• Home
  • About


    Posted by Sean at 10:23, February 22nd, 2011

    My favorite comment on the Wisconsin flap to date, from one of the posters on the strangely addictive College Misery:

    I do not mind paying a fair share. Neither does anyone I work with. However, we do mind being professors on food stamps (at least 3 of my colleagues are the sole income for their families, and because our salaries are so low in the first place, they will qualify). I am OK for now–my OH makes less than I do but we don’t own a home, so our expenses can be managed. Thing Two is now two, so his daycare isn’t quite as expensive as it was before. But I am seriously rethinking living in this state if this is how it wants to treat its public sector workers…and I’m not the only one.

    As scarce as jobs in the humanities are, I might have to go back on the market—after finally earning tenure—to try to find a better-paying job. Or I might have to go back to the private sector, where I made better money and I still have connections.

    I do not want to do this.

    Really, princess? You do not want to do this?

    You don’t want to get a job with pay that’s more aligned with what you need in order to support your family, even though you could apparently do so pretty easily? Well, then, we’d better just march right up to that nasty-nasty Governor Walker and tell him you’re going to hold your breath until you turn blue if you don’t get what you want this very minute.

    I also love the flagrant, self-awareness-lacking snobbery of that whole “we do mind being professors on food stamps” thing. Public assistance is good enough for the single mothers et al. whom leftists are constantly haranguing us about helping; shouldn’t they be good enough for academics stuck in less-desirable positions? Surely living in a fashion that’s down with the proles is a good thing…for your, like, consciousness or what have you? (One might also note that every dime these people receive is already public assistance.)

    If full-time teachers are being paid so little that they qualify for food stamps, that sure does sound bizarre. But, as Wisconsin and other states are now learning, that’s what happens when you see every issue as something to be addressed through a funded government program. Keep sucking up wealth without creating any, and you don’t have enough to spend anymore. That it’s the public-sector workers who are being mistreated in this scenario is risible.

    Even better is the way that second paragraph continues:

    None of us gets into this profession for the money, but it’s disgraceful that we’re not going to be able to make decent lives for ourselves (I work in the two-year system, so we’re paid a LOT less than our counterparts in the 4-year schools).

    And if you think I should just shut up and be thankful to have a job, do me a favor and shut the f**k up. I am grateful to be employed, but I’m not going to take a kick in the teeth and ask for another one.

    They can’t live “decent lives”? Note that there’s not even the slightest attempt here to argue that these people are being paid less than the market value of the work they do, or that they’re not getting what leftists love to call a “living wage.” Maybe this writer and her other half really are living hand to mouth, but it certainly sounds as if they’re just strapped for cash like a lot of people right now: making do with a lot less than they’d like to have, but getting by.

    I admit that this kind of thing is a sore spot with me. My (USW member) father was laid off by Bethlehem Steel for an agonizing stretch in the mid-’80s. At one point, he was working night shift at the 7-Eleven, cleaning offices for Service Master, and doing odd jobs to keep us afloat. My mother worked part-time in the cafeterias in our school district. At one school, a certain teacher memorably informed her that she (my mother) should be washing her (Miss Thang the teacher’s) coffee mug because she (Miss Thang the teacher) was “a professional.” Few things play on my sympathies more than stories about overworked people who are treated like crap and have few options.

    People who want more money and have the option of changing jobs to get it? No sympathy. Being forced to choose between satisfaction and compensation is just everyday life for a lot of private-sector workers. You can’t, to coin a phrase, have everything. And if Walker’s move really is an excuse to go after public-employees’ unions, good. There’s no reason they should be able to use the coercive power of the government to wangle deals for themselves that the private-sector employees (whose taxes pay their salaries) cannot.

    If you want a laugh at the expense of the sanctimonious, BTW, read the comments attached to that post at College Misery, in which writer BurntChrome’s fellow travelers haul out every pseudo-insurgent cliche the left has ever dreamed up: “Standing behind you holding a torch and hayfork in spirit,” “speak[ing] truth to power,” “First they came for the communists…,” “Before they went after the welfare mothers and now they are going after the civil servants.” My favorite is the the commenter who claims to be—My sides! My sides!—“[h]umming the Marseillaise in your honor.” Delicious!

