UPPER CRUST FANTASIES

Posted in Rants on September 1st, 2015 by Ed

This weekend I did something I rarely do – something most Americans rarely do. I interacted with human beings above my social status. I am bad at it. Look surprised.

Every so often I end up in such situations and although you could accuse me with justification of being hyper-sensitive to it, I am always struck by the differences in the narratives people of different backgrounds unfold in conversation. It's a useful reminder, on the off chance that you need one, about how class and privilege still dominate every aspect of our society. Maybe it's just me – I'm a storyteller in social situations, and maybe that encourages others to respond in kind. But they're hardly the same stories.

When you hang around Ivy League people, it is immediately apparent that they interact almost exclusively with other Ivy League people (and why wouldn't they?) in their professional, if not personal, lives. You can listen to a Harvard person talk about their entire family and every person they've ever considered a friend without hearing about 1) anyone who isn't almost cartoonishly well off financially, although since it is normal to Them they would not consider it as such, or 2) anyone in a profession that isn't some variation of the all-encompassing Business. Nobody is a middle school teacher. Nobody is a dentist. Nobody is in Human Resources. It may be called a variety of nebulous things – Consulting, Marketing, Business, Development, etc. – but inevitably it entails making vast amounts of money to jet around the world doing nothing anyone can identify as work based on qualifications divorced from any skill set. Everybody lives in New York or San Francisco or LA or, if they're really slumming it, maybe Boston before they move to France or London or Hong Kong because Business and do any other parts of the world even exist? If so, why?

You know what we could really use? More think pieces about how wealthy elites inside the exclusionary circle of expensive prep schools, Ivy League universities, and Mystery Business are so f'n bored with being rich and successful.

After you listen to them talk about their lives and their friends for a while you won't be able to stop thinking about how they clearly don't know anyone like you and you clearly don't know anyone like them. My friends went to cheap public universities and do the kind of things that rich people deem useful enough to keep around – mainly babysitting their children for 18 years, providing them with healthcare, and incarcerating one another until they feel safe. Their friends do Business and apparently hopscotch from expensive city to expensive city around the globe, which doesn't count as vacation but don't worry they take plenty of those too and apparently vacations last several months? Who can say, really. It's all a mystery.

There are exceptions. Magazine pieces can always tout a handful of college dropouts who became Big Successes. Every hayseed university has its list of Famous Alumni who got rich in some appropriately salt of the earth manner. But that merely encourages the delusion of class mobility that Americans cling to like a life raft. For 99% of us, what we think of as "success" would probably make actually successful people double over in laughter. It sucks, but you might as well try to stop the tides. All you need to know is that yes, there is a club. And you're not in it. You just happen to meet a few of its members here and there. If sociologically analyzing their conversation doesn't interest you, just make a game out of counting how many boats are referenced per anecdote.

REASONABLE DOUBT

Posted in Rants on August 30th, 2015 by Ed

Longtime readers know how much I love me some hockey and the Blackhawks in particular. So earlier in August you can imagine how disappointed and grossed out I was to hear that mega-star Patrick Kane was accused of sexual assault in his Buffalo home. It is, sadly, the latest in a long line of incidents involving Kane, although the previous problems fell under categories like "immaturity" or "poor judgment." Apparently he has graduated from being a jackass to being a criminal.

Not that I expect the legal system to reach that conclusion.

One of my family members was a public prosecutor for about 30 years and he has noted on several occasions that sexual assault cases are among the hardest to prosecute successfully. Of course most instances of rape never result in so much as a police report let alone prosecution, but among those that do the nature of our justice system (and culture) favors defendants more than usual. It's one of a few instances in which judges and juries must not only consider whether the defendant is guilty of a crime but whether a crime was committed at all. If both parties agree that sex took place but disagree about whether it was consensual, it's not exactly like dealing with a burglary case.

