Americans are progressively becoming genetically incompatible with work?


One of my take-aways from Why You Are Who You Are, Investigations into Human Personality, a 24-lecture course (also available from Audible) by Mark Leary, a professor at Duke, is that the characteristics that make someone a good worker are fundamental to personality and highly heritable. One of the “Big Five” personality traits is conscientiousness. “Achievement motivation” is one of the top 3 that researchers look at for understanding why people do what they do.

The fourth member of the big five is the trait of conscientiousness, which reflects the degree to which people are responsible and dependable. Conscientiousness comes down to whether people usually do what they should and whether they try to do it well.

Conscientiousness also involves industriousness and persistence. Conscientious people work harder because getting things done and doing them well takes effort. And they are more likely to persist when tasks become difficult, boring, or unrewarding.

Achievement motivation is the motive to be competent and to perform at a high level, whether that is with regard to professional success, doing well in school, or being a successful athlete. You can think of achievement motivation as the priority that people place on achievement relative to other motives that they might have.

People high in achievement motivation have a more energetic approach to their work, whether it’s their job, schoolwork, or practicing some skill they want to learn. They’re hard workers, and they tend to stay on whatever task they’re doing longer than people who are lower in achievement motivation.

People who are higher in achievement motivation tend to work more hours—on the job or in school, for example—because that’s how one achieves: by doing more than other people. People on the low end of the continuum tend to work just hard enough to get by.

About 40% of the variability that we see in how achievement-oriented different people are has some sort of genetic basis.

How about people nobody wants to have in the workplace?

Personality disorders appear to be more heritable than most normal personality characteristics. About 50% to 80% of the variability that we see in these disorders seems to be genetic.

Consider Tracey Richter-Roberts. Though intellectually and physically capable of work, her penchant for making sexual harassment and sexual assault/abuse claims eventually forced her to earn her income through family court litigation rather than W-2 wages. That she ultimately resorted to murder as a way of preserving her cashflow seems to have been a sign of a personality disorder (she was not mentally ill). “Does Having a Dysfunctional Personality Hurt Your Career? Axis II Personality Disorders and Labor Market Outcomes” (Ettner, et al., 2012) concludes that that a personality disorder is statistically correlated with unemployment.

Suppose that you wanted to create a generation of people who did not enjoy working and whom employers did not want to hire. What would you do? You’d provide financial incentives for people without jobs to have as many children as possible, e.g., free apartments with extra bedrooms as extra children are born, free health care, free food, and a free smartphone. You’d provide disincentives to people with demanding jobs to have children by concentrating jobs in a handful of cities with expensive market rents (even a two-income couple in a coastal U.S. city probably can’t afford a 3 BR or 4 BR apartment) and providing comfortable welfare benefits to anyone who might otherwise have been motivated to work as a nanny for working parents.

Statistically we know that women with demanding jobs tend to have few kids (see also Pew for “Moms with Less Education Have Bigger Families”) and that women on welfare tend to have high fertility. What does it look like on the ground? From Medical School 2020, regarding the first week of OB/Gyn rotation:

Tiffany: “My patient is 29 years old with six kids, soon to be seven, who doesn’t speak a word of English after living in the US for over 10 years. I have nothing against refugees or old people who are not going to be able to learn a new language. But she has been here for over 10 years and doesn’t work. I did my training in Miami and I use Spanish here more than there. Everyone speaks English [in our city]. How does she take care of her kids?” She added: “Geez, I’m sounding Republican now that I make money. Mom always said I would become one. But I’m not, I am a hardcore Democrat. Weird. I just can’t stand lazy people.” Teacher Tom: “Better get used to it.”

Tom and I go see a 25-year-old pregnant mother, father, and cute chubby 3-year-old twins. Nobody in the family speaks English. She is 26 weeks pregnant and complaining of chest pain so was admitted despite being apparently healthy. We struggle to convey basic information about acid reflux and anxiety through a Swahili interpreter on the phone. Tom complains to the team in the resident lounge: “I just spent 30 minutes telling a patient how to take Pepcid. Why the hell is this patient in the hospital? This could all be done in clinic.”

[Note that these are Medicaid patients. By regulation, our M3 student hero is not allowed to assist with privately insured births.]

