The College Myth

When dealing with such a delicate topic as this, it is usually a good idea to state the thesis I am scrutinizing to make sure everyone reading knows what I am trying to say. The thesis: college is the surest, if not only, road to success in the modern world and therefore everyone should go to college no matter what the cost.
All right, I agree that is not the stance most people take today, per say, but no one can deny that the view reflected by the mass media and politicians and I think held by most Americans is that everyone should go to college. As per usual, this blog post was written to turn the world’s expectations and conventions on their head.

First, the tale of the average college student; they took out huge student loans to pay for a four degree from some prestigious university, since they most likely had no idea what they wanted to do in life, they got a generic bachelor’s degree since they were sure the specific degree did not matter.
They graduated and just like in the case of half of all their employed fellow graduates got a job that did not require a college degree at all. Cases in point, about fifteen percent of all bartenders and baggage carriers are college graduates. Why did they accept jobs that their degrees should have made beneath them? The simple reason is a generic bachelor’s degree is in actual fact, “A hunting license for a job,” to quote one career counselor. This arguably would not be too terrible if the students received valuable life lessons or knowledge from their time in college, but let’s not overlook one thing. Remember, all those debts everyone took out to pay for their college? Well, do you honestly believe they’re going to be able to pay off those debts with low level jobs? We’ve all heard stories of college students who blew sometimes a hundred-thousand dollars of their (i.e. their parent’s) money or took out nasty loans to pay for some fancy, superficial, degree only to end up in a dead end job.

How did they end up like this? Well for one, none of them had any idea what they wanted to do with their lives, so they followed the national advice of “investing” in oneself through college. I don’t blame them, necessarily; after all did you know what you wanted to do with the rest of your life at the age of eighteen? Now, I won’t disagree that for all the people with the grades, ambition, and talents, to become the doctors, lawyers, and engineers of the future college is great idea, but for ever one else I’m not so sure.
Speaking of grades, here is an ugly statistic, people who graduated in the bottom forty percent of their high school class have a small chance of graduating from college even if they’re given six years to complete it. The fact that colleges recruit these types of kids sounds almost immoral, but ignoring that aspect it is certain that many of those underemployed college graduates were those people who were unqualified and merely followed the herd into college. What most of these people will and do get is to quote John Stossel, “mainly debt and disappointment.”

Now, I agree that a couple of generations ago a college degree was very impressive and many employers still see it as such; but the sad truth is that the huge proliferation of college degrees has made it to quote Dr. Marty Nemko, career counselor and education consultant, “America’s most overrated product.” Sure, employers will still hire and train college graduates because of their college degree, but it was the training that made them more valuable as employees. But, it wasn’t just the training, because the average college graduate is a different kind of person—more hard working, more dedicated, and smarter. In other words, they would have made more money than kids who didn’t go to college even if they themselves didn’t go to college. Once again, Dr. Nemko, “You could lock the pool of college bound kids in a closet for four years and they would still make just as much money.”

It doesn’t seem likely that college is what gave them such character traits, but does college at least make people smarter? It’s true some people who go to fancy colleges are pretty smart, but they were also pretty smart when they started college. Although, this is implying that college professors are trying to educate their student, but the sad truth is that professor actually make more money publishing studies in specialized journals no one reads. In other words, professors don’t have incentives to teach students, but to do small studies on pointless subjects.
If young people are not going to college then where should they go? Well, how about they go to trade school or some other specialized program that teaches them valuable skills to make a living. There are plenty of alternatives to college, which actually deliver the education you paid for. The number of successful college drop-outs is staggering;

Now, there is an important objection to all this talk of making money, which goes something like this, “Isn’t the whole point of going to college to further one’s education? And isn’t all this obsessing over making money a bit anti-educational?” Well, it’s true as Stossel points out that college is good for people who love learning and can land jobs in academia, but that’s not most people. More importantly, tens of thousands of dollars in debts is a high price to pay for what, as I pointed out above, may not be a huge boast to one’s education.
And why should universities be the only place of learning? Does anyone honestly expect me to believe that in the age of Youtube’s education section, dozens of educational sites, and thousands of scholarly articles online, all at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection that college is the only way to further your education? Not to mention the fact that lending libraries are still plentiful throughout the land. The only limit to anyone’s education is one’s own desire.

