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Notes on the US Student Loan Crisis

Notes on the US Student Loan Crisis

This is just to capture some initial thoughts about a very complex problem.

I think it’s difficult for people to understand how much education costs now. The situation has changed so very much over a generation that costs and priorities do deserve some analysis. Our parents’ generation could earn enough over the summer job to pay for college, and no-one had to accrue substantial debt. Housing was much less exensive, too. Sometimes the loan is more for room and board than anything else, but who can really live on $10k a year anyway?

At the same time colleges are not paying adjuncts (who are more and more of the teaching resources, not full time professors) a living wage. There are fewer paths to a career in higher education. College presidents and upper administrators can make millions, as do football coaches, but not the people who have actually earned their status as world experts in their fields. There’s always enough money for the campus landscaping, but maybe not so much for the faculty.

The nation as a whole suffers in terms of our brain trust against the world stage, and some of our best and brightest are fleeing. Skills training is fine, but it is insufficient – even for business. Occasionally some higher levels of discernment – the kind that come from a well-rounded education – are needed.

The student loan program as it exists is without any consumer rights at all. What few forgiveness programs are in place count any forgiveness amount as taxable income. We’re at a point now where federal money in later life is impacted – loans can be taken out of social security first. If you’re not yet retired, you’d better be doing very well indeed to pay your loan and your children’s loans too (as is now required, at least in part).

The way the loans are designed, most of the payment is toward revolving interest (accrues daily) not principal. Hardly any of my payment goes toward the balance. 8 years paying, not much of a drop.

Currently national student loan debt exceeds even credit card debt. For many, there is no escape from it in a lifetime. At this point, most would need to send their children out of the country to get an advanced degree.

College only for the rich … all the gains for education since WWII thrown away so, so easily.

Hello AT&T – Structural Silo Problem on Your Billing Systems

Hello AT&T – Structural Silo Problem on Your Billing Systems

For the second time in two months, I’ve had to spend time with an AT&T customer service representative. It’s still not sorted out. You have structural issues. This time, I did it all in text. Observe, exhibit A (slightly altered for privacy):

