christmas 2008

A progress report at the quarter (of a year) pole

It's been three months since I hired in started working at Cooper Tire and Rubber Company. They have been three topsy turvy months, to say the least. It's not just a mixed bag - it's a highly agitated one.

Upon arriving into this plant, and for the first month afterward, I was assigned to train in "materials/assembly," colloquially known as the "tire room." That's the part of the plant where skilled workers assemble the layers of rubber into a shape that somewhat resembles a tire. But all of a sudden, while we were shut down around Independence Day, I was shifted into a different department - "curing." Seeing that word might make you think of the treatment of a disease, or of the process that turns ordinary pork bellies into delicious bacon. But when you're talking about tires, it's something completely different. It's the cooking of those "green" tires at high temperature and pressure to get them up to the shape and strength where they can be fitted onto a vehicle. Let me particularly emphasize the words "high temperature" in the last sentence. In these dog days of summer, temperatures into the triple digits are not uncommon on the floor - and they soar ever higher when you're going to the top of a press to replace a proximity switch. So the conditions in this plant, to say the least, aren't exactly ideal.

I don't recall whether it was asked in Norfolk or Findlay, but during the interview process, I was asked whether I was willing to work in dirt and heat. I answered yes, having been advised by Orion International not to give a potentially disqualifying response - and of course, wanting to best position myself for an offer. But there's a difference between "willing to" and "wanting to," and the latter just isn't there. This truth made itself clear within two weeks of starting here. It's not just the reality of these conditions hitting me squarely in the face. It's remembering that I went back to college after leaving the Navy, and got a bachelor's degree, so that I would not have to endure such conditions. The uniforms are light blue shirts with dark blue pants. Since we're on call, there can be long periods of monotony, without much to stimulate, punctuated my moments of action, which put all my knowledge and training to the test. Dear readers, does this sound familiar? I say again, does this sound familiar? (All right, so maybe it isn't quite that bad.)

With respect to the late great Billy Mays... but wait, there's more! I don't recall anyone mentioning in the interview process that this job provides zero - that's right, ZERO - paid vacation time in the first year, and only one week in each of years two and three. I don't recall hearing that the company locked out the local union for three months right after Thanksgiving 2011, with the taste in both sides' mouths still bitter even now. And I most certainly don't recall hearing anything, from the company or other sources, threatening Cooper's future as an independent firm. On June 12, the game changed on that front. Apollo Tyres of Gurgaon, India, executed an agreement to buy Cooper. While some minor roadblocks have appeared in the way, none of the parties who truly have standing to object (that is, the regulators and the shareholders) seem likely to do so. And so the solid ground onto which I thought I was stepping when I accepted this job offer is shifting under my feet, and I'm not sure what the future is here.

The circumstances I've described in the last two paragraphs have made me apprehensive about putting down roots here permanently. To be clear, the problem isn't Findlay. I like this city and its people. But I can't feel comfortable committing in the long term to this place, or to a relationship here, without being sure that Cooper is where I expect to be in the long term - to say nothing of whether Cooper and/or Apollo expect to be in Findlay in the long term. And of course, there's also the second game changer. You know, the one I described in my last post. The passing of my father has me questioning whether I should try to get back toward the East Coast, to be closer to my family.

I want to close out by highlighting the positive. Cooper's response to Dad's death was stellar. They paid for the two days of my regular shift I missed, and the electricians sent a floral arrangement, even though I gave them nothing more than the name, city, and state of the funeral home. This past weekend, I changed over to the night shift. I don't have enough data to fully evaluate the transition, but the early returns indicate that it'll be better on my body than was the day shift. That changeover also broke in my favor in another way; I stayed on the same rotation, which clears the way for me to travel to Ithaca for Grand Bonecoming 2013 in two and a half weeks. And the two most important positives... (a) each shift in the tire plant gives me more experience and makes me more comfortable that I'll be able to perform to the expectations Cooper had when they hired me; and (b) I'm getting paid, thus stanching the outflow of money from my bank account. Even if only a transition to something else, my time here has not been entirely for naught.
christmas 2008

This is too wrong, and most certainly too soon

Francis T. Carberry. July 15, 1947 — August 19, 2013.

