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.

The Not-Debate of the Impeachment Trial

Seems like forever since I stopped by. I have been writing this blog for 14 years, but never consistently. But I had a thought.

I find the most interesting thing about the impeachment trial is that it is a thorough mockery of dialectic. There is no actual debate, no meeting of the minds. All those doors were closed long ago, and well before the current administration. Probably the last time the U.S. Senate functioned as a forum for reason was Watergate, and that’s optimistic. A pessimist would say it never has, and ultimately the Senate is merely a place to display power.

Not exercise it. Display it. Mostly McConnell’s, of course.

The Senate is the accoutrements only. The desks, the formalities, the procedure, all stifling thought rather than germinating it. There is no more constitutional republic in that room than in a high school study hall. I don’t see how Sanders or Warren or Romney or any of them can stand to be in that stage play for more than a minute or two.

The “legal reasoning” deployed by Trump’s defense team is roughly the same to that employed by Preston Brooks on Charles Sumner’s skull in 1856. I suppose I should give them some credit, though, in their shamelessness; unlike Brooks, they performed their hit in front of the full Senate and C-SPAN. No reason. No rationality. No respect. Just power.

The next decade will be rough for Democrats, I suspect. But when the political pendulum swings back hard, as it always does when it swings too far in one direction, the GOP’s ongoing bizarre fling with cultist would-be fascism will be more clearly seen as a huge miscalculation in expediency.

I say this as the trial is really a political choice between keeping Trump, and Pence serving the rest of the term. This is the GOP’s last chance to eject Trump and reforge a more moderate-friendly party before the 2020 election. They would have had to sell it carefully because agreeing with Democrats on anything is dangerous for their reelections, and they could have done so if they had built the case slowly over a year or so, but no serious groundwork has been laid, so acquittal is a foregone conclusion. They are with Trump all the way.

The reasoning (cough) seems to be that Trump, unpredictable and dangerous as he is, has such a lock on the “base” that this is preferable to the more malleable and passive Pence, who might not be able to retain the most rabid Trump cultists in the swing states.

But that’s a short-sighted solution for November 2020. After that, it gets darker. When Trump is acquitted, he will be uncontrollable. Answerable to no one. If you think the Ukraine call was bad, just wait. No one will be able to rein him in. No amount of evidence will blunt his actions. I don’t know what form his eventual overstep will take. But it won’t be good. He’s not getting better. And then this trial will be a clear missed opportunity.

If I were a conscience-free GOP senator, which I am not, I’d be moving toward Pence. Or, rather, I would have moved toward Pence in 2017. Same policies, more predictable. I wonder if this happened already in a few cases, and we simply haven’t heard about it yet. Perhaps Bolton’s book, or someone else’s, will reveal 25th amendment scenarios that never played out.

Rough seas ahead. Brace yourselves.

Star Wars Emails #17-19

I could probably write these indefinitely, but I’ll stick to the original trilogy as long as I can.

From: Chewie (


Subject: Protocol Droid Diagnostic Module?

Date: 3280 LY

I saw your recent post on E-Droid and I was wondering if you could help me out. I’m working on an obnoxious custom-made protocol droid, guessing 200 years old or so, without my usual tools in a stressful situation. The only way to get decent feedback is to keep his head attached with the voice on. Is there a simple diagnostic module on these things I’m overlooking? He is the very definition of annoying, and I can’t tell half the time if I’m making the right connections or giving him an orgasm.




Date: 3280 LY



From: Chewie (


Subject: Jawa, Well Done

Date: 3280 LY

I have always wanted to eat a Jawa. Now I have a reason to accelerate my gastrointestinal ambitions.

On Tatooine. Outside Mos Eisley. Yeah. I know what crawler you’re in. Not much room in those hoods for brains, much less network protocols.

Might have to cook our four, five, maybe ten of you little assholes to get a reasonable amount of protein.

Might have to kill three or four times that, just to find the best cuts.

Might go with an open fire, I’m thinking. You on a stick.

I recommend reconsidering your technical support etiquette.

From: Vlipu Q’ehee (

To: Chewie (

Subject: Protocol Droid Diagnostic Module

Date: 3280 LY

That vintage usually has a Holowan diagnostic module placed beneath the TranLang III that bypasses the language circuit.

We are just honest traders trying to make a living. Just a joke.

From: Chewie (

To: Vlipu Q’ehee

Subject: Found it.

Date: 3280 LY

Your joke is a lot funnier now. I would work on the delivery.

Star Wars Emails #11-16

I have always wondered about this.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Darth Vader (

Subject: Millennium Falcon

Date: 3280 LY

Solo was hiding behind your shield generators. He detached with the garbage just before you went to lightspeed. He is headed for Cloud City at sublight. I am following.

Clarify your “no disintegrations” policy on this job – is that a hard and fast rule? What about one disintegration?

From: Darth Vader (

To: Boba Fett (

Subject: Re: Millennium Falcon

Date: 3280 LY

Good. Meet my flagship there for your substantial reward.

The crew of the Millennium Falcon are to be undamaged. I have need of them.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Darth Vader (

Subject: Substantial Reward

Date: 3280 LY

Of course. Although, what is my reward, exactly, given that I could just shoot an email to Solo right now, telling him he’s walking into a trap? The rebels give out “substantial rewards,” too.

From: Darth Vader (

To: Boba Fett (

Subject: Re: Substantial Reward

Date: 3280 LY

I will allow you to continue living. I do not bargain, bounty hunter.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Darth Vader (

Subject: Re: Re: Substantial Reward

Date: 3280 LY

I wonder if Anakin Skywalker bargains.

From: Dark Helmet (

To: Boba Fett (

Subject: Bargain

Date: 3280 LY

Once the Millennium Falcon and its crew are secure, Solo is all yours. Jabba the Hutt’s contract is substantial.

Anakin Skywalker is dead.

From: Boba Fett (

To: Dark Helmet (

Subject: Re: Bargain

Date: 3280 LY