Thank you for choosing AT&T. A representative will be with you shortly.
You are now chatting with S.
S: Hello my name is S. Thank you for allowing me to be your specialist today. How may I assist you?
Heidi: Hey – I had a long conversation with a rep last month on the overcharges – it was supposed to have been adjusted to $200-something, but you guys auto-charged me 426.10.
S: I apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced.
S: I apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced regarding billing concern. You have reached the right person. I can help you with that!
S: Please allow me a moment, while I access your account.
Heidi: Was my conversation documented? It took a while to straighten out,.
S: I will check your notes.
Heidi: I’m supposed to be charged something like 240 a month. The current bill looks over as well, but I can’t believe after all that there was an autopay of $426 last month.
S: I am checking it.
Heidi: ok
S: Please allow me a moment, while I access your account.
S: Heidi, as I can see that your U-verse bill is correct. That is $64 plus taxes.
Heidi: Previous Balance $493.78Payment – 08/10 $426.10CRAdjustments $67.68CRBalance $0.00New Charges $285.92Amount to be Debited $285.92
Heidi: 426.10 – charged last month
Heidi: 285.92 charged this month
S: Heide, regarding the adjustment, I can help you to reach our wireless department.
S: Your inquiry requires contact with a specialist who handles billing and payment requests for wireless accounts. I apologize that I do not have access to your records to assist you in my office. Allow me a moment to connect you to a representative who will be able to assist you. In that event that you may be disconnected, please contact a representative at 1-800-xxxxxxxx or visit the wireless website at: http://www.att.com/wireless
Heidi: I am on a share plan – why is one phone costing a lot more than the other two?
Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at AT&T Wireless Customer Care.
Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘V’.
Heidi: Wow, ok. So can you read the transcript so far?
V: Heeeeey there Heidi , good evening! I will be happy to take a look at this .
V: I am going to take up the notes
Heidi: I went through this last month, and was quoted a figure of 200 something after adjustment, but my account went autopay for over 400 – and this month, it’s 285, with one phone being charged a lot more than the other two. I do not have international, and although there is no charge here, it’s on there twice for some reason. Lots of problems here and I am quite unhappy.
Heidi: I have had other things now tied up because this money was taken, despite my being told it would not.
V: I apologize for the inconvenience .
V: Let me pull up your account so we can get this taken care of.
Heidi: Last month they said it was because the changes to my account were on some kind of cusp date and it messed everything up. I thought that my time spent last month on this was going to be my last major issue.
V: Can you provide me your 10 digit phone number?
Heidi: XXX-XXX-XXXX
Heidi: I have a share plan – two other lines belong to my husband and son.
V: Thank you
Heidi: For some reason, mine is more expensive
V: Hey Heidi lets try to get one thing handled at a time I can assure you we will get this handled today.
Heidi: ok. I’ll give you a chance to read and examine for yourself then. 🙂
V: Thank you
V: I am in now reviewing the bill
Heidi: Look at this month, and last month.
V: Already ahead of you
Heidi: ok
V: Let me break down some things
V: One line can be any line really has to be charged for the plan plus the price of the phone . In your case it was your husband who was charged for the plan and his line and you were only charged for the price of the line.
Heidi: No – I am charged for everything.
V: Okay so your husband is the one who is charged for the line correct?
Heidi: And it’s my phone line that is more expensive, not his.
Heidi: No – I pay the bill. No one else pays the bill. We recently created a new number, along with one for my son, to take advantage of the 99 cent phones and the share plan.
Heidi: I have always been a customer.
Heidi: My husband switched companies to you.
V: Okay Heidi just a moment
Heidi: He shouldn’t be charged anything at all.
Heidi: One bill, three lines
Heidi: I pay
V: I understand completely
Heidi: It’s supposed to be about 230-240 a month total for the three lines and home wireless, provided that we do not go over the data plan, which we have not.
V: I definitely see that. I do see you are on the wrong plan as well
V: I see you can save about 20.00 by just switching to the 6gb plan.
Heidi: I am supposed to be on a share plan, allowing for 10gb
V: Correct
Heidi: The bill last month is wrong. At the end of my conservation, I was quoted a figure of 240 or so, then I was still charged 426.
Heidi: The woman I spoke to said she fixed everything. Clearly she did not. I gave her a good customer service survey too.
Heidi: Perhaps you have documentation of that conversation.
V: Heidi.
V: Please I am already looking at these notes please allow me a second to catch up lol I do understand how this could be a little frustrating . I am a customer too and promises are all you have as a customer
V: I can assure you I will get to the bottom of this for us today.
V: I am reading the notes now
V: I have reviewed your plan and your bill but I need you to bear with me.
Heidi: This is infuriating after having already spent time on this.
V: I need you to give me time out the kindness of your heart to get this handled for you
V: I understand completely!
V: I do see that you were credited from your wireless to your landline
V: I see that credit for 429.29
Heidi: 8/10 had a payment of 426.10
Heidi: That’s what I’m questioning first, since that was not the figure by a long shot.
Heidi: And given these continuing issues, I would like to cancel autopay.
V: No worries I can walk you through this
Heidi: I’ll need to vet the charges before the company takes the cash.
V: I understand
V: What page are you on ?
Heidi: pdf of this month’s bill for 285.92, showing a payment last month of 426.10
Heidi: and adjustment credit for only 67.68
V: Okay can you hover over Billing and usage at the top of the page?
Heidi: So I’m asking that the credit adjustment they said they already did by applied to my account. By my calculation, you owe me close to 200.
Heidi: And this month’s bill is also too high, just not by as much.
V: You were also credited 221.43 at 11:19 on 08/06
V: This was added to your landline as well.
Heidi: I don’t have a landline
V: You do have uverse correct?
Heidi: My landline was XXX-XXX-XXXX – it was cancelled a couple of months ago. My Uverse cable was also cancelled. I only have home wireless and three phones.
Heidi: cell phones
V: Okay yes combined bill correct?
Heidi: right
V: Quick question: Have you spoke to uverse yet?
Heidi: yes – they transferred me to you
Heidi: $51.00 Total U-verse Internet Charges$51.00 Total U-verse Charges $64.49
V: Okay they have nothing on file about these credits?
Heidi: No idea, they said they didn’t have access to my record.
V: I do see these credits I am not sure why they do not but I am getting my team on it right now
Heidi: may 14 – 390, june 14-124, july 14 494, aug 14 286
V: Okay just a moment
V: While my team takes a look at this would you like to cancel your auto pay?
Heidi: yes
V: Do you see My att in the orange bar up top?
Heidi: yes
V: Hover over that and then hover over Billing and Usage
Heidi: ok
V: Select Manage Autopay
Heidi: That is not an option
Heidi: Billing/Payments/Usage, none of which with that option,.
Heidi: Bill Details, Paperless Billing, Bill History, Bill Reports / Arrange Late Payment, Payment History / Usage since last bill, usage reports
V: Okay go ahead to the overview page
Heidi: Ok – I got it. Cancelled Sept 9 payment, discontinued autopay.
V: Awesome!!!
V: Woot woot!
Heidi: Now we just have to figure out what the correct amount is.
V: Already ahead of please allow them a few more moments . We are investigating now
Heidi: ok
V: Thank you
V: So we have came to the conclusion that you were conversing with uverse you need to be conversing with combined billing. Your combined bill has its on ban that is why no one can see your adjustments .
Heidi: Why wouldn’t my combined bill have been updated with the adjustments to my… um… bill?
Heidi: Otherwise, what is the point of the combined bill?
V: This is something that you need to speak with our specialist about.
V: I can provide you with the number or I can conference you in .
V: Which ever works.
Heidi: Conference me in please – we need everybody on the same page. This seems to be a service gap on your side.
Heidi: My job is business process improvement in high-tech… lol
V: Okay just a moment
Heidi: Am I going to have to go through this whole story again?
V: No you can give them a brief summary of what is going on basically saying I want to see where these credits are
Heidi: It seems like the person who did the credits last month ought to be on the line for accountability to fix it.
V: I wish it was that simple.
Heidi: If it was put onto a bill that never actually credited me and isn’t on my combined bill.
Heidi: In some kind of weird silo situation.
V: Okay just a moment while I get this handled .
Heidi: Then – why am I the one having to straighten out your process?
Heidi: For the second time in two months.
V: I am giving them a call now please hold a moment
Heidi: ok
V: Thank you
Heidi: I can take direction… I’m just going to give you all that valuable customer feedback. lol
Heidi: And recommend escalating this conversation to see where these gaps can be remediated, and to ensure visibility for better decision-making at a higher level.
Heidi: This isn’t the sort of thing that should be happening to loyal customers.
V: You are totally correct
Heidi: I give my permission for the text to be escalated and communicated up any management chain you like. 🙂
V: Thank you
V: 🙂
Heidi: Perhaps that could save hours on both sides.
Heidi: It’s really a cost-savings, efficiency measure as well as a customer satisfaction and loyalty issue. Might even affect NPS score.
Heidi: Some leader may wish to ride that wagon. One would hope so.
V: I understand
Heidi: I feel badly that you have to listen to this sort of thing and figure out how to fix it for the customer when the problem is clearly a structural one. You’re doing fine.
V: Thank you so much ! I am calling and making sure we get this handled but it seems that every department is closed right now >_< Heidi: of course! lol Heidi: And you get that most people can't call during regular business hours V: Of course it kind of but you know what I wont give up! Heidi: Thank you. V: No probs Heidi: We're just people. We just have to try to navigate as best we can given whatever constraints there are. V: You are so right! V: I do see that every department you can go to is closed 🙁 V: The best thing I can do is give you the number so you can give them a call tomorrow. V: Do you work during business hours? Heidi: Right. So... let me ask you this. Is there a way to continue the issue to tomorrow, saving the notes you have taken or whatever action is on your list so that I don't feel like this was a complete waste of my time? V: Definitley Heidi: Yes - I do. I could probably call on my lunch, but in my experience it takes longer than an hour. V: definitely V: I have already been writing these notes as we went Heidi: And whoever I'm to speak with tomorrow - will they have ACCESS to these notes? lol V: Correct Heidi: Well, thank goodness for small favors. Have you written a summary with a recommendation as a big headline at the top? Heidi: (laughing helplessly) V: Lol yes I actually did it in caps so they can see it Heidi: Too funny, but you know how that works V: Yes I sure do V: lol Heidi: Ok then, who is the proper person for me to call tomorrow, and what is the best thing to say to efficiently propel them into action? V: Just tell them to check out the notes. Here is the number XXX-XXX-XXXX Heidi: And they will know what I mean by "the notes" right? V: Yes Heidi: Ok, then. Thank you V for your efforts on my behalf. You do the company proud. V: Thank you so much ! V: Heidi, you have been a absolute pleasure to help today! On behalf of myself & your AT&T family we hope you have a amazing day. We are always here for you:) Heidi: I hope you have a great night - and thank you.