How about immigrants? They’re coming into the world’s most generous welfare state (Washington Post, which says that only France spends more as a percentage of GDP) so maybe, at least since the inception of the Great Society welfare system in the mid-1960s, we’re attracting people who are lower in conscientiousness and achievement motivation than immigrants of 100 or 200 years ago. The physicians above were struck by their patients’ lack of motivation to learn English, but Professor Leary would tell them to appreciate human diversity in personality, including in achievement motivation.

So… we’ve had two generations of Americans born since the U.S. established a generous welfare system and middle-class-and-above women entered the workforce. Is that enough time for us to see a genetically-driven change?

Readers: Could the fall in U.S. labor force participation rate be genetic? Countries such as Singapore with similar aging demographics, but without a big welfare state, haven’t experienced this kind of dropping labor force participation (data).


How is the Harvard admissions race discrimination trial going?


I was flying all week in the Cirrus SR20 with a European customer of our flight school, so I’m behind on the news. How is the trial in the race discrimination case against Harvard University going? Has anything new been discovered? (That Harvard prefers non-Asian students is not new!)

“Harvard’s gatekeeper reveals SAT cutoff scores based on race” (New York Post):

dean of admissions William Fitzsimmons … said Harvard sends recruitment letters to African-American, Native American and Hispanic high schoolers with mid-range SAT scores, around 1100 on math and verbal combined out of a possible 1600, CNN reported.

Asian-Americans only receive a recruitment letter if they score at least 250 points higher — 1350 for women, and 1380 for men.

I find this confusing. Why would Harvard have to send out recruitment letters to Asian men who score 1380? Wouldn’t those guys already know about the existence of Harvard and the possibility of admission? Maybe it makes sense to recruit students with SAT scores of 1100. As this is below the bottom of the range for Michigan State, for example, those students might not realize that they could get into Harvard.


  • “Official MIT opinion on Korean-Americans” (from 2007): The MIT Dean of Admissions, Marilee Jones, said, never having met the guy, “It’s possible that Henry Park looked like a thousand other Koreans kids… yet another textureless math grind.” (higher-ups in the MIT Administration were okay with this, apparently, though Jones did run into some difficulty due to issues with her resume (Wikipedia))
  • “Former Dean Resurfaces, Leaving Scandal Behind” (nytimes, 2009): “After a move to New York, and a divorce from Steven R. Bussolari, of M.I.T.’s Lincoln Laboratory, she has re-emerged with a new consulting business, offering her services both to admissions offices and to parents.” (the Massachusetts family law system at the time provided for the potential of lifetime alimony regardless of the length of the marriage, so Jones might not have ever needed to work again)

Why no convertible minivans?


All of the convertibles on the market are 2-seat or 4-seat (except for some Jeeps? but those aren’t cars per se), which means that there should be a wide open field for a company that makes a convertible big enough for a full-size family (though perhaps not for Amy Coney Barrett and her seven kids!).

How about turning an 8-seat minivan into a 7-seat convertible? Borrow some of the space in the last row for the convertible mechanism and then the entire family can enjoy the breeze.

How tough would this be? Maybe it would need to have some framing structure still on the top to accommodate the sliding doors? But what if the entire roof came off and the windows rolled down, leaving essentially just a roll cage?

FBO news: Crony capitalism with web-published prices


Airports provide a simple example of the crony capitalist system that increasingly prevails in the U.S. Private aircraft operators pay for airport infrastructure via federal taxes on fuel and airline passengers pay via taxes on tickets. The Feds then use this money to fund runways, taxiways, etc. at city- and county-owned airports.

What do the cities and counties do? They turn around and let a private fixed-based operator (FBO) run a monopoly or, sometimes, a duopoly, enterprise charging whatever prices they want for “handling,” parking, fuel, etc. Typically the only limit on what an FBO can charge is set by the existence of an alternative airport nearby. For example, the two FBOs at Chicago Midway can agree with each other to charge $8/gallon for 100LL, but they can’t go to $10/gallon because Gary, Indiana sells fuel for around $5/gallon (B. Coleman is awesome!) and driving from Gary to Chicago is practical.

