Polar)_-_Geographicus_-_DeFonte-1754

What exciting times we live in.

Engineers built the Panama Canal to make a viable North American shipping route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They likely didn’t expect that their descendants would create another one through global warming.

Last week, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity set sail from Anchorage, Alaska, and is expected to cross the fabled Northwest Passage in eight days. This trip shaves almost three years off explorer Roald Amundsen’s first-of-its-kind trek more than a hundred years ago.

While many ships have traversed the passage in the last decade, the Crystal Serenity is the largest ship of its type to do so. This dubious distinction is not lost on the cruise organizers, who have invited “adventurers” onboard, perhaps in an attempt to recreate the atmosphere of trepidation that prevailed in Amundsen’s day.

But of course, it’s the radical changes in the atmosphere that, sadly, make such a commercial voyage possible. With the first “ice-free” Arctic summer potentially arriving in the next few years, the sense of adventure will give way to complacency as such trips become run-of-the-mill.

Nothing is run of the mill in the era of climate change. Trips to experience record heat should be fun! And imagine being on a trekking adventure to see the last summer a given species is going to exist. Good times!

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Is It “Irrational” for People to Get a Ph.D. in the Humanities (Or Even in the Sciences)

[ 116 ] August 28, 2016 |

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No, no it is not. After all, the job market for college graduates except for a very few fields is pretty terrible everywhere, at least in something having to do with the field of choice. What, are they supposed to go to law school? Go become teachers and be attacked by politicians? I guess they could drive for Uber! What a future!

But we have a national narrative that the humanities are worthless and that people are “irrational” for getting a Ph.D. in those fields. Aaron Hanlon in the L.A. Review of Books:

In a fascinating way, the NSF data challenges a long-standing narrative about job opportunities by field of study. We’re used to thinking of — more accurately, maligning — humanities students as idealistic, unsystematic dreamers prone to “Peter Pan syndrome,” irrationality, and reality avoidance. Humanities PhDs struggling to find sustainable employment don’t garner much societal sympathy, largely because it’s considered axiomatic that a person with a humanities PhD has no business thinking she possesses economic value. But when the scientists and engineers — the ones confirmation bias demands we view as rational and pragmatic — are caught in a rough job market flirting with something that looks like quixotic delusion, we’re forced to rethink our assumptions. Once it appears that it’s not just humanities students making unadvisable career choices, it suddenly becomes more difficult to victim-blame unemployed doctors (of philosophy) as a whole.

Indeed, when it comes to explaining the seeming contradiction of increases in earned doctorates alongside diminishing job prospects for PhDs, we’re still wedded to the irrationality narrative we’ve unfoundedly ascribed to humanities PhDs. This is the case even though 75 percent of earned doctorates in 2014 were awarded in science and engineering.

The irrationality narrative has accompanied even some of the best analyses of PhD job prospects. As a follow-up on an earlier attempt to explain why people keep pursuing humanities PhDs, Jordan Weissmann provided a telling compilation of Atlantic readers’ responses in 2013. Weissmann’s own conclusions include, per the familiar narrative, the idea that “arts and humanities students aren’t necessarily the most career-minded or pragmatic individuals,” and PhD seekers “aren’t aware of how much debt they might take on in the process of earning their Ph.D.”; readers responded along similar lines. In fact, of the 11 categories Weissmann’s roundup uses to organize reader responses, three deal with suggestions about asymmetric information (people do PhDs based on some form of ignorance or misunderstanding), three deal with suggestions about student irrationality (people do PhDs because love of subject, or of being a top student, blinds them to harsh economic realities), and two are corrective points of information that don’t offer a theory.

If we compare the tenor of Weissmann’s findings in 2013 with that of Laura McKenna’s 2016 Atlantic piece on “The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s,” we see a common premise in spite of the new data: there must be something lacking or irrational about the choice to pursue a PhD. McKenna’s concluding set of questions, simultaneously genuine and rhetorical, suggests as much:

Why hasn’t all this [employment] information helped winnow down the ranks of aspiring professors — why hasn’t it proved to be an effective Ph.D. prophylactic? Are people risking so much in the hopes of getting a cushy job with a six-figure salary […] ? Is it because academia is a cult that makes otherwise sane people believe that there is no life outside the university?

The problem is not people getting a Ph.D., whether in English or Chemistry. The problem is not that schools are producing too many graduates. The problem is that we are engaging in a national disinvestment in valuing the graduate degree and thus there aren’t jobs.

