Thursday, September 01, 2005

Least Sympathetic Cause Ever

Or maybe that's overstating it a bit, since organizations such as NAMBLA also have a cause. But graduate student unions are a close second. This article in the NY Times describes a rally in which 76 individuals were arrested for staging a protest over NYU's administration's decision not to recognize a graduate student employee union. The supposed reason NYU no longer recognizes the union is the union's failure to uphold an agreement not to interfere with academic decision making.

I would hope NYU wouldn't need so substantive a reason to cease acknowledging a GSU. If union's have a valid purpose, it is to obtain a living wage for those who have no bargaining power, either because of a lack of education, inelastic job market, or some other market-related perturbation which gives employers the ability to pay less than competitive wages.

No one has to attend graduate school. Graduate school is a privilege, not a right. As it stands, most graduate students receive a tremendous amount of money from universities such as NYU, and I'm not talking about their sizable teaching stipends or health insurance benefits. Rather I'm talking about the massive tuition break they receive. I'm 95% certain this amounts to more than 50,000 a year at NYU, given professors' salaries and the amount of attention graduate students receive.

I cannot stress enough how unsympathetic a group graduate students are. Schools pay graduate students to learn subjects they presumably love, yet all these GSUs seem capable of, it seems, is bitching and moaning. If you cannot afford graduate school, get another job. If you cannot juggle another job and graduate school, look for scholarships. If you cannot get a scholarship, get a private loan. If you cannot get a private loan, drop out.

Why graduate students deserve more money from graduate institutions is anyone's guess. Should they receive more money at the expense of undergraduates? Should junior faculty be paid less? Certainly the evil "corporate criminals" running NYU should be paid less? After all, they've done nothing but raise billions of dollars to satisfy the needs of faculty and students. How dastardly! How despicable!

Perhaps the GSU's point is a symbolic one. (Given the AFL-CIO's presence, the point of this rally is perhaps merely to extend the influence of unions into higher academics.) They are simply trying to promote the cause of unions, to shift the balance of power from capitalist pigs toward hardscrabble laborers - if graduate students can even be characterized as laborers and college administrations as capitalists.
To this, one can only reply, "To what end?" Who cares where power lies? Are unions good in themselves? Of course not. They are good or bad depending on their consequences, so let's hear some arguments along those lines: What will happen if NYU no longer recognizes the union? If NYU recogizes the GSU and the GSU uses its increased leverage to obtain more benefits for graduate students, who will receive less as a result?

I don't hear any arguments. I just hear talk of "corporate criminals" and "corporatization" as though a business structure characterized by centralized management and limited liability were but an avatar of Lucifer. Enough already.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Finished

Yesterday, I finally finished my long overdue substantial. I'm relatively happy with the end product: It seems to say alot, all the while accomplishing very little.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Correction

At dinner last night, Joseph pointed out that "intensive purposes" is incorrect. I have thus eliminated that expression and replaced it with "intents and purposes." I googled the two expressions and found that the latter expression is used about ten times more often than the former one is. I stand corrected.

Monday, August 08, 2005

A Farewell

Sadly, I learned my grandfather passed away sometime early this morning.

I will always remember the last time I saw him. Alhough suffering from a moderate case of cerebral hypoxia, clearly at death's door, unable to speak, and breathing only with the help of a BiPAP machine, he became noticeably angry at my grandmother, who was unintentionally making a nuisance of herself.

Well done my good man.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Work Life Balance

Talk of the so-called "work-life" balance is everywhere: in law school and at law firms; among associates, law students, and partners; on chat boards and in lawyerly magazines - fucking everywhere. Hearing mothers and fathers and choir singers and violinists talk about balancing work with taking care of their children, having babies, writing, singing, or whatever they take to be "life" leads me to conclude that these people have vastly overestimated the utility of their non-work lives.

After some thought on the issue, I've decided one might pictorially represent the ideal balance between work and life thus: WORK life.
The virtues of WORK are numerous, the vices of life many.
WORKing long, grueling hours develops character, helps one become disciplined, and keeps you from becoming highly unhealthy. Living a life leads to alcoholism, drug addiction, slothfulness, and - more likely than not - VD.
WORKing obscene amounts improves earning potential and helps you save lots of money. If you're WORKing 100 hours a week, you don't have time to waste money at a bar, on your kids, at a restaurant, or on some woman. Soul crushing hours don't allow you to worry about how unattractive you are, how out of date your clothes may be, or the countless other ways in which you are irredeemably inadequate. WORKis thus an excellent anti-depressant.
life is little but a source of misery more often than not: friends dying, relatives dying, hangovers, bitter breakups, casual breakups, self-questioning, pointlessness, boredom, and so forth.

I'm not arguing we should be masochists. Rather I'm arguing a very Epicurean position. That is, what we should strive at isn't maximizing pleasure but rather avoiding pain. Ataraxia is what we want. I maintain - for the best of reasons - that we'll find more of this at WORK than in life, and it's about time people started realizing this and stopped complaining about the number of hours they must bill.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Selfish Penguins

[Sorry for the delay between posts. After a less than uplifting weekend I suspect this blog will take a decidedly darker turn the next few posts.]

Given the previous post dealt tangentially with memes, I thought I'd dedicate this post to another brain-child of Richard Dawkins: the selfish gene theory of evolution ("SGT").