The heavy jet operators may not care. The customer who charters a Gulfstream will also pay any fees that are assessed. Also, the jet operators band together to negotiate special pricing with FBOs and the biggest jet operators, such as the airlines, NetJets, and the U.S. government, negotiate nationwide deals with FBO networks.

Operators of piston-powered aircraft are in a precarious position because they don’t usually have a customer to whom a fee can be passed on and, even at $8/gallon, the FBO won’t make a significant profit due to costs of regulatory compliance, training, and hiring people for precision blue collar jobs in an economy where labor force participation is falling. The don’t have enough buying power to negotiate with the FBOs, who are busy trying to attract more Gulfstreams.

The organization that represents the interests of all general aviation operators, including the piston-powered mosquitoes, is AOPA. They’ve been trying to chip away at the issue of fees by asking FBOs at least to publish what the fees will be. They’re declaring a small victory this month as Signature, a big UK-owned chain, has started to disclose fees on its web site (it doesn’t seem to be complete, though, because (a) often these fees are waived if a minimum quantity of fuel is purchased, and (b) there are usually additional fees for overnight parking at the popular airports).

One AOPA project is trying to get airports to set up and publicize public transient parking areas. The visiting aircraft that doesn’t need any services can land, park, walk out a gate, get back in with a code, etc. So the aircraft operator uses the runways and taxiways that he or she paid for via fuel taxes and doesn’t get charged for using the FBO’s admittedly-expensive-to-run terminal. Maybe this will become a more critical issue for the public once the age of electric drone-like aircraft is upon us. If an electric drone is making a 1-minute stop to let off a passenger, why does it have to pay a $100 ramp fee?

DNA testing in Massachusetts


We did some in our household too…

Department of You Can’t Please Everyone: Freeman Dyson’s letters criticized


Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters is described thusly on Amazon:

Having penned hundreds of letters to his family over four decades, Freeman Dyson has framed them with the reflections made by a man now in his nineties. While maintaining that “the letters record the daily life of an ordinary scientist doing ordinary work,” Dyson nonetheless has worked with many of the twentieth century’s most renowned physicists, mathematicians, and intellectuals, so that Maker of Patterns presents not only his personal story but chronicles through firsthand accounts an exciting era of twentieth-century science.

What did Daniel laskowski, Amazon customer and reviewer think about these letters?

Spends to [sic] much time in the first person

This is why I love shopping online!

Our war on fish and how they feel about it


For folks who imagine themselves to be extra ethical due to eating fish rather than “meat,” What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins may be unwelcome:

Just how exploited are they? One author, Alison Mood, has estimated, based on analysis of Food and Agriculture Organization fisheries capture statistics for the period 1999–2007, that the number of fishes killed each year by humans is between 1 and 2.7 trillion.* To get a handle on the magnitude of a trillion fishes, if the average length of each caught fish is that of a dollar bill (six inches) and we lined them up end to end, they would stretch to the sun and back—a round-trip of 186 million miles—with a couple hundred billion fishes to spare.

However you slice it, it’s a lot of fishes, and they do not die nicely. The leading causes of death for commercially caught fishes are asphyxiation by removal from the water, decompression from the pressure change of being brought to the surface, crushing beneath the weight of thousands of others hoisted aboard in massive nets, and evisceration once landed.

The bulk of the book is a survey of research regarding what we know about fish intelligence and emotional life. First, let’s talk about what a “fish” is.

What we casually refer to as “fish” is in fact a collection of animals of fabulous diversity. According to FishBase—the largest and most often consulted online database on fishes—33,249 species, in 564 families and 64 orders, had been described as of January 2016. That’s more than the combined total of all mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. When we refer to “fish” we are referring to 60 percent of all the known species on Earth with backbones.

We conveniently classify animals with backbones into five groups: fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. This is misleading because it fails to represent the profound distinctions among fishes. The bony fishes are at least as evolutionarily distinct from the cartilaginous fishes as mammals are from birds. A tuna is actually more closely related to a human than to a shark, and the coelacanth—a “living fossil” first discovered in 1937—sprouted closer to us than to a tuna on the tree of life.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, less than 5 percent of the world’s oceans have been explored. The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, and most of the animals on this planet live there. A seven-month survey using echo soundings of the mesopelagic zone (between 100 and 1,000 meters—330 to 3,300 feet—below the ocean surface), published in early 2014, concluded that there are between ten and thirty times more fishes living there than was previously thought.

