Fear, Loathing and Losing The Ashes in Bangkok

t1larg.ashes.gi
Twenty-two professional sportsmen battle it out for over a month hoping to win one of sport’s least impressive looking trophies. It’s the sort of competition that could have only been invented by an Englishman.

It was a Wednesday morning and I was enjoying my vacation. I was lounging around in my underpants, trying to read one of Poe’s onerous, preponderous and turgid short stories in they style that only Poe could write them,  thank god, because if all writing was like Poe’s then being illiterate wouldn’t be considered such a bad thing.

My phone rang, my ear was quickly bombarded by the staccato speech that produced words like a Gatling gun produces bullets. It was a call from my Filipino attorney, he had landed in Bangkok and he was urgently in need of a visa for Viet Nam, five kilos of northern Thai coffee, and a good place to watch cricket. He knew that all I was good for was only the coffee, although I was determined to offer my expertise on the visa front as well. The cricket match started tomorrow at five in the evening, we were to meet at a bar in downtown Bangkok where  we could watch men play an esoteric sport, and where we could formulate and discuss the sorts of ideas that flew in the face of convention and common decency.

RalphSteadman--FearAndLoathingInLasvegas-1971-30-petit
It had all gotten too much for me, my attorney had reenacted scenes from a host of West End shows while the Ambassador appeared to be intensely negotiating the release of hostages that had been captured rebel Guatemalan communists. Reality had long ago been subsumed by a reckless acceptance of the twisted and the perverse. We had gone too far now, too much had been said to turn back, only one thing was certain, the evening could only get worse from here on in.

Although having lived in Thailand for over a decade I could never be described as one who appreciates the benefits of travel.  In this time I have been to Bangkok only a handful of times, and have only been to the beach twice. Instead I’m much more comfortable making cups of tea and reading books, but here I was, being presented with an opportunity for mindless, reckless and irresponsible behaviour in one of the most sin ridden cities in the world. I knew my attorney had lived quite a life for the ten years he had spent in Bangkok, and that he would have the geographical sagacity and social connections to facilitate a unique happening. I was also well aware that my attorney had never caught on to the notion espoused by some former drug users that you can get a lot higher without drugs than with them. And neither have I, for that matter.

lillee
Mitchell Johnson loping up to bowl, a head full of bad intentions, resembling something like Herman Munster the morning after a meth binge, snarling, hostile, a complete bastard if you happened to be standing at the other end of the wicket.

We arrived at a bar just off Sukhumvit Road, the attorney was immediately halloed enthusiastically by a number of weary, middle aged looking men sat around a table. Salutations, hugs, swearing, and insults  were suitably exchanged, followed by more swearing and insults. Once these formalities had been completed to everyone’s satisfaction, the Filipino introduced me to his associates which initiated another volley of insults and swearing.

It had always been our objective to watch the cricket, but from the moment we arrived people seemed seemed to be shuttling themselves with a nervy sense of alacrity back and forth to the toilet. Not that the cricket required much concentration, the Australian batsmen were disposing the English bowlers to the four corners of the ground (no mean task given that they play on an oval).

Over time an inverse relationship was developing between the number of runs being scored by the Australian batsmen and the number of people remaining round the table. With the Australian batsmen accumulating the sort of score that would cause a theoretical mathematician to have a wet dream, only three of us remained around the table. The Filipino myself and a Joe Pesci type of character who made frequent references to the activities and workings of the Australian Embassy. I had no idea of the role Mr. Pesci played for the embassy or if indeed he even worked there, but after a while my fascination with his employment status was replaced by the entertainment being afforded to me by my attorney and Mr. Pesci. They were involved in an intense discussion bout movies, and plays, going from one to another using a sequence of weak, sometimes spurious connections. Mr. Pesci would call out the the title of a play or a movie and this would inspire the Filipino to act out scenes from that said entertainment. In a twenty minute spell, I had been treated to the Filipino acting out a scene from some Australian play about an election, followed more ambitiously by playing the part of Brian Denehy playing the part of Willie Lomax in Death of a Salesman, but this was nothing as for his finale he finished with an inspiring scene from Gandhi. It was at this moment that I realized that those two were riding the crest of a wave I hadn’t quite caught, the wave quickly took them shorewards and I knew that I would have to go quickly looking for my surf board in the toilet if I was going to have any hope of staying in touch with them. There we sat for the rest of the night, staring out to sea, looking to catch our waves. Suddenly someone would catch a wave and begin to rant incoherently, with no reason or rationale, then fall off and sit back down on his surf board waiting for his next thought to sweep him along and hopefully wash him up upon the shores of sanity.

This was no state for a respectable man to find himself in, and what had exactly happened to us during the previous three hours is hard to say, I remember noticing that it was two in the morning and saying “I feel light headed, I could do with a walk.” After having probably settled the bills the Filipino and I walked off into the night, the lights of Bangkok reflected in or vapid, dilated eyes, and enhancing our distant, vacant grins.

By the time we had realigned our perspective of things  it was approaching three in the morning. I had to be at the airport for seven, and my expensive hotel room had become little more than a luxury locker within which my bag was stored. At some point during our bacchanalian rampage along the fetid and depraved streets of Bangkok ill luck and poor decision making led me to act on an ill advised impulse, I took the opportunity to go shopping for ladies underwear. It may have been as a result of us being constantly harassed by the gnarled, wizened harpies that were perched on bar stools, casting the dice of fate one last time for the night, hoping for one more customer that would help them to pay their electric bill, or their meth dealer. In an unspoken flash of benevolence I decided the only moral thing to do was to help these ladies. With both of us being married purchasing the professional services they were used to offering was clearly out of the question, and I couldn’t just give them cash that would be demeaning, these girls after all had their dignity.  So it was obvious that a fair and above board transaction needed to take place between us if I was to help these girls. It was then, in a moment of blinding inspiration that I declared my intent to buy the underpants of any girl willing to sell them. For a moment there was quiet, the bar girls clearly didn’t understand the terms of business I was trying to conduct, whilst my attorney struck dumb, was now struggling to understand anything. In my poorest drunken Thai I made myself understood to the harpies who quickly became excited and scuttled back into the dark recesses of the bars from which they had originally crawled out of. The Filipino was still very unsure as to what had just happened, whilst standing there dazed and slack jawed a barely dressed bar girl closely showed to him a pair of very cheap, trampy, string like underpants, and started shouting that she would take 500 baht for them. She was quickly joined by four, five, six other bar girls proudly brandishing underwear aloft in the air, as if it were their national flag. It quickly became apparent to me that due to the over supply of the desired product this had quickly become a buyers market. “So you’ll take 500” turning to another pant wielding freak “would you sell for 400?”, the girl nodded enthusiastically, ” so she’s selling for 400, put up your pants if you’ll sell for 300″. A sea of hands, arms and underpants crashed over us. In only a couple of minutes we’d purchased several pairs of underwear at an average cost per unit of around 100 baht, but more importantly we’d helped these people out and managed to retain our dignity.

Cartoon Character with Underwear on Head --- Image by © Sabet Brands/Corbis
Having purchased pieces of clothing the Filipino would be damned if he wasn’t going to wear them.

With our new found sense of self respect we decided that we were hungry and didn’t give a rat’s ass about what we should eat. This is a particularly cavalier   philosophy to adopt towards food at 3 a.m. in Bangkok, one that could well result in the aforementioned rat’s ass being the main ingredient in what we were about to consume. We found some street vendor that agreed to sell us something that might be protein on a layer of rice, covered in a shiny, gelatinous sauce.

By now the Filipino had decided that it was the right time and place to wear the procured g-string about his person, more precisely on his head. In the grand scheme of what else was going on about us this didn’t appear to me to be too ridiculous.  The Filipino and I sat ourselves down on plastic stools amidst an ocean of Johns and their hookers for the night. Indeed, it was at moments like this that it can be difficult to have faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Obviously Bangkok isn’t the white man’s culture, but by the looks of it he was definitely acclimating himself successfully into this environment. If there was anywhere on Earth that I was expecting people to be liberal minded, it was here. This would surely be the last place for those with pious, conservative values to frequent. Why should any of these swine care about a man wearing panties on his head?

We both sat there, wiped out from the excesses of the past ten hours, both of us questioning why we had ordered food, why we were here? A stocky, meat head of a man walked past my shoulder and stopped opposite the Filipino. All I could see was the back of what appeared to be an unusually muscled man. There was something in the tone of his voice and the fact that he’d walked with purpose up to the Filipino that alerted my  suspicions. I looked up and the man was speaking with an air of hostility, very closely to my attorneys face. He then pulled something out from behind his back and held it very close to the right eye of the bewildered Filipino. The man put what ever it was behind his back again, mumbled some more incomprehensible words and once again held something very closely to the Filipino’s right eye. The poor bastard didn’t have any idea what was happening, for starters the object was being held far to close for they eye of any man who had been drinking for the last ten hours to focus on, and secondly the gusset of the g string he wore on his head obstructed his view.  The implement was once again hidden behind his back. Hidden is not altogether an accurate word owing to the fact that the stranger had his back to me, I could therefore clearly see that he had been holding a fork to the Filipino’s face. Without thinking and with very undramatic ease I disarmed the stranger, who seemed equally astonished by my powers. The meat head now focused his attention on me, but strangely I appeared to have earned his respect when confiscating his fork. English appeared not to be his first language and he was even drunker than we were, but after listening to him for a couple of minutes it appeared that the Filipino wearing ladies underwear on his head was a cause of great moral discomfort to the man. Still holding onto the fork I tried to remonstrate that his sensitivities seemed a little out of place given his surroundings, and that inserting a fork into the eye of the Filipino was the wrong way to go about expressing his feelings. Now this man was huge, I could have been armed with all the forks in Bangkok, but it would have made no difference should this ape had decided to get nasty. Surprisingly since losing his fork he became relatively personable and entered into something of a debate about whether the wearing of a g-string on a persons head was acceptable behaviour. I pursued my angle that most of the behaviour of anyone after dark in this city was questionable, and conceded that in an ideal world my attorney wouldn’t be wearing a pair of lady’s underwear about his head . We chatted for perhaps quarter of an hour, in which time he told us he was a mixed martial artist from Brazil, why he lost all his aggression after being dispossessed of his spoon shall remain one of life’s great mysteries. One thing was clear to both the Filipino and I, and that us having procured so many pairs of lady’s underwear had somehow caused great cognitive and moral dissonance in the mind of the Brazilian. With us all still in possession of the desired number of eye balls, the Filipino agreed to be more discreet with the array of panties he had about his person, and took them from his head. The Brazilian now seemed happy that our behaviour was more respectful and he slunk his way back to the prostitute we was with for the night.

WalterWhiteyo
We had obviously sparked something off in the sensibilities of the Brazilian. Whether it had all started for him long ago as a boy in some ill advised rummaging through his grandmother’s underwear draw, we would never know.

We decided that we had done our best for the night, we were sure that we had touched the lives of those around us, and that those people would now be able to see the world a little differently.

My phone rang only a few hours later, it seemed like my attorney saw no sense in delaying the inevitable and that the common sense dictated that we were to pick up where we had barely left off a few hours ago. I had to admit that there was some form of logic to what he was proposing, perhaps more importantly I was in no state to argue reason with this man. He wasn’t waiting for me to reply to his suggestion, instead he’d seamlessly moved the conversation onto Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. All I could do was agree to meet the fool in thirty minutes at the bar beside the hotel’s swimming pool.

We were refused alcohol on the basis that it was still only 9 in the morning. The set back was simply too much for the to endure, at first the Filipino didn’t take the news with good grace and as he stood on the bar stool he ranted incoherently about fascism, liberty and the licensing laws. With the nuances of his argument going largely unheeded, he climbed down asked where the nearest toilet was, then he went to straighten himself out. For the next ten minutes I lived in fear, I had no idea what would be coming back out to meet me. One thing was clear though, we were both nearing the frontier where reason and decency gave way to sustained periods of introspection and inevitable self loathing. This thing needed to be turned around quickly or it would end up as one of those stories you read about in the Bangkok Post, “Dead Expats Found in Bangkok Hotel Room – choked to death by under a mountain of cheap lingerie.”

I waited, and after half an hour I became worried, then paranoid, and then I felt the fear. What was that sick bastard doing in there? More Bangkok Post headlines ran through my paralyzed mind. I broke out in a conspicuous sweat, and without realizing it I was speaking out loud to myself. The next five minutes passed like hours, slowly I began to accept that I would have to go and investigate.

I let myself slip off the edge of the bar stool. The combination of toxins from last night, mixed with the heat, and now this situation, resulted in sweat cascading down my face. It was hard not to look suspicious under such circumstances, people looked at me in disgust and with contempt, this is how people normally look at me but I didn’t have the fortitude to deal with it this morning. I quickened my pace, almost running by the time I got to the toilet.

I pushed the door open and entered. It was quiet, I looked in all the stalls preparing myself to find him with his trousers round his ankles clutching his chest, but nothing. I was elated not to be dealing with a corpse right now, but then started to worry where he was, “he’s somebody else’s problem now” I thought. As I was about to leave the toilet I saw on a cubicle door, a sign that had been defaced. I will never know for sure if it was the Filipino (o.k that’s a little too dramatic I could just ask him), but it had the air of paranoia about it to suggest it was.toilet-writing-toilet-graffiti-people-following-paranoid

 

There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant that the Lord never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

 

 

 

 

Gonzo symbol

The “Game of Life” – Greed, Nazis, Mathematicians, Homophobia, Ryan Leaf and Christmas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I was young I loved to play board games, as the youngest child, they presented me with an almost level playing field upon which I could best my parents or older brother. Monopoly and Cluedo were the staple family favourites although my father lacked the patience required for Monopoly.

I remember once while on holiday in Devon, the whole family had been locked inside a caravan not much bigger than a coffin, as for two weeks rain had blown horizontally across the moors and drummed its random, frantic, staccato rhythms against the caravan’s plastic windows. I loved that holiday, no other holiday had ever presented the family with such an opportunity to spend time together playing games. But, upon reflection I feel a great amount of sympathy for my father. A working man doesn’t get much holiday, and to be given no choice but to spend it in such claustrophobic conditions at the hands of Britain’s most inclement weather conditions started to shred his nerves. Subsequently we never holidayed in Britain again.

Reaganomics
Of course back in those days presidents couldn’t rely on powerpoint and instead would have to stay up late coloring in graphs by hand.

For what must have been two or three days we played nothing but 20 questions with such rapidity, frequency, intensity and ferocity, that what was once nothing more than an innocent parlor game had become more like an interrogation at Auschwitz. Playing 20 questions came to an end once we had all become so telepathically sensitive to one another’s ways of thinking that people were often making correct guesses after only two or three questions had been asked. To prevent the further development of the hive mind under the pressure of cabin fever conditions, we moved on to Monopoly.

It’s hard to recall, but we were somewhere into our third or fourth day of an epic Monopoly marathon, when suddenly my father created an economic chaos, with what appeared to me to be the touch impulsive decision to sell Bond street, Regent Street and Oxford Street all for 1 pound each. Now admittedly as a nine year old boy I had never visited any of these locations and therefore suspected that my father’s worldly knowledge formed the foundation of his decision. Maybe he had insider knowledge that a freeway was to be built through this area of London or perhaps it was being considered for a landfill site. Whatever his reasons were, I quickly learned that Monopoly is not really a game that rewards philanthropy as my father was quickly eliminated, leaving him free to stretch his legs and pace the entire length (6 feet) of the caravan, and to have some quiet time alone watching the raindrops zigzag their way down the plastic windows. I can’t remember who it was that ultimately benefited by picking up such prime London real estate for 3 pounds, but I am pretty sure that they went on to win the game, but that’s not what mattered. I blame this incident for sowing the seeds of my doubt towards  capitalism and consumerism. After all This was in the midst of the opulent 80’s, a time that saw the zenith of the capitalist dream, Dallas and Dynasty were being viewed by millions, and Gordon Geko’s mantra “greed was good,”greed-521 succinctly encapsulated the meaning of a decade. As a child growing up in the in this society I had until that point regarded the accumulation of wealth as a fun and worthwhile, even noble cause. I was little more than a naive,brainwashed lovechild from the loins of Reaganomics, the belief that there would be such an abundance of wealth being generated by the rich the they would literally run out of places to put it, and therefore it would overflow and “trickle down” to the plebs like me. But through my father’s adoption of the Kerouacian approach to economics, which considers money as “ruining the sanctity of the moment”, had opened my eyes and I started to appreciate that maybe there was more to life than going around in circles, accumulating wealth in some contrived sense of competition where really there is no one to compete against. Instead you can opt out, go on the road, or in my fathers case up the other end of the caravan. Selling up, opting out and going to sit by himself, was my father’s symbolic act of resistance against the the capitalist dogma of the 80’s materialist economic machine. If he was going to be forced to into incarceration on a wet windswept moor, he would be damned if he was going to spend his time playing games that simulated his working life.