We’ve presupposed a scenario in which there really is a massive oversupply of PhDs, and thus PhD students must be irrational for treading into an oversupplied labor market. But that’s simply not true. PhD “oversupply” is just a euphemistic way of talking about the fact that colleges and universities haven’t met student-generated demand with a commensurate supply of full-time, tenure-track faculty. Instead, we’ve rendered the majority of faculty contingent, increased administrators and administrative staff by 85 and 240 percent, respectively, over the past 40 years, and created a massive holding pen of temporary postdoctoral positions in STEM. If we look outside of academia for good measure, we see similar evidence of increased dependency on contingent labor, decades of stagnant wages, and no increase in leisure time to accompany increases in economic productivity. In this light it becomes harder to claim that PhD students are especially irrational or shortsighted, since so much of the broader US workforce is facing similar problems.

So why do people pursue PhDs despite grim job prospects? For one, because job prospects elsewhere haven’t been great either. Though PhDs are a skewed sample for all kinds of reasons, they also have a lower unemployment rate than master’s, bachelor’s, associate’s, and high school diploma holders. Accepting the five to seven years of employment and insurance benefits that come with a PhD is hardly an easy decision, but in light of deteriorating stability in nonacademic jobs, and the low unemployment rates of PhD holders, it’s hardly an irrational one either. In fact, it’s reasonable to think that a society continually touting the value of STEM research, a college education, and the “knowledge economy” does value PhDs. It would be irrational to think otherwise.

Perhaps the most compelling reason one pursues a PhD, however, is what it means beyond the immediately commodifiable. When we say it’s irrational — and worthy of ridicule — to pursue any kind of education that doesn’t maximize earnings, we’re effectively pathologizing healthy desires to learn and teach, and to pursue a course of research with long-term benefits. In fact, prestigious funding schemes like the MacArthur Fellowship offer no-strings-attached funding precisely because they get better results by untethering fellows from immediate financial pressures. This is also the idea behind no-strings and open-access funding developments in biomedical science: if you want results, you have to think long-term in ways that markets don’t always support. The PhD is hard work, typically with day-to-day teaching, grading, or lab responsibilities, but it’s also a rare opportunity to pursue research that you care about but the market doesn’t, all while keeping the lights on.

Instead of hiring people with a Ph.D. as a tenure-track professors, colleges and universities instead have to build some new buildings, provide some ever fancier dorms, and most importantly, take the money for themselves to their escalating salaries, perks, and new administrator positions.

It’s completely fine to get a Ph.D., although at this point one should understand that a) you should never go to a program without a good funding package and b) you aren’t going to get an academic job at the end of it unless you are very, very lucky. But there also needs to be pressure for universities to invest in hiring these people, including in the humanities. But the managerial MBA class that runs the universities and especially the Board of Trustees has no interest in this.

On the University of Chicago’s Letter to Students Prospective Donors

[ 150 ] August 28, 2016 |

TriggerWarning-Link

The University of Chicago has issued a letter coming out against BIG POLITICALLY CORRECT. I think DeLong is right to subject it to “a hermeneutics of derp:”

It seems to me more likely than not that John Ellison is not talking to his future students here. It seems to me that he is more likely than not to be talking to those of their parents who spend an unhealthy amount of time glued to and being traumatized by Fox News. And he is doing so in the hope that those parents will send more students to U. of C. It’s a marketing ploy–not part of an orientation for new students.

[…]

But, Jesse, surely John Ellison can find a way to say “we welcome the contributions to the intellectual life of the college of Donald Trump supporters” that doesn’t also carry the very strong implication that Hillel and the Newman Center are in some sense illegitimate?

As I said, this is a very charitable reading he is engaging in here.

As I see it, a university is:

*first of all, a safe space for ideas.

*second, a safe place for scholars.

Those two imperatives do not forbid but rather mandate trigger warnings, whenever they are helpful in aiding the members of the University and scholars to grapple and process with difficult ideas or shocking facts.

Those two imperatives also require all members of the university to treat one another with respect–to avoid giving even a hint that other members do not belong or do not have rights or are not secure in their persons.

And these two imperatives require that sub-communities within the university have spaces that are safe–in which discussion can proceed accepting for the moment the premises of the sub-community.

