Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

College Sucks: An Epic Post of Higher Learning Suckitude

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Behold the American Dream laid low. While the university system exists to edify, uplift, and provide boundless opportunities to eager young minds, all while promoting valuable research meant to represent the best intellectual offerings of our times and promote cultural and technological progress in American society at large, it seems to do little of either these days. Or, to put it bluntly, college sucks.

This is just an undergrad student’s perspective. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories from those poor souls entrenched in grad school and the faculty. No offense, but I hope to never join your ranks.

This rant may come off as petty and self-indulgent, but so be it. I’ve gone to several colleges over the years (for rather boring reasons) without a lot to show for it, so I’ve got some pent-up complaints on the subject. So, why exactly do I think college sucks?

1. General Education Requirements. They suck. In countries that aren’t retarded, they’ve already taken these classes in high school. This isn’t solely a complaint about the university system per se, as it is America’s dysfunctional primary education system that regularly churns out a stream of ever more functionally illiterate, lazy, self-entitled morons. I understand the sentiment behind a broad liberals arts education, but forgive me if I just want to get on with my life at this point. Not to mention it’s something easily studied on one’s own–watch a movie with subtitles once in a while, my fellow ugly Americans.

2. School is sexist–against men. Now hear me out. Females are, on the whole, better students than males. There are any number of theories to explain this, though I suspect it comes down to innate differences between men and women. Studies have shown that there are, indeed, basic differences between the ways the two sexes tend to think, which boil down to the fact that men tend to have linear, single-track minds that can focus intently on a single subject, while women are better multi-taskers. Guess who’s going to excel at taking five or six radically different subjects in a single semester? As a male, I have personally performed much better during short, focused summer sessions or during intense, single-subject study in the military.

3. Transfer credits. Thinking about transferring schools between states? Don’t. That is, unless you enjoy navigating the byzantine waters of transfer credits, where your previous hard work is often wiped clean off the record for no particular reason. Which brings me to my next topic:

4. Out-of-state tuition. Is there any bigger joke in the state-sponsored educational system? While it seems logical on the surface–people who pay state taxes have presumably contributed more to college funding–it’s not like these American states are islands of autonomous economies. You think people graduating from a certain state college will hesitate to take the right job out-of-state afterwards? Of course not, it’s ridiculous. Besides which, it’s not like you build some sort of “tax credit history” with a state while you pay its taxes; you can live in a state for 25 years, change your residency for one day and you are instantly boned. To top it all off, the whole thing might just violate the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.

5. Government funding and promotion. Despite the best efforts of state legislatures to fairly distribute tuition costs between residents and “non-residents” (which don’t exist legally except to school bureaucrats), the cost of tuition rises every year. This is due to several factors, but the big two are the current cultural emphasis on the importance of going to college (which is overblown, as college isn’t for and shouldn’t be pushed on everyone) and government funding. This began decades ago with the introduction of the GI Bill, which seems great (and is a benefit I have used myself), but what do you think is going to happen when more students are suddenly flush with cash to spend on education? Tuitions rise. In order to combat the rise in tuition preventing the poor from attending college, the government creates grants to subsidize the costs for some people. So, tuitions rise again. The government ups the benefits, etc. And now the school employs a small army of pencil-pushers to do all this paperwork, and costs rise yet again. It’s an endless, absurd cycle, and in the meantime those that are above the income thresholds (or don’t want to kill foreigners) are forced to take out loans for the ever-increasing tuitions and fees. I suspect even a 100% across-the-board subsidized college education which some other countries have (and I don’t support) would be preferable to our broken system that makes debtor-slaves out of millions (is it any wonder the powers-that-be like the status quo?). I would place some of the blame on corporations for, for many years, lazily demanding degrees of nearly everyone, instead of looking at their actual job skills. There’s so many graduates now, however (and coming from schools with plummeting academic standards), that possessing a degree is no longer a reliable litmus test for finding a bright future employee, more technical degrees being generally excepted.

6. Increasingly uncertain payoffs. Your degree will probably not be worth much. The government-touted figure about college grads making a million more dollars in their lifetimes than high school grads is dubious at best, an outright lie at worst, and in any case it depends highly on your specific degree (and, you know, things like the economy, your work ethic, etc.). In our tanking economy (the recovery of which never quite seems to get started when the “experts” predict), the job market is crowded with underemployed college grads. Unless you enjoy and wish to enter the world of academia for a lifetime (if you’re lucky), please for the love of all that is good and holy do not pursue a liberal arts major. Degrees in medicine and engineering are still likely good bets, you know, because they might actually teach you marketable skills. Which brings me to my next point:

7. The gulf between college and the workplace. Let’s face it, most people go to college in order to land a better job, but in most cases the two are nothing alike. Why do we insist on continuing this farce? Do companies really think they can get away with not having to train their employees? No matter what the industry, specific on-the-job training inevitably follows hiring. What happened to the days of apprenticeships and working your way up? Or why not have industry-specific trade schools for the 90% of students just looking for job skills, and leave the university system to the minority seeking to go into academic research?

