Podcast – Informal Conversations

Adam Ellwanger and I have started a podcast of sorts called Informal Conversations, where we talk about issues in higher education. The first three episodes are on Youtube. I know, I know, it’s a Google entity, but Adam put them there, so I feel reasonably absolved of much responsibility. The first one is short as it only sets the scope of the show; the next two are close to an hour and both concern whether folks should be pursuing Ph.Ds. in the humanities these days.

Journal of the Virus Year Entry 6

I went to Home Depot a few days ago, tentatively, hoping it would be deserted. It was not. They were limiting the amount of people inside, but not the amount of idiots. Half weren’t wearing masks, and three-fourths thought six feet was two feet. I did not stay long as HD’s usual problem of keeping enough heavy carts inside the store to actually get anything to the registers was multiplied x10.

When the two-week-out effects of this partial Texas reopening manifest in the numbers, I wonder who will get the blame.

This is a good summary of how infections happen even to people that are seemingly being careful: https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them?campaign_id=9&emc=edit_nn_20200511&instance_id=18384&nl=the-morning. Needless to say, a secured mask is necessary equipment outside our yard or the car.

H and I need to run back to UHD in the next few days to get books. I am not looking forward to it. But after June 1 it will be an even worse idea than it is now.

Journal of the Virus Year Entry 5

I think Texas is screwed. We will be New York City by June 1st.

I don’t think the average person is discerning the difference between a decrease in the rate of infection and a positive rate of infection, or how critical it is to realize our current situation is only as “good” as it is because of the lockdown. This includes a number of state governors.

About the only silver lining is that enough people are convinced to stay at home and stay safe as they can, without government or workplace intervention, to keep us out of the original worse-case scenarios.

UHD, along with many other universities, is poised to make decisions about the format of the fall semester by the end of May. I don’t see any likely May scenarios that allow anything other than a locked-down campus in August.

I hope I’m wrong.

Journal of the Virus Year Entry 4

This piece by a Sephora worker in the Times spoke to me.

I worked my way through college with the help of a dozen part-time jobs in five years, usually putting in 20-30 hours a week while taking classes and as much as I could get during summers. I made anywhere between $4 and $7 an hour with zero benefits during this stretch, doing everything from industrial assembly to retail to data entry to tutoring. My conclusion after the first three years was that working for a living was tolerable for a single person with no dependents, but not desirable, and also realizing that I was not on track to graduate in even six years, I hunkered down and finished in five.

I was lucky to get out of the hourly-wage trap fairly young. Some never do. None of those dozen-odd jobs had any real hope of advancement for the bulk of people holding onto them.

The only time I think I was noticed in that five-year period as anything but a replaceable drone was when I worked the floor at Target. There was a fifteen-minute window of humanity that occurred after I accidentally ran over my foot with a forklift. While sitting in the breakroom afterward, able to walk but not exactly in the mood, I met the store manager for the first time, who seemed very concerned about me until I grokked that he was more concerned about the compensation claim that I might file. I was unable to muster enough duplicity to turn my misfortune into a check, and assured him I was fine, after which I limped back to work.

College allowed me to escape that kind of job, but only put me in a kind of low-earth orbit where I could be pulled back down by the early 00s economy. Graduate school ended up being my ticket to a stable orbit. For others, starting a company, joining the military, or criminal enterprises might do the trick…

One thing I fear this virus has short-circuited, though, is the ability to to even attempt upward mobility. I could manage the U of A’s tuition at $900 a semester in 1993, but UHD, where I teach, has the lowest four-year tuition in Houston – at $3500 for 4 classes. Target’s paying better, sure – $13 versus the $5.25 I got – but it doesn’t add up. This generation has got it rougher – and only if Target and its corporate ilk is open and not completely intolerable. I could probably write a novel working from stories from that one job. Eh. It’s probably been written already. And that one piece says it all.