I’ve never understood the argument that trigger warnings are some kind of inherent threat to free speech on campus and I still don’t. If you’re applauding the actions of Chicago’s administration, it sure can’t be because of academic freedom.

The Near Future

[ 43 ] August 28, 2016 |

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It’s not like you needed any reminder that hard-core Republican obstructionism that has stopped any progressive legislation from being passed since 2009 is going to change one iota once Hillary Clinton takes office. But here’s a reminder anyway. And it’s not even about Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Could have been Joe Biden or Tim Kaine taking the Oval Office. The tactics wouldn’t change. It’s all obstruction, all the time.

Also, this article talks about Hillary Clinton being elected and having a “Grover Cleveland moment.” Have fun with that one. Maybe she can send in the Army to bust the Pullman Strike all over again.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 46

[ 12 ] August 28, 2016 |

This is the grave of Timothy Dwight.

2016-05-07 11.59.06

Timothy Dwight IV was born in 1752 in Northampton, Massachusetts. His family already had deep ties to Yale and not only was it inevitable that young Timmy would go there, but that he would become a leader in the institution. His mother was the daughter of Jonathan Edwards after all. He graduated from Yale in 1769 and became a minister. In 1777, he was appointed the chaplain for the Connecticut Continental Brigade, fighting for American independence. He gave many sermons about American nationalism and became a rising star in the ministerial world. He became president of Yale in 1795, where he served until his death in 1817. While there, he was known for his doctrinal and political conservatism and his hatred of anything having to do with the French Revolution. He turned Yale sharply to the right after he took over an institution in 1795 where students openly admired Voltaire and made it one of the most conservative colleges in the United States. He railed in speeches against Yale students being attracted to the twin doctrines of Jacobinism and atheism, which were connected in his head. He led the fight against the separation of church and state in Connecticut and was the head of the state’s Federalist Party. Of electing Thomas Jefferson in 1800, Dwight said “Is in an infidel? Then you cannot elect him without betraying our Lord.” In response, Jeffersonian papers said, “Connecticut is more under the administration of a pope than Italy.” Dwight died of prostate cancer in 1817, still president of Yale.

Timothy Dwight is buried in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut

A conspicuous absence

[ 96 ] August 28, 2016 |

 

 

I don’t agree that there’s such a thing as an Alt-right that is distinct from The Right. However, I do understand why Clinton used the term in her speech directed to any Republicans who still maintain that they’re only in it for the small government and lower taxes and they’re just shocked by all of this racism thingy that just cropped up. Tossing anchors at people while yelling Swim little froggies! at them wouldn’t be presidential.

I also wonder if she was yanking their chains, just a little.

Twenty years ago, when Bob Dole accepted the Republican nomination, he pointed to the exits and told any racists in the Party to get out.

Ran against Bill Clinton, lost. (And now endorses Trump.)

The week after 9/11, George W. Bush went to a mosque and declared for everyone to hear that Muslims “love America just as much as I do.”

Is widely regarded as one of the worst things to ever hit the White House and that includes the British back in 1812.

In 2008, John McCain told his own supporters they were wrong about the man he was trying to defeat.  Senator McCain made sure they knew – Barack Obama is an American citizen and “a decent person.”

Was squished by Obama.

We need that kind of leadership again.

Yes. Republican leaders who lose to Democrats or remind people what a disaster it is to let Republicans near the levers of power.

“Surrendered Dads”

[ 97 ] August 28, 2016 |
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Tiny Tyrants

Home Game may be an entirely readable account of Michael Lewis’ experiences raising three young children.  It may be perfectly awful.  Toby Young’s ode to the MRA movement surely sheds no light:

In the most affluent parts of the Western world, a historic transference of power has taken place that is greater than anything achieved by the trade-union movement, the women’s movement or the civil-rights movement — and it hasn’t even been extended the courtesy of being called a movement. Fathers, who enjoyed absolute authority within the household for several millennia, now find themselves at the beck and call of their wives and children.

Stop here. It’s a short essay, and you can’t fault the author for failing to undertake a historical ethnography of the development of the family in what we may broadly call “Western” society, but the term “absolute authority within the household for several millennia” is every bit as empirically accurate as declaring that the Earth “enjoyed an absolutely central role in the universe for several millennia.” It takes no account of how families actually functioned in agrarian economic conditions, or of how the industrial revolution changed those conditions, or of how mothers and fathers have negotiated (and imposed) roles and responsibilities for millennia.  One man’s funny throwaway line is another’s lazy nonsense.

