Paging Professor UJ

Back when UJ used to write for this blog, he added a tag for “happiness” because he wrote a number of posts about it.  I regret to admit that, since UJ stopped his scrivening, it’s probably the least-used tag on the blog.  In fact, this post is likely the first one with a happiness tag in months, if not years.  I consider myself a happy person, but I just don’t write much it.

Apparently, Yale students also need help with happiness.  This semester Yale is offering Psych 157, a course called “Psychology and the Good Life.”  It tries to instruct students on how to be happier — and it has quickly become the most popular undergraduate course Yale has ever offered.  1,200 students, which is about 25 percent of the entire undergraduate student population, is taking the course.  The professor posits that Yale students are flocking to take the course because “they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school” and in the process adopted “harmful life habits.”  If you read the article linked above, you’ll conclude that Yalies are a pretty sad, stressed bunch.

14344198_1067434466644984_673868475086152520_n copyWhen I was going to college, lack of happiness and “deprioritizing” personal happiness and fulfillment was not a problem.  If anything, Ohio State students of the ’70s tended to overprioritize their dedicated, incessant, deep-seated, Frodo Baggins-like quest for happiness.  The notion that fresh-faced students, still possessing the bloom of youth and newly freed from the constant supervision and irksome rules of Mom and Dad, need to take a college class to learn how to be happier would have been totally alien to the undergrads of my era.  And it’s really kind of depressing to think that, in any era, college students would need to sit in a lecture hall to get tips on how to be happier.  College must have become a grim, hellish place indeed!

But this is where UJ comes in.  He’s always got a happy grin on his face, a positive outlook, and a firm belief that “life is good.”  Sure, he’s retired, but his youthful attitude should allow him to connect with the legions of sad, beleaguered, put-upon Yalies who just don’t know where to find happiness in their soulless, barren college lives.

Hey, UJ!  Time to call that Psych 157 prof and offer a few pointers!

Exam Anxiety

Right after waking up I realized with a start that I have a crucial exam today. Even worse, I’ve been procrastinating studying for the test, and not even going to the classes, besides. Now, Exam Day has arrived, I am totally unprepared, and I am well and truly screwed. How could I be so stupid and reckless?

The next thing I know, I’m rushing through the empty, echoing halls of the building, looking for the room where I’m supposed to take the exam. Everybody else must be in the classroom already! Unfortunately, in my rush to get here I obviously forgot to write down the room number where the exam was being given, and now I’m frantically racing through the empty hallways, trying to find the right room before the test starts. My anxiety level shoots through the roof, and I think: I am a colossal idiot to have foolishly gotten myself into this horrible predicament.

At about this point the conscious brain takes over and realizes that I’m a 60-year-old lawyer who doesn’t take classes or critical exams any more, and I wake up with a start and a racing heartbeat.

Why do I still have exam anxiety nightmares, even though I haven’t had to endure a crucial exam for more than 30 years?  It’s apparently a very common dream, and no doubt it’s because those long ago days of actual winner-take-all exams with real-world consequences engraved permanent, scarring concerns deep into the dark, twisted world of my id, where they are ready to spring forth with only the flimsiest excuse. Expose me to any unusual stressor, and that night I’ll probably be kicking myself once more because I’ve blown off the class and Exam Day is here. Yesterday I took some on-line training modules that ended with short quizzes that you needed to complete to show you’ve paid attention. I got passing scores, and I could have taken the quizzes over even if I didn’t get a passing score the first time around, but perhaps even that limited, low-pressure exposure to simple testing is enough to trigger the bad dreams.

It’s sad to think that I’ll probably continue to be haunted by the specter of long-ago exams for the rest of my life, but at least when I wake up I have the pleasure of knowing that the days of all-or-nothing testing are behind me — except in my dreams.