In the Kane case the accuser did every one of the "Well if she was really raped, why didn't she ____?" things that the Men's Rights crowd inevitably brings up. She called the police and reported it. She went directly to the hospital. The "story" is uncomplicated and consistent. Unfortunately the police are spending a great deal of time investigating things that ultimately are irrelevant. How drunk was Kane at the club? Did the woman flirt with him there? Nothing anybody saw in public at a bar matters. If the woman was climbing all over him and said "LET'S GO HOME AND HAVE SEX" in the presence of a dozen witnesses, it doesn't matter. If she got to his house and decided "Nah, I changed my mind" then that's that. People have a right to do that. Women (or men) aren't contractually bound to deliver sex at Point B because they had agreed to it at Point A. This isn't selling a car.

The much-publicized fact that Kane left a bite mark on the woman is also going to be of limited value to the prosecutor. I mean. Let's be real for a minute here. Raise your hand if you've never given, nor received, a bite mark from another human being during an intimate encounter. So it wouldn't be terribly difficult for Kane's (no doubt extremely expensive) attorneys to argue that such evidence was merely part of a sexual encounter that both parties participated in willingly.

Do I believe that? No. Does it look like he did commit rape? Seems more likely than not to me. But "Seems more likely than not" is not a useful concept in a criminal case (civil trials are another matter). There were no witnesses to the actual sex/assault. No videos and pictures, at least not that the public has been told about. She will tell a jury what happened and his lawyers will say "It happened but she agreed to all of it." And the odds that the jury will overlook that alternative explanation to drop the hammer on the rich NHL superstar and local hero are vanishingly small.

The justice system gets a lot of things wrong. Sometimes that's because it isn't working. In other cases it's because it works exactly as intended. With some crimes, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is an impossibly high bar.

AND IN THE END

Posted in Rants on August 24th, 2015 by Ed

It can't be easy for anyone to hear a cancer diagnosis. It must be especially difficult to hear when you are 90 years old. Being 90 is a pretty lethal condition on its own; pairing it with one of the leading causes of death in the industrialized world must make the end feel very, very near. It's not an irrational feeling either. The end is getting near.

When I heard that 90 year old ex-president Jimmy Carter had signs that his cancer had spread to both his liver and his brain I was saddened. I like Jimmy Carter, and the news was as close to a straight death sentence that I could imagine for a man of his age. Which is why I was somewhat surprised to hear that he is choosing to undergo radiation treatments. Obviously he is the patient and it's his choice entirely; if he wants to pursue that course, he should. I'm curious, though, to know what endgame he foresees. Does he expect to "beat" cancer in his brain and liver? I've heard that radiation therapy doesn't make one feel terribly well, if I may engage in wild understatements. Does he hope that this will extend his life briefly, trading quality for quantity? Frankly he doesn't seem like the type of person so fearful of death that he would pursue that. Again, it's none of our business what he wants to do, but it's a good example of one of the hundreds of flaws with the system of healthcare in this country.

I am privileged to call some medical professionals friends, and they anecdotally confirm what repeated studies of American hospitals show: a great deal of the money and resources expended by our healthcare system are expended futilely. In some cases doctors and nurses know that it is futile; in others they are responding to patients' desire to exhaust treatment options when the potential benefits are minuscule and highly unlikely. Has any end-stage terminal cancer or cardiovascular patient ever benefited for more than a fleeting moment from being put on a mechanical ventilator? I suppose the medical literature could be scoured to find one.

As people so often do, I remember clearly being in the hospital when the only one of my grandparents I had any sort of relationship with died. According to what must have been hospital protocol, they prepared to use an injection of (adrenaline? something that re-starts hearts?) and a defibrillator on her. She was a massively overweight woman who had been confined to a hospital bed for months, slowly dying of congestive heart failure while hooked to various machines. The idea of trying to resuscitate her struck me, even at 15, as a ludicrous farce. My father asked, "Doctor, is my mother dead?" Yes. "Then what the fuck are you doing? She's dead." I mean, what was the best case scenario there? She lives another eight hours and then they do it again?

That is a question that seems to be asked infrequently in our medical culture. By all means, patients should have access to whatever treatment they and their doctors decide to pursue. And I know doctors are deeply frustrated by the insistence of patients (or families) to do things that are obviously futile. I envision every conversation with or about a terminal patient like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber; the doctor says "The odds of recovery are one in a million," followed by, "So you're saying there's a chance!"

