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.

Women who compete with men more likely to doubt Christine Blasey Ford?


The women I know who are most likely to characterize Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as a liar are business executives who compete with men for jobs. The men who say that they believe Dr. Ford tend to be lower income, lower status guys who wouldn’t be worth targeting under #MeToo, for family court profits, etc. This cannot be a partisan issue because nearly everyone in Massachusetts is a Democrat.

Here’s Janice Fiamengo, a literature professor at the University of Ottawa, in a YouTube lecture on Dr. Ford:

I was shocked by the woman herself. By her whole demeanor.

This is a professional career woman? With that little-girl croaky voice and poor-me face and the trembly “I’m going to cry at any moment” narration supposedly because of the trauma of reading out a prepared script about something discussed in therapy and rehearsed dozens, if not hundreds, of times with a legal team and other advisors.

A trauma that required putting two doors on a big costly house.

Yes, this is the elite professional woman that feminism has created after 50 years of nonstop grievance-mongering.

Let’s assume that Professor Fiamengo has correctly characterized the impression given by Dr. Ford. I.e., that viewers of her testimony will be more likely to see women as helpless damaged victims.

Who is hurt by that? Women who compete with men! They don’t want an employer choosing to hire a man because of a belief that a woman might be terrified to get on an airplane to see a customer and/or need an extra day on either end of a trip to dose herself with benzodiazepines and wine. If the kind of experience that Dr. Ford says she had is common, typically unreported (at least in a job interview), and leads to decades of damage, why would an employer want to take a chance on hiring such a person?

So the executive women that I know are hoping to be promoted to CEO, not seeking to be pitied for having been born with XX chromosomes, and a TV parade of female victims does not help them to get that CEO job.

What about women who work for enterprises that run quota systems for women? Or women who are in primarily female occupations that are demanding higher pay? They may benefit from the perception that women are victims in need of assistance. This will help ensure the continuation of the quota system and/or the opening of taxpayer wallets to pay out some more cash.

The analysis gets a little more complex for men. Any man can potentially get a boost in status by being a knight in shining armor rescuing a victimized female. And it is pretty much free of cost in the case of Christine Blasey Ford to mumble some words of disapproval as Rapist Kavanaugh is confirmed. The low-status, low-income guys can potentially enjoy a career boost if competing women are seen as fragile and damaged and when job openings are created by the #MeTooing of high-status men.  The high-status, high-income men, though, are vulnerable to attacks from anyone who wants to make a #MeToo allegation (and, locally, also to predation in Massachusetts family court).

So I’m wondering if there is an element of “vote your checkbook” here. People who will get a boost in income and status via Christine Blasey Ford being believed will believe her. People who will suffer a career disadvantage if Dr. Ford is believed will think she is a liar.

Readers: What have you seen? Where is the liar/not-liar line falling among the people you know and what factors correlate with their position?

What happened with Hurricane Michael?


I’ve stopped paying attention to hysterical headlines because… all headlines are now hysterical. Hurricanes do seem to live up to the hype, at least sometimes. What happened with Hurricane Michael? How severe an event did it turn out to be in terms of loss of lives and destruction of property?

What about Disney’s bet that Orlando wouldn’t get hit by a hurricane? Does that need to be reevaluated in light of Hurricane Michael (the strongest in more than 100 years for that section of Florida, right?).

And how is Seaside, Florida doing? (The Truman Show location.) It was planned only in 1985. It is officially 13′ above sea level. They embarked on a big dunes restoration project in January 2018 (story).

[Separately, why do journalists always use the same stock phrases for hurricanes? A hurricane moving at 10 or 15 miles per hour is “barreling toward” a destination. A hurricane does not “contain” winds of 85 knots; it “packs” winds of 85 knots. If hurricanes are becoming more frequent and severe, do we need some new vocabulary to describe them?]

A bad METAR..

KPAM 101719Z AUTO 07075G112KT M1/8SM R14/0600V1000FT +RA FG SQ M 25/25 A2729 RMK AO2 RAB1658 SLP244 CHINO RWY32

(At the Panama City Tyndall Air Force Base, October 10 at 1:19 pm. Wind from the NE at 75 knots, gusting 112 knots. Less than 1/8th of a mile visibility. Between 600 and 1000′ of visibility on Runway 14. Heavy rain, fog, squall (SQ). I don’t know what the “M” after the “SQ” means. Temperature and dewpoint are both 25C. The altimeter setting is a low 27.29. The rain began at 12:58 pm.)

If Christine Blasey Ford was permanently damaged by Brett Kavanaugh, what hope is there for the refugees that the U.S. admits?


Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified that she was permanently damaged by Brett Kavanaugh, suffering from reduced academic performance, an inability to tolerate airline travel (except cross the Pacific to surf destinations in French Polynesia because driving to a California beach would be even more intolerable?), and various other maladies of PTSD (transcript). As a Ph.D. psychologists, she also testified that almost anyone who suffered what she suffered would have similar lifetime damage.

Yet as a matter of policy, the U.S. seeks out immigrants from among would-be “asylees” and “refugees,” each of whom must tell a tale of far more severe assault than what Dr. Christine Blasey Ford allegedly suffered. Consider the Honduran who crosses the border illegally, is apprehended six months later, and then requests asylum. If the Honduran says “two drunk teenagers rolled on me in a bedroom and then eventually I rolled out from underneath them,” it would be “asylum denied,” right?

If Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony is correct, wouldn’t all of the folks we admit based on how badly they were assaulted or abused end up being unable to adapt to life in an advanced economy that requires education and concentration in order to flourish? Shouldn’t we expect them all to be lifetime welfare recipients in virtue of the disabilities that they’ve incurred through PTSD?

Righteous Democrats all #Believe Dr. Blasey Ford (I hope!) and support maximum immigration of refugees/asylees. But if they believe Dr. Blasey Ford what is their rationale for wanting to import millions of people who are so damaged that they can never be self-sufficient?

[What kind of experiences must a person have had in order to be admitted to the U.S. as a refugee? “Immigrants May Be Fed False Stories to Bolster Asylum Pleas” (nytimes, 2011) includes some examples: “Often, the applicant is misled by various actors with a story that is much more compelling,” said Claudia Slovinksy, a longtime immigration lawyer. “Weren’t they soldiers? Wasn’t it a gang rape?” A Santa Clara Law Review article “Telling Refugee Stories: Trauma, Credibility and the Adversarial Adjudication of Claims for Asylum,” notes that a survivor’s story of having been raped twice while in prison was insufficient. Another 2011 article, “The Asylum Seeker” (New Yorker), says that the U.S. is looking for survivors who’ve been both raped and tortured.]


Trucking companies and window installers don’t want to save 23 percent on labor


“Facebook Accused of Allowing Bias Against Women in Job Ads” (nytimes):

The job seekers, in collaboration with the Communications Workers of America and the American Civil Liberties Union, filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday against Facebook and nine employers.

The employers appear to have used Facebook’s targeting technology to exclude women from the users who received their advertisements, which highlighted openings for jobs like truck driver and window installer.

Hillary Clinton:

20 years ago, women made 72 cents on the dollar to men. Today it’s still just 77 cents. More work to do. #EqualPay #NoCeilings

Putting these together, we conclude that trucking companies and window installation firms will go out of their way (targeting ads to men only) to avoid paying 23 percent less for qualified labor.


Hillary and Trump voters look at Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford testimony


At a geriatric wine-soaked tennis match last night, I got a little insight into how people with different political affiliations are able to witness the same event and come away with opposite conclusions.

The Trump voter: Listened carefully to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony regarding her fear of flying, her history of air travel, her stated need for a “second front door”, and her current status as a landlord to a tenant who uses that second front door to enter a rental bedroom. Concluded that Dr. Ford was a liar. Did not evaluate the likely truth of what Judge Kavanaugh was saying. Decided that the original FBI background check for a nominee plus the supplemental check would have revealed any serious character flaw. (i.e., the person who is skeptical of big government in general thought that the FBI would have done a reasonable job in this matter)

The Hillary voter: Listened carefully to Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony regarding high school and college years. Concluded that Judge Kavanaugh was lying regarding his history of partying. Decided that it was highly probable that Kavanaugh was a regular participant in “Devil’s Triangle” group sex during high school. Opined that it was highly probable that Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony regarding her sexual assault experience was correct, including that she abandoned her friend to face the multiple rapist boys alone and somehow got a ride home. Simply did not process anything having to do with Dr. Ford’s fear of flying and history of airline travel. Opined that the FBI investigation was a joke and a sham. (i.e., the person who wants big government to get bigger and solve more of society’s problems thought that the FBI did a sloppy job in this matter) Opposed Justice Kavanaugh on the grounds that he expressed anger in a public forum.

(As a libertarian voter who had not been a Kavanaugh supporter from the first, and who had not watched or listened to the testimony (only skimmed the transcripts), I stayed neutral.)

The hostess: Described having been attacked at knifepoint in a parking garage in the late 1970s (her screaming eventually caused the guy to run away), her resulting actions, and the resulting level of trauma. Said that she had concluded that Dr. Ford was a liar based on her own experience from what she characterized as a much more frightening and serious attack.

