Scam in your Inbox

The tuition and fees listed below go into effect on July 1, 2017 for all degree programs at our Hyde Park, NY campus.

First Semester Freshman  
Tuition* $14,690
Application $50
Supplies $755†/$620††
Board**  $1,775
General Fee+ $740
Total $18,010/$17,875

I’m not what you’d call a “mathematologist”, but according to my iPhone, $17,875 * 8 = $143,000 to learn to cook. Don’t worry, though–you can borrow the money at a mere 7.9%, meaning that at $1,500/month, you can pay it off in 30 years. This will cost you a further $82,000 in interest.

$1,500/month is $18,000/year. It’s hard to put a price on education, but on the other hand, you can put a mean annual wage on a cook, and that wage is $24,410. Let’s be reasonable, though. A graduate of a CULINARY INSTITUTE surely won’t be stirring vats of prole chow in the basement of a Sodexho factory! They’ll be 90th percentile and earn the princely sum of $35,090. (Of course, that’s 42nd percentile overall.)

So let’s recap. If you go to cooking school, you borrow full freight, and you get a prestigious cooking job when you’re done, you get to keep $17,090 after your student loan nut. For a single, childless person filing in Illinois claiming the standard deduction and the maximum educational tax credit, there’s tax liability of about $5,000/year, so make that $12,090. You’ll be living on $1,000 a month for 30 years. Of course, that’s $10,680/year more than you’d make if you were a median cook earning $24,410. In that case you’d owe $4,338 in tax, leaving you with $2,072 to live on for an entire year. (This is about the GDP per capita of Uganda).

How’d this happen in the richest country in the world? No, not Qatar, the USA! Some would have you believe that this happens because kids don’t do enough chores. These people are imbeciles. What they’re doing is like trying to bail out a ship that’s been hit by a torpedo. The truth is that the USA has a highly productive population, but very few “producers” are allowed to keep much of what they’ve produced. We thus have the strange spectacle of a rich nation full of hardworking people who are poor.

I’m singling out schools for this treatment because the social function of schools is education, not profit. Obviously the faculty and staff need to get paid, but there’s a sort of social consensus that schools are places to get help. This consensus is reflected in law — Harvard isn’t taxed as though it were a huge investment company, though maybe it should be. But there’s an inchoate sense in which hospitals, doctors, universities, schools, etc. are places where people used to be able to go for help, but no longer can. They’re no longer havens in a heartless world, only another venue for incessant, hostile competition.

This has been a long time coming. Financial institutions are also growing increasingly scammy. Perhaps it’s no wonder that one of the most famous movies ever is on just this topic– or that it’s a fantasy.

Advertisements

“I’m Too Smart to Be Poor!”

These days, the old “go to college” life script is failing. But what about the “become a professor” life script? Even during the long, palmy Boomer afternoon, people knew that professors were poor, didn’t they?

Come to that, what valuable skills do academics have, exactly? It’s true that many academics have deep insight into interdisciplinary cultural analysis, but it’s not clear who’s going to pay for that or why. Essentially, in becoming an academic, you are betting that something will turn up, because society is morally obligated to pay for academics.

I don’t want to make too much fun of this–this is a type of decision-making that made some kind of sense in a simpler world. In the brief interval of, say, 1950-1975, ratfacing somewhat receded and people could rely on their intuitions of “decency” and “propriety” as genuinely effective heuristics for making life decisions. There’s a sense in which it’s tragic that this came to an end; there’s a certain nobility to an urbanizing population working out its small-town, stiff-necked Protestant values and creating vast quantities of positive externalities for all to share and enjoy.

That said, however, I absolutely do want to make fun of various rats manqués who expected social justice sinecures and are instead finding out that universities are run by people who “Think Different“, in the sense that they care very much about posturing as humanitarians and giving their customers curated experiences while ruthlessly exploiting workers, business partners and even their own families.

Therefore, let’s all laugh heartily at the miserable lives of failure facing the people whose job market looks like this:

University of Illinois-Chicago.
Visiting Lecturer-German Basic Language Program Director for AY 2017-2018.