    Added later: Sarah also posted today about Marxist (and Marxian) fallacies about labor and value. You should RTWT, but here’s the liver of the fugu:

    To Marx value was raw material plus work. The means of producing that work (machinery, etc) were just sort of there. And he made no allowance for invention. (Which is why though Marxist revolutions often recruit intellectuals they’re the sort of intellectuals who never had an original idea in their life.) Of course in our day and age, invention and original thought are at least as important as machinery in creating product. Also, the raw material fallacy means all the countries who have nothing else to sell feel “exploited” because we’re taking their “value” away. Imbuing raw material itself with value means that it’s sort of like stealing national treasure. This has given rise to an entire colonialist-exploitation-theory of history which has held more people in misery in developing countries than the most brazen robber baron could manage. And no one, NOT ONE seems to realize that their raw materials mean absolutely nothing if not used. If someone doesn’t have an idea to use it. If the finished product is not good for something. In other words, if you’re not producing something that someone else finds useful. (I.e. enough to pay for.) If the relationship isn’t MUTUALLY beneficial.

    I kind of wish she’d used something besides the dog-turd analogy that follows, because it makes it easy for people to shrug and say, “What’s your point? No one’s arguing that people should be wasting their time shining up dog turds. We just think that professors of the arts (say) are as valuable to society as bankers, and that it’s worth using the state to transfer some money to them to recognize that, since the cold, impersonal, inhuman market doesn’t.” Nevertheless, the underlying point she’s making (or one underlying point she’s making) is a sound one: Just because you’re good at what you do and love it, that doesn’t mean you’re going to make a lot of money off it.

    A friend of mine, she cries at night/And she calls me on the phone

    Posted by Sean at 12:55, February 13th, 2011

    Crabby-ass Baby Boomer exceptionalism has been a bugbear of mine since childhood. My parents (born in ’48 and ’51) were generally pretty immune to it, thankfully, but it was everywhere once their age-mates had attained their majority and entered the media. Years ago, a commenter at Dean Esmay’s place warned that in a few decades we’d be seeing articles in Time about “The New Death,” as geezer Boomers refused to go through even their last major milestone without tarting it up as a vehicle for self-actuation. (It doesn’t seem to be archived, unfortunately—I think he suggested Nancy Gibbs as the writer, though that may have been my contribution.)

    We should have known better than to laugh, of course. Now that the first BBs are hitting 65, if they’re going to keep living independently, they’re going to need the same things Grandma did, only they don’t want to admit it. So marketing and UX people are finding ways not to tell them they’re past it (via Ed Driscoll, via Instapundit).

    Surreptitiously, companies are making typefaces larger, lowering store shelves to make them more accessible and avoiding yellows and blues in packaging—two colors that don’t appear as sharply distinct to older eyes.

    Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, an arm of Invesco Ltd., suggests financial advisers offer coffee cups with handles instead of Styrofoam (easier to hold), use lamps instead of overhead lights (less glare), and turn off the television when clients visit (background noise hampers hearing), says Scott West, a managing director.

    Euphemisms are flourishing. ADT, owned by Tyco International Ltd., is marketing its medical-alert system to aging consumers as “Companion Services.”

    Kimberly-Clark Corp.’s Depend brand, widely considered adult diapers in the past, has had a makeover in a new TV ad: “Looks and fits like underwear. Protects like nothing else.”

    Bathroom-fixture maker Kohler Co. struggled to come up with a more palatable word for “grab bar,” which boomers resist. It introduced the “Belay” shower handrail—named for the rock-climbing technique—which blends subtly into the wall of a tiled shower. “When you say, ‘We’ve got beautiful grab bars,’ [boomers] just say, ‘Naw,’ because they don’t want to identify as needing that,” says Diana Schrage, senior interior designer at Kohler’s design center.

    I have no objections to aesthetic improvements or better packaging—steel-tubing grab bars and diaper-y diapers are ugly. Why not make them more customer-friendly? And there’s no reason the elderly should resign themselves to putting on cardigans and brogues and sitting on the porch for the last twenty years of their lives. Healthy people who want to stay active should stay active.

