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Category: General

Dog Bites Man (But the Details are Worth Reading About)

[ 21 ] April 22, 2015 |

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that UC Berkeley conducted a survey of rates of depression and psychological well-being among its graduate students. They are high, which, the Chron says “surprised and alarmed” the experts when previous results came out. The suprise of the experts led others to wonder whether they were qualified to conduct the survey, since they had evidently never been in grad school themselves.

This current iteration finds that that 47% of Ph.D. students are depressed, and among the Ph.D. students, the highest rate of depression — 64% — was in the arts and humanities. These numbers are even more striking because they are current prevalence rates, not prevalence rates over the whole duration of their grad school tenure.

The full report reveals that career prospects was the variable second-most predictive of well-being, and the fifth-most predictive of depression. Because predictors for well-being and depression unsurprisingly overlap a great deal, in their summary they present these predictors together, with career prospects the most important variable. Other important predictors were overall health, living conditions, academic engagement, social support, financial confidence, academic progress and preparation, sleep, feeling valued and included, and adviser relationship.

A couple points. The first should be uncontroversial, and yet sometimes gets lost in the course of describing mental illess as a pathology of the individual, as I was arguing a couple of weeks ago. The onset and course of mental illness is heavily influenced by the context of the sufferer. Stressful, demanding working environments and extreme economic precarity cause depression, even if they are not sufficient, in and of themselves, to cause depression.

The second point: I’m a little rueful that the question this report needs to pose for itself, “Why do we care about well-being?”, is answered primarily in terms of the grad students’ productivity:

We care because we want to enable graduate students to do their best work andmake the most of their time here. Balanced, happy people are more productive, more creative, more collaborative, better at long-term goal pursuit, more likely to find employment, more physically and psychologically resilient, and more.

But if institutions need to think of their members as cogs in order to build structures to treat them as more than cogs, it’s better than nothing.

Journalism in the New Gilded Age

[ 47 ] April 22, 2015 |


This certainly makes one feel bad about the future of journalism.

One of today’s Pulitzer winners for local reporting isn’t actually a reporter anymore.

The Daily Breeze’s Rob Kuznia won the prize alongside Rebecca Kimitch for a series on corruption in the Torrance, California school district. Now the former reporter, who had more than 15 years’ experience covering local affairs, is celebrating the career high in his new job… as a publicist.

Apparently, as Kuznia co-reported the award-winning series, he was slowly getting squeezed out of the journalism racket.

Appended to the LA Observed’s coverage of the awards was the following bittersweet update:

We should note that Kuznia left the Breeze and journalism last year and is currently a publicist in the communications department of USC Shoah Foundation. I spoke with him this afternoon and he admitted to a twinge of regret at no longer being a journalist, but he said it was too difficult to make ends meet at the newspaper while renting in the LA area.

The effective elimination of the profession that is most likely to expose the problems of the present sure is a great way for corporations and politicians to protect their behavior. What I do isn’t exactly journalism but I can do it because I have a full-time job of a very specific kind. Those I know who are freelancing and trying to make ends meet without being the partner of someone rich is really hard to watch. Its just a constant struggle. Even the best journalists have to leave the profession in order to eat.

The Vacuous Cynicism of Florida Republicans Who Oppose the Medicaid Expansion

[ 43 ] April 22, 2015 |


Jon Cohn has a good piece on Florida Republicans painting themselves into a corner on the Medicaid expansion:

To put it another way, expanding Medicaid in Florida would likely require a net investment by state taxpayers that, over the course of a decade, would work out to less than a half-billion dollars a year. That’s without accounting for any additional growth and tax revenues that the huge infusion of federal dollars might provide. That’s also without accounting for the more than $1 billion a year in that, without expanding Medicaid, Florida would probably have to scrounge up in order to help hospitals defray the cost of charity care.

In short, if the numbers were lopsided in favor of expanding Medicaid before, they are even more lopsided now. And it’s not as if anybody is arguing seriously that those grants are a superior way of financing care for the poor. If anything, the opposite is true — and it’s one reason the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times called Scott’s position “indefensible.” Other editorial pages, civic organizations, and business groups across the state have made similar statements.


