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.





Come Mister tally man, tally me banana

28 07 2013

Remember: no food is produced without labor.

Good on Mark Bittman for this most basic reminder of a most basic fact of human life.

We need food to eat, and that food does not come from nowhere. Oh, food corporations would like us to believe that food comes from nowhere—think of the efforts to ban unauthorized filming of conditions in pig and chicken plants—or from some mythical somewhere in which a smiling man lovingly plucks a strawberry or head of lettuce and pulls himself upright to show us the bounty of the Earth, but, really, they’d rather us not think about the workers stooped over in a field, exposed to pesticides and herbicides, cutting and tugging hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables out of the dirt every day.

And slaughterhouses? No one wants to think about slaughterhouses.

I’m not exempting myself from this. I don’t know where most of my food comes from: that I’m assiduous in buying only fair-trade coffee beans only highlights how little I do to source every other item in my diet. Nor do I inquire as to the conditions in the kitchen of the restaurants or (more commonly) the local joints I visit.

Bittman gives one way to begin paying attention:

Well-intentioned people often ask me what they can do to help improve our food system. Here’s an easy one: When you see that picket line next week, don’t cross it. In fact, join it.

I mentioned in my last post that those who are most directly affected by a phenomenon ought to take the lead in directing how to respond to it. Bittman’s advice fits nicely into that schema: the workers themselves are acting, and in so doing, are telling the rest of how to act.

Hear, hear. If you want to get paid fairly for the work you do, then you should support others getting paid fairly for the work they do.