Some argue that all we need is the government to pay for college tuition then everything will be alright, but it’s the government that made college tuition rise in the first place. Not surprisingly, when someone with a bottomless well of cash (and the government’s tax base is limitless as long as we all keeping paying) shoves huge money toward tuition, of course, the price of college will rise faster than inflation.

Now, I fully admit that issues like; whether the point of education is to prepare for the real world or learn the humanities and who should and shouldn’t go to college are a very complex subjects, but can we at least agree that considering many of the points I’ve (and people smarter than me) made that maybe we should at least not tell young people they have to attend college to succeed?

Acknowledgement:
I owe a huge debt to John Stossel for opening my eyes to the college myth and many other myths on a wide variety of subjects and I want to thank him for providing so much for my personal education.

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Was The Gunpowder Plot a Government Conspiracy?

Remember, remember the fifth of November! Most people have heard the story of the Gunpowder Plot; how twelve Catholics tried to alleviate the persecution of Catholics in England–by blowing up the House of Lords in an attempt to kill King James I and half of parliament. But today I’m here to offer an unusual historical theory; that the conspirators had been set up by the government to cause King James to increase his persecution of Catholics.

For those not familiar with the plot here is a basic outline of the conspiracy; on October 26, 1605 the Catholic Lord Monteagle received a poorly written, anonymous, letter essentially warning him not to attend Parliament’s opening on November 5. Monteagle brought the letter to Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury who passed it to King James who thought that a passage in the letter involved gunpowder. The cellars of Parliament were checked and Guy Fawkes was found on November 4 and arrested. The following day thirty-six barrels of gunpowder were found and after three days of torture Fawkes revealed the names of the other conspirators who were soon captured. Eventually, they were all executed for treason and James, who had a ridiculous fear of gunpowder, cracked down even harder on Catholics in Britain. The story sounds simple enough; just a genuine conspiracy by twelve lunatics: Robert Wintour, Thomas Wintour, Thomas Percy, Christopher Wright, John Wright, Francis Tresham, Everard Digby, Ambrose Rookwood, Thomas Bates, Robert Keyes, Hugh Owen, John Grant, Robert Catesby and of course Guy Fawkes.

But, in the 1670’s the country was once again gripped by anti-Catholic hysteria stemming from the so-called Popish Plot, which claimed to reveal a massive conspiracy to assassinate the king, start civil wars, and pave the way for a French invasion of England. The fact that the Popish Plot is also called the Oates Plot shows what virtually everyone agrees today and did by the 1680’s; that the government had made the entire thing up to create distrust against Catholics. Twenty Catholics were ultimately executed for allegedly being tied to the plot.

The common questions raised by supporters of the idea that the gunpowder plot was a government set up are as follows: one, gunpowder was a government monopoly so how did the conspirators acquire so much of it? More importantly, how did they smuggle it to the house next to parliament from which they tunneled underneath the House of Lords? Who rented a house so close to parliament to Catholics? Why were two leading conspirators killed outright rather than captured for interrogation?
They’re many good counter-arguments to the points made above. True, only the government could sell gunpowder, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a black market for it. Not to mention the fact that Catholic France would have been a ready provider for potential rebels of England; although, this does not explain why Robert Cecil did not allow an investigation of several barrels of gunpowder missing from the Tower of London. (1) The conspirators also had government contacts and alias that would have made it easier to rent the house next to parliament and, once it was discovered that the tunnel idea wouldn’t work, to rent the cellar under parliament where the gunpowder was set to blow. (2)
Yes, two conspirators, Thomas Percy and Robert Catesby, were killed outright rather than taken in for questioning, but this was because they got into a firefight with their pursuers. One of whom, received a rather large pension probably because he killed two would-be assassins of the King, not because he killed two men who knew too much.

There are, of course, more difficult to debunk claims such as why was a half dug tunnel never found under the house the conspirators rented; why did the house’s owner die inexplicable on November 5th and why were several members of the conspiracy captured before Fawkes ratted them out? (3)

The two most mysterious events surrounding the Gunpowder Plot are arguably the aforementioned Monteagle Letter and the death of Francis Tresham. It is believed that Monteagle’s cousin, Francis Tresham, wrote the letter to warn him, but the authorship of the letter is still up to debate. The fact that Monteagle had the letter read aloud by his servant is also somewhat suspicious. And the most obvious point, why would anyone in their right mind give such an obvious warning to someone in a position to foil their plot?