I Only Report

I Only Report

“A Report to an Academy” (“Ein Bericht für eine Akademie”) is a short story by Franz Kafka, written and published in 1917. In the story, an ape named Red Peter, who has learned to behave like a human, presents to an academy the story of how he effected his transformation. The story was first published by Martin Buber in a German monthly. This English version was translated from German by Philip Boehm.

Esteemed Gentlemen of the Academy!

I feel honored by your invitation to present the academy with a report on my former life as an ape.

I am afraid, however, that I will be unable to comply with your request. It is now some five years that I have been separated from apedom – a short time according to the calendar, perhaps, but an eternity when you have to gallop through it the way I did. And even though I was accompanied, at least for parts of the way, by fine human beings, good counsel, orchestral music and applause, my journey was in essence a solitary one, for the accompaniment-to stick with the metaphor-kept far away from the barricade. This achievement would have been impossible if I had desired to cling to my origins, to the memory of my youth. In fact the first rule I set for myself was the renunciation of any and all forms of obstinacy; I, a free ape, willingly accepted this yoke.

But because of that my memories withdrew more and more. And the gateway of return, had the humans willed it, which at first was as great as the heavens that vault the earth, became less and less lofty and more and more constricted as my development proceeded at its spurred-on pace. I felt increasingly at ease, increasingly included in the world of men. The storm that followed me from my past abated, and today it is nothing more than a breeze to cool my heels, and that distant aperture through which it blows, the same opening I once passed through myself, has grown so small that I would have to scrape the fur off my body to make it through-assuming I had the strength and willpower for the journey back. Frankly speaking, much as I enjoy finding images to describe all this, frankly speaking, esteemed sirs, your own apedom, insofar as something similar may lie in your own past – could not be further from you than mine is from me. But every creature that walks the earth has a ticklish heel: from the small chimpanzee to the great Achilles.