    What’s chortle-worthy is the way Boomers love to imagine themselves as sassy, bold, in-your-face truth-tellers…but can’t handle even the slightest allusion to incontinence in an ad for adult diapers:

    “Past generations were more accepting that they had a condition, and this was the product that they have to wear,” says Mark Cammarota, Depend’s brand director. “The boomers don’t have that attitude. They demand and expect more.”

    In an effort to modernize its designs, Depend has introduced gender-specific versions and briefs with fashionable prints that imitate regular underwear. Some Depend packaging is labeled “underwear” and disguised to look like packs of cloth underwear, including transparent windows that show Depend undergarments folded just like regular briefs. The smaller packs hang on hooks instead of stacked on shelves like diapers.

    When casting for recent Depend ads, the brand looked for actors who appeared to be in their early 50s, a far cry from the brand’s former white-haired spokeswoman, June Allyson, who sometimes portrayed a grandmother.

    The new ads—which launched last month—feature a fit and flirtatious man in a coffee shop and a fashionable woman strutting down a sidewalk while tossing her hair, not a gray strand in sight.

    “We’re very subtle in that we don’t have to explain the problem and solution in the ads,” says Mr. Cammarota. “Boomers like seeing the confidence part of it.”

    Get back into life!

    Of course, Depend wouldn’t be able to get away with this if it couldn’t depend on viewers to know what product its brand name was associated with, and the reason everyone knows is that we all heard June Allyson talking about it, as forthrightly as you could on network TV, a quarter-century ago.


    Speaking of annoying delusions, Virginia Postrel posted a few weeks ago about that Kennedy miniseries that was rejected by the History Channel. Despite being a clan of jumped-up, cheap-wenching, prestige-buying, graceless, Pharisaical jerks, whose only major social contribution to date has been helping to keep the thirsty supplied with whiskey during Prohibition, the Kennedys are constantly foisted on us as some sort of American Ideal. Barf. My idea of a Kennedy docudrama would be called Sloshed: Smuggling the Hard Stuff and Swimming to Safety with Joe, Sr., and His Merry Brood, but in order to make it, I’d have to spend a lot of time thinking about the Kennedys, which I’d rather not do. Virginia links to an entertaining account of how the miniseries got scuttled. You’ll be shocked to hear that there was pressure from the Kennedys involved (particularly from Caroline, who is, you will doubtless be double-shocked to hear, a Baby Boomer).

    Virginia’s topic is glamour, and she focuses mostly on how depictions of the Kennedys (including the possible release of recordings of Jacqueline’s voice) affect their brand:

    The Kennedys’ glamour is an important income-generating asset, so I, too, doubt we’ll be hearing anything revealing. But we will hear something, which in itself is unusual.

    One of the world’s most photographed women, Jackie mostly let her carefully crafted image speak for her. (Here’s a rare photo of Jackie smoking.) Only a few public traces of her voice remain, most of them from the 1960 campaign or White House years. And unlike the graceful photos, they seem dated, calculated, and a little strange.

    Virginia links to YouTube videos of a few interviews with Mrs. Kennedy. What’s amazing is how much her self-presentation (from the shoulders up, anyway, though horsewoman Jackie obviously doesn’t walk with Marilyn’s hip-swivel) is like that of Marilyn Monroe—whispery, head-bobbing, fussy, deferential—even though they were polar opposites as icons of celebrity womanhood of the time. Now they’re both images to be maintained, and I think Virginia’s right: The feminist narrative about Marilyn Monroe is that she was a talented actress and comedienne beset by predatory men and forced into playing up the feminine vulnerability. It’s okay for her to sound a little ditzy, even if we know it’s something of a put-on, because it fits the narrative and we’re used to it. But to our ears, Jackie’s voice sounds jarring given her woman-of-arts-and-letters image, and a lot of effort is likely to go into keeping that image from being compromised.


    Title line from, of course, one of the first media products to usher in talk about the Baby Boomers’ reaching middle age. (The Big Chill and thirtysomething and stuff had done a lot of fretting over unrealized ideals and grown-up responsibilities, but it wasn’t yet time for the OMG-we’re-almost-40! routine.) My mother played this album to death when I was a senior in high school: