December 21, 2006

Two Trees of Knowledge

Starting out after college is like a rebirth. After everything one has worked for in their 16+ years of education, 'the real world' is truly starting anew. As much as we think we learn during years of living with the parents and at college, there's so much that is new and different and yet to be experienced. This has no doubt been the case for myself these past months. In many ways it can be compared to our first coming into the world, but one parallel stands out as a tragic commonality.

According to Christian tradition, man is brought into the world tainted with sin. This 'original sin' is the remnant of Adam and Eve's decision to give into temptation against the request of God. Adam and Eve choose to take a bite of an apple that grew from the Tree of Knowledge, which opened their souls to the capacities of evil. Religious types believe that this decision permeates each and every one of us, as we are all decedents of Adam and Eve. When we are born, we are already shadowed by this sin, despite being only capable of limited consciousness.

For many of us, the second rebirth of entering 'the real world' is also coupled with an 'original sin'. Because we all took a bite of the apple from the tree of knowledge that is America's collegiate system, we are doomed to decades of suffering. The sin of which I speak is of course, student loans.

Some of us took bites from the collegiate apple because of personal temptation and desire, while others only did so because of the demands of society and the economy. For any reason, those not so fortunate to have indulgences paid for by their parents are subjected to loan repayment for any number of years following their birth into real world.

Entering the real world carrying the weight of tens of thousands of dollars in debt is frustrating- particularly so in this age of intense competition for limited jobs. I graduated in early June, and for six months I have struggled to find a job. Even with a masters degree, it has been a struggle to become employed. Employed or not, I have to start repaying college loans now. I made my first payment yesterday. I'll continue making payments every month for the next ten years.

This original sin of ones' rebirth serves only to slow us down- especially in these early times of being a recent graduate. Having to pay a few hundred dollars a month toward my education loan keeps me from turning the heat on in my apartment as often.

I find it frustrating that we pay to go to college with the outlook that a university education will get us a 'good' job. Even though it hasn't provided any employment, I'm required to pay for it. Is there a customer service desk somewhere? I'd like a refund.

Realistically, it's common thought to believe that college costs too much, particularly when higher education is free (or close to it) it many other western countries. At the rate that tuition has been rising, I consider myself lucky to have matriculated when I did. Not only was tuition lower then, but I also started my higher education when the economy was down a few years ago, meaning I had a lower interest rate as well.

I checked into deferments on the Department of Education website. It is possible to extend the loan for a while if you're unemployed. However, there isn't a way to defer if you're underemployed. That's the real trick- I couldn't last being completely unemployed. How would I put food on the table or a roof over my head? But at the same time, that doesn't mean that I make enough to dedicate a few hundred dollars a month to repay a loan. Repayment should be held for 24-48 months after graduation so that a former student can find a solid job with a sufficient wage before having to repay loans.

It's hard not to feel that the serpent of society has tricked me into committing a sin while I remain unemployed. If the scourge of student loans is the modern equivalent of original sin, I best start praying.

December 12, 2006

In the game of Christmas, I'm a winner!

Today is December 12. They say there's twelve shopping days left til Christmas, and to this point I haven't made a single trip to the mall!

I despise the mall this time of year. It could stem from my junior year of high school's holiday season working retail in the mall, or maybe I flat out don't like the mall period. I can't stand the crowds, parking a mile and a half from the entrance, or waiting in line for 20 minutes to pay for an overpriced gift.

This season I've done much of my shopping online. Through Froogle and others, I've managed to find great prices for the same gifts. The selection is great, I can immediately check out reviews for an item and price shop. They do all the leg-work and ship it to my door! I don't even have to leave my computer... I don't even have to put on pants!

I have made a few concessions to my girlfriend in all this. I have gone to a couple of stores to purchase gifts that we are buying 'together'. But those stores have been more necessary, and include trips to Meijer, where we need to go get groceries anyhow.

For a myriad of reasons, I'm not all that wild about Christmas. But online shopping helps me deal with it a little better.

December 09, 2006

Cell 'Faux'ne

I'm in the market for a new cell phone. It will be my 3rd phone ever, excluding the one I used in Germany for three months. I'm changing services for the first time too- going from Sprint to Cingular. This time I'm going to get a phone I really like. The choice is all mine, so I want to get one that has a good grouping of features and won't be obsolete once i get out of the store.