The next issue revolves around, once again, Francis Tresham; as C. N. Turnman wrote;
“Here was an important member of the gang who could know a great deal about other conspirators who were not actually yet caught. Once arrested, he was locked in the Tower of London – England’s most feared and secure prison. Tresham was locked in a cell by himself. He died on December 23rd 1605, and he was found to have been poisoned. How did he get the poison? Did he knowingly take it? Or did someone want to silence him before he talked? It is possible that Tresham had the poison on him and took it rather than suffer the butchery of being hung, drawn and quartered. If someone else had access to him, and fed him poisoned food or whatever, he would have been a very important person as only the most important would have had access to this valuable prisoner.” (4)

In light of the fact, that Guy Fawkes did not mention being set up in his confession (maybe because he thought no one would believe his confession given under torture) and instead stuck to his story of being asked to join the plot by Thomas Wintour in 1604. Wintour is also the only one to give a confession of the plot’s events from beginning to end and he too makes no mention of any government conspiracy. Thus, if the government did set up the plotters it is more likely that someone in the government, perhaps noted anti-Catholic Robert Cecil, discovered the plot early on and secretly aided them, while simultaneously setting a trap to make it appear he had uncovered a massive plot against the king.

At the end of the day, while the questions raised are interesting, none can prove that the government or Cecil or anyone else was behind The Gunpowder Plot. Still, even if we cannot know for sure what really happened almost four-hundred and ten years ago I think it is good if we all remember that there is another side to the story of one of the most infamous conspiracies in history.

References:
(1) “Christ the Lord of History” by Anne Carroll pp 295
(2) BBC Bitesize
(3) “Christ the Lord of History” by Anne Carroll pp 296
(4) History Learning Site

Bibliography:
Mysterious Universe.org
The Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent.com

Why Taylor Swift (and a lot of people) are Wrong About Spotify

In November of 2014, Taylor Swift removed her catalog of songs off the popular music streaming site Spotify on the grounds that it does not compensate artists fairly for their work. She wasn’t the first person to object to Spotify, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke being another notable opponent, but she has more or less become the poster girl for resistance to Spotify. The common arguments against Spotify are various: according to Swift it creates the perception that music isn’t valuable because people listen to it for free. According to Yorke it pays artists a pittance while steaming owners get rich, and many believe it will be the end of the music industry as it hurts traditional music revenue sources.
I’m here to tell you that not only is Spotify in the right, but also that it may well be the future of the music industry.

First, what is Spotify? It is a music streaming site started in Sweden in the early ‘00’s; unlike most other music streaming sites Spotify has a “freemium” tier where non-paying users can listen to any of Spotify’s 25 million+ songs for free with ads. Upgrading to Premium for just $9.99 a month will allow listening without ads, better sound quality, and allows users to download playlists to their phone or computer. The way Spotify pays artists is like this: users listen to songs, with a few fractions of a cent being put paid per listen. At the end of the month all the money earned by listens is put into a big pot which is then divided based on who was listened to the most; that money is given to the rights holders who make sure it gets in the hands of music companies and artists.

Now, as Tim Worshall at Forbes points out, it is important in this debate to define what a Spotify play is—it is the performance of one song to one person one time. Thus it is more proper to compare Spotify streams to radio plays; using this method Worshall found that Spotify pays about sixteen times as much as radio. That is actually pretty good, considering how (relatively) small Spotify is. Spotify has about 65 million users last count, which is pretty small, compared to Itunes half-a-billion users and Youtube’s one billion monthly users. The fact that Spotify has paid out more than two billion dollars to the music industry with this user base is downright admirable and certainly makes one think about how much money streams will make when/if Spotify gets one-hundred million paid users. Spotify’s team has been insistent that their “freemium” tier is essential to building a large subscriber base.
Also, keep in mind that due to their focus on building a customer base, Spotify has been reporting annual losses of 60-70 million dollars for years. I’d hardly call that getting rich at artists’ expense.