Nonetheless, I may be able to respond to your request after all, at least in the most limited sense, and I’m very happy to do so.

The first thing I learned was how to shake hands. A handshake is a sign of candor, and today, at the pinnacle of my career, I’d like to expand on that first handshake by adding a few candid words as well. And although what I have to say won’t teach the academy anything essentially new, and though it’s far less than what was requested of me-and what I cannot articulate despite my best will-I might nevertheless be able to offer a broad outline of how a former ape managed to penetrate the world of men and continue his existence in that world. Nor would I permit myself to say the little that follows unless I was absolutely certain of myself, having secured an unshakable position in the biggest variété shows of the civilized world:

I come from the Gold Coast. As to the method of my capture I have to rely on the accounts of strangers. A hunting party of the firm Hagenbeck-incidentally I have since downed many a bottle of good red wine with the leader of that expedition-had set up a blind in the bushes by our watering place along the riverbank, where I went in the evening together with my tribe. Shots were fired, I was the only one hit, I took two bullets.

One grazed my cheek, and although the wound was superficial, the bullet did shave out a large red scar that led to my being called Red Peter–a disgusting name, completely inappropriate, only a monkeybrain would come up with a name like that, as if the red mark on my cheek were all that distinguished me from the circus chimp Peter, recently deceased, who was well known in certain parts. All that just as an aside.

The second shot hit me just under the hip, and it was serious; to this day I limp a little as a result. I recently read an article penned by one of the thousands of gossiping gadflies that write about me in the papers, who claims that my apish nature is still not completely repressed, and cites as proof my predilection for removing my pants whenever I have guests to show the entry point of that bullet. The man who came up with that should have each finger shot off his writing hand, one by one. I may remove my pants in front of whomever I please, the most anyone would find there is an impeccably groomed fur and the scar from a shooting wound that was-and I use this word carefully so as not to mislead anyone – that was downright criminal. It’s all plain to see, there’s nothing to hide, for when it comes to truth, even the highest-minded individual is ready to let his manners drop. On the other hand, if the author of that article were to take off his pants when he had visitors, well, that would be another matter entirely, and I’ll give him the benefit of any doubt he doesn’t do this. But he should stop imposing his own delicate sense of propriety on me.

When I woke up after being shot – and this is where my own memory gradually begins – I found myself in a cage on a Hagenbeck company steamships, down in steerage. Instead of four walls of bars this cage had only three, and was fastened to a large crate, which comprised the fourth wall. The whole thing was too low to stand up in and too narrow for sitting down. So I just crouched inside, with my knees bent and constantly shaking, and my face turned toward the crate, as I didn’t want to see anyone and wished only to be left alone in the darkness, the bars cutting into my flesh from the back. This method of confining wild animals is supposed to be particularly advantageous during the first days of captivity, and judging from my own experience I cannot deny that this is indeed the case, from the human point of view.

But at that moment I wasn’t thinking about that. For the first time in my life I was trapped with no way out, at least nowhere I could go directly, since straight ahead of me was the crate, board securely fixed to board. And though I discovered a gap between the boards, which made me howl for joy in all my ignorance, it wasn’t even big enough to stick my tail through, and all my apish strength couldn’t make it any wider.

Later I was told I made unusually little noise, which led everyone to believe I would either soon die or else – assuming I survived the first, critical period -would prove to be very tamable. I survived. Dull sobbing, the painful search for fleas, apathetically licking a coconut, banging my head against the wall of the crate, and sticking my tongue out at anyone who came near me-this is how I first behaved in my new life. But my one prevailing feeling was that I had no way out. Of course today I have to rely on human words to describe what I felt then as an ape, so my portrayal is bound to be distorted, but even if I can no longer attain my old apish truth, at least my depiction is very much in that spirit, there’s no doubt about that.

I had always had so many ways out, and now there was none. I was trapped. My freedom of movement couldn’t have been more restricted if they had nailed me down. And why? You can scratch between your toes until you start to bleed and not discover the reason. Press yourself so close against the bar of the cage until it nearly slices you in two and you won’t find the answer. I had no way out, so I had to invent one: otherwise I was doomed. If I had stayed staring at the wall of that crate I would have inevitably died a miserable death. But that’s where Hagenbeck & Co think apes should be, and so I stopped being an ape. A beautifully clear train of thought I must have somehow hatched out with my belly, since apes think with their belly.

I’m afraid that you may not understand exactly what I mean by a way out, which I mean in the most ordinary and fullest sense of the phrase. I am deliberately avoiding the word freedom, because I don’t mean this grand feeling of freedom on all sides. As an ape I may have known it, and I’ve met humans who yearn for exactly that. But I myself have never asked for freedom, neither then nor now. As an aside: freedom is something people deceive themselves with far too frequently. And just as it counts as one of the most sublime feelings, so, too, can it lead to the sublime disappointment. Often, before going on stage as part of a revue, I’ve watched this or that pair of trapeze artists high in the air by the ceiling. They would swing and sway, floating into each other’s arms, one would carry the other by her hair in his teeth. “So that’s another example of human freedom,” I thought, “ego-maniacal and high-handed.” What a mockery of holy nature! There’s not a building on earth that could withstand the laughter of the apes at such a sight.