Trigger Warnings And The Bard

We’ve reached a milestone of sorts:  students at Cambridge University in England have been given “trigger warnings” about studying the plays of William Shakespeare.  According to reports, undergraduates in English Literature at the school — which is located just north of the Bard of Avon’s old stomping grounds in London — were cautioned that a lecture focusing on Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors would include “discussions of sexual violence” and “sexual assault.”

william-shakespeare-the-life-of-the-bardThe decision has provoked a useful debate about the “trigger warnings” that more and more schools seem to be using in their academic curricula.  Advocates of such warnings say they serve to advise students about discussion of topics that might be upsetting because, for example, they might remind students of a traumatic personal experience.  Detractors of trigger warnings say it infringes upon academic freedom, because teachers will self-edit to avoid discussing difficult topics, and that it gives students a distorted perspective by leading them to believe that they can simply avoid learning about the ugly realities addressed in history and literature.

I’m in the latter camp.  And I think that, once “trigger warnings” become accepted in any context, the debate inevitably will shift to whether even more trigger warnings are needed, and how exactly they should be worded, and what students should be permitted to do to avoid the potentially upsetting topics.  The slippery slope seems pretty slippery and pretty steep.  It’s hard to think of any play by Shakespeare, for example, that couldn’t plausibly be the subject of a “trigger warning” because of violence, incest, insanity, sexual misconduct, bawdy humor, or depictions of characters on the basis of gender, race, or religion.  And what history course wouldn’t be riddled with trigger warnings about wars, plagues, racism, sexism, and general human misery?  How could students possibly get a real, meaningful education if they were allowed to skip courses that addressed topics they might find personally upsetting?

I think the use of trigger warnings, while well intentioned, does a real disservice to our young people.  It indicates that they are viewed as so brittle and weak that they need to be protected from mere words and knowledge, and it also gives them a distorted view of what life is going to be like.  The real world doesn’t give trigger warnings to allow people to avoid confronting upsetting topics or situations, and you have to wonder what kind of hyper-delicate, head-in-the-sand adults are going to be produced by school systems and colleges that employ trigger warnings.

As Shakespeare himself wrote in Marc Antony’s great soliloquy in Julius Caesar:  “Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.”

Tanking Ranking

When my friend Snow posted a Facebook entry about cleveland.com’s ranking of the 50 best albums of the ’70s, I initially resisted.

Typically, I find “top [number of your choice]” lists to be infuriating, and when a writer purports to do something like determine the “best” music of an entire decade I just can’t get beyond the sheer presumptuousness of the whole concept.  And, of course, these days such stories are obvious clickbait, right up there with stories about “weird tricks” to give you more energy or updates on how each member of the cast of Taxi looks these days.

712blvubef2l-_sy355_But, of course, I yielded, after Snow teased me with the information that the list put Dark Side of the Moon at number 10.  Eh?  If that Pink Floyd opus is only number 10, what in the world was ranked ahead of it?  So I opened the list and was immediately inflamed and enraged by pretty much everything on it.  Who was on the list, and how often.  Who wasn’t on the list.  And, of course, where albums were ranked, too.

The Stones’ Exile on Main Street as the number one album of the ’70s is a joke.  Two Black Sabbath albums in the top 50?  Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on the list, when it should be Honky Chateau?  (If you’re going to put Goodbye Yellow Brick Road on the list, why not put on The Carpenters, or KC and the Sunshine Band while you’re at it?)  How can you include Hotel California rather than On The Border?  How can you include Sticky Fingers?  And where’s Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, or Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night (or Harvest, or Rust Never Sleeps), or the debut album of The Cars, or Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, or Band On The Run — among others?  And does every top-50 list have to include nods to iconic figures like the Clash, or Miles Davis, or Bob Dylan, or the Velvet Underground, or the Sex Pistols, that all rankers seem to include as a matter of course to establish their rock critic bona fides?  And for that matter, when you’re presuming to do a ranking list, are we talking about artistic influence, or are we trying to acknowledge the great music that people actually listened to and that powered the decade?

The ’70s was the time period I was in high school and college, so it’s the decade where I spent the most time listening to music, thinking about music, and reading about music.  I’d go up to my room during high school and listen to albums like Deep Purple’s Machine Head (appropriately on the list, I might add), and music was always playing in my apartment when I was going to Ohio State.  By reason of those life experiences, I care about this stuff — and this list really sticks in my craw.

Next time, I’m going to stick with my inclination to not read these lists in the first place.

Protesting With Their Feet

Yesterday Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement address at the Notre Dame  University graduation ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.  As Pence began speaking, dozens of graduating students walked out.

