Tis the season for new faculty appointments. Ten years out from grad school, I think there are exactly two of my classmates who have tenure-track research professorships. Four percent success rate, give or take. To help them along, I've written a recipe for success for any new professor for whom the tenure clock ticks.
Move in to lab. Scrounge/steal any equipment that not's already nailed down. Recruit at least four grad students immediately. Hire a postdoc to train them all in the basics. Try to include at least one guy who can't speak english (bonus if it's your trainer). Take advantage of their youthful enthusiasm while it's still intact - use the last embers of your excitement for research to convince your fledglings that they too can live the academic tenure dream. Create a bubble environment of fun-filled competition where students kill themselves competing to earn your love and respect. Make them grovel to go to a conference where they will go four to a room at a hotel that is in a different city from the actual meeting location. Bring on AT LEAST one new student per year - they can't deny you tenure if doing so puts a dozen PhD students on the streets. Create the appearance of family by taking everyone out to a mid-range restaurant twice a year. While there, take a lot of photos and post them on your lab's web page. Write grant applications nonstop. Recycle the same material over and over. Flood the system with the same idea until something sticks. Get funding. Write papers. So many papers. Submit them to Nature and Science and Cell. Then submit them to the next-most-prestigious journal when they're rejected. Do it again and again until something sticks. When your first student graduates, help them out with a postdoc in the lab of a guy you know, then immediately forget about them.
Give talks. Travel to give talks. It doesn't matter where, so long as someone is paying for it. Try to get the good talks at that conference in the nice place. Say no when your students ask to present a poster there. Throw ideas out there until something sticks that people start repeating. Keep saying shit. If you make a mistake, refuse to acknowledge it and hope everyone else forgets. Just say new shit or tweak the old shit into a revised hypothesis. If enough people repeat your various pontifications, you'll be "famous" and your name will be known and revered by upwards of two hundred people. Become an advisor to a startup company that will fizzle out in two years.
Obtain tenure. Euthanize remaining grad students. Hire army of postdocs. Allow them to form self-sustaining society. Continue to clutter office. Awkwardly wear a lab coat when the medical school's science magazine wants a picture of you. Maneuver your way into the 30-second university commercial that airs during football games. That's when you know you've made it.
In my rambling coverage of the cheap universe I live in, I'm tackling insurance today. In my opinion, most of us are incredibly over-insured. Cutting insurance down is an easy way to save cash with absolutely no impact on our lifestyle (and isn't that the best kind of cost-cutting?).
Insurance should be (and was always intended as) a hedge against disaster. In practice, you are giving up a small amount of money (i.e., your premium) with 100% certainty, in order to avoid a catastrophic financial event with a small probability of occurring. The probability of the bad event happening and how much it will cost you varies.
It should be apparent that insurance is a game of probability and insurance companies are the casinos. Their actuaries know everything - there's a table out there that will tell you the odds you'll die between the age of 70 and 71 (just checked: 2.3%). The odds of you getting a given disease or injury, how much it costs to treat, how likely it is to kill you, they know it all. They figure out how much they'll pay out, add a profit margin in, and sell you insurance. It is thus a mathematical fact that you will, on average, overpay for insurance over the course of your lifetime. The entire insurance industry is predicated on it.
On the sales side, emotion tends to override rational decision-making. According to every single insurance salesman, insurance is as essential as toilet paper. According to reality, however, there are other options (the bidet, for example). Here's the truth: financially speaking, insurance is almost always a bad deal for the insuree. You probably intuitively know this - AIG, Geico, Travelers et al. are huge businesses that run profitably off of the excess revenue they take in from their clients. Mind you, this is not to say that all forms of insurance is unnecessary, just that it's usually a losing proposition.
Safety is an expensive illusion.
Insurance should only be purchased under the following two conditions:
(1) when the consequences of not having it would be disastrous. Not inconvenient, but life-wreckingly disastrous.
(2) When it's required.
That's it. Only buy insurance for situations that would be, for you, absolutely catastrophic (financially, not emotionally).
This frugal mindset doesn't put food on the table for insurance salesmen. They make the best commissions on selling you garbage-y policies with poor value propositions (much like investment advisors do, another case of so-called professionals having incentives that are not in the fiduciary best interests of their customers). Knowing that a rational pitch is impossible, insurance salesmen reliably (and successfully) use fear to sell you policies. They'll ask you to dwell on the possibility of a disaster or accident, asking you to imagine just how glad you'll be that you've been carrying insurance. But they won't tell you that the likelihood of the bad event. I, however, will. Let's use auto insurance as an example.
Of course every state has minimum coverage, which you should definitely have, but that only covers liability for damage you do. As you may recall, I'm a big fan of driving crappy cars . One reason for this is that you don't need to pay to cover them for collision damage. Go ahead and wreck your old beater - who cares? But let's say that you are actually entertaining the idea of insuring your car. What do you think the odds of your insurance paying off?
Fortunately, we have the answer: on average, a driver will file a claim with an insurance company once every 18 years. Now what's the cost to cover that one claim every two decades or so? To insure my trusty 2003 Corolla with basic minimum liability is $228 a year. To add coverage for my own vehicle adds another $509 a year (per the Nerd Wallet calculator). That's the extra amount I'm losing with 100% certainty to have "peace of mind".
So let's do the math: Over an eighteen year period, I'm paying out an extra $9,162. What do I get for it? As an average driver, I'm filing a claim once every 18 years. Let's assume my car is totaled (so as to get the maximum insurance value paid out). Under the most optimistic KBB estimate (private party value for an excellent condition car) the payout is only $3,285. So I'm paying almost ten grand to get back - at most - three thousand bucks.
Hold on there Texas Pete - you forgot the $1,000 deductible before insurance kicks in. You're only getting $2,285 from your claim. Thus, on average a driver will pay AT LEAST $6,877 extra for covering their own vehicle. Maybe you have bad luck and file multiple claims? Don't sweat it - insurance companies charge higher rates to drivers who file more claims, just like they charge you more to insure a newer, more expensive vehicle. It's all taken care of, and there's no way to come out ahead.
If you read this and still think you need anything more then the bare bones auto insurance I say this to you: Are you fucking kidding me?
I'll close up by covering a few other types of insurance of varying utility.
Consumer Product Insurance - The most obvious sucker insurance
First of all, you should never hold insurance on any consumer product. This includes iPhones, personal electronics and any tangible object you can live without (this includes jewelry). Insuring a rapidly-depreciating object is always a bad idea. I've never seen an example where these were a good deal. Best Buy employees are pushed to sell crappy product service plans. Often, these are merely warranty extensions, a benefit that is attached to most major credit cards anyway.
Mandatory now, and with Obamacare it's generally cheaper to buy a plan than pay the fine. While it is technically possible to self insure, the possibility of catastrophic circumstances makes the need for health insurance compelling. Medical costs are potentially a bottomless pit. Health insurance is absolutely essential. However, if you're young and healthy, you might want to consider a high-deductible plan which I discuss later.
If no one is depending on you, you don't need life insurance. I once met some people who carried whole life insurance on their infant children. Why would you need a payout should your kid die? The advisor who sold it passed it off as some sort of investment that builds cash value. While this might technically be true, burying your money in a can in the backyard is a better way to build cash value.
I'm lumping renter's insurance and property insurance all together.
Would the loss of the property be catastrophic? For most of us, yes. Mortgaged properties require a certain level of replacement insurance. If the loss of your home is catastrophic (usually is, right), carry this insurance. But not too much and preferably with a high-deductible plan.
In situations where you can self-insure via emergency fund, a high-deductible plan is a great way to save money. Because I can afford a $2,000 hit from some hail damage, I'm only going to need home insurance for something catastrophic, like a massive fire. Thus, a five thousand dollar deductible is OK because it drops my premium by 40%. Insurance companies hide these from you because it makes them less money (although they'll still sell you one because some profit is better than no profit). Health insurance is another one where high deductible is the way to go for most healthy people. You only want insurance to kick in when the shit really hits the fan.
Self-Insuring - The Best Thing You Can Do
From the previous car example, you can see that you'll save about ten thousand dollars by not having bumper-to-bumper coverage. That's the price of a pretty nice used car. If you have the discipline not to spend the money, you can save the money in an emergency slush fund. This creates a reserve that allows you to self-insure, paying for the occasional claim from the money you're saving and take advantage of high-deductible plan savings. In my book, it's the emergency fund, not the insurance, that gives real peace of mind.
It's interesting to see how an emergency fund - basically cash that's doing nothing for you - can actually make you money. By self-insuring, you're avoiding death by 1,000 cuts.
Just remember, the next time someone calls to sell you insurance: Safety is an expensive illusion.
