Thursday, April 29, 2004

Bubble, Bubble, Toil And Trouble 

I was going to blog today about the job market for humanities Ph.D.s, but got distracted by this NPR story about interest rates, which includes a fascinating discussion of the potential housing market bubble. At least, I found it fascinating. One of the hazards of being an economist is that you become extremely interested in discussions that cause most normal people to plug their ears and start shouting "Nah nah nah nah".

But I confess that my interest in the housing bubble isn't purely academic. As a recent migrant to DC, one of the potential bubble markets, I'm wrestling with the "buy or rent" question myself. Despite the housing frenzy here in the city (buy now! mortgage rates will never be lower! my condo doubled in value since I bought it five years ago!), or maybe because of it, I'm leaning toward just sitting tight in my apartment for a while. And the data suggests that this might not be a bad strategy. The housing price to rental ratio in DC is at an all-time high (not to mention the housing price to income ratio). The bubble may not pop, but it's certainly shifted the 'rent vs. buy' question further into 'rent' territory.

Let me give an example. As it says in header of this blog, Apartment 401 has a monthly rent of $1200. Right across the street, a bigger but not particularly nice condo is on the market for $800,000. That's on the high end for condos here, but condos smaller and not as nice as our apartment are currently selling for $340,000. According to the mortgage calculator, that's a mortgage payment of about $2100 a month. Add taxes, condo fees, and insurance and renting my apartment is just about 50% cheaper than buying a similar apartment in my neighborhood. Particularly when you consider that for the first five of so years of the mortgage, you hardly build any equity at all, the short-run analysis seems pretty clear -- I'm better off renting and dumping that extra cash into my 401k and into debt repayment.

And frankly, prices might swing downward soon. I'm not comfortable with the thought of losing the little I have saved for a downpayment, so for all these reasons, I've decided to sit this market out.

Looks like I'm not the only recent DC migrant to make that decision.

Reason #457 Why Life Is Better After Graduate School

We just had a paper accepted at a conference in Lisbon! Eu posso practicar meu portugues, finalmente. I can already taste the caldo verde.

Boy, do I remember the bad old days when I had to scrounge up money from my tiny stipend to send myself to places like Atlanta and Indianapolis for conferences. Those people who complain that real life is much tougher than school clearly didn't stay in graduate school long enough...

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

(Ex) Academics Anonymous 

Leaving the academic fold seems to be on a lot of people's minds these days. The Invisible Adjunct has decided five years as an adjunct is more than enough; she's seeking new opportunities. Rana at Frogs and Ravens is mussing about the adjustment to non-academic career. At PhinisheD, Raymona worries that although she's sick of academia, she might feel like a failure if she leaves.

It's hard not to spend 5-8 years in graduate school and not feel vested in academia. This can make leaving the fold quite traumatic, even if you never intended to get an academic job. Academia is not just a career, it's an entire subculture, although a rather lonely and isolated one. Entering an industry, government or non-profit job means leaving behind a certain part of your identity, the notion of yourself as a professor, a beacon of knowledge in the darkness.

And because within academia we judge everyone by the prestige of their department and the strength of their vita, even a voluntary departure has the whiff of failure associated with it, as though you have been blackballed from the intellectual sorority.

This feeling is hard to ignore, even if you know that, rationally, you are better off outside the fold. Non-academic work has many perks, not the least of which are geographic mobility, better pay, and opportunities to collaborate with people in other fields. It's also true that the job market is a bit of a lottery, and your most interesting job offer may be where you least expect it. For myself, the choice between a third-rate academic job with a 3/2 teaching load in the middle of nowhere and an interesting research job with a new startup in Washington was a no-brainer. And even though my job is great, I still occasionally doubt I did the right thing -- particularly when my academic friends are on three week vacations in Europe over Christmas and I'm still at the office at 9 pm the night before Christmas Eve trying to make a deadline.