The SGT looks at evolution from the perspective of genes and supposes that our genes are running the show. It says we should view sundry forms of life as entities designed to pass on as many copies of their genes as possible. I, and you for that matter, are but protective shells for our genes, machines programmed to pass on half of our genetic material to our offspring. Although inadvertently painting a somewhat chilly picture of life, one which seems to bother so the less misanthropic and more religious members of our species, the SGT was able to explain evolutionary puzzles that had stymied other theories of evolution, such as the group and species centered evolutionary theories.*

The recent, excellent documentary, March of the Penguins, corroborates SGT quite nicely. Emperor Penguins, for instance, make no effort, as far as I can tell from the documentary, to shelter the young of penguins which died from the blistering cold of the Antarctic winter or starvation on the eternal march for a bite to eat in the ocean. One would expect just the opposite behavior if operating from a species centered theory of evolution, since the goal one imposes there is that of maximizing the number of Emperor Penguins. It's a poor strategy indeed to allow potentially viable young penguins to die if one's goal is to maximize the number of Emperor Penguins. So how does SGT explain this phenomenon? Well, with a plausible, sensible "just so" story of course. The amount of genes a random female and baby emperor penguin share is likely small relative to the portion of genes she shares with her offspring (1/2). The risk she bears in taking a newbie under her wing is starving to death. If she starves to death she can't have another go at mating. Her genes have thus hard wired her to "flip the bird" at the helpless little penguins who lost their mommy or daddy and preserve herself.** (I will note that Emperor Penguins, unlike many humans, do not believe most children are worth a damn.)

In the spirit of academic honesty, I will note that the SGT doesn't explain why some female penguins, on the death of their young, attempt to appropriate the offspring of other penguins. Doing so is surely a foolish strategy from the perspective of SGT for reasons noted above. This might be a very rare phenomenon and perhaps results from some mental disorder - penguin postpartem depression?? If it is a very rare phenomenon, then it can be explained away as an anomaly. If it's pervasive, this is a problem for SGT. Given Freeman's narration, if I remember it correctly, it's the former.

I'll note in closing that SGT doesn't explain my behavior well. I have a habit of alienating even those women I find tolerable. My genes, I fear, are destined to die with me, never having found another vessel to house themselves. Fortunately for them, my sister shares 1/4 of my gene pool, so there's some hope for them yet. I feel I've let them down. I'm simply not that good of a protective shell / reproductive vehicle for my genes. And that makes me not that good of a person.




*A species centered theory holds that species X is evolutionarily driven by the desire to maximize the number of members of its species. A group centered evolutionary theory holds that some group, say, a pack of dogs, is attempting to maximize the number of its members.
**SGT explains other quirks in the Emperor Penguins' behavior, but I'll save those stories for another day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Violence toward Children

In contrast to hand-wringing, pantywaist American directors, Brazillians - if the film City of God is any indication - do not seem overly worried about unsentimentally showing children murdered. Many features of American culture deeply annoy me, but none does so more than the "special child syndrome" meme or perhaps, instead of meme, I should refer to it as a virus of the mind. (As an aside, I find it unfortunate that using the word "meme" now might seem clich├ęd as a result of the scholarship of a bunch of muddle-headed halfwits who will remain nameless and who appear to have absolutely massacred Dawkins's idea.)

Unfortunately for the misanthropic, cynical members of society, this meme has infected several prominent filmmakers. One, as you surely guessed, is Steven Spielberg, who cannot resist cloyingly aggrandizing children and maternal and paternal bonds. The most conspicuous example of such nonsense was AI, a film the last 20 minutes of which drove me to ponder various possible self-inflicted deaths. AI starred the villainous child actor Haley Joel Osment, who's squinty-eyed, nauseous countenance seems perfectly designed for propagating the virus. Mr. Osment also starred in the Sixth Sense, the director of which is similarly fatally infected with the virus. I think it was N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott who saw Sixth Sense for what it truly was: gaggingly mawkish supernatural kitsch.

These movies glorify children and vastly overestimate their worth to society. Protagonists in movies bend over backwards for machine versions of kids, or mentally retarded kids, or normal kids with paranoid delusions. No matter the cost to society, the life of some useless, worthless brat must be preserved, and we're supposed to cheer the lead on as he unreasonably beats back the baddies who are trying to harm the child. See, e.g., Mercury Rising starring Bruce Willis (an actor who's apparently infected with the virus). George Carlan once (roughly) remarked that the children whose wondrous gifts we celebrate today will grow up to be the same ugly, stupid people we currently loathe. I couldn't have said it better myself or agree more strongly.

If you wanted to see children treated like adults, you'd really have to search. One movie that treats children equally is Citizen Toxie, which was produced by Troma, I believe - so consider yourself warned.

What was I talking about? . . . City of God has to be one of the most unsentimental, unpreachy film dealing with gang violence, murder, robbery and poverty ever. Even without the child-slayings, City of God is a fine film. It even managed to have non-cheesy narration. Not many films do that well and when done poorly it can really hurt a film - see, Y tu Mama Tambien. Without question the best voice over narration had to be American Psycho - ("I'm on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace since I'm positive we won't have a decent table, but we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.").

Anyway, this was an outstanding film. Check it out if you have a chance.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Sadly, I wasn't even able to sit all the way through this. The unrelenting onslaught of feeble, feeble puns and poorly thought out slapstick were two, but not the only, reasons I left. Another crucial one was a lack of air conditioning. There has to be a way to keep a theater air conditioned without drowning out the actors and actresses. Movie theaters have mastered this mysterious art, and Broadway shows seem louder than most movies. Perhaps the Loews and Regals of the world will one day deign to reveal the secret of how to keep cool large rooms filled with assloads of people. Until then, Broadway audiences must pay far more than moviegoers for the pleasure of sweltering in uncomfortable seats.

I was surprised by how easily the crowd was amused. I can't remember one line from the show; they were all forgettably bad and lazily written. There were no memorable songs and Lithgow - although a great comedic actor - simply cannot carry a tune.

The crowd also was a disappointment. Who'd have thought all of these sloppily dressed tourists could afford $90 - 100 tickets?

This may have been my first and last Broadway musical.