No, the level of hostility to Obamacare makes very little sense — unless it’s about something beyond the policy particulars. It could be the fact that Democrats finally accomplished something big, for the first time in several decades, thereby expanding the welfare state at a time when conservatives thought they were on their way to shrinking it. Or it could be the idea that, on net, the Affordable Care Act transfers resources away from richer, whiter people to poorer, darker people. Or it could be the fact that “Obamacare” contains the word “Obama,” whose legitimacy as president at least some conservatives just can’t accept.

Who knows? The only thing certain is that, in Florida, turning down Medicaid has even weaker logic than it did before — except for officials obsessed with Obamacare or determined to please the people who are. Rick Scott may belong in either category and he might just belong in both.

Greg Sargent observes that one anti-Medicaid-expansion Florida rep “chanted ‘liberty’ as he walked past reporters camped in the hallway.” Poor people suffering and dying because they lack access to health care is not a “liberty” that should be valued very highly. But, as Sargent says, the rather obvious problem here is that there isn’t even any such principle involved. Scott and his allies aren’t opposed in principle to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people. They’re opposed to the federal government giving Florida money to cover health care for poor people if it’s done via “Obamacare.” It’s pretty hard to argue that there’s some sort of major liberty interest involved when you’re literally making (idiotic) arguments that the state of Florida is constitutionality entitled to federal health care grants.

Evidently, exposing the empty, posturing mendacity of the Florida Republicans who oppose the Medicaid expansion won’t be much consolation to the poor people who will be denied health care in the short term. But eventually (particularly after Obama leaves office), more and more states are going to start taking the money.

Speaking of which, it looks like despite the barrage of money from the lavishly taxpayer-subsidized Koch brothers Montana will be taking the Medicaid expansion. Not in an ideal form, but still a major improvement on the status quo. Every state counts.

Admit it — you’re surprised I didn’t end up getting shot

[ 84 ] April 22, 2015 |

SEK wanders out of THE BAR after saying many fond farewells one of his oldest friends only to find THE COP hunched over the side of his car in what appears to be a puking position.

SEK: Are you all right?

THE COP: Fine, fine — just had a bad Sprite.

SEK: I don’t think that’s a thing.

THE COP: Must have been bad.

SEK: Are you sure you’re alright?

THE COP: (grabbing his side) Yeah sure — you can just — I can —

SEK: Bad Sprite’s not a thing. When my wife grabbed her side like that she had to have her appendix re —

THE COP: I’ll be — I’m — just you —

SEK: I’m calling 911. (calls 911) I’m with a police officer and he’s in a lot of pain —

911 DISPATCHER: Where are you located?

SEK: I’m at [location]

THE COP’S CAR: Officer [In Extremis] are you OK?

THE COP: (moans)

911 DISPATCHER: Is the officer OK?

SEK: He doesn’t seem to be. Should I tell the person in the car that?


SEK: He’s not. Don’t listen to him.

911 DISPATCHER: Keep him still — help is coming.

SEK looks at THE COP, who is now moaning on the ground in pain not borne of bad Sprite.

SEK: I’m — on it?

911 DISPATCHER: This is on you now. Keep him talking.

SEK: So tell me more about this bad Sprite…

Walmart Union Busting

[ 35 ] April 22, 2015 |

615 walmart12

Oh Walmart. You are so evil.

Wal-Mart suddenly closed five stores in four states on Monday for alleged plumbing problems.

The closures could last up to six months and affect roughly 2,200 workers in Texas, California, Oklahoma, and Florida, CNN Money reports.

Wal-Mart employees say they were completely blindsided by the news, having been notified only a couple hours before the stores closed at 7 p.m. Monday.

“Everybody just panicked and started crying,” Venanzi Luna, a manager at a store in Pico Rivera, California, told CNN Money.

All workers will receive paid leave for two months. After that, full-time workers could become eligible for severance, according to CNN Money. But part-time workers will be on their own.