8. Parties and weekend football. I’ve never cared about any of this, so it’s a minor detail for me. I could never fathom why state-funded colleges can get away with having highly profitable sports franchises in the first place, much less why people actually care about the teams. (Also, the crime of college athletes being unable to seek a fair wage for the services they provide.) As for students who only attend college for the party atmosphere, they and their parents are going to find a four-year binge-drinking vacation an increasingly unjustifiable luxury. Also, they are idiots.

9. The Researcher-Lecturer. An ability to conduct top-notch research does not confer an ability to lecture to undergrads. I imagine this set-up comes from the long-gone days when universities were truly elite places of learning and only a handful of students would closely follow and assist the work of a professor. In the mass market diploma mills today, this system is unworkable. Would a system of separate, professional lecturers catering to the unwashed undergrads be so bad? Students might later advance to working side-by-side with a tenured researcher, most students aren’t going to college to do research anyway, they would leave earlier to hit the job market.

10. Group projects. Professors often assign group projects, likely so there are fewer projects to be graded, usually with the excuse that in the “real world” group projects are the norm. First of all, college is not meant to mimic the real world; this is a filthy lie designed to imply that college is actually teaching you job skills, which it usually isn’t. Secondly, you are assessed and graded as an individual to determine if as an individual you have demonstrated the learning necessary to progress in your field. This is the purpose of college. Whether or not you work well in a group is irrelevant if you have not personally mastered the requisite skills. You will learn quickly in the “real world” how the group’s dynamics function. Finally, you are likely to be saddled with lazy, stupid teammates, who have skated through college thus far thanks, in part, to group projects (and later export their well-honed mooching skills to the “real world”). Many students do not have (or ignore) the obvious incentives to work well with others that people in industry have. Also, forgive me if I’m not inspired to work in groups when the half the people in them will never graduate.

Sadly, there may be a sequel to this post someday.

Of Enthusiasm and Existential Crises

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

One of the great emotions in life–and increasingly rare in this aging cynic–is that of enthusiasm. Having spent most of my life in school of one sort or another, I am acutely aware of the hopefulness I experience at the beginning of every school term; soon I shall be learning new things every day, expanding my horizons and improving my lot in life. The blank notebooks and unopened texts ache to be scribbled with my penetrating insights into the sum of man’s knowledge.

Soon, however, reality sets in: the daily grind wearing me down, the inevitable shortcomings of the instructor, the insufferable idiots surrounding me, the textbooks that are contractually forbidden from just getting to the point already, my own imperfect memory betraying my best intentions. By the end of the semester, I am happy to forget the whole experience. Rinse, lather, repeat.

After so many years of this cycle, only the faintest glimmer of hope remains, and is extinguished before my first class is over. And this is how I feel in the course of study for a subject I actually like, so you can imagine the severity of my existential crisis when I dropped out of my last program.

I even felt this enthusiasm before I joined the military–I was going to be a shining example of a young patriot, by Jove. Reality kicked my ass good and hard.

Now, the fraction of my spirit that hasn’t been crushed has turned to other pursuits, the ones I wish to discuss being filmmaking and writing.

Some of my friends and I have always been interested in indie filmmaking, but we never did anything due to the usual litany of real-life circumstances. However, at one time, I had great enthusiasm for the idea. But the more I thought about the cost and complications involved–besides the fact that the ultra low-budget indie scene of the 90′s is long dead–the more and more it drifted into the background.

Recently I watched a film called Feeding Frenzy, from the geniuses at Red Letter Media who created the Plinkett Star Wars reviews (which are, without hyperbole, the best art criticism in any form ever created). It’s a nearly zero-budget film that’s a spoof of 80′s “rubber monster” movies, and it is surprisingly smart and entertaining despite its obvious rough edges. So, naturally, the creativity bug hit me, and I practically raved like a madman, “Why aren’t we making movies?!?”, “Oh, look how much the price on such-and-such camera has come down!”, “We’ve got the script, let’s aim for shooting this summer!” Then I do the worst thing possible and listen to the creators’ commentary on the Feeding Frenzy DVD, and the trials they went through just to make this seemingly simple movie were, quite frankly, staggering. The realities hit me again–I have no money, time, equipment, cast, crew, or know-how. I lapse into my usual I-have-wasted-my-life despondency.

So I return to the cheapest and most solitary of artistic pursuits, writing. I need to finish that novel anyway, right? Miraculously, I am close to that point, and if my previous post is any indication, I was rather enthusiastic about becoming an “indie author” online. After exploring this dank, hopeless, rightfully shunned corner of the Internet, I just . . . Jesus Christ. The millions of man-hours these people pour into fruitless marketing and networking, their completely unjustified optimism (if not downright delusion), their bitching about the traditional publishing industry. Of course, that’s the next level, the thousands of wannabe authors scrambling at the virtual gates of the publishing houses like so many Depression-era workers. The very thought of it is so instantly sad and soul-crushing.

