Friday, May 27, 2016

5 Things on a Friday: It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

It’s Memorial Day weekend, traditionally my favorite weekend of the year.  The weather looks to be terrific, and I have every intention of grilling out.  If you’ve got plans, I’ve love to know what they are.
Enjoy it, folks, and be thankful for what you have.

Americans ages 18-34 are more likely to live with their parents than in any other living situation, according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center.
"Welcome home!"
In that age group, 32.1 percent of people live in their parents' house, while 31.6 live with a spouse or partner in their own homes and 14 percent live alone, as single parents or in a home with roommates or renters. The rest live with another family member, a nonfamily member or in group-living situations such as a college dorm or prison.
Yeah, you know, it’s still the economy, stupid.  As the article points out, it’s flat-out harder for men to make a living than it used to be, and this has had significant second-order effects.  Women, especially educated ones, are marrying less and living in less traditionally domesticated situations.  It seems like there just aren’t as many men who’re worth marrying.  Take that for what it’s worth.
I would also argue that as wages have stagnated across the board, America has become more like the rest of the world in that we now have more generations living together under one roof than we once did.  This may not be a negative trend over the long term, but it certainly isn’t going to help the construction industry or our consumer-based economy as a whole.
2. TV Preview: Frequency

Probably the most interesting show of the new television season.  I’m not sure it’s going to work, of course, but I’m definitely going to give it a chance.
Recently, the requirements for the Yale English major have come under fire. To fulfill the major as it currently stands, a student must take either the two-part “Major English Poets” sequence—which spans Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, and Eliot—or four equivalent courses on the same dead white men. Inspired in part by articles in the Yale Daily News and Down magazine, Elis have crafted a petition exhorting the college to “decolonize” its English curriculum. Their demands: abolish the Major English Poets cycle and revise the remaining requirements “to deliberately include literatures relating to gender, race, sexuality, ableism, and ethnicity.” “It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices,” the letter concludes. “We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.”
Then the rebuttal, a little further down:
The canon is what it is, and anyone who wishes to understand how it continues to flow forward needs to learn to swim around in it. There is a clear line to Terrance Hayes (and Frank and Claire Underwood, and Lyon Dynasty) from Shakespeare. There is a direct path to Adrienne Rich (and Katniss Everdeen, and Lyra Belacqua) from Milton. (Rich basically says as much in “Diving into the Wreck.”) These guys are the heavies, the chord progressions upon which the rest of us continue to improvise, and we’d be somewhere else entirely without them.
You’ve written that “it is possible to graduate with a degree in English language & literature by exclusively reading the works of (mostly wealthy) white men.” It is possible to graduate a lot of ways, and every English major is responsible for taking advantage of the bounty of courses the department offers to attain a full and deep education. What is not possible is to reckon with the racist, sexist, colonist poets who comprise the canon—and to transcend their failures—via a “see no evil, hear no evil” policy.
I’ve nothing to add save that it’s amazing what the kids are getting up to these days.
Tribe: On Homecoming & Belonging
The irony is that 10% of the U.S. military experiences combat. Something like 50% of the military has applied for PTSD disability. So what’s going on with that 40%? Now, I’m not prepared to be as cynical about that 40% as some people might be. I think an awful lot of those people are honestly describing something that is actually a transition disorder. It isn’t PTSD, but the only vocabulary we have right now is PTSD, so they call it PTSD. And a lot of these people are honest people, and I think they’re probably quite insecure about the fact that they know they were never traumatized, and, yeah, PTSD is the only category that they have available to describe what they’re truly feeling. What they’re truly feeling is this tremendous depression that comes from going from a close-knit communal life to the alienated life of modern society. You can see the same effect in Peace Corps volunteers. There’s an incredibly high rate of depression among Peace Corps volunteers when they come home. They’re in Guinea, they’re in Sierra Leone, they’re in all these fucked up places. You’d think when they’d get home it’d be this big party. It’s not at all. About half of them struggle with depression afterwards. They don’t call it PTSD because they’re not vets. In their mind, they weren’t traumatized. What they’re really experiencing is the trauma of transitioning from a close-knit life in a village or a platoon to everyone’s living in their own apartment in New York City and contemplating hanging themselves in their closet. That’s the irony of modern society: As wealth and affluence goes up, independence goes up and so does suicide, and so does depression, and so does all this other stuff.
A friend of mine posted this to Facebook, and it’s really a good read.  Counter-intuitive and yet obvious at the same time.