The Director will coordinate 14 sections in the blended basic German language sequence (first through fourth semester), supervise and train about 10 teaching assistants, teach three advanced language and culture courses, and participate in departmental events, such as the High School Day.

Qualifications: Candidates must be ABD (PhD preferred), have a strong teaching record, and have a background in Second Language Acquisition or a related field. Native or near-native competency in German is required. Preference will be given to candidates with experience in language program direction, materials development, and computer-mediated learning.

Currently this is a 67% position for $28.000 and benefits are prorated.

Reminder: this is around 35% of what a McDonalds manager makes in Chicago. At least it’s slightly more than welfare–although after student loans, it’s probably a wash. No wonder revolution is so much on the academic mind. #FightForFifteen!

Further Evidence of Vidya-Induced Poverty

We’ve been complaining for some time at The Rat-faced Man that vidya derails your life. More accurately, it enables persistent patterns of treading water by providing a pleasurable alternative to getting out there and striving in the juggalo-haunted hellscape.   Well, for once, the upper-class twits over at The Economist have made themselves useful by providing a write-up of a study on the subject (together with a handy link to a 4,000-word thumbsucker on the subject by a The Economist journalist.)

Of course, as a magazine focused on IYIs, The Economist has to TURN CONVENTIONAL WISDOM ON ITS HEAD and show off its sophisticated tolerance:

[T]he share of jobless or underemployed young people choosing to game rather than focus on career will probably grow. That is not necessarily something to lament. Games are often rewarding and social, and time spent gaming sometimes displaces less healthy or rewarding pastimes.

Well done, boyo, jolly well done indeed, innit? That’s how you know you’ve got a magazine for ~le sophisticated reader~ indeed.

If the pull of work is not strong enough to overcome the desire to game, the first response should be to ask whether more can be done to prepare young people for good jobs—and to make sure that there are some around when those young people enter the workforce.

Or maybe we could just gamify work!

Like a lot of IYI things, this article in The Economist manages to convey information that is simultaneously correct and toxic. I mean, yeah, gaming probably isn’t going anywhere. And it would be a good idea to “make sure that there are some [good jobs] around” for young people. (The elided subject is telling. Who exactly is to be making sure of this?) On the other hand, the bland reassurance that the article wants to induce has the same narcotizing effect, in the end, as the vidya. It wants to soothe people who don’t need soothing.

I’m not here to provide a general solution for society. We used to live in a world of cows, but we now live in a world where prosperity is for rats. I don’t know how to turn rats into cows or how to get rats to give milk, but this much I can tell you: Netcraft confirms that vidya addicts are dying. And dying is for suckers.

fr0st g1st p1st

You know you’ve hit the big time when people offer to do free work for you. Is there anything more rat-faced than getting other people to prepare content for which you can take all the credit? (If there is, please let me know, and please show me, for free, how to do it.) It is therefore in this spirit that I offer up my first guest post, by “a Microwave Engineer.” My comments are in square brackets/italics here and there.


How to Interview for a Job
by a Microwave Engineer
Preparation

If you’ve actually gotten a job interview in today’s economy, congratulations!  Many people are having trouble even getting to this stage. Now it’s time to sell yourself to your prospective employer.  The sales job is not an act of telling how awesome you are.  Instead, it’s a conversation between two parties (you and your prospective employer) about what the job requires, who you will be working with and for and whether your skills are a good fit for the job.  Be sure to show up ahead of schedule, treat the front desk people with politeness and respect, and wear a wedding/funeral suit that fits.  Bring a notebook to write down each interviewer’s name and what was discussed. [This is absolutely key, because you will be joining a business team, and this shows awareness of this fact. -rfm] The higher the position you are interviewing for, the longer the interview will take. Do as much research on your interviewers and their work as possible before you are in front of them.  If someone has written an interesting paper or article or was in the news, be prepared to discuss it with them.  If you don’t know who will be interviewing you, ask.  If the job is technical, be prepared to answer technical questions correctly.  This can involve a couple of weeks of guessing at the questions you may be asked and preparing answers.  Make flash cards, etc. [All of this bolded advice in particular is solid gold and will greatly increase your interviewers’ affirmative commitments to hiring you. -rfm] None of this prep is wasted if you don’t get the job.  After prepping for the current interview, you may choose later to interview with this employer’s competitors or you may discover how your current experience is related to another job that is a better fit or pays better.

