Monday, November 21, 2011

Go Back to Work?

I don't understand these people who want the Occupy crowds to stop protesting and go back to work.

Do they seriously believe that many of those people are camped out day after day because they have jobs or even a home to go to?  Or is the media inventing the 9% or higher unemployment statistics?

It's funny that the naysayers want to blame Obama for the continued high unemployment, but they also want to believe that the protesters are just a bunch of spoiled hippies who just happened to wander by the park on the way to buy some ganja from their supplier and decided to hold an impromptu party.

In fact, I find it particularly interesting that many of the initial hoards of unemployed after the financial meltdown no longer have unemployment benefits.

Finally, let me close by saying that we in America are trying to sell the concept of American-style democracy to the rest of the world--especially the Middle East.  What example do we set when our cops randomly pepper spray people who are peaceably protesting?

They look at that and see that our way doesn't give them the freedoms that they desire.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Where Do Your Lottery Riches Go?

The other day, I overheard some people hating on a young attorney for being "cheap" because he doesn't go crazy with spending.  After all, this young attorney made so much money that he should be living like a king! 

I'll pause here to let the chuckling die down.

After all, those of us "in the know" know that we don't get to keep all of those glorious riches.  Haters usually don't take into account that attorneys not only have bills, but they have unique expenses.

I thought about it for a while, and decided that this is as good a time (as any) to discuss what happens to your money as a young attorney.  For sake of argument, let's say that young attorney makes $50,000 a year.

The federal government takes a bigger cut.

Now, I know that people made fun of that law professor not long ago for not having enough left over to pay for undocumented workers to be paid in peanuts to cut his lawn if the Bush tax cuts went away.  However, nobody really pays attention to what happens on a smaller scale for people who aren't making anywhere near that amount.  If the attorney has taxable income of $50,000 per year, they pay a 25% tax rate on every dollar they make over $34,500.  In contrast, people who have a taxable income between $8,500 and $34,500 pay a 15% tax rate on every dollar they make over $8,500.  Not that I'm necessarily complaining about paying taxes since I like having services, but it is a fact that an additional 10% above $34,500 goes away. 

Self Employment Taxes

For those not lucky enough to find work in a firm (or those unlucky to work in scummy firms who won't withhold your income tax), you get the privilege of paying self employment tax.  This amount is double what an employed person earns.  Of course, the upside is that it is that it is much easier to deduct expenses such as bar dues that would not otherwise count if you don't have enough to itemize. 

Student Loan Debt

I don't know what it is, but people think that schools hand out law degrees for free.   They think that if you pay $12,000 a year in student loan payments that you still get to keep that $12,000.

Ah, but don't they offer income based repayment?

Why sure!  In that scenario, you can exchange living off of ramen noodles for 10 years to get rid of them for paying a "manageable" amount for the next 25+ years that you could have bought a house with the additional interest that you paid.

Donations to Campaigns

If you live in an area where the judges are not appointed, you are expected to donate money to election campaigns.  Through donations and a combination of schmoozing at social events, the attorney helps, er, put their clients interests in a good light.  Yeah, that's it....

Social Events

At the end of your workday, you don't simply go home a lot of the time.  No. Marketing yourself is a 24 hour a day task.  Whether you belong to the Junior League or the Masons, your lunches and evenings are spent at meetings.

And people don't simply expect you to show up to a meeting, nod your head in agreement, and go home.  No, that is for losers.  If you were very smart, you would put yourself in charge of a committee that spends months organizing a big event.  That way, it makes you look like a responsible individual to people who don't know you that well.

If that wasn't enough, you are also supposed to attend silent auctions and charity events.  Again, your attendance is not good enough.  If they are selling a basket of bath soaps, you are supposed to bid on them and preferably win.

The Trick or Treat Syndrome

Do you remember how people round up their kids and drive them over to the "rich" neighborhoods to go trick or treating because they give out all of the "good" candy?  One lady I know said that one year, she had over 500 trick or treaters come to their door because she lived in the "good" neighborhood.

When Christmas rolls around, you can't afford to cheap out with either your bosses or underlings and giving presents.  A good present to your boss shows that you are thankful to have a job.  A good present to your support staff is expected as a thank you for putting up with your bullshit all year.  Also, donuts and fruit baskets to the court's support staff also helps because you're going to screw up and you're going to need them to remember you as the individual who brought them donuts last week in helping you fix the error so that you won't be sued by your client for malpractice. 

This also extends outside of the office.  People two floors down from your office somehow magically make their way in the door and expect you to buy candy bars for their kid's PTA, pledge for their walk to combat breast cancer, and buy candles, wrapping paper, and tickets for cook offs. Sure, you can use the excuse that you don't have any money or you are on a diet, but you don't know if you're burning the bridge with a potential client, do you?

This leads me too...

Keeping up Appearances

At one time, I used to laugh at the idea that a nice car and clothes were legitimate business expenses, but what do people think of attorneys that show up to court in a beater?  They certainly don't think that the attorney is simply being reasonable and trying to keep the student loan people from harassing them.

Trust me, I've tried that conversation with people.  They don't want to hear it.  If you don't have the goodies, that is a red flag that there is something wrong with you.

I don't know if any of you have ever read the book The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, but there is a scene at a country club where the older lady is teaching the younger lady how she should act now that she had substantial money.

The older lady told her, "Don't talk loudly at the waiters.  Make the waiters lean in to listen to you.  They expect it."

Yes, its incredibly bitchy to treat the staff like that, but that exchange has a specific point that is echoed when some of the non-attorneys make merriment of your economic misfortune.

I will give this example:

My grandmother and grandpa lived in a house that was in such bad condition that you could hear rats in the attic at night.  Eventually, she went to work in real estate to earn some extra income.

My grandma bought a Lincoln, wore diamonds, and bought clothes from the nice boutiques.  Not only that, she did not screw over clients.  She had a 30+ year career in real estate that survived the busts.

In contrast, the realtor that my parents used a few years ago drove a beater (that could stand to be cleaned) and always acted like he would rather be somewhere else.  In fact, he once said that he had a nicer car, but used the junker for work because it was cheaper for liability purposes.  For a couple of years after my parents bought their property, the realtor used to mail circulars to them to keep him in mind.  After the real estate bust, the circulars mysteriously went away.  I assume the guy is flipping burgers somewhere.

Not that my grandmother and grandfather ever moved out of the neighborhood, mind you.  It ended up being an assurance that she still had a job.

Moral of the story:  In a people business you can't afford to cheap out in the eyes of your clients.  On one hand, people are annoyed that you are driving around in a Hummer while you ran off with their last dime.  On the other hand, they want to hire the attorney who drives the Hummer because it means that this attorney is legitimate and can get their clients results.

So, yeah, the truth is that the nature of the business doesn't allow you to simply get 10 years of use out of your beat up old Civic even if you were perfectly happy with your old car.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Unemployment: It's Hard on the Body

I exercise pretty regularly.

Even when I was unemployed, I normally went walking about two hours a day.  I kinda watched what I ate, and I considered myself fairly fit.

However, my girth expanded a tad.  True, I wasn't close to wearing Women's sizes, but there was a bit of a difference.

Ok.  You realize that even if you go out walking about 2 hours a day that there is still the time that you sat around or slept in.  Plus, you can eat things like vast quantities of spaghetti at lunch instead of making due with the portions in your TV dinner.  But it wasn't merely weight gain.

My knees creaked and I walked around as stiff as all get out.

I'm not very old compared to the usual person who has this problem, but I had some problems with agility.  And it didn't really happen gradually.  It felt like it became noticeable during my unemployment.

I wasn't sure if I would get it back, or if this signaled the downhill slide that came with age.  I used to use equipment at the school gym, and considering that I still made it a point to get exercise on a daily basis I didn't see much hope for returning to how things were when I was in my 20s.