We’re also, of course, going to set aside all of the instances in which fathers abandoned the title of benevolent authoritarian, in favor either of actual abandonment, or of explicit, tyrannical, domestic violence, executed upon the bodies of the woman and children they were notionally protecting.

Indeed, most of my male friends are not fathers in any traditional sense at all; they occupy roughly the same status in their households as the help. They don’t guide their children through the moral quandaries of life — they guide them to their extracurricular activities from behind the wheel of a Dodge minivan.

Isn’t this also what moms do?  And doesn’t that mean that Young views women, and their appropriate position within in the home, as falling under the term “the help?” Is it genuinely useful, at this point in American political and social life, to publish an essay written explicitly from the point of view that family relations ought to be constituted on authoritarian terms, with the man acting as (albeit distant) tyrant over the woman and the children?

“Home Game,” Mr. Lewis’s account of becoming a father to his three children, begins promisingly. “At some point in the last few decades, the American male sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and — let us be frank — got fleeced,” he writes.

The poor sucker agreed to take on responsibility for all sorts of menial tasks — tasks that his own father was barely aware of — and received nothing in return.

He did get the opportunity to spend time with his children, a reward which can surely be overstated, but that many fathers consider quite valuable. It’s apparent that Young profoundly dislikes his own children, and would rather not be forced to spend any time around them (see the vasectomy comments below). I know it sounds crazy, but no small percentage of fathers enjoy, and derive great satisfaction from, the daily demands of active parenthood. It turns out that many of the moral quandaries of life can, in fact, benefit from conversations conduction from behind the wheel of a Dodge minivan.

If he was hoping for some gratitude, he was mistaken. According to Mr. Lewis: “Women may smile at a man pushing a baby stroller, but it is with the gentle condescension of a high officer of an army toward a village that surrendered without a fight.”

American men now find themselves in the same position as Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Having done the decent thing, and ceded power without bloodshed, they are now looked on with good-humored disdain. (Full disclosure: I am a father of four living in London and can confirm that the situation for British men is no better.)

This is, indeed, good stuff; men have voluntarily given up their position as domestic tyrant, and with hardly any work at all! The participants in successive waves of feminist thinking surely view their victory as both complete, and bloodless; men will now grudgingly drive the children to soccer practice!  Break out the champagne and bon bons!

This is good stuff — the American male is a pitiful creature — and it is followed by plenty of examples from Mr. Lewis’s own life. No sooner has his first daughter arrived than he is transformed into a surrendered husband, forced to take her to a succession of “Mommy and me” classes. At one point, while living in Paris, he ends up in a swimming pool with “a dozen scantily clad Frenchmen,” all accompanied by their newborn babies. It isn’t long before he has been thoroughly brainwashed by the politically correct mumbo-jumbo that passes for wisdom in “parenting courses.” “I understood that my job was no longer to force the party line upon Quinn,” he writes. “My job was to validate her feelings.” His wife, who used to look up to him as a glamorous writer, begins to view him as an “unreliable employee.”

The notion that a member of the family should someone be involved in the family, and (worse) should be asked to educate himself about the basics of child development, is surely beyond the pale.

“Home Game” ends with Mr. Lewis’s description of getting a vasectomy — at the request of his wife, naturally. Having submitted to metaphorical castration, he decides to go the whole nine yards. It reminded me of the final scene in “The Stepford Wives” in which we see the lobotomized Katharine Ross wandering down a supermarket aisle. Mr. Lewis laughs off the indignities of the surgical procedure, as he does all the other humiliations that his wife and children inflict on him, but beneath all the jokes there’s a sense of loss, a nostalgia for the time when fathers weren’t objects of ridicule. This is a profound and far-reaching change in American family life, and it deserves more serious consideration from one of America’s finest writers.

Because having determined that the American man has been utterly subjugated by wife and children, the appropriate response is surely the production of additional children! One begins to wonder about the good sense of allocating authoritarian power to such irrational, status-paranoid, emotionally driven creatures in the first place.

You can’t wear that!

[ 129 ] August 27, 2016 |

Two sentences confirmed my most cynical beliefs about the apparel industry.

Most glaringly, Banana Republic has acknowledged that it struggled to sell a blazer last year because women couldn’t fit their arms into the armholes. Yes, a venerable clothing brand that raked in $2.65 billion in 2015, manufactured a jacket that was physically unwearable.