Although at the end of the day, Spotify is not necessary supposed to be an artist’s sole source of revenue; it is rather a discovery tool and a way to make free music profitable for artists.
Way should free music exist at all? Because, of the evil known as piracy; Spotify’s founder Daniel Elk specifically created Spotify with the intention of defeating piracy by creating a free listening system that actually compensates artists for their work. This is a task it has done admirably; some studies suggest that in areas of Sweden where Spotify use is more prevalent, piracy is less prevalent.
Ben Berry of up-in-coming band Moke Hill wrote a wonderful article, where he shows that Spotify gives hope to new musicians by giving them a chance to be noticed and listened to. Taylor Swift argues that her opposition to Spotify (and to an extent streaming in general) is for the good of new artists who don’t have her prominence. Well, the long and short of it is that the end of streaming won’t hurt established superstars like Swift, but it will make it much harder for new artists to break into the industry. Once a band gets on someone’s radar, their fans will then buy their music or see them on tour; because of course touring is nowadays an artist’s most significant source of revenue.
One thing that should be noted is that artists are not getting as much revenue from streaming as they should for the simple reason that the money is still split about 70/30 between record labels and musicians. This was probably fair in the days when record companies had to spend huge sums to produce large album runs, but since the physical medium is more or less dead why then do record labels still take so much of an artist’s revenue? Lawsuits have been filed by artists in order to get a fairer chunk of their streaming dues.

As to Swift’s claim that free music creates the perception that music isn’t valuable, arguing instead that music is worth as much work is put into it, this is simply an economic fallacy. It is an economic principle that goods are worth what consumers will pay for them not the labor put into them.

All that being said, it would be unfair to not mention one of the several valid criticisms of Spotify. “Freemium may indeed be”, well, too free and therefore not give listeners enough incentive to switch over to the paid service. I might suggest increasing the frequency of ads, but one must be cautious not to make “freemium” so restricting so as to force people back to piracy.
Either way, a great change is happening or rather has been happening in the music industry, a change toward streaming. But Swift’s and her allies against streaming will only hurt new artists chances of making a living in this new music business, while they can afford to oppose change and stay on their lofty statures. Spotify is not the death of the music industry it is arguably its best hope.

Bibliography/Suggested Reading:

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty for Using Spotify” – Charles Ubaghs, The Quietus
Rockonomics: Spotify versus Itunes, when are streams-over-time worth as a sale today?” – David Touve
Spotify didn’t kill the music industry you did” – Prentice Mathew
Taylor Swift Doesn’t Understand Supply and Demand” – Nilay Patel, Vox.com
The Truth about Taylor Swift and Spotify” – Music. Licensing, Youtube.com
Taylor Swift is Fighting the Wrong Part of the Music Industry” – Jonathan Ford, Financial Times
Concert Photographer calls out Taylor Swift for “hypocritical” Apple Open Letter”

Also, here is an interesting post over at Spooky & the Metronome, here at WordPress, about how streaming is merely continuing the legacy of music lending libraries popular in the late nineteenth century.

Review: “Pageant Material” – Kacey Musgraves

“Pageant Material” 

This sophomore effort by country outliner Kacey Musgraves was well worth the two year wait; on this album Musgraves’ lives up to her reputation for combining a traditional country sound with modern messages. In my opinion, the only thing that outshines the sound and Musgraves’ vocals is the album’s stellar songwriting (from Musgraves and her familiar writing team).

Track Highlights:
“Late to the Party” is not just one of the best songs on the album, but one of the best songs of Musgraves’ career; a lovely sounding romantic song. “This Town” and “Family is Family” are some of the songs with the best themes; “Biscuits” (which is very reminiscent of Musgraves’ previous effort “Follow Your Arrow”), “Pageant Material” and “Dime Store Cowgirl” are all very fun and good songs.

Final Thoughts:
In one line, “This is great country music”; some might be turned off by the too traditional sound or the artist’s personal views, but I think this a great pick for all county fans. Four Stars out of five.

The Problem(s) With Killing Hitler

It is an often asked theoretical moral question: would it be OK to go back in time and kill Hitler?