It took a year of working out with Yoga and cardio exercises, but my knees felt "normal" again.

And I had never really done any of those exercises in any quantity before all of this happened.

It took a few months for the creaky feeling to go away.  It took even longer for the stiffness to leave.

It's like I had to spend an entire year rebuilding myself from what I considered to be a very non-physically demanding lifestyle. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Back in My Day, We Had Fun Parties!

If only I had a picture to contrast two representative Halloween parties.

Which one sounds more fun?

At one party, people are laughing, wearing fun costumes, eating interesting foods, and engaging in creative activities such as pumpkin carving.

At another party, people are sitting around and staring at their phones.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who is in Charge Here?

As pointed out by John Stewart, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have very similar agendas, but they are aimed and different people.

The Tea Party wants the government to back off because it blamed the government for this mess.

The Occupy Wall Street wants corporations to back off because they blamed the corporations for irresponsible and illegal activities upon the economic situation.

The Tea Party eventually became a relatively successful political movement with sympathizers being elected to office-holding positions in the Republican Party.

Do you think that the Democrats are going to respond in kind to Occupy Wall Street sympathizers, even though it is picking up steam across the nation? 

I hear crickets chirping.  The politicians are not going anywhere near that stuff.

That, my friends, tells you who is really running the show at the end of the day.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"Hi, I make $50,000 per year."

I had an idea for a documentary or news story.

Someone should contrast the lives of at least two people who live in an area with the same cost of living and spending patterns who make about the same amount of money per year, have the same attitude towards spending, and who bought a house at the same stage of life (if possible).

HOWEVER, they should take someone who graduated from school about 15 years ago and compare them with someone who graduated about 5 years ago and compare how much money they have to spend on food, entertainment, and incidentals after they make their monthly student loan and mortgage/rent payment.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sliding Back to Employment

I watch the show Hoarders on a regular basis.  One episode dealt with a former homeless lady.  One of her friends made a seemingly innocuous statement about the lady's fortune, but it was the most understanding I've run across in a while.

(Paraphrasing) "She went from homeless to owning her own house in five years.  That's pretty amazing!"

Indeed, it is amazing.

I have made the slide back into employment land.  That shouldn't be interpreted by anyone to mean that things have improved as far as general job prospects.  I hear reports from the front lines on occasion.

However, people think that when you start making your salary that you immediately go from 0 to 60.

They like to think of sports stars who run out and buy a brand new Porsche the minute they get signed to a big contract, and they think that it applies to you--the lawyer.

First of all, let me point out that athletes have a tendency to file for bankruptcy, even when people throw millions at them.  Sadly, it's like a reenactment of the movie The Jerk where everyone with a "great investment idea" comes along to pray on people who--let's face it--had help graduating from high school.

Even so, I was a tad surprised at my own situation.

Over the years, I had grown accustomed to living off of air.

It wasn't merely cooking cheaply or learning to use every last scrap of something that I previously would have never considered using.  It was about usage of time.

When a person has copious free time, they become skilled at filling the long, long day with cheap or no cost activities.

There's nothing like going to a coffee shop, ordering the cheapest coffee on the menu, and taking a book that I had sitting on my shelf for 2 years and finally forcing myself to read it--even after I had lost a bit of interest.

Why?  Because the alternative required spending money on a new book.  That seemed a tad bit scary because it all added up over months.  Today, I may buy a new book, but what would I do tomorrow?  See a movie?  Buy a purse?  All it needed is that one chink in the dam before I went crazy.

Such a person learns to live off of ramen noodles and imagines that it will be no sweat to simply keep doing the same after assuming employment.

Yet, things change.  All of the clothes that you own are old and inappropriate for work.  Some have a few permanent stains from who knows what and missing clasps.  Dress shoes have such natty insoles that they stick to your feet.  Bras have such poor elastic that you look like your grandma.  You've deferred maintenance on your car and now its demanding your attention.  People at work want you to donate to the party fund and bring goodies and gifts.  You start buying "real" birthday and Christmas gifts for people after essentially giving construction paper colored with crayon for the past few years.  You pay for bar-related expenses.  Instead of eating spaghetti and sauce that you boiled at home for lunch, you are spending money on TV dinners and take out.

Suddenly, you realize how you lived so cheaply.

It's like someone soaked one of those little green horse things in water and watched as it expanded to 200 times its size.

Thankfully, other people who owe tributes to the student loan queen understand this.  It's a bigger group than those who understand that people with law degrees can be unemployed for quite some time.  The group feeling the effects of student loan debt come from all shapes, colors, and backgrounds.  You can go to the University of Phoenix.  You can go to Harvard.  It doesn't matter.  Someone wants money.

On a lighter note....

As I mentioned previously, being employed means that you suddenly realize that your wardrobe is very impoverished.  However, having some income means that you are confronted with a bewildering choice.  Before, I stuck with J.C. Penney's because it was better than big box stores, but was still affordable.  I knew what I was getting.  But when I made new friends, I was introduced to the concept of outlet malls.

Yeah, yeah, I knew the old criticisms against them.  They were intentionally put in out of the way locales to encourage the shopper to not leave empty-handed.  The items sold were not actually marked down, so they weren't a "deal."

Do I think that a shirt at JC Penney's that was marked as originally costing $40, but now costs $28 means that I got a $40 shirt for $28?  Of course not!  However, I knew I was getting a $28 shirt.  It's not like paying $100 for a shirt and have it fall apart like a $4 shirt after three washes. 

Even so, I felt like I was having a harder time finding clothes that I liked.  Call it extreme pickiness, perfectionism, snobbery, or old ladyism:  I felt like I was sifting through the racks and finding little that I wanted to wear.

Therefore, I became more intrigued at the prospect of shopping at outlets.  It was new.  It was different.  It was part of my reinvention.  Even if they weren't "deals" as in that they cost what you might pay for them elsewhere, they should still be quality wares, right?

This brings up another aspect of essentially being unemployed for four years:  It's a bit like the Shawshank Redemption out there.

What I understood about the quality of outlet store wares is based upon knowledge procured in 1998.  I could be wrong, but my understanding is that outlets used to carry the same merchandise as they did in the main store.  Now, they have created a cottage industry where they find lesser quality items and price them in a way to make you think that its about the same thing you'd find in the retail store.

At first, I felt that my change in shopping habits were rewarded.  I bought what I felt was an awesome pullover sweater that was made well and evoked the look of an English professor at Oxford.  It's not authentic in look, but made me happy nonetheless.

However, I was a bit troubled at the price tag.

"Similar design, $___. ___.  Your cost, $___.___."

So, what was the price tag telling me?  That this is a knockoff of their own item?

When I realized this, I wasn't too bothered.  I bought what I thought was a relatively nice item for a price I was willing to pay.

Yet, upon multiple returns to the stores and seeing what other people were buying, I became less impress over time.

I bought a couple of shirts from a particular place that had fairly thin material.  I also noticed that the labels always suggested hand washing or line drying.  Since I am not very educated on these matters, I wondered if this is how "nice" clothes are supposed to be treated.  I couldn't help but think that if I had bought even "nicer" clothes that I would only be able to wash them in faerie dust soap powder and dried by the gentle wind generated by the wing beats of unicorns.

Despite hand washing or flat drying as recommended, they started getting fuzz balls.

Some people I knew showed up in dresses from one particular place and bragged that they got it on close out for $15, and I secretly thought to myself that they looked like $15 dresses.

In fact, when I went to that store and looked at the non-marked down dresses that were being sold for $70, I thought they looked like $15 dresses.

I realized that I could buy something nicer at J.C. Penney's.

And what can you say, really?

Sometimes, you go to these stores that sell purses and see women congregated around the close out section.  They can't afford the "real" thing, and they can't afford the knock off at "full price" (assuming they know that it's a knockoff of the "real" thing, but they probably don't care since they're only there to purchase the name brand).  None of this stops them from becoming way too excited about plastic-y looking things or items covered in visible scuffs that still cost over $100.

