Coffee heat rising

The State of the…Whatever-We’ve-Got-Here…

Today’s Quora post:

What are your thoughts on Dr. Fauci telling reporters that America might still be battling smallpox and polio if today’s kind of misinformation existed back then?

School’s out! (…almost…)

w00t! Yesterday was the last day of class! Would that I could raise a toast to it!

Two rafts of papers to read, two courses to post on Blackboard, and then with any luck at all an entire month’s break.

I got a head start on the magazine writing students’ papers yesterday. Today I’ll read the Little McBoingers’ freshman comp papers (what a bunch this class has been!), then finish the budding journalists’ papers on Saturday. With any luck, I’ll be ready to file grades by…what? Monday? Then a day or two to load next semester’s courses, and after that…waHOO! A whole month of freedom!

This is the first real, credible vacation I’ve had in six years. Despite my highly developed expertise in Creative Malingering, the fact is that while “telecommuting” I was reading arcane academic copy steadily, plus supervising three or four bright young editors from afar (and doing freelance copyediting, and noonlighting with one to four upper-division writing courses on the side, and running this blog). Before that, when I was on GDU’s teaching faculty, an occasional break would come up, but it was usually filled with unpaid course prep work. I would grab every summer course I could get, and the time in between was occupied with getting ready for the next round of courses.

Boy, do I need a break! The stress of working 12 to 17 hours a day while trying to make some very frayed ends meet plus worrying about what we’re going to do, if anything, about the underwater house is making me sick. It’s obvious that the belly thing is stress-related, plus I’ve developed a fantastic new hypochondria, highly annoying and distracting. What next, Lord?

Of course, this “break” will be blighted a bit by the Workman Waltz, an added round of hassle one could do without. In addition to the roofers and the AC guy, I need to get the plumber in here. The kitchen sink is backing up in a weird way…think something’s amiss with the garbage disposal. While he’s here, there are a bunch of honey-does he can attend to.

That notwithstanding, I have a vacation plan. Mostly, it entails finally getting back into a healthy exercise routine. The scheme is as follows:

Walk the dog first thing in the morning.
Later in the morning, walk in one of the mountain parks, probably the one in Glendale, which is cleaner and more pleasant than ours and whose proprietors have announced no plans to fleece the users with parking fees.
Ride the wonderful new purple bike in the afternoon.
Walk the dog again in the evening.
Spend the time in between gardening, touching up the paint, and reading stuff that is pure froth.

Maybe I can even get some socializing in somehow. That, of course, would entail finding someone to socialize with, not a likely prospect. But at least choir will be doing a lot of singing over the holidays, so that’ll provide some human contact. I’m going to spend Christmas Day at SDXB’s—with M’hijito at his dad’s and New Girlfriend in Denver with her family, we’ll both be orphaned again. Our plan is to hike part of the day and then fix a swell dinner.

So, maybe with some relief from work and a stab at getting back into what was once a pretty typical exercise routine, I’ll start to feel normal again.



Nikolai Petrovitch Bogdanov-Belsky, Mental Calculations. Public Domain.
Funny about Money, Snapshot of Purple Bicycle. You want that photo? Feel free!

How Middle-Class Are You?

This is a guest post from Crystal of Budgeting in the Fun Stuff: A Personal Financial Blog about the Next Financial Step. It’s an open fiscal diary and a personal finance blog rolled into one that is looking to get as many people involved as possible.

This article at Yahoo Finance, How to Gauge Your Middle-Class Status, made my inner-financial competitor salivate. It’s chocked full of ways to compare yourself to others. I know that is a bad thing, but I want to spread the naughty.

According to the article, the typical two-parent, two-kid household:

  • Makes $51,000 to $123,000 with both parents working a total of 3747 hours per year.
  • Owns a home worth $231,000 that is about 2300 square feet.
  • Spends about $5100 a year on health insurance and non-covered expenses if their employer provides their insurance.
  • Spends $12,400 a year on two medium-sized sedans that were bought for $45,000.
  • Puts $4100 aside for college expenses for two kids (it seems to mean total…that’s a little low if you really want to help, right?)
  • Spends $3000 on an annual one-week vacation.
  • Doesn’t save at least 3.2% a year for retirement.
  • Spends about $14,200 a year on clothes, food, entertainment, and living expenses.
  • Has a typical head of household that has about 2 years of college under his/her belt.
  • Wants free time more than they want healthy kids, a strong marriage, or to be wealthy.
  • Has a net worth of about $84,000.
  • Spends about 18% a month towards debt.