Tsk and for shame. What silly ladyfolks thought they had the right to put their arms in armholes? Didn’t they know the correct thing to do was buy the jacket and then drape it over their shoulders? Or better yet, go to the nearest Who the Hell Named this Store? Banana Republic, give a clerk a wad of cash and leave without causing a fuss.

No really, how did this happen? Did BR use a fit model with arms the size of straws? Or did it decide fit models were too expensive, someone came up with some random numbers and called that a measurement?

No doubt it was something even dumber, but all the CEO would admit is that errors sort of happened in the general vicinity of the jacket, so I doubt I’ll ever know, but I will assume not giving a fuck was a key cause of the problem.

As an aside, the article touches on what I think is the biggest problem with women’s clothing – It is about as durable as single-ply toilet paper, so that the retail price of 99.9% of all women’s clothing is at least a gazillion percent more than what it took to make it.

Did Banana Republic think women wouldn’t notice that some of its dress pants cost $98, but are unlined and made of synthetic fabric? Did Anthropologie think shoppers would blindly plunk down $88 for a shapeless T-shirt dress made of spandex and jersey?

Sure, why not? The market demands that women buy shoddy clothing that loses its shape when subjected to such extreme conditions as body heat or humidity above 30%, so we damn well ought to!

 

What’s on Your Vagenda Today?

[ 130 ] August 27, 2016 |

A little levity for your Saturday

Also put this wonderful Sara Benincasa answer to “Why Am I So Fat?” on your vagenda.

Supply Chains in Burma

[ 41 ] August 27, 2016 |

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H&M can say that it’s outraged by finding out its clothes are made by 14 year olds in Burma all it wants to. But when H&M decides to contract out with clothing manufacturers in Burma, it’s doing so knowing damn well that there is basically no labor oversight in that country and that children are going to be doing much of the work. Given that child labor has been the open goal of the textile industry for over 200 years and that the labor conditions of nations like Burma, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh are well known, H&M has no space to claim ignorance or outrage. Or they do have space to claim it because avoiding claims of responsibility and day-to-day control over things like working conditions (not cost or on-time delivery of course) is the central point of the textile supply chain. H&M cares about one thing–cost. So long as they get the clothes for very cheap, the executives are happy. Now, a story like this coming out might spawn some sort of concern precisely because it threatens profit if consumers are turned off, but it’s not like these executives give two whits whether Burmese girls live or die. H&M absolutely could do plenty about this. It could agree to international inspections, binding fines for violations paid by the company, etc. But at least from what I can tell, it is not agreeing to any of this. Nonetheless, American companies are significantly worse and openly callous. The European social climate demands a little more of their corporations on issues like this so there’s a little more hope here than there is for Walmart or Target, who flat out don’t care.

Donald Trump’s Race-Baiting of the Hour

[ 117 ] August 27, 2016 |

What a guy:

NBA star Dwyane Wade’s cousin Nykea Aldridge was fatally shot Friday pushing a child in a stroller in a Chicago.

Less than 24 hours later, Donald Trump said her death was evidence that African-Americans will vote for him in November.

As always, there are ways in which Trump’s bluntness is relatively unusual. But the underlying idea — African-Americans will leave the DEMOCRAT PARTY PLANTATION because BLACK-ON-BLACK VIOLENCE is not exactly rare in Republican circles.

In other Trump news, this picture of the doctor who wandered out of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie to to take 5 minutes writing up a report declaring Trump the healthiest presidential candidate in the history of history itself is the sole redeeming factor of his campaign:

harold-bornstein-trump-doctor

Above: the Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian, make tonight a wonderful thing

Volkswagen and Its Supply Chains

[ 64 ] August 27, 2016 |

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Supply chains exist so that corporations can acquire necessary materials without holding any responsibility over conditions of labor, environmental management, logistical headaches, or anything else. They exist to protect the parent company from liability. So it’s hardly surprising that Volkswagen would respond to the discovery of their vast mendacious conspiracy to avoid American emission law by trying to push costs down the supply chain. Because VW doesn’t want to lose profit, it’s seeking to limit costs down the line. But there is a limit to how much this can happen. In order to reduce costs, VW and other companies have already often reduced their suppliers of products to one. So when a company that makes car seats and transmission parts for VW told them to jump in a lake, VW had to halt production entirely in some of its German plants, which no doubt will cost the company even more money. Couldn’t happen to a nicer company.

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