Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 11

21 10 2014

Work don’t get no respect.

That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Don’t we goodstrongproud Americans value hard work and honest living? An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work and all that?

Yeah, no.

Work, like every other goddamned thing in this country, has become tribalized: tell me how you vote and I’ll tell you what you think about what counts as work and how much it’s worth.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, not least because this late tribalization a) has a long history; and b) is laid over all other kinds of fights, presuppositions, prejudices, and disorientations. And, to be fair, there are folks on all sides of the political spectrum who are uneasy with the disappearance of decent working-class jobs.

Still, there used to be at least a veneer of agreement that wage-work, at least, should be respected, and that a person was performing something of value even in low-wage work. The problem that Ronald Reagan had with so-called welfare queens, for example, wasn’t that they worked at McDonald’s, but that they didn’t work at all. Only when they (and it was always “they”, never “we”) worked, it was argued, would they learn the habits required for achieving a decent life.

Yes, there was a lot of bullshit packed into this argument, but I mention it to highlight how the long push for welfare reform hinged on the presumption that all (paid) work, even low-wage work, was worthwhile both to the worker and to society at large.

Now, however, low-wage work is a problem, and not in the way that you’d think, i.e., the “low-wage” part. No, to a dismaying number of political and economic elites, the problem is with the work itself, and thus also with the worker.

Exhibit A: Brad Schimel, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin’s Attorney General:

“I want every one of our neighbors to have a job again, a well-paid job, so we don’t have to argue about minimum wage for someone working at Burger King,” he said. “Let’s get them a real job.”

Precisely so, because busting your ass to get cheap food fast to hungry people is fake-work.

Exhibit B: That lovable lug, Governor Chris Christie!

I gotta tell you the truth, I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am,” Christie said during an event at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, according to a recording of his remarks by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge.

“I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized,” he added. “Is that what parents aspire to for their children?”

The governor went on to say that parents aspire to an America where their children can make more money and achieve greater success, according to The Hill. He said those aspirations weren’t about a “higher minimum wage.”

It’s true, I wouldn’t want my imaginary children to work for minimal wages, but I damned sure would want the work they do perform pay them well enough to live a decent life.  And if my kid were only capable of flipping burgers, that s/he were not able to perform more highly-skilled labor wouldn’t make flipping burgers somehow not-labor.

Work is work, and deserves compensation.

Exhibit C: My favorite governor, the union-buster Scott Walker, who doesn’t see the point of the minimum wage nor, apparently, of the jobs which pay minimum wage:

“Well I’m not going to repeal it but I don’t think it serves a purpose because we’re debating then about what the lowest levels are at,” Walker said during a televised interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I want people to make — like I said the other night — two or three times that.”

Walker went on to say that the policies his administration has been pushing are meant to raise Wisconsinites above the minimum wage level.

“The jobs I have focused on, the training we’ve put in place, the programs we’ve put in place is not for people to get minimum wage jobs,” Walker continued. “It’s the training whether it’s in apprenticeships, whether it’s in our tech colleges, or our UW system —it’s to try and apply the training, the skills, the talents, the expertise people need to create careers that pay many many times over.”

Again, the idea of increasing education and training is a fine one, and I think both the federal and state governments should do more to provide free life-long training opportunities to all workers.

But, again, the idea that because some work doesn’t pay well that work isn’t worthy, may not be real work (as per Christie) at all, attacks the notion that work qua work has any value at all—and thus not even deserving a mandated minimum wage.

It’s a nice tautology: Real work pays real (i.e., high) wages, so any work performed for a low wage isn’t work at all.

And you can add another loop to this vicious, vicious circle when those low-wage workers require food stamps or other forms of public assistance to make it through the month: they’re moochers who, because they need assistance, clearly don’t deserve to make more money for the not-work they do.

As a Marxisch, I should perhaps welcome this open hostility to work as capitalism finally showing its true face, such that what matters is not the work, but the wage, always the wage—and the higher the wage, and the greater the accumulation of wealth, the more the person matters.

But I am not orthodox, and while a part of me is glad that some elites are abandoning useless paeans to the “inherent dignity of work”, a part of me knows this abandonment will only increase the burden on those who do labor for little, and further degrade what dignity they deserve to have as human beings.

After all, if you don’t respect the work, you ain’t gonna respect the worker.





Teacher teacher, can you reach me

30 01 2014

Classes have started again. Thank goddess.

I need the money (of course: I always need the money), but it’s more than that. While I’ve been working at home for the 2nd job, I just get. . . antsy before a new semester. Part of it is worry that my course will be cancelled, but even more so is the sense that my real work is in the classroom, so to be out of the classroom is, even if I have other work, to be out of work. My real work.

It’s taken me too long to get to this point, to know that, yeah, my real work is as a professor. Unfortunately, due to the many bad decisions I’ve made about my career, instead of being snugly ensconced in a nest somewhere in mid-level academia, I’m left to swing from semester to semester, hoping I can grab the next vine of courses just after I let go of this one.

