Monthly Archives: November 2010


Student Loans

Kelli Space managed to rack up $200,000 in student loans.

Last week, Gawker published a short piece entitled “What $200,000 in Student Debt Looks Like,” a story that featured a 23-year-old who racked up $200,000 in student loans at Northeastern University (yes, that Northeastern University). She blames the astronomical debt on an undergraduate degree on summer classes, books and miscellaneous expenses, and a year spent studying abroad. Ugh.

Now, I have a ridiculous number of students loans. It’s frustrating, but expected–four years of undergrad and six years of graduate school will do that to a person, and it’s hard to complain because I’m doing what I love. But the entire student loan situation for me is kind of like the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case–every time I think about it, I get frustrated.

Articles like this aren’t helping. It’s like that annoying acquaintance you have who happens to have the same political ideology as you but they’re so painfully ignorant that they actually hurt your cause. Pieces like this give people a chance to gawk at the irresponsible student without examining the larger issue: We have a serious problem with student debt, and it’s getting worse. Stow your Horatio Alger ideas about student loan debt for a minute and listen.

The average student has about $25,000 in student loans, which doesn’t really sound like that much to the average student, especially not when compared with the aforementioned $200,000. But actually, that’s quite a bit. According to this student loan calculator, that comes out to a hearty $264 a month payment. Now granted, that’s for a ten-year repayment plan. Obviously, you could change your payment plan, though that would result with you paying a lot more in interest.

More importantly, that is $264 a month that is not. going. anywhere. Short of moving to another country or dying, there is no escaping your student loan payments. Hell, you can declare bankruptcy and unless you are “physically unable to work,” you still have to pay back your student loans. Oh, and before you jump to the next paragraph, you might want to click on that Sallie Mae link to see some of the most ridiculous spin ever; most notably, “Several laws were passed in the 1990s to protect taxpayers from the high number of student loans (estimated at one-fifth) in default or included in a bankruptcy.” Yeah, right. I’m sure those laws were passed to protect taxpayers. Thank you, lawmakers!

Anyway, let’s say that you scoff at my claims, pointing out that over a longer repayment plan, the payments won’t be nearly as much. Well, genius, that really doesn’t matter too much. Because you’ll be paying more in interest (about seventeen thousand dollars more, actually), your loan payments will be $207 a month for a 20 year payment plan instead of $264 a month for the ten-year payment plan. That’s right–you’ll pay almost as much as the loan itself in interest before your loan is paid off. Chew on that for a minute.

And while you’re gnawing, you should also note this: Student loans have increased dramatically over the past decade. Pew research found that undergraduate students who received their degrees in 2008 “borrowed 50% more than their counterparts who graduated in 1996” (adjusted for inflation). Spoiler alert: That’s not dropping anytime soon, as tuition rates generally increase at about twice the general inflation rate. Tuition and fees increase everywhere, just pick a school. How are those increases going to be met? Are baristas at Starbucks going to be given more hours? Are customers at Applebees going to tip their servers better? Is McDonalds going to bump minimum wage? Doubtful. Students will just borrow a few thousand dollars more, and the increases will continue.

When President Obama wanted to help jump-start the economy, he directed a lot of help to homeowners, both current and future. The government helped with foreclosures, passed legislation to help homeowners, and even an $8000 tax credit to potential homeowners. Hey, that’s terrific, but if politicians really wanted to jumpstart the economy, they would target some of that help on those saddled with student loan debt. Ready for this plan, politicians looking to garner votes? How about this: Extend the grace period of the loans by four years (interest-free). How about it, economy? Sure, some frugal graduates would sock away their earnings and pay off a huge chunk of their loans when the four years are up. But for the majority who are working at lower-paying jobs or just enjoying youth, that’s millions of twenty-somethings dropping an extra $250 apiece each month. Sadly, the focus was on the homeowners (probably because they vote).

Speaking of homes, I recently read this fascinating piece in Rolling Stone about a court in Florida was insanely efficient at foreclosures, mostly because they were skirting the law to do so. Journalist Matt Taibbi had a wonderful section that sums up my views perfectly:

“At worst, these ordinary homeowners were stupid or uninformed — while the banks that lent them the money are guilty of committing a baldfaced crime on a grand scale.”

Here, the explicit crime doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean it’s right (as demonstrated in this brilliant and telling graphic). Many jobs in the United States now require a college degree, and with college tuition increasing so drastically (and so consistently), the younger generations don’t have much of a choice. There is only one option: Borrow now and pray you can pay it back later.


Monster Movie Selection: Planet of Dinosaurs

As you know by now, I have an absolute love for monster movies. I used to hit up the now-defunct “Saturday Movie Matinee” video store at the Richland Mall in the bustling megalopolis of Mansfield, Ohio, and I would stare at shelf after shelf of classic (and not-so-classic) monster movies. With limited funds, I would pore over each box, making the tough decision between Island of Terror and The Land Unknown or Invasion of the Body Snatchers (colorized!) and It Came From Outer Space. It was fantastic.

