Friday, May 28, 2004

The Week in Review 

Bush Bruised By Metaphor: In a speech on Capitol Hill, Bush likened the Iraq handover to taking the training wheels off a bicycle, "It's time for [the Iraqis] to take the bike and go forward." A few days later, Bush falls off his own bike and bruises his face.

..But At Least He's Not Gay: Bush spokesperson on the bike accident, "You know this president. He likes to go all out. Suffice it to say he wasn't whistling show tunes." (Fox News)

If Bush Loses the Election Then Al Qaeda Have Won: Part I: John Ashcroft implies that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for terrorism.

If Bush Loses the Election Then Al Qaeda Have Won: Part II: More evidence that you're better off not watching television news: CNN implies that al Qaeda backs Kerry in November. Oh, and that we're fighting against Al Qaeda in Iraq, too.

Just Because You're Paranoid Don't Mean They're Not Out To Get You: ABC news reporter Terry Moran on at a White House briefing on the heighten terrorism warnings for summer, "There is a disturbing possibility that you are manipulating the American public in order to get a message out." (from Paul Krugman's NYT column)

Judith Miller Gets Testy: Judith Miller quoted in a recent Salon article: '"You know what," she offered angrily. "I was proved fucking right. That's what happened. People who disagreed with me were saying, 'There she goes again.' But I was proved fucking right."' Of course, she was absolutely wrong, but are you going to argue with her?

Well, I Guess It's Okay to Take the Kids, Then: '"The Day After Tomorrow" is rated Pg-13. Millions of people die, but nobody swears, copulates, undresses or takes drugs.' So ends the NYT review of "The Day After Tomorrow".

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Your One-Stop Source.. 

..for Washingtonienne coverage: The Calico Cat.

It *Is* the Apocalypse. 

They're here. Low-carb Krispie Kremes.

Not the Apocalypse *Again*.... 

I sometimes suspect that Reverend Sheldon spends his entire day giving reporters quotes on how shows like "Will & Grace" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" cause moral anarchy and societal breakdown. Why even bother asking him, really, what he thinks of a gay television network?

Hot Octagenarians 

Memorial Day is coming. This year, in addition to the swarms of motorcylists descending on DC, the dedication of the new WWII memorial is expected to attract a quarter of a million WWII veterans and their families. As the average age of a WWII veteran is 80, this presents some interesting challenges for the event planners, who are including a paramedic bike patrol toting external defibrillators and a team of missing-person detectives to track down elderly visitors who get lost or end up in a hospital.

I've run past the memorial a few times now on runs on the mall. It's nice. But reading this opinion piece by an art critic, I couldn't help but agree:

But this tribute needed to be more than simply big and heartfelt. It needed to be eloquent, too, and specific to this conflict. The memorial has to honor, but it also has to evoke, and that's where it falls down.

Our little thought experiment proves just how generic the design of this memorial really is. Take away the written explanations, and you're left with a memorial that could be for almost anything. Columns marching in a circle, bronze wreaths, gold stars, spurting fountains, big bronze birds of prey, sculpted reliefs of historic scenes -- what martial effort couldn't be evoked by symbols like that? This is all stock celebration, not true commemoration -- there's no true calling to mind of what the war meant, and then committing it to memory.

It's a beautiful fountain, yet strangely unmoving, oddly divorced from the conflict itself. This is a stark contrast to the nearby Vietnam Veterans Memorial, from a distance so plain, yet so powerfully evocative of what was lost.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Cans Of Whoop Taste Test 

William Grimes undergoes an energy drink taste test in the name of science, or at least, idle curiousity: "Two minutes after draining the can of New York Minute, I felt my eyes bug out. I was ready to finish all sorts of deferred tasks, like separating my warm-weather and cold-weather socks. The flavor, lemony and slightly tart, was a mildly pleasant surprise, much more agreeable than the drink's aroma of banana and bubble gum."

The Apple Phenomenon 

The Economist reports that parents are more inventive when naming girl children. For every 10,000 daughters born in America there is an average of 2.3 new names. For sons, the figure is 1.6. There is also a celebrity effect, so expect to start meeting more small children named Apple.

How Much Does School Quality Matter? 

Laura over at Apt. 11D is breaking it to the neighbors that they are moving to the suburbs:

The hardest part is telling the parents who are going to send their kids to the local public school. There will be one less middle class kid in the school. I feel like I'm letting down the cause.

I do very much believe in public schools and was very committed to the idea of working with the other parents to improve the schools for everyone. I believe in schools that have a diversity of children. I believe that high parental involvement can make average schools better. Without us, the remaining families will have one less advocate in their corner.

But is it right to compromise your kid's future for your politics?

Here's a tale that might comfort Laura's neighbors: I myself attended one of the worst performing public schools in the country, K-12. Probably about half of the kids I went to school with were on welfare. Many of my classmates had babies before our high-school graduation, in one case, three babies before graduation. We had scaffolding around the school to prevent people from being injured when pieces of the building fell off. Only two thirds of my freshman homeroom obtained a high school diploma. Many who did graduate went straight to Iraq for the first Gulf War.

Despite attending a failing public school, I still went to a good college. I still went to graduate school. I have a Ph.D. and a professional job. Lots of kids I knew from there did well. If your parents wanted you to succeed, if they wanted you to go to college, you did go. Sometimes kids didn't go to college because they chose to get jobs and help their parents out financially. A lot of kids that failed in school overwhelmingly had parents I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy -- and even then, some of them did well.

I tend to think that my experience growing up with kids who really did have it bad made me more focused, more ambitious, and harder-working than if I had grown up somewhere where my peers all expected to go to college. Attending the public school I did probably did prevent me from going to Harvard. But I don't think I would like the person I would have grown up to be if I had been raised elsewhere.

I'm not saying that kids thrive in marginal schools. I'm just saying that my experience has left me with profound doubts about the importance of education quality in determining kids outcomes. The best school in the world couldn't have saved some of the kids I went to school with from the circumstances of their lives. Nor could a bad public school keep the rest of us down.

Parents have a big impact. So do the kids themselves. That's not so surprising, really.

Conflating All Terrorists Together, And Other Sins Of Obfuscation 

From Lawrence Korb , former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, on Bush's speech last night (Via Salon):

I think the first thing Bush has done, interestingly enough, is what the Army War College has complained about: He's conflated all terrorists together. On Monday night he talked about Iraq a lot and somehow linked that again to what happened on Sept. 11. Secondly, he never admitted, as again the Army War College study said, that he was ill-prepared when he went into Iraq, did not have enough troops on the ground when Saddam fell, did not provide the troops with any guidance. That's how we got into this mess.

He again brought up with the whole domino theory for the Middle East, that if you make Iraq into a democracy, then you'll have democracy all throughout the Middle East. I mean, what about Saudi Arabia? We're not going to make it a democracy. We're trying to get oil from the country. Or Egypt, Pakistan.

Bush also said that [the occupation will end June 30], but we're still going to have the same number of troops there, and they're going to be under American command. How is that complete sovereignty? I mean, if you're completely sovereign you can't have foreign troops in your country unless you can give them orders and command them.

Who can be opposed to handing over power, providing security, rebuilding the infrastructure, getting more international help and having national elections? Nobody can be opposed to that. The problem is, "OK, who are you handing over power to?" Can you imagine -- you know, in our country, we have an election in November, we wait two months to hand over power, we used to wait four. Here we're going to be handing over power in less than five weeks -- and we don't know to whom, how much support they'll have or what power they'll have.

My central concern is that the president has not yet recognized the mistakes he has made and therefore does not have a basis on which to improve the situation. He played fast and loose with the number of troops. (I think we're going to have to put more troops in Iraq to provide the security necessary to rebuild the infrastructure.) Then he talked about how he's going to go to NATO and thank the 15 countries that provided support and, as he said, almost 20,000 troops. Well, 10,000 of them are British. That means you have to divide up 14 other countries to account for the other 10,000. The president is trying to give the impression that we have a lot of international support when we don't.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The Rules of Engagement 

A friend of mine, recently engaged, just showed me a picture of her engagement ring. It's an absolutely beautiful antique ring, an heirloom from the groom's family. It's also probably worth a small fortune.

