Monday, February 24, 2020

On Fear: Part 1

Last year I wrote an essay about fear.  I wrote it in broad, general terms; I referenced my childhood, but not in terms of experiencing fear myself.  I suppose because I'm not someone who considers fear to be much of an "emotion" so much as a "sensation," akin to nausea.  Something that you experience in a moment and which then passes, giving way to more complex, forebrained emotions like grief or regret.  Fear is often re-contextualized.  Fear is the dread of not knowing, and once a thing becomes known, we attach to it another, more appropriate emotion.

As my journalism program comes in for a landing, one professor has been doling out more subjective and incredibly challenging quotes in an effort to expand our writing skill beyond what it was previously capable of.

This week's prompt:

Please write an 800 word piece on your most frightening personal experience. Make us feel it, empathize with you, identify with you.

I had difficulty with this but eventually hammered out two.  The first one is below and was in part inspired by an Ask Reddit thread about paranormal experiences.  Next Monday, I will post the other.

The Monster in the Back Yard

I read somewhere that most people’s earliest memories are usually something traumatic. The reasoning is that the intensity of primitive feelings like fear, anger, or pain help solidify the memory. Perhaps as a warning. Who knows? I’m not a psychologist.

“Traumatic” means something different when you’re a child, of course. The things we fear as children are usually laughable to us when we’re adults. Childhood anxieties over sharks and quicksand are replaced by the harsh adult realities of getting fired, or melanoma. Many children don’t have the life experience to appreciate what is truly frightening, and their fears tend to be physical manifestations, not abstractions. For example, a well-adjusted child is more inclined to fear a zombie than, say, losing a loved one to dementia.

Many people’s early memories are colored by fear that has been misinterpreted, and those fears loosen their talons on the psyche once the situation has been explained. Plenty chalk up their frightening childhood memories to paranormal circumstances like ghosts, when in fact, a more mundane explanation exists. But sometimes, fears evolve and grow with us. A child who fears zombies might see that fear evolve into fear of losing a loved one to dementia, because ultimately, it’s a very similar root fear: the loss of humanity.

My earliest memory was a frightening one, and it involved a monster. As an adult, I know now that my five-year-old perception was incorrect. However, the explanation for the events I witnessed is much worse, and it’s something I’ve carried with me my whole life.

I was five years old and playing in a pile of leaves in our backyard. The yard had a very tall brick wall at the far end; on the opposite side was a highway, and you could hear the constant whoosh of traffic beyond it. There were a few openings along the bottom of the wall, presumably for drainage. It was autumn, and I was shoulder-deep in the leaves when I heard it: an unearthly, demonic yowl, a noise I have never heard since, that momentarily drowned out the whisper of traffic and chilled me straight to the bones. It made my stomach drop and I very nearly burst into tears.

A moment later, something appeared in one of the drainage holes at the bottom of the wall. It squeezed through slowly, emerging into the back yard, a matted, sand-colored animal, its movements staggered and jerky like a puppet with a madman for a master. It slowly made its way toward the pile of leaves, where I had completely covered myself and was watching in frozen horror as it approached. It made a thin whining noise that was impossibly high-pitched as it moved, a noise that made my teeth itch and my hair stand on end.

“A monster,” I whispered to myself.

The thing got closer and I tried to stay quiet among the crunchy, rustling leaves, but this was an impossibility. It bore down on me, and I remained unable to move, paralyzed by fear.

It was only when it was a meter or two away that I saw it for what it was: a cat. This cat was like no other cat I had ever seen. It was enormous and its shaggy fur only added to the appearance of a much larger creature. Its movements, still jerky, were distinctively un-cat-like.

I grabbed the creature under the arms, as children do, and half-carried, half-dragged it inside to show my parents. The rush of adrenaline I had gotten had transformed from fear to excitement over my new pet.

It was only later in life that the reason for the cat’s strange appearance and movement was explained to me. Someone had thrown the cat against the brick wall from their car. That was the noise I heard. And the reason the cat was walking so strangely was because his spine was broken.

The cat lived for about two years after I had found him, and his strangeness no longer bothered me because it became familiar. He was an affectionate beast, although his size and uncoordinated movements scared other children. On more than one occasion, a friend would come over to play, and would balk when approached by the cat. And I would gleefully inform them that I, too, had thought he was a monster, but that he wasn’t, and there was nothing to be afraid of.

What I know now, with the advantage of hindsight, was that there was something to be afraid of. It wasn’t the cat, but what the cat represented: casual cruelty, and a slow and agonizing death at the hands of an uncaring universe, in which people who appear perfectly normal can perform acts of brutality so long as they are hidden behind tall brick walls where their actions cannot be witnessed.

There was a real monster that day. It just wasn't the cat.

Monday, February 17, 2020

[Unpopular Opinion] [Spoilers] [Review] My Take on the Season Finale of Bojack Horseman (with Four Alternative Endings)

Bojack Horseman had an unorthodox ending.  It split its final season into two parts, much in the way it constantly splits its viewers hearts into two parts every other episode.

This resulted in a several-month wait of nervous anticipation.  The first half of the 6th season showed Bojack, the troubled titular character, getting his shit together, but ended on a cliffhanger in which everything is about to go terribly, horribly wrong.  The second half of the 6th season, finally released on January 31st, resolved the cliffhanger and gave us an ending.

Was it the ending I wanted?

To be honest, no.


Naturally, I binge-watched the entire 8-episode second half in one sitting, the moment it dropped at 12 a.m. on January 31st.  I assume you did something similar, or you wouldn't be reading this right now.  I assume that you've seen the final season of Bojack Horseman, but if you haven't, go see it.

The second-from-the-last episode scared the shit out of me.  Granted, this was at about 3:30 a.m. so all of my emotions were pretty heightened.  Looking back, I felt like some of the symbolism was a little over-the-top.  It felt a tiny bit forced, the heavy-handed death allegory.  Black tendrils of water, a guy running down a narrow and impossibly long hallway... these images felt tired out.

But I can forgive that for three reasons.

First, this whole episode was alluded to / foreshadowed in the one of the early episodes of the season, when Bojack is talking to the therapy horse Dr. Champ, and Dr. Champ says that Bojack has told him