Nobody knows how they will react to being in such a jarring dilemma until it happens. It's easy to say "No way, I'd just pull the plug!" when you've never had to make that choice outside of hypotheticals. I also recognize that I'm not the best person to opine on this matter, given that I'm ready to call Dignitas during the average chest cold. And who knows, perhaps Jimmy Carter will experience a remarkable remission and go on to live many more years. I don't have a practical solution; I wish we could create some kind of system that would allow medical professionals to be as honest as possible (rather than erring on the side of avoiding a lawsuit) to patients who were capable of understanding the futility of spending gobs of money on the lightning strike odds that some treatment will buy them a few more days alive in the ICU.

PAR FOR THE (TERRIBLE) COURSE

Posted in Rants on August 23rd, 2015 by Ed

There's something about the interaction between Bernie Sanders campaign (and/or his mostly white supporters) and Black Lives Matter activists that hasn't been talked about but is awkward in an instructive way. Bear with me for a moment.

One of the primary criticisms leveled at Sanders' supporters is their reliance on the logic that while he might not be giving black activists much of what they want, there is no other candidate who comes as close to addressing these issues. In other words, Sanders is the best of what's available so black voters should support him even if he doesn't actually do much for them. He's a "friend" to that portion of the electorate.

I understand reflexively why black activists find this response patronizing and unsatisfactory. What I don't understand is how it differs fundamentally from what all of us – black, white, young, old, gluten intolerant – are told every time we suffer an election. Have you never been party to, either as the speaker or the recipient of wisdom, the "Well he's better than Bush/McCain/Romney/Beelzebub" conversation? I've seen it here every time in the past decade that I've written something critical of the Democratic Party or its candidates. Yes, they're milquetoasty and disappointing but you have to support them because what else are you gonna do? If you stay home the Republicans win and then we're really boned.

In that sense, the message Sanders and other Democrats have so relied upon over the past several decades is condescending and defeatist, but it isn't uniquely condescending and defeatist to black voters. It's a shit stew of which every voter with a more than casual interest in any issue that isn't pre-approved by the Moneyed Interests must chow down every couple years. The activists and Sanders campaign critics are correct to point out that the issues in question were being ignored. But unless you're in the NRA or fighting to increase the wealth of the oligarchy, everybody's issues get ignored. That's precisely why so many people think the system sucks and disengage from it. Lip service is standard operating procedure.

It is fair to say that since these issues are in a literal sense life and death issues for some people of color in this country that an extraordinary response should be forthcoming from Democratic candidates (Republicans can safely be presumed to make no response or an utterly terrible one). That is valid; I hope the leading Democratic candidates do take these issues seriously because that's what serious issues deserve. But it certainly isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that candidates have half-assed an issue and fallen back on the "Well, who else are you gonna vote for, this is the best you'll do" argument. When those activists said "We're being ignored!" part of me thought, well, who isn't? They're correct to say that the system isn't responsive to their interests because the system isn't responsive to the vast majority of the electorate's interests. That's where the apathy and cynicism come from. Our candidates and officeholders can't do much effectively beyond carrying water for well funded interest groups. It is disappointing, but not shocking in the slightest, that they would do so little in response to the angry voices of black people who have the audacity to ask that the police stop killing them.

WE JUST WORK TOGETHER

Posted in Rants on August 19th, 2015 by Ed

As Caitlyn Jenner hysteria fades into the background, I have to ask once more why it matters so much to so many adult human beings what another adult human being wants to be called. If I know you as Steve the Human Resources Guy and you ask me one day to start calling you Chip, or Donald, or Marilyn, or Xerxes, or Puff the Magic Dragon, then we have a very simple social transaction to complete. Recognizing that I've called you "Steve" for a while – possibly a very long time – you will agree to cut me a tiny bit of slack if I forget and call you "Steve" in the next few weeks. In return, I'll call you whatever you want to be called. The odds are pretty good if you're in HR that I haven't been calling you "Steve" much anyway.