22746804-mmmainThe theme of the Vice President’s address was the importance of freedom of speech and tolerance for different points of view, on college campuses and elsewhere.  Many conservative commentators made fun of the students who walked out on Pence’s speech, deriding them as delicate “snowflakes” who simply couldn’t bear to hear opposing views and finding it paradoxical that the students would walk out on a speech that urged them to listen to other, opposing perspectives.

I’ve had a lot of problems with the trampling of free speech rights on college campuses these days, but in this instance I think the critics are wrong.  The Vice President was exercising his free speech rights by giving an address with the content of his choice, and the students were exercising their free speech rights by walking out on the speech as a protest of Trump Administration policies.  The students exited stage left not because they are “snowflakes” who felt they simply couldn’t withstand Pence’s commencement address — a sentiment, incidentally, that many people who have attended overlong, droning college commencement speeches would secretly share — but because walking out was a visible sign of profound disagreement with the views of the speaker.  It’s a form of the kind of silent protest that we’ve seen many times in American history.

In fact, I commend the Notre Dame protesters, because their protest was non-violent and respectful of Pence’s free speech rights.  They didn’t try to shut him up, in contrast to other recent incidents on campus in which agitators have used violence to prevent some people from speaking — such as the mob that shamefully disrupted a lecture by scholars with different viewpoints at Middlebury College and, in the process, gave a Middlebury professor whiplash and a concussion.  The Notre Dame students had every right to “vote with their feet” and send Pence a message that they disagree with what the Trump Administration is doing, and they found an appropriate way to send that message.

I wish more people would listen to opposing viewpoints and try to understand them, but I’m more concerned about people who think that just because they disagree with someone that person shouldn’t be permitted to speak at all — something that is antithetical to one of the most important rights guaranteed to all Americans.  Based on the protest yesterday, I’d say that a Notre Dame education has given those graduates a pretty good understanding of how the Bill of Rights is supposed to work.

Requiring A College Degree For Every Job

Recently Washington, D.C. became one of the first cities in the country to impose a licensing requirement that mandates that all child care workers — that is, people caring for infants and toddlers who aren’t yet in a pre-school or kindergarten program — must obtain college degrees.

The college degree requirement is part of an effort to address an “achievement gap” between children that apparently is evident as early as 18 months of age.  The concern is that most early child care workers are treated, and paid, like glorified babysitters, when they actually should be viewed as being more like teachers.  D.C. officials want to focus child care programs more on education and quality of care and “set our young children on a positive trajectory for learning and development.”

The new standard will require many existing child care workers in the District of Columbia, who hold only high school diplomas, to go back to college and obtain a degree — a daunting prospect for many because of the cost of going to college and the low pay that child care workers traditionally receive.  Studies show that a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education produces the lowest lifetime earnings of any college degree, which makes it likely that child care workers who do earn a degree won’t stay in the child care area and will instead move on to better-paying careers.  If those child care workers need to take out student loans to get that college degree, their financial issues will become even more acute.  And neither the District of Columbia, nor the parents of the kids being cared for, apparently have the resources to pay the workers more after they get that required college degree.

This seems to me like a self-inflicted problem.  Of course, making sure that young children enjoy stimulating environments, are introduced to the benefits of reading at an early age, experience interesting forms of play, and so forth is important — but it doesn’t require a college agree to make sure that happens.  People with high school diplomas who are adequately trained and monitored should be perfectly capable of helping children move onto that “positive trajectory for learning and development” through programs that can be set by the supervisors of the child care centers.

More and more, we seem to be requiring college degrees for jobs because it sounds good, and a college degree can be seen as a kind of general surrogate for all kinds of skills — when in reality not every job actually requires a college degree.  This trend pushes more people into college, allows colleges to continuously increase their tuition, puts pressure on wages, and has all kinds of other effects.  We need to recognize that not everyone needs to go to college, and not every job requires college.

 

Ohio’s Continuing Population Shift

When our family moved from Akron to Columbus in 1970, Cleveland was the largest city in Ohio by a wide margin, and Cuyahoga County, Cleveland’s home county, was by far the most populous county in the state.  Franklin County, where Columbus is located, had less than half of the population of Cuyahoga County, and it wasn’t even Ohio’s second most populated county.  That status belonged to Hamilton County, thanks to Cincinnati.