The first bad email arrived on the Tuesday before last. Dad had been taken to hospice. The email didn't say anything beyond that. I called Mom and she said he'd be back home in five days. The next email came two days later... medicine injections via the tongue. The following day, Friday... Dad's not coming home after all. It's a matter of time. But I didn't have to come home yet. We spoke two days later, just after lunch, and she didn't have a better estimate. I figured, from the facts I'd had thus far, it was down to days.

It turned out to be thirteen hours.

I was expecting a normal day off from work this past Monday; I'd even had a few beers on Sunday night. As I was settling down to bed, I heard the Super Mario Bros. power-up sound. Who the hell is texting me this late? I grabbed the phone, saw it was from John, and got the worst piece of news I've ever gotten in my 32-plus years.

At that point, I was running on adrenaline, but conflicted. I couldn't sleep and wanted to pack, but I knew I needed to sleep, because I had a long drive ahead of me the next day - and also, I couldn't inform Cooper of this until the day shift came in anyway. So I did a bit of packing, got to sleep a few hours later, finished in the morning, squared everything away at the tire plant, and finally got on the road to New York around 10:15. As I drove, I was comforted by seeing so many comments on Facebook to the picture that you see above.

Mom was doing pretty well when I reached Northport. But I knew that everything could go to shit over the following two days. Especially when I got to the funeral home on Tuesday afternoon, and saw Dad lying there, looking like he was sleeping, but knowing he wasn't. He's not getting up. He's never getting up. That day was made much easier by seeing so many family and friends, including many I hadn't seen in quite a long time. Between the two viewing sessions, we went to dinner at the Ship's Inn in downtown Northport. As we rounded the final curve of Main Street and came within sight of the harbor, we collectively realized a massive miscalculation. A Tuesday night in August meant the "Family Fun Night" street fair was in full effect. Not only would we be detoured, but we'd have a hell of a time finding parking. I recalled that Dad would have surely warned us about this... had he been around.

We Carberrys are not especially religious folk, and so a funeral Mass, or the equivalent in the other major world religions, was not held. The funeral home director simply led us in the Lord's Prayer, we paid our final respects, and processed eastward to Calverton National Cemetery. Dad was laid to rest with Air Force military honors, performed expertly, and at my urging, with his putter alongside him.

The rest of Wednesday, and the whole of the last two days, have been spent relaxing and recuperating from all this. I saw Ryan Wednesday night, and we ran through all of this, as well as some other problems we both share, not to mention some excellent wine and beer. I've also been helping Mom with paperwork, of which there is a fair bit. But with everything and everybody doing about as well as we can be, I intend to get on the road back west tomorrow afternoon, so as to allow me a full day of rest back in Findlay before returning to work at Cooper early on Monday morning.

The certificate of death listed glioblastoma as the ultimate cause. Inputting that term into Wikipedia yielded a balance of welcome and unwelcome information. The annual infection rate for this type of tumor is estimated at two to three per hundred thousand. To put that in perspective, in a city the size of Findlay, Ohio, one person per year would have this particular form of cancerous mutation. The Wikipedia article also mentioned one study indicating alcohol consumption may be a risk factor. That, along with the knowledge that he drank at least a Budweiser or two daily, was a bit unsettling. On the other hand, there appears to be no genetic predisposition for glioblastoma. This shit just happens. For a very small number of people, the dice come up snake eyes, and my Dad was one of them. They get this, and so from healthy and happy to gone in what seems like the snap of a finger. The other thing I saw gave me faith and comfort in the decisions the doctors had taken. Based on the median survival rates, chemotherapy - which had been foregone in Dad's case - would have bought him one more year, and in nothing resembling the condition in which he had lived his first sixty-five and three-fourths years. When I saw him lying peacefully on Tuesday, I took solace in the fact that he was no longer suffering as he had in the final four months of his life - and also in the fact that the cancer had run its course relatively quickly, and not left him with a lengthy period of pain.

So many of the people I've spoken to this week told me that Dad constantly mentioned how proud he was of all three of his children. As I paid my final respects two days ago, I told him I couldn't wait for him to see how proud I'd make him in the future. It's a tall order, but I can't think of any more worthwhile.
christmas 2008

Rationality ultimately prevailed.

