Archive for July, 2009

You can tell that the bag you’re carrying around is too heavy when you put it on your front passenger seat and your car disables the passenger airbag.*  I guess this is better than the passenger airbag staying enabled and your car beeping because, based on the weight, it assumes your bag is a person who hasn’t buckled the seat belt.

*You know you’re not a graduate student anymore when you can afford a car new enough to disable the passenger airbag based on weight.

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In my current transition between graduate student and faculty member I am experiencing a brief summer vacation that may be my last.  Sure, I have lots of work to do in preparation for the fall semester (not to mention that ASA presentation I keep forgetting about), but I don’t have to get up particularly early and I don’t have to work more than a few hours a day until I get back from ASA and I shift into full “teaching” mode.  Of course, there will be plenty of times in the future that classes are not in session, indicating “vacation” to many of those in my family, but I will likely just transition into “research” mode during those times, since teaching three courses a semester are likely to prevent much research from getting done when classes are in session.  These thoughts on “academic” versus “normal” definitions of vacationing were brought on by a recent PHD Comic:

Indeed, though my family will likely imagine me spending my summer “vacation” getting up around noon and lounging by a pool, margarita in hand, vacations from students do not equal vacations from work.

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From the Onion:

WASHINGTON—According to the findings of a recent Department of Health and Human Services study, school lunch programs that teach children to avoid all contact with food may not be an effective method of reducing teen obesity rates.

Despite the popularity of abstinence-only meal programs in schools across the country, the study found that children who were provided with no food at lunch and cautioned against eating at an early age were no less likely to become overweight than those who were provided with a well-rounded nutritional education.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the findings could adversely affect federal funding for all programs that tell kids “lunch is worth waiting for.”

“There’s no evidence to suggest that instructing teens not to chew, swallow, or even think about food is actually going to stop them from eating,” Sebelius told reporters. “Let’s face it: Kids are already eating. And not only during lunchtime. They’re eating after school, at the mall, in their parents’ basements. Pretending like it’s not happening isn’t going to make it go away.”

“After all, they’re teenagers,” Sebelius continued. “Eating is practically the only thing on their minds.”

The whole story is worth reading.  Be sure to read the last paragraph.

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I recently got a new ID card to put in my wallet.  The strange thing about it is that it says “Faculty,” though I’m wearing a t-shirt in the picture and actually look younger than my last student ID photo.  I guess that relocating has prevented me from thinking about the other changes that are occuring (after a few days in empty apartments, my time has been largely spent sorting through my belongings and trying to find a place for everything, which is a feeling quite different than solitude).  I am reminded that I don’t yet feel like a faculty member every time I open my wallet, where the location of my ID card is such that my picture and the word “Faculty” are clearly displayed.  Maybe seeing this label every day next to my picture will have some effect on my identity.

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I imagine that for many people (or at least those who read blogs like this), getting an internet connection is among the first things they do upon moving into a new apartment.  Unfortunately, a few other things needed to get done before I could do this, so I’ve been living for the past week on a weak wi-fi signal borrowed from some unknown neighbor, in the way that you might borrow a hammer that a neighbor left lying in her yard and return it before she ever knew it was missing, except in this case the hammer is very small and sometimes disappears entirely.

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While technology is sometimes used to pry into the private lives of individuals, it can also be used as a force for good.  When Jason Leonard’s suspected that employees at the Toyota dealership where he had his truck serviced were stealing from him, he called and wrote letters to get to the bottom of the situation.  When these methods failed, he placed a small video camera in the passenger door of his truck and recorded employee practices at his next service.  As noted in his letter to the dealership, his camera captured the following:

1. The first person to touch my truck was the service manager, Mike (see DVD video #1 “Mike the Service Manager”). He opens my door, puts my keys in the ignition, writes down my mileage, and then removes the keys. Next, he takes a notice in my keys. I keep a red pill vial, used for hikers, on my key chain. I keep personal medication in it for emergencies. He then unscrews the vial, looks inside and smells the vial. Next, he pours them into his hand and inspects them. He then puts them back in the vial and then licks the pill dust from his hand. He then screws the vial back together, replaces the keys, and then writes down the VIN number from the door sticker. Before closing the door, he checks the door compartment where my previous thefts occurred. He closes it without taking anything. He then returns to the vehicle, opens then compartment and proceeds to remove quarters (3 of the 6, totaling $0.75). He then inspects the other contents of the compartment, closes it, and then inspects the bottom door compartment before closing my door.