This is a simple issue because you and I are not life partners or family members or passionate lovers or close friends or even casual friends. We just work together. That's it. You don't give me input on my life decisions and I don't give you input on yours, absent of course one of us asking for it. We're people who have been brought together by coincidence to share a workplace. We will pass each other in the hall, exchange perfunctory greetings, and perhaps have some small talk. That is the extent of our interactions. Accordingly it doesn't much matter to me whether I say "Hi Steve" or "Hi Donna" as I shuffle past you toward the bathroom for my Post-Chipotle Constitutional. Some people you know will find your choice weird. Some won't. Some people will be supportive. Some won't. That's life and none of it matters in the slightest because we just work together.

My university just had its first transgender faculty member make the change (or whatever you'd call it) in the past few months and there has been no shortage of commentary from the workforce here. Most of it has been supportive. Supportive or otherwise, though, I can't figure out why anyone has an opinion on it at all. Ditto Jenner. The decisions of people like celebrities or co-workers are about as relevant to your life as the weather on Venus. It matters as much to me whether Former Olympian Bruce Jenner decides to don a dress and be Caitlyn as it does if instead he decided to remain Bruce and dye his hair purple. You want to be a woman now? Cool. Knock yourself out. You and I are never going to meet, so who gives a shit what I think? Why would I waste time thinking anything at all?

I don't mean to come off as unsupportive. My point is merely that unless the decision affects me directly somehow – for example, if I was married to a woman and she decided she was going to become a man I'd be justified in having an opinion on that, despite not having any control over what happened – I don't even want to waste my time formulating opinions about it. It accomplishes nothing. It's just fodder for people to sit around and gossip and say "Oh did you hear about ____? What do you think?" If that conversation was about someone's choice of hairstyle we would all recognize it as petty and unproductive. Yet when the change is something "bigger" and less familiar to us, suddenly everyone is forthcoming with their two cents. Why? If we're all going to sit around and pontificate on things we find Weird about our professional colleagues I hope the guy with the "More Guns = Less Crime!" bumper sticker and the secretary who thinks angels are real get a comfortable seat because this is going to take a while.

SAFETY SCHOOL

Posted in Rants on August 18th, 2015 by Ed

Back in high school there was a boy you figured you would end up going to the prom with. He didn't really excite you, and in fact there were some pretty obvious flaws in his makeup. Despite that, you really wanted to go to the prom and he was a good, safe bet. You could go with him and be guaranteed of having a decent time. It wouldn't be great, but he wouldn't show up in a Pantera t-shirt or take you to McDonald's or get loaded and vomit on your nice dress. He wasn't the richest or best looking or most popular or most interesting guy available but you knew what you were getting. So of course your dominant strategy, not being in a committed relationship, was to make a vague promise short of agreeing to go with him while you waited for someone better to ask you out. Don't feel bad. You were young and immature. It's what high school kids do.

This pretty much sums up Hillary Clinton and the Democratic voter.

Maybe it's just a means of generating content during a lull in the pre-election hullabaloo, but over the weekend a burst of "What if Joe Biden runs? Joe Biden should run, shouldn't he?" pieces flooded the internet. Look. I like Joe Biden. Joe Biden has had a long political career of which he can and should be proud. Joe Biden would be a terrible presidential candidate. His lack of a brain-mouth filter would be like pouring gas on the right wing noise machine's fire. Think of the field day they would have quoting him out of context and exploiting his endless "gaffes." The idea of a Joe Biden candidacy being greeted with enthusiasm or even interest is the surest sign that the Democratic electorate (or possibly just the media, it's hard to tell the difference with Trend Pieces) is absolutely, positively going to kick the tires on every candidate in the country before settling for Hillary Clinton.

There is a lot to like about Clinton as a candidate. She could probably destroy any of the jackasses running for the Republican nomination with little drama. She'd be a more tolerable president than any of them, certainly, although likely an uninspiring one. She has experience. She's not stupid. She would appoint people to positions of power who believe in something other than wrecking the public sector to make privatization look more appealing to lowbrow puds. If she remained in office for two terms she might even get the chance to appoint Scalia's replacement, God willing. So the world is not going to be a dark and depressing place if the Democratic Party nominates Hillary and she wins.