Due to my father’s lack of patience and his ability to create an economic crisis any Wall Street trader would have been proud of, one Christmas we bought the Game of Life. Now the Game of Life is a lot like Monopoly insofar as it judges the success of a person’s life purely through the accumulation of wealth, but it is targeted for an audience with a shorter attention span. Perhaps its most significant difference to Monopoly is that the Game of Life has a definite end point to it, you reach the end of the board and enter a retirement home. It must have been decided that this presented my brother and I the opportunity to learn fiscal responsibilities whilst giving my father the reassurance and hope that the banality would last no more than a couple of hours, after which he would be free to go and lie under a car and get oil all over himself.

It all sounded to good to be true, a simulated journey through life. A classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the character of capitalism. It represented a salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in western society. But as is really the case the Game of Life is the product of a demented imagination. The Game of Life is what every family would have been made to play on a Saturday night if the Nazi’s had won the war. It represents the sixth Reich and what they would have perceived as entertainment.

Let us take a look at the board. At first glance the board takes on the appearance of having been Stock Photo of Life Game (3)designed by some insecure colour blind, fascist, amidst the throes of a hideously, depraved acid trip. It is easily possible for even the most slow witted person to determine , that the “Game of Life” really bears little resemblance to life but is more of a spiritual representation of post-apocalyptic world in which the inhabitants had long ago lost their wills to live. But, enough of these nebulous generalities and find some cold hard facts, look the beast squarely in the eye and gain an understanding as to how this absurd game was conceived.

The game was devised by John Horton Conway, who to the best of my knowledge is neither a Satanist nor a Nazi, and has never indulged in LSD. But, what John has done though is to build himself quite an impressive ivory tower, having gained his undergraduate and PhD from Cambridge, he is presently Professor in Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University.

250px-John_H_Conway_2005_(cropped)
John Horton Conway, mathematical genius; probably. Creator of twisted disturbing games; most definitely.
Gospers_glider_gun
This is an example of a cellular automaton as used in Conway’s Game of Life. What it is exactly is hard to tell, but then again so is the “game of Life”. particularly ironic is that I find watching this more entertaining than playing the game. If this is your thing you might like this http://www.emergentuniverse.org/#/life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In technical Game Theory jargon (maybe the only area of advanced mathematics of any interest(see John Nash, “A Beautiful Mind”) the game is an example of “cellular automaton”, which apparently is represented by the curios little animation above. It all sounds rather impressive but leaves me wondering, why all my memories of playing the game are so crap? To answer this question I needed to revisit my childhood and with little effort I was soon playing online.

http://www.gamehouse.com/download-games/the-game-of-life#prettyPhoto

GOLcar
As the protagonist of several significant traffic accidents, it would be hypocritical of me to start lecturing about the importance of road safety, but even to me this appears a little reckless.

The first piece of imagery that caused me some level of cognitive dissonance, more so than  reducing myself to a pale blue plastic peg , indeed the peg  probably has greater social skills, was that then I had to choose the colour of my car upon which I would sit. Throughout the experience this was a feature I never got beyond, I just couldn’t understand its meaning or purpose. In all probability the game of life would be a short one if we were to observe such a reckless approach to vehicular safety.

143267-gameoflife_original
Dog turd or volcano, it’s a way of representing the passage of time that Hawking has failed to mention. Anyhow the philosophy of ‘free will’ is replaced by a fate dispensing spinner.

The method by which you progress through life, the instrument used for simulating the passing of tim, is a psychedelic spinner placed either in a volcano, or an exceptionally large dog turd. Either way adds to the games anarchic, semiotic nature, that the player has at least subconsciously been aware of from the moment of taking the lid off the box.

ryanleaf
The 1998 NFL draft, Indianapolis have the first pick and are in need of a quarterback. It just so happens that the top 2 players in the draft that year are quarterbacks, Ryan Leaf and some guy called Peyton Manning. As they say the rest is history……..

I proceeded the game against one computer character “Bernard”. Within no time Bernard had become a sports personality earning $60,000, at what frequency is not specified. It would be hard to imagine any sports personality earning as little as $60,000 per year, perhaps with the exception maybe of erstwhile San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf who probably spent nearly as much time in prison as he did in the NFL and achieved a higher quarterback rating there as well.