We all should be paid fairly for the work we do.

~~~

h/t: Erik Loomis, Lawyers, Guns & Money





Hey look-a here, just wait and see

17 07 2013

The summer between my third & fourth years at Madison I worked “maintenance” for the university.

I put “maintenance” in quotes because we didn’t really do any maintenance—that was left to the regular civil service staff; mostly, we cleaned.

I’d worked food service the summer before, but “maintenance” was much better because there were more hours: full-time, M-F, in the Southeast dorms (Sellery A & B, Ogg, and Witte).

The first 4 or 6 weeks we cleaned all of the windows in all of the dorms, inside and out. The supervisors (also students) would come around and stand sideways to the windows to check for streaks and missed spots and ponies, telling us to re-do a bunch if we were on schedule, or just to wipe up the errata if we were behind.

Then they’d task us with various bullshit—cleaning out window wells, cleaning and painting dumpsters (not as bad as it sounds, actually), removing the tar that seeped up through the cracks in the basements. (Word was the Southeast dorms were built on a swamp, and tar had been used as filler. I don’t know if that was true, but tar really did ooze out of the cracks.) Anyway, they kept us busy until the end of the summer, when they needed us to do real work again.

A big chunk of that real work was cleaning up after bankers. The university ran seminars for businessfolk, putting them up in the dorms, so we did the maid-work, cleaning rooms, bathrooms, etc., during and after their stay. It wasn’t a bad gig: the dorms were air conditioned, and the bankers would often leave booze and food behind.

We were supposed to toss these leavings, but, c’mon, who does that? The regular civil service staff and the student workers had a silent understanding, each taking what was left and saying nothin’ to nobody.

As we worked these various jobs, our work crews would shift. I ended up maid-ing with a couple of girls I didn’t know very well, and, really, hadn’t been terribly interested in. Nothing awful: they had their group, I had mine.

They, however, turned out to be the perfect pair to work with. There were no awkward conversations about keeping the booze, and, like most (although not all) of the student workers, saw no point in working too hard. We did what we needed to, nothing more.

Anyway, what prompted this reminiscence was the one girl, whose face I can barely make out, but she had straight blond hair, who’d walk around muttering “she’s sure fine lookin’ man, she’s something else” at her friend (also blond, but curly), and they’d both crack up.

One lunch hour—for which we had to punch out—we took some of the leftover beer and whiskey and found a spot decently away from the main office and all ate together. I finally asked her about the line.

“Eddie Cochrane,” she’d said, then repeated, “She’s sure fine lookin’ man, she’s something else.”

I didn’t know the name of the song, but remembered Eddie (after briefly confusing him with Tommie) Cochrane, and way later found a best-of cd with, (what else) “Somethin’ Else”.

So, after that verrrrrrrrrry long prelude, for your listening pleasure:

I was listening to it early this evening. It’s a great song.

And not a bad memory.





Working in the coal mine, work, work

10 03 2013

I blog for free.

I like the sound of my own voice, and, as I once introduced myself, I have lunch and opinions; so when something pops up, I go, Hey, what do I think of this? And then I blog about it, to figure out my thoughts.

I also write (as in: write draft-edit-edit-rewerite-edit. . .) for free, as in This is something that I have to do, and so I do it. I’ll put it on Smashwords and Barnes & Noble and Amazon and hope someone pays for it, but, really, the cash isn’t going to flow.

I do these for free, in other words, because it pleases me.

If you want me to please you, however, then you have to pay me. I’ll be nice if you ask, and I’ll be nice when you pay, but if you want me to labor and you don’t want to compensate me for the fruits of that labor, then (cue Harlan Ellison): Fuck you. Pay me.

Nate Thayer and an Atlantic editor kicked off this latest iteration of Pay the Writer when the editor asked Thayer not simply for permission to repost something he’d already written, but to re-write it. When he asked how much he’d get paid, this was the response:

We unfortunately can’t pay you for it, but we do reach 13 million readers a month.

You, editor, who are getting paid to work for a for-profit company, approached someone to work for you knowing that you couldn’t pay him for that work? And then you waved the exposure flag?

Some have criticized Thayer for publishing the editor’s name and e-mail address (e.g., in these comments) , but even privacy-crazed me think that if you approach someone in a professional capacity using your work e-mail, then, no, it’s not unreasonable for said work e-mail to be published. I wouldn’t have published the address—there be dragons in cyberspace—but this matter ought not be the takeaway from the exchange.

No, the takeaway should be: Don’t fucking ask people to work for you if you can’t pay them cash-money. The website gets 13 million readers a month? As Thayer noted in an interview, I don’t need the exposure. What I need is to pay my fucking rent.

Miz Emily, er, Emily L. Hauser noted in her blog that she has written for The Atlantic for free, albeit at her own instigation. While she was glad  to appear on the site,  the fact of that byline has opened no doors, nor has it led to a single offer for paying work — when editors talk about the value of “exposure,” I can only hope that they’re ignorant of what a chimera that is.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic published a long piece on the economics of digital journalism, and he makes a number of reasonable points about its dismal fiscal prospects. Okay, it’s hard out there for an editor—but that doesn’t excuse your own attempts to off-load that difficulty on to freelance writers.

Madrigal is arguing, in other words, that the choices for a quality publication are all bad, but hey, whatchoo gonna do? I don’t like to ask people for work that we can’t pay for. But I’m not willing to take a hardline and prevent someone who I think is great from publishing with us without pay. My main point and (to be normative about it) the main point in these negotiations is this: What do you, the writer, get out of this?

And then he sighs again about the difficulties of his job. For which he is being paid.

I know that my posts get re-posted with some regularity—not because they’re so great, but because there are any number of auto-aggregator sites out there that scoop up anything and everything they see. I don’t really like it, but they do link back to my site, and they’re not asking me to do more work. For free.

Jessica Hische has this great graphic Should I Work For Free (which someone posted a link to in the comments on a like-minded John Scalzi post), and the upshot is pretty much: No.

And that’s pretty much my upshot, with the following caveat: If The Atlantic wanted to repost something which I had written for me own pleasure, then, sure, the exposure might be nice; I was, after all, thrilled when being Freshly Pressed led to an increase in my Absurd readership.

But if you want me to work to please you: pay me.





You can’t get no cornmeal made

28 01 2013

Oh lordy, am I lazy.

The less I have to do, the less I get done.

Now, on the one hand: Duh! If I have two things to do I get fewer things done than if I have 8 things to do, but that’s not what I mean.