Between 1997 and 2007, 279 new species of fishes were found in Asia’s Mekong River basin alone. The year 2011 saw the discovery of four shark species. Given the current rate, experts predict the total count of all fishes will level off at around 35,000.

The smallest fish—indeed, the smallest vertebrate—is a tiny goby of one of the Philippine lakes of Luzon. Adult Pandaka pygmaea are only a third of an inch in length and weigh about 0.00015 of an ounce. If you were to put 300 of them on a scale they wouldn’t equal the weight of an American penny.

Another fish superlative is their fecundity, which is also unmatched among vertebrates. A single ling, five feet long and weighing fifty-four pounds, had 28,361,000 eggs in her ovaries. Even that pales compared to the 300 million eggs carried by an ocean sunfish, the largest of all bony fishes.

An older organism isn’t necessarily simpler. Evolution does not trend relentlessly toward increased sophistication and size. Not only were the largest dinosaurs much larger than modern reptiles, paleontologists have recently unearthed evidence that they were social creatures with parental care and modes of communication at least as complex as those of modern reptiles.

There is a great chapter on fish vision:

But how do fishes perceive what they themselves see? What is the mental experience of a fish, and how might it compare to our own? One way of probing this question is by considering optical illusions. If an animal is unaffected by a visual image that fools us, then it would seem that that animal perceives visual fields in a mechanical way, as a robot might “perceive” them. If, however, they fall for the illusion as we do, it suggests that they have a similar mental experience of what they are seeing.

Are fishes fooled by optical illusions? Well, in a captive study of redtail splitfins—small fishes that originate from highland Mexican streams—they learned to tap the larger of two disks to get a food reward. Once they had mastered the task, the scientists presented them with the Ebbinghaus illusion, which consists of two disks of the same size, one of which is surrounded by larger disks, making it appear smaller (at least, to human eyes) than the other, which is surrounded by smaller disks (see Figure 1). The splitfins preferred the latter disk.

Similarly, an earlier study found that redtail splitfins also fall for the more familiar Müller-Lyer illusion, in which two identical horizontal lines appear to have different lengths

So fish do see more or less the same way that we do! How about hearing. Here’s one from the Department of the Science is Settled:

And yet, as recently as the 1930s, scientists believed that fishes were deaf. This prejudice probably arose from the fact that fishes lack an external hearing organ. With our human-centric view of the world, such a lack could only mean one thing: no hearing. Now we know better: fishes don’t need ears, thanks to water’s incompressibility, which is why water is an excellent conductor of sounds. It is not until we peer inside a fish that we find structures modified and recruited for producing and processing sounds. Karl von Frisch (1886–1982), the Austrian biologist famous for his discovery of the dance language of honeybees, was also a devoted student of fish behavior and perceptions. Decades before he became the corecipient of the Nobel Prize in 1973 for his contributions to the emergence of ethology (the science of animal behavior), von Frisch was the first to demonstrate hearing in fishes. In the mid-1930s, he devised a simple but ingenious study in his lab with a blind catfish named Xaverl. He did this by lowering a piece of meat on the end of a stick into the water near the clay shelter in which Xaverl spent most of his days. Having an excellent sense of smell, Xaverl would soon emerge from his hiding place to retrieve food. After a few days of this routine, von Frisch began to whistle just before delivering the food. Six days later, he was able to lure Xaverl from his lair just by whistling, thereby proving the fish could hear him.

Not only can they hear, but they can learn about music:

Ava Chase, a research scientist at Harvard University, was interested to see if fishes could learn to categorize sounds as complex as music. She conducted an experiment using three pet store–bought koi named Beauty, Oro, and Pepi. Chase set up a sophisticated apparatus in the fishes’ tank that included a speaker at the side for presenting sounds, a response button on the bottom that fishes could push with their bodies, a light that signaled to the fish that his response had been recorded, and a nipple near the surface that dispensed a food pellet when the fish swam up and sucked it after a “correct” response. She then trained the fishes by rewarding them (with a food pellet) when they responded to a certain genre of music and not rewarding them for responding while another genre emanated from the speaker. She found that the koi were not only able to discriminate blues recordings (John Lee Hooker guitar and vocals) from classical recordings (Bach oboe concertos), but that they could generalize these distinctions when presented with new artists and composers for each genre.