No, I didn’t want freedom. All I wanted was some way out – right, left, wherever it might lead. I kept my demand small, so that if it turned out to be a delusion, the disappointment would be no greater. Anything to get on, to get out! And not just stand there with upraised arms pressed against the wall of some crate.

Today I see clearly that I could never have escaped without the greatest inner tranquility. Indeed, I think I owe everything I have become to the calm that came over me after those first few days at sea. And I probably have the crew to thank for that.

They’re good people, despite everything. To this day I enjoy recalling the sound of their heavy steps that echoed through my half-sleep back then. They had the habit of taking everything extremely slowly. If one of them wanted to rub his eyes, he’d raise his hand as if it were a hanging weight. Their jokes were crude, but hearty. Their laughter was generally mixed with coughing that sounded dangerous but didn’t mean anything. They always had something in their mouths to spit out and couldn’t care less where it landed. They were constantly complaining about the fleas jumping from me to them, but they weren’t ever really angry at me; they realized that fleas thrive in my fur and that fleas are jumpers, so they learned to live with that. When they weren’t on duty they’d sometimes sit around me in a half circle, more cooing than speaking to one another. They would stretch out on the crates and smoke their pipes, slapping their knees whenever I made the slightest movement, and now and then one of them would take a stick and tickle me where it felt pleasant. I can’t say I’d accept an invitation to take another voyage on that ship, but nor could I claim that all the memories I have from that passage are ugly ones.

Above all, the tranquility I acquired among these people kept me from trying to escape. Looking back, I think I must have sensed that if I wanted to live, I needed to find some way out, and I must have understood that fleeing would not accomplish this. I no longer know whether such an escape was possible, but I believe it was – surely escape is always an option for an ape. Today my teeth are such that I have to be careful even with ordinary nutcracking, but back then it would have probably been just a matter of time before I chomped my way through the lock on the door. But I didn’t do that, for what would it have gained me? As soon as I stuck my head out they would have recaptured me and locked me up in an even worse cage, or else I might have crept off unnoticed, to the other animals–for instance to the giant boa that was caged across from me, and breathed my last breath in its embrace. I even might have managed to steal onto the upper deck and jump overboard, in which case I would have rocked a while on the water and then drowned. Desperate deeds every one. I didn’t calculate things in such a human fashion, but under the influence of my surroundings I acted as though I had.

I didn’t calculate, but I probably observed things in peace and quiet. I watched the people going back and forth, always the same faces, the same movements, I often had the impression there was only one of them. So this man, or these men, went about with no impediment. A lofty purpose began to dawn on me. No one promised me they would open the bars if I acted like them. After all, promises aren’t made for seemingly impossible tasks. But when such tasks are accomplished nevertheless, the promises are made after the fact, and exactly where you would have looked for them in vain before. Except there wasn’t much about these men that truly tempted me. Had I been a follower of the grand freedom I mentioned earlier, I’m sure I would have chosen the sea over the way out I saw in the gloomy faces of these people. But in any case I spent a long time observing before I ever had thoughts like that, and it was the only accumulated observations that first pushed me in a specific direction.

Imitating people was so easy. Within a few days I was able to spit. We would spit at each other in the face, with the only difference that I licked my face clean afterward, and they didn’t. Soon I was smoking a pipe like an old salt, and if I pressed my thumb into the bowl to boot, the whole steerage would cheer; except it took me a long time to understand the difference between an empty pipe and one that had been fully stuffed.

The whiskey bottle caused me the most difficulty. The smell was sheer torture, I forced myself with all my strength, but it took weeks to overcome my aversion. Strangely, the people took these internal struggles more seriously than anything else about me. While I don’t distinguish the people in my memory, there was one who kept coming back, alone or with his chums, day or night, at the oddest hours. He’d stand outside my cage with the bottle and instruct me. He didn’t understand me, but he wanted to solve the riddle of my being. He would slowly uncork the bottle and look at me, to check whether I had understood; I confess that I always watched him with wild-eyed attention-all too eager, in fact-no human teacher on earth would find such a student of people. After the bottle was uncorked, he would hold it to his mouth; I would follow with my eyes, from the bottle to his throat. He would nod, pleased with his pupil, and place the bottle to his lips. Delighted with my gradual discovery, I would shriek and scratch myself all over, wherever I felt the urge. He liked that – then he’d tilt the bottle back and take a swallow, and I was so impatient and desperate to emulate him that I wound up soiling myself in my cage, which would again cause him enormous satisfaction. Then, swinging the bottle away from his body and back to his lips, he would drink, exaggeratedly bending over for purposes of instruction, and down the entire bottle in a single gulp. Exhausted from so much effort, I could no longer follow him; I’d hang limply on the bar, while he ended his theoretical instruction by stroking his belly and grinning.