And it got me thinking. What is this custom about, anyway, the engagement ring? Looking at all the pictures of gay people getting married in the press, my girlfriend and I have started talking about the possibility of getting married ourselves someday. We realize that someday the legal benefits might be worth it, although right now the law is very very murky on gay marriage. Call me unsentimental, but a marriage is a legal arrangement as much as a romantic vow, and I would like to know exactly what I'm getting into before I enter into it.

But retro-fitting marriage and engagement etiquette onto our relationship often seems forced and unnatural to me. In particular is this bit about the engagement ring. What's it for? Which one of us should buy it for the other one? Do we both get one for each other? I don't particularly like jewelry, can I ask for a kayak instead?

I googled 'engagement ring history' but the sites that came up were primarily jewelers - who, not surprisingly tended to offer versions of history heavily peppered with phrases like 'ancient symbols of eternal love and devotion'.

Less sentimental accounts of the laws surrounding 'who gets the ring' can be found at various legal websites. The most interesting discussions I found were here, here, and here. My favorite passage is this (from the first link):

Characterizing the ring exchange as an option contract on the right to marry in the future suggests that the jilted bride should not have to give back the ring. After all, the ring-giver got what he paid for -- the option to marry a particular woman. He just chose not to exercise that option. And she made good on her promise to marry by remaining open to the possibility (i.e. not running off and marrying someone else in the interim); she was not the one who broke off the engagement.

It is comforting to know that there are people out there who can make even me look like a sentimental sap when it comes to marriage. Even if they are a bunch of lawyers.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The Week in Review 

We here in Apartment 401 procrastinate so you don't have to:

"(T)he new CDC Report says that kids today aren't screwing, smoking or drinking as much. They are, however, eating more. As of yet, no one seems to have noticed the linkage." Pandagon: The Twinkie Solution.

"My friends and I used to remark that the Nixon administration was so unprincipled it took nothing special to resign. It is a mark of the current tragedy that by comparison with the Bush regime, Nixon and Kissinger seem to many model statesmen." Roger Morris: A Call To Conscience.

"OK, now she's fired: Senator Mike DeWine just put out a press release announcing that they "terminated" an employee for "unacceptable use of Senate computers to post unsuitable and offensive material to an Internet Weblog." Tantalizingly, Other inappropriate material was found in the employee’s work area as well." Wonkette: Washingtonienne: Eliminated by Process.

"I am this demographic: a woman, 25 to 34, who has never married. But I vote, and so do all my single girlfriends. Or so they proclaim, loudly, until they get a few beers in them and one or two admit that maybe they didn't, in 2000, because it didn't really matter in New York anyway -- Gore was winning the state by a landslide. Rebecca Traister: Sex and the Single Voter.

Cicada Cam 

Don't live in the mid-Atlantic? Feeling left out of the cicada infestation? No problem, you can watch cicadas live on camera, here. (Via Andrew Sullivan)

No Rest For The Weary 

Brad DeLong's advice for newly minted economics Ph.D.s:

But don't think your life will be easy. In six years your university will send out for letters, asking outsiders whether you should be given tenure. What the letter-writers will say about you in year six depends on the articles of yours that they have read in year five. Since nobody reads the journals cover to cover anymore, they will read in year five only those articles published in year four that others have told them are worth reading. To get an article published in year four, you must submit the final draft to the journal after year two.

Thus you need, for the next two years, to work harder than you have ever worked in your life: what you produce in the next two years plays an extraordinarily large role in making your long-run academic reputation.

Of course, this advice is exactly two years too late for me, but it's pretty much spot-on. Those first few years out of graduate school have to be enormously productive ones. And it's so easy to let moving, new jobs, new responsibilities, dissertation burnout, etc., take a hit on your stride. And the publication lag just grows and grows.

For that reason, my advice to economics graduate students is the following, "Try not to graduate until you almost have tenure".

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Everybody's Famous 

I love reading wonk'd at Wonkette, where Washingtonians can write in local celebrity sightings. It's especially fun because it's such a small town - the next person you almost run over really could be Karl Rove.

However, I am always forced to recognize the dismaying fact that although I could tell you twenty things about Arianna Huffington, I'm not a 100% sure I would actually recognize her if she walked passed La Tomate while I was eating there. And I have no clue what George Will looks like. I just don't have a good memory for faces. Ask my former students.

