Coffee Break [14/6/21]

Your mid-morning pick me up

Magawa, the explosives-sniffing rat is retiring. He has saved countless lives during his five-year career by identifying over one hundred buried explosive devices in Cambodia. And is the first rat ever to receive a medal from the British People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals for life-saving bravery and devotion to duty. Twenty newly trained rats have been imported from Tanzania to continue Magawa’s work.

He intends to enjoy his well-earned rest by eating peanuts and bananas. I wish him well. Are you making retirement plans, Deadsplinters?



  1. Yes, a farm with rescue animals and growing lavender and indigo – some of our friends have already requested space – all are welcome. Just need to get a long show so I can buy the farm now. 

  2. I’ll be restarting my teaching and freelance writing careers. While I started out ages ago as a copywriter, over the years writing shifted into a side hustle and not the main focus of any of my jobs. Teaching was always a side hustle for me, since full-time professor slots are extremely hard to come by. But adjunct professors are always needed, and it’s generally pretty congenial if you’re not trying to make a living at it (that is, cobbling together adjunct jobs at 3 or 4 community colleges to make ends meet). 
    Mostly I just don’t want to sit around in retirement and not feel useful or engaged. 

  3. When my daughter was an undergrad she worked retail with a couple of adjunct professors. It’s one of the main reasons she went the research instead of academic route. But it would be a nice second chapter gig.

    • One of the dirty secrets of higher education in the US is that it is almost completely fueled by adjunct professors. On average, about 50% of faculty at colleges and universities are adjunct rather than full-time. 
      Reasons are obvious: No benefits. It’s a cheap way for colleges to staff up without spending more. After all, you don’t need a teacher if the class doesn’t “make” (our slang for get enough students registered) so it’s all variable cost. If there’s not enough students the college has no cash outlay, and if there is, the college pockets the difference between adjunct pay and tuition (It’s not quite that simple because classrooms etc. do cost money, but it’s not much more complicated than that). Colleges cap the number of classes you can teach (typically 3) to keep you under the full-time threshold so they don’t have to pay benefits. But that’s not enough for even a single person to live on, much less a family.
      Full-time opportunities are extremely scarce unless you’re in a very specialized field (say biochemistry, or physics). So around here a lot of wannabee professors try to teach 2-3 classes at 2-3 different schools so they can pay their bills and eat, too. In the in-person days, they were called “freeway flyers” because they drove (often long distances) to get to classes. I presume it’s easier now with the strong surge in virtual education, but I’m kind of out of the loop there.
      There’s an increasing movement among adjuncts to unionize, because, let’s face it, those people are getting screwed (seriously, an adjunct-taught class is almost pure profit, particularly if it’s virtual). But based on that business model, the college is vulnerable.
      Mostly because you can’t run your universities if 50% of your teachers don’t show up. The college I most recently taught at was trying to organize, but I had to give up teaching when I started traveling for work (I’m an in-person kind of guy — I started the training program for online instruction but then things got super-pandemic-busy at work and I didn’t finish). I don’t think I’ll be traveling now but I haven’t checked into teaching again. 
      To stem unionization, many colleges have started offering “access” to benefits, so you could potentially buy health care at a lower rate, but a lot found Obamacare to be cheaper. I’ve no idea where that stands now, either. 
      So to sum up, I’m the ideal adjunct. I have a full-time job with benefits and I just teach because I like to teach. But I can’t work during standard business hours, which are still the most popular time to take classes. So daytime adjuncting is largely left to retirees who are on Medicare and don’t need benefits. 
      It’s an interesting subculture. Adjunct faculty meetings are bizarre — you’ve got people who are clearly unable to function in broader society and have managed to carve out a niche teaching (often online) all the way to professionals in suits. Lots of bright-eyed kids who haven’t figured out the system is rigged against them. And when the English teachers find out I worked as a professional writer, who actually got paid to write, they badger me relentlessly for ways to “break in.”

        • @bryanlsplinter  Hey, however long it takes to explain is fine by me. I live in a town with a fairly good sized university as well as a smaller liberal arts and community college. The same poor adjuncts are working at all three. After taking out loans to get degrees at schools doing the same thing. Meanwhile the coaches are raking it in. It’s almost like America doesn’t respect education.