They have taste and smell:

The sophistication of the smelling organs of fishes varies greatly, but the basic design is shared among all the bony fishes (the 30,000 or so fish species that are separate from the sharks and rays group). Unlike those of other vertebrates, fishes’ nostrils do not do double duty as organs of smell and openings for breathing; they are used exclusively for smell.

A sockeye salmon can sense shrimp extract at concentrations of one part to a hundred million parts water, which translates in human terms to five teaspoons in an Olympic-size swimming pool. Other salmon can detect the smell of a seal or sea lion diluted to one eighty billionth of water volume, which is about two-thirds of a drop in the same pool. A shark’s sense of smell is about 10,000 times better than ours. But the champion sniffer among all fishes (as far as we know) is the American eel, which can detect the equivalent of less than one ten millionth of a drop of their home water in the Olympic pool. Like salmons, eels make long migrations back to specific spawning sites, and they follow a subtle gradient of scent to get there.

game. Female sheepshead swordtails from Mexico can discriminate the smell of well-fed males from hungry males of their species—two- to three-inch denizens of tropical rapids—and you can probably guess which they prefer: all else being equal, a well-nourished fish is a more resourceful one, which makes him the better sperm donor. Female swordtails do not discriminate the odor of well-fed females from hungry females, suggesting they are responding to male sex pheromones and not merely to food-based excretions.

Taste buds are also more numerous in fishes than in any other animal. For instance, a fifteen-inch channel catfish had approximately 680,000 taste buds on his entire body, including fins—nearly 100 times the human quota.

There are weakly electric fishes that can sense using electrical pulses.. They also may enjoy the sensation of touch. But can they feel pain?

There are some good reasons to expect that fishes are sentient. As vertebrates, they have the same basic body plan as mammals, including a backbone, a suite of senses, and a peripheral nervous system governed by a brain. Being able to detect and learn to avoid harmful events is also useful to a fish. Pain alerts animals to potential damage that may lead to impairment or loss of life. Injury or death reduces or eliminates an individual’s reproductive potential, which is why natural selection favors the avoidance of these dire outcomes. Pain teaches and motivates animals to avoid a noxious past event.

Fish love opioids enough to qualify as true Americans:

The trouts’ negative reactions to the insults were dramatically reduced by the use of a painkiller, morphine. Morphine belongs to a family of drugs called opioids, and fishes are known to have an opioid-responsive system. Their behavior in response to it here is consistent with their experience of relief of pain by the drug.

Lynne Sneddon used what I consider to be a most convincing way to examine pain in zebrafishes: she asked if they were willing to pay a cost to get pain relief. Like most captive animals, fishes like stimulation. For instance, zebrafishes prefer to swim in an enriched chamber with vegetation and objects to explore rather than in a barren chamber in the same tank. When Sneddon injected zebrafishes with acetic acid, this preference didn’t change; nor did it change for other zebrafishes injected with saline water (which causes only brief pain). However, if a painkiller was dissolved in the barren, unpreferred chamber of the tank, the fishes injected with the acid chose to swim in the unfavorable, barren chamber. The saline-injected fishes remained in the enriched side of the tank. Thus, zebrafishes will pay a cost in return for gaining some relief from their pain.

The author describes that fish consciousness and ability to feel pain are the subject of a debate among scientists. The author is firmly in the conscious and pain-capable camp. He thinks that humans torture fish due to their lack of an expressive face.

This is a great book for surveying the latest research on fish behavior and capabilities. Also thought-provoking.

Who wants to come to our house to discuss this book over a plate of tofu and noodles?

More: read What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins 


Wife buys Fearless Girl statute for her husband


A friend of a friend purchased a $6,500 miniature reproduction of the Fearless Girl statue as a gift for her husband and then had him pose with the “symbol of empowerment and encouragement” for some Instagram fame. From the artist’s web site:

20% of the net proceeds will be set aside as a non-profit donation. Once the edition has sold, a decision will be made determining the best allocation for these funds. Funding from any and all Fearless Girl reproductions may be amassed for a special program designed to promote one or any of the gender diversity goals Fearless Girl stands for:

To support women in leadership positions, the empowerment of young women, women’s education, gender equality, the reduction of prejudice in the work place through education, equal pay and the general well-being of women.