The problem I'm having is that I can't quite find a phone that has the features I want and still functions as a phone. Today's cell phones have cameras and mp3 players packed in so tight that there's barely room for a functioning battery.

I'd prefer if the R+D money was spent not on video recorders, but instead on giving me a stronger signal or longer battery life. I don't understand why I can take pictures with my phone, yet can't get signal inside my own house. I seldom use the camera function on my current phone, and I doubt I'd ever use an MP3 feature, because I have an iPod.

I understand, accept, and look forward to when the cell phone becomes the all-in-one pocket item that does anything you need. But I don't think the technology is quite there yet. So many phones are trying to accomplish that feat now instead of waiting until its affordable to have a 4MP camera and a 2GB MP3 player inside a phone. When that day does arrive, however, I'll certainly jump on that bandwagon. I'm sure those days aren't too far ahead.

December 05, 2006

I've had enough hubris

The Iraq study group led by former Secretary James Baker will meet with Bush tomorrow to brief him on the results of the study. While a "phased withdrawl" is supposed to be the primary option selected by the commission, the real question at hand is not necessarily what the recommendations will be. Instead, more focus is on Bush himself, and whether he will heed any advice he is given. To date, Bush has been quite stubborn when it comes to outside advice. On issues from Iraq to social policy, he has chosen to lend an ear only to those in his administration, or his neo-conservative political base.

Needless to say, I have my doubts about how well he will receive the report tomorrow.Bush's plan of "staying the course" until "victory" is entirely flawed. First and foremost, Bush has only vaguely explained what victory in Iraq is. At what point has the war been won? There are no benchmarks to test any result of the Iraq conflict- that is to say, we'll never know if the war has been won. The qualification of the outcome is entirely subjective. The U.S. will have won when Bush says so.

This is quite unlike other wars in American history. In the Revolutionary War, the colonies won when the British packed up and left. In the Civil War, the North won when the South formally surrendered. In World War II, it was again the surrender of the Axis leaders that decided the outcome.The enemies in Iraq consist of fragmented, factionalized groups with no single leader. When (and if) this war is won, there will be no signed surrender document on the USS Missouri or at the Appomattox courthouse.

What needs to be determined is what the criteria should be for a victory. Bush claims that the Iraq government needs be able to stand on its own in order for the U.S. to pull out. What constitutes standing on its own? Does the government need to establish a certain amount of laws? Raise an amount of funds through taxes? Create an army of a certain size? Have an election? Specific criteria need to be established to quantify or better qualify the circumstances that would constitute "victory." The country is owed this simple idea. If U.S. troops are going to stay until they are victorious, a well defined 'victory' scenario is necessary. For all we know now, the victory conditions in Bush's head could be quite maligned, such as the completion of an oil pipeline, imposition of an Israel-friendly leader, or the agreement that an Iraqi army will have a stand-off against Iran.

If the U.S. government wants to salvage foreign relations in the Middle East, it needs to be proactive about it. While the warring factions continue to destroy buildings, kill civilians and be otherwise unruly, the United States should find a moderately civil region and begin rebuilding the infrastructure. Start by constructing a few roads, water wells, bridges and continue with schools hospitals and the like. Such an endeavor would be inexpensive by comparison to the amount of money ($315 Billion) currently being spent on destroying those same pieces of infrastructure and society. These kind of projects would remind Iraqis, Arabs, and Muslims why America is a great place. It would also bring proof to support the rationale originally used to invade Iraq. If we wanted to remove Saddam and promote Iraqi freedom and prosperity all along, why aren't we making efforts along those lines?

Bush has been stubborn to alter his actions on just about every issue. It seems as if he's worried about being seen as having made the wrong decisions originally. Or worse, he's worried about being a "flip-flopper"- the very thing his campaign accused Kerry of being back in '04. I don't see there as being anything wrong with changing ones mind. Different times call for different actions.

I appreciate a candidate who is willing to vote for something one time, then 10 years later switch sides and oppose the same issue. It's not 'flip-flopping'- it's called pragmatism, and its an age old methodology. Not all situations are the same- it takes a learning experience to fully understand an issue or an idea. Think about how much Iraq has changed since 2003. While invading Iraq may have seemed like a good idea to the administration 4 years ago, the time and tide has changed and new ideas are required to alleviate the problems in that region. There is nothing wrong with changing a perspective or stance on Iraq. Adjusting ones perspective to reflect a new situation is a symbol of responsibility and leadership, not carelessness or immorality.