I just went to the convenience store around the corner from my apartment to pick up some beer. I settled on an unfamiliar brew, Third Shift Amber Lager. I did not see a price marking on the freezer door. When I went to the cashier to be rung out, she said, "that'll be $6.91, please."

I stared at the number in green seven-segment displays on the register. It brought a moment of pause, and thoughts of a place that is hopefully well on its way to conversion to razor blades (with one section being sealed and transported to a remote site in Washington State). A place that I repeatedly called the "Submersible Death Trap" on this very blog. I very briefly reconsidered... perhaps this is a sign that I should put the beer back on the shelf and make another selection?

But I laughed at myself for the thought, pulled the necessary cash from my wallet, and went home. The number is just a number, nothing more. And the beer is most tasty, well worth the low price.
christmas 2008

Snowden/NSA surveillance roundup

Glenn Greenwald's revelations in The Guardian -- about the FISA court's blanket order to turn over phone metadata to the NSA, about the cooperation between the NSA and tech companies through PRISM, and the revelation of Edward Snowden as the source -- have shocked the nation and the world and energized a long-needed debate about the scope of the security state. I take the tack that Snowden acts are patriotic, especially given how he'd be demonized and now hunted. When I watched Snowden's interview with Greenwald, I was impressed by his explanations of his motives. I was also surprised that he cracked wise about the CIA possibly paying off Hong Kong's Triads to disappear him.

Snowden isn't the only one giving us moments of comedy over this. The "Bipartisan Hysteria Tour" kicked off with Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss playing the Senate press briefing room. That was followed up by the President saying that he welcomes the debate on surveillance, as he simultaneously argues that the disclosure that is a condition predicate to having two sides to that debate is a grave threat to national security. A brief mention also to Peter King -- not the football analyst, but the Congressman from the district next to where I grew up -- for his comments that Greenwald should be prosecuted alongside Snowden. Reason's Mike Riggs points out the delicious hypocrisy: "Reminder: Peter King, Who Wants to Arrest Glenn Greenwald, Is an Actual Supporter of Terrorism."

They say that life imitates art, and the combined entity of Newsweek and The Daily Beast provides a couple of examples. "Is Privacy Dead?" was the title of a Newsweek cover story -- from July 1970. And as the Beast reminds us, the world of constant surveillance was foretold when Google was in its infancy and before the existence of social media and iPhones. Enemy of the State was released fifteen years ago.

The cake goes to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Cato's Julian Sanchez: "Apparently, [Clapper] decided that because he didn't like the question, that he was entitled not to decline to answer, but to lie to Congress, and to the American people watching that hearing..." Jim Harper said the same thing, and also reminds us that the Verizon order is nothing less than a general warrant, which were supposed to be consigned to the dustbin of history by the Fourth Amendment. Clapper pulled some Clinton-style trickery of language, arguing that the NSA doesn't "collect" data by obtaining it from those who hold it, because collection doesn't occur until it's converted to human-readable form and analyzed. In a just and sane world, Clapper's head would be the the first to roll. In the world we actually live in, he's covered in the same Teflon that John Gotti was once upon a time.

Two last things. One, Greenwald recommended a Kirsten Powers column about the smear campaign against Snowden by the professional political class, and I do as well. Finally, whenever a person or story captures the national consciousness, Reason will bring in Remy to to a parody video. This time, it's the hilarious "Tap It: The NSA Slow Jam."

christmas 2008

Anatomy of a three state move

It's been almost three weeks since I executed my move from Long Island to northwest Ohio. Here's how it went down.

Wednesday, May 22
My brother met me at 7:55, and we arrived at the U-Haul place a few minutes after eight. The proprietor was happy about this, being as previous customers said they'd be there in the first half hour, and showed up hours later. John (of John's Garage) showed me everything I needed to know to drive the truck, and set the mirrors for me, since they were non-powered. Then John (my brother) followed me to the storage facility, where we unloaded my unit in a little over an hour.