With in no time and requiring no discernible effort to be put into studying, I became a lawyer earning $100,000 per???? Although saddled with student debt I felt confident I would beat the jock.  Bernard proceeded down raod the when all of a sudden, without even leaving the car, he got married, no dating, no engagement, he just got married, to the best of my knowledge Bernard had never even met the girl. This rash approach to the sanctity of marriage seemed a touch flippant. I was uncomfortable that at the same point along the path everyone gets married, was there a divorce cul-de-sac further down the road? I was starting to feel my anxiety taking a hold of me, as such important lifestyle decisions were being arbitrarily decided by a spinner and the boards commands. In essence I had sacrificed my right to free will, my life was out of my hands. And perhaps most offensively to the homosexual community it was automatically assumed that Bernard was heterosexual.

Within no time Bernard, the sports personality, had amassed a  in excess $250,000 without having set foot outside of his car. I could only assume he was some kind of professional sports car  driver, even though having your wife sat on top of the car with you at the time was certainly something I had never heard of in the history of motorsports. Compounding this conundrum was the fact that on his next turn Bernard’s wife had twins, whom they quickly sat on top of the car and carried on their way. How these children were conceived is puzzling given the very asexual nature of the pegs, leading me to assume Bernard had abducted them. Meanwhile I had to show for myself was a wife and a log cabin.

For some reason I decided to take the opportunity to go back to college and retrained as an accountant, I was now earning 40% less than I was before as a Lawyer, surely casting into doubt any genuine accountancy skills. The next lifestyle choice came with the options “Take the Family Path” or “Continue with the Game of Life”. I thought this was pretty harsh, inferring in someway that the Game of Life ends once having a family. I decided to take the family route but sadly had no children, for no reason. It appears that infertility hides insidiously within the construct of cellular automaton games.

Bernard and his army of children, to rub salt into the wound had also adopted a pet, and were driving off into the sunset. My wife and I however, appeared bitter and twisted by our inability to have children, we drove on in silence, communication dropped to the level of dumb beasts, seething in resentment for one another.

The next fork in the road offered the stark choices to take “The Risky Path of Life” or “The Safe Path of Life”. When playing a game like this what kind of anally retentive person picks the safe path? I had no idea what the risks were involved but I hoped they would fill the void of my childless marriage. I had visions of having to cram heroin up my ass and cross international borders, or robbing banks. What actually transpired was I could gamble but it even limited the amount. So I gambled as much and as hard as I could, seeing the gap of relative wealth get ever wider with Bernard, who I must say with 4 children and a pet didn’t seem to be living the kind of lifestyle I would usually associate with a sports star.

My wife and I rolled into the retirement home while Bernard was still out on the highways and byways of life, making more money, having more fun. By the time  he arrived at the retirement home, (to which he had brought all his children, something I thught to be a little odd) my wife had electrocuted herself while drying her hair in the shower. Although soundly beaten by Bernard, I did finish the game with just short of a million dollars, which would appear to me an over inflated amount to be considered as a failure.

It truely is a rubbish game for the reason that no matter how reckless you are, you cannot be Ryan Leaf. No matter how much you try, you can’t break the law, develop a drug habit, run a ponzi scheme, or even sleep with your opponent’s wife. There are no crippling illnesses or injuries, even though you spend your whole life riding on top of a car. In that respect the Game of Life is similar to education, in that no matter how recklessly one pursues it, no one ever really fails, some people just succeed more.  And that flies in the face of everything Darwin stood for, survival of the fittest has now become a celebration of the mediocre.deathspiral42 This all fits into my views on the dumbing down of our societies, which I’ll leave for another day.

From my own personal perspective I found it liberating as the board didn’t contain
the “death spiral” upon which I spend much of my time. A realistic version of the Game of Life would have this, along with the “divorce cul-de-sac” and god forbid, the ultimate bummer, “The Ryan Leaf” card.

 

Gonzo symbol
too strange to live, too rare to die.

 

All Aboard the Education Gravy Train – A Savage Journey to the Heart of Economic Servitude

GRAVYFOCUS_g_295387k

Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge,

but he that hateth reproof is brutish

Proverbs 12:1

It was always going to be a strange day. Taking the high school students to the University expo, fair. Or would it turn out to be a circus, complete with clowns, unicycles, and bearded ladies, a macabre show masquerading under the pretense of education but whose aim was nothing more than to entertain the youth and convince them that paying tens of thousands of dollars to a university over the next four years would be in their best interest. There was plenty of room to doubt that the students were excited about this trip. In conversations prior to our departure, it seemed impossible, but they were more cynical than I was. Their lack of concern as to what they might be studying in two years time was no less than disturbing, reckless even.