Okay, so my husband and I seem to be doing very well comparably, but we don’t have two kids to contend with either. Here’s how we fall; we:

  • Make $78,000 with both of us working about 4000 hours total.
  • Own a home worth $130,000 that is about 1750 square feet.
  • Spend about $1500 a year on health insurance and non-covered expenses – my company provides insurance and hubby pays $75 a paycheck.
  • Spend $7000 a year (including his car payments) on two medium-sized sedans that were bought for $12,000 and $21,000.
  • Put $0 aside for college expenses (I know, unfair comparison, we suck)
  • Spend $1500 on an annual one-week vacation.
  • Save at least 15% a year for retirement.
  • Spend about $12,000 a year on clothes, food, entertainment, and living expenses.
  • Have two college graduates and one person in graduate school.
  • Want health and a strong marriage way more than free time or to be wealthy…although I want it all.
  • Have a net worth of about $125,000.
  • Spend about 19% a month towards debt (since we overpay our mortgage).

What do you think of the typical amounts?

Check out these other posts from Budgeting in the Fun Stuff:

The BFS Way To Diagnose Your Financial Health
Want a Raise? Got These Traits?
Determining Our “Allowances”

State legislators get their way

So, here’s what happens when you gut a state university’s funding:

§ Applications to next year’s freshman class at the Great Desert University are closing.
§ Four dozen academic programs are closing.
§ Each satellite campus will be left with only one college; all other colleges and programs at those campuses, which serve the eastern and western districts of a huge, far-flung metropolitan area, will be closed.
§ The nursing progam will be further reduced (enrollment had already been cut) and moved to the downtown campus.
§ The program for training firefighters will be closed.
§ The clinical laboratory sciences program will be closed.
§ The master’s degree in sports business will be discontinued.

Here’s a summary of other programs that will be canceled at this one university:

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (Tempe)

• M.S. Kinesiology
• Master of Natural Sciences (MNS)
• Concentrations in Natural Science in
• Life Sciences
• Geology
• Speech and Hearing
• MA Anthropology concentrations in
• Archaeology
• Physical anthropology
• Sociocultural anthropology

Herberger College of the Arts

• Ph.D. in History and Theory of Art


• M.A. Music and Music Theory Concentration
• M.M. Music concentrations in
• Performance (Music Theatre/Opera Directing)
• Music (Performance)
• Performance (Music Theatre Performance)
• Performance (Music Theatre Musical Director)
• Music Ed (Jazz Studies)
– Music Artist Diploma


•  MFA Theatre concentration in Scenography

Mary Lou Fulton College of Education

• Ed. D. in Curriculum and Instruction
• Ph.D. Curriculum and Instruction
• Physical Education
• Ed. D. in Adult Education
• M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction
• Communication Art
• Professional Studies

College of Teacher Education and Leadership

• M. Ed. Education Administration & Supervision concentration inEducation Entrepreneurship

College of Technology & Innovation

• Computing Studies
• M.S. Tech. concentration in Computer Systems
• Electronic Systems
• M.S. Tech.
Electrical Engineering Technology concentrations in
• Instrument and Measurement Technology *
• Microelectronics

Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering Tech

• M.S, Tech Mechanical and Manufacturing Tech concentrations in
• Aeronautical Engineering Technology
• Security Engineering Technology

Information Management Technology]

• M.S. Technology

Technology Management

• M.S. Fire Service Administration
• Undergraduate Certificate in Fire Service Management
• BS in Industrial Technology
• BAS concentration in Materials Joining Manufacturing Technology
• BAS concentration in Fire Service Management
• BAS concentration in Aviation Maintenance Management Technology
• BAS concentration in Digital Media Management
• BAS concentration in Digital Publishing
• BAS concentration in Municipal Operations Management
• BAS concentration in Law Enforcement Management
• BAS concentration in Technical Graphics
*BAS concentration in Computer Systems Administration
• BAS concentration in Cyber Security Applications
• BAS concentration in Software Technology Applications
• BAS concentration in Microcomputer Systems
*BAS concentration in Alternative Energy Technologies
• BAS concentration in Instrumentation
vBAS concentration in Semiconductor Technology

Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness

• B.S. in Agribusiness with concentrations in
• Golf and Facilities Management
• Professional Golf Management

New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

• M.A.I.S. (Masters of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies)
• M.A. in Communication Studies
• M.A. in Social Justice and Human Rights

Now, just between you and me, a few of these programs should have been closed years ago. But most are legitimate professional programs that train workers for decently paying jobs, many of which contribute not just to the state’s economy but also to the welfare and safety of the entire citizenry.