(In 2011 those vines got yanked away a couple of times, and I crashed, hard. I won’t dig out from that financially until next year—if all goes well.)

Can I recover and manage to build some stability into my career? I dunno. You’ve only got so many years post-PhD to slide into the tenure track, and as I am some multiple of years beyond that time, I may have missed my chance(s).

But I don’t want to give it up, either. I enjoy teaching and am pretty good at it, and while I think academic publishing is a scam, I remain capable of solid research.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I am constitutionally unsuited for corporate work? Not that any corporation would have me.

I’ve gone round and round on this before, and have done nothing. Dmf has given me links to the, ah, Brooklyn Institute, I think, and there are plenty of non-CUNY institutions in the NYC area in which I could teach. (CUNY limits the number of courses adjuncts can teach any given semester & over the course of the year, so while I will send my c.v. to the campus closest to me, if I want more work I’ll have to go outside of CUNY.)

So there it is. I’ve finally figured out this is what I can do; now I need to just, y’know, do it.





I will try not to breathe

29 12 2013

So I got back from visiting a friend with C. (we decided against a drink at our bar) and went to bed earlier than I usually do on a Saturday night and it took awhile to fall asleep and I woke up at some point in the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t sleep and I don’t know if it was the visit or the pancakes or coffee or waffle fries but I couldn’t sleep and somewhere in the midst of the not sleeping I came up with an idea for another novel.

I have the title and everything.

Now, I’ve already been working on another novel (and need to finish off the edits of the second novel and oh yeah send out pitch letters) which has been long in incubation and which I really want to see how it works out but now this not-sleep idea came WHOOSH and I think I could knock out a first draft right quick then let it rest while I work on that other novel (and finish the edits of the second and send out pitch letters) and I don’t know, see if I could write two at the same time (they’re very different ideas) and hm there’s that cyborgology conference I want to write a paper for and, well, goddamn.

January’s going to be a busy month.





I don’t wanna talk about it now

20 12 2013

Late late, so quick quick:

I’m with Charlie Pierce on this issue: just because our courts have concluded that the First Amendment doesn’t (necessarily) extend to the private sphere doesn’t mean the rest of should so blithely dismiss concerns about free speech which one’s employers don’t like.

This deserve more thoughts than I have at the moment, but. . . yeah.

Maybe it ain’t censorship, but that don’ make it right.





Workin’ in the coal mine

12 11 2013

Ha ha ha, right: teaching and freelancing offer a plenitude of opportunities to bitch, but the most I have to worry about is a sore throat, maybe a sore back, not black lung and cave-ins.

Anyway, I’m jammed up with work, which, on the one (lazy) hand is bad, but on the other (money-grubbin’) hand is good. Mostly it’s good.

I should be able to catch up by this weekend, but in the meantime, this is my excuse for no/scrawny posts.

At least, that’s my story, and all that.





Pretty on the inside

28 10 2013

Time: just in the nick of!

For my bank account, anyway. I’m back working for the same organization for which I’ve worked on and off for years. I’ve moved around different departments, filling in as needed, and trying not to fuck up.

I like these people, and I like that they hire me to fill in.

Anyway, my current project is to find contact information for a group of people. I don’t want to be any more specific than that, but I will note that this project, like a previous one, requires a fair amount of time spent on college & university websites.

Which brings me to the real topic (rant) of the day: Jesus Christ on a cracker can no one design a decent university website?

Let’s start with all of the crap on the front page: flickering images and/or too much text, cutesy or self-serious self-promo shit, tiny print, ugly fonts, and links which only lead to more links and more links and more links before you can find what you’re looking for.

Some have site maps, some of which are useful, but others which are either so general or so specific as to be useless. Some have directories, some of which are useful, . . .

The worst, however, are those landing pages which are geared toward sucking in potential students. In fact, the worse the school, the more real estate is given over to the sales staff. And even then, it’s not as if the links take you directly to the pages you need, oh no: first you have to wade through a thicket of pitch-links.

I’m mostly looking for faculty and departmental information, so I can bypass most of the crap, but honest-to-pete, there are some institutions which do not include a front-page link to “Academics”.  Campus activities? Yep. Alumni? Uh-huh. Events? Sure. But “Academics”? That’s crazy talk!

Oh, and how about contact information made clearly available? You know, a mailing address and main campus phone number at the bottom of the front page, or if that can’t be managed, a “Contact” link which actually provides that information rather than a fucking request-for-information form.

One last observation: At those universities which don’t require design uniformity for all departments, the absolute worst websites are invariably the Art and Computer Science pages. The artists have to show how goddamned artsy they are, which usually means you have to mouse around a dark page hoping you’ll highlight something that will take you to a page you can actually read, while the geeks have to demonstrate their superiority to you by creating a page which requires some sort of goddamned code to figure out what’s going on.