My brother then followed me back to the house, which was helpful because he backed the truck into our driveway. After that, he took off, after graciously refusing a twenty for his work. It took me another couple of hours to get all the remaining things into the truck, since they weren't all packed at that time; plus, I ate lunch. At 1:20, I rolled the truck out of Northport. The toughest part of the trip, at least the part I'd be accomplishing on this day, was the first. Getting the truck through New York City, with its highway use restrictions, putting it in the right toll lane, and traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Once I cleared the city, it was smooth sailing, until I had to put fuel in the truck. Whenever I fill up my car, I take note of the dollar limit per swipe at the pump, knowing I'll never run up against it unless gas prices rise dramatically. With the U-Haul I did hit that limit, and didn't come close to filling the truck's tank. After that, I just kept going into Pennsylvania, with the intent of making a stop for dinner and then going until the truck needed gas again. Both those things happened late in the evening. I stopped in Barkeyville, PA, for most likely both the first and last time in my life, checked into the Motel 6 there, and bedded down for the night.

Thursday, May 23
Just before lunchtime on Wednesday, I got a call from the property manager of my new apartment complex; she said she had a business meeting in Toledo, and wouldn't be back in Findlay until 3:00. Knowing this allowed me to get a late start, leaving around 10:00. I made two stops - one for lunch, and another for a brief rest on Interstate 71. At that point, I saw this lovely paper:

Ah, the kids. I got to Findlay about 2:20, and fortunately for me, the office was open. I signed the lease, paid the balance of rent and security deposit, and took the keys. Just after three, I walked into this:

It took me ninety minutes to unload the truck, but that was the easy part. Unpacking was the more substantial part of the operation. I threw myself into it fully, because I didn't have Internet and TV set up in the place. Dinner that evening consisted of a can of tomato soup and some saltines, which I had brought with me from New York. I didn't expect to be going out again that evening, especially considering my mode of transportation was a U-Haul truck. And yet, I did make a run up to Wal-Mart that night. The assembly of furniture was the primary goal of the evening; the various articles had been sitting in the storage unit for years. Luckily, I hadn't disassembled them to the point where I couldn't put the back together easily. At the end of that night, the living room looked like this:

Friday, May 24
After more furniture assembly and unpacking in the morning, I returned the U-Haul around noon. Not bringing it back after hours the previous night turned out to be a wise move, as I brought it back with less fuel than it had to have. When I took it out to get gas, I briefly got lost. After I surrendered the truck's keys, I walked through town to pick up the rental car I'd have for the next day. The rest of the day was spent getting things in place and going through papers. I saw some things that had been hidden for a long time, among them things related to previous residence in Connecticut and New Hampshire, and a keychain-sized card for the Borders Rewards club. By the end of Friday, I had gotten the apartment to a condition resembling habitability:

Saturday, May 25
I needed a rental car for Saturday morning's drive from Findlay to the Detroit Metro International Airport, from which I flew to New York to retrieve my own car. Two snags happened here. The first was that the attendant checking cars in outside couldn't process my car, meaning I had to check in at the counter. There were two attendants, both occupied, and two customers ahead of me. I was, though silently, quite perturbed, knowing I'd probably be in that line at least fifteen minutes - and was. I was thankful I built an extra half hour into my plans, in addition to the normal sixty minutes of lead time required to clear security. I made the flight, but was quite hungry when the first leg touched down in Philadelphia. I barely had time to grab lunch at the terminal at PHL before getting on the same plane for the turbulent second leg to LGA. As Mom drove back out to Long Island, I kept myself posted on the NCAA lacrosse semifinal between Cornell and Duke. The game was close at the half. We arrived home early in the third quarter, just in time to see Duke take control of the contest. Thankfully, Cornell had the will to fight back and close the deficit to one late in the game, but couldn't make it all the way back. It was a sad ending to the career of Rob Pannell; the Tewaaraton trophy he won the following week is cold comfort.

Sunday, May 26
This was a restful day. I had lunch with Ryan, followed by a trip to Ikea to get a bookcase that matched the one I already have. I visited my father one last time, and dealt with the second snag from Saturday - I'd left the suction mount from my GPS unit on the windshield of the rental car, and needed to buy a replacement. The evening was spent getting the car packed and ready.

