Tag Archives: money

In search of a second opinion.

I am sorry to have been gone so long.  I was on a Roman Holiday (“n. a time of debauchery or sadistic enjoyment” – so okay, just literally, not figuratively) and it was quite amazingly wonderful.

But sadly, all really is better in Italy.  No sooner did I arrive in the breadbasket of Patriotism and Dr. Pepper but I got the news that my modest “studio” (read: regular apartment put in a procrustean bed to make room for the laundry facility) was about to be auctioned off to the hoi polloi.  Dutifully, I sent my panicked email requesting world enough and time, made my way to the management office, and was handed an innocuous lease form that bore a tiny, almost imperceptible number that just happened to be $90 more than the tiny number on the last form.


Not being the sort to take things lying down, I exited abruptly and announced my intention to “think things over.”  I did so, and formulated some demands that I thought would surely be amenable (sure, raise my rent by a hundred bucks, but at least give me internets).  The lady at the front desk gave me a look right out of the Pieta and said she had begged and plead with the mysterious Mandarin of the Jamestown Complex, but he was intractable.

I don’t know if she’s just playing good cop with me, but she seemed genuinely torn up over my plight.  So she gave me the Miraculous Mandarin’s number (his name is the cheerfully consonant-cluttered Russell Trippett) and told me to try my luck alone before the Great White Throne.

Here’s my question for you: do I masochistically accept the terms as offered, or do I use my brain, which tells me that property values are going down, not up, and look for something else (thereby exposing myself to the horrific inconvenience of moving the whole place in nothing but a tiny sedan)?  Limiting factor: I will probably only be living in Waco for one more year.

Any advice is much appreciated …


O tempora, o mores!

I would like to illustrate, from my own life, the absolutely untenable relationship between wages and prices that is the norm in this beleaguered country.  The other day, at the Elite Grille on the Waco Traffic Circle (a place known to anyone who has driven through the town), I was charged for the ice in my bourbon.  The ICE.  One dollar for, as the receipt put it, “rocks.”  

They also charged me for the dessert that they had run out of, so I got that one stricken from the record.  But mind you, I’ve seen many other people complain about their restaurant experience, only to be showered with free food, gift certificates, Circiassian slave girls, and so on.  I, however, got nothing but a pedantic manager out to explain to me, as though I were the most pathetic of country simpletons, how there is more alcohol in the drinks that have ice.  Why do I have this sneaking suspicion that that isn’t actually true, but that rather this guy hasn’t even discovered displacement yet?  “Look, sir.  You’ll see, it is manifestly obvious that when I add these obloids of frozen liquid to your potation, the booze line undergoes elevation.  So how could we remain in business in this land of Opportunity if we did not charge you for the utterly obvious increase in liquid in your cup?”

And of course, my salary remains the same even in a world that charges you to put some ice in your drink.  Oh, the sacrifices we make in these trying times: I may have to begin taking my bourbon neat (or just ordering scotch).  Bernacke and Paulson, where is your 700 billion?  Is there room in that figure to buy me some ice?

“Deliciae Baylorensis” …?

I want to register a complaint.  No, this isn’t going to be a complaining post.  This is no great moral umbrage on my part, just a failure to understand.  There is not, to my knowledge, a single building open 24 hours on Baylor’s extensive, Palladian, be-columned campus.  I know because the maintenance worker who closes up the SUB every night and I are almost on a first-name basis.  Or at least, he calls me “Chief.”  “Closing time, Chief,” he’ll say in a jubilant voice, and while I want to remonstrate that he is denying me Wireless Internet, which has got to be on the Bill of Rights somewhere, he’s just so nice that I have to smile and wave goodnight, like it or not.  So the question is: how come my venerable undergraduate institution, with an endowment approximately the size of a good tip at P.F. Chang’s, was able to keep its student center open 24 hours, even in the bitterest, most lonely lacunae between terms?  And monstrous Baylor, with a budget that includes entries like “Bear Habitats,” “Artificial Bodies of Water,” and “Columns & Pediments,” can’t do it?  Seriously?

