Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Reason to Hate Wal-Mart

The company that is the bane of most small retailers', employees', social justice advocates' and anti-globalization activists' existences has given them all another reason to hate them. Wal-Mart has decided to go after the legal settlement money of employees who were catastrophically injured in an accident. The terms of the health care coverage plan offered by Wal-Mart (and many other employers) demand that any settlement money for medical expenses be given to the medical insurance company. To not do so, they argue, is double-dipping and getting the same money twice.

I see several problems with this. Often settlements do not cover the complete cost of medical services, meaning the family is forced to find money from elsewhere. Also, any award given in settlement is only net of the legal expenses that it requires to recover that award. Essentially, then, what Wal-Mart is doing is outsourcing it's legal costs to recoup the money for its own insurance claims. The insurance provider can receive up to 100% of the settlement award after legal expenses meaning that the former employee (who, now, has no health insurance because they are no longer an employee because of said accident) is left with nothing after paying for attorneys and insurance companies.

And, to stick their thumb in the eyes of this poor couple going through this, Wal-Mart is now suing not only for the money received in the settlement award, but get this, they are also suing for the legal expenses incurred by their company to try and get this money from the couple! Nevermind that they paid nothing to aid in the legal claim to win the settlement.

I hope that, if there is a Hell--especially the fire-and-brimstone one favored by the Waltons--that there is a special ring of it reserved for their family.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writing, Just not Here

It has been well over two weeks since I last posted here, after expressing a hope that I would be able to write more frequently after my last post. Ah well, I recall hearing something about the road to Hell being paved with good intentions.

Most of the radio silence was caused by the fact that I was busting my behind to finish my second prelim—essentially our version of a master's thesis, I suppose. Anyway, it is a journal-length article that I am hoping to send out this month, meaning I'm not sure how much I will be able to commit to the blog in the near term. I did finish and defended last week, which was a huge relief. Although my committee gave me several great, albeit time-consuming, suggestions to make before I send the paper out for review, I am feeling really good about it. Now I hope that I can figure out how to incorporate all of the suggestions.

Passing this prelim made me step back and evaluate grad school. In part because I am looking to finish in the relatively near term, in part because this was the last bureaucratic hurdle (as in paper to get signed) to jump before moving onto my dissertation, and in part because it did feel like an accomplishment. Although completing my second prelim was considerably later in the timeline than it should have been, this was largely due to the fact that I have had several other opportunities along the way that have delayed this particular event but, I hope, have helped my career progress.

Thinking about this also made me realize that there is great advice out there about getting through grad school and different parts of the grad school experience. I realized one particularly salient suggestion from lmw's class on "Launching your Academic Career" which suggested: "Think about each step along the way and what issues you faced, how you handled them, and what you learned." Although I didn't write one out step-by-step, I was thinking that it might not be a bad idea to write it up now so that I can remember the pitfalls and get through the next several papers much more quickly.

It also made me realize how little instruction I have received on the "brass tacks" of writing. This is probably somewhat due to the fact that we all have our own styles of working and, to each of us, they all seem a little dysfunctional (see Impostor Syndrome). Part of it, I'm sure, is that there are, from what I can tell, deep divisions between the kind of writing for qualitative projects and quantitative projects[1]. I am lucky to have had the good fortune and opportunity to collaborate on projects with two different professors, so that I could see how it's done. This is obviously the best, but there are some basic things that seem to be fairly consistent and it just seems weird to me that this part of academia is kind of left hanging. For instance, we don't really have an academic writing course or a proposal writing course as part of the curriculum. Although lots of professors will incorporate this into their classes, there isn't anything going over the basics of how that is done in a systematic way.

Part of me also wonders if it is because writing has become so basic to many professors (and, even, advanced grad students) that it is easy to forget what it was like to learn to do these things. Like riding a bike - I can remember learning, but I'm not sure that I could teach someone now how to do it... Or learning to drive, things that are so basic I do them mindlessly now took a great deal of effort to learn (which, caused endless consternation for both of my parents as they were teaching, not SLAMMING on the breaks when I tried to stop). That's part of what I love about having both a grad student and larger community in the blogosphere—we get great advice on both levels. Now, I just need to be sure to do my part to contribute my fair share...

[1] In fact, one of the interesting criticisms given to me in my defense was that I was trying to combine a sociology focused on cultural analysis and one based on quantitative writings and my writing ended up falling, unsuccessfully, somewhere in between those two.