Yet, every once in a while, I would strike gold somewhere else, normally in some discount bin at Meijer. My prize finds were UHF (granted, not a monster movie, but still a classic) and One Million Years B.C. (not to be confused with One Million B.C., starring Victor Mature), and I always kept my eyes open. On one such adventure, my eyes caught an intriguing movie box, featuring scantily-clad women in futuristic costumes fighting a gigantic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Check it:


Not as scandalous as the overseas version, but honestly the idea of people fighting dinosaurs was enough for me. Plenty of dinosaur monster movies exist, but for every One Million Years B.C., there are plenty of craptastic ones (Dinosaurus, King Dinosaur, Lost Continent, People That Time Forgot, The Lost World…). I had high hopes about Planet of Dinosaurs, and to be honest, they were met..eventually.

This movie is, by all measures, an utter disaster. It uses stop-motion effects for the dinosaurs…even though the movie was made in 1978. The actors look (and “act”) like 1970s porn stars. The script is horrible, there is way too much walking, the electronic musical score is almost overpowering, and the plot is pretty cliche. Hell, it’s so bad that the MST3K guys even riffed on it (and did a fantastic job).

And yet, despite its ineptitude, I kept coming back to watch it again and again. Hell, I still own the original vhs I purchased forever ago, the dvd that was released, and even the 30th anniversary dvd (though, through some sort of error, the dvd cover reads “20th anniversary edition“). There is just something about this movie, and if you’re a fan of campy adventure, I think you’ll feel the same way.

Let’s start with the effects. They’re actually pretty great. Check out these dinosaurs:

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And speaking of effects, don’t forget that Planet of Dinosaurs has one of the greatest death scenes of all time:

Now, almost at the opposite end of the spectrum is the acting. Some people have blamed the script, but when you watch the movie…well…it’s pretty obvious. Sure, the plot is borderline cliche, but so are 90 percent of all monster movies. It’s a traditional storyline: Group is stranded, characters suffer suspicions/doubts about one another, the group bands together against a common foe, and ultimately the characters achieve harmony with themselves and their new environment. And, for me, that traditional storyline works, especially when you consider that the group is stranded on a planet of fucking dinosaurs! BAM!

Seriously though, the acting is rough, but the intent is there. Listening to the commentary track (yes, I am that fond of this movie), you hear about this group of people who just wanted to make a movie and, by goodness, they did. Only one of them was a trained actor (and he hams it up something fierce), they acknowledge all of their mistakes, but again the intent was there.

At the end of the day, I think it comes down to the fact that I have weaknesses for dinosaurs and for adventure movies. Quick, name five great dramas. Easy, yeah? Five great comedies? No worries. Five great science fiction films? Please. But five great adventure films? Tricky. And I’m not talking about action/adventure, I mean true adventure, 1950s serial-type adventure. You have Raiders of the Lost Ark (which I have talked about before) at the top, a few decent contributions (e.g., Romancing the Stone, Tarzan) and a bunch of crap. Planet of Dinosaurs swung for the fences. It was a pop-up to center field, but the exhilaration was there. And dammit, at least they tried.

Election map

Silver Lining?

So, it’s almost been a week, and I’m doing everything I can to look on the bright side of life (Monty Python style). Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Okay, it’s definitely depressing about the elections, especially because we’re not used to what’s normal. Bush’s first midterm elections were the first in decades that an incumbent president actually had an increase in seats within his own party–normally (like clockwork, actually) a president is elected and two years later his party is not in control of at least one house of Congress. Hell, the only reason it worked for Bush was 9/11. His second midterm election he lost seats. So, this is pretty typical, but to hear Fox News talk about it they just toppled the world.

I think what many are forgetting (including myself at times) is that the Democrats still control the Senate and the Presidency. So I highly highly doubt that the GOP can repeal healthcare. Anything they send up to the Senate will get voted down, and even then, if it somehow miraculously makes it past the Senate, Obama will bust out his veto pen and there’s no way the Cons can pull 2/3 override. Plus, Americans don’t like having benefits taken away from them, and already a majority of Americans do not want healthcare repealed. The best Republicans can do is challenge the funding (and, again, I can’t see Obama letting that get by him). Repealing healthcare is something that gets the base excited but has no realistic shot of being overturned (like abortion).

There was actually a pretty interesting article in the Times about how the Republicans have these huge, ambitious ideas but absolutely no plans to go along with it. The last time that happened? When Gingrich took over the Congress under Clinton, after which the Republican party got ridiculously carried away then were then collectively bitch-slapped by Clinton and the voters. Even Obama’s toughest critics on the liberal side (saying he’s not liberal enough, which I think has merit) have said they’ve noticed a change in the administration in the past six months, suggesting that they’re finally realizing they actually have to play the politics game. So, he’s not unaware of what’s happening (and I’ll take Chicago-style Obama any day).

We have three things going for us right now (besides the majority):

1) The Tea Party. The problem with so many conservatives is that they just know how to fire up their base (Tax and spend! Death panels! BIRTH CERTIFICATE!!11!!1!) but then do whatever the hell they want. The Tea Partiers are believers (like Sarah Palin), which is what makes them so terrifying. However, I could seriously see them gumming up the works for the Republicans, who kind of assumed (like Fox News) that the Tea Partiers were basically Republicans. There are going to be plenty of crazy people with microphones who believe their own press releases.