Local officials and employees have questioned Wal-Mart’s reasoning for the closures.

Why were these stores closed? Because they had activist employees.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) said it planned to seek an injunction from the National Labor Relations Board on Monday compelling retailer Wal-Mart to rehire 2,200 employees at five recently closed stores.

The UFCW claims that Wal-Mart Stores closed its Pico Rivera location — one of the five stores — in the Los Angeles area in retaliation for protests by workers there in recent years seeking higher pay and benefits.

The voice of a worker at the Pico Rivera store:

“This is a new low, even for Walmart,” said Venanzi Luna, an eight-year Walmart worker and long-time OUR Walmart member. “It’s just so heartless to put thousands of your employees out of a job with no clear explanation on just a few hours’ notice. We know that Walmart is scared of all we have accomplished as members of OUR Walmart so they’re targeting us. Through OUR Walmart, we’re going to keep fighting back until the company gives us our jobs back. It’s unfortunate that Walmart has chosen to hurt the lives of so many people, just to try to conceal their real motives of silencing workers just like they’ve always done.”

Interestingly, this comes at the same time that the UFCW is pulling back its commitment for the expensive and rather unproductive Walmart campaign is has funded.

I suspect there will be more details about these Walmart closings coming out in subsequent days.

Something I’ve Been Wanting to Get off My Chest for Awhile

[ 150 ] April 22, 2015 |

Dear digital artists and photographers,

Nazi imagery is not an aesthetic; it’s symbolic of one of the ugliest chapters in human history. It is not like an edgy  version of steampunk. It’s symbolic of genocide. It is not your brush to paint with.

Anyone else haaaaaaaaate the tired and disturbingly cliched use of Nazi imagery in art? When did we decide this was ok?

The Graduate Program

[ 64 ] April 22, 2015 |


Should people in History Ph.D. programs stop taking students because of the job crisis? American Historical Association president Vicki Ruiz is making that decision:

I remain hopeful that our efforts will widen opportunities for current Ph.D.’s. However, this optimism is tempered when I reflect on the job prospects for my recent doctoral graduates. Out of four accomplished junior historians (with seven prestigious research prizes and fellowships among them), only one has secured that elusive tenure-track position. Of the others, one has retreated from view, while the rest remain freeway flyers and/or part-time administrators. Trite as it may sound, it breaks my heart to watch them struggle.

With an additional four mentees in the pipeline, I have placed a personal moratorium on Ph.D. recruitment. I respect and support colleagues who desire to guide a new generation, but my priority remains on the career paths — inside and outside the academy — of people with whom I have a longstanding mentoring relationship. My personal moratorium embodies my hope that the association’s Career Diversity project will stimulate the retooling of graduate programs to prepare our students for wider opportunities. That will take time. In the interim, some of us are likely to slow the pump of history Ph.D.’s into the overflowing adjunct pool.

I have complex feelings about this. A couple of notes. First, I am somewhat associated with the American Historical Association pilot project Ruiz mentions to get programs to rethink graduate training because I am an alum of the University of New Mexico, one of the included schools because it punches way over its weight when it comes to placing PhDs in both academic and nonacademic positions. In February, I went back to UNM to talk about some of the things I do, joining a group of fellow alumni and a few others discussing their experiences. I really don’t know if it was helpful for current Ph.D. students there, but I hope it was. I do have to say that I took verbal exception to what AHA head Jim Grossman had to say and didn’t say at this event, which was basically to a) ignore the fundamental reasons why there are no jobs (the disappearance of history lines and adjunctification) and b) to tell every history PhD to basically be a business major and learn how to read a spreadsheet and learn to budget (a worthy enough skill, but no answer to the problem). On the other hand, it is absolutely vital that we assume that PhD students will not get an academic job, whether at Harvard, New Mexico, or South Carolina. This should be the assumption of every PhD advisor and every PhD student. Sometimes the student will strike it rich and win the lottery from any of these schools! I did and I know some people from all these schools who have in recent years. But usually they won’t. To me, that’s the first step advisors must take. What are students being trained for? Can advisors or other mentors offer skills that will get students actual jobs?