Also, I have no luck. I park my car in front of Donald Rumsfeld's house everyday, for crying out loud, and I've never seen him. Doesn't he every come out and pick up the paper off his stoop or anything?


I recently picked up a copy of Emma's War, a journalistic account of a British relief worker's marriage to a Sudanese guerrilla leader during the Sudanese civil war. I'm not finished with it yet, but so far the book has provided a fascinating history lesson in the politics and conflicts of the country whose leaders welcomed Usama Bin Laden.

What interests me especially about the book, apart from Sudanese politics, are the moral ambiguities of famine aid work itself. Starving 'orphans' distribute their aid rations to relatives who are guerilla soldiers. The children die, villages are slaughtered by armies fed largely by relief aid; aid workers move up the career ladder, get promoted. It's a situation that desperately rejects the application of a black and white brush, where the natural impulse to do something unambiguously good - feed starving children - becomes instead a moral quandary.

The people of Sudan can't seem to catch a break. Africa's longest civil war. Usama Bin Laden. Now Darfur. From a recent Financial Times article:

In short, the government of Sudan is conducting a scorched-earth, near-genocidal war against its own citizens. Again.

We have seen this before, after all. Many of these tactics are familiar from the government's decades-long war primarily in the country's south; the scorched-earth approach is Khartoum's signature policy when dealing with rebellion. For years, it has attacked its own civilians in the course of the conflict with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). In the past few months, however, Khartoum has turned its attention to the people of Darfur, whom it suspects of aiding two other rebel groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

The Economist also has articles on Darfur, including this one, which contains a good summary of the history of the long civil war and the various and constant changing rivalries, and this second one, here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

"If A Conservative Is A Liberal Who Has Been Mugged, Then A Liberal Is A Conservative Woman Who's Been Divorced." 

It's true.

Thou Shall Not Steal 

The Passion of the Christ is now among the top 10 illegal downloads in the U.S. Mel Gibson isn't a happy camper...

The (City) Kids Are Alright 

Matthew Yglesias does not thank me for the happy birthday wishes, but does object to my apparent endorsement of the view that the suburbs are a superior place to raise kids.

For the record, Matt and I actually agree on this: I think kids can -- and do -- thrive in cities. For the same reasons adults thrive in them. Community. Diversity. Culture. Stuff to do out of the house, away from the computer and the TV. Independence from automobiles. I went to college with a large number of kids who grew up in Manhattan - they always struck me as far more mature, self-assured, and interesting than the kids who grew up in the suburbs. My mother works in Manhattan now, and has often said that had she known then what she knows now, she would have raised us in NYC. She didn't know it was possible to raise kids in a big city, but knowing her coworkers kids has convinced her we missed out not growing up there.

If I had kids of my own, I think I'd want to raise them in NYC. It's a great place for kids. DC would probably also be okay.

But I don't have kids. Most of my friends that do have fond memories of childhoods in the suburbs that they want to recreate for their own kids. It's not what I would choose, but I can't exactly condemn them for it, either. (Particularly since they've all told me to shut up until I have kids of my own.)

(P.S. I didn't actually grow up in either a city or a suburb. I spent my salad days in a down-and-out rural rust belt town in upstate New York that could have been lifted from Joyce Carol Oates' Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang. I definitely wouldn't recommend raising your kids there, but you probably weren't thinking of relocating to such a place for the sake of the kids anyway. I did dig holes in muddy creeks, but they were tributaries of Love Canal. We ran free through our neighborhoods unsupervised -- mostly hiding from older bullies and shooting Bebe guns into abandoned factory windows. Good times, some of them, well, a few of them; not exactly the childhood I'd try to recreate for any offspring of my own.)

Update: Laura responds that while city life may be fine for the kids, it's expensive on the parents. And exhausting.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Happy Birthday Matthew Yglesias 

Am I the only person surprised that Matt is only 22? Happy birthday, neighbor. (I wonder how many times Matt runs into someone who recognizes him from his blog photo? Probably a lot, in this town.)

Monday, May 17, 2004

Apt. 11D buys a house, experiences nausea. Apartment 401 looks at a condo, feels same. 

Laura at Apt. 11D has bought a house!