Then came the practical instruction. But hadn’t the theoretical part already worn me out? Indeed it had. Still, that’s part of my fate, so despite my exhaustion I reached as best I could for the bottle being held out to me, and, shaking all the while, uncork it. Success gradually brought renewed strength, and I managed to lift the bottle in a manner hardly distinguishable from the original. I raised it to my lips, then threw it away in disgust, disgust, even though it was empty, with nothing left but the smell. I was so revolted I tossed it on the ground, to the sadness of my teacher, and the greater sadness of myself, and the fact that I didn’t forget to stroke my belly and grin after throwing away the bottle didn’t make either one of us feel better.

All too often, that was how my lessons went. And to my teacher’s credit: he wasn’t angry with me, though he did on occasion hold his burning pipe against my body in some place I couldn’t reach, until my fur began to glow, but then he’d dampen it himself with his huge kind hand – he wasn’t angry with me, he realized we were both on the same side, both struggling against my apish nature, and he knew I had the more difficult struggle.

So what a victory it was for him as well as me, when one evening in front of many onlookers – it may have been a party, a gramophone was playing, an officer was carrying on among the crew-at a moment when no one was watching, I grabbed a bottle of whiskey that had been inadvertently left outside my cage, and did a perfect job of uncorking it-to the increasing attention of the group around me. Then I held the bottle to my lips and without the slightest hesitation or grimace, like a bona fide professional drinker, with round and rolling eyes and letting the liquid slosh into my throat, I really and truly drained the bottle, and threw it away, no longer out of desperation, but as an artist. Of course I forgot to stroke my belly, but for that, because I couldn’t help it, because I felt an irresistible urge, because all my senses were intoxicated – well, to make a long story short I called out “Hello!” in a human voice, and with this call I leaped into the community of humans, and their echo of “Listen to that – he’s talking!” felt like a kiss on my body that was thoroughly drenched with sweat.

I repeat: I never felt any desire to imitate people; I imitated them because I was looking for a way out; that was my only reason. And even this triumph was just a small step. I immediately lost my voice, which I took months to recover, and my aversion to the whiskey bottle came back worse than ever. But my course had been set once and for all.

When I arrived in Hamburg and was handed over to my first trainer, I soon realized that I had two choices: zoological park or variety show. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I told myself to focus all my strength on getting into the variety show, there lies your way out. The zoo is just a new cage, if you end up there, you’re lost.

And study I did, gentlemen. You learn when you have to, when you’re looking for a way out, you learn with no holds barred. You drive yourself with a whip, flogging yourself at the slightest opposition. My apish nature came tumbling out of me so fast that my first teacher nearly went ape himself, as the saying goes. He was soon forced to give up teaching and had to be taken to an institution. Fortunately he was released soon thereafter.

But I wore out many more teachers, even several at once. When I became surer of my own abilities, and the press began to follow my progress and my future began to shine, I hired my own tutors, had them set up in five adjacent rooms, and learned from all of them at once, constantly jumping from one room to the next.

What progress! How the rays of knowledge penetrated my waking brain from all sides! I will not deny it: it made me happy. But I must also confess that I did not overvalue my achievement, neither then nor especially today. Through an unprecedented exertion I managed to acquire the education of your average European, which might not mean a thing in itself, but at least it helped me out my cage, at least it provided me with this way out, this human way. I slipped off into the bush, so to speak-the human bush. I had no other choice, assuming that freedom was never an option.

Looking over my development and its purpose up to this point, I neither complain nor am I fully content. I half-sit, half-lie in my rocker, my hands in my pockets, a bottle of wine on the table, and look out the window. If I have company I show them the proper hospitality. My agent sits in the anteroom; if I ring then he steps in and listens to what I have to say. I perform nearly every evening, and my success could hardly be greater. If I come home late after a banquet, a scientific society, or a friendly evening at someone’s house, a small, half-trained chimpanzee is waiting for me and I have my pleasure with her in the manner of apes. I don’t wish to see her by day, as her eyes have the insanity of the befuddled half-tamed animal, which I alone can recognize, and which I cannot bear.

By and large I have accomplished what I set out to accomplish. It cannot be said it wasn’t worth the effort. Nor am I asking for any human judgment; all I wish to do is disseminate knowledge, I only report, and that is all I have done for you tonight, esteemed members of the Academy: I have reported, and nothing more.

My Favorite Actors

My Favorite Actors

For whatever reasons – talent, fondness, favorite movies/shows – these are my favorite actors.