2. The second person to appear is the unnamed service male (see DVD video #2 “Oil Change Guy”). Upon entering my truck, he places it in reverse and says “ole stupid nigger, back the fuck up.” Apparently someone was behind him and he could not back up. He then proceeds to drive my truck around the dealership and into the service garage. Immediately after placing the truck in park, he opens the astray, which contains pennies, nickels and dimes, and visually inspects the contents. Next, he lowers the center seat console, which was raised, and inspects the first compartment. He then opens the second compartment, takes out my CDs and inspects the compartment. He returns the center seat console to the upright position. Next, he inspects the contents of the glove compartment and the compartment above it. He is seen pulling out a personal bag from the compartment to inspect it. He then rolls down the window and inspects the door compartment, which Mike the Service Manager previously stole money from. He drops a small flashlight, which was in the compartment and picks it up off the floor. He then inspects the bottom compartment located in the door.

3. The third guy is the computer technician. He connects the laptop to my truck, located under the steering wheel, and begins working on the laptop. At approximately 3:27 into the video, a male and female voice, is heard coming from the laptop. The audio from the laptop plays the following:
MALE: “I’m sitting here with Violet. How are you today Violet?”
FEMALE: “Pretty good.”
MALE: “You doing pretty good?”
FEMALE: “Yeah”
MALE: “So you’re gonna do some modeling for us today, huh?”
FEMALE: “Yeah”
MALE: “Yeah, nice. So I see you’re wearing a little see-through top. Not bad, nice. A little skirt.”
This audio, which is coming from the laptop, is obviously some type of pornographic video due to the language and context in which it was spoken, which is being accessed using the company’s laptop.

As a result, the dealership fired four employees and offered Jason a free extended service contract for his truck.

While situations like this demonstrate that the “little guy” can stand up to those who abuse them it is frustrating to think of the unknown number of customers who silently suffered the same injustices.

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Although I’ve noted that my perspectives on graduate student pay have changed a bit since I received the promise of an actual salary, I hope that I never get to the point where I think that an administrative assistant should do whatever I ask without question.  From the “Career Advice” section of Inside Higher Ed:

Dear Survival Guide

My secretary is not being helpful. She refuses to do the simple tasks I assign her and complains to my superior that I am bullying her both by asking her to do these things and by the way I ask her. I am a hard-working, mid-level administrator in an important department and I am in delicate health; that means that I need a little extra help. So, on occasion, I’ve asked her to carry and reach things for me, to shelve books, to pick up a sandwich at a local store, or to wait in a parking spot close to the building, so that I can park close to my office. I’m often on assignments out of the office, and prefer working at home anyway, so I ask her to unlock my office door and turn the lights on in the morning (and lock it and turn off the lights in the evening), so that people won’t question whether I am working. But she challenges everything I ask her and says that it’s inappropriate to ask her to do these things. Last week she refused outright, in front of the rest of the staff, to follow my direction that she rearrange the staff workroom to make room for my bicycle on the days I bike to work, citing some memo she’d seen about bicycles in buildings. This is ridiculous, as it’s too expensive to leave outside on a college campus. She’s clearly uncooperative and beyond. I am a very busy person. I want to be her friend and have a good working relationship but she must do her job. How can I make her understand what her duties are?

–Frustrated at BigStateU

I agree that somebody should be frustrated in this situation, but it isn’t the letter writer!

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A recent Inside Higher Ed post gives some helpful advice for those who are planning to go on the job market this year, whether for the first time, yet again, or looking for a new job.  Some good advice for first-timers:

Practice not going around telling people that you won’t go just anywhere for a job. It causes them to believe that you are a snob, or that you have your head up your butt about the state of the market, or that you don’t really care about getting a job. Or all of the above. So practice not saying it: it is really immature, and it causes people — especially those who are in charge of recommending you — to think poorly of you. If you really want a job, and you want a shot at this career, you may need to go to someplace that seems like anywhere to you, but is actually somewhere to the nice people who already work there. If your attitude gets back to someone on a hiring committee (because as Walt said, it’s a small world after all), you might as well have not applied.