2) The Republicans have been fighting the easiest fight imaginable–against the idea of the Democrats. It’s like dating a girl and wondering what it would be like to date a different one. In your mind, it’s idealized, until you actually start dating that person and the Kunderan kitsch comes crashing down. Same thing here. The Republicans keep going on and on about what they would do if they were in power, but…now they are. They’re part of the machine and the average Independent voter (who really does determine who is elected) is going to be more wary of what they say (it’s exactly what happened during the last Presidential election). Sure, Republicans love to play the victim card even when they’re holding all the power, but their problem is that they play it so loudly, which leads us to…

3) The economy is improving. It’s moving as slow as fuck, and it doesn’t have the rapid turnaround that all of us were hoping for, but it’s slowly, steadily improving. Obama and the Dems implemented a number of policies, and EACH ONE was bitched about by the conservatives. And not just voted against, but bitched and bitched about. If the economy continues to improve, it will be very difficult for Republicans to point to anything they did as making a difference.

Now, for a bonus, long-term number 4:

Did you see Harry Reid was re-elected? It was actually kind of a shock–he was down between 6 and 7 percent in the most recent polls before the election, and we all assumed he was gone. But you know who was underrepresented in polls and actually turned out strongly for Democrats?


This was actually noted by Nate Silver of (Silver is a statistics god and I read him religiously). Here is the article:

Why did this happen? Because conservatives, who should appeal to Latinos (especially in terms of religion and family values), keep on railing against immigration reform, and so more and more Latinos are growing up hating conservatives (kind of the opposite of the Cuban population, who always saw Republicans as fighting Castro). The conservatives could have taken a different approach, but they reached out to Tea Partiers instead. And what is their stated first order of business when they take office in the spring? Tabling Obama’s immigration reform, which would have (among other things) extended citizenship to undocumented immigrants.

This could get interesting.


Underrated: MacKenna’s Gold

Given the recent political developments and this being a hectic time of the year, I’ve had trouble coming up with something interesting to write about (unless you want me to write about grading woes or sit there and listen to my post-election soul quietly weep). Then, one of my friends inadvertently (or was it vertently?) reminded me of a long-forgotten feature: The Underrated Movie. Thanks Kenneth.

As I stated in my previous Underrated Movie entry on Pitch Black, this is not about mainstream films or award-winning movies. These are movies that unjustly slipped by moviegoers and critics alike, and they deserve better. Today’s underrated movie: Mackenna’s Gold.

Starring a slew of icons and a Western formula on steroids, this is a film all about adventure. Gregory Peck plays a marshall who stumbles upon a map that leads to the legendary Canyon del Oro (Canyon of Gold). However, he runs into an old nemesis–a thief and murderer played by Omar Sharif who wants to find the canyon for himself and also exact revenge on Peck for arresting him. Unfortunately for Omar, Greg had burned the map. So, the marshall becomes his hostage (if Gregory doesn’t lead Omar to the gold, Omar will kill his other captive–an attractive woman!) until they reach the Canyon del Oro. On the way, they run into the cavalry, Apache, and American Indian spirits, along with Telly Savalas, Lee Cobb, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson, Eli Wallach, and a number of other stars.

Mackenna’s Gold came at the tail end of the Western heyday. Made in 1969, the days of John Ford, John Wayne, The Magnificent Seven, and Shane were long-since passed, but the spirit lives on in this movie.

So why do I love this movie? Why has it made it through my childhood into adulthood relatively unscathed, despite my dangerous levels of cynicism?  Quite frankly, it’s because Mackenna’s Gold is SO Western and SO over-the-top that it bypasses absurd and achieves greatness.

Let me walk you through the various scenes in Gold. From a hidden box canyon hideout, the characters are ambushed at an old well by the cavalry, travel to a secret oasis, are pursued by the cavalry through the mountains and desert, and get chased by Apaches down a river before finding a secret canyon practically made of gold. Oh, and of course there were also gun fights, plenty of hand-to-hand combat, high-speed horse chases, betrayal, love, hate, and a mother-fucking earthquake. For reals.

Everything in this movie is spectacularly big budget, in the grand tradition of the Western epic. Check out these locations from the film:

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As you can see, it’s all grandoise, and it’s all wonderful. What makes it especially fun (beyond the fact that it tries so hard to entertain us) is the wild disparity of quality within the movie. You’ll have one shot of a sweeping vista that captures the vastness of the Old West, and five minutes later the actors will be sitting around on a set that looks like it was swiped from The Three Amigos. You’ll see a wonderful action sequence that is both tense and exciting, but the next frame is a shot of tiny, poorly constructed models. And, of course, every once in a while you’ll have some 1970s-esque camera effects to just add to the cheesiness.

I don’t discuss this to be a jerk. Honestly, it’s this kind of thing that makes the movie that much more endearing. Sure, it has some cheesy effects, the run-time is a bit long, and some of the actors look exhausted. But it also has some great sequences, an adventurous spirit, a stellar cast, and a compelling story. But, most importantly, it has heart, which is a staple of the Western and something that is sorely lacking in many films today.