The truth is that getting out of the Army IS hard.  It’s very hard.  Add in the pressures and memories of combat, and you can see why people struggle.  It’s hard to come down off that high, to find meaning in the banality of a day-to-day civilian life that is almost entirely bereft of meaningful challenges, to be back filling out TPS Reports when you once had to struggle for survival.  Still, I think everyone struggles to find meaning in life; it’s just harder when you have to change who you are as a basic part of that self-defining search.  
It’s easier, I think, if you can find a way to do something in civilian life that manifestly contributes to the good of society.  For me, that has meant working in the power industry because, bottom line, peopleneed electricity.  I find that very comforting, and not surprisingly, a lot of veterans seem to agree with me.  I was recruited to my job by a West Point grad, and my immediate boss and his boss are both Navy vets.  In fact, when I first started as an Overhead Construction Supervisor in the Bronx, about a quarter of the guys who worked for me were vets.  Even now, veterans of the nuclear Navy make up a significant minority of the nation’s Bulk Power Operators all across the country, with the basic tenets of the industry drawn largely from military operating protocols.  The same guys who used to run the power systems on ships are even now in charge of making sure that America’s cities have power, too.  That’s kind of how the world works.
American society as a whole, meanwhile, has a problem in its approach to individuality.  I mean, I like being an individual, but people are social animals, and at a certain level, everyone needs to belong to something.  This is not bad.  However, in our attempts to outlaw bullying and to make every person into a beautiful and unique snowflake, we’ve lost a particular component of the ways in which groups normalize behavior.  The result is that we now have more outsiders than ever before.  This makes society and its members both lonelier and less resilient, and it costs individuals the joy of being accepted.  
That joy is a real and palpable thing.  Its loss is not something to take lightly.
Win or lose, I like going to Army Football games because I feel like I get to spend time around my people when I’m there.  I’m active in my class and in the West Point Society of Connecticut for the same reason.  I know who my tribe is.  But a lot of people don’t have that, and it hurts them, whether or not they know it or want to admit it.
UCLA and Under Armour rocked the college sports apparel marketplace on Tuesday afternoon with a 15-year, $280 million partnership, expanding the Maryland company’s imprint on the West Coast and raising the stakes in the intense sponsorship arms race with Nike and Adidas.
For a company founded in Baltimore with few teams located west of the Mississippi, the richest deal in NCAA history serves as a loud pronouncement to Nike that it is ready to challenge the Beaverton, Oregon-based shoe giant’s supremacy in the college ranks.
A lot of things aggravate me about college sports, but the biggest is the way that major college sports has turned into such a big-money business.  
Don’t get me wrong.  I get it.  I love college sports, so do a lot of other folks.  That makes them a good marketing opportunity, which in turn drives dollars.  But that very interest is killing the thing we all love, and it’s not good.  Also: it’s disgusting the way that everyone involved in the process makes so much damned money—except the actual athletes themselves.  Plus, it’s hard to treat the best student-athletes like actual students when their wins and losses drive hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of investments.
College sports are great.  They teach time management, competitiveness, and grit in ways that cannot easily be replaced.  I believe in that.  Those things are critically important to post-collegiate success.  However, sports are not the point of the exercise, nor should they be.
Final thoughts: 
A goodly number of kids have left the Army Football team in the last few days, including yearling fullback Drue Harris, 2014 star cornerback Josh Jenkins, and a goodly number of kids currently at the Prep School.  There’s been some consternation amongst the fanbase, but I have to say that I think this is misplaced.  
Last year’s recruiting class included seventy-nine New Cadets as of R-Day.  The entire football team is not a lot more than a hundred kids, so clearly not all of those recruits were going to play all four years.  That was never possible.  Football recruits made up something like 7% of last year’s total incoming class!  Attrition is a part of the process, and at West Point, there’s a certain shaking out as kids consider their lives over time and decide whether or not they really want to serve.  For those who were just looking for a place to play football at the next level, Army is probably not the answer.  
This should not come as a surprise.
I wrote about this a little and about the difference between Army and Navy sports two years ago, and spoiler alert: it looks like Navy caters to its athletes in a way that Army is never going to attempt.  Now, you may say that Army should liberalize a little in order to improve its performance on the field, but honestly, I hope that never happens.  
The best kids go to West Point to get something that they can find nowhere else.  Yes, even within those confines, the football team can be better than it has been.  I want to believe that the team is moving in the right direction.  That’s what I think I’ve seen.  Still, it’s not true that the Academy is for everyone or that the coach can--or should--try to keep kids who flat don’t want what West Point is offering.

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