My stomach is in knots. I fear that I might blow chunks at any minute. My brain can not hold a thought for more than a nano-second.

I think we bought a house.....

We raced over to the newly exposed town and put a bid on house #3. It is a big old home. With good bones, like lots of oak trim and a front porch. But it has suffered from neglect and a bad divorce. We're going to have to do lots of work with sledge hammers and paint brushes, if everything works out.

I'm genuinely glad for her. I know they have been looking for quite a while. She has two children approaching school age; the clock is ticking (I know kids who went to NYC public schools, and I understand some aren't bad, but I trust Laura's researched this better than I have). Although they like the city, I do sense from her blog that the kid-friendly culture of the suburbs has some appeal. Most of us grew up playing in muddy creeks and going to community barbecues and riding our bikes down empty streets and we want our kids to have some of that.

And yet another part of me, the part of me that has looked at our budget this way and that, at current housing prices this way and that, that part of me just wants to know the details. How? How much? I want to look at her numbers and figure out why my calculus suggests we stay put and hers suggests they buy. I suspect, in the end, that their children's schooling costs are what tipped the scale for them. But I'm curious anyway.

I can only imagine the stomach-churning stress that buying right now must induce. Prices are so high, they induce dizziness. My significant other and I looked at a condo near our apartment last weekend. It was listed for $300,000, which piqued my curiosity - so many places don't list a price at all. I was curious what $300,000 would buy.

Here's what $300,000 will buy you in Adams Morgan right now: two small rooms plus a tiny kitchen and bath. The entire condo was the size of our current living room. The kitchen was as big as my bedroom closet. I couldn't imagine more than one person in this space. This in the same neighborhood where $1200 a month will get you twice as much space and includes utilities. If you had to move, renting the entire unit would only cover 1/2 your mortgage. Yet there was a line of people waiting to look at it. So little to be had for less than $325,000 right now.

It's not so much that things are expensive. I understand that I live in a desirable area and that incomes here are high. But we are two professionals with good salaries. We don't have any kids. Our rent seems a bargain compared to what we'd have to pay for a house. What's going on in this market? Doesn't this seem a little crazy to anyone else?

Update: Jay, at Moment, Linger On, tells me to quit complaining and look outside Adams Morgan for a condo or house. Ah, but we have. Like I've stated elsewhere, it's the recent spike in the housing price/rental price ratios and housing price/income ratios that troubles me right now. It's hard to look at that data and not conclude that current prices are out of line. It's pretty compelling.

But recognizing a potential regional housing bubble and trying to figure out the best response are two different things. That's why I'm curious how other people are responding. It's important to recognize also that rent/buy trade-offs are based on different individual circumstances. As are location decisions. Adams Morgan is actually quite a bit like Washington Heights - rents are comparable, schools are lousy. Whites are pushing out the former largely Latino community.
Families like Laura's here move to the suburbs too, rather than pay for private school.

By the way, I actually think that Adams Morgan's days as 'up and coming' have come and went. It's pretty gentrified. U Street, Columbia Heights, Logan Circle, outer Capitol Hill - they still have a bit of grit on them, more gang activity. Not that we can afford anything there either....

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Summer in the City 

The telltale signs are here. That smell of hot garbage mixed with grilling meat. Sweaty runners. That distinct Washington haze. Gay boys on their cell phones discussing plans for getaways to Provincetown or Rehoboth. Women in A-line skirts and tank tops. Down the street, Rumsfeld's security staff rolled up the windows of their SUV and have turned on the AC.

Back in Buffalo, where I grew up, it could still snow in early May. But here, the spring flowers are already wilting; it's midsummer.

Read this:

The Washington Post has an article on people who like to eat cicadas, which includes a recipe for pan-fried cicadas with a white wine sauce. Billions of cicadas will be decending on the Washington region in the next few weeks as part of their 17 year mating cycle. I spotted my first one yesterday. They are pretty gross, like a giant wasp with giant wings.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

From Special Education Teacher to Starbucks Barista 

Laura at Apt. 11D links to this Wall Street Journal article on the difficulties mothers have transitioning back into the workforce. This story is fairly typical of the women profiled:

Nancy Judson was working as an elementary special-education teacher in Dallas in 1988, when her husband's company transferred him to Portland, Ore. After their first child was born, they decided she would stay home. "We both had working moms," Ms. Judson says. "I wanted to be there and do all those things that my mom couldn't do."