Monday, May 27
Leaving mid-morning on Memorial Day was an outstanding idea on my part; the normally atrocious traffic in the Bronx was non-existent that morning. There was exactly one stop for gas and lunch, but other than that, my butt was in the driver's seat and my foot was on the pedal throughout. Including the stops, I covered the six hundred plus miles in less than nine and a half hours.

Everything went smoothly with the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles and the AT&T U-verse setup. So too was it with my orientation with Cooper at the start of last week. As would be the case with any new job, I feel lost a lot of the time around equipment I barely understand. But I'm sticking with it, and gradually coming up to speed. I'll certainly feel even better about it toward the end of this week, when Cooper deposits money into my bank account for the first time. The job got even a bit more real this afternoon, when my mailbox contained a prospectus from Principal. I've had the past couple of days off, but it's back to the grind tomorrow, and back to the learning process.
christmas 2008

This is big too, but bad

Probably the worst of my first 31 birthdays was five years ago, when I had duty in the shipyard and Memphis lost shore power. No. 32 easily surpasses that as memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I was woken up that morning one month ago to the news that my father had been taken to the emergency room after falling as he arrived at work. The tests revealed something on his brain. Dad went under the knife to remove it two days later; it was later revealed to be a malignant tumor. He spent two weeks in the hospital, when he was discharged to an inpatient rehab facility, where he has been ever since.

He has had some trouble coming to grips with the enormity of what happened. Every time I went to visit him, whether in the hospital or in rehab, he communicated an unyielding desire to leave. Everyone on our family expected that would happen eventually. We expected that there would be chemo, and that he would make a recovery.

Those expectations were turned on their head last Wednesday. The doctor told Mom that there the surgery didn't get all the tumors. They're in both sides of his brain. It wouldn't even be worth it to do chemo. They'll try to make him as comfortable as possible, but it's only a matter of time before he passes, a couple of months at most.

I'm doing pretty well with it, all things considered. Bad things happen to good people. Cells can mutate in ways that aren't necessarily possible to predict or prevent. I don't need to spend time asking myself why God would allow something like this to happen, because I believe it more likely than not that there isn't a "big guy upstairs." The biggest question that I had to wrestle with was, how does this, or should this, affect the big changes going on in my life? Did I need to ask Cooper Tire for more time? At the time Dad first went into the hospital, with the thought that he would still have a good bit of time left, the answer was "no." After last Wednesday, however, I had to ask mom that question directly. She advised me to go ahead and start as planned on Monday, and so I will, although I did advise Cooper of the situation.

I'll post something soon about the move and with some pictures of the new apartment. Until then, as far as Dad's condition is concerned, the thing to do is to stay positive and focus on doing the best I can with the things I am able to control.

christmas 2008

Well, this is big

When I left off about the job search, I mentioned that I had a live prospect. Hmm, which analogy shall I use... OK, the slot machine. The three bars have come up, and the machine is paying out. In real world terms, now that it's signed, sealed, delivered, and locked up and/or locked down: I've accepted a job offer from Cooper Tire and Rubber Company as a Maintenance Electrician, starting June 3. Consequently, I'll be moving to Findlay, Ohio.

The interview with Cooper happened the week after the hiring conference in Norfolk. I flew in on a Monday, met five other candidates, took a multiple choice test, and then we all had dinner with several of the maintenance staff. On Tuesday, we got a tour of the plant, each of us did interviews, and then we flew back home. Since we flew into and out of Dayton, we actually had a limo transport us the hour and a half each way to and from Findlay. I think it's the first time I've ever been in a limousine (we had a stretch van to get to and from the high school prom). During the trip back to Dayton, I got an email saying that Cooper had made me an offer. By the time we reached the airport, we learned that five of the six of us were similarly fortunate.

But that was three and a half weeks ago. What happened? A lot of confusion on my end, for one thing. I returned all the paperwork and went to a local clinic to have a sample taken for drug screening. When I got there, the clinic didn't have the test kit for me. I was in the process of writing an email to Cooper to ask them what was going on, when in walks the FedEx delivery man -- and sure enough, he had the kit. But that wasn't the only possible snag. Having a Navy background, I thought that the test would be a urinalysis. I hadn't consumed a lot of liquid expecting this, but that's just how I thought it would go. Not so much. They wanted a sample of my hair, not my pee pee. The screener wondered aloud where he would cut; I keep my hair very short, but fortunately for me, it was towards the back end of the haircut cycle, and the lab was able to analyze the hair, and found it clean as a whistle, of course.