On that note, I wonder what the insides of some of these peoples' houses look like.  Would I see rafters filled with scuffed items with the price tags still on them?  Would I see a stack of credit card bills?

And that's where we come full circle.

It's hard to judge people's actions without knowing their motives.

The fact that a person would  buy such an item has a back story that would probably rival that of the story of a person who wouldn't buy such an item.

Even if money management drove some of the decision, buying things after not having a job for so long is a bit scary.  Not simply because I have to worry about whether I will need that $50 to eat should something happen to my job.  Student loans play their own part in the equation.  I simply can't walk away from debt loan like I could a mortgage.  Most importantly, it is bewildering after a long period of austerity to know what to do.  Some people buy houses, cars, or go off to Europe the second they get some cash.  I'm still in the mindset of making due with very limited resources while acknowledging that things became neglected.  It's weird.  I have to tell myself it's ok to buy an outfit.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Favorite Memories from Law School

One of the things I used to love about law school is that they would make you feel like a rock star.

I don't know about your school, but mine would host receptions with chocolate fountains, free alcohol, food on toothpicks, and with judges that made their appearance as part of their never-ending reelection campaigns.

Two years later, I sit here and wonder where in the fuck all that went to.  Because I miss it!

I don't know about you, my friends, but I thought that if I was getting that stuff as a mere student that there would be keys to the executive washroom after I passed the bar.  Damnit, you know that when the event has a chocolate fountain that you're on the cusp of the big times.  That was about as close as I'll ever get to the society pages of the newspaper, even if it was so uneventful that the school newspaper never showed up from what I could tell. 

I'm sure it looked good in a brochure sent out the alumni.

I'm sure my law school meant well.  They probably wished to host their own version of A Beautiful Mind and have a special tea room where the greatest minds come together and lay down their pens in front of the legal geniuses that were the right honorable judge of the county probate court and the alumni who retired 10 years ago at the pinnacle of his career as a political leader in the community and who was now replaced by the young, rising star from a better school who is only at the beginning of his career.

Now, I don't do anything quite so fun.  All I'm left with is the memory of drinking wine out of plastic cups and eating cubes of cheese while applauding while they present some award or other.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bipolar Disorder + Substance Abuse?

A while ago, I wrote about the purpose of depression in society.

However, I was thrown off by bipolar disorder.

If you subscribe to the thinking of Neil deGrasse Tyson, then you acknowledge that our society owes something to the crazies who were willing to be the first one to bungee jump off of a sky scraper while all of the sane people hid out and protected the gene pool.  Naturally, that sounds like something a manic person would do.

But you know something?

There are a whole lot of dysfunctional bipolar people out there who can't get the job done.

I read that about half of them are addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

That's right.  It's not enough that they drink socially or even drink heavily.  They are addicted to the shit.

However, you have a hard time getting them to take their damn medicine that supposedly makes them "better."  Many of them quit taking their meds and go back on the bottle.

I realized that there must be something deficient in bipolar medications that the brain needs.  Otherwise, bipolar medications would be a perfectly good substitute, right?  Hell, their brain should crave that stuff as if it were Meth if it filled the empty void.  Instead, they'll go off of their meds and go straight for the booze.

Then, I began to wonder:

What if bipolar disorder is actually an evolutionary response to alcohol?

Think about it:

For quite some time, people consumed copious amounts of alcohol. That stuff naturally slows your brain doooowwwwnnn.

Yes, imagine a society filled with boozed up zombies.  This is how it was during the middle ages because the water was not safe to drink.

What if bipolar people actually operate at "normal" speed while on booze?

What if the brain in some of these people "sped up" to compensate for the lack of functioning that one normally experiences with alcohol consumption?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What if the Bloggers Weren't That Successful After All?

I know there have been articles suggesting that the scam blog movement is responsible for the decrease in applications for law school, but is that merely a simplistic explanation?

I'm sure the blogs probably convinced some people not to bother with it.  However, there have been vocal complainers for a few years.

I think that what we've seen is an equivalent of a housing bubble.  Too many factors compounded each other into a perfect storm.  Essentially, the price point has risen to the point where demand is naturally going to slack off.  It's just like if you had a Porsche for sale.  Maybe everybody wants one, but only a minority can afford it.  Law school has become the Porsche.

However, because of what law school is, people are only now just realizing that it is a Porsche.

I recall a few years ago now when I first considered applying to law school.  It had been a few years between my undergraduate days and when I applied, so tuition had skyrocketed since then....for school in general. 

I saw the hourly tuition rates and swallowed hard, but decided to do it because I felt that it was a good choice.  When I told my friends how much the tuition rates were, they almost passed out!  I too felt like I was crazy.  But I did it.

Fast forward five years later.  Tuition rates at these schools were now about a couple of hundred dollars more per hour than during the time that I started going to school.

However, undergraduate tuition also escalated.  Those people are coming out of undergraduate school owing several thousand dollars more than someone did just a few short years before.  So now, you have undergraduate students already saddled with a massive amount of debt being called upon to decide if it is worth paying another $100,000 on top of what they already owe.

The ones who can do math realize that it's simply become too expensive.

Even so, I'm willing to bet that the economy played its own part in continuing to jack up tuition.  People used graduate school as a place to hide out while the economy improved. Yes, people simply borrowed the money and "hid out" at school and purposefully ignored the sticker cost.  This probably accounted for the increased applications despite tuition costs.

However, since it is becoming apparent that nobody is finding jobs in any field, people are beginning to perceive that it is a waste of their time to go to school some more.

Yes, it has become so expensive that people are being forced to look at what they are paying.

Kids who already owe $100,000 in undergraduate debt are being confronted with whether they can take on the additional cost of more schooling.  Having some idea about what their student loan payments are going to be like,  they simply acknowledge that they can't afford that much debt.  So, people who weren't die hard lovers of the idea of law school are simply dropping off.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Another Scenario for the Death of Cayle Anthony

What if the death was accidental?

The problem in this case is that people assumed the death was intentional based, in part, upon the fact that this scenario of duct tape, chloroform, and driving around in a car for a month before dumping the remains in a swamp is something a crazy person would do.

I hate to break the news, but psychopaths see bodies as shells to be disposed of once the fun is done.  Unless they are saving a souvenir, the body is the thing that ties them to the crime.

I propose that--if it is true that she drove around with the body in the trunk for a month--that it actually supports the theory that the death was unintentional.

It's not without precedent for people not to report a death because they can't accept the fact that their loved one is gone.  I know that sounds bizarre, but is it really much different than say, people letting grandma live alone in her own filth and can barely cook her own meals because they can't accept the fact that she is no longer the strong vibrant mom that raised them as children?  People sink into deep denial about things, and its possible that the need to hold onto the body outweighed any sense of justice that she might have.

And if she reported the child's death, they would take the body away.  She would no longer see her child and she would have to be confronted with the stark reality that her child is dead. 

Maybe she mummified the face with duct tape so she would not have to see the child's expressionless face.

And who knows?  Maybe she disposed of the body in the swamp out of the same fear that they would take her away.  She could have possibly wanted the body nearby to go visit when she liked, but hidden in a way that nobody should have been able to find it.

What bothers me is that psychopaths go back to doing their own thing as if nothing had happened.  While she went out and partied, there were other signs that something just wasn't right.  When people are under stress, they do odd things.  And that's exactly what she did.  She could have gone out and partied just to let people think that things were normal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Look, Fred! Our Old Pal Stimpy is Back....

 This is an article extolling the imaginary benefits of starting your own practice fresh out of law school:
 Solo Practice U will tell you what to do!

 Before I say anything else, I would like to draw attention to a statistic located towards the bottom of the page:

About half of all practicing attorneys are sole practitioners.