94oh_-_columbus_-_birds_eye_view_1But in the years since then, population forces have worked inexorably in favor of Columbus and Franklin County.  With its stable mix of white-collar jobs — from employers like the state, county, and city government, the Ohio State University, hospitals, and insurance companies — and a culture that visitors see as friendly and welcoming, Franklin County has steadily grown since the days of the Nixon Administration.  Many people who’ve come to the city for college, or a hospital residency, or a graduate degree, have liked it and decided to stay and raise their families here.  Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, on the other hand, have seen both the departure of blue-collar jobs and employers and ongoing population loss.

And now the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Franklin County has passed Cuyahoga County and become the most populous county in Ohio, with more than 1.2 million residents.  CFranklin County isn’t one of the fastest growing counties in the United States — no counties in the Midwest are — but its consistent growth, year after year, has produced a long-term result that would have surprised anyone who lived in Ohio in 1970.

Actually, I shouldn’t say that, because at least one person saw the trends.  I took a class in investigative reporting at Ohio State in the late ’70s, and the professor, Marty Brian, gave us the project of writing about the growth and future of Columbus, given its business attributes and employment stability described above.  The would-be Woodward and Bernsteins in the class groaned at the project, which didn’t have much sex appeal, but it turned out to be an interesting assignment that required us to delve into public records and other nuts and bolts aspects of investigative reporting.  And now the gist of the assignment has been proven in the population data.

Farewell To The Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Chuck Berry died yesterday at age 90.  He was the man whose songs gave rock ‘n roll a sound and a shape and a theme and a direction, way back in the ’50s, and thereby helped to create a genre of popular music that has endured for more than 60 years.  His song Maybellene, his first big hit, was released in 1955, and its combination of irresistible guitar licks, a chugging back beat, and a story about teenage angst, girls, cars, and speed created a lasting framework for what was then a shocking and utterly new sound.  (Interestingly, just last year Chuck Berry was working on an album of new material to be released some time this year.  Let’s hope we get to hear it.)

chuck-berry-1957-billboard-1548The tributes to Chuck Berry are pouring in from across the music world.  The Billboard tribute linked above notes that John Lennon once said:  “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry.’”  The New York Times has published a fine list of 15 essential Chuck Berry songs that are worth listening to, again, in honor of his passing.  And a good indication of Berry’s huge influence on other crucial artists in the rock ‘n roll genre is that his songs were covered by the Beatles, who released excellent versions of Rock and Roll Music and Roll Over Beethoven, and the Rolling Stones, who recorded memorable live versions of Carol and Little Queenie, and just about everybody else of consequence in the world of rock music.  Has any artist had more songs covered by more superstars?

I can’t compete with the likes of John Lennon and Billboard in assessing the impact of Chuck Berry on the world of music, so I won’t even try.  I can say this without fear of contradiction, however:  when my college roommate and I hosted parties back in the late ’70s where the whole point was to drink draft beer and dance with wild abandon, nobody was better at getting people up and moving their feet than Chuck Berry.  That remains true today, 40 years later.  That’s quite an impact, when you think about it.

College Crack-Up

There was rioting on the University of California campus at Berkeley earlier this week — the worst kind of rioting.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-43-55-am-1024x682A protest was planned to try to stop a speech that was to be given by a conservative figure named Milo Yiannopoulos, and according to the University, “150 masked agitators” came onto campus to turn the protest into a riot.  During the ensuing melee, two UC Berkeley students who happened to be Republicans were attacked while giving an interview, a suit-wearing student was pepper-sprayed and beaten with a rod because a protester through he “looked like a Nazi,” the mob threw Molotov cocktails and commercial grade fireworks at police and smashed windows, and the riot ultimately caused $100,000 worth of damage to the campus.  Oh, yeah — the college cancelled the speech by Yiannopoulos and spirited him off campus “amid the violence and destruction of property and out of concern for public safety.”