    Adam Sandler
    Alan Alda
    Alan Rickman
    Andy Griffith
    Annette Bening
    Angela Lansbury
    Angelina Jolie
    Anjelica Huston
    Anne Bancroft
    Annie Potts
    Anthony Hopkins
    Antonio Banderas
    Arnold Schwarzenegger
    Ashley Judd
    Audrey Hepburn
    Barbara Stanwyck
    Barbra Streisand
    Bebe Neuwirth
    Ben Kingsley
    Bernadette Peters
    Bill Hader
    Bill Murray
    Bill Pullman
    Brad Garrett
    Brian Dennehy
    Bruce Willis
    Cameron Diaz
    Catherine Zeta-Jones
    Charlie Chaplin
    Charlize Theron
    Christian Slater
    Christopher Lloyd
    Christopher Walken
    Clint Eastwood
    Dennis Haysbert
    Diane Keaton
    Drew Barrymore
    Dustin Hoffman
    Dustin Hoffman
    Dwayne Johnson
    Eli Wallach
    Ellen Degeneres
    Emma Stone
    Emma Thompson
    Emma Watson
    Gene Wilder
    George Takei
    Gillian Anderson
    Giulietta Masina
    Glenn Close
    Grace Kelly
    Gregory Peck
    Helen Hunt
    Helena Bonham Carter
    Holly Hunter
    Hugh Grant
    Ingrid Bergman
    Jack Black
    Jack Nicholson
    James Earl Jones
    James Stewart
    James Woods
    Jamie Lee Curtis
    Jeff Goldblum
    Jessica Lange
    Jodie Foster
    John Candy
    John Cleese
    John Gielgud
    John Goodman
    John Travolta
    Johnny Depp
    Jon Stewart
    Jude Law
    Judi Dench
    Julia Louis-Dreyfus
    Julia Roberts
    Julianne Moore
    Juliette Binoche
    Juliette Lewis
    Kate Winslet
    Katharine Hepburn
    Kathleen Turner
    Kathy Bates
    Kevin Spacey
    Kyle MacLachlan
    Lara Flynn Boyle
    Leonardo DiCaprio
    Leonard Nimoy
    Leslie Nielsen
    Liam Neeson
    Madeline Kahn
    Maggie Smith
    Malcolm McDowell
    Mandy Patinkin
    Marcello Mastroianni
    Martin Short
    Meg Ryan
    Mel Brooks
    Meryl Streep
    Michelle Pfeiffer
    Mireille Enos
    Morgan Freeman
    Nicolas Cage
    Nicole Kidman
    Owen Wilson
    Patrick Stewart
    Patti Lupone
    Peter Falk
    Peter O’Toole
    Peter Sellers
    Phil Hartman
    Robert De Niro
    Roddy McDowall
    Rutger Hauer
    Ryan Gosling
    Sandra Bullock
    Sharon Stone
    Sherilyn Fenn
    Sidney Poitier
    Sigourney Weaver
    Stockard Channing
    Susan Sarandon
    Teri Garr
    Tilda Swinton
    Tim Curry
    Tim Robbins
    Tom Cruise
    Tommy Lee Jones
    Uma Thurman
    Vanessa Redgrave
    Viggo Mortensen
    Vincent Price
    Vivien Leigh
    Wesley Snipes
    Whoopi Goldberg
    Will Smith
    Willem Dafoe
    William Hurt
    William Shatner
    Winona Ryder
    Woody Allen

For various reasons, I actively dislike these actors:

    Arnold Schwarzenegger (on both lists!)
    Ben Stein
    Charleton Heston
    John Travolta (on both lists!)
    Mel Gibson
    Tom Cruise (on both lists!)

Now, who did I forget?

Stuff that Caught My Eye – Ouch!

Stuff that Caught My Eye – Ouch!

A snapshot of recent bits:

Video

So Called “War on Christmas” Persecution

To this strawman viral post:

“We can’t say Merry Christmas, now we have to say Happy Holidays? We can’t call it a Christmas tree, it’s now called a Holiday tree? Because it might offend someone? If you don’t like our “Customs” and it offends you so much then LEAVE!!! I will help you pack. They are called customs and we have our traditions. If you agree with this please post this as your status!! I AM A PROUD USA CITIZEN… MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!! Do you have what it takes to repost this?”

Response:

You can say Merry Christmas as much as you want. We just want you to be tolerant of those who prefer to say Happy Holidays or celebrate the season in a way different from the way you do. You can call it a Christmas tree too. You just need to be tolerant of those who prefer to have a secular Holiday tree, or perhaps a Menorah. If you don’t like living in the SECULAR America that the forefathers intended, LEAVE. I will help you pack. Perhaps you can move to a theocracy like Iran or a country with less government involvement like Somalia. I AM A PROUD AMERICAN CITIZEN. Happy holidays to all of you, no matter how you choose to celebrate the season! Do you have what it takes to repost? Happy Holidays Everyone!!!!

My White House Petition. Please sign if you agree!

My White House Petition. Please sign if you agree!

If you are against the corruption, profit motives and loss of rights that go hand-in-hand with handing over core public services to private interests, please sign my White House petition: http://wh.gov/4rb

I didn’t see anything on this topic, so I created it. Please sign and spread the word!

We only have 30 days to get 5,000 signatures in order for your petition to be reviewed by the White House. Until the petition has 150 signatures, it will
only be available from the following URL: http://wh.gov/4rb

We petition the Obama administration to:
Block attempts to privatize social services for profit motives.

