Monthly Archives: May 2013

When does “poverty” become “middle class”?

Paul Buchheit broke out his TI-81 to riff on the Census’s assertion that 15% of people in our country live in poverty.

Turns out, depending on how you calculate it, 50% of our residents are pretty dang close.

The IRS reports that the highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn … about $30,000 for a family of four.

$4000 isn’t much for a family of four. It wouldn’t take more than, say, a brief hospitalization. A job reduction or furlough. A serious car repair? Or a year of additional expenses that comfortable families take for granted: mandatory fees for student clubs, textbooks, winter coats, plane tickets.

$4000 a year is just $333 a month.

And the reason we talk about it as inequality rather than the normalization of poverty?

While food support was being targeted for  cuts, just  20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire  2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the  Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the  foodhousing, and education budgets combined.

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Post-Academic Life Part 357

You know how sometimes you can’t tell whether a story or TV show or film is either sexist or critiquing sexism?

If you’re getting that sense of ambivalently non-feminist slime dripping into your eyes, even if it’s in the New Yorker (“Thirteen Wives”) you can just stop reading it.


You don’t have to keep reading just to see if it ever gets to the critique. Or, like, try to see what the hell it’s doing in the New Yorker in the first place. 

Blink that slime away and move on with your life.


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I dropped everything to read last week’s New Yorker report on the MOOCification of higher ed. Naively forgetting that this austere publication’s emphasis is decidedly elite. What with its umlauts and ninja writing and sassy annual contests celebrating itself.

The piece wasn’t really about MOOCs. It was about Harvard’s experiments with MOOCs. And a few kooky professors (Harvard Kooky emphatically different than State School Kooky, o’course) trying to adapt their lectures to 12 minute chunks of TED-friendly learning units.

Heller’s most cogent critique of MOOCification was the Nostalgia/Fantasy Critique, in which his college experience mirrored our every dream of the liberal arts. Intimate scholarly exchanges with professors, serendipitous juxtapositions of ideas exploding into KNOWLEDGE and TRUTH firebursts reflecting starrily in a 19 year old’s impressionable irises.

And seriously? He only talked to Harvard people. Plus a few at Amherst.


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A Bluster-Based Economy (Mad Men!)

One of the more reliably impressive aspects of the Mad Men premise: advertising makes big business out of our deepest, most intimate and private experiences. Allowing the show to do the same.

Which is itself synecdoche for Don Draper’s genius. Something about his preposterous backstory, combined with his mercurial glowers, has produced his (the show’s) ability to sell our loneliness and fears back to us, and make us like it.

But, as critics have been noting over the past few episodes, his genius seems to be morphing into desperate pretension.

But while we’ve watched Don sink, we’ve also watched the show deal more straightforwardly with the intimate business of business.

As advertising reminds us, several times a day, no matter where we are or what we’re doing, our most private experiences are market fodder.

And the market itself—all those giant anonymous-seeming corporate/government entities that compose it—is personal.

It’s both afraid and cocky, both mired in the past and confident about the future. Both sweaty and calm. Both a pilot and, you know, the opposite of a pilot.

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This American Life Defines Privilege

I keep wanting to blog about Mad Men, but I haven’t the time to do it properly! And as Momma always told me, if you can’t blog properly, don’t blog at all.

Meanwhile, I caught the first act of the latest TAL on my commute this morning. An aimless, laid-off white dude walks across the USA: “Walking to Listen,” as he puts it. On a sign. To avoid looking homeless?

And gol dernit if he didn’t remind me that every “American” story is a white straight man’s story.

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