No, what I mean is: If you give me large amounts of time in which to accomplish a few tasks, I will. . . not accomplish them. This is less of a problem if I owe work to someone else, but if it’s just for me? Mmmm, no.

Classes begin this week, and while, yes, I have completed my syllabus for my bioethics class (updated, shifted a bit), I haven’t yet bothered to print it out, or to get my shit together for tomorrow.

Hey, that’s what the morning’s for.

And my other class, well, that one doesn’t begin until next week, so hey, I got a whole week to overhaul (as opposed merely to updating) the thing.

Deadlines, man, I need deadlines. Gimme a deadline and I’ll git ‘er done. No deadline, no dice.

Oh, to be self-starting and self-disciplined. . . !





I can see you in the morning when you go to school

18 12 2012

Have I mentioned recently my. . . delight? satisfaction? relief—yes, let’s go with relief—that I live in New York City?

That’s because I don’t have to worry about my governor or mayor suggesting that teachers lock-and-load prior to entering the classroom.

Is it really any surprise that Texas Governor Rick Perry or Virginia Gov Bob McDonnell muses that the appropriate response to gun violence on school ground would be to increase the number of guns on those same school grounds?

Didn’t think so.

Cienna Madrid at The Stranger posted this response from a schoolteacher friend to similar musings:

Kids steal anything that isn’t nailed down in my classroom. In this school year alone, I’ve “lost”: 2 staplers, 12 whiteboard markers, 1 globe, 1 map, 1 copy of The Color Purple, 3 boxes of staples, countless pens and pencils, an apple, my deskplate, and a years’ supply of tacks. If I yawned long enough, these kids would pluck the fillings right out of my mouth and this guy thinks I should have a GUN in the CLASSROOM? Where the fuck would I securely keep a gun? Because I’m sure as shit not packing one on my person. and even if teachers are allowed to carry guns, then what? We’re all supposed to take marksmanship classes to learn how to shoot the damn things? How is this anything but a cheap way of turning teachers into unsworn police officers?

No. No. No. Teachers teach. Police officers police. And legislators are supposed to legislate. Maybe instead of trying to add to the burden of my jobs, legislators should take a crack at doing theirs.

I’m not worried about my students—who are not kids—stealing from me, but I”m right there on the whole “teachers teach” bit: that’s what we do, that’s the whole point of us.

Imma gonna go out on a limb here and speculate that those who want teachers to pack heat probably don’t, really, respect us.  As commenter Sly at Lawyers, Guns & Money pointed out,

According to conservative orthodoxy, I’m a parasite on the public’s dime who is only interested in indoctrinating the precious children of America into communism or atheism or whatever. I can’t be trusted to have any control over the curriculum I teach. I can’t be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate my students, let alone my colleagues. I can’t be trusted to have collective bargaining rights. I can’t be trusted to have an objective view of governmental policy when it comes to my own profession.

But they’ll trust me to keep a gun in a room filled with children.

Allow me to add to the rant by noting that not only do they not respect teachers, they don’t respect what we do. Maybe they don’t respect us because they don’t respect teaching, maybe they don’t respect teaching because it’s performed by, y’know, teachers—but whatever the arrows of causality, they don’t bother to understand the first goddamned thing about teaching.

And what is that first goddamned thing? Teaching is work. It’s fucking hard work to try to do well and, on some days, just to not do it poorly.

I just finished the last session of a course which had kicked my ass all semester. It was the first time I taught this course, and as often happens with a new course, all of those things which seemed like good ideas while preparing the syllabus turn out to be bad or unworkable ideas as the semester progressed. About halfway through it became clear that things were falling apart, and about two-thirds of the way through I’d figured out how I could improve things for next semester, but in the meantime I had to try to salvage what I could so that the class wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Do you know what it’s like to know that you’re failing—that you’ve failed–but the best you can do is to try to prevent the failure from bursting into flames and immolating what few nuggets you did manage to pass along? Yeah, it sucks.

I’m actually pretty fortunate in that most of the time, I’m jazzed rather than drained by what happens in the classroom, but either way, it’s work. I think about and prepare and rethink and revise and prepare some more, all so that my students can get something out of the course, which in turn means that I can get something out of teaching them.

But hey, if what I do doesn’t matter, then all of that time spent pretending as if it does could better be spent at the firing range doing the real work of shredding paper targets or at SWAT camp learning how to somersault through a hail of bullets and turn up rightside firing at my attacker(s).

I’m a teacher, not a ninja, and that should be enough.





Teacher tells you stop your play and get on with your work

4 10 2012

Oy, is teaching takin’ it out of me this semester. In a good way.

Last semester I taught 2 courses on Tues-Thurs and 1 course Mon-Wed. Which meant I was commuting from Brooklyn to the Bronx 4 days a week. Which sucked.

This semester I’m only commuting twice a week, which is nice for my back and my general attitude, and which also means I have time to work the unfortunately-necessary-second-job at a place I’ve worked on-and-off for years (in the Financial District, although not of the Financial District).

So, y’know, two days a week at school, two days (Mon & Fri) at the office, three days a week at home: easy-peazy, right? Ha.

The office job is pretty low-stress, but by 6pm on Thursday, I am DONE teaching. My voice is hoarse, the tip of my tongue for some reason numb, my hair is askew (okay, my hair is often askew), and I am covered in chalk dust. I’m not sure how or why I get chalk dust everywhere, but I do.

Have I mentioned I’m really enjoying this semester?

My American govt students are bit quiet, but they are generally attentive and ask good questions, and they do have their moments. Things get livelier in my bioethics course, with students popping up with comments and questions and what-ifs and, most importantly, they’re right there when it comes to the implications of biotechnologies.

And then my contemporary political issues class. Man. This is full of high-schoolers from a number of schools in the Bronx who trek on to campus to take college courses. I had a bit of bummer experience with a similar group of students spring semester—they would not fucking participate—but this group, whoo, this group requires me to shout and wave my arms and signal like Bruce Willis near the end of Die Hard 2 trying to bring the plane in a for a safe landing. (Or am I misremembering that, too?)

Anyway, it’s not really a good thing that the class is so unruly, but in a course like this, where they really do have to participate, I’d rather have them too into it than not at all. This is the first time I’m teaching this course, so I’d expect that next semester I’ll have a better handle on how things should go, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying how willing they are to mix it up.

I just need some more damned coffee. And throat lozenges.