I know I made the right decision. But I sometimes still question it. It occasionally makes me feel not unlike a science fiction character trying to resist a mentally programmed cue -- you will go into academia, you will go into academia, you will......

Read this:
Henry at Crooked Timber has this interesting post about the Invisible Adjunct and meritocracy in academic hiring.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

If we allow women to have reproductive choice then the terrorists have won 

Just when you thought you'd already accepted that there were no limits on the extent to which the Bush administration would use 9/11 to further their existing political agenda, the Bush administration manages to surprise you again with their willingness to use 9/11 to further their existing political agenda.

One thing that surprised me during Sunday's rally for Women's Health were the constant chants from the counterprotesters lining Pennsylvania Avenue comparing the largely female marchers to terrorists. Huh? I mean I just didn't get it. Protecting women's access to decent health care, birth control, and abortion is really pretty inconsistent with the policies of a religious Islamic regime. So I was pretty baffled by this group of (largely) fundamentalist (largely) white men comparing a feminist march to the Taliban. Since, you know, it's pretty much the opposite.

But apparently, I'm just not up to speed on the latest conservative rhetoric. Karen Hughes, current Bush campaign representative, recently made the same comparison in an interview on CNN. Here's Jon Stewart lampooning it here.

So long, Invisible Adjunct

I'm still grieving the loss of Invisible Adjunct's excellent blog regarding life on the margins of academia, so I was happy to see this interview with the Invisible Adjunct in the Chronicle of Higher Education today. Others who miss the ongoing conversation at Invisible Adjunct have picked up the torch here.

Monday, April 26, 2004

The March on Washington For Women's Lives 

I'm back from a weekend of entertaining family members and friends who came to D.C. this weekend for the March for Women's Lives.

It was inspiring to see so many people at the march, pouring off buses from Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Philly, New York, and smaller towns all over the eastern half of the country. Plenty of people flew to the march as well, the California marchers took up almost a city block, as well as smaller groups from Idaho, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Alaska. It was crowded and dusty and threatened rain, but everyone was smiling and jovial. So happy to be a part of something they cared deeply about.

I spent the morning with the papers at Starbucks. The coverage of the march was pretty good, I think. It made a large photo above the fold in the New York Times as well as the Washington Post. Andy Seabrook did an excellent piece for NPR that I heard on the drive to work. Good listening.

Kevin Drum blogs about the counter-protest here.

Friday, April 23, 2004

You're (Not) Fired! 

A coworker has informed me that I'm not to be fired after all.

washingtonpost.com Gay rights groups and labor leaders yesterday hailed as long overdue a federal agency chief's decision to reinstate a ban on discrimination against federal employees on the basis of sexual orientation.

Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, announced Thursday that his agency would continue a long-standing policy of enforcing employee claims of such discrimination under civil service law. "It is the policy of this administration that discrimination in the federal workforce on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited," Bloch said in a statement.

The decision appeared to end a controversy that began in January when Bloch pulled references to sexual orientation from documents concerning discrimination on the agency's Web site, pending a legal review. The move drew criticism from Democrats in Congress and gay rights groups, who noted that the federal government had long prohibited such discrimination against its employees. The Office of Special Counsel's mission is to protect federal employees and applicants from prohibited personnel practices, especially retribution for whistle-blowing.

Phew! For a couple of days my imagination had been lingering on the image of a "gay purge" of the federal government.

To quote the late Kurt Cobain, "Just because you're paranoid don't mean they're not after you."

Sex and the Single Academic 

Laura at Apt. 11D is reading a recent Chronicle article on the isolation of single women in academia. It unfortunately begins with a single woman complaining about being asked to teach an evening class so that her married colleagues can be at home with their children. This pretty much establishes the "singles vs. marrieds" tone for the rest of the piece, sending all readers to their respective battle stations.