And they each have an unseemly attraction to black backgrounds with tiny yellow or purple print. Here’s a tip: Don’t use a black background with tiny yellow or purple print.

Unless you don’t care if no one uses your site, ever.





They certainly don’t make them like that anymore

16 08 2013

Yesterday I finally got off my butt and picked up a canister in which to store my compost-ables until I could take them to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket for real composting.

On my way back from the dollar store—yes, I went all out on the container—I stopped momentarily to watch the road construction crew lay down a layer of red concrete. That moment lasted, oh, half-an-hour.

The city and various utilities have been upgrading the lines running under half of Nostrand, then building out pedestrian bulges as they reconstruct the torn-up lanes. During the day, what is normally 2-3 lanes of traffic is funnelled into a single eastside lane, as the lane closest to the western curb is worked on and a middle lane reserved for the construction equipment.

I wasn’t the only one leaning on the fencing, watching some of the men run their brushes and floaters over the concrete, while others shoveled the mix into a trench alongside the old roadway. I waited for the mixer to drop more of the sludge onto the prepared lane, but the only guy who wasn’t wearing the yellow safety vest, after yelling back and forth with a goateed man in, mm, his forties or fifties, sent the mixer away.

A dump truck and an excavator crept in where the mixer had been, and one of the workers directed the excavator driver to deposit dirt from the truck on the far side of lane. The goateed man flung a half-brick with a string tied around across the barrier at the edge of the trench, then, carried that string to the curb, roughing out a height. The dump truck and excavator reversed in tandem down the street, pausing to deposit dirt in the road bed (I’m assuming to create a slight slope down toward the curb). Later guy with a walk-behind compactor came through and tamped down the dirt.

The mixer returned, and as the drum rolled, I recalled a piece I had read somewhere (probably in the New Yorker, probably by John McPhee), on the time constraints on concrete mixing. The aggregate, cement, and water need to mix enough to integrate all of the components, but since it begins to set almost immediately, it needs to be disgorged tout suite (within 90 minutes, according to Wikipedia). It was around lunchtime, but it was clear that as long as the mixer was on the scene, the men would be shoveling, troweling, and smoothing instead of eating.

The drum rolled and rolled, the men standing around, rinsing off boots and equipment, and attaching extenders to the chute. (Given that one man could easily lift the 5-foot or so long chute, it was probably a composite plastic material, or maybe aluminum. Lightweight, in other words.) Then a couple of the guys signaled to the driver, and the red concrete began sliding down the chute. Immediately they began shoveling and troweling and brushing the concrete, and as the compactor finished its last run in the road bed, the mixer slowly moved south, pausing as the men swung the chute in an arc from curb to trench.

That was my cue to leave—I’d said to myself I would stay until the concrete began flowing again—but, honestly, I could hung on that fence and watched these men build that road to the end.

I don’t do physical work now—wielding chalk against a board doesn’t count—but I have in the past. My only summer home from college I got a second shift job at a foundry, working the punch press for lawnmower parts, leak-checking oil pans and oil-pan covers, and running the mill-and-tap machine for Pontiac power-steering plug brackets.

I hated that job, not least because, as a non-union gig, the pay was shit and the safety conditions somewhat less than desirable. That it was second shift also meant that when I was getting out of work all of my first-shift friends were at home in bed; while I got along fine with my co-workers (after a brief period of coolness toward the “college kid”, they allowed me to lunch with them), we didn’t socialize outside of work.

Still, near the end of my time there, I understood something of why, beyond just a paycheck, people might appreciate a job like that. There was a certain rhythm to the work. Here’s where you lined up to punch in, here’s where you lined up to punch out, here’s where you picked up your gloves and here’s where you tossed them. Head nod to these folks, a joke with those, and off to the machines. While I’m not much good with regularity, I got a glimpse of its pleasures, and why some might be reassured rather than boxed in by it.

There was also the pleasure at having a part in making something you can hold in your hand. I milled and tapped hundreds, maybe (tho’ probably not: I wasn’t the fastest on this machine) thousands of Pontiac power-steering plug brackets, with damn near each one of which ended up in a car. It was a thing I worked on, which was now working for someone else.

I like teaching and I’m glad to have a job which requires me to be so much in my head, but as much satisfaction I get from my time in the classroom or with my books, I can’t hold the thing I make in my hand.

When Matt Yglesias wonders why so many people bang on about manufacturing, when he suggests that food service (in which I’ve also put my time) be considered a part of the manufacturing sector, he misses the central point of manufacture: that you end up with a thing you can hold in your hand. Maybe he doesn’t get that, or maybe he doesn’t see why that’s important, but if you’re going to stand on a line year after year after year, the routine itself won’t be enough.

If you’re going to do the job, take pride—such an outdated concept—in the job, it helps to be able to pick a thing up and say, without irony or ideology, “I built that.”

That’s why I and so many of my neighbors were hanging on that fence, watching those men build a road. It was something we could see, something we would walk across or bike or drive on, something which had disappeared, and now, finally, was there.








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