To set the context, a couple of months back I asked my students “how do you learn something?” A student was quick to reply “pay a teacher.” A response I was far from expecting and when I asked the rest of the class what they thought, I soon appreciated that it was  universally accepted that the payment of money, to them constitutes the first stage of the learning process. Thus calling into question the academic theories of Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bruner, whilst laughing in the face of Socrates’ and his gallant refusal to accept payment for teaching. In fact according to these students every theory of learning had been blown apart by their collective cynicism and is in need of immediate revision. The fact that these students were able to surpass my own vast reserves of cynicism left me feeling unnerved, unsure as to who I was and the role that I was expected to play in this whole teacher, student dynamic. Their view of things was different from that of my generation. After all it had taken my generation years of disappointment to achieve our degree of cynicism, but here were these young upstarts showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty and morality, bitterly sneering, contemptuous.

What was happening? What was next? We were going to a university fair, of that much I was sure, but these cynical vibrations had set me on edge, taken me by surprise. Would I be able to endure the 3 hour van journey, confined in such an enclosed space, participating in conversations that were more akin to free association, or that would perhaps deteriorate completely and leave us at the level of dumb beasts? It was too late to worry about these questions, all of us were committed no matter how strange the vibrations got.

The Costs Versus the Value of a University Education

What are the costs of going to university and how well are they off set by the benefits? 30 years ago a university degree assured the graduate of employment and receiving a decent salary, as well as a prime position for professional development and promotion. A graduate could expect to earn the sort of salary that would finance a steady coke habit, develop a  gambling addiction, or any of the other good old fashioned American pastimes. Today the world of the graduate is less bountiful, offering far less opportunity to develop self destructive habits. With nearly every country in Europe and North America languishing in a time of austerity, and little to no economic growth, opportunities are few and far between. Therefore it requires serious thought, wealthy parents or a fearless student who is unafraid to yoke themselves with up to $100,000 worth of debt, for which there is no guarantee, that at the end of it they will secure a ways or means of paying it off. In some respects you might just be better off borrowing $100,000, and go to Vegas, it would after all be quicker than the 4 years of study and probably has a similar chance of seeing a beneficial financial return.

US student debt is scary. It’s an uncontrollable, rabid bull, intoxicated by the scent of youthful optimism, that has been set loose in an academic china shop. Student debt is in excess of $1.2 trillion, a debt greater than that owed by all student-e1393014217134Americans on their credit cards. Student debt is also greater than the total outstanding on mortgages.  In 2005 the average student debt was $17,233, by 2012 that amount had risen 58% to $27,253.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/halahtouryalai/2014/02/21/1-trillion-student-loan-problem-keeps-getting-worse/

Student debt has a knock on effect as it delays a student from making financial commitments such as taking on a mortgage or a car loan, making regular payments to the local meth dealer, starting a new businesses or saving for the future. This immense financial strain on the educated sector of society has a potentially disastrous national economic effect.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-26893131

Life for a new graduate can be extremely disappointing. The number of new graduates each year vastly out numbers graduate level jobs.

  • Forty one percent of workers who graduated from college in the past two years say they are underemployed and working in jobs that do not require their college degrees;
  • 41% 0f recent graduates are earning &25,000 or less;
  • 80% of college graduates expect their first employer to provide a training program;
  • 52% of graduates did not receive training through formal programs at their first job;

    USA face
    To pay off his student debt this young boy had the scar strangled banger tattooed onto his face and is paraded around during the interval of the seal show at Sea World.
  • 38% of new graduates have to live with mum or dad upon graduating.
  • Only 16 percent of students who will graduate in 2013 had already secured employment as of April 1, 2013.

http://www.accenture.com/us-en/Pages/insight-2013-accenture-college-graduate-employment-survey.aspx

Figures like this make you question the morality of taking a bus load of students to a University Fair without giving them a prior warning of the scope and magnitude of making this decision.