But even outside of that, I think the assumption that we shouldn’t take PhD students is a bit more problematic. Not that I disagree with Ruiz per se, as she takes an obviously defensible position. But the reality is that there aren’t good jobs anywhere in this economy outside of select fields. And some of us–myself included–are very smart in some ways, but not in the ways that this capitalist economy values. So the moral question around accepting PhD students I think revolves around whether they are funded or not. I would not be comfortable accepting students that are not funded. But if they are funded, at least they aren’t going into debt, or much anyway. To me, this is the fundamental difference between the PhD and law school. If the student is just delaying their income earning potential, such as it is in this stage of American capitalism, then that’s one decision and a potentially defensible one. If they are going into debt for that PhD, that’s a horrible idea. I find that a compelling dividing line.

But then I don’t know. There aren’t good answers. And the balance between giving students the opportunity to pursue their intellectual dreams and career goals versus placing them at a disadvantage in their lives going forward is not an easy one to maintain. I figure many of you will have thoughts on this.

Credit Checks on Job Applicants

[ 127 ] April 22, 2015 |


In a nation that places many injustices and indignities on the poor, it’s good to see at least one of those be alleviated in one place:

But the city where first impressions count for everything is about to make the job market a little less judgmental. New York’s City Council just voted overwhelmingly to outlaw the common practice of letting employers prejudge people based on their credit history—passing an unprecedented ban against employers use of workers’ credit background data.

The legislation, which passed last Thursday following an extensive grassroots campaign by local and national labor and community groups, restricts a boss, prospective employer or agency from “us[ing] an individual’s consumer credit history in making employment decisions.”

The final version incorporates some compromises pushed by the business lobby, such as carve-outs for positions that could involve handling “financial agreements valued at $10,000 or more,” police and national-security related jobs, or workers with access to “trade secrets.” While business groups cited these provisions as wins in a bill they otherwise chafed at, economic justice advocates have nonetheless hailed the law as a promising boost for an emerging nationwide movement.

Sarah Ludwig of the New Economy Project says, “It’s a strong law…and it’s going to cover most New Yorkers [and] most jobs by far and away. It’s a real civil rights victory.”

Enforcement of the law will be driven by a complaint process, which makes it a tricky game for the city authorities relying on workers to come forward. But Ludwig adds, advocates hope the system provides a platform for the city’s Human Rights Commission to gain new prominence under the de Blasio administration’s leadership, since the city has “this unbelievably strong human rights law” on paper but not necessarily in practice.

Not perfect, but a significant improvement. Of course, this should be a nationwide law, for what possible valid reason is there to allow employers to access job applicants’ credit histories, unless the goal is to create a permanent underclass.

“Hell Exists On Earth? Yes. This Fall on HBO.”

[ 16 ] April 22, 2015 |

Rarely has a more terrifying sentence appeared in these virtual pages:

Whitney Cummings has landed an untitled pilot inspired by Maureen Dowd’s book “Are Men Necessary?” at the pay cable network…

I feel I should have saved some of the invective I used for The Newsroom. Hopefully at least Cummings’s character will be named “Judy Miller…”

Design on a Budget

[ 98 ] April 21, 2015 |

My husband makes a decent living, but the bottom line is that you will never see one of our homes grace the pages of design magazines; that is almost solely the purview of the very wealthy. However, I do the best with what we have and instead of whining still more about wanting design options for the 99%, I thought I’d share some of my secrets for making my house a haven.


1.) Art is a must, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy inexpensive art at places like and AllPosters. com. You can frame them inexpensively yourself by buying ready-made mat-frames at places like Wal-Mart or Michael’s or you can have them professionally framed. Framing can be ridiculously expensive, but if you stick to a plain off-white mat and a thin, simple black, gold or silver metal frame, you’ll save buttloads of money. And simple frame jobs look good with anything and look good grouped together. Postcards can be framed–cheaply. So can a child’s artwork. Rip a page out of an old book. Art on the walls adds so much warmth and personality to a space. You really can’t skip it.