The Job
During the interview, step one is to ask a lot of questions about the job and take notes.  At this stage, prove you are a good listener by letting the interviewer speak and, when he is done, repeating an accurate summary of the job back to him and then asking, “Do I understand this correctly?”  It’s axiomatic that employers like good listeners.  You are also trying to determine if you can do the job.  You don’t want to take a job you can’t do.  While it’s great to take a job that’s a stretch for your current skills, it’s a terrible idea to take a job where you’ll be fired in six months for selling yourself into a job you can’t do.
Your Experience
After you understand the job, the next step is to explain how your experience relates to the job.  This involves explanation.  Don’t over-think this: be confident and sell yourself.  It’s great to practice this part with a wife or friend who is a known solid performer in some field.  Becoming successful in any field follows a similar process, so your successful friend/wife/husband is the right person to practice-interview you.  Solid performers hate have trash-cans on their teams and know how to weed them out.  Remember: relate your experience and interests to the job description above.  SPEAK TO THE PROMPT.  Don’t yammer on about how awesome you are generally, because you’re not.  Managers have a huge fear of hiring someone who doesn’t work out who they can’t get rid of.  Set their minds at ease.  Always remember that you are being hired to bring more money into the company than you cost in wages, benefits and taxes.  Make them believe you will do this.  This is especially true for jobs that pay a lot of money.  If you’re getting high pay, you’d better deliver on it.
The Team
Interviews are conducted by your direct manager and your potential team.  While you’re interviewing, ask yourself, “Can I work for/with these people? Do I like them? Will they like me?  Where will I be working?”  You’re well advised to be curious and ask probing-but-respectful questions that can help you avoid years of heartache in the future.  Just as managers are afraid of hiring the wrong person, you should be afraid of taking a job with the wrong people.  Almost any job can be good if the team is fun, hardworking, and creative.
Wrap Up
Thank every interviewer for their time.  Figure out how to get them a thank you note before you conclude with each of them. Write thank you notes and deliver them.  [This advice is, IMO, situational. In some jobs it is not expected and might look funny—for example, in on-campus recruitment for legal or banking jobs. -rfm] Follow up with the hiring manager.  Be sure to get his contact information.  Put yourself in the shoes of your hiring manager: interviewing really sucks and it’s hard to find good talent.  If you act like a professional, it’s easy to set yourself apart from your competitors for the job.
Closing thoughts
If you don’t get the job, it doesn’t mean you are a loser.  Rather, the job wasn’t a good fit for you or someone else was better-qualified.  Every interview is an opportunity to get better at interviewing.  I often interview for jobs I am only modestly interested in just to hone my skills.  I find it fun because I know I’m going to win.  Once they think they have to have you, negotiating salary should be pretty easy.
Ask questions in the comments.

Stevedore Jobs

 

The Rat-faced Man wants to draw your attention to salience. This is the house term I’m using to describe how much attention a career path (or a life script) commands. No one can think of every possible job or opportunity. What’s more, our socializations run along similar lines, so all of us are likely to have gaps in our maps of possibilities.

Popular media doesn’t help, because when it does address the question of unusual jobs, it tends to do so from a sensationalist, clickbait position that is grossly disinformative to people trying to make life decisions. Stuff like that isn’t far removed from “it’s the ice roads for you, my son!” If you’re the kind of person who’s going to go into crab fishing, you probably aren’t getting the idea from BusinessPundit.com.

Even slightly less misleading pieces are still pretty misleading. Most of the jobs listed have a high rate of churn, so they are constantly hiring, but that doesn’t mean they have enough structural demand to meet the number of qualified applicants. Instead, they constantly burn through new ones but retain relatively few for long-term career tracks. It’s not impossible to thrive in this environment, but if you go the IT route (for instance) you should expect a succession of short-term contracts with relatively high base pay but little in the way of stability or benefits.

