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Civilization, Whither Art Thou
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Civilization, Whither Art Thou

Commentary on Society and Civilization

October 14


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Because You Love It


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I was told the other day by a student, after he found out how much we adjuncts make, "Oh, well, but you love your job." Does this make it okay that we are payed below the poverty line and not given health benefits? Apparently so.

Now, teachers have been getting this for years. I don't know one single profession that is viewed as more altruistic than education. You could argue that non-profits are right there with educators, but at least they are either full-timers or volunteers. Adjuncts are the worst of the worst. When I was a student in graduate school I was given health insurance (great health insurance), life insurance, I paid something like 10 dollars a month for dental and vision, my own desk, and my salary was on par with what I make as an adjunct professor. On top of all that I was getting an education and a degree. What does the adjunct position get me? No office, no desk, no health insurance, low pay.

Why be an adjunct? Well, we all hope that one day we'll find a full-time position that actually gives us those things we used to have as graduate students. Plus, this economy is rough. There aren't many jobs out there for highly educated people. There seem to be plenty of low wage menial labor jobs, but not good jobs. And now the second question. What do adjuncts do?

In short they keep higher education going. If adjuncts didn't exist, let's say tomorrow they all quit, community colleges would bust, big universities would break their budget, and higher education would collapse under the weight of itself. You see, adjuncts and lecturers are paid about a third less (or more) than their full-time equivalents. The difference in work? Nothing. They tell us that the full-timers are going to meetings that we don't have to attend, or that they have some extra duties; but the truth is we both teach the same courses. It's not like adjuncts don't have to grade or something. In fact, full-timers are usually the ones who get teaching assistants if they exist at that institution.

So if you are an administrator then why don't you just hire all adjuncts? Because you will lose your accreditation. So what do you do? You hire the max adjuncts while keeping the ratio on par with standards for the accrediting agencies. This keeps the budget low and everyone above you is happy. All the while the people at the bottom suffer. It has been called the biggest crime an institution can do to not give its adjuncts and lecturers health insurance, but for being the biggest crime it is also the most common practice. This also keeps the budget low.

You tell the adjuncts they can pay for health insurance if they want to. But 500 dollars for health insurance would put an adjunct on the street, seeing as how a paycheck could be 1600 a month. How are you going to pay those student loans, rent, and utilities and then somehow buy food if you're paying a third of your check to health insurance? I've known adjuncts who worked for 10 years and just never went to the dentist because they couldn't afford it. That's sad. These are our professors of students who want to become doctors, nurses, pathology assistants, and physical therapists and they can't afford to go to the dentist.

Teachers on the lower levels aren't faring much better than we are. Even though teachers have seen a dramatic rise in salary over the past 20 years, it has started to decline. Further, teachers are being asked to pay more and more for their health insurance. In fact, in some districts the administration has been giving itself raises and at the same time asking the teachers to forgo their raise for the year. In fact, they don't ask the teachers to not take a raise, they mandate it. So teachers are now being paid less and asked to pay more for the same or worse benefits. If this continues, teachers will have lost what they gained in trying to have decent salaries.

What do we do about it? I'm not sure. The government would need to step in and say that institutions have to treat adjuncts more like full-time employees for something to happen. Currently, adjuncts are all paid on semester-by-semester contracts. Because of this they are treated as seasonal or temporary. But they are far from it. Some adjuncts have worked at an institution for over 10 years (as I said earlier). They keep applying for that rare full-time position, and then don't get it. Very few adjuncts work for less than a few years at an institution, so why then treat them as temporary? Because it helps with the bottom line -- its always about the money.

In fact do we just do this because we love it? Not really. We do it because we ended up here, just like you. I ended up with the training to teach biology at a community college. They offered me a job and I liked it better than working a cash register, which isn't saying much. Now I do enjoy my job, don't get me wrong. And I've been told by people making 100k a year that they envy me, because they hate their job. But I'll tell you what, it makes no sense to me that people should have to hate their job to make a good living. This is a huge problem in this country. I have no idea how to fix it, but beginning to recognize that the two concepts of loving your job and making good money aren't mutually exclusive is a start.

July 15


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Movie Identity Crisis


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At least a few times recently I have been talking to some young person (i.e. a teenager) and they have asked me if I saw such and such movie. I tell them yeah, I saw that a long time ago. That’s when a confused look appears on their face and I have to ask them, “What’s up?” They tell me that the movie just came out and look at me like perhaps at 31 I’m getting Alzheimer’s disease. I figure out what’s going on and inform them the movie they just saw was a remake.

This has become so common today that I almost assume that a movie coming out is a remake. But I don’t want to discuss my issues with remakes or how I think Hollywood is daft like "(pretty)these guys(title Kansas)":http://www.kansas.com/2013/04/07/2750926/when-it-comes-to-hollywood-remakes.html claim or how excited I am like these other guys out there. No, I want to discuss what this means for the younger generation in terms of how they define themselves.

When I was born in 1982 Blade Runner came out. It was one of my father’s favorite movies and has become one of mine as well. Other movies that came out in 1982 include E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Last Unicorn, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, and Tron. Of these films the last two have been remade or adapted and many of the others are in the works of being remade. So what happens when the new Blade Runner comes out? It is reportedly going to be a sequel, which would imply that it is for my parents’ generation and perhaps mine as well; but certainly not these kids born in the year 2000. Now where I was raised in Austin, Texas, we all loved The Beatles. I’m not sure why, but we coopted them and made them our own. No one really seemed to mind and for all appearances they seem to be timeless. Go in to a music store today and The Beatles will be everywhere. But we had our own music as well. Nirvana, Sublime, Tupac, The Notorious BIG, Barenaked Ladies, The Spice Girls, No Doubt, and Madonna to name just a few. Those beatniks from Liverpool were just an addition to our repertoire. So what does this generation have? Not much.

Currently there are over 50 remakes or adaptations in the works or already made. Here’s a quick table to lay it out for you:

|_. Name |_. Original Year |_. Name |_. Original Year| | Arthur | 1982 | They Live | 1988 | | The Crazies | 1973 | Romancing the Stone | 1984 | | The Incredible Shrinking Man | 1957 | The Illustrated Man | 1969 | | When Worlds Collide | 1951 | Fantastic Voyage | 1977 | | Back to School | 1986 | Meatballs | 1979 | | Metropolis | 1927 | The Dirty Dozen | 1967 | | 13 | 2005 | Conan | 1982 | | Clash of the Titans | 1981 | Akira | 1988 | | The Karate Kid | 1984 | Death Wish | 1974 | | Footloose | 1984 | The Taking of Pelham 123 | 1974 | | State of Play | 2003 | The Last House on the Left | 1972 | | Fame | 1980 | Red Dawn | 1984 | | Short Circuit | 1986 | The Thing | 1982 | | The Birds | 1963 | Hellraiser | 1987 | | Poltergeist | 1982 | Old Boy | 2003 | | WestWorld |1973 | 36 | 2004 | | Logan’s Run | 1976 | Child’s Play | 1988 | | The Rocky Horror Picture Show | 1975 | Flash Gordon | 1980 | | Rosemary’s Baby | 1968 | Starfighter | 1984 | | Forbidden Planet | 1956 | Sympathy for Lady Vengeance | 2005 | | Near Dark | 1987 | Barbarella | 1968 | | Red Sonja | 1985 | Last Tango in Paris | 1972 | | Angel Heart | 1987 | The Host | 2006 | | High and Low | 1963 | My Fair Lady | 1964 | | Rashomon | 1950 | All of Me | 1984 | | 10 | 1979 | Captain Blood | 1935 | | Highlander | 1986 | Brighton Rock | 1947 | | Dredd | 1995 | Evil Dead | 1981 | | Robocop | 1987 | Annie | 1982 | | Point Break | 1991 | The Crow | 1994 | | The NeverEnding Story | 1984 | American Psycho | 2000 | | Porky’s | 1982 | Little Shop of Horros | 1986 | | The Lone Ranger | 1956 | Dark Shadows | 1966 -1971 | | Man of Steel | 1978 | Spiderman | 2002 |

Wow. I’m going to stop there with the table; and it is quite a table. There are two things that really struck me when I was making this table. One was that many of these movies have sequels and the other is that it is horribly incomplete. Will we have a Neverending Story: Part II? Will there be an Evil Dead 3? I’m not sure. I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But after we filter out the remakes what are we left with? Not a whole heck of a lot in the mainstream world. There are definitely some indie films out there with original plots, but even the indie world is getting into the remake business. It seems that before long we will only be able to see remakes and the new generations will have nothing of their own. Imagine the teenager who thinks that Evil Dead is an awesome film and that it is part of his generation, only to learn that a huge cult following around the original already exists. How does he feel?