          • Yeah, a lot of folks don’t realize what they’re getting into, particularly people who major in liberal arts. Full disclosure — I am one of those people and managed to blunder my way into a career but a lot of it was purely accidental, even though I can explain my way through my resume and come out looking very organized. 
            There was a proposal floated here in Florida to limit our Bright Futures scholarships (basically, these can cover up to 100% of your tuition at a state school if you have the grades and meet some requirements). The Legislature wanted to limit the program to “degrees that lead directly to jobs.” 
            Now, understand that the Florida Legislature is Republican-controlled and is filled with scum, grifters, sex traffickers, and bootlicking Trump worshippers. Nonetheless, I have some sympathy for their position in this particular area. A lot of kids can get into and through college without any sort of career counseling. It’s particularly bad if you’re a first-generation college attender, and your family has NO idea how to help you navigate school. 
            So kids take the path of least resistance (I did) and get a degree in a subject that isn’t commercially viable (I did) without a plan to get a job (I did). I honestly believe that many if not all college students could benefit from career counseling, and maybe that should be mandatory rather than voluntary. Of course our Legislature won’t earmark more money to do that — instead they try to block kids from studying the “bad” subjects. Because they are idiots. 

            • @bryanlsplinter I remember a story on old Deadspin where the writer was advocating for allowing athletes to major in their sport instead of going through the pretense of getting a degree while for all intents and purposes holding a full time job as an unpaid athlete. He knew he’d be met with the argument that only a small percentage of them would go on to play professionally, he preemptively countered that the number of students getting degrees in English would never have a job using that degree either. I thought he made a good point.

              • Well, as a holder of two English degrees I’d have to say … yeah, got me dead to rights there. I did have a career related to English that wasn’t teaching but that’s crazy rare. 
                Athletes are a whole other can of worms. They have traditionally been used up and spit out by the college system. They play until their eligibility is up and if they don’t get picked up by a professional team they’re out on the street. Mostly without any degrees at all. At least an English degree lets you check off the “college graduate” box on applications. 
                Scholarship athletes are one group I would absolutely agree with mandatory career counseling and frankly, mandatory life skills courses. A lot of them drift along just playing ball until the world drops out from under them and they’re screwed. 

            • 100% agreement, on the career counseling (and honestly? some REAL financial counseling–other than “YES, you must pay back ALL the loans!!!” too!), as someone who only lucked into the advice that a BFA in technical theater (costume emphasis!), would never grant the sort of pay rate which would actually pay off the 30-40K the degree would’ve eventually cost me.
              I quit school owing about 15, which has gone up & down over the years–it was down to under a manageable 10K when I first lost my job & went back to school… annnnnd now it’s FAR higher,* since the cost of college basically *doubled* in the 20-ish years I was out.🙃
              **but as long as I can get that ECSE license, well within the bounds of that career’s typical (published!😉) “lanes & steps” payscale!

              • Yes, I know far too many liberal arts graduates who worked hourly jobs and struggled with student loans for a degree that didn’t let them earn a decent wage. And financial counseling should be required at every college, BUT they have a vested interest in you signing up for massive student loans without having a plan to pay those back. 
                That’s why, even though I paid back every penny of my student loans with GREAT difficulty, I’m in favor of student loan forgiveness. A LOT of those kids were basically scammed, and it’s not just the for-profit universities that did it. My kid starts college in the fall (she got an associate’s degree already) and I was stupefied by the tuition prices at some schools and the blithe “just borrow it” attitude they had.
                My parents didn’t do a good job of guiding me, and I’ll be damned if I let my kid sign away years of her life. Nope, state schools are just fine and you’ve got a free ride there, so that’s that. Unless you’re Ivy League, nobody gives a shit what university you graduated from. Skills and experience count way more. 

                • I’m getting pretty close to paying my student loans off, and I’m all for forgiveness.  Yeah, I’ll be a little envious that it didn’t happen when I was under soul-crushing 40K+ of debt, working minimum wage…  But because I experienced that, and know first hand how horrible it can be, and that many more recent students and grads have it even worse than me – no one should have to suffer through that.
                  Plus, for those who care about that sort of thing, it will be great for the economy, if people can actually get on with their lives, instead of funneling every spare cent to Sallie Mae and other banks.
                  I feel like people who suffered through some hardship fall into two main camps the “I suffered through it, and so should everyone else” (which I think is just an emotionally broken and morally bankrupt way to look at the world), and the “I went through that and it sucked, no one else should have to suffer through that”

                  • @lochsber  I’m just afraid it’s not going to happen soon enough. And the GOP is going to reclaim the house and Senate through their new election stealing voter suppression laws. They like people poor and anxious even though it’s bad for the economy.

  4. I’ve been lucky enough to be married to a squirrel during our heavy earning years so we can retire once the girls are done with college.  She actually hides money better than the squirrel in our front yard because she rarely digs it back up.  I’m not sure what we will do in retirement, she wants to garden and build a house in Mexico near her brother.  I want to NOT build a house in Mexico and maybe try to find a small condo in Hawaii for part of the year.  Whatever we end up doing, I will definitely need more water toys.  I’m hoping the price of these will come down while I can still ride them…


  5. Thank you @Elliecoo! He is a very good boy. I think rats make wonderful pets. The only thing that keeps me from having them is the short lifespan. It’s bad enough losing a dog after 14 or 15 years. I can’t go through that kind of grieving every few years. 