The next Monday (April 22) I got an email from Cooper about that and also about the expense reimbursement (parking and mileage to and from LaGuardia Airport). That was the last communication I had from them for over two weeks. I became a bit concerned during this time, wondering if some unknown snag had been hit that was holding up the process. I e-mailed them last Wednesday -- no answer. I got a call from Orion International on Friday -- told them I had no start date. They did some digging, and it turned out that the plant had shut down and a lot of people were occupied with that. Everything got sorted out two days ago, and we nailed down the start date this morning. Phew.

The lengthy interval prior to today's confirmation allowed me some time to accomplish some preliminary logistics regarding the move. I had an idea of where I wanted to rent... and after searching a little deeper over the last few days, I have a different idea of where I want to rent. Actually executing this thing over the next 24 days? That'll be a little more taxing. I expect to be going out there next week to look over places. I could give you a bunch of details, but here's the TL;DR version: I expect to be spending a lot of time in the car next week. And possibly a lot of time in a rented truck. I haven't decided whether or not to employ a moving company. If I don't, it'll almost certainly be a one-man show -- there are presently extenuating circumstances in my family that likely render them essentially unable to assist.

So, what do I think about moving to northwestern Ohio? Am I excited about it? You're darned right I am! The literature I received at the hiring conference said that Findlay was a suburb of Toledo. That's not quite true, as the two cities are about an hour apart. But Findlay is a sizable city in its own right, about 40,000. The people from Cooper had a lot of great things to say, and the parts of the city I saw (which were limited by my not having my own transportation) looked pretty nice. Everything is less expensive, especially housing. As much as I love Long Island, I'm ready for a change, and I think this will be a good one for me.
christmas 2008

Don't let the door hit you on the way out, Mikey

Politicker: Bloomberg Says Interpretation of Constitution Will ‘Have to Change’ After Boston Bombing

"We know there are people who want to take away our freedoms."
And happily for the citizens of Gotham, one of them is term-limited out of office in a little more than eight months.

Still, Mr. Bloomberg argued the attacks shouldn’t be used as an excuse to persecute certain religions or groups.
Of course not! Restrictions on liberty will be applied broadly and equally across all groups. Or... perhaps not.

Good riddance, Bloomberg.
christmas 2008

Four marathon days.

You know about the prank I pulled off without really meaning to on the first of this month. What was not a prank was the e-mail I got from a recruiter a couple of hours before, asking if I was interested in what he had available. Over the next few days, I talked with a number of different recruiters at Orion International, which specializes in the placement of veterans. The central thrust of everything going on was that they were hosting a hiring conference which would have a couple dozen companies, including one looking only for nuclear-trained Navy veterans (company X). The drawback: The conference was outside of Norfolk. The following Sunday and Monday. But at this point, I figured why not?

Last Saturday, I got up at 6:30. That wasn't to leave, it was to get in an exercise walk before leaving. I didn't expect to have time to walk while I was in Virginia, and thus didn't even bring the workout gear. I left just before 9, and thanks to traffic in Queens and going through Manhattan, I wasn't out of the city by 11. After that, it was mostly smooth sailing, with only a tiny bit of traffic in Washington. That said, all that driving was exhausting. Once I arrived and checked in, it was nothing but dinner and basketball watching.

On Sunday, we had to be there at 7:30, with the schedule getting underway at 8. I was staying at a Red Roof Inn just down the street from the Embassy Suites where the conference took place. Driving the short distance proved problematic; in addition to the conference attendees, all the Embassy's guests from Saturday night were still present and parked. I had to drive back to the Red Roof and walk over. The morning consisted of interview coaching, followed by lunch while I took a test requested by one of the companies. After lunch, the presentations began. Some were made by the hiring managers who would conduct the interviews the following day; in the cases where they hadn't arrived in town yet, Orion's account executives presented the companies. At the start of the day, each candidate got a sheet listing the companies Orion had thought would be a good match. At around 4:00, we had to rank our preferences, even though the presentations hadn't been completed yet -- they went for another two hours.