The Bachelor (and Bachelorette) are two long-running series where white people and approved minorities romance each other in a highly scripted environment in order to appease the unfulfilled voids (no pun intended) in women everywhere while simultaneously scratching society's voyeuristic itches. My fiancee watches the show every damn season, so I know it pretty well. As an observer detached from the result, I like to think I see it for what it is: terrifying, Orwellian brainwashing.
I am dead serious. Dating reality shows have gradually numbed us to what actual human relationships should consist of.
The Real World (Not the show, the other one)
In normal life, we select mates through a tried and true process. Everyone we meet is quickly sorted into piles. Generally speaking, one of these piles consist of people we're wiling to have sex with. From this deck, we find someone we enjoy spending time with. Then, through natural interaction over a relatively long period of time, feelings develop (or not), eventually (or not) developing into love. This system, while hardly perfect, is a reasonable approach to a complex issue.
ABC's Version: Winners and Trophies
Let's look at the problems with a typical season of The Bachelor:
Incredible lack of parity. Twenty people are going for one person. There's a de facto "winner" and "trophy" model, in which the contestants are, well, competitors fighting over a single human trophy. For the participants, the competition actually seems to block out the larger issue of whether they like the person they've been assigned to romance. All that matters is winning. Just in case this message is too subtle for the average viewer, reality show producers go so far as to create actual competitions, where the competitors (I won't call them suitors) literally fight it out for the affections of the trophy. It's like the Stanford Prison Experiment. Brutal.
The lack of parity between competitors and trophy person is constantly reinforced. For example, the trophy person always acts as though they are personally paying to schlep around 20 people to exotic destinations. What better way to reinforce feelings of indebtedness among the competitors? Also, all the participants live in the same house. While I respect the need to create insane amounts of Machiavellian drama to keep things interesting, sharing a bedroom with one's romantic rivals is bizarre. To win the ultimate prize, one must rise from the barracks like a gladiator of ancient times.
In portraying the protagonists, there is a rigid code of conduct that must be followed throughout the show. Watching The Bachelor, I suspect there is a PA pointing a gun at the dudes in the interview room as men and women confess their undying love for someone they've known for maybe 45 minutes. In the real world, this would be creepy as fuck. Meanwhile, the trophy person is forbidden from publicly displaying any overt feelings, creating another inherent asymmetry and another healthy cornerstone of any relationship.
There are also crazy, beyond-ridiculous double standards when it comes to physical intimacy. The final script of The Bachelo/rette is invariant: The final two competitors have all-day dates, capped by a night of sexual intercourse in what the show oddly refers to as the "Fantasy Suite". Thus, the winner of the show will propose to the trophy person less than 48 hours after the trophy engaged in sexual congress with another person (not a stranger, mind you, but the winner's former roommate). No one blinks at this. (Edit: Susan informed me that there is actually a multi-day delay between the two events. She seemed to think this settled the issue of sexual impropriety). In contrast, competitors are not allowed to dip their wicks in the quest for the prize: On one season of The Bachelor, a girl on the show banged a staffer ("Jake's season", according to Susan, who answered the question with the conviction of an expert witness). And everyone went absolutely apeshit when it was revealed. It was heresy - that a girl in a non-monagamous relationship (who didn't even "win" the show) would cultivate a mature relationship with anyone but the person she was brought in to breed with was unheard of. Meanwhile, the male trophy bops multiple women on television and everyone is proud and weepy.
There are a few odds and ends of creepiness the shows offer. Rigid gender roles, for example. The man is the pursuer, even when he is the trophy (a la The Bachelor) he is the one who is expected to propose. And let's not forget the incredible time compression of relationships either. The winner and trophy go on maybe five dates over a monthlong period before getting engaged. This is especially delicious when you get cringey family reactions t what's going on.
Daughter: I should marry this guy I met three weeks ago as part of a network television show, right?
Dad: (long, wincing pause) Sure.
The dating pool for these shows - where do they find these people? You have to completely withdraw from life/job to be on the show. Regular people cannot simply walk away from their responsibilities to perform on an extended edition of the dating game. People either have to be independently wealthy, bums, crazy, or publicity whores. The penultimate and final group seem to yield the bulk of contestants. Of course the the trophy person is there for TV, but they're the star so you can't accuse them of that (double standards and all). I would love to hear one of the dudes accuse the bachelorette du jour of just doing the show to get on the cover of People. Sadly, all we get are a bunch of people desperate for camera time accuse each other of not "being here for the right reasons."