  6. eh…retirement is at least another 30 years away…if we still have pensions then…and my little country isnt under water by then
    so…nope…no plans here…. i barely plan what im doing tomorow….30 years away hand wavey wishy washy make shit up land
    unless i win the lottery… in which case im retiring the day after and traveling the world to annoy each and every one of yous in person :p

  7. Not quite bombs, and hopefully  not explosion-y, either…
    But something to perhaps have on the radar?

    Essay ahead, and y’all can feel FREE to TL/DR😉
    The BBC article says it’s on the radars of various national governments. Of course China says, “Nothing to see here!” because that’s what MOST governments would say, when they don’t want to freak people the fuck out… and hopefully it all ends up being nothing.
    But as someone who was in late elementary school when Chernobyl blew/melted down, then spent WAY too long living *much too close* to a nuke plant, and being assured by the locals, “Oh OUR plant is safe and *can’t* explode!” only to later learn that we had the SAME type of plant design as the ones which did explode at Fukushima🙃…
    Reading between the lines of this story has me a bit worried, for what could happen over the coming days/weeks.😕
    Ngl, phrases like, “the coating on some of the fuel rods had deteriorated,” and ” the Chinese safety authority was raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the plant to prevent it from being shut down,” especially in combination with this bit, from the end of the article, “The region has faced power shortages in recent weeks due to hot weather and lower than normal hydropower supplies (emphasis mine!) from Yunnan province” make me twitchy…
    Because if the design of the reactors there are similar to ours?
    Water–and VAST quantities of it–is needed keeps the rods & cores cool.
    They need a constant, large, source of water, to basically pull heat off the rods & keep the coatings intact, the rods & cores cool, and everything safe from meltdowns.  
    To put it in elementary-school terms, Nuclear power is “made” by having a bunch of reactive material (here, typically pellets, iirc), encased in metal tubes called “rods” and a certain number of rods in a particular holder makes up a “core.”
    To create energy, there’s a highly technical system, but basically, what it really amounts to, is futzing with the amount of rods inside each core to keep them covered or uncovered by water (“exposed”), which allows the pellets inside to do their degradation dance faster/slower & produce heat. 
    More water has to be pumped in constantly, so that it doesn’t all just boil off, and the heated water has to be treated, then be allowed to cool *somewhere.*
    This website, and in particular the section on reactors 3&4 explain it a lot better, & more technically:
    That need for water is why both MN’s nuke plants are sited on the Mississippi–it allows a CONSTANT, high-flow, source of clean, cold water…
    It’s ALSO why Monticello has the Trumpeter Swan population it does. The waters of the Mississippi rarely ever freeze over, up in Monti, and if they do, it’s only for a few days at a time, in extreme cold (think -10° F and colder)… because the Nuke plant a couple miles north of town puts THAT MUCH heat into the river water.
    The lack of freezing means that back when the swans were reintroduced, some of them decided to just stay and overwinter here… Sheila (The Swan Lady) and her corn feedings meant that Monti now has the established flock of 2000 or so overwintering (when she got sick, folks in town started to raise funds to pay for the corn, so that it wasn’t all dependent on her family’s budget anymore).
    The swans are definitely a GOOD part of the Monti Nuke plant’s legacy… but the plant itself was supposed to be decommissioned a while ago. Every few years, it comes up for a vote, and because the plant DOES offer lots of high-paying jobs to the region, the vote is always to keep it open & running… 
    Even with the aging infrastructure of a reactor building meant to be obsolete sometime around the year 2000/2010-ish, and endless amounts of nuclear waste which has to be stored (both at Monti–and typical of our American ability to be stupidon an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, down at our *other* nuke plant, Prairie Island🙃😬🥴).
    But because JOBZ!!!! and the fact that many white Americans simply aren’t willing to look at the fact that they may literally be poisoning their children & grandchildren,** the nuke plant’s decommissioning keeps getting pushed out. Obsolescence be damned.
    Info on xenon & krypton, the gases released;
    **Becker, MN and the towns/counties which get/got the majority of the smoke & exhaust plume from the Sherco plant have traditionally had some of the highest rates of childhood asthma in our state…
    Yet to even think of bringing up the correlation (nevermind any possibility of causation!) would sometimes  cause apoplectic rage amongst certain right-leaning locals who would accuse one of being some sort of “Commie-Libtard-Freedom-Hater!!!” who “Only wants to take away American JOBZ!!!”🤨🙄🙃

    • Just a starring from someone else who remembers Chernobyl, and I grew up not far from Three Mile Island, and although I was very young at the time, have vague memories of evacuating during their incident.