Yes, because that's what all attorneys wanted.  They wanted to go through the expense of making themselves more desirable to employers only to end up in a position where they are their own employer.

Maybe after 5-10 years of practice a sane person may consider it because people in the community might recognize our faces from the back of the milk carton.  But let's face it:  the reason why so many attorneys are sole practitioners is because not even WE want to work with ourselves!  I wouldn't work with you, and almost all of you should not blame me for that.  Considering some of the half-baked stories some of you come up with in law school about your awesome full ride scholarship from your 178 LSAT and the $300,000 per year starting salary job that you somehow managed to get while going to a fourth tier school, one can sense--just a teeny tiny bit--that this behavior is going to spill over into your practice.

Oh yes, you just signed up some client with a stubbed toe that permanently landed that person in a wheel chair, and you expect to get a half a million dollar fee out of it.  Does anyone want to guess how long it will be before I look at the expense records and see that we are thousands in the hole because you blew the kitty on hookers?

That's why a lot of firms rely upon the army of drones approach.  They placate their victims with the chance that they will one day be allowed to use the executive wash room.

But let's get back to this "I loves me some food stamps!" mentality driving this article.  I could see where a person may be compelled to says "I loves me some sole practitioner work" just to get their name in the news somewhere.  And, indeed, there are some people crazy enough that they want to hang their own shingle.

It even sounds glamorous to all of you 0Ls who are partying down with the alumni this summer before you load up your U-Hauls and drive straight to purgatory.  You may have even cooked up the rationale that your life would be much better as a solo because you don't have a grubby old geezer running off with your money.

Yet, in this magical land of ice cream treats, you have a ready and waiting line of desperate clients who have been waiting for your services because:
A.  You are awesome
B.  There is a shortage of attorneys.

I'm not exactly sure how the person in this article is set to make $42,000 in their first year as a solo after expenses. Some might call it a tall tale.  Some might call it nepotism. All I know is that, if this story is true, it is highly unusual.  First year solos are notorious for starving.  They don't have a ready set client list and it takes much longer for them to do anything because they still don't know the basics.  Therefore, their volume of business is very small and they usually take cases nobody wants and have very low monetary value or receive misdemeanor court appointments. 

So, if this person didn't supplement their income through temp attorney work, then I would guess copper wire theft, or drug mule.  Considering how the article reads as an advertisement for Solo Practice University, they must have scrounged up an outlier to prove their point and shake down $700 for pointers that most of you could learn if you simply interned with a sole practitioner while in law school.

Yes, why not actually make a few dollars an hour while finding out where all of the offices in the courthouse are located instead of shelling out money to some service which is like the black letter law equivalent of legal practice?

Knowing the general rule against perpetuities may have helped you pass the bar, but it's no good for your locality.  Same thing here.  You would be much more successful at the end of the day if the judges saw your face while dragging rolling carts behind Lionel Hutz.  However, I don't think people want to accept that reality because it means facing the sad, cold fact that we all have to start out somewhere.  To me, a service like Solo Practice U allows the purchaser to maintain the illusion that they could simply skip all of that and go directly to being the bad ass who showed up and kicked ass on their first day in court.

If you think about it, it may very well be that $42,000 a year is being fed court appointments by a judge that he developed a special relationship with.  It's like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck when they made "Good Will Hunting."  The story is that they were a bunch of nobodies who realized their dream and won an Academy Award.  The truth is that, they got help.  Likewise, how a lot of people get their jobs in the legal industry is much more complex than simply purchasing Solo Practice U.  They may have a cousin who is feeding them work.  They may have done some grunt work for a friend on a large case as a favor and is paying them a flat fee if the case settles.  The point is, I wouldn't necessarily see what these people do as a success in the way that we were raised to define success. 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Depression as a Tool of Adaption?

I know this is not law school related, but I felt like playing amateur scientist for this evening.

I am interested in the concept of evolution.  Whatever trait we have originated because of a need in the past to help the species survive.

Now, people love to go on about "women be different than men!" jive, and only think about evolution as fast runners outstripping a pursuing lion, but there are all sorts of other traits that serve other purposes.

Before I explain the title of my piece, let me back up and give a back story.

A friend of mine told me that she was being treated for Vitamin D deficiency.  I was curious about this condition, so I looked it up on the internet.  I read that people of different races needed different amounts of Vitamin D, and that African-Americans needed much more than people of European descent, and that people in more northerly climates get most of what they need from eating sea food.

As you know, people in Norway and Iceland are pale and blond, so I began to wonder how those people effectively adapted to that environment.  After all, it's not like the pale people from ancient Africa decided to go north one day.  Something happened where they all eventually became that way. 

Even with genetic mutation, how can one explain such uniformity in personal characteristics?  Dark skin and dark eyes tend to be a dominant trait.  If a person from Iceland has a child with a person with dark skin, that child is going to tend towards darker skin.  It's not like you can simply breed it out of the population on that scale like lab rats.

...Or CAN you?

Now, we know that illnesses from lack of sun exposure do show up in the form of Ricketts, but, on the whole, illnesses of the body tend to be slow acting.  If your family has a tendency towards heart disease, it's not going to be genetically bred out on its own because the illness is going to strike long after that person has popped out a multitude of children.  As such, people in northerly climates were probably already eating a sizable amount of sea food and probably could have gotten by with some level of nutrition.  They may not have lived a long, healthy life, but still would have survived long enough to have children.

So, then, my thoughts turned to this:

What part of the United States has the highest suicide rate in the entire country?


Seattle also has the most cloudy and rainy days of about any city in the nation.

Although everyone acknowledged the link between the two issues, I started looking at it differently.  I then asked myself, "what if depression is a tool of adaptation to the surroundings?"

When one thinks about it, depression is not only a genetic issue where it tends to run in families.  It can be triggered by the environment---particularly when a person is not adapting well to their surroundings.  They lost a job.  They lost a family member.  They were rejected by the community for being different.  They have run out of food.  They are in the middle of a war.  In response to their conditions, they either become lethargic and do nothing, or become restless and are spurred into running away from the situation.

Obviously, the people who did not commit suicide were better-tolerated to that environment, but it is a deeper issue than simply saying that people who were intolerant to the weather simply killed themselves.  It can also be a passive act.  It causes social isolation and lack of sexual drive, which obviously means fewer children.
  But, the illness can also cause a group of angry malcontents who simply become tired of the situation and leave.  If people are ill because of nutrition, it directly affects their mental abilities.  The body, sensing that it is not getting what it needs, creates a depressed state in the mind to seek immediate change in environment.  If that person simply stays in their current environment, they are less likely to socially participate and genetically contribute to the blood line.  As opposed to physical illness from stress, such as diabetes and heart disease that generally will not kill people until well after they had children, depression is much more immediate in effect.  Considering the fact that depression usually rears its head during the teenage years (the time when a person could start having children), it may simply be a necessary part of a person's makeup to ensure that they are well-motivated to try and find suitable surroundings in which to raise their children. 

In essence, the depression from malnutrition is signalling the body that this is an inappropriate environment to have children.

Let's say, hypothetically, that in the case of a country like Iceland, a large group of people once settled there that once looked as dark as people in the Mediterranean.  Illness from lack of sun and an inability to get everything that they need from nutrition would begin to scourge the population.  Over the centuries, the people whose bodies could not adjust to the level of sunlight in the place engaged in self-destructive behaviors, had fewer children, or simply moved somewhere else, while the people who could better tolerate the environment stayed, had more children, and continued to thrive from the available resources.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why Are the Unemployment Numbers So Low?

Giggle at this headline, my friends, but I have a point.

The war on socialism is not new.  I'm not sure why Glenn Beck thinks that it is related to Nazism, because we were definitely told that it was an off-shoot of communism.  Get your history right, Glenn!