So, the protest that turned into a riot achieved its ultimate goal of preventing a speech by a right-wing guy who consciously strives to be provocative and whose perspective many people find vile and hateful.  It’s not clear whether all of the protesters/rioters were there out of concern about Yiannopoulos’ views — UC administrators believe that some of the people who came to the protest from off campus were with a local anarchist group called “Black Bloc” that has been causing problems in Oakland for years and that may have just been looking for an excuse to pelt police and bust some glass — but the outcome is not a good one for those who believe in free speech, even if the speech is by someone whose views are appalling.  According to a piece written by a UC student, some of the students on campus are wondering whether the violence was justified because a peaceful protest would not have succeeded in preventing Yiannopoulos’ speech.   If that view is widespread, the Berkeley incident sends exactly the wrong message:  violence works if you are looking to prevent speech by someone you oppose.  That attitude should send a shudder through the administrative offices of colleges across the land.

I think UC-Berkeley botched this whole process.  It’s time for colleges to get back to being places that tolerate all kinds of speech and that recognize that the response to disagreeable speech — even the most vile, toxic, hateful speech — is not riots, but more speech in opposition.  Rather than breaking windows, how about “teach-ins” by professors who disagree with Yiannopoulos’ views and can respond to his remarks and his approach, after Yiannopoulos is allowed to say whatever he intends to say?  That’s what would have happened on the OSU campus when I was a student back in the ’70s.

Riots should never be tolerated, but riots that are a conscious effort to quash free speech are especially wrong.  Colleges need to stiffen their spines and make sure that the rights of all speakers are respected and protected.

The Incredible Shrinking Lantern

I was in the OSU campus area yesterday, and the security desk for the building I was in had a small stack of papers on it.  I glanced at them and saw that the flag on the front page said “The Lantern.”

Wait a second . . . this is now the Lantern, the Ohio State University newspaper?

When I attended the OSU School of Journalism in the late ’70s, the Lantern was a full-sized, broadsheet newspaper published five days a week.  It carried pages of national and campus news, had an editorial and op-ed page, and multi-page sports and arts sections.  The paper was chock full of display ads and had a lengthy classified ad section, too.

The current edition of the Lantern is far removed from those days of yore.  It’s now the same size as those free shopper publications that people are always annoyingly leaving on your doorstep, and the copy I picked up was only 8 pages long.  Eight pages!  There was no editorial page, only a handful of display ads, and all of five classified ads.  The guy who was the business manager of the Lantern in the old days, whose sales force kept the paper filled with ads and classifieds, must be shaking his head in disbelief.

I know many newspapers have fallen on tough times, but I had no idea how significantly the Lantern had been affected — and diminished.  It made me wistful and sad.

Confronting History, Warts And All

At the University of Virginia, the ghost of Thomas Jefferson lurks just about everywhere you look.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, really — Jefferson was the founder of U. Va., and designed some of the buildings.  And, in the course of the university’s history, his words have been quoted to students over and over again.

So when the current president of the University of Virginia wrote to students and the school community after the results of the 2016 presidential election, it was not a surprise that a Jefferson quote found its way into the missive.

But some professors at U. Va. had had enough.  They wrote a letter to the school’s president asking that she stop using Jefferson as a “moral compass.”  In addition to being the author of the Declaration of Independence and the nation’s third President, Jefferson was a slaveholder who propounded views of racial inferiority.  The letter states that “[t]hough we realize that some members of our university community may be inspired by quotes from Jefferson, we hope to bring to light that many of us are deeply offended by attempts of the administration to guide our moral behavior through their use.”  It adds: “We would like for our administration to understand that although some members of this community may have come to this university because of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy, others of us came here in spite of it.  For many of us, the inclusion of Jefferson quotations in these e-mails undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”

Although some people might consider the complaining professors to be ingrates — after all, the school that employs them wouldn’t exist but for Jefferson — I think they raise a valid point.  For too long, we’ve airbrushed the “Founding Fathers” and other American historical figures.  We quote their lofty, elevated statements but ignore the baser elements of their stories.  As a result, they become more like marble statues and less like the real people they actually were.

You’re never going to take Jefferson out of the University of Virginia — he was so proud of his role in its founding that he instructed it should be one of three accomplishments noted on his tombstone — but you can recognize that, for all of his brilliance, he was a deeply flawed person who held human beings as slaves.  Grappling with his contradictions and understanding his obvious personal limitations seems like a worthwhile academic endeavor.