The title of this post refers to the fancy name for a dockworker job. Back in the early 20th century, it was strenuous, unskilled labor, packing goods by hand and loading them with a rope and pulley. Today, however, it’s performed with equipment. And equipment operators can do pretty well, even if kids today have no idea that this career path exists.

This is how kids actually think:

In fact doctor is the most popular profession for girls, at 16%, followed by teacher at 7%, scientist at 4.5% and chef/baker at 4%. Among boys, the most popular future job is pro athlete at 16%. Firefighter comes in second, at a little over 5%, followed by engineer at just below 5% and astronaut at 4%.

Overwhelmingly, what you see are civil service, public safety, doctorlawyerscientistengineer, and computers. In other words, things that are on TV or otherwise highly visible in books by Richard Scarry. Is it really possible that we’re letting millions of people get derailed because they are selecting occupations using a dartboard and books for toddlers?

In a sane, functional society, we probably wouldn’t have delegated career guidance to network TV and people who make under $1,000 a week. Since we have, as a highly-skilled professional with hiring experience, allow me to step in and use my expertise to link a reddit thread:

Guidance counselors: it’s one thing if your job can be made obsolete by a robot. What about when you’re outperformed by reddit?

Training for Failure

Unlike the neighbors, who had expensive wall-to-wall carpet and furniture sets from Seaman’s, we had wood floors and oriental rugs, and I grew up believing that we were superior because of it. Even when I got older and began to run into my financial problems, I never had a conscious desire for a lot of money. I was never interested in being rich. I just wanted to live in a place with oak floors.

We’ve been talking about media-driven life scripts for a while now here at the Rat-faced Man. The protagonist of today’s episode, Meghan Daum, is an interesting case because, on the one hand, she’s won all kinds of prizes—a Guggenheim, a PEN, even a 2016 NEA fellowship (good timing on that one, Meghan)—and on the other, she’s also survived long, lean years as a broke writer. It’s not the worst outcome possible, of which more in a moment, but it’s not the best either. I consider the arc to be catastrophic early flop followed by slow rebuilding. What’s amazing is how avoidable the former was and how much of a win in the second act it took to settle the debts from the first.

By now, the “caviar ambitions/Wonderbread resources” trap should be familiar, so no need to belabor it. Basically, Ms. Daum fell in love with the lifestyle depicted in Woody Allen movies and decided that she’d rather be Mia Farrow than the wife of a suburban orthodontist. In order to become a hip part of the arts scene, she took poverty jobs (which today would be unpaid internships—the events in this article took place over 15 years ago) and got to enjoy a romantic life of credit card debt and cockroaches until she finally got smart and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. Note that “[h]ousing is 84% cheaper in Lincoln.” Her $1,055 apartment in Manhattan would have cost $169 in Lincoln. Imagine what kind of apartment you could get for $169 in Lincoln, then move it 10 roach-infested stories into the air and you’re getting close. Her $59,000 earnings in Manhattan were equivalent to $21,000 in Lincoln, or to put it another way, if you were earning over $10.50 an hour in Lincoln, you were coming out ahead. Store managers in Lincoln were clowning on her almost as bad as NYC garbagemen were.

Ms. Daum was born in 1970 and is thus a mid-period Gen Xer. And:

[I]mportant national and cultural events [helped] delineat[e] the evolution of boomers’ group-hug approach to life, [but] Eddie Bauer shopping bags and Sprite tags provide the anthropologically significant evidence explaining Gen-Xer traits like “materialism” and” competitiveness.” Gee, how’d that happen?

In 1997, I guess it was excusable for a bunch of interns at Wired to make fun of Eddie Bauer and Sprite when talking about consumerism, but the really insidious consumerism is left untouched by this easy mockery. The really insidious consumerism, as we’ve had no choice but to learn in the post-crisis era, is predominantly about education and housing as part of a “lifestyle.” I guess somebody somewhere may perhaps have ruined his life by compulsively buying more Sprite than he could afford, maybe? What about the 40% of people who aren’t paying their student loans? A little perspective is warranted, surely? It’s sobering to think of how much Ms. Daum really paid for those threadbare Persian carpets and creaky oak floors.