The schedule of interviews was drawn up by the conference organizers on Sunday night; we didn't get it in our hands until Monday morning. As I looked over mine, I noticed a problem right away. Company X was on a different schedule of interview slots than all the others, and I had overlapping interviews. This was fixed right away, though I lost one interview. I did six interviews for five companies, and I walked out satisfied that something positive would happen. Unfortunately, within two hours of departing, I was texted with the news that Company X elected not to bring me forward. This briefly got to me, so much that I didn't want to go have dinner initially. I began to seriously think that I might have gone 0-for-5 and this trip would end up being for naught. But I relaxed, and sent out thank-you messages to the other companies.

Tuesday was the fourth consecutive day with an alarm sounding at 6:30. I'd pre-positioned everything I could in my car the night before, to minimize the number of trips down there in the morning. I needed to make a quick stop at the Wal-Mart; I needed some ice for my Coca-Cola (the machine at the Red Roof was broken) and a tube of sunblock (since the tube I bought last fall ended up in a trash can at MacArthur Airport when I flew to Phoenix three months ago -- thanks so much, TSA!). I had the misfortune of being behind a lady whose credit card was declined and had some trouble extracting money from an ATM. After about three minutes of that, the clerk canceled her order out and rang me through; of course, just as the clerk did that, the lady started walking back from the ATM.

Unlike the trip down on Saturday, I had no intention of using Interstates 64 and 95, instead using the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and driving up the Delmarva Peninsula. As soon as I got onto I-64 east, I saw a sign saying it was backed up. Thus I diverted to I-664. I quickly learned: Every bridge and tunnel in the Hampton Roads is backed up around 7:30 on a Tuesday morning. It's comparable to New York City, without any of the things that make the Big Apple awesome. It took a lot of patience and careful navigation thanks to the GPS to get to the CBBT, but from there, it was clear. By the time I reached central New Jersey, I completely deferred to the Garmin and its route recommendations. I would normally be inclined to go through Staten Island and Brooklyn; instead, I went all the way up to the George Washington Bridge, which was much faster. I finally arrived at 4 p.m., and had fully intended to go walking when I got home. Those intentions evaporated about ten steps up my driveway, when it fully hit me how physically and mentally exhausted I was. The coup de grace of that trip came after I came back from getting dinner about an hour later. I passed my mom in the driveway, and instead of greeting me or asking how the trip was, the first thing out of her mouth was, "can you check on the state tax refund?" Yes, the problem of the refund not having arrived yet is my responsibility, since I did the taxes for my parents this year. But the timing of that question was so awful that I brushed it off. Dropping a problem in my lap after I've been driving all day is NOT the best way to get me to deal with it. (I did check about half an hour later.)

While I was driving back on Tuesday, I got a call from one of the account executives, saying that one of the companies wanted to move forward. I'm flying out to their facility for a final interview early next week. In a series of calls yesterday, I learned that the other companies had all elected to pass, for various reasons; one thought I would be a "flight risk" -- that is, I was probably overqualified for the positions they were offering. But at least there remains one live prospect. Whether or not it pans out, the trip was worthwhile. The interview coaching and experience was helpful, as was the résumé rework that happened prior to the conference. It certainly was better than the process of "apply and wait" that has marked most of the last few months.
christmas 2008

More McArdle.

Megan wrote two more posts that caught my eye last night. Number one: responding to an op-ed by a high school senior in The Wall Street Journal full of lovely snark. Fourteen years ago tomorrow, I received a big fat envelope with a thick (or you might say, BIG) red folder heralding my acceptance to Cornell. (Yes, I still have it.) After reading Weiss's piece and McArdle's response, I question whether the Son of God himself would have the credentials for admission to the elite American colleges these days. I feel damn certain that I wouldn't. With a couple of extracurriculars, and a very-good-but-not-great SAT -- I don't see how I'd make it into the Class of 2017 on the East Hill. (Perhaps one other big thing was that now, as then, if Cornell made the offer, I'd take it and not look back.)