I could go on, but the really, really disturbing thing about this species of reality TV is that their romantic portrayal of love is accepted by viewers as reality and not as farce. If enough people truly believe in these superficial permutations of love it could conceivably become a new dystopian reality.
Fortunately, some shows have fought back by exposing romance reality shows for the farce that they are. They do this by parody, rolling in The Bachelor's highfalutin' hypocrisy like pigs in shit. And it's easy work - all they do is take The Bachelor's stale format and plug in people who are either too stupid to realize they're a trope or realize it and don't care. In that spirit, I'd like to share a few dating shows that are more reality than The Bachelor/ette ever will be.
Incidentally, most of these are available for free on Youtube.
Flavor of Love (Three Seasons)
This was the dominant force in establishing the ghetto fairy tale romance. Premise: Flava Flav, the untalented fiftysomething hype man ("Yeeaahhh Boyyyy!!!) from Public Enemy was given a dating show*. It was The Bachelor on crack cocaine. As a white person, I am not qualified to say how well they encapsulated the experience, but it was magical to watch the show drunkenly lurch onwards. Flav was too high most of the time to remember names, so each contestant had a nickname like "Thing" and "Delisus" (spelling mostly preserved). Also, the show was obviously made on a shoestring budget. The "dates" the girls would win would be to places like the bowling alley or the skating rink. It was both nostalgic and economical to watch Flav and a hefty girl from Detroit share a plate of curly fries and inhale each other's face. Instead of Chris Hanson/Harrison, Flav's pressure man was Big Rick, a statue-like "butler" whose main job was to be agreeable and slowly break up catfights.
Highlights: Instead of roses, Flav gives out clocks, worn around the neck. In the second season, a girl shat on the floor after getting drunk. At least one girl was kicked out after it was discovered she used to do porn. Someone spits in someone else's face at an elimination, with an ensuing brawl.
Fun fact (with spoiler): Hoopz, the winner from season one, went on to date Shaquille O'Neal. There's a photo of her giving him a piggyback ride floating around the internet.
I Love New York (Two Seasons)
The Flavor of Love people really tested just how far down they could push the standards in this spinoff. They selected the most ghetto, over-the-top drama queen from FoL and gave her her own show. The sidekick in season one is a flamboyant Filipino stylist named Chamo and - when that was deemed to be too offensive (even for this) - he was replaced by a bland white bodyguard for season two. This show spawned a few spinoffs featuring notable contestants, but the luster of the premise hasd faded by then.
Highlights: Second season featured a midget (little person?) and a guy who may have been legitimately retarded. I forget which one of them made it further.
Joe Millionaire (Two Seasons, only one worth watching)
This is the original roll-in-the-dirt reality dating show (that I'm aware of, at least) from 2003. Simple premise: random poorish guy pretends to be a millionaire and a dozen or so gold diggers are brought in to win both his love and (nonexistent) bank account. If I remember correctly, one of the girls ostensibly gives the protagonist a blowie in hopes of winning the prize (and is subsequently eliminated). Sidekick is a fake british butler (I didn't capitalize 'british' because of brexit uncertainty**).
These shows actively reveal the utter lunacy of mainstream dating/reality shows. And, by virtue of them fighting back, they have earned my respect (to a degree). To watch them is to honor the true reality of love.
*Flav's renaisance was triggered following the development of his bizarre sexual relationship with Brigitte Neilson during The Surreal Life. You know, this was really the golden age of VH1.
**Apparently the butler was actually Australian. Budget issues, probably. The pound was stronger back then.
Assange has been trapped in the Ecaudorian embassy in London for five years now, long enough for them to make a movie about the situation. Here is a quick rundown of what happened: Assange (and some other folks whose name everyone but the NSA has forgotten) shit out a bunch of classified documents they'd hacked. People in high places got embarrassed. Someone needed to be blamed. Assange drew the short straw. An few iffy sexual assault charges cropped up in Sweden where, if Assange was to show up and face them, could lead to his extradition to the US, where he could face the death penalty for his actions.
After spending 12 million pounds on guard duty, in 2015 London police claimed that they've stopped posting officers on the building... which is exactly what I would say if I wanted to draw him out. C'mon Julian - just step outside for a ciggie, Nothing to see here.
Whether you agree or disagree with what Julian did, it's time for this farce to end. Spending half a decade in a building seems punishment enough. It's time to let it slide. But since no one seems able to let this go, there needs to be a daring escape attempt.
Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.