EDU USAWhen I had been at the fair for about a couple of hours, I decided it was time to start antagonizing the miserable souls who had been wedged into their booths like irritable, obese battery hens, forced to sell their university. I had come all this way and it seemed like the least I could do was try and learn something while harassing some poor sod who was just trying to make their way peacefully through the day. Unaware as I am to the intricacies and workings of the U.S education system, I decided to meet with a representative of ACE, a service funded through the U.S State Dept. They provide advice and support to overseas students wishing to go to university in the U.S. A pleasant man brandished his business card at me, sporting the rather comedic name Mike Hock. I could tell by the look in his eye that he believed he was doing the right thing, he believed in his position in life. Usually I find such optimism to be nauseous and repulsive. Instantly I could tell that Mike was probably the type of guy that was into extreme sports, doing press ups before taking a shower each morning, and on a gluten free diet. But, I knew I had to grit my teeth and establish communications with Mike to allow my curiosity to be satisfied. In what developed to become an eminently forgettable conversation I was left puzzled by one thing he said. U.S students sit the S.A.T, on which the average student gets a score of  about 1,500 out of a possible 2,400. Mike told me students with an S.A.T score of 1,000 could find a place at a university in America. This set off the cymbals of cognitive dissonance in my head. Surely university is a place for those who have shown competency in academics. Why would someone so far below average want to even pursue getting a university degree? I wonder what would happen to professional sports teams if they adopted a similar selection criteria. If I had the cash could I be playing short stop for the Yankees? But it’s not just American universities that have turned their back on education in the interest of corporate greed. The U.K also seems to think that education must equal debt.

So it appears that American and U.K  universities are not so much academic institutions focused on developing the knowledge of their students, but more of a proxy for financial institutions that ensnare graduates into financial servitude.

think_outside_the_box_by_gingergenius-d5aslao

It’s ironic, a saying intended to inspire original thought has now become an oxymoron and parodies itself due to its unoriginal and over usage. Surely it’s time for someone to think outside the cone, maybe someone could think outside the context, think outside the book or the page if this metaphor is to retain its purpose of conveying the need for originality. As it is, it has become nothing more than a tired, sad, old, overworked metaphor carelessly bandied around in staff rooms by teachers who have all but given up the will to think and perhaps even the will to live.

Thinking outside the box is what teachers endlessly encourage their students to do. To think critically about what they are told and what they read, and yet at the university fair every student unquestioningly accepted that university has to be their next step. They unquestioningly accept that amassing enormous debt is nothing more than a rite of passage. These students weren’t even thinking of going to university as a decision for it had already been decided on a subconscious level, with no thought, understanding, or questioning of whether it will benefit them. There was more chance of me finding a missing Malaysian airliner than of finding a critical thought in this venue.

Are life’s most valuable skills learned inside a classroom?

As the sun set behind the hilly landscape and the bus darkened, so did my mood. Here I was shepherding this young flock of unsuspecting lambs into the jaws of  financial servitude, this was weighing heavily on my conscience, adding to my self loathing. I was keenly aware of the need to finish this account positively, after all these are my students and this is their future I’m talking about. So before my mood toppled over the edge and into the abyss of despair, I removed my head from out of my ass and took a look around the bus. Despite the fact that the students were hungry and tired they sat quietly talking to one another, laughing,smiling. You could tell these students lived in a dormitory together, their interactions were more akin to that of family members than just school friends. The few students that didn’t board at the school were included into this dynamic without hesitation or a second thought. Despite their tiredness the students maintained the highest respect for both their friends and their teachers. I started to realize the value of these students and what they can potentially offer to society in ten years time. I can honestly say that these grade ten and eleven students were exhibiting social skills that were far more developed than the majority of adults I come into contact with. These characteristics were not learned inside a classroom, nor have they ever been assessed and given a score out of 10. They have been  honing these skills almost from birth, practicing and refining them with the zeal and discipline of the most dedicated student.

educationrevolution_2185_25096810The purpose and values of schools have long been questioned (see JT Gato Weapons of Mass Instruction). What are the skills that students need to learn today for tomorrow’s society? The mass production, industrial assembly line, that teachers like to think doesn’t exist today does, only on an even grander more complex scale than ever before. I cannot believe that it is in the best interest of a student to commence their professions under the burden of such debt.

As is often the case, my students teach me the most profound lessons. They have shown me what a people can do for one another. That kindness and consideration when shown equally throughout a group is enormously powerful. If someone had the money to invest in these students they would work so well and so hard together they would be able to rival any organization. And none of these skills were taught by me, not in a classroom.

I only hope the students remain patient and will be good enough to continue to teach me, although what they’re going to get out of it god only knows.