There is also a lot not to like. Everything about her 2008 campaign, especially the race baiting. The Ahab-like lust for the Oval Office and the fact that her reason for running for president appears to be that she really, really f-ing wants to be president. The classic New Democrat vacillating – the refusal to take a stand on anything until public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of it. The foreign policy hawkishness stemming from the misguided belief that conservatives will respect Democrats if they too show a willingness to bomb the hell out of some brown people. The constant appeals to moderation and bipartisanship, code words for letting Republicans do whatever they want even if they're not in power. Like Biden and Sanders, she's very old and, according to some accounts, not in the finest health. She is, to say the least, not without her unpleasant aspects.

That's why the Party is likely to exhaust every conceivable option before turning to her, much as the Republicans did in 2012 before finally giving up and telling Mitt Romney, "Alright, fine. You can do it." That any aspect of her candidacy can be compared to Mitt Romney's should be enough to explain why someone who appears so well situated to win is greeted with so little enthusiasm.

LIVE FAST, DIARRHEA

Posted in Rants on August 11th, 2015 by Ed

(I'm already sorry about the title. Such a good song, though.)

I'm male. Therefore I find the female menstrual cycle fundamentally terrifying. If I had to experience it firsthand I would probably end up in the fetal position, crying in a manner not unlike that of a little bitch. I have no doubt at all that I am neither mentally or physically capable of enduring such a thing every few weeks. This, combined with childbirth, is all of the evidence that needs to be presented about which gender is constitutionally stronger.

Am I exaggerating the travails of the period? I have no idea, obviously, since I can only observe it happening to other people. But I have seen more than enough women doubled over with painful cramps and the like to assume that, yeah, it seems pretty bad. The only thing that doesn't freak me out about it, oddly enough, is blood. Some people can scarcely handle the sight of blood without fainting. Despite my lengthy list of physical and psychological weaknesses, I am not one of these.

That said, if I sat down on a bus next to someone who was bleeding through their clothes I would get up and move. You would too. No offense to blood; this goes for any bodily excretion. It is, if we're being honest with ourselves, the kind of thing you would notice. It would stand out as abnormal. So it wasn't much of a surprise that a great deal of attention was directed at a woman who ran the London Marathon while…well, openly experiencing her period.

My question is, so what? The odds of a marathoner putting anyone at risk of coming in contact with their blood are vanishingly small. It's not a contact sport. I think most runners (and most women) would agree that bleeding through one's clothes is not exactly the preferred way to handle the situation, if someone chose to do it to make a statement it's not exactly a big deal. Marathon runners crap and piss themselves so regularly that it's practically a badge of honor; the other competitors probably wouldn't even have noticed this in comparison.

When the Marathon Diarrhea Guy was all over the internet my exact quote was, "I applaud his commitment to his sport but for christ's sake maybe take 45 seconds to hose down and change shorts." I said that and meant it because seeing someone covered in shit is gross. He chose to do it, though, and it didn't affect me in any way other than that it looked gross. Nobody suggested that running post-Chocolate Thunder is the ideal way to race. Similarly, nobody is now suggesting that Blood Streaks are the hot new long distance running accessory. The exact point is that while it might not be the best idea for people to wear blood- or poop-soaked clothing, if they do and they're not wiping it on strangers it's really not the end of the world. Everyone lived. Just like when everyone lined up and slobbered on Curt Schilling's knob for playing in the World Series with blood on his uniform. It's not like he didn't have the opportunity to change that sock. If it's OK when the statement is, "Grr look at how tough I am" then it's OK now. On the list of social problems this ranks well below elevator farting. That's not a victimless crime.

PLANNING

Posted in Rants on August 10th, 2015 by Ed

I encourage everyone to read Oliver Willis's comments about #BlackLivesMatter and Bernie Sanders. Despite the misleadingly alarmist title, he makes a very useful point about how political progress happens. Too bad he can't do it without lapsing into talking about the Sixties, but that doesn't negate his underlying point.