And it might be good for the school, too, if administrators resisted the temptation to trot out Jefferson quotes at every opportunity.  There is nothing wrong with an occasional backward glance, but colleges and universities should focus on looking forward.

Long’s Gone

When you get older, you come to accept the inevitability that things you remember from your youth — whether it is TV shows, favorite athletes, failed breakfast cereals, or brands of beer — will vanish into the mists of time.

mt_long_book_demo_fs_3Still, it was weird to see recent photos of demolition equipment tearing down Long’s college bookstore, across the street from the OSU campus.  When I attended Ohio State back in the ’70s, Long’s was as much a part of the University as the Orton Hall chimes.

Everyone who went to Ohio State — and that covers a lot of people — stopped into Long’s, or its nearby competitor, SBX, to buy their textbooks.  Students would take their course syllabi, scan for the required texts, and then head to Long’s to get the books.  It was a crammed yet sprawling, ramshackle store that also sold OSU fan gear and therefore attracted a good crowd of Buckeye fans, which just added to the hustle and bustle of the place.

At Long’s you would learn that your college professors often wrote the textbooks for the courses they taught . . . and that the texts seemed to carry an awfully high price tag compared to some of the other books available.  But, what could you do?  It was a required text, and how in the world could you expect to pass the course if you didn’t have one?  Experienced students learned that it paid to get to the bookstores early, because with luck you could find a reasonably used copy of the text at a much lower price.  And then, at the end of the quarter — for it was quarters, not semesters, back in those days — you would resell your books to Long’s or SBX for pennies on the dollar.  Why?  Because it was a buyer’s market, and no college student wanted their apartment cluttered with texts from Philosophy 101 or Poli Sci 265, and you’d rather get a few bucks that you could spend on beer and pizza.  It’s not like you were ever going to read a textbook again, anyway.

In this simple way, Long’s taught naive OSU students some valuable lessons.  Buy low, sell high.  Brace yourself for a gouging.  And understand that the world isn’t fair.

Those are some pretty enduring life lessons, when you think about it.

Battle Of The Buffets

I’ve written before about Indian Oven, one of my very favorite restaurants in Columbus.  It’s a great place that serves top-notch Indian food, and I always get the same order when I go there for lunch — lamb korma, medium plus on the spice level — because it’s just so darned good.

imag0415Recently, however, I deviated from the time-honored norm.  The Jersey Girl, who also tends to get precisely the same order at IO, and I decided to break out of our ruts and issue each other the IO Buffet Challenge.  After all, most of the people who go to Indian Oven for lunch tend to have the buffet.  It’s not like it’s that big of a deal.

But for me, it kind of was a big deal.  To be blunt, I really detest buffets on general principle.  Perhaps it’s because I have an instinctive aversion to sneeze guards, or because I think food should be served hot, or cold, but not sit there at or near room temperature.  Maybe it’s because, at many buffets, the food has a distinctly pawed over look, or it has turned crusty under the beating glare of the warming lamps.  And then there’s the lingering issue of buffet gluttony, which causes otherwise normal people to load their plates with absurd quantities of food to make the buffet bargain an even better deal.  I’ll take the portion control of a regular entree any day.

Actually, the ability to eat obscene quantities of food mightily influenced the last two times I remember actually enjoying a buffet.  Both happened during the college years.  One time my friend Snow and I were starving and went to the Swedish Buffet near campus, where I recall eating approximately four dozen Swedish meatballs and drinking a gallon of milk to compensate for the resulting salt intake before leaving with a satisfied groan.  The other incident occurred when I was working at Alpine Village, a resort in Lake George, New York, and my fellow co-workers and I learned that an establishment across the border in Vermont was offering an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet with real lobster.  We didn’t eat anything one day, then drove over en masse and gorged ourselves on lobster, crab, oysters and steamed clams while the proprietor glared at us in hopes we would leave before his profits vanished in a flurry of cracked lobster shells.

But the days of going somewhere specifically to cram myself with food are long gone, and with them went any desire to make a pig of myself at a buffet . . . or for that matter, to eat any buffet food, period.  Not surprisingly, then, I approached the IO buffet with some natural trepidation born of prior buffet unpleasantness — but a challenge, once issued, cannot be retracted.