(Sheesh!  Always getting in wrong!).

One way that they tried to sell us against the idea of socialism back in the day was telling us that our unemployment numbers were a lot better than all of the socialist countries like France.

One magazine article that stuck with me explained that because of our anti-regulatory policies and reduced social policies, that all of these little things combined together and made us more economically-competitive than Europe and resulted in much lower unemployment rates.  In fact, the author likened it to a basketball team, where you cannot simply win with one star player, but had a multitude of talented players who each did their bit.

Sometimes I want to read everything I read, but I recall an article that I read when I was about 7 years old that said that animals such as dogs do not actually have emotions, and that they simply wagged their tales because they were confused about what to do when given choices to make.  As such, the questionable reads stick with me.

However, I do not pretend to know how the unemployment system works.  In a weird way, it is not really an objective factor.  The problem is the definition of unemployment.  If you have a bunch of stay at home parents in the country, then they do not count in that statistic.

Even with this economy, I am sure that there are beating the drums and telling people that we should be glad that our unemployment numbers are not like countries X and Y that have their uppity socialist views.  With that in mind, I would like to point out other factors that contribute to "low unemployment rate numbers:"

The prison system.

Quick:  Where are over two million of your fellow citizens sitting right now?  Here's a hint: They are deciding whether to join the Mexican gang, the black gang, or the Aryan Brotherhood as we speak.  They wear jumpsuits and have many new boyfriends in the bad kind of way.  For you attorneys, they may be writing you a letter asking to represent them in a lawsuit to demand that fish be served in the cafeteria.  And their numbers far outstrip the number incarcerated in any other country in the world.

Is it because we Americans are more poorly behaved than the rest of the world?   Have we over-criminalized everything?  Do we want to send every last minority to the pokey?  Are other countries simply more lax?

If you ever hear about incarceration abroad, you know that most other countries suck in comparison as per their standards of living.  Even so, we all know that there is a certain segment of the population who cannot help but draw attention from the police, no matter the circumstances.  Maybe our society is run like CSI where we expect people to drop from the ceiling and take down a kid spray painting a wall.  I can only speculate.  However, those two million are gone from the work force.


Like it or not, everyone in the US is in college.  Or, considering the fact that even the shitiest of places have a college or two taking up precious farm land, it's become easy for the unemployed or the people who are dissatisfied with life to decide that they need a degree in English and to write mass-market paperbacks.  In many European countries, university is generally the pursuit of the young.  It is treated as a stepping stone after they scored high enough on the examinations at the end of their high school years.  You tend not to see 40 year olds who had washed out of one profession sharing the same space.

Maybe a large percentage in the US do not actually graduate with a degree, but a lot of those people are still out of the work force in that year or two that they decide that they cannot hack it before they drop out.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are professional students who take way too long to graduate with their b.s. degree.    They need to change their major at least three times while they "find themselves" and pick the absolute perfect career that is going to set them off on their path of glory.  Then, after about 15 years when they finally get sick of that shit on their job, they go back to school and learn something else.  This time, they breeze through the subject after figuring out that they will never reach spectacular heights in their career.  While most simply opt for night classes, there are a few ringers who feel compelled to leave their lives behind and enroll full time--Especially if they get pissed that Joe gets paid more than them because Joe has a doctorate.

Kato Kaelins

Do not underestimate this segment of the population.  I am sure there is no accurate way of counting them, but there are millions of them living underneath the floorboards.

Some of you may be aware of the phenomenon that I speak.  While normal people go through a vetting process to see if they qualify to be let in someone's house, there are certain people who do not believe that this is an effective process.  Some such stories are like when one responds to an ad on Craigslist and move directly into their new beloved's home two weeks later without ever having previously met in person.

And they are not running Hugh Hefner's palace.  They live in something like the woodshed in the woods behind the Playboy Mansion.

As such, there is a multitude of people who effectively function as stray dogs.  On the other end of the symbiotic relationship is the odd ball who picks up strays.  Suddenly, the odd ball's house turns into a flop house and there are 12 people scattered around a one-bedroom apartment.  Half of them were people they met at the bar, and others are just people they found at the bus stop or McDonald's that morning.  The other hosts to these lecherous organisms are unfortunate people who married the individual.  The wedding ring slips on and their feet prop up on the coffee table.  They may occasionally work at a tire change place, but it never lasts for long before they become angry about something and go back to unemployment.

While the media portrays many of these people as governmental assistance leaches, the truth is that many find a suitable host and begin leaching off of an individual.  They end up with someone rooted on their couch and staying up until 5am every night because they do not need a job now that they have a suitable host.  Why get hassled by "the man" when he makes you fill out paperwork and prove that you have no income when you have the unquestioning symbiotic host willing to provide all of life's necessities without any effort?  We make our unemployed jump through hoops while the so-called socialist countries appear to be more willing to give hand outs.  As such, they probably have more people applying for benefits.  The downside for us is that family members and random strangers end up taking the economic brunt of caring for our leaches, while in "socialist" countries, they spread the wealth and keep these people off other people's couches.

In sum....if you add all of this up together, our unemployment rate is not really that much different than anywhere else....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Ben Franklin Would Not Be Possible Today

We all know that Benjamin Franklin is one of these amazing people that printed almanacs, made scientific findings, invented things that are still used today, and was a skilled diplomat.

Did he go to college?


While schooling is great, isn't it a bit sad that the net effect is that it ends up pigeon holing a person into pursuit?

Today, Ben Franklin would have had to either:

1.  Rot away in an engineering or science program for well over a decade. In the meantime, he would have to keep his head down and work as a minion on whatever the professors were researching before he was allowed to develop his own study for his final project.

2.   Go to college, then apply to the State Department for the opportunity to become a diplomat and go through a series of objective tests and an intense background check before they sent him off to work as a low-level gopher in Sri Lanka so that he could "pay his dues" for a few years before being sent to a more important country.

3.  Work as a columnist for a podunk paper and writing about the local corn festival because he didn't have the Ivy League education to get a job with CNN or the New York Times.

Then, of course, whatever career path he went in meant that everything else would be relegated to "hobby" status. 

If he ended up being a scientist, he'd probably have a blog on the state of the world.  If he was compelling enough, he might end up on the radio or on TV.  Since he would have no direct ties to what was going on in Washington as he gave up his political pursuits to focus upon a scientific career, he might rise to the rank of "talking head nut ball" like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, or Michael Moore.  If he was vocal in the wrong way, he may end up on the FBI watch list.

If he ended up being a politician, then surely nobody would come within 1,000 feet of whatever he invented.  Seriously, can you think of anything in your home that you used that was personally invented by John F. Kennedy? If he had unveiled a machine that turned all garbage into usable potting soil within 30 minutes, how excited would you be to purchase such an item knowing that this was something he was tinkering around with on the weekends?  Women copied his wife's fashion, but that's about as far as people are willing to go as far as putting their trust in politicians to improve their daily lives. 

....and when you think about it, it's kind of weird that we don't use politician-made inventions.  Think of all of the stuff invented in ancient Greece and Rome that were instituted by visionary leaders...or, at the very least, they had a good eye if someone came up with something good. Today, if President Obama published his recipe for Buffalo Wings, it would certainly not catch fire with the populace regardless of how tasty they turned out.  It's almost like we expect a great level of incompetence from the people who lead the free world.

"I went to Harvard, was a Rhode's Scholar, and I helped come up with a peace plan for Eastern Europe."

"Nope, sorry.  I will use a McCormick's seasoning packet before I use your recipe for four alarm chili."