[The previous night we had dinner with friends and their daughter who is in her 20s. She grew up in a Boston suburb that is 90 percent Democrat and attended an Ivy League university. I was surprised to find that she was unpersuaded by Dr. Ford (also by Kavanaugh).]

So… I wonder if one way that intelligent people come to opposite conclusions is through selective listening/attention.


Millennial reaction to the latest Supreme Court confirmation fight


From a Millennial friend on Facebook:

It happened to me. And he was one of my best friends. And we’d been drinking. And we’d slept in the same bed plenty of times before. And that night we’d even made out until I said I wanted to stop because I didn’t want to ruin our friendship. And when I woke up in the middle of the night to him f**king me, I froze. And in the morning; I made him breakfast. And for the rest of the school year we were friends. And sometimes more than friends. And one day, months later, on the phone, I blurted out in the middle of an unrelated conversation that the sex that first time had not been consensual. That I had not wanted it. And he said, “thank you for telling me.” And we went on as before. And that fall, he showed up at my apartment, crying, and sat down on the floor, and told me that I had ruined his life. And after that I only spoke to him one more time, and I told him he was a monster.

And then my whole world blew up. I was a wreck for a long time. Sometimes I still am. And my anger is corrosive. Sometimes if feels like it is eating me alive.

I’m tired of hearing how the victims are ruining the lives of men like Kavanaugh. I am fucking exhausted by the willful ignorance of nearly all the GOP senators. Believe me. Believe us. We are trying desperately to tell you something. Listen.


I wonder what the generally elderly senators (from either party) would do differently if they did hear this story…

Elizabeth Warren documentary and socialism-in-action-underwater movie in prep for the election


Today we’re celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Massachusetts. Four weeks to go before Election 2018, in which everyone who righteously hates Brett Kavanaugh is being urged to vote. If you’re prepping for this momentous decision by watching more TV, here are a couple of suggestions…

Especially great for kids on Indigenous Peoples’ Day: I found a documentary on Netflix about Elizabeth Warren (the only current Native American senator?) and the impact of immigration on natives. I can’t remember the exact title, but maybe readers will help out in the comments section by providing a link.

If you’re planning to vote socialist: Black Sea. An evil profit-seeking corporation sheds the fat. The discarded workers have also mostly been discarded by their female partners who use Britain’s no-fault-divorce system to take the kids and hook up with wealthier men. With nothing left to lose, twelve guys decide to take on significant risks in pursuit of sunken gold. Jude Law decides on an even-shares compensation scheme and the film shows how the resulting inequality-free underwater society plays out. Streaming on HBO, Amazon, YouTube, et al. Submarine buffs will appreciate that much filming was done within a real Foxtrot class submarine (retail value: $200,000).

Readers: What else to watch before voting? (My personal ballot is mostly candidates running unopposed. What’s the best way to prep for that?)

(Sadly, this $500 per-person cruise to Cuba and Haiti does not leave until December 9. The trip would enable a voter to see if Bernie Sanders is right about socialism yielding a superior median lifestyle compared to whatever it is that we have now (crony capitalism plus a huge welfare industry?). Also to evaluate whether Donald Trump is right about Haiti not being as nice as Norway.)


  • The 1977 William Friedkin movie Sorcerer, about four guys with nothing left to lose and a dangerous high-paying job (the big oil company is more interested in profit than in complying with OSHA regulations)
  • tweet from Donald Trump: “Christopher Columbus’s spirit of determination & adventure has provided inspiration to generations of Americans. On #ColumbusDay, we honor his remarkable accomplishments as a navigator, & celebrate his voyage into the unknown expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.” (Columbus was also remarkable for being stubbornly wrong about the dimensions of the Earth)

Active-suspension beds will be awesome for self-driving motorhomes


An overnight bus company has developed a bump-canceling bed with an active suspension (WIRED). I’m not sure how critical this will be in the long run, e.g., if every vehicle has an active suspension like the one on the latest Audi A8 (but who has actually driven in one?). But maybe it be a key enabling technology for the self-driving RV. From my post from 2015 on the subject:

If Google can make us a self-driving car, why not a self-driving 40′ Class A motorhome? Now the RV becomes like a cruise ship. You spend the day in a National Park, tuck everyone into bed, and then let Google drive you to the next National Park overnight. You wake up to find that Larry and Sergei have selected a campsite for you, extended the awning, and put out the lawn chairs and table for breakfast.

Readers: What do you think? Will this be useful in the long run because a motorhome is too heavy for the Audi A8-style bump-killer to work?

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