First, for the sake of the argument let’s say it is 1939 and you have just stepped out of your time machine; you have Hitler in your sights, turn off the safety, and then take aim. The main problem with going through with this assassination is that it is entirely immoral according to both natural law and basic Catholic moral teaching.

Something important to keep in mind when considering these types of moral quandaries is The Double Effect; which answers the question, “What if I perform an act which has two effects one good the other bad?” Essentially, under a set of very strict circumstances it is all right to perform a good/neutral action with the intention to bring about a good effect while tolerating a bad effect. With that in mind let’s take a look at the situations where one may morally tolerate the death of a human being for a very weighty reason.

1) Self-Defense:
If an unjust aggressor attempts to deprive anyone of their property or life and no other alternative exists then it is absolutely moral to use lethal force in self-defense. Obviously, this doesn’t help are time traveler since Hitler is not in the act of attacking them.

2) While Fighting a Just War:
Soldiers fighting a just war may kill enemy soldiers during a time of war so long as they do not do so out of hate. As Chesterton put it, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what’s in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Many would argue that this obviously justifies the time traveler’s assassination of Hitler, but this is false. It is—or at least it was—one of the most basic rules of civilized warfare that non-combatants (civilians and politicians) must not be targeted in war. This point should especially be stressed in World War 2, a war notorious for both sides committing atrocities against non-combatants.

3) For War Crimes
Hitler committed heinous war crimes that lead to the execution of many of his followers for said crimes, so why not kill him before he can commit the crimes? The first problem is Hitler has not yet done those crimes therefore he cannot be killed for them. And for the sake of argument let’s say he has already begun the Holocaust; even then he must first have a fair trial and then be executed by a rightly appointed executioner. “Fair trial”? But, of course he is guilty! One could say. According to the basic morals of civilized society, everyone deserves a fair trial; as the old Church theologians used to say, “Even the Devil deserves his own trial.” This is ignoring the fact that renegade time travelers are not exactly state appointed executioners.

Considering that this is Hitler when he is the Fuehrer and a war criminal it would be even less moral to kill a young Hitler before he even as chance to get that far.

4) Tyrannicide
If anyone wants to genuinely make the world a better place by ending the life of one of its most despicable inhabitants, then arguably the only moral opportunity to do so would be to aid the July 20 plotters. On July 20, 1944 the venerable German Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler as the beginning of a coup to topple the Nazi government. Something as simple as telling Stauffenberg to place the briefcase with the bomb in it, in a different spot could have allowed the assassination to succeed.
Now, in answer to the obvious question, “How come they can kill Hitler?” Easy, this is a classic example of “Tyrannicide” the conditions for which are numerous; the tyrant must be clearly evil, the assassinators must represent the people, a new government must be ready to take the place of the tyrant’s, the death must really be guaranteed to bring about the common good. This certainly defines the July 20 plotters, but no one can argue the same for any time travelers.

All right, time for a counter-question, “Why is the end of a human life the only reasonable way to avert the tragedy of World War 2 and The Holocuast?” Any good student of the causes of that war could easily suggest a dozen moments where the whole war could have been avoided. Perhaps, keeping the British out of World War 1 (which, most historians agree “sowed the seeds for another war,”) would have prevented the war from devolving into a brutal contest that would bring down the German Kaiser. Keeping America out of the war might have led both sides in the war to end the war at a bloody stalemate; the allies could have given the Germans a fairer treaty preventing the huge German resentment Hitler would play off of, the western powers could have propped up the Weimar government preventing a Nazi takeover. Telling the British to withhold the Polish War Guarantee would have allowed Hitler to steamroll right into the Soviet Union and led to the two worst monsters in history destroying each other.

Finally, this entire piece has operated on the principle that, “The end does not justify the means,” and that principles must be held to no matter what. Indeed, the end justifies the means was the thinking that led to all kinds of atrocities being committed in that war by the supposed good guys. Among those atrocities being the torture of prisoners, the use of no quarter tactics, terror bombing, and massacres rivaling those committed by the Axis powers.

I hope this all has given you, readers and time travelers, more to think on; both on general morality and the history surrounding “The Good War”.

Bibliography:
“Catholic Morality” by Fr. John Laux
“Following Christ in the World” by Anne Carol
“Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War” by Patrick Buchanan