  8. Wow, that’s very frightening. I know we need to find alternative sources of energy than fossil fuels but nuclear power is just too dangerous. And I don’t trust any government to tell us the truth about these near accidents.

    • The danger thing makes my twitching go up & down, tbh!
      Growing up, I was TERRIFIED of it, because of Chernobyl… and I thought that ANYONE who lived in Monti or the nearby towns was 100% certifiable😉🤣
      Now? and especially after learning a lot more ’bout Chernobyl & it’s exclusion zones, and after talking to one of my cousins-in-law** about the Monti plant, and a few other chemical-storage/ processing facilities up home?
      I guess you’d say my fears ratcheted down about a million degrees, when he reminded me that *if* there was ever a disaster at Monti OR Prairie Island–it won’t just be that town and the neighboring communities that’s fucked & who have to leave….
      It’d be most of MN, folks on into WI, and even into IA, SD, & ND who have to go elsewhere permanently🙃
      Because if there was ever a 500-mile-radius exclusion zone? Even Chicago would be within that perimeter😳😬
      Didn’t STOP my worries about Nuclear power any… buuuuuut it kinda made the numbers so big, that they were too big to even really contemplate anymore.🤯
      And that nuke bit, PLUS the fact that–as folks who grew up here–we know where things like the chemical-processing and Anhydrous ammonia plants are–and that THOSE would make vast sectors of the state uninhabitable, too?
      It basically went from “worried about it” to “Well, then! We’re ALL fucked if it goes!😕” in my head.
      (**almost all the boys & in-laws in our family volunteer on the various local FD’s up home wherever they live)

    • i personally really like nuclear…sure…it has some…teeny tiny issues
      but mostly its just really cool!
      (course…i did eat radioactive veggies as a kid when chernobyl asploded…so maybe thats caused something like stockholm syndrome)
      mmmmmm glow in the dark lettuce!

  9. Re that “volunteer firefighters” thing–disaster preparedness is literally just something we do, and that we talk about, in our family😉
    The boys in my generation are second-generation volunteers on the hometown FD, and as their kids age, there will probably be a third.
    Our gen grew up with nearly all the dads & uncles retiring after 25+ years on the department–so we ALL got roped in to either helping out with firefighter pancake breakfasts, fish-frys, mutual-aid/countywide preparedness drills, or *something*–and growing up being asked the the disaster-planning question, “What do you do if ______?” 
    Because Up Home is farm country.
    Where there are occasionally things like tractor rollovers, silage accidents** , grain collapses/avalanches, or manure-pit accidents (both fall-ins, AND oxygen issues from the methane & other heavier-than-air gases).
    There are mechanical farm accidents, and animal accidents, too–and even those of us who were “town kids” needed to know what to do, in case we were ever out visiting friends on a farm, so that we didn’t add to an accident scene and someone was available to call 911.
    (**these usually happen from farmers going in to silos/storage areas *before* the fermentation is done, and ending up in danger/dead from a lack of oxygen.
    It’s less common now, than when we were kids, because most farmers now make the silage out in plastic tubes in their fields. But the area lost a few young husbands/dads back when we were kids & folks still made it in silos.)

  10. Probably work until I die?

    I mean there’s a chance if I stay on my current trajectory I’ll have enough money to retire, but that’s assuming no financial calamity or sociopolitical collapse in the next 30 years or so for when I approach retirement age. 

  11. retire?
    nah, retirement was never an option for me.  I’m going to work until I die.  Or die when I can no longer work.  Some from column A, some from column B.
    I’ve got a lot of… characteristics? that are highly correlated with a lowered life expectancy, and by some measures I’m already creeping up on that.  I’m just hoping it’s either something sudden and catastrophic, or that I get just enough warning to go on one last backpacking trip…

    • “Work until I die” really DOES seem to be the stock Gen-X answer, doesn’t it? (at least for the younger half of us!)…
      It makes sense, since we’ve been told since we were in high school  that folks our age will be the ones who Social Security can’t pay…
      Unless Congress actually decides to step in an DO thd necessary fixes–buuuuut we’ve been pretty realistic since our teen years, of the likelihood that a bunch of powerful boomers would act to fix a problem that won’t impact them….
      Ironic, too, when ya think about the fact that we were so heavily painted with that “You’re all just a bunch of lazy SLACKERS!” brush, and we’re basically all planning for a lifetime of “work until you drop dead.”🙃

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