Oh well.  Here's to you, Ben Franklin! 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

These are the people who need to be helped

Just the other day, a friend of a friend was telling me about said friend (we shall call her "amiga" for shorthand), that barely has a high school education and has not been in the workforce because she had been a stay at home mom.  However, a question arose about whether this lady should go to school and become something like a dental hygienist.  This person is otherwise screwed because they don't have any job skills and they can't rely upon nepotism.  While large cities like NYC have a strata of incomes, most other places resemble a third world nation.  You have a few people who have good jobs, while everyone else is busing tables at the Luby's.  There are some in-between jobs like being a nurse's assistant that require some additional training that a person normally can't receive in high school.  While those jobs offer some stability and full-time employment prospects, the trade off is that these people do not earn much more than a cashier (especially when you consider that they will now have student loan debt).  This creates a quandary where they are perched precariously on a ledge, and one tiny slip could have the student loan ghosts haunting the fuck out of you for the rest of your life and eating away what financial benefit the person would have gained in even bothering to go to school.

I thought about it. 

Honestly, we all know that you need some sort of training to have some job skills that don't involve being a cashier for the rest of eternity.  But what options are there for the poor? 

The jobs I'm thinking of require some training, but the wages aren't that amazing in spite of the fact that you forked out a few grand for schooling.  Naturally, you would have to get a loan.  However, we all know what happens the minute that something happens and you miss payments.  Suddenly, that piddling amount of money balloons in a way that would make a loan shark in the Ukraine smile.  Now, that debtor is turning tricks in a Turkish brothel and will be left paying the ever-expanding loan to their handlers until they are all clapped out and past menopause.

So, I seriously sat there and wondered if it would be worth the risk for such a person to go to school.  Sure, they're going to make shit working as a cashier, but if they show up and do their job for a few months and act motivated, you'd think they'd at least be whisked off to Hamburger U and become a manager.

That's when I started to reflect upon how the school system is truly failing its students.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea into their noggin that high school should simply be a preparatory institution to go onto other schooling.  In Europe, they divert students into one of two tracts.  They'll either put them on the university tract, or they send them off to learn a trade.

People in the Oprah Winfrey age can't handle this.  Saying that the child needs to learn a trade is like saying that this child is never going to be President.  Somebody is telling that child "no," and by golly, we should know better than to tell that child "no!"  We have irreparably crushed that child into thinking they are worthless if we don't demand that they take classes where they can read poetry.

They think that we can cram every last child into the few computer programming, doctor, lawyer, and teacher job, regardless of their abilities.  However, what ends up happening instead is that the school system ends up prolonging the agony where they puke out an 18 year old who is incapable of simply walking into a dental hygienist job and now must find money that they don't have to pay for additional schooling. 

How many more students would we keep in high school if the schools offered free training in a trade?  How many students look around them and see that John, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, is working the exact same job as Mark, who actually graduated with a diploma?

Nobody wants to actually sit down with these people and learn what is wrong.  They're the same set that think that teenage pregnancy is being glorified because these women were placed in front of a camera--never mind that teenagers were popping out babies for centuries before this show came along.  They're the same people who thought that keeping rap music off of the radio would make gangs go away.

The sheer fact that so many students don't finish high school should be a big enough clue that the current system isn't working.  Yet, we continue to press onward in a fantasy that every single child will eventually graduate from college in the same way that we choose to believe that we can completely eradicate teenage sex and underage drinking. 

Maybe Oprahfication is responsible for the lack of technical training.  Sometimes, I wonder if its simply cheaper for the school to not offer technical training in the way way that its great business for law schools to pack as many people into a classroom and charge them out the wazoo.  Instead, they can make the colleges happy by making sure that their territory isn't encroached upon.  If that's the case, surely we can just bus the high school students over to the community college and let them take those same classes on the taxpayer dime.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Drug Addiction is not that Funny After All.

Charlie Sheen performed his first "Torpedo of Truth" show in Detroit.  I will refrain from using a pun on how he torpedoed his own show as I am not a hack.

It can only get better from here, Charlie.

I was curious as to how a white guy who got his break because of his family connections and who is now complaining that his employer asked him to curtail his substance use, would fly in Detroit.

It's a bit like being Tom Collichio when complaining that your rack of lamb was slightly overcooked when there are people digging in their couch cushions in order to buy something off of the dollar menu.  Yet, he's taking his great tragedy on a nationwide tour.

I'm not sure what these people were thinking they were going to find when they decided to go to the show.  God knows how many strung out people on the sidewalks they stepped over and fled from while going to the theater.  Yet, they handed over their hard-earned cash to some guy that they already know is going to put it straight up his nose.  Poor Golden Voice Guy got literally 15 minutes of fame before people figured out he wasn't just a cuddly, smiling, homeless guy.  So, what is different?  What motivated this audience to show up with actual expectations of actually seeing a professional show on the same level as Conan O'Brien?

The only thing I can think of is that they must view him as some sort of anti-hero.  Just like how President George W. Bush won the election based upon the false belief created in people's minds that he is the President that the average person could have a beer with, Charlie Sheen must have tapped into that same mentality.  He became their funny drunk friend with all of the bat shit stories.

"He's just the life of the party.  Just like Ted.  Ted's cool because he gets super wasted and always has the best stories of how he woke up in the bottom of the dumpster after he got his ass kicked by a tranny."

That, or the audience viewed him as the fellow creature who lost his job, but was in the position to actually say something about it.  There is none of this keeping quiet out of fear that the next employer will think that they are a complainer or were let go for a real reason.  No, by golly!  This guy organized an entire tour and let the entire world know that it sucks to be trod on by the Man!

However, Charlie Sheen trots out there, and suddenly, the audience sees for themselves that he is not their anti-hero.  In fact, his life isn't anything like theirs.  He lives in Hollywood and never once had to hold a job like they've held one.  He's had a string of marriages to beautiful women and lived a lifestyle that they cannot imagine.  They had mistaken "Duh, winning!" for sheer stand-up comedic prowess on the level of George Carlin.  All of the hopes and expectations of what this guy is instantly evaporated.  They saw a person who was severely affected by his problems and who they absolutely cannot relate to.

Instead of acknowledging that they got what they paid for, they chose to boo him as if they got ripped off.

You knew he wasn't a standup comedian.

You knew he had a lot of problems in his life.

You paid to see a trainwreck, and now you are pissed because that's exactly what you got.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

This Week on Frontline....Something Unexpected

I noted that there will be a repeat of the story about the for-profit schools.

College, inc.

Digging around on the website, I found a section documenting the response to the subject.  I stumbled across a letter in which directors of homeless shelters railed about how the schools were deliberately recruiting students from the homeless ranks and sticking them with a worthless degree.  That in itself is not news. 

However, Frontline then revealed something a tiny bit odd about the origin of the letter through a link:

Down the rabbit hole we go...

To simplify, what they are saying is that there is a certain group of people who buy stocks in these companies with the expectation that the shares will drop in price so that they will short sell  the stocks.  What's more, they have gone as far as to engage the services of others to publicly trash these companies so that they can help increase the drop in price.

Now, I'm not saying that these schools that promise you a degree in basket weaving are noble heroes.  What I want to know is why is this phenomenon not more widely known or taken into account in media coverage?

Sure, I can legitimately see this happening, so I'm not questioning the validity of the article.  It's just that I can't see publicly traded universities being the only investment out there that is the target of special interest groups such as this.

It's a bit like the bubble all over again.  Many of those companies raised capital fairly quickly and spent it down to nothing in the span of a year or more by wasting it on everything from salaries that were out of step with the market, high dollar advertisements, and fancy amenities.  In the end, certain people cleanly walked away with some of that money.  Yet, even though it was staring everyone in the face, it wasn't until these companies gasped their last breath and had their bones danced upon by the Feds that anybody really bothered to assess what was really going on during that time.