And really, single women are not going to win this silly "Queen for a Day" game of misery oneupmanship. As Tim Burke notes in his very funny, Cry Me A River, "(this) article documents just how perniciously the trope of 'minority status' and its associative moral landscape has spread to every single discussion of how communities are constituted." The notion that single people are systematically oppressed and stigmatized simply does not ring true, indeed the data suggests that women with children are less likely to get tenure than their female colleagues without children.

Nor is it suggested by either personal experience or observation. Married colleagues may occasionally talk endlessly about boring topics like baby strollers and lawn seed, but I've never felt excluded from them. If anything the exclusion works the other way. When my single colleagues go out for drinks together, as we often do, our married colleagues often have to go home to family responsibilities.

What single women in academia really can complain about legitimately is a sense of loneliness and isolation. Although I turned down my own opportunity to be a single female professor in the rural mid-west, my experience as merely a graduate student in rural Appalachia gave me an excellent preview of the misery that is the process of adjusting to life as a single professional woman in a rural, remote area.

Now that I'm an overeducated gay professional thirty-something woman living in Washington, D.C., I run into my self coming and going. However, during my five years in Appalachia I felt a complete outsider. Since I came from a rural upstate New York background, I didn't think I was unprepared for the challenges of rural life, but I was completely unprepared for the adjustment to rural Southern life. I was so unsuccessful in my attempts at creating a social life in a culture that revolved around church, football, and binge drinking that for three years my only social events were the department happy hour and occasional department party. My long distance bill from calls to friends back north began to rival my rent. I gave up on the notion that I would ever meet anyone I could date. (Fortunately for me, my wonderful girlfriend moved to town after I completely given up hope completely.)

Conversations with other academics suggest to me that women tend to suffer more from geographic isolation than men do. Perhaps social networks are just more important to women generally. Perhaps professional women just feel more stigmatized in conservative parts of the country. "The Job vs. The Location" is a common topic of job seeking threads over at PhinisheD, with the (usually female) poster usually caught between a 'good job in a bad location' and a 'bad job in a good location'. My own experience with the loneliness of rural academic life was a major factor in choosing my non-academic job over the academic offers I had.

Loneliness is legitimate complaint, and it is particularly bad in academia, where the transition from Ph.D. candidacy to first job most often involves a move to a very different part of the country, usually, to the "boonies". While not a complaint worthy of the discrimination framework used in the Chronicle article, it is not an issue to be simply dismissed out of hand. Academia loses a great many talented women (and I suspect minorities) who are not willing to move to places they feel will make them extremely unhappy and isolated.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Welcome to Apartment 401 

Apartment 401 is a one bedroom apartment in a pre-war building in Adams Morgan. If you aren't from D.C., Adams Morgan is best known as the neighborhood that everyone in St. Elmo's Fire seemed to hang out in when they weren't in Georgetown. It's part El Salvadorian diaspora, part gay ghetto, part bar crawl. If you lived in D.C. when you were under twenty-five, you've probably thrown up on the sidewalk somewhere nearby.

Donald Rumsfeld lives a few blocks away. Because car theft in Adams Morgan is common, I leave my car in front of his house where his security detail can watch it. Pentagon aides lost on their way to Donald Rumsfeld's house lose important notes at our Starbucks.

There's a great view of Kalorama Park from here. The management also has a magnificent and rare tolerance for large dogs, which is important for us, because we have two. It's quiet too, except when the homeless guys in the park start screaming at each other.

And it's where I post from, because it's where I live.

Read This:

I'm quite relieved that Brad DeLong has given up on his Ford Taurus and bought a much more demographic-appropriate Subaru wagon. But I'm vaguely disturbed for some reason to hear that Paul Krugman drinks great quantities of Diet Coke. Not espresso? Can't you count on a good gross generalization of academics anymore?

Kevin Drum draws my attention to a new webblog Always Low Prices that is devoted to stories -- the good and the bad -- about Wal*Mart. I haven't been to a Wal*Mart since leaving southwestern Virginia two years ago, but I hear now that the Wal*Marts in DC smell bad. Thanks. I'll stay away.

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