I feel that much of my identity came from the movies I saw. They are a large part of who I am and my memories as a child and teenager. Is there an identity crisis brewing in this younger generation where they have no solid identify of their own besides movies like _The Fast and the Furious_, _The Hangover_, and _Hostel_? Where is or perhaps what is their _E.T._ or _Star Wars_? What is their _Neverending Story_ or _Karate Kid_? Surely not the remakes.

Perhaps in time we will see what becomes of this generations memory of film. I wish them the best and good luck; because they don’t have a lot to work with.

May 07


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Thrift Shop


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When "(h2)Macklemore and Ryan Lewis":http://macklemore.com/ released their new hit "Thrift Shop":http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes I'm not sure if he knew just how much press they would get. It is clear from other tracks such as "Same Love" that the group do see music as a method for protesting society. Because of this I feel I am not too crazy for analyzing "Thrift Shop" on a critical level.

What makes "Thrift Shop" a unique song is that it promotes buying used clothes from real thrift stores like Goodwill and not trendy and consequently expensive thrift stores where many "(classname)contemporary hipsters(title tooltip)":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hipster_(contemporary_subculture play. It's clear from his line about his jacket smelling like "piss" that he isn't buying clothing that is an eighty-dollar 'very good' condition jacket; these are 'poor' condition very cheap items. It's clear that when he goes into his riff on people spending fifty-dollars on a T-shirt that "6 other people" in the club are wearing that he feels he can buy cheap clothing, wash it, and then look "incredible."

But what are the implications of the message? Initially it could be seen as just another hipster meme in the world of 'I know something the rest of the world doesn't." It seems though to go deeper than that. For instance, the song is clearly playing on the fact that the contemporary hipsters are bringing back styles from previous generations, while claiming screaming their frustration of how they just can't stand how original they are. Macklemore seems to be mocking them as ironic icons of our generation by saying he'll take your granddad's clothes and make them cool again.

In this analysis there are two very important themes at work here. First, that people are being "swindled" by corporations into buying "fifty-dollar t-shirts" that are in all likelihood made in a sweat-shop by a child. For instance, the infinitely trendy Apple products have been implicated in having "(classname)child labor(title tooltip)":http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/jan/25/apple-child-labour-supply in their supply chain. This isn't surprising when one considers that 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are said be laboring across the globe, the bulk of them (50%) in Asia. For more information on this, see the "(classname)International Labour Organization's(title tooltip)":http://www.ilo.org/global/lang--en/index.htm website.

The second theme, which is by no means less important than the first, is that trends, which hipsters try and create, are just revisions or even simple reclamations of past generations trends. This is important for society in that it minimizes the grandeur of the supposed invention of a trend. For instance, today the bow-tie has come back into fashion in the hipster community and has worked its way into stores across the nation, even in stores such as J.C. Penney's and naturally stores such as Nordstrom. But Macklemore seems to be claiming that these trends are nothing special and you don't need to spend all your money on new hip trends when they already exist in the thrift store "down the road."

My question is response to this message is this: if we start to shop at thrift stores instead of department stores, what will happen to prices and the supply chain? It seems clear to me that demand has dictated price even at the thrift store level. As someone who has shopped at thrift stores I have seen stores add carousels with "brand name" items. These carousels of clothing are two to three times as expensive as the no-name jeans on the other rack. Even if everyone began to only buy the cheaper jeans, shirts, pants, etc. the supply chain would eventually run out. Clothes rip, get holes, and are eventually worn down -- even high quality clothing with wear out eventually. This means that at some point thrift stores would run out of product.

The buying of used clothing would initially hurt the larger new clothing businesses, but individuals would need to start shopping there again once the supply of used clothing ran out or became more expensive than the new clothing. We have seen this already in the music world. Vinyl records have become so trendy that they are more expensive now than CDs in many cases -- in both the used and new category. Whereas 10 years ago I could buy an old Beatles album for a quarter, they are now selling in the double digits when the CD is being sold somewhere for $4.99.

My conclusion is that while Macklemore makes great points in his song they are untenable as solutions to the larger global problem. To fix the issues at hand we would need to stop child labor, pay living wages to workers, and as a society support businesses who have good moral business practices. The major issue at hand is price. To do this prices on clothing would go way up. We as a society would not be able to just go out and buy a new outfit whenever we pleased for extremely cheap prices. Perhaps we'd have a different perspective if articles like "(classname)this(title tooltip)":http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/02/opinion/akter-bangladesh one on the costs of cheap clothing made the news or papers more often.

In the end, thrift shops and reuse stores may help in the transition to a world with more ethical business practices, but it is by no means a solution.


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Older entries can be found in the archive.

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