(She quit her career upon marriage, so actually it was the husband’s earnings that paid for the “gift”. And the money was earned working for a sanctimonious Silicon Valley company that grew to success with almost no female employees in any positions directly related to generating revenue. That said, the couple can be said to be an example of “gender equality” if we reference “Gender equity should be measured by consumption, not income?“.)

Readers: The wife in this couple is beyond the age of likely fertility. So it will just be two adults with a sizable Fearless Girl statute in their home (i.e., no “young women” will be regularly inspired by this statue). What kind of conversation do you think it will spark among their guests? (100 percent loyal Hillary voters, I think!)


Book review: The Shakespeare Requirement


Having enjoyed Dear Committee Members (see “Exploring the twisted personality that can result from tenure”), it was time to sample The Shakespeare Requirement, also by Julie Schumacher.

This is a more conventional novel about life on campus in the English department, which is being pushed into the margins by more successful departments such as Economics. Some samples…

[from an orientation for new TAs brochure] Remind them not to sleep with the undergraduates, even when undergrads are older/hotter/more desirable than the norm. No drugs or drinking with the undergrads, especially hard drugs while inside the building.

[English Department Chair] Fitger shrugged. He had no sympathy for [fellow professor] Tyne, who had been slapped with a six-week sentence for making a remark about a fellow faculty member’s vacation in “Sodomy Springs,” but he didn’t blame him for trying to avoid the training. The university’s sensitivity sessions resembled Maoist reeducation camps: one was expected to recant, to weep, to offer up several bones to be broken, and to emerge gleaming with a proselyte’s commitment to reform. There were other correctives for Tyne that Fitger would have prioritized and recommended, starting with a psychiatrist and a skilled barber.

[Economics professor] Roland strode past. He didn’t generally work with the undergraduates, whom he found to be undisciplined and unprepared for education. They could be ferocious on the one hand, ready to burn their higher-ups in effigy for the slightest misstep; and on the other hand they claimed to be terribly sensitive, ever dreaming up new ways in which they believed themselves to have been harmed. It was the era, Roland thought, of the student-as-victim: one’s social status increased according to the extent to which one imagined oneself damaged and wronged. Here was a group of the oppressed right now, playing foosball and eating junk food in a corner. They wanted trigger warnings and petting and coddling—when what they needed, Roland thought, was a kick in the ass.

[during a literature class] Fitger had snapped in response to a student’s question: Why would any writer bother to make stuff up? Because, Fitger answered, reality was bleak and often unbearable, their puny lives a meaningless trudge toward the blank vault of death.

For the past dozen years, via some obscure and unwritten agreement, Stang had taught only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while most of the other professors taught three, if not five, days per week. “What about the schedule?” “My Women in Literature class isn’t over this semester until four-fifteen,” she said. “As you probably know, I’m a single parent. I don’t want to teach after three-thirty.” It was only reasonable, Stang said, that the department adopt a family-friendly attitude and give scheduling precedence to professors with children. Fitger had started making a note on his pad of paper, but paused to look up. “Isn’t your son at least in high school?” He remembered running into Helena Stang at the grocery store over the summer, and seeing her arguing with a sullen, heavily tattooed young man among the frozen foods. “Rudy is sixteen,” she said. But a child was a child, and as a mother she had particular duties and responsibilities that made it difficult for her to be on campus, whether for class or for a meeting, after 3:00 p.m.

A big part of the story concerns a student who becomes pregnant after a one-night encounter with a member of her Bible study group. She and her fellow Christian are planning to get married. The secular university staff encourage the girl to choose the single-mom-with-child-support-cash lifestyle instead. After the faculty have persuaded the bride to leave her groom at the altar:

[Administrator] Fran nodded. She had thought about trying to talk Angela out of the wedding but decided against it. Marriages weren’t forever these days; and maybe it was preferable, legally or for insurance reasons, for Thurley to own up to what he had done.