2.) Private sales sites. Private sales sites. Private sales sites. Join them and shop them. They’re an invaluable resource for–at times–drastically-reduced brand-name furniture and accessories. I pretty much don’t shop for decor anywhere else. Art for the walls, pillows, vases, objects d’art, baskets, decorative books, gee-gaws large and small, it’s all there. What’s more, many of their offerings are sold in groups, making decorating simple. (Because groupings of objects almost always look better than lone knick-knacks.) This is a good to time to bring up staggering–stagger your belongings. Mix little objects with large-scale things. (Lots of little knick-knacks is a bad thing, period. Don’t do it.) Mix textures and heights. And, seriously, these places are great. Wayfair is not a private sales site (but its subsidiary, Joss and Main is). I picked up a room-size wool rug for less than half its retail price. Always be shopping, always be eagle-eyed and looking for deals–you’ll find them.

3.) Buy what you love–it’ll all work together. Things don’t have to be matchy-matchy. Things can be weird and eclectic. If you dig it, you’ll find a way to make it work.

4.) Learn to love paint. Painting a room a bold color can add oodles of drama for almost no money. Similarly, thrift shop finds can be revitalized with a little sanding (or primer) and paint. Back in the day I refinished so many Goodwill finds…and got so many compliments on them.

5.) Look at design magazines and websites to see how the professionals pull rooms together. Look at their tablescapes, mantelscapes, how they style a bookshelf. Use YOUR stuff in place of their expensive crap.

6.) Mix cheapie finds (from, say, Big Lots or Pier One) with more expensive things; it’s interesting and people won’t know which is which.

7.) Your tips here __________.

UPDATE: 8.) Living things are great to have in your house. A.) Many plants and planters are inexpensive. (You can find really cute planters for nothing at places like Big Lots). If you have a green thumb, geez, fill your house with plants. B) Most supermarkets offer sweet little bouquets of flowers for less than 10 bucks. Take out all the filler foliage and cut the flowers to a uniform length and stick them in a vase (you can get plain glass ones for, like, 2 dollars…free, if you’ve ever received the gift of flowers) and voila–instant life and warmth. I’m even a fan of faux arrangements if they’re decent-looking. You can find some pretty nice ones for decent prices at private sales sites.

More #PSFrustration

[ 98 ] April 21, 2015 |


Jennifer Victor has a very useful addition to the debate. Since people are oddly defensive about the idea that gerrymandering is responsible for polarization, let’s start here:

Gerrymandering does not cause political polarization. The U.S. Senate is the best example here: there is no gerrymandering in the Senate because state lines are not often redrawn, yet the Senate has become increasingly polarized in recent years, just like the house. The causes of political polarization are complex and interactive; redrawing districts may play some role but it is not the boogeyman of politics that it is often made out to be.

That’s pretty much checkmate. Also note that even to the very modest extent to which the House is more polarized than the Senate, most of that is about redistricting, not gerrymandering. Even if districts were drawn in an entirely nonpartisan manner, legislators representing local constituencies would be expected to be more polarized than those represented statewide constituencies.

Gerrymandering is potentially relevant to American politics because it distorts electoral outcomes. It’s not relevant because of “polarization.”

I also wanted to repeat something I said in comments about this:

There will never be a viable third party in the U.S. The number of parties in any democracy is determined by its electoral rules. The U.S. has one representative for each congressional district (rather than many) and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. This combination of rules nearly always produces a system with two parties. Third party movements in the U.S. have a tendency to get absorbed by existing strong parties. Political scientists refer to this as Duverger’s Law.