The wacko right-wingers have gotten their way: they’re killing the beast. Let’s just hope the next time the morons who vote for these people need a nurse, a firefighter, an IT specialist, or someone to diagnose and treat their hearing-impaired child, they remember to thank their elected representatives for the result.

What’s your conspiracy theory?

Over at CBS Marketwatch (my favorite portal to the Wall Street roller-coaster ride), Paul B. Farrell has an entertaining post highlighting his theory that big business has sabatoged democracy.

It’s a little oblique to my own conspiracy theory, which is that democracy in this country evaporated a long time ago, replaced by a latter-day incarnation of what Dwight Eisenhower first called the military-industrial complex. Exactly as he warned, it has taken over the functioning of this country to such an extent that our much-vaunted “freedoms” have effectively disappeared. The citizenry has been too busy sucking on the pacifier of material plenty to have noticed that little factoid.

I have even gone so far as to theorize (hang onto your black helicopter helmets) that huge pan-corporate interests (which we see manifest in the puppeteers behind the Bush administration) are responsible for the dumbing-down of public education in this country. Universal education in Western government-run schools has never existed to train brilliant minds; from its outset in 19th-century Prussia, its purpose was to develop compliance. Schools exist to teach kids to do as they’re told, so that as adults they will cooperate quietly with what the government wants them to do. It’s an effective device to create a nation of sheep.

The way to make sheep out of American citizens is to see to it that they know nothing about the history and ideas that brought their nation into being, and by design to avoid teaching them how to think logically or coherently: hence the erasure of history and literature in grade school, of civics courses in high school, and of Western civilization courses in college. Indeed, it was Eisenhower who warned,

Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Dumb down the citizenry and you get your way. There’s a reason college juniors and seniors will tell you Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain state and World War II happened in the 19th century. This is not something that happened by accident. It happened because over the past forty years public schools have systematically been commandeered to teach compliance, not to furnish young minds with facts and thought.

Over time, functions that once were performed by the government have been taken over by private entities which, because they are nongovernmental, do not have to abide by regulations designed to protect your privacy and your civil rights. Consider:

Federal law forbids the use of the Social Security number as an ID number. But try to get a credit card, a home loan, or medical care without forking it over for use as exactly that. Even if you refuse to reveal your Social Security number, insurance and financial companies already have it, and they use it as an ID number in national databases designed to track your behavior. How can they get away with it? Because the law applies only to government bureaucrats…not to corporate bureaucrats.

Big Brother watches you in every store, every parking lot, almost every intersection in this country. Every purchase you make is tracked on store “club cards,” on credit cards, on debit cards. Every step you take is recorded on cameras. Who is Big Brother? He ain’t Uncle Sam. He’s corporate America.

By law, the government is not allowed to violate your privacy and to track your every movement in this way. Government agents have to get a court’s permission to do this sort of thing. But corporate interests do not.

You can write to your Congressman about an issue and be damned. If you don’t have enough money to purchase representation, the only way your wishes will be considered is if they happen to coincide with those of the lobbyists who do own your elected representatives. Who can afford to buy representation in this country? Only very large, allied corporate interests.

Prisons, schools, medical care, and most social welfare programs are now the province of industry, not your elected government.

Every time you pass through an airport, enter a public building, or go through the electronic examiner at the door of a retail store, you are searched without due cause.This is a violation of the United States Constitution, a fact ignored because the illegal searches are conducted by private entities, not by government agents. You accept it because you have been trained to comply and because you have been told that you should be scared, very scared.

The reason we no longer have the basic access to decent medical care that Americans enjoyed thirty or forty years ago is that corporate interests took over that access, bringing us “managed medical care” that places an army of corporate bureaucrats between you and your doctor. These same interests have fought a one-payer medical system—expensively and efficiently—for decades. They have played a major role in running up the cost of medical care and have seen to it that most Americans are discouraged from seeking good, consistent care…what propagandists call “Cadillac healthcare.”

Habeas corpus? Oh, that… If we don’t like you, you’re not eligible for it.

So it goes. Or, we might say, so it went…

And you…what’s your conspiracy theory? Is the truth out there? Is George Busha robot? A stuffed puppet? Is Barack Obama a Muslim terrorist? Are black helicopters operated by aliens? Is truth beauty? Beauty truth? Is code poetry? Who made us think so?

Best jobs, worst jobs

J.D. Roth’s Labor Day post at Get Rich Slowly, in which he recites all the jobs he’s ever held and asks readers to describe their best and worst gigs, got me thinking about my checkered career. For a person who’s on the verge of retirement, I haven’t held all that many jobs, especially if you don’t count the twenty years as a generously supported lawyer’s wife, mother, and society matron—less than a dozen, some of which were part-time.