I personally find this sort of thing to be interesting because it adds another depth to the discussion.  In essence, the very owners of these schools (stockholders are owners of corporations, n'est-ce pas?) are praying for their product's destruction.  They are glad for every single one of those homeless people who come out saddled with $80,000 in debt and nothing to show for it beyond an associate's degree in polishing turds because those people only function as an argument for the stock price to be driven down.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I.B.R. vs. I Be Po'

I am intrigued by Income Based Repayment and trying to figure out how it stacks up as an actual aid to borrowers, or if it leaves people paying more in the long run.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is my understanding of how it works:

They take your loans and info about your income and personal circumstances.  They run everything through a magic machine to determine what your monthly payments are.  Every year, they dig through your earnings and adjust your payments accordingly.  If your monthly payments are computed to be less than what you would pay on interest, the government picks up the difference for the first 3 years of repayment.

However, IF you start making too much money and your computed payments turn out to be more than what you would pay on standard repayment, then you make your payments at the standard repayment level.

If you work in public service and started paying your loans back in 2008, then the remainder of your loans are forgiven after making 10 years' worth of "qualifying payments" either at IBR level or at standard repayment level.  No other repayment plan can be substituted as a qualifying payment. 

If you work in a regular old job, then the balance of your loans is wiped clean after 25 years (if you meet all of their requirements).

Now, the latter one sounds like it would be difficult to actually achieve.  I don't even want to know how much money someone is going to shell out in interest over the course of two decades.  Barring that, let's say that at year 10 of repayment and you had a relatively small loan principal to begin with (about $100,000). And, because you came into the right financial circumstances, you are now paying what you would pay at standard repayment levels.  Does that push up your repayment date?  What I mean is, does the lender calculate your payments based upon the expectation that it will take you 30 years to repay your loan even if you are now paying more? Or, do they say, "based upon your monthly payments, you should have this loan paid off by year 20," which means that you'll never get to the magical 25 year mark?

I point out that it's usually better to pay things off sooner so that you aren't wasting money on unnecessary interest.  However, if the latter is the case, I wonder how many people out there might have been motivated to pay extra every month just to get rid of their student loans and pay less in interest over the life of the loan instead of thinking that they'll get a big chunk of their debt wiped away.

Additionally, it seems like it would be very hard for for a borrower to be able to anticipate how this repayment plan will financially benefit the borrower the most.

If you owe $250,000 in student loan debt, and can see the writing on the wall that you will always have a $30,000 a year job and are never going to marry someone rich, it looks like more of a no-brainer that your loans might make it to the 25 year mark (even if it will make you cry how much money you spent on interest making it to that milestone).

As for public interest jobs, the question becomes slightly different.  The quandary becomes this:

Would it be better to eat top ramen and pay off your loans in about 5-7 years, or should you just go ahead and ride the white lightening for the full 10 years?

Yes, I know the answer depends heavily upon how much you owe and the income you have over the next 10 years.  But, once again, let's say that a person had a principal of less than $100,000, and they expected to make about $60,000 by the 4th year of their employment, is that person better off living in a shed and paying above the monthly amount?  Or, should they just make the minimum payments on IBR for 10 years with the full expectation that they will always work in public service for that entire decade and wait to see what debt gets wiped away?

I know there are money gurus out there who could calculate this stuff faster than Rain Man, but they still can't calculate variables such as your promotional potential, whether you lose that job due to unforeseen circumstances, or if they give up on public service at year 7 of repayment, which would then presumably put them on the road to the "25 or die" track unless they go back to public service at some point in the future.  Unless you owe a very large student loan debt, at which it is going to be hard to pay the full standard repayment amount regardless of what happens in your career, it seems like people who are right on the edge could end up paying more than what they had to should they make the wrong decision (whether it be to try to pay off the debt early or to do IBR for the full 10 years).

What do you think?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Waste that Money in a Way that Will Make You Happy

I wish word would spread far and wide to the "if only I had a degree in X, I will be saved from my misery" crowd that another degree isn't going to save them.

I have your interests at heart, my friend, and it's time for some tough love.  I may look like a hypocrite because I've got the letters "J.D." after my name, but if you were looking for buried IED's, and you sent Private Tim out there to find the bombs, and he hobbles back carrying his bloody limb, would you doubt his word that there were explosives buried beneath the road?

If you go into something like nursing or teaching about 10 years into your career, you actually stand a decent shot of beginning a new career without a lot of pain. 

If you are going back to school because you think a MBA or some other degree is going to magically open a door to the riches you were denied, I have a better idea: Why don't you get a credit card with a $50,000 limit and use it to buy airline trips to Cancun, triple mocha lattes from Starbucks every day of the week, a brand new stereo system, a 3-D television, Prada clothing, and front row tickets to see the Rolling Stones?

Come on.  You might as well put that money to actual use, and in a way that will make you happy.  We all know that most of you tossing around the "maybe I'll get a M.B.A." aren't really that interested in business.  If you were that interested in business, you would actually sit down with a few trade papers.

Still, you reply, "buying thousands of dollars worth of mocha lattes sounds like a complete waste of money!  A business degree will help me make money!"

Will it?

Just like the law, the high-paying jobs are only available to the very few from the top schools, with special emphasis on the young. 

And here you are.  You've probably already established a family and are in a comfortable routine, even if you want more money or to get away from your dead-end situation.  Yet, if you're going to school because you don't want to take one for the team and pick up and move yours stuff to another city where they might be more opportunity, I am not sure what you think additional schooling is going to bring.

If you graduate with an M.B.A., only to find out that the job market in your chosen city is bone dry, what will you do then?

You can become like a lot of other people and simply let that new degree gather dust on the shelf while you continue to work in the bull shit job you were working before-hand while secretly harboring hope that someone will respond to your resumes.

It is sort of like if a sous chef from a 3-star French restaurant decided to move to Boonie Lake, Arkansas and is surprised that they can't find any fancy restaurants to work in.

Even so, you might find jobs in your chosen abode.  As so happens in many of these cases, you may also feel offended that these starter jobs pay so little.  Now, you have a house, family, and student loan debt.  You were counting upon the big salaries that you had read in a tiny blurb in U.S.A. Today, but as I said, those jobs went to a select few.  Again, the degree gathers dust.  This is especially true of those who were actually making good money before they went back to school.  It never fully crosses their mind that employers aren't that excited about what they used to do.  In fact, those people tend to be the biggest losers as it is only after they sunk all of that money and time into that degree that they are fully confronted by the reality  that it didn't double their salary.  They even discover to their horror that their salary noticeably shrank because that added income is now going to pay for student loans, and will be doing so for the next 10-30 years.

So, what I propose is that you actually enjoy that money with fabulous vacations to China and pay it off at a crippling interest rate instead of having years of your life being eaten up by boring subject matter and hours of study that have robbed you of time with friends and family and THEN paying a crippling interest rate.  You get to go to China, have a constant caffeine high on the good stuff (instead of being relegated to Maxwell House), and dress well. 

In fact, quit being a wuss and cut out the middle man and go ahead and start applying for jobs elsewhere with your current background because that is what is going to end up happening with the new degree. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why More American't Don't Travel Abroad

As this is a blog that also touches upon the prospects of education and upward mobility, I thought I would share this article from CNN:

Why American's Don't Travel Abroad

When explaining why only 30% of Americans hold a passport, the article boiled down the problem down this way:
Tourism experts and avid travelers attribute Americans' lack of interest in international travel to a few key factors, including: the United States' own rich cultural and geographic diversity, an American skepticism and/or ignorance about international destinations, a work culture that prevents Americans from taking long vacations abroad and the prohibitive cost and logistics of going overseas.
Yes, it is like someone from the Land of the Out of Touch had a baby with the NPR Junkie.  Sort of like a Glenn Beck meets the Academic liberal.

"Why there is no such thing as rampant poverty, unemployment, and jobs that don't permit you to travel at will!    Nobody travels because they persist in their backwards, racist, hatred of foreigners!"