In addition, even if it were possible to have a multiparty system in Congress — and I don’t think it is given the separation of the executive and legislative branches and the electoral college — it’s never really clear what problems third parties are supposed to solve. From the left, calls for third parties are fundamentally a means ignoring the fact that votes (particularly as distorted by the Senate’s malapportionment, single-member house districts, and the electoral college) just aren’t there. Putting the leftmost members of Congress into a new Magic Pony Party Just For You, The Valued Customer party doesn’t make the median vote in the Senate any more liberal. There’s no problem worth solving that dividing the Democratic coalition into multiple parties would actually solve. Indeed, I think it would probably act as an additional veto point that would make things worse — if you thought that the Democratic Congresses under Carter were too productive, you’d love a Congress controlled by an ad hoc multi-party coalition that had to assemble a coalition for every issue without a strong party apparatus.

We cannot be reminded too much that conflict is what politics is about:

Electing the right person to a position of power in Washington will not “fix” politics. While our politics has never been more divided, the divisions are natural and perhaps “true” representations of differing ideologies, beliefs, and preferences. Our government is designed, in some ways, to foster division and (dis)agreement, and to encourage slow, incremental, and glacial progress. The alternative would leave us all dizzy with constant change and lurching policies. The Messiah being elected president would not change this. Disagreement is a natural by-product of democracy, so we should learn to value it more.

Just so. And, finally, it’s always important to be reminded that “mandate” is a Latin word meaning “bullshit.”

There is no such thing as a political mandate–I don’t care how much you won your election by. This is true for more than one reason, but mostly it’s true because people elect candidates not platforms. Also, Condorcet and Arrow tell us that even when a majority has chosen something, it doesn’t mean that thing is the “will” of the group. This is because a different majority could have chosen a different, just as legitimate, option.

I remember having more than one earnest conversation in 2000 with people who assured me that it wouldn’t matter if Bush won because he wouldn’t really have a “mandate” to do anything. One thing Bush did understand is that it’s pretty much all nonsense.

It’s so simple it’s brilliant

[ 14 ] April 21, 2015 |

merchant banker

I’ve mentioned before that Jeffrey Harrison’s blog Class Bias in Higher Education deserves a wide audience. Harrison, a law professor at Florida, doesn’t write very often, but when he does it’s always worth reading. He’s also very funny. Here’s his suggestion on how to run more efficient faculty meetings:

Each faculty member has a life size photo made. This are all kept in the dean’s office but they could also be in the supply room. That is for each faculty to vote on and I am sure they would insist on doing just that. I’d go with the supply room but I will vote with the committee on this.

The faculty meeting is called and faculty stay in their offices writing very important articles, making their next set of reservations to take an important group of people to South America to hear 5 minute talks, napping, playing online chess, or anything else equally productive.

The dean’s right hand person goes to the meeting room and arranges the life size photos. The dean arrives and calls the meeting to order and moves to the first item on the agenda. Let’s say it’s “should we raise the mean GPA from 3.88 to 3.89.” In their photos, each person has his or hand up and the dean recognizes them in turn. But, and here is the revolutionary move. After calling their names he or she just moves to the next person, They do not talk because they are cardboard. BUT the dean (more likely the dean’s assistant) knows exactly what each person will say because they are like a sentences on infinite loops — same thing every single time:

Person 1: Shouldn’t we check to see what the highly ranked schools are doing because we definitely want to move up the ladder, not down because I actually think it is our job to move up in the rankings. (And, by the way, I getting pretty pissed off if anyone disagrees.)

Person 2: I just want to know if this will hurt the students’ feelings because my feelings were hurt once and it does not feel good.

Person 3: Is there some way we could turn this into some money because I really like money.

Person 4: At (my, daughter’s, friend’s) school they have a 4.00 average and, therefore, we should too because I have no original ideas.

Person 5; (Flipping her hair and acting all flustered): I really think we should do something and I am just wondering [don’t you love the passive-aggressive “just wondering move?] if it is really a good idea to give all the students the same grade but I am just wondering so please don’t mind me because the most important thing is that you not realize this is a part time job for me.

Person 6: I actually have nothing to say but I always use up about ten minutes saying nothing it so here is what I think and that is many schools do one thing and some do another and I . . . . . because I like hearing myself sound important because if I hear myself sounding important it makes me think I am important or at least you will think I am here more than the 4 hours a week I actually am on campus.”


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