Journal of the Virus Year, Entry 3

I received word that I was promoted to full Professor today. For the unfamiliar, this is the last of the three ranks of professorship, the first being Assistant Professor, and the second being Associate Professor, which is the level one first receives tenure. I went up for promotion somewhat early, so start to finish, 11 years.

Now, if I could only leave the house…

Faculty Senate went pretty well in Zoom on Tuesday, so we’re going to resume the usual schedule next Tuesday.

No one in the house is actively sick, and there have been no murders thus far.

Journal of the Virus Year, Entry 2

I went out today for curbside delivery at HEB. Civilized, though my assistant forgot to speak through the passenger window instead of the driver’s. He did sign for me, though. We’re not low on anything, though I’m making due with only the occasional Coke Zero.

My younger son needs a minor operation for his hearing. This was determined just prior to the lockdown. He’s not getting it anytime soon, obviously. H and I are upset about this, but he and L are happy as clams otherwise.

My graduate students are holding in there. Almost all of them in my stylistics class are sticking with it. I also have two students defending their master’s theses in the next two weeks.

UHD is also hanging in there. We’re going to try a Zoom version of Faculty Senate on Tuesday.

I have lost a lot of writing time. Both my conferences this year, in April and May, have been cancelled, which removes some drafting (alas, I had already written two of the three presentations), but even with that, completing the references in my book keeps getting pushed back. I need to hold the line at May 1 or my summer courses will obliterate my chances.

Our Fearless Leader is about to pass an important milestone. The virus is about to kill more Americans than 9/11. If only he were competent, or able to hire and retain competent subordinates, or even capable of communicating a clear plan by qualified experts about this mess two months ago… but he’s not. He never was. Still pleased with your choice, Trump voters? Are those Supreme Court picks and tax cuts still worth it?

Journal of the Virus Year, Entry 1

Well, shit. The world went to hell damn quick, didn’t it?

I stocked the house pretty well around the end of February. The rush on groceries didn’t begin proper until Friday the 13th of March – apropos. That afternoon, our Fearless Leader declared a state of emergency that was apparent weeks ago, and then everyone who hadn’t been paying attention suddenly decided they didn’t have enough toilet paper for the apocalypse.

I went out anyway that night to the local HEB but they closed early at 8pm. Went to Kroger instead. The basics were gone – paper products, wipes, bread, meat, canned veggies. Some diapers and miscellaneous that might be tough to get later I went ahead and picked up. I could have filled my cart with cake and wine, though.

UHD has gone fully online, like every other university since Seattle. I mostly teach online, so that’s not a big adjustment for me, but it is for others. Also, it’s going to sidetrack Faculty Senate for awhile as much of that happens in person, but I’m working on it, in my new half-day professor, half-day daycare for two kids schedule that I’m dividing up with H.

Big changes are coming for higher education during and after the end of this global crisis, and it’s not just more online courses. A full-blown recession is here. The loss of confidence is not going to lift for a good long time. This means better enrollment for UHD, with millions of suddenly unemployed service workers flocking to degrees for lack of a better option. Though, they will need to take on an unprecedented amount of debt to do so.

Our Fearless Leader doesn’t have the vision or will or ethical foresight to make a New Deal for 2020… so I don’t know. There’s too much in the wind to make predictions other than our now-obvious weakness to a pandemic is going to make ideas that seemed crazy just a month ago rather appealing. A service economy without a reasonable health care system is no longer sustainable.

I suggested to a few folks the other week that the coronavirus selected Biden as the Democratic nominee – he’s the tribal pick, the old seemingly wise male who folks rush to when the storm god gets too angry. Now, as a two-time Sanders primary voter, I am more partial to the cantankerous shamans, Warren among them, touting universal health care and anti-corporate policies. It is ironic that if those ideas had been enacted when Sanders first started advocating for them decades ago, they would have put America in a far better position to combat a pandemic. Now we’re helpless in the face of fools who think a virus checks your voter registration before it kills you, or worse, that anyone not wiping their nose on their neighbor isn’t a real Texan.

Maybe the surge in enrollment will produce a generation more aware of the fragility of life. I’m not optimistic.