A couple things to get out of the way. One is that nobody should tell oppressed people the appropriate means of fighting back against the dominant power structure. If #BLM people want to get up and interrupt every speech by every presidential candidate from now until the end of time, it's not our place – whether we're white, black, or any other race – to tell them not to. Clearly being polite and patient has not worked out terribly well for Black Americans. Second, the Sanders campaign has indeed been remarkably tone-deaf on race, resembling a Nader campaign that emphasizes stroking off white progressives and doesn't seem to know how to appeal to anyone who isn't moved by arguments about economic inequality. He deserves the criticism he has received. Finally, I don't believe that Willis's criticism comes from anywhere other than a deep desire to see these issues addressed and to see the movement succeed. He has been vocal and consistent for more than a decade, filling the internet with all manner of useful commentary about the same issues that #BLM has come to represent.

That said, I really don't understand how it's so sacrilegious to suggest that maybe – just maybe – this is counterproductive. By all means, interrupt the hell out of every political figure who isn't paying attention to these issues. The interruption isn't the bad part. The having nothing to say when the microphone is in hand is the bad part. The media and The Establishment have long since figured out that the best possible way to discredit protesters is to stick the camera in their faces and let them talk. The resulting footage gives every American inclined to discredit a social movement the perfect opportunity to do so. It happened with Occupy Wall Street. It even happened with the Tea Party, although their short term influence was considerable.

Nobody likes criticism. Criticism, even when well meaning, usually stings. Often it takes a long time to recognize the value of critical advice. Even if we know intellectually that criticism is intended to help us, we still have a natural tendency to resist. And if Oliver Willis or anyone else can't look at this movement and say "Hey maybe come up with a 3-minute summary of your goals so that when you get the chance to spread your message there will be an actual message to spread, since that will probably accomplish more than extemporaneous word salad," then it's already a lost cause. This isn't even controversial; staying "on message" is demonstrably essential to successful collective action movements.

If someone is criticizing these protesters because they're Rude or because they should be more compliant, that's a load of horseshit. Shrinking violets aren't successful in this game. If, on the other hand, someone has substantive criticism about methods and how likely they are to accomplish one's goals, it might not be a terrible idea to consider those points rather than lashing out at people who want the same thing you do.

BEDSIDE MANNER

Posted in Rants on August 4th, 2015 by Ed

I don't usually do the "content warning" thing, but let me explain a few things about this video before you see it. Despite the alarmist title and the (deserved) reputation of Live Leak as a purveyor of gore, you're not going to see a man fed through a wood chipper. The video was taken by a bystander after a drive-by shooting in Philadelphia. A stray bullet struck the man in the blue t-shirt in the abdomen. His t-shirt has blood on it, but that's the extent of the horror movie gore. The reason I'm posting it is to draw attention to what happens when the police arrive at minute 4:30. The guy survived and wasn't shot by law enforcement, but in some ways I think this video is as disturbing as the many others we've seen where the victim isn't so lucky.

I am certain that being in professions like healthcare and law enforcement requires a good deal of emotional detachment. You will see horrible things every day and getting somewhat numb to it is a coping mechanism. Even if you started out as someone who cares a lot, the constant exposure to death and blood and the horrible things human beings do to one another would wear you down. I'm sure a Philadelphia police officer has seen enough people with gunshot wounds that he or she will no longer react with, "My goodness! This man needs help immediately! Sir, be calm while I tend to your wounds!" Rationally, we would not expect big city cops to fluff our pillows and rub our boo-boos. It makes sense that they would have something of a no-nonsense bordering on gruff approach to yet another shooting. Nonetheless there is a certain level of communication skills we expect in that line of work, and the ability to make some kind of connection with the general public and to calm people in a crisis are both necessary skills.

That said, you'd think maybe – just maybe – that in the spirit of professionalism they might be able to do a little better than "Hey get up, asshole" followed by pulling a man with a gunshot wound in the abdomen to his feet by the collar of his shirt before making him walk across the street to be shoved into the back of a squad car. Maybe act like you care just a little. Maybe wait for an ambulance or paramedic, given that a gut-shot man is at risk of dying and is in a tremendous amount of pain. Maybe give a half-assed effort at saying something calming or comforting. Remember as you watch the video that this guy is not a suspect; he's an innocent bystander who took a stray bullet sitting on his porch. Notwithstanding the fact that cops are supposed to treat everyone, even Bad Guys, professionally, you would expect that a bleeding guy who did nothing wrong would be most likely to get a sliver of kindness.