But at that, she’s lucky to have escaped a worse fate:

I never thought I’d be living in my car at age 66. When I was younger, I never thought I’d spend my golden retirement years living out of my car. For most of my life I had a roof over my head, food on my table, and steady work as a journalist and writer. I grew up living a middle-class life. I was able to live and travel to many places close and far from my native state of New York. Most of my adult life has been in California and Nevada, but I also traveled around the world to Europe and India after graduating college…

CeliaSue Hecht’s writing work has been featured in more than 40 local and national newspapers and magazines, on her dog travel blog, in newsletters, and in five romantic travel guides. She has traveled around the world and has written and led seminars and workshops in the US and Europe. Her travels have included about 245 cities.

From the sounds of it, Ms. Hecht’s travels may soon include even more cities! Brunch courtesy of La Poubelle.

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

The importance of that to me is that it was a demonstration of the Baby Boom generation, of their numbers, of their strength, of their clout, of their power, which is in straight quantity—numbers. There were 76 million Americans born between the years ’46 and ’64. They were trained by Dr. Spock to be demand-fed. They were the first consumer species, they were the first electronic species—the fact that you were an American and young meant that you deserved the world.

Sounds like it was pretty sweet while it lasted, doesn’t it? Boomers: take drugs for 5 years while living on the beach and boning hippie chicks; get 20 hr-week 6-figure gig when they get bored. U: cower and scurry for rat-faced man; lie to the government that you’re not working overtime so that you don’t become eligible for health insurance and thus too expensive to your boss; wonder if you’ll make rent (no.) Anyway, however good Leary’s advice might have been for the most effortlessly prosperous generation ever, it’s the reverse of good advice today. You should turn off and tune out but still drop out—of vidya.

We’ve heard for years that we’ve reached full employment. But we also know lots of young people are bumming around—15% are NEETs, in fact—and that must mean that the official employment numbers are trash. Only 87% of men in their prime working years are working, mostly due to “voluntary departures from the workforce.” That’s roughly the same level out of work as during the Great Depression.

Why would someone voluntarily depart from the workforce? Even in a juggalo-haunted hellscape, there must be some work. At least you could move! So what are they doing instead? The answer is basically playing vidya games. That’s literally what people do now instead of having jobs.

Odds are that you’re hooked on vidya. “So what,” comes the reply. “You’re just old and boring!” I probably am, but that defensiveness is telling. Vidya, especially modern vidya, is a problem. Everyone knows it. No one knows how to say it, but it is. It’s like drugs. People while away their lives on vidya.

Guys who were really into vidya in the 1980s were complete losers (sad!) Their loserdom has been documented exhaustively.  (To be fair, the King of Kong himself has ratfaced effectively in the restaurant industry.) But back then, vidya hadn’t morphed into the sweet, perfect bitch that it’s become today. It was still a toy. Kids didn’t play vidya to the exclusion of other activities. Going to an arcade cost money, the games were designed to kick you off quickly, and it was a social activity that got you out of the house. Today, even arcade gaming is dominated by obsessives :

But home gaming is a whole new level of obsession. In fact, home gaming is a corporate product engineered (with wild success) to induce addiction. Don’t believe me? Here’s how the first really big-time MMORPG earned the nickname “Evercrack“:

The rewards cycle in EverQuest begins with instant gratifications. When you start a new character, everything you need to do is close by – finding the guildmaster; finding mobs to kill. The first few mobs you attack die in several swings and you make level 2 in about 5 kills. By the time you make level 3 half an hour later, you are more aware of the underlying skill points, the accumulation of money, and gain a desire to get better equipment. Gradually, it takes longer and longer to get to the next level… The one-click reward disappears, and is gradually replaced by rewards that take more and more clicks to get. And suddenly, some of us find ourselves clicking away for hours in front of a forge or jewellery kit.

This process of guiding an individual to perform more and more elaborate and complex tasks is known as shaping in Operant Conditioning. It is usually explained in textbooks in conjunction with Skinner Boxes…

There are several schedules of reinforcement that can be used in Operant Conditioning. The most basic is a fixed interval schedule, and the rat in the Skinner Box is rewarded every 5 minutes regardless of whether it presses the lever. Unsurprisingly, this method is not particularly effective. Another kind of reinforcement schedule is the fixed ratio schedule, and the rat is rewarded every time it presses the lever 5 times. This schedule is more effective than the fixed interval schedule. The most effective method is a random ratio schedule, and the rat is rewarded after it presses the lever a random number of times. Because the rat cannot predict precisely when it will be rewarded even though it knows it has to press the lever to get food, the rat presses the lever more consistently than in the other schedules.