Last year the couple divorced. Ms. Judson, now a 45-year-old mother of three, looked for a job for the first time in over 15 years. Her former field wasn't an option -- she wasn't certified to teach in Oregon, and the special-education profession has changed a lot. "My old terms would be archaic," she says.

She had friends and connections at several major employers, she says. But no one would grant her an interview, not even for a receptionist job. A few months ago, she went to a "panel interview" at a Starbucks. She sat in an Ann Taylor suit answering questions along with 39 other applicants, including a musician and teenagers looking for part-time work. She was hired: 25 hours a week, at minimum wage. "I felt so defeated," she says.

Whenever I read a story like this, I am reminded of a memory of my mother, tipping a Denny's waitress 30% for so-so service. "No one takes a job like this in your late 40s unless you are starting over. She's a mother. And probably just divorced." My own mother, a divorced working mom with two young kids, knew what it was like to have to strike out on your own in a world where women's jobs (and accordingly, their salaries) were only supposed to support household luxuries, not support a household.

Women, particularly mothers, have been in this pickle for while. Divorce laws don't compensate women for making sacrifices for family; women who take time out to raise children or who allow their careers to play second fiddle to a husband's find themselves holding the short end of the stick when the marriage dissolves. Even women whose marriages stay intact can find themselves facing difficult, even impossible, odds in re-attaining careers that were only supposed to be on hold while the children were young.

What has changed is that the costs for staying home, or even cutting back time at work, have risen enormously for women as women's careers have taken off. This situation strikes me as unsustainable. Surely we have finally moved past the idea that women should have to sacrifice their economic independence to have children. I suspect that soon mothers are going to stop accepting these prices, and mobilize for changes in divorce laws and the workplace.

And as a culture, we are really going to have to make a decision about where we stand on the issue of child care. Unfortunately, as long as we endorse the premise that only a mother can adequately raise a child, mothers are going to remain second-class citizens in the labor market.

Read this:

Kevin Drum wonders why our leaders don't seem to understand tensions between the Sunni and the Shiite Muslims in Iraq. Matthew Yglesias switches his current operations manual from 1984 to The Heart of Darkness. The Washington Post goes out on a limb to say that Americans won't soon be able to wash from their minds images of American soldiers smiling and giving 'thumbs up' signs over piles of naked Iraqis being forced to have sex with one another.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Only 19 more miles to go... 

I just found out that our application to run the Marine Corp Marathon has been accepted. I'm excited but very nervous - I've never run a marathon before. I'm still patting myself on the back for increasing my weekly mileage from 6 miles to 14-16 miles a week. My longest run is still only 7 miles. 26 minus 7 is...

I notice that someone's been posting some of my entries on the Invisible Adjunct Topic Exchange. I'm even being permalinked. Although it looks like there's something wrong with my permalinks, I'll have to figure out what's going on.

Update: permalink problem fixed.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Market for Humanities Ph.D.s, Part II: Optimism Bias and the Oversupply Problem 

Consider this story:

Greg O'Malley got a taste of the job market for Ph.D. graduates
when he supervised several of them after earning his bachelor's degree.
"It was incredible to me that they had gone through so many years of rigorous
training,"says O'Malley of his subordinates at his postbaccalaureate
publishing job, "only to be working under someone who'd barely finished
his undergrad work."

Still, the experience failed to deter him from pursuing a graduate degree of
his own: O'Malley currently is enrolled in his second year of the history Ph.D.
program at Johns Hopkins University.

It's easy to mock this kind of naive optimism. Like an engaged man looking at a 50% divorce rate, the data makes Greg pessimistic about other's chances, but not his own. From the other side of graduate school, stripped from your delusions of academia, after countless conversations with friends scraping by on adjunct pay, years of watching dear friends move to remote corners of the earth for a chance at a career grading papers and listening to student excuses, with friends parted from spouses for jobs or deep in student debt, it's easy to laugh cynically. He'll see.