Short of assuming that this is some kind of one-off occurrence, which crosses the thin line separating optimistic and naive, it's not very difficult to figure out why relations between the community and law enforcement are so bad in urban areas. What do we expect residents to think about the police when they act like trash collectors, grabbing someone who has been shot, tossing him in a car, and driving off without a word? Nobody should be expected to work 8-10 hours per day with a bright smile plastered on their face, but come on. Even when we're neither asking nor expecting a lot of the police they find ways to disappoint.

BEST SIXTEEN YEARS OF MY LIFE

Posted in Rants on July 30th, 2015 by Ed

Having recently sold an older but impeccable German sports car for a substantially cheaper and more practical Japanese econobox, I found myself in the odd position of having an amount of cash on hand greater than what would be necessary to escape the country on short notice. In the spirit of responsible adulthood I decided that it would make the most sense to close out my student loan debt. My student loan debt is old enough to drive; I graduated with my bachelor's degree in 1999 and the money owed for services long ago rendered has been more or less a permanent feature for my entire adult life. Now it's gone.

I had to borrow about $30,000 to cover my educational expenses between the time I graduated from high school in 1996 and from college in December of 1999 (grad school fortunately didn't cost anything except seven years of my life that I'll never get back). Combined with perhaps another $5000 run up on credit cards to cover my extravagant insistence on food and shelter and the earnings of various part-time forms of employment throughout, my college degree cost me around $35,000. As insecure and unsuccessful people tend to do, I'm always eager to point out that I wasn't on the Mommy and Daddy plan as most undergraduates are/were. I did the kind of shit that political candidate boast about in an attempt at authentic Common Man cred. There was more than one occasion on which I got 30 days of meals out of a 50 pound bag of rice. I probably have all the canceled rent checks in a box somewhere, and I can regale you with how hard it was to make some of them clear.

The point here is not that I'm a good person because we all know that's silly, nor is it to argue that hard work and self-reliance build character. I wouldn't recommend doing it that way to anyone, ever. It sucked. It was equal parts anxiety and fatigue and it was absolutely No Fun. If someone else would have offered to pay my bills I would have taken them up on it in a heartbeat. Anyone who claims otherwise, that they would never pass up the character-building opportunity it offers, is lying or very stupid. Instead, the point is that I managed to get out of a very good state university with a degree for a grand total of $35,000, give or take. What would the same thing cost today? Any way you look at it, my experience of being a normal person going to a normal school without a massive amount of outside financial support now sits on the boundary dividing unlikely and impossible.

If, instead of something like $12,000 per year the school had asked me for $25-30,000 per year as they do today, what would have been my options? There's no way I could pay that out of pocket. Assuming I borrowed it, my total debt at graduation would look more like $90,000-100,000 instead of $30,000. It took me long enough to pay back what I actually owed. How long would it take me, and at what cost to my other financial options in life, to pay off three times as much? Aside from the baseline cost of tuition and other class-related expenses like textbooks and fees, the cost of living in most college towns has gone through the roof as well. I dare you to find affordable housing (for students and non-students alike) in the proximity of your average big university. As an undergraduate I was able to rent studio/efficiency apartments for something like $400/month back in the late 1990s. That same apartment is, according to the property management company's website, a $900/month apartment 16 years later. And I bet it's still the same carpet.

When doing the math, the inescapable conclusion is that anyone who hopes to get a college degree today is in one of three situations. They could get a cheap online degree and find that it's worthless. They could borrow the money to pursue a more expensive and valuable degree and then graduate with a truly crushing and ludicrous amount of debt. Or they could have rich parents who pay for it, graduating with the ability to pursue opportunities rather than taking whatever shit job pays best in order to start chipping away at a six-figure loan balance.