You also need to be honest with yourself about why you think this, because you may need to start planning an alternative career now rather than waiting for the perfect job in the Bay Area that 500 other people are not applying for. If you can’t go anywhere because your partner won’t allow it, be clear with yourself that you are risking putting the career you have trained for on the shelf because the relationship you want to be in, and the person who says s/he loves you, requires it. If you won’t go anywhere because you refuse to live outside a major city, or a particular major city where you have made your home, be clear that you may be sacrificing years of graduate study because of your own limitations about what constitutes an acceptable life and/or job. “I don’t want to” or “I am afraid to” is not the same as “I can’t.” Be clear about the difference, and the consequences.

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While I haven’t officially moved yet, I recently journeyed to my new home to sign the lease and make sure everything was in order.  Spending a few nights there on an inflatable mattress brought back the feelings of emptiness I had when moving into my new apartment before grad school.  Obviously, the fact that the apartment was empty contributed to these feelings, but with the work that I’ve been putting into finishing my dissertation and preparing to teach in the fall I had never taken much time to reflect on the fact that everything is empty in a new town.  My list of people to call if I need help with something is empty, my social calendar is empty, even the mailbox is empty because the junk mailers haven’t yet caught on to my move.

At some points in my life I would have seen this emptiness as an opportunity to directly shape my future interactions – a sort of blank slate for impression management.  Now, though, I have very little desire to change my social arrangements.  My recollections of making friends are vague, but unlike grad school I assume that it is going to take more than cheap beer to become socially engaged with other professors whose families and children control the majority of their schedules.

Soon enough, the void will be filled.  The apartment will be filled with boxes to unpack, helpful people will be found, more work than I’ve ever done before will fill my time, and the junk mailers will find me.  For now, though, I think that the emptiness might provide a good opportunity to reflect on where I’m going and where I’ve been.  Thankfully, this time I’m not alone.

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The fact that two of the three major American car companies have filed for bankruptcy seems to have renewed calls for consumers to “buy American” when they shop for a new car.  Of course, what makes a car “American,” “German,” or “Japanese” these days is not as clear as it was thirty years ago, when most American cars were made in the U.S. by U.S. companies using U.S. parts.  Today there is a global network of owners, suppliers, and factories that have muddied the picture considerably.  What is more American: a Honda Accord made in Ohio, a Nissan Altima made in Tennessee, a Chevy Malibu made in Kansas, or a Ford Fusion made in Mexico?

Every year Cars.com tries to answer this question with their American-Made Index.  This year’s list is below:

1. Toyota Camry** Georgetown, Ky.;
Lafayette, Ind.
2. Ford F-150 Dearborn, Mich.;
Claycomo, Mo.
3. Chevrolet Malibu*** Kansas City, Kan. 3
4. Honda Odyssey Lincoln, Ala. 7
5. Chevrolet Silverado 1500*** Fort Wayne, Ind. 8
6. Toyota Sienna Princeton, Ind. 6
7. Toyota Tundra San Antonio 5
8. GMC Sierra 1500*** Fort Wayne, Ind.
9. Ford Taurus Chicago
10. Toyota Venza Georgetown, Ky.

This list is controversial because it is not simply a measure of a car’s parts content.  For example, the Ford Taurus has the highest domestic parts content at 90%.  The list above also factors in a model’s sales, so the Toyota Camry does not have the highest domestic parts content but it was the best selling car in the country last year.  Combined with its domestic parts content (which must have increased since last year when it didn’t make the list at all), the 436,617 Americans who purchased the Camry in 2008 made it number one on this list (for comparison, the best-selling “American” car in 2008 was the Chevy Impala, with 265,840 sales, though it didn’t make this list).

Others have criticized the Cars.com list because it looks at domestic parts content but not at the money paid to the designers, engineers, technicians, etc. who are crucial in building a modern car.  Some also make the argument that it is better to buy an “American” car built in Canada or Mexico than a “Japanese” car built in the U.S. because that money still goes back into the American pockets of stockholders and retirees.  I suppose that this casts a Marxist shadow over the question of “American” versus “Foreign” automakers – do you want to support the workers who are trying to feed their families or the owners who are trying to make the largest possible profits (though, of course, nobody is making much profit right now) through outsourcing?

There are no simple answers to these questions, but they can be great for starting a heated classroom debate about globalization.

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