Citizens of the U.S.A deserve a basic social safety net, free from the motives of the marketplace. There should never be another house that burns down because the “firefighters fee” hasn’t been paid. Core services should not discriminate.There shouldn’t be clear conflicts of interest, such as a “first responders services” company being formed by Jeb Bush. Players like the Koch Brothers should not be unchallenged in their corrupt war against working people. While there is a place for contracting within a government structure, we have all witnessed the waste, corruption, and loss of rights that go hand-in-hand with handing vital services to less-than-accountable entities. Provide blockers to such corruption, both in and out of government, for the sake of the country and its well-being.
Created: Sep 25, 2011
Issues: Consumer Protections, Economy, Labor

Please spread the word!

1. Facebook: Share on Facebook. Here’s a sample status line to cut and paste into your Facebook status:

Sign the White House petition at “We the People” to block attempted private takeovers of core public services. #BlockPublicServicesTakeover http://wh.gov/4rb
We need 5000 signatures in 30 days for an official response.

2. Twitter: Here’s a sample tweet you can use:

Sign the WH petition to block attempted takeovers of core public services at http://wh.gov/4rb #BlockPublicServicesTakeover

3. Email: Here is a sample email to cut and paste, or create your own.

Dear friends,

I wanted to let you know about a new petition to block attempts by private entities to take over core public services on “We the People,” a new feature on WhiteHouse.gov. Will you add your name to mine? If this petition gets 5,000 signatures by October 25, 2011, the White House will review it and respond!

We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of issues. If a petition gets enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.

You can view and sign the petition here:

http://wh.gov/4rb

Here’s some more information about this petition:

Block attempts to privatize social services for profit motives. Citizens of the U.S.A deserve a basic social safety net, free from the motives of the marketplace. There should never be another house that burns down because the “firefighters fee” hasn’t been paid. Core services should not discriminate.There shouldn’t be clear conflicts of interest, such as a “first responders services” company being formed by Jeb Bush. Players like the Koch Brothers should not be unchallenged in their corrupt war against working people. While there is a place for contracting within a government structure, we have all witnessed the waste,
corruption, and loss of rights that go hand-in-hand with handing vital services to less-than-accountable entities. Provide blockers to such corruption, both in and out of government, for the sake of the country and its well-being.

Just a Light Smattering of Related Material:

Firefighters Watch As Home Burns: Gene Cranick’s House Destroyed In Tennessee Over $75 Fee, by Adam J. Rose

Study: Privatizing government doesn’t actually save money, by Ezra Klein
A new study finds that privatizing government functions is usually more expensive than keeping those jobs in-house. The POGO analysis found that private contractors working with the government make, on average, twice as much as a comparable private-sector worker.

The REAL Reason Why Republicans Want To Abolish FEMA: So They Can Profit From Natural Disasters, by Stephen D. Foster Jr.
Former Republican Governor Jeb Bush is set to lead a newly formed FOR-PROFIT natural disaster response company. According to the Maritime Executive, Bush’s newly created firm, Old Rhodes Holding LLC, joined forces with O’Brien’s Response Management, a subsidiary of SEACOR Holdings, to form a for-profit disaster response company.

Koch Brothers, ALEC and Their Corporate Allies Plan to Privatize Government, by Beau Hodai
“Any rational person can look at what these corporations are doing through ALEC and on their own and know that essentially for-profit corporations are writing legislation in Arizona,” said Caroline Isaacs, AFSC program director. “The spirit of the law—which I think most of us believe is there to prevent money from buying undue influence in politics—is clearly being violated.”

Jim Hightower: The Koch Brothers, Privatization and the Road to Hell, by Jim Hightower.
The megalomaniacal megabillionaires are literally using their money to buy public policy.

You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For: The Economics of Privatization, by Elliott Sclar
“Sclar traveled across the country, examining how different state and local governments attempted to privatize their services. He found that privatization often results in less service for more money, because agencies frequently overlook the high cost of making sure work gets done correctly….”You can save money,” Sclar says, “but you’re taking the cost out of people’s hides at the low end of the wage scale.”

Medicare Is More Efficient Than Private Insurance, by Diane Archer.
Non-partisan data from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) demonstrate definitively that private insurance is increasingly less efficient than Medicare. The data show that Congress should examine and address the role that private insurance is playing in driving up overall health care costs. “If spending on Medicare rose at the same rate as private insurance premiums during that period, Medicare would have cost an additional $114 billion (or 31.7 percent).”

Runaway Spending on War Contractors, NYT Sunday Editorial
The Pentagon and the State Department have sent more than 260,000 private workers to Iraq and Afghanistan. And the report makes a compelling case for the need to cut back substantially on the practice. It also argues that the contracts should be made far more competitive and subjected to far more oversight by government managers. The report cites a host of problems, including kickbacks paid to civilian officials and members of the military, and faulty construction work that has led to the death of American troops.

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