I'm going to exploit Cornell as an example here, because I'm most familiar with its policies and its numbers. This year, the number of applications cracked the 40,000 barrier. Acceptances were just over 6,000, for an admit rate a hair over 15 percent. And yet some of the Cornell Daily Sun commenters consider that an abomination, a sign that we're losing ground to the rest of the Ivy League and the other peer institutions. I shudder to think of how they'd perceive the Cornell of a decade or more ago. The acceptance rate in 1999, the year I was admitted, was 32.9 percent. Just ten years ago, it was 31%. CU's Undergraduate Admissions Office has more than halved that number since, and it's still too high? Get off the high horse and get back to studying.

The now essentially defunct MetaEzra long drove home the point that the admit rate, in and of itself, doesn't say anything about whether and how the admission standards are changing. Let's say you get 100 applicants and accept 30. If you double the pool to 200, but all the additional applicants are less qualified than the previously worst, while still admitting 30, you've cut the admission rate in half without raising the quality of the admitted class. Without knowing how the underlying factors have shifted, you can't necessarily draw hard conclusions from only applications and acceptances.

Further, let me draw an analogy to the calls to fire the hockey coach: if you're advocating a policy change, you need to state the alternative. Here, that means giving us a means to drive that admit rate down even further. Two years ago, Matt Nagowski warned us against trying to fiddle with it so much. And in a comment to that post, I made a point I'll restate here -- that I'm inclined to think Cornell has already done plenty to drop its admit rate, possibly with one single policy change. Let's go to the numbers -- or at least, a pictorial representation of them:

The blue line (applications) hovers roughly constant for about twenty years, never dipping below 19K or rising above 22K. And then it climbs drastically, forcing the acceptance rate down in turn (acceptances haven't really moved much, as the target class size of 3,000 has remained roughly constant, except for a few years during the recent economic downturn).

I stumbled across the piece of information that I think might explain this. Late in my time in the Navy, I was often asked whether I'd go back to Cornell. Shortly after I got out, I knew I wouldn't, but if I had, would it be different from high school? Sure enough, it is. Back then, Cornell was not a member of the Common Application consortium. But it is now. When did that switch happen? In the summer of 2004, effective for the 2004-05 admission cycle -- in other words, just when the application flood gates opened. The standard research disclaimer about correlation not implying causation applies here, but what else might there be?

To come back to the point I made in the second paragraph, it's preposterous to think that the Cornell I attended ten years ago, or the Penn that McArdle attended twenty years ago, are lesser versions of their current selves because they rejected a lower percentage of their applicants back then. The drive to go to the top of the standings for percentage of applicants rejected seems to me little more than a play to the rankings that these schools proudly proclaim to ignore. Whatever benefits may have accrued to the institutions are far outweighed by the costs imposed on their applicants as the treadmill that represents this rat race is ramped up ever faster.

After all that, briefly on to the Princeton mom who implored that institution's undergraduate women to seek husbands. I'm torn between instinct and experience here. On one side, I find it a repellent thought that one should jump through all the hoops required to gain acceptance to Princeton or another school of that ilk, and then upon arrival, put the pursuit of the M.R.S. above that of the bachelor's.

That's the instinct. One piece of the experience is a classmate of mine at Hofstra who married prior to the start of her final semester, at age 21. She embodies just the principle that McArdle espouses -- don't let age hold you back from pulling the trigger if you know you've got the right match. In addition to that, there's the phenomenon of "bandcest." That's the tendency of members of the Cornell Big Red Band to date within the band... and quite often, to marry within it. From the time I attended Cornell and played in the band, I know of at least a dozen band couples who tied the knot (and remain happily married after varying numbers of years). Their experiences lead me to believe that Patton has a good point -- although she stated it embarrassingly and perhaps inelegantly.

Also, pressure to marry pops up again at 35 for guys? Crap! That's only a little more than three years away! Unless, of course, my next employment takes me to the South, in which case the pressure to marry would no doubt kick in before I'm finished settling in.

Last, and presented without comment, Monday's Cato Daily Podcast: Does HHS Secretary Sebelius Understand Insurance? (All right, minimal comment -- no, she doesn't.)