So the Jersey Girl and I tried the IO buffet, sampling the different options while attempting to maintain some semblance of consumption decorum.  And you know what?  It was good.  In fact, it was great.  The offerings were hot and fresh, and I got a chance to sample some things I hadn’t tried before.  I shouldn’t be surprised, because the food at Indian Oven is always of excellent quality — but then I was going against decades of contrary experiences.

Since the day of the Buffet Challenge, though, I’ve gone back to the lamb korma lunch order.  Old anti-buffet instincts die hard.

Student Loan Scofflaws

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 43 percent of the people who have borrowed money from the federal government’s principal student loan programs aren’t making payments or are behind on meeting their debt obligations.  The people comprising that 43 percent collectively owe the federal government more than $200 billion.

The figures are stark, and staggering.  3.6 million people who are out of school and in the workforce are in default on their loans — which means they haven’t made a payment in a year.  Another 3 million people are delinquent on their payments, which means they’re at least one month late but not yet a year behind, and another 3 million have received permission to postpone their payments because of some kind of financial emergency.

studentloandebt070313_0The federal government is trying to figure out why payments aren’t being made, and some consumer groups are contending that debt services aren’t letting the troubled borrowers know about available payment options.  Three realities, though, seem pretty clear.

First, many of the people who thought getting a college degree, any college degree, would be the ticket to financial security have learned that they were wrong.  Whatever their major or career plans, there just aren’t enough good jobs out there to allow them to repay their loans.  Second, the feds do virtually nothing to determine whether student loan borrowers are good credit risks — they don’t typically perform credit checks, require co-signers, or evaluate whether the borrower’s intended course of study or capabilities make repayment likely.  And third, once you’re out of college and trying to make it on your own, your student loan debt is the lowest of the debt priorities, behind your home loan, your car loan, and your credit card debt.  What’s the federal government going to do, repossess that diploma that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on?

It’s not clear whether the federal government’s experience is true for all student loan debt.  If so, that’s a troublesome fact, because the WSJ article also notes that there is now more student loan debt than credit card debt, car loan debt, and any other kind of consumer loan debt.  Student loan borrowers collectively owe $1.2 trillion.  If almost half of the federal borrowers aren’t making their payments, will the same thing happen to that enormous pool of debt?

Politicians love to talk about how everybody should go to college and the federal government should help them do so by making loans available.  That siren song sounds good, but the reality is more uncomfortable.  Readily available student loans have just allowed colleges to jack up their tuitions, and college degrees aren’t a guarantee of a good career and financial success.  College isn’t necessarily for everyone, and struggling students aren’t going to benefit from borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to scrape by and get a degree in a major that isn’t in demand in the economy.   And broken windows theory would tell us that it’s not doing America any good to have a growing body of millions of people who aren’t paying their debts.

Don’t Vex About Sex Or Guess About “Yes”

There’s been a lot of activity lately, in the legislative arena and on college campuses, about what constitutes consent to sexual activity.

In California, colleges must require “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” and consent can be communicated through a verbal agreement or through actions.  Consent must be given at every step, so agreement to kissing or “heavy petting” is not consent to actual intercourse.  The underlying idea, of course, is to ensure that all parties to the sexual activity agree to move forward before matters escalate.

nastroeniya-devushka-paren-6966But if you’re concerned about complying with state law while at the same time wanting to be absolutely sure that no one will claim that you’ve exceeded the boundaries of their consent, how do you memorialize the consent in a way that will hold up?  Do you draft up a written agreement, or try to make a recording?  What are college students supposed to have at hand when passion strikes?

Leave it to a Mom to develop a smartphone app that attempts to solve the dilemma by allowing the participants to the contemplated sexual activity to log their consent.  With the “Yes to Sex” app on their phones, students can access the app when the moment arrives, walk through their agreements through the touch of a button, get a “safe word” to use when they want their partner to stop, and record an audio consent — all of which gets stored on encrypted servers in the event a disagreement arises in the future.

I guess it was inevitable that we would get to the point where people would be using their phones to document, in a legally meaningful way, that they’re engaging in sex by mutual consent.  Why not?  Phones are used for everything else these days.  Why stop at selfies?