A random ratio schedule is also the one that EverQuest uses…  Another frequently encountered figure in introductory psychology textbooks is Maslow, known for his proposed hierarchy of needs. Maslow sees human needs in a pyramid scheme. At the bottom are basic hunger and thirst needs. Then follows security. At the top of the pyramid are aesthetic needs and personal achievements, which would only be possible on a strong foundation of sated hunger and security needs. Thus, even though personal achievements are more rewarding than filling an empty stomach, these achievements are only possible once you’ve filled your stomach. But EverQuest makes it possible for Joes and Janes to become heroes. EverQuest makes it so that you can slay Vox in a guild raid on an empty stomach. What happens when people can feel achievement through continuous mouse-clicking?

This question was asked in 2001. Well, most of a generation later, it turns out that there’s an answer. What happens is that an awful lot of people stop pursuing real achievements in favor of virtual pellet collection.

For low-skilled men in their 20s, employment rates have fallen by about 10 percentage points over the last 15 years—from 82 percent in 2000 to only 72 percent in 2015. This decline is staggering. You might think it’s matched by a rise in school attendance for this age group. That is not the case.

The following may be the most shocking number I give you today: in 2015, 22 percent of lower-skilled men aged 21–30 had not worked at all during the prior 12 months. Think about that for a second. Every time I see it, that number blows my mind. In 2000, the fraction of young, lower-skilled men that didn’t work at all during the prior year was a little under 10 percent. Men in their 20s historically are a group with a strong attachment to the labor force. The decline in employment rates for low-skilled men in their 20s was larger than it was for all other sex, age, and skill groups during this same time period.

You may have a few questions in the back of your mind. If they are not working, where do these young, low-skilled men live? Our basements! According to recent data, 51 percent of lower-skilled men in their 20s live with a parent or close relative. That number was only 35 percent in 2000. In 2014, 70 percent of lower-skilled men in their 20s without a job lived with a parent or close relative.

If they are not working, how do these young men eat? We—the parents and relatives—feed them. When they are in our basements, they come up for food from time to time and raid our refrigerators. I have no information on whether or not they are showering.

Are these young, nonworking, lower-skilled men who are living in their parents’ basements married? You may be surprised to hear this: they are not. The age of marriage is increasing for this group. In summary, these younger, lower-skilled men are now less likely to work, less likely to marry, and more likely to live with parents or close relatives.

I like this guy’s style. If he gets tired of professoring, he can cum work for rat-faced man. But think about it: we develop a technology that is engineered to addict users. We make jobs extraordinarily shitty and unattractive. In a vacuum, considering the question dispassionately, we would conclude that users would prefer vidya to working a shitty job. So, when it actually happens, why are we blaming market forces, greedy capitalists and socialist regulation? Israel has more socialist regulation than anybody and they’re booming. Russia has greedier capitalists than anyone (it’s not 1967 anymore) and their unemployment rate is 5%. There’s no way around it—for a lot of guys it’s literally vidya.

If you’re vidya-addicted, and for young males that’s quite possibly the case, for God’s sake get off the stuff. There’s no future in it. Sell your account, give your stuff away, get busy with IRL activities. Lift, learn new skills, learn how to ratface. If you know how to calculate DPS but not NPV, toss the virtual skills for real ones.

Because at the end of the day, virtual skills are anti-knowledge. Someone who knows a lot about games not only is foregoing opportunities to learn about the real world, but actually learning things that may be false or dysfunctional in the real world. The “competent gamer” is a popular fantasy today, but I can think of exactly one prominent actually rich person who is also a leading gamer and I think his lightning is pretty hard to bottle. If you’re a big success, feel free to disregard, but if you’re not, consider learning from the rat-faced man: “If you can’t eat it, it’s not food.