Once again, another American commits the crime of believing that foreigners do not engage in racism.  Back in the 1960's, about 20 years after the holocaust, some European hotel let Sammy Davis Junior stay in the same room that other people would stay in.  Now, they've gone from a land of genocide to being a post-racial utopia whose example we can all learn from. 

Anyway, I think it was a bit too depressing for this travel expert to recall the exact number of people who live below the poverty line.  In 2009, one in six in the U.S. experienced food scarcity at some point during the year.   A large portion of those people depended upon handouts to be able to eat, and many got into that position because they had issues with employment, because they were either unemployed or had to take a lower-paying job.  Pray tell, where are those people supposed to find $3,000 to jaunt off to Europe and live off of authentic pizza from Napoli like Julia Roberts?

In spite of the fact that the actual author of Eat, Pray, Love paid with her trip with an advance from her publisher to write about the experience, what that book sells is only slightly different from what is said in the CNN article:  You're supposed to "throw caution to the wind" and live abroad for a year to "find yourself" because the money is going to magically appear in your couch cushion.  Nevermind that you don't have money to eat and pay your bills.

Also, I wonder how many Americans out there who are gainfully employed, but who have had such a big chunk of their salary wiped out by student loans that they can't even think of going to Europe?  Maybe they could have gone on the cheap about 10 years ago with that $30,000 a year salary because they owed much less in student loan debt.  Now, if you're sending about $600 a month to Sallie Mae, on top of paying more in health insurance premiums, rent, and gasoline, a $3,000 trip is much more extravagant.  In fact, I know lots of people who would love to go to Europe, but the cost is too high in spite of what the jackal in the CNN article says.  If people are living at home because they cannot afford to have their own apartment, it would be a tad irresponsible to even go on a "cheap" vacation to Ireland.  If you are already barely making it to the end of the month as far as paying the bills, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you don't have any extra money to pay for a trip to Europe. 

And if we're going to acknowledge that the majority of jobs don't pay enough for a luxury trip, then we can also point the finger at the fact that two weeks of vacation is not enough to live out those fantasies.  That is, unless you want to work through the holidays without going home for Christmas, forego traveling to see your sister in Wisconsin during the summer, having any three day weekends to relax, or taking days off to run some necessary errands.  Unless your family lives in town, you are single, have no children, and have a constitution of iron where you can go for months without taking a day off, and are lucky enough that you will never need to take a day off to meet with a repair person because of plumbing and cable issues, saving up enough vacation time to be able to go somewhere for an extended period of time is difficult. 

...That is, if you are lucky enough to work in a place that offers paid vacation, and does not frown upon their employees taking several days off in a row.

Yes, so, in spite of this person's theory that America is so incredibly affluent that everybody should be spending months in Europe, the reality is that, even for the people who aren't too poor to travel, there are many more who can't simply because of logistics.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Face of "Entitlement"

What does the situation in Egypt mean in relation to the unemployed and underemployed in the U.S.?

Are these people idealistic and are being set up for disappointment should things not change?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why it is in Your Interest to Make School Affordable

I recently overheard some people discussing those who are lobbying for reduced student loan debt.

Said, as one stared at her iPhone over lunch: "That wouldn't be fair!  If they are making more money because they have a degree, then they should pay for it!"

I realized later on that there was a bit of irony in her statement.

Here this person is, holding a phone that was created by someone with the vision and technical know-how to combine a phone with a computer, eating a meal with ingredients that made their way across the country in a moving machine with turning wheels, sitting in a heated building created because someone figured out how to create heat and blow it into a building so they won't freeze, and all they can think about is that one of the many thousands of people who makes all of these things possible should be asked to shoulder a ghastly economic burden for the next 10-30 years of their lives.

There are those who think the economy is capable of adequately compensating those who make these things happen.  Yes, Steve Jobs has more money than God.  I love his presentations.  I don't really watch them.  I marvel at what they signify.  This slightly deformed super-mind emerges from his lair and tells you exactly how its going to be.  He truly is '1984.'

The President can't even pull that off.  If you want to know why those Russians who were deported last year were engaged in corporate espionage as opposed to wasting their time with spying on the government, this is why.  The government itself is old hat.  There is no need to spend years building contacts in a foreign country in hopes that they might take a bit of cash based upon a hope that they can steal the recipe for the White House Tiramisu if you have the skill to hack directly into their databases and steal it instantaneously.

And so, when you go to a university and see a high number of foreign students in a program, do you think:

A.  That they are returning to their homeland saddled with massive student loan debt.
B.  That they seriously wish to find a hot American spouse and marry them for their citizenship because they enjoy the fact that we have bountiful supplies of toilet paper and Lean Cuisines on our shelves
C.  They will be hired away by a US corporation to do our bidding?

Yes, which one is it?

Believe it or not, if you still think B&C are viable options, you are a bit outdated and optimistic.

Those of us who remember the tale of Mikhail Baryshnikov  may optimistically hold onto the Pollyanna view that everyone believes that the US is the greatest nation in the world that everybody is trying to clamor their way into.  Yes, thank you, Mexico, for making us feel like the hot college chick who is constantly fending off the bald guy with the beer gut.  You make us feel desirable.  Yet, to use an analogy, Mexico is George Costanza, the U.S. is Anna Nicole Smith, and Sweden is Christian Bale...and Christian Bale ain't hitting on us because he's already got Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Julia Roberts to choose from.  But we're too strung out to notice that we don't look like we once did a few years ago.

Yes, think about it:  Twenty years ago, we had people from countries with fairly respectable infrastructure fighting their way to get in.  Now, the only people we hear about trying to fight their way in are those with life choices that involve either being a mule for a drug cartel or cutting shrubs for whitey.

That aside, many of those people are going home after receiving top training at many of our universities and helping to create a better nation...yes, a better homeland nation, not a better U.S.

I'm not saying we should deny spots in universities to foreigners.  What I'm saying is that if you fail to fund the education system from preschool up, then who are you cultivating to be the next Steve Jobs?

And it shouldn't just be the Steve Jobs that we're talking about.  Steve Jobs does not work alone, by the way.  He has a team of people that sit around all day and come up with these things.  In turn, they direct an army of highly skilled employees through the technicalities of getting it to work.  We need a base of people who can read and understand the purpose of all of those schematics and designs so that we can have a workforce capable of creating these objects.  Even if they hold nothing but the status of lab flunky, that person is creating your medicines, analyzing crime laboratory results, making fuel efficient cars, creating weapons to blow up terrorists, and making the next generation of iPhones. 

If we were truly such a "fend for yourself" country, and we had to truly rely upon everything we personally create to get by, most of us would still be in the stone ages.  You might be able to fashion a house out of logs, hunt a few wild game, and create a few novel, simple tools to make your day easier, but if you were personally dependent upon yourself to build an iPhone based upon your 8th grade level of science knowledge, then you would be screwed.  You are already denied the centuries of knowledge that have been accumulated in order to understand what you even need to start accomplishing the task.

Quick, what metals would you use?  How would you build a carrying case?  How can you fit an antenna inside of the phone?

Yes, once upon a time, someone shrunk those clunky old cell phones down into what you are carrying in your hands, but right now, you don't even have the skill and knowledge to make the clunky old phone.

The people visiting here from other nations learning how to make these things are most likely being funded by their governments to come here and study  because their governments understand exactly how important this knowledge is to their future.  Yet, here in the U.S., all we can think about is the short-term benefit.  Our society has stopped seeing our children and college graduates as the people who are going to keep this nation going, and instead, only thinks of them as people who are wrongly tooling around in nice cars while Joe Schmoe tax payer lives in a hut and shoulders the cost of their education.

Yes, maybe you live in a hut, but your hut is filled with technologies and your life is prolonged by advanced medicines that these people created.  Why does it make sense that you, a person who decided not to take that bullet and spend a sizable portion of your adult life in school, should receive the windfall of this brainpower and work, yet, you want to stick them with the bill of making this magic happen?