Fran asked if she needed a lawyer—Ms. Matthias would definitely find one for her—or if she wanted help extracting money or maybe some pints of blood or a testicle from Trevor L. Thurley. … Fran limited herself to a subtle murmur of response, quelling what otherwise would have been a thorough condemnation of the sanctimonious son of a bitch who had knocked Angela up, then tried to bully her into a misogynistic excuse for a wedding. … Fran indulged in a brief agnostic prayer that Trevor would be denied access to any and all modes of transportation—cars, vans, buses, bicycles, camels, scooters—and that any contact between his family and Angela’s would consist only of generous, regular installments of cash.

[Note that Schumacher teaches at the University of Minnesota and that her own state caps child support revenue at approximately $405,000 (over 18 years; neighboring Wisconsin offers unlimited child support profits). It is unclear exactly where “Payne University” is located.]

The core action of the book concerns a guy who refuses to abandon his belief that English majors need to study Shakespeare for a full semester. Schumacher gives us a portrait of the traditional literature scholar:

For forty-two years, Dennis Cassovan had carefully sidestepped all things controversial at Payne. He had arrived on campus in 1968, an introverted, anxious assistant professor who had evaded the draft due to a spindly right leg—polio, contracted at the age of four. The senior faculty had warned him, soon after his hire, against becoming embroiled in “student-centered unrest”; overwhelmed with teaching and nearly sleepless following the birth of his son—a squalling, furious, elfin creature, all mouth and fists—Cassovan had kept his head down, spent every spare second on his research, and been awarded tenure and a contract for his first book by the end of the war. Over the years, austere neutrality had become a character trait and a default. Aloof but unfailingly civil, Cassovan had accepted as inevitable the cultural shifts in the discipline in the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. He had tried to be open-minded when dealing with the department’s theorists (though he wished they could write); the creative writers (though he wished they had standards); and those who would fill their syllabi with sociological studies, television shows, discussions of sexual mores, food, politics, animals, fashion, and popular culture. Cassovan assumed that students benefitted from a breadth of electives and from scholarly perspectives beyond his own—as long as these whimsical alternatives didn’t threaten the core.

Cassovan closed his eyes for a moment, feeling ill. The very marrow of the discipline would be expunged.

And what might Payne’s young literary scholars study instead? Bracing himself, Cassovan returned to the course catalog. Upcoming classes included Aliens and Outlaws, Marxism 2.5, The American Soap and the Telenovela, and The Literature of Deviation. How was a student to make any sense of it? Shakespeare was the cornerstone, the fountainhead.

If Fitger’s intention was to sweep beneath the carpet of oblivion the heart of the discipline in which Cassovan had long labored…No: Cassovan had taught at Payne for more than four decades, and he was not at a loss for strategies and resources. The arms are fair, he thought, when the intent of bearing them is just.

More: Read The Shakespeare Requirement

Merchant Marine education and starting salary


I helped with a project for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and learned that tuition, room, and board is $26,000 per year for four years compared to a starting salary of $120,000 per year (to be on a ship for 6 months per year). A graduate from two years earlier said that he has paid off all of his loans and now is shopping for a house and an airplane. Within five years, the pay can rise to $180,000 per year. After that, the sailor is qualified to be a captain and earn $240,000+/year, but these jobs are scarce and cannot be obtained immediately or by everyone. The true dream job is to be a harbor pilot (see “Earn $400 per hour in a government-regulated job“), but these may require family connections.

How are the gender wars doing at the academy? “About 5 percent of the cadets are women,” said the recent graduate. Why so few when the school offers such a great ROI? “A woman doesn’t need to go out in 80-knot weather to spend a third mate’s pay.” [I think that he was referring to marriage, but under Massachusetts family law, she will be able to spend approximately one third of the paycheck after a brief unmarried encounter.]

The above salaries are for U.S.-flagged cargo ships, which are required to have 75 percent American crew members (all unionized). Foreign-flagged cruise ships pay half as much. There wouldn’t be any U.S.-flagged ships at all if not for government regulations that restrict foreign-flagged vessels from certain kinds of operations and also direct payments from the U.S. military, which wants military cargo to go on U.S.-flagged vessels. Note that U.S.-flagged does not mean U.S.-owned, U.S.-built, or U.S.-managed. My source is working on a container ship that was built in South Korea and is owned and operated by Maersk.

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