In other news, teaching college freshmen is both incredibly rewarding and tremendously exhausting.  I’d thought that I would be a nicely hard grader – not the sort who keeps you down in the mud with one be-tasseled foot while reciting a litany of your shortcomings, but just the kind who doesn’t flinch at issuing a couple D-minuses to shock everybody into “business time.”  Actually, though, just the concept of placing an objective value judgment on someone else’s thoughts (even the “thoughts” that one manages to gather at 4am the night before class, whilst still hung over from two nights ago) is proving terrifying.  Don’t let’s even mention the negative judgments.  But I’ll manage it somehow.  And I really, really like my students in general.  Sure, some of them are a pain.  But in a promising way.  I hope they all succeed; I really do.

The result of all the time I’m allocating to grading and such is that I’m currently trying to write a paper that proves that Hemingway uses France and Spain as analogues to the spirits of Lent and Carnival, respectively, and that he simultaneously does not do so.  Ample attention is being given to the Confessional Mode in Literature, to Moral Cartography, and to Tipping Waiters.  Yeah … this one is definitely going to the ALL NEW WRITING CENTER GOONS.  Just wait until you have to edit my rough draft, newbies! 🙂

Okay, time to go to bed and wake up all too early for last-minute lesson-planning/Common Grounds therapy.  Au revoir!

Some actual good things about Europe.

It seems to me that Europe is getting a bad rap Stateside.  Oh, their populations are dying out.  Oh, they’re being taken over by Muslims.  Oh, they’re sissies who get their army provided by America.  Oh, the EU is … wait, why don’t we like the EU again?  I either forgot, or never knew in the first place.

I just have a couple of completely superficial observations to make, neither of which is an actual rebuttal of the above criticisms.  But first off, I just got done watching a movie with Juliette Binoche, whose work I always admire.  Now, Binoche is certainly beautiful enough for Hollywood standards, but she’s in her forties now, and I notice that she (and many other comparable actors, male and female) is not retouched or made up in European cinema, nor are these people relegated to sinister/aged/otherwise marginal roles.  This is even more the case for Daniel Auteuil.  Honestly, I don’t think he’s a bad looking guy at all, but can you even imagine an American film with him in top billing?  It’s no wonder he doesn’t work over here; he’d be cast as a villain with twenty lines, twelve of which would be sinister cackles.  And yet both are fantastic actors, capable of working in something like the daunting Michael Haneke’s Cache and also much lighter fare, such as Chocolat or The Valet.  

All of this is to say that the conditions for stardom seem to be much less superficial and destructive in Europe than in the States.  I even read somewhere that public intellectuals like Foucault were treated like stars in France.  That’s quite a tall order in a nation where Angelina Jolie serves the point of both Foucault and Gandhi, but still.  Perhaps we could start with the airbrushing cult.  Couldn’t a semi-intelligent magazine, like (say) Vanity Fair, run a series of photographs of someone who is beautiful, truly and unaided, but perhaps has (gasp) some crow’s feet untouched by Botox?

Here’s another bit.  Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) recently said, in opposition to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, that “nobody in their right mind” believe we can get half our power from wind and solar or “drive a fleet of golf carts” (from an article in Salon).  Are you absolutely positive, Senator?  Is ownership of an Escalade, a Durango, and a Hummer part of what makes us, essentially, Americans?

Well, probably, at least for now.  However, I have been seeing more Smart Cars on the roads, and with the current price-per-barrel of crude, I’m not surprised that the Smart is gathering steam.  I had to laugh when I read this review by Salon’s Machinist blog, especially the bits where people ask silly questions like “can it go on the highway?” or “does it run on gas?”  I’ve never been all that surprised by the Smart, since I saw absolute droves of them in Italy, Germany, and France during my semester abroad in 2005.  Obviously, the Smart isn’t for everyone — large families, construction contractors — but what would be wrong with it for single people, couples without children, etc.?  Well, one problem is that our infrastructure does in fact favor a fleet of aircraft-carrier-sized vessels.  Everything is so far apart in America that road trips require large gas tanks and plenty of storage space, and the trains and low-budget airlines that Europeans use for long-distance travel either don’t exist or are extremely difficult to get to.  The Smart car is built for city driving, but nobody lives in cities here.  Instead, our enlightened zoning laws have given us neighborhoods like mine, in which you can’t throw a rock without hitting any one of a host of identical Starubckses and banks, but have to drive twenty minutes to get to a CD shop, an independent coffee house, or the public transit station (and that’s without traffic, which is to say, never).