That being said, I’m still sold on my idea of just giving my book away, then just leaving it at that and not obsessing about my online “career”. I don’t have the time or constitution to jump through all these hoops, whether for elusive success as an indie author online, or with the print publishers. If it turns into something more, then great, if not, well, I had fun working on it. I guess I should pursue the traditional route if I want to be a “legit” author, but if there is one thing that’s obvious it’s that publishing, TV, and film executives are extremely poor at predicting what will be popular. Sure, they turn away scores of genuinely awful projects, but how many gems have never seen the light of day due to this system? (And how many abject failures have they greenlighted?) Since I can make this particular product so cheaply in this day and age, why not skip the middleman and let the customer decide? And how many poorly edited, amateurish titles have been released by publishers lately? Their standards seem to be getting lower everyday anyhow. Not that I consider this license to release a substandard product, but now that the end is in sight the usual pathetic artist’s anxieties have a firm grip upon me.

So, yeah, that’s how I feel.

Of Facebook and Existential Crises

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

Facebook is a blight upon the earth.

You know that grade school friend you haven’t seen since the last century? A quick search and you see him all grown up with a youngling piggybacking on his shoulders. Wouldn’t it be nice to meet him at a reunion of some sort and catch up in person? Maybe enjoying some barbequed hot dogs in the setting sun. Instead you share e-mails like so much spam. Add such folks as friends, and suddenly the sum of our lives are reduced to a few text boxes in an online profile. Somehow all this instant human contact is dehumanizing.

And there are some people you do not want to keep in touch with, or even hear anything about. Do I need to know what my parents’ ex-spouses from 30-some years ago are up to, or even look like? I think not. I have nothing against them personally, but sleeping dogs need some bloody rest.

Or Facebook just serves to remind you how shallow and fleeting many of your relationships were. Oh, so-and-so from a part-time job a few years back wants to add you as a friend. Once you electronically befriend them and say hi, you have nothing else to say. What you once had in common is lost.

What used to be the sole domain of cherished (or dreaded, etc.) memories now becomes an immediate confrontation with the mundane, unimportant present, as the specters from your past tell you what they had for lunch, or what they think of the latest iPhone app.

If there is anything else on this earth which is a clearer example of mankind’s impossible, grasping attempts at interpersonal connections with the mass of humanity and a disregard for the sacredness of the unchangeable past, I have yet to find it.

That being said, I have a Facebook account and I hate myself a little more each day.

(Note: I wrote this about 9 months ago and quickly unpublished it. I found it again while cleaning up some files and thought it was actually pretty good. I removed some personal details and toned down the alcohol-fueled rage and now present it to the world.)

Children of the 80’s: Royally Screwed

Friday, March 6th, 2009

“It isn’t necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice—there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” -Frank Zappa

Has there ever been a generation as coddled, indulged, and lied to about the future than those who were youngsters in the 80’s? We were raised in a time when things like child labor and hard times were subjects for history texts, blockbuster movies became for and about children, Saturday morning cartoons were perfected, and cable networks like Nickelodeon arose to keep us baby-sat all day long.

flightnav

Shirley Temple notwithstanding, before the 80’s there were few movies that starred children. Suddenly in the 80’s we were graced with such classics as E.T., The Goonies, The NeverEnding Story, and Flight of the Navigator to name but a few. Indiana Jones joined the trend and gave us Short Round in Temple of Doom. And what were Ewoks but kiddying-up the Star Wars franchise? Hell, even the Return of the Living Dead series devolved into kid-centered stories. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, anyone? I could go on.

thegoonies

Where once the silver screen brought us delights like W. C. Fields slapping those undeserving brats squarely upside the head, there was in the 80’s a fundamental shift in perspective. If not strictly about children, showing them as misunderstood heroes-in-waiting who were invariably involved in glorious adventures of some sort, then children (or Ewoks) were at least important characters. The world was about us, man.

School taught us that we were destined for great things as the first crop of adults in the coming new millennium. Old Mom and Pop Reagan were amping up that war on drugs to save our poor little brains. Because we were worth saving. We were the future. The future, man!

What did adulthood provide for us instead? A disappointing world of clock-punching, overpriced tuition and housing, terrorism and war. Is it any wonder we while away our free time watching the theme songs to Fraggle Rock and GI Joe on YouTube? Or find another Super Mario Bros. re-mix to listen to as we fondly remember the days when video games were simple, two-button affairs?

super-mario-bros

There will never be another generation of youngsters like the 80’s produced. The ambiguous art film has a made a comeback against the kid-friendly blockbuster. The Internet can instantly provide today’s kids with any fact of life they are curious about, or satisfy any nostalgic yearning in its infancy. No, those who were young and impressionable in the 80’s are royally screwed; nothing can compare to the time when we were always entertained, magical adventures were just around the corner, and we were constantly held up as the great hope of mankind. We don’t much care for this hard, cruel world that is not what it was cracked up to be.