However, really, was I any better? Were you? Honestly? When I was 24, I dated a junior professor who would wack her head against her computer monitor and curse the day she ever got a Ph.D. And what did I do? Go to graduate school, of course. One of the great benefits of youth is the belief that you won't make the same mistakes other people made, even as you set off on the path they took before you.

At a health economics seminar recently I heard a phrase: "optimism bias". It's when mature smokers systematically overestimate their chances of living to be 75. Perhaps optimism bias can explain why graduate students are still enrolling in graduate school despite numerous articles, websites, and blogs on the ongoing crisis in the humanities job market.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

What We're Reading and Watching in 401 

Mostly, we are watching.

I almost fell off my chair laughing at Goodbye Lenin in a tiny theater in Dupont Circle this weekend. There were probably only about four of us in the audience, but the little old man behind me was laughing so hard his knees would hit the back of my seat. So funny.

We joined Netflix recently. Yes, I know, you too. And it rocks. Right now we are working our way through Angel -Season 2. I knew I was in for a treat when the season opened with a scene in a demon karaoke bar. I'm about half way through it, and so far, it's at least as good as a good season of Buffy. How did I miss all this good TV while I was in graduate school?

As for reading, Richard Clarke's book is on my nightstand, but right now with the bad news from Abu Ghraib, I don't think I can take anymore for a while. I'll provide a review once I manage to get to it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

The Market for Humanities Ph.D.s Part I: It's Better Being An Economist (But Don't Tell Anyone) [1] 

As a frequent reader of Invisible Adjunct's excellent academic weblog, I find myself thinking a lot about the miserable state of the academic job market in the humanities. The contrast between the situation and market prospects faced by a new Ph.D. in most humanities fields and that of a new Ph.D. in economics couldn't be more different. Despite the fact that we are in very similar markets affected by similar forces (downturns in public funding for higher education, demographics, lengthening time to degree, etc.), humanities candidates typically spend several years serving in a lowly-paid and exploitative adjunct underclass, while most economists find jobs their first time out.

How did this happen? Economists and historians didn't always have such divergent market outcomes. What factors caused our fates to diverge so much during the 1990s?

One reason is probably better opportunities for economists in non-academic jobs. According to a survey of the market for Ph.D.s in economics, although 89% of economics job seekers had a successful job search in 2003-4, only 62% of those jobs were in academia. The remainder found degree-related full-time employment in industry, non-profits, and government. These jobs also typically pay better than academia, forcing departments to compete with these sectors for job candidates.

Another factor is the declining supply of economics Ph.D.s during the 1990s. Bidding wars and salary compression that resulted from the limited number of Ph.D. resulted in this Wall Street Journal article on recruiting battles for new economists.

Thus the winds of luck blew in my direction during graduate school - raising my potential salary and job prospects while I was still proposing my dissertation.

So what happened in the humanities market in the 1990s? I'll talk more about that in part two.

[1] This post's title is an homage to Richard Freeman's 1999 article of the same name: Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp 139-145.

Monday, May 03, 2004

A Weekend of Household Acquisitions 

My significant other and I have recently begun making friends outside our work/graduate school network and have discovered something rather embarrassing: people our age who didn't spend 11 years in school own furniture that isn't made from stacked IKEA boards or collected from other departing graduate students. They have sofas from places like Scan and Jennifer Leathers. They have entertainment systems with speakers and multi-disc DVD players. They have matching stemware. Their homes are filled with goods I associate with people my parents' age.

So we went shopping this weekend. Because I was once lectured on the horror of furniture depreciation at a Christmas party by a woman whose daughter was blowing her trust fund furnishing a house from Pottery Barn, we went antiquing. Washington has some surprising bargains in this regard - we picked up a beautiful Navaho rug at Goodwood for a song, as well as a gorgeous oak hutch at Ruff-n-Ready, where you can find the most beautiful antiques covered in dust and stacked on top of one another if you are willing to risk death by crawling underneath stacked furniture pyramids.

Read this

My last post on sitting out the D.C. housing market inspired a thread on rent vs. buy decisions at PhinisheD. Kevin Drum is blogging about the Arab reaction to Abu Ghraib. Brad DeLong blogs about the investigation of the prison scandal. I think the American reaction has been more subdued because most people haven't seen the actual photographs, which are incredibly disturbing (you have been warned).

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