All of which is to say, we should abolish our zoning code and allow people to build things where they live.  New Urbanist communities are a step in the right direction, but as of yet, they’re all pristine yuppie havens in which the cheapest store is Banana Republic and the cheapest sandwich is $9.95.  In other words, most people are priced out of them.  We need to let these ideas get carried out to ordinary people if we want to see any sort of progress on the pollution/environmentalism issue.  Otherwise, people just can’t live without their monstrous oil-burning frigates.

Any thoughts?

Academe vs. the Philistines of competition.

Today I found the latest issue of National Review (June 16 2008) on the dining room table, open to an article by John Hood called “Against the Cartel: How to reform higher education.”  The article certainly has some good points, particularly making a contribution to the fascinating debate of whether too many people are going to college: I don’t like to think that, because I have known people who were not instinctively intellectual who benefitted tremendously.  But just as much have I known students who didn’t even know why they were in the academy, when their only aspirations were to open a bakery, apprentice to a master carpenter, etc.  I agree with Hood that society shouldn’t ram these students into the four-year degree system, if they don’t want to go.

However: though Hood himself has a nice, clear prose style, undoubtedly thanks to his journalism degree from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the entire tone of his article denigrates the liberal arts and social sciences that “do little but restate the obvious and recycle the devious.”  Ouch.  As if we aren’t challenged enough by the daunting publishing industry to produce something “original,” now we’re both stupid and evil.  Funding these hooligans, he argues, is patently unconstitutional, despite the fact that the very founders of this country, with whose “original intent” we are to mystically commune, provided for federally funded public education in the Northwest Ordinance all the way back in 1787.  Oh wait, there is one exeption: 

The federal government does have a proper, constitutional, and likely indispensable role in funding some of the hard sciences, which often have national-security applications.  Conservatives need to push the government’s education policy in the right direction, rather than try to eliminate it altogether.

Seriously?  So the only reason the government would ever send out a grant for higher education, and I mean ever, would be to foster the creation of new military technologies?  Because it was my belief that the academy generally a). eschewed the merely pragmatic, b). democratically questioned the policies of government, and c). promoted humanitarian causes.  But military technology, though it’s a necessary evil, is a). 100% pragmatic and cannot participate in the aesthetic, b). is wholly created to serve the government’s most frightening power, and c). kills, maims, mutilates, and poisons.  Only a neoconservative would want campuses to be crawling with nationally funded “counterterrorism strategists” and missile technicians.  While we’re at it, why don’t we just replace a few “devious” ivory towers with columns of Cruise missiles?  At least the horrid, politically correct, gay-loving professors can’t kill anybody.  Sheesh.

Here’s another quotation from Hood, who remember has a journalism degree:

By weakening the connection between colleges and their consumers, subsidies enable much of the propaganda, political theater, and pseudo-intellectual twaddle that pervade American higher education today.  Private dollars tend to flow to the hard sciences, business programs, and other disciplines where practicalities militate against political bias.  Public dollars become handy resources to finance academic preening and political activism.

He’s not entirely wrong, you know — competition does favor the “practicalities” in higher education just as much as in other sectors.  Note to fiscal conservatives: just because people want to pay for it doesn’t make it right.  Otherwise, the Nintendo Wii would have to be judged superior to Salman Rushdie’s fiction.  And that, my friends, is a nightmare world.  Obviously, I’m not going to be tyrannical the other way and advocate the end of practical disciplines.  I’m aware that, at least in our current rat-race of a market society, these fields will always be better funded than mine.  All I’m asking is to survive, to have a chance to laugh at young national security specialists walking the hallowed corridors of the Halliburton Cheney WalMart Center for Counterterrorism from the dilapidated window of the Oliver H. Nobody Hasn’t-Been-Renovated-Since-1952 English building.  I just don’t want to be destroyed by zealous market-obsessed bottom-line-fanatics who find me irrelevant or downright evil.

One final word about the “tenured radicals” that Hood would like to drive out with the purifying whips of market dollars: I’ve known a lot of English professors, both at the universities I’ve attended and ones I’ve heard as guest speakers or at conferences, and plenty from departments like history, theology, political science, etc., and not a single one of them (even the most liberal) entered the department as a cloak for a sinister political agenda.  They enter because they love what they do.  If politics tend to follow that, it’s probably because these fields cannot help, by their very impractical nature, but eschew bottom-line thinking and focus on the “human” and “cultural” things that can bring us together.  Perhaps at the expense of super-efficient missile production.  Oops.