The Essence of “Essential” and “Inessential” Workers

“Farewell to the arts,- to eloquence” – Mary Shelly, “The Last Man” (1826)

Weird things happen to language during a crisis.

We have no way to describe what’s happening, so we invent new phrases.

During the “outbreak” of the “novel coronavirus”, we comfortably added new phrases to our daily lexicon.

None are more popular than “social distancing” or “essential workers.”

“Essential workers” is an interesting phrase. Essential is the adjective form of “essence.” Ask a 14th century etymologist and they will tell you it means “that is such, by its essence.”

Essential is from the late Latin word essentialis, derived from essentia.

Essentia means “being, essence.”

To be an “essential” worker, you are the very essence of civilization.

Continue reading “The Essence of “Essential” and “Inessential” Workers”

How eBooks Can Save Journalism


At the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), Michelle Bachmann said a lot of things that weren’t true. She said she got the information from a self-published book, Presidential Perks Gone Royal. It’s written by a Republican lobbyist.

Bachmann trusted a book’s facts. Nothing wrong with that. However, with the filters for publication down, lies and truth are indiscernible. Promotional muscle is all one needs to propagate self-published propaganda.

Journalism used to show us the truth. That happened in this case. But for how much longer? How long are people going to keep paying for something as boring as facts?

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Music, Writing, and Art in the Age of the Optional Purchase


In the summer of 2010, when I started my first job, I listened to about six hours of Pandora a day. The ads were an annoyance, but I sat through them because I loved the songs that Pandora found for me.

I knew that there was such a thing as “Pandora One,” but, like most millennials, I scorned the idea of paying for something I knew I could get for free.

Yet Pandora persisted. Hours and hours a day, it brought me amazing bands I never would have otherwise heard.

A few months in, I took the $32-a-month plunge. And I’ve never looked back.

Why did I buy something that was so optional? More importantly, how can any creative person ever hope to get compensated in the age of the optional purchase?

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Getting Arrested for a Tweet: The Age of the Post-Anonymous Internet

Can saying terrible things on the internet land you in jail?

Thanks to social media, it looks like the answer is creeping closer to “yes.”

In March, a 21-year-old who drunkenly tweeted racist remarks was charged with “inciting racial hatred” in the United Kingdom. He was sent to prison for 56 days.

Two British boys, age 20 and 22, were sentenced to four years in prison for creating Facebook events about the rioting taking place in the summer of 2011.

Four years is also the standard sentence for people who have committed sexual assault.

The Spokesman-Review, a Washington newspaper, must reveal the name of an anonymous online poster who wrote disparaging comments about the chairwoman of a Kootenai County Republican Party.

Because Jacobson wants to take the commenter to court for defamation.

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10 Ways to Not Get Screwed as a Liberal Arts Major

Ah, spring. Out on the quad, Frisbees are flying again. Awkward small talk about classes can happen outside, instead of in the dining hall. And, all across campus, tens of thousands of panicked seniors will be hunched over computers, scouring Craigslist for job openings.

Unpaid internships may seem more appealing by the day. Likewise, living at home can be rationalized very quickly, if your parents are anything like the majority of baby boomers.

This is a post for any college grad who can get a job, but is telling themselves that they can’t. Because, above all, you don’t want to become one of the millennials who self-pities themselves into immobility, the ones who have memorized the pie charts from New York Times articles like this one, and simply resign themselves to hopelessness.

Yes, it’s bad out there for college grads, but we’re far from the ones who are most screwed by this economy. After all, we have college degrees… We just have to find out how to use them.

Here are 10 things that can help you find a job, or at least keep you on some semblance of a path, so you can come out of the recession in one piece: Continue reading “10 Ways to Not Get Screwed as a Liberal Arts Major”

Getting a Concussion from the Flu Shot

Reading Time: ~3 minutes

Before I start, let’s take a look the word I instinctively chose to represent “flu shot.” I chose “THE,” not the more casual and far less menacing “A.” That’s a common choice of diction when it comes to vaccines these days, whether Michelle Bachmann is saying that she met an anonymous woman whose child suffered learning disabilities from “the” HPV vaccine or FOX News viewers believing that “the” swine flu vaccine is deadlier than the virus itself.

Now, I haven’t gotten either of those vaccines (the former hasn’t been recommended for males yet, kinda). But I hadn’t received the flu vaccine before last Tuesday, either. In fact, the last time I visited a doctor was in 2006, so I could get some shots for college.

Yes, I am officially in my Young Dumb Male phase – fully employed, in my twenties, living in an apartment with two other Stupid Young Males. That’s in part why I signed up to receive the flu vaccine when it was offered at my office – I was trying to force myself out of the phase.

“I always say that I believe in scientific advancements and stuff, but I never really endorse them by using them,” I had thought to myself, nodding enthusiastically at my capacity for self-reflection.

So I made an appointment and the fateful day arrived at Tuesday, around noon. I strode into a meeting room of bright lights and cheesy cardboard signs, where lonely insurance representatives stood behind tables and tried to look happy.