Which were the best jobs and which the worst? And did my hypereducation do anything to help land the best ones? What, if anything, would I do differently, given a chance to start over?

At GRS, I left a comment opining that my most hated job was as a secretary for a demented market researcher. The guy was truly paranoid: convinced he had Enemies (no joke!) who spent every evening sifting through the trash behind the office building, looking for corporate intelligence with which to do his business in. He insisted that every, single piece of trash be snipped up into confetti—this predated inexpensive shredders—before it went in the trash. The job also predated word processors, and since I was not a great typist I threw out a lot of botched letters and memos; these also had to be snipped up, even if only a few words appeared on the page. My employer was given to insane rages and casual insults, an altogether obnoxious gentleman.

But really, what made that a bad job was the wacko boss, not the job itself. I enjoyed working as a receptionist and probably would have enjoyed secretarial or clerical work in any office environment where the boss was blessed with normal mental health.

The real worst job I’ve ever done is teaching freshman composition. After I finished the Ph.D. and several years of TAing, during which I taught many sections of both regular and advanced composition, I swore I’d go on welfare before I ever did that again. Years later, I landed a full-time lecturership, which paid as much as an associate professorship, teaching writing and editing to university juniors and seniors. For a long time, this was a fine job. Then after I’d been there about eight years, the university decided to turn that satellite campus into a four-year institution. Everyone was expected to teach freshman comp, whether they had degrees in English or not.

Ugh. I was right the first time around. If I’d wanted to teach high-school kids, I would have gotten a teaching certificate. At least if you teach high school, you can live wherever you choose, not wherever you can get work. In fact, in my desperation I looked into taking a postgraduate teaching certificate: to get it, I would have been required to take the very upper-division courses I was teaching (!), and I would have started at $24,000, a $19,000 cut in pay!

My favorite jobs—because they were the most fun—were editorial positions at Phoenix and Arizona Highways magazines. Journalists don’t earn much, but they have a good time going hungry. I enjoyed every moment, even the overnighters (which came once a month at Phoenix Magazine), loved writing features, loved editing copy, loved working with artists and photographers, and liked all my bosses and colleagues.

And no doubt the best job I’ve had is the one I hold right now, directing a university’s editorial office, where our staff of five does preproduction work for scholarly journals. The workload is almost nil, because I can delegate most of it to my associate editor and three graduate assistants. Pay is not great, but it’s more than I’ve ever made before. And I don’t waste too much of my time sitting around the office.

So…what effect did hypereducation—I have a B.A. in French and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English—have on this mottled career?

The hateful secretarial job required no higher education at all—the previous incumbent had been my cousin, who didn’t yet have an A.A. (she later became a registered nurse). Neither did the nice little receptionist’s job; however, the B.A. did get me the highest starting salary any receptionist had every earned at that firm, a munificent $300 a month.

The teaching assistantships were associated with graduate school: you TAed because you were in the program. The editorial jobs required a B.A. in journalism or English. Again, at Arizona Highways I was paid a premium for the advanced degrees, and in fact I landed the job because the editor was looking for someone with above-average competence.

I fell into the lecturership because I was assuredly the only English Ph.D. in the state with 15 years of real-world writing and editorial experience. At the same time I was hired, the department hired as my opposite number a man with a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford: presumably an M.A. from Stanford = a Ph.D. from Arizona State University, which oughta tell you something. I earned more than he did, though: approximately six dollars a year more.

The doctorate was not de rigueur for the job I’ve got now, but it certainly thrilled the hiring committee. It also got me a starting salary about $30,000 higher than the university had planned to pay the successful applicant.

So yes, the higher ed helped with the jobs I did get. If I’d started in journalism when I finished the B.A., though, by now I’d probably own Phoenix Magazine and be retired on its proceeds.

If I had it to do over, what would I do differently?

Well, if I knew when I was 22 what I know now, I would still get advanced degrees, but you can be sure they wouldn’t be in the humanities. I probably would combine an M.B.A. and an LL.D. in an attempt to develop a heavy-hitting corporate career. Or I would get a Ph.D. in business management, which opens the door to far better-paying academic jobs than you can get with the same degree in the humanities.

There’s no question that higher education, even in the liberal arts, sets you up for better-paying jobs. And there’s also no question that certain degrees, even some that won’t kill you with difficult coursework, will do better for you than others.

So…what are your best and worst jobs? And what would you do differently if you could start from scratch?