Apr 28, 2016

Things People Grind

"She said, 'How'd ya like to waste some time?' and
 I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind."
                                              --Prince Rogers Nelson, a rockin' fellow

"America is not just a power, it is a promise.  It is not enough
 for our country to be extraordinary in might; it must be
 exemplary in meaning."        --Nelson A. Rockefeller, a prince of industry

commentary by michael j wright

Things people grind: grain, spices, gears in a manual transmission, r,
coffee beans, teeth, hips, noses to the stone, the daily, axes and beef.

By the way, Blasphemes now has a Facebook page.  We've been meaning
to tell you.  It is called Blasphemes.  It's on Facebook.  Go fig.

Scrollin', scrollin', scrollin'... Oh, here's an interesting rant.
I hereby present it to you once, uninterrupted.  Then I'll discuss.

"Military, Hamburgers and Minimum Wage
Makes a good point...

Low military pay was not mentioned in the State Of The Union speech.  However, increasing the minimum wage was for those fast food employees striking for $15 an hour.  Let's do some math:

At $15 an hour Johnny Fry-Boy would make $31,200 annually.

An E1 (Private) in the military makes $18,378 or $8.85/hour.

An E5 (Sergeant) with 8 years of service only makes $35,067 annually or 16.86/hour.

So you're telling me, LaTisha McBurger Flipper, that you deserve as much as those kids getting shot at, deploying for months in hostile environments, and putting their collective asses on the line every day protecting your unskilled butt!?

Here's the deal, Baconator, you are working in a job designed for a kid in high school who is learning how to work and earning enough money for gas, and hanging out with their equally goofy high school pals.  If you have chosen this as your life long profession, you have failed.  If you don't want minimum wage, don't have minimum skills.

If you can read this, thank a teacher.  If it's in English, thank a Veteran."

If the grammarian in me should at some point come to the fore,
Dear Reader, please remember it was not I who opened the door.

The argument being made here is not a new one, although this version of it is, at least, freshly ground.  It is apparently a letter to an editor, and the portion above the underscore --both title and editorial comment-- is the responsibility of said editor.  The title is fine, I guess, but the comment bespeaks a person who is unfamiliar with the essence of the argument, and/or is unduly impressed by it.

Everything below the underscore is from a citizen who shall remain nameless, but who was obviously moved to put their own english on what is quickly becoming an old and somewhat off-target sniper shot.

Point by point:

"Low military pay was not mentioned in the State Of The Union speech.  However, increasing the minimum wage was for those fast food employees striking for $15 an hour."

Yikes, that second sentence is clunky.  Sorry, but it is.  Problems abound, and the whole thing should probably have been rewritten, but at the very least it cries out for a, ahem, dash of punctuation.  I raise the issue of its clunk for two reasons.  One: The writer of this letter will later charge all high-schoolers with being collectively "goofy," yet he or she employs here a sentence structure that causes the word juvenile to leap to mind.  Two: Quality presentation is part and parcel of making a good argument and having it taken seriously; that seldom happens when the presenter trips over the carpet on their way to the podium.

"Let's do some math:"

Yes, by all means, let's do some math.  Unfortunately, the math the letter writer is about to do is at best unfounded and at worst utterly pointless.  That's almost forgivable, though, because the arithmetic itself isn't what's important.  The real point is the comparison of numbers, rather than the crunching of them.  On a seemingly unrelated topic, I recently commented that television and movie scenes involving a pump-action shotgun often require that the actor, by a now long-standing convention, work the pump action just before firing (or threatening to).  This is not the way such a firearm would be operated in the real world, where a live shell would already be in the firing chamber and the gunman would ready for firing by clicking a small button to disengage the safety feature.  They do it the way they do in the movies because the pumping action is more dramatic than pressing a small button, and the accompanying sound effect --a ringing, metallic *chung-CHUNK* versus a thin, plastic *tick*-- sounds more deadly.  Similarly, "let's do some math" is less accurate than "let's compare some numbers," but it sounds more authoritative.

"At $15 an hour Johnny Fry-Boy would make $31,200 annually."

Unfounded.  The only way Johnny makes thirty-one grand is if Johnny works 40 hours a week for all 52 weeks in a calendar year.  This is unrealistic in most cases, and in some states it is downright illegal.  Minimum wage is synonymous with part-time work; forty hours a week is synonymous with full-time work.  Many states require employers to grant full-time workers full-time pay and benefits.  Since certain employers don't want to do that, such laws have the inverse effect of limiting the work hours of minimum-wage employees.

Even if Johnny is working in an area where such statutes are not on the books, his boss is unlikely to give him forty hours a week no matter how much Johnny begs, and since Johnny is just as unlikely to work 52 weeks in a row because he sometimes gets sick or has to attend a family function, Johnny would be lucky to earn $24,000 a year (before taxes).  Now, 24k goes further in some parts of the country than in others (which is an important point, though I'll not dwell on it right now), but it doesn't go very far anywhere when you consider Johnny has to use that money for his transportation, clothing, groceries, health care, rent (Johnny's alter ego is "Johnny No-Mortgage"), and at least some of his utilities.

Oh yeah, and taxes.  Johnny has to pay taxes, because:

"An E1 (Private) in the military makes $18,378 or $8.85/hour."

Technically, an E1 is a private in the Army, not "the military."  The Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard don't have the rank of "Private."  The Marine Corps has privates, but they don't pay them.  They feed 'em barbed wire and bilge water, make 'em burrow into hillsides of gravel for shelter, and teach 'em a word and a half of Latin so they'll have something noble to scream when they beat the [solid waste] out of you for some perceived affront like not knowing the lyrics to a song, or not becoming aroused by a picture of an automatic rifle, or pointing out that it is only a word and a half.

Also, please note that converting Jack Private's yearly earnings into an hourly rate here is a useless exercise.  For one thing, the working hours of army privates are not tabulated for the purposes of base pay.  Moreover, the whole point of converting Johnny Fry-Boy's hourly wage into even a pipedream of annual earnings was to weigh the two men's paychecks using the same scale.  Crunching the private's salary into an hourly wage does not serve that purpose.  Instead, it is little more than an attempt to bury the reader in numbers so bereft of meaning they are tantamount to telling a lie.

In fact, the numbers are inaccurate.  It took me all of 75 seconds to discover that an army private's salary in 2016 is really $1566.90 per month (I did some googling), which works out to $18,802 per year (I did some math), before bonuses* and benefits.  That's about 2.3% higher (doin' da math, yo) than what is quoted by the letter writer.  That isn't much, but it does demonstrate the U.S. Army believes in the concept of a cost-of-living increase, which is more than can be said about employers of minimum-wage workers... and, apparently, their customers.

*Military personnel who are deployed into a combat zone, for instance, are paid more, so the letter writer's later claim that "those kids getting shot at" are as underpaid as stated here carries less weight.

So, let's compare numbers.  It is far less dramatic than doing some math, but it has the virtue of actually addressing the topic.  Yes, Jack Private earns a couple bills shy of nineteen grand and Johnny Fry-Boy makes maybe a couple bills more than twenty-four grand-- a difference of nearly 5500 dollars.  That is unfair on its very face, especially when you consider Jack may be called upon to dodge hot lead while Johnny will only be called upon to dodge hot grease.  There are, however, mitigating factors.  As stated, Johnny must use his $24,000 for transportation, clothing, food and sundries, rent, utilities, and visits to the clinic.  Jack, on the other hand, is given free transport, free clothes, free meals, and free shelter-- paid-for, in part, by the tax dollars of Johnny and others like him.  Jack's expenses?  Hookers, beer, and maybe condoms.  (If not, his visits to the clinic are free.)

"An E5 (Sergeant) with 8 years of service only makes $35,067 annually or 16.86/hour."

Translation: "Hey, everybody!  I am/was/am-related-to a sergeant in the Army, and I think I/they deserve more money!"

These two absolutely shocking revelations aside, this statement leaps beyond pointlessness and lands just over the chalk line of detrimental.  To begin with, the hourly rate here is as empty and useless as the example of the private, and the salary claimed is just as inaccurate.  As of 2016, an Army E5 with eight years' service makes $2989.80 a month, which comes to a base salary of $35,877 a year.  Not surprisingly, this is also a pay increase of 2.3 percent.  Good news, Sarge: you no longer make "only" $35,067.

Of greater significance than the precise numbers, however, is the sergeant's strategic misstep of including this bit of axe-grinding in his or her argument.  Consider the ill logic.  A purely hypothetical fry cook, earning a proposed fifteen dollars an hour and working an ideal and possibly illegal forty hours a week for an (arguably) optimum fifty-two weeks, makes a fresh-out-of-adjectives $31,200 in a year.  An actual army sergeant, the recent recipient an actual pay increase, earns an actual $35,877 (more than $4500 more) plus bonuses and/or benefits in the same timeframe.  Ergo, the fry cook is an [sphincter].

To put it another way: S makes more money than J would ever make even if J got a wage hike and more hours, so J is wrong to ask for a raise.

"So you're telling me, LaTisha McBurger Flipper,..."

I'm unclear why Johnny's double surname warrants a hyphen while LaTisha's doesn't.  Racism?  Sexism?  Hyphenism?

"...that you deserve as much as those kids getting shot at, deploying for months in hostile environments, and putting their collective asses on the line every day..."

LaTisha is not making that comparison, Sarge.  You are.

What LaTisha is telling you is that when she totals her earnings and her expenditures and then compares the two, it doesn't add up to enough to realistically pursue the so-called American Dream for which those kids are supposedly fighting.

Don't get me wrong.  How well or how poorly our servicemen and -women are compensated is a discussion worth having, and there is almost certainly some rational merit in relating their salaries to earnings in the domestic, civilian workforce.  The author of this particular letter-to-the-editor, however, adopts a tone so vehement that it seems to go beyond simply castigating minimum-wage workers for wanting higher pay, which is a bit like a dog who barks at the neighbors for mowing their own lawn, to flirting with actively blaming them for low military salaries.

An aside... Until just a couple of days ago, I could have said, "Actually, relatively few of our service personnel are currently being shot at.  Thanks, Obama," but then the president announced he was expanding our military presence in Syria, nullifying my point.  Thanks, Obama.

"...protecting your unskilled butt!?"

Thank you for protecting my posterior.  [Screw] you for using the terminology of a ten-year-old to denote it.

As if the name-calling and loosely hinged ranting this argument has quickly devolved into weren't enough, the sergeant now seeks to hammer home the childishness with some good ol' double punctuation.  It should be noted that the classic exclamation-point/question-mark combo was popularized by Charles M. Schulz, a cartoonist writing dialog for a whole neighborhood of the most emo eight-year-olds to have ever appeared in print.

Moreover, the exclamation point is sort of the little red Corvette of punctuation.  In the same way a middle-aged man might buy a sports car because he fears getting older, would-be writers often employ an unnecessary exclamation mark to buttress a point they feel insecure about having made.  It is the printed word's corollary to speaking more loudly lest anyone question your confidence.  It is the next best thing to writing in all-caps.  Consider: the paragraph which begins, "So you're telling me," and ends, "your unskilled butt," is one long sentence consisting of no less than 38 words (one of them a contraction).  After all those syllables, our letter writer felt his or her entire point still needed reinforcement.

"Here's the deal, Baconater, you are working in a job designed for a kid in high school..."

The job was designed to keep the owner's expenses down, much like the pseudo-food they sell and the assembly-line way they prepare it.  The job was designed for anyone, of any age, who is willing to take it (and/or is forced to by circumstance).

"...who is learning how to work and earning enough for gas, and hanging out with their equally goofy high school pals."

By far, the two places in any written argument you most want your grammar/syntax to lose traction are the introduction and the conclusion.

Also, not all high-schoolers are goofy, let alone equally so.

"If you have chosen this as your life long profession, you have failed."

No-one chooses a minimum-wage job as their life-long profession.

I'm going to go ahead and reason that our letter writer's charge, "you have failed," is supposed to mean they feel the minimum-wage worker has failed at life in general, or at least at the grand career-choice carousel.  Otherwise, the sentence contradicts itself.

"If you don't want minimum wage, don't have minimum skills."

It is dicey to make the assumption that the sort of person who would engage in an argument like the one made in this letter would also be the sort to rail against the overseas exodus of good-paying manufacturing jobs thanks Obama.  After all, that would make our letter writer a hypocrite.  A person cannot lament a shortage of good-paying, relatively low-skill positions and then blame the workers themselves when they settle for the low-paying scut work that is left.

Not unless they're looking to save a few cents on their next burger.

"If you can read this, thank a teacher."

If you can do the math, thank your calculator.  It's probably foreign-made.

"If it's in English, thank a Veteran."

(Psst.  They're not sure what language this is.)

Found on Mars this week... a purple guitar, bearing a rune
              that looks like a fleur-de-lis trying to fellate itself.