I immediately found Flu Shot Alley, where makeshift partitions separated the people currently being needled. I wrote my name on a piece of paper and idly wondered if I would have some kind of Violent Reaction.

A lady ushered me into one of the corners and sat me down on a stool. “We just ask that you stay for 15 minutes after, in case you have a reaction,” she said.

“A reaction?” I asked.

“They’re rare.” She patted my arm with a damp cloth and then injected me. I didn’t watch. In fact, I kept waiting for it to hurt more, but nothing happened.

“That’s it?” I asked in wonderment.

“That’s it,” she said.

I hopped off the stool gleefully, proud of myself. Not for enduring a possibly painful episode, but for actually taking the time to schedule the thing and go through with it.

“This is what I have to do to take care of myself and it’s better that I get started sooner than later,” I thought victoriously. And, radiant with confidence, I approached my coworker. “She said that we have to wait for 15 minutes, but I think we’re probably fine if we want to go to lunch.”

And then a fuzzy panic started in me, like all the thoughts in my head were bubbling right out of my brain. I had a transcendental feeling of denial. “This feels pretty weird, what if I just died right now?” I wondered.


I woke up to two paramedics waving in my face and asking me questions. My first instinct was to casually laugh at whatever I had done and try to rise, but they told me to stay on the floor, where there was some very warm stuff behind my head.

As I lay there, bobbing on the undercurrent of consciousness, I relaxed and floated onto a stretcher, which the paramedics promptly rammed into the side of the elevator. “Sorry, buddy,” they told me.

The ambulance ride was passed in a daze. One paramedic asked me where I was from and the other injected me with a variety of Stuff.

So — what happened? Nothing extraordinary. The inital fear that I had an allergic reaction quickly gave way to the realization that I had simply wimped/passed out. The problem was that I fell straight backwards, onto the tissue-thick carpet blanketing our office’s cement floor.

It still kind of weirds me out. The CDC says that the side effects of the flu shot, other than a very rare allergic reaction, are soreness, a fever, and aches. I mean, maybe soreness and aches covers the concussion. Not sure.

Fainting from vaccinations isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare. I think the moral of my experience is to sit down after a vaccination, not just during it. 

Not that everything is sunshine and flu-free weekends now, either. As with (I assume) any concussion: I can’t move my head too fast or it jets off into the sky, trying to flee my body, I can’t lift my head without my neck complaining, I can’t taste or smell anything, and for the past two days, a tiny Mozart has been playing in my ear. He’s not very good.

Seems a high price to pay for the certainty of avoiding the flu. It made me reconsider the whole idea of vaccinations. Maybe it would have been better to risk getting sick (like I did last year, and the year before, and the year I didn’t get the swine flu vaccine)… worst case scenario, I would have ended up in the hospital anyway, sans concussion.

Instead, I got the worst of both worlds – I got a shot that triggered a whole chain reaction of other medical requirements. Then again, the bright side is that I may have been cured by my Young Dumb Male condition, despite the fact that I was injured by trying to scrape my way out of it.

Because now I have to find a doctor who can look at my head.

Media, The Reality Funnel

Reading Time: ~5 minutes

Did anyone else feel a kind of dull depression when the stocks first dove recently? Or an exhiliration when they seemed to rise again? Are you a stockbroker? Probably not.

We’ve reached a point where the things we feel don’t have to have any impact on us whatsoever, because we instead feel a sentiment so abstractedly that some blips on the computer or television screen can affect our physical well-being.

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The Winehouse Effect: How We Kill Celebrities

Reading Time: ~3 minutes

In late June, Amy Winehouse stumbled onto a stage in Serbia, where she slurred words and lost track of the song playing behind her. TMZ gleefully reported that “tickets to the show were roughly $57 — a lot considering the average monthly salary [there] is $428.” To go on: “Money… spent.”

Amy Winehouse served as a treasure trove of mishaps. She became the girl that everyone loved to hate, that everyone scrambled to pick apart with vulture beaks. What would have been the tragic story of wasted talent, youth, and life, was constantly a parody of addiction.

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Cover Letters From the Other Side

Reading Time: ~5 minutes

It wasn’t a long drive to Company X’s building, but it was a complicated one that involved a dubiously legal U turn and toll booths that seemed decorative at best. I also got to tour some of West-Of-Boston’s finest pseduo-highways, resplendent in pothole magnifience.

I remember the first time I felt a twist of dread in my stomach – it was when I saw the building. It did not resemble a wet paper bag with windows, it was a wet paper bag with windows. Of course, to be fair, it had just rained. Otherwise, it would have looked like a plain old paper bag.

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Why Major in Humanities?

Reading Time: ~3 minutes

Last year, when Math majors were struggling with a series  to complete their Senior Thesis, I quietly laughed and wrote another short story. But, a year later, maybe the joke was on me.

Really, I can’t tell. I’ve got a job, so I’m more fortunate than most (since 56% of my class of 2010 wasn’t employed by Spring 2011), but even my fellow Humanities majors who also stumbled onto positions have a similar rallying cry: “Wow, I wish I had majored in Business.”

Continue reading “Why Major in Humanities?”