Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Dissecting "Independence Day"

Independence Day is the national holiday of the United States, and is also the day that the United States signed the Declaration of Independence. National day I understand (sort of, read: excuse to eat, drink and party) however the second part of that definition prompts the question, “What is the Declaration of Independence?”

The Declaration of Independence is a break-up letter from the United States (13 colonies at this point) to Great Britain. The United States wanted to end their relationship because they wanted to be independent—setting up their own government, military, economic, legal system and so on—and felt like they were being held back. They wanted the freedom to figure out their own way, which has ironically evolved into the hypocritical chaos it is today. I would have to say the issue behind the Declaration of Independence really comes down to the United States (leadership representatives of the colonies anyway) felt oppressed and bullied by Great Britain, and thought they’d formally end the relationship with a letter. This is a document that has not only survived over time, but still remains this pinnacle point of reference in politics and history.

So, my interpretation of the break-up letter is this:

“Hey, you guys, when “certain” things happen, it can make the recipients feel icky. I am sure you would agree that everyone is entitled to being treated with respect, dignity, basic freedoms, you know, things that should go without saying but for the sake of our conversation let’s be clear. Oh--let me also quickly point out that people that don’t agree are evil. Okay so we’re on board with how people should be able to live their lives? Great. Here’s a long list citing specific examples about how you’ve been a shitty partner. We’ve tried to work with you but you’re just not getting it. We’ve been engaged in this tired dance for a while now and I’m really tired. I think we should just agree to disagree and cut our losses. I wish you luck in the future. Sincerely, a bunch of US over here representing a bigger bunch of people.”

Fast-forward to nowadays 200+ years later, this is one of the 11 federal holidays that occur annually. (On a completely side-note and future essay, let’s seriously examine our holidays and the origin of them.) Independence Day is celebrated by lighting fireworks, barbecuing and eating, engaging in outdoor sports or picnicking, boating, camping, festivals and much more. While I enjoy the day off I’m not too into the holiday per se. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy local parks and venues because so many other people are there too, with the same idea of enjoying themselves. It turns into this competition for space. For example, I plan on taking a bike ride later on the Springwater Corridor but most of the city has the day off too so I expect it to be congested with traffic.

I think fireworks are major pollution and very dangerous. I like how people act surprised when they blow off a finger or appendage. When I lived in New York, I used to work at this place on a street called Ocean Ave. Ocean Ave wasn’t actually on the ocean, it was near it but in reality it was a kind of shitty street where a bunch of bored teenagers hung out. Whenever I worked on the 4th of July I was guaranteed to have fireworks shot at me on my walk up the street to the bus stop. I wasn't ever hit or anything but it's a little unnerving when a loud *POP* goes off feet away from where I was last walking. In NY the houses and yards are so close together there that it is inevitable if your neighbor fired some kind of firework off, the flaming remnant would land in your backyard. This happened one year at my cousin’s house and he took off running to go confront the guy, and I mean a full-on, fence hopping like an Olympic pro working the hurdles run! No fight broke out though, the confrontation turned out to be more along the lines of defensive conversation and masculine posturing. I can't even remember what the end result was.

I’ve written before about fireworks in some of my previous neighborhoods. It isn’t too bad where I am now; I am a lot closer to downtown and many people walk down to the waterfront to watch the big show. But I used to live in a neighborhood further out (affectionately nicknamed “Felony Flats”) and there was a tremendously ridiculous amount of fireworks set off throughout most of July.

Trixie is really afraid of the fireworks. She is turning 3 later this month and I can’t remember her ever being this afraid of fireworks. Over the last week it seems whenever a firework goes off, she emerges quickly from wherever she is in the house and books it into the basement (with the same enthusiasm of my cousin a few paragraphs up). She hides in the space between the main level floor and the drop ceiling in the laundry room for at least a ½ hour. Marcus, who is usually the big chicken, is pretty unaffected by the fireworks. I think this is because he spent the first 3 years of his life living in that neighborhood. What occurs over here are small peanuts.

Can Trixie get any cuter??
Independence Day was also a semi-interesting science fiction movie starring Will Smith. If it’s offered for free on Netflix and you haven’t seen it also have nothing better to do, I recommend watching it. 

Sunday, July 01, 2012

the college textbook racket.

Boy, what a racket college textbook sales are. I would be interested to see if anyone has done a study on this—it’s amazing how most students have no choice but to participate in the scam. And the scam is this: college textbooks are incredibly expensive, in some cases ridiculously expensive. Even the used ones are over-the-top expensive. Students have the opportunity to “sell” their textbooks back to the school, but this often has a disproportionate return. Like pennies on the dollar return. For example, if you bought a textbook for about $150, if it is in perfect condition with everything intact you will receive about $8 to $15. And that’s if they are going to use that book the following semester! It’s not uncommon for a school to decide to change books every other term or year. In some cases when I took more mainstream and general requirement classes, I had luck finding very cheap books at Powell’s or on, but as I got further along on this crazy college trip, some of the books have been a little more specific and nuanced.

Take for example my Business Finance Book:

About as dry as a mouthful of crackers. And "Fundamentals" is an overstatement. 

definitely used. 
This book is paperback and smaller than most textbooks I’ve used for school. I think it’s really abusive to charge $72.50 for the book when I’m already paying about $800 for the class. To add insult to injury, this book is a school specific edition so I can’t just Google the title and get something close that will work for class.
What a rip off!
I’m not the first one to write about this and of course there’s a good chance that you, the reader, are very familiar with the situation. Just performing a google search of “college textbook racket” yielded pages of results, including articles, sites offering low-cost solutions like renting or selling to each other, and discussion forums. I guess it's safe to say there's no shortage of resources if I'm looking to vent and save money. 

To most teachers’ credit, they make recommendations on how to save money or provide a way to access the book for free. Quite a few of my classes provided a URL where you could access the textbook online. In another class, our teacher told us to photocopy chapters 2 and 7 then return the book because that was all we needed for the term. I had a computer class where on the first day of class, the teacher lugged in a big suitcase full of books, and signed one out to each of us to use for the term (for free!). So as you can see, there is a recognition across the spectrum that textbook sales are a major financial issue for most people.

Like most people, I find that I constantly fight against this divide of being able to pay for college and trying to obtain a degree to advance professionally, earn more money and improve my quality of life. It’s nice (ha ha) that nowadays when you apply for a student loan, they give you a repayment schedule so you have an idea that borrowing 40 grand will give you $900 a month payments after you graduate or stop going—regardless of if the degree was earned. That’s a scary thought! And also motivation to not depend on student loans, which presents the challenge of self-financing or being awarded scholarships. It’s times like these I wish I could hop in the time machine and talk to younger me about how this stuff works.

Other than my complaints about the cost of textbooks and classes, I feel that I have experienced a high quality of instructor/instruction. Actually my BA 302 teacher kind of sucked and gave me a B, but other than that I’ve met some really smart professors who are passionate about what they are teaching and also have full-time real jobs—owning their own successful businesses, marketing, engineering, publishing, some very interesting people who share great real world experiences. Like my last teacher, who taught BA 311. It’s at those moments I momentarily forget the rage I feel at the beginning of each term when shopping for textbooks.

Something I’ve recently questioned is why I save my textbooks. I have a few stacks of books around the house that I don’t think I’ll ever look in again. Am I subconsciously trying to justify the amount of money spent by having the books around as tangible, material reminders of the (losing) investment?


What a losing proposition. Well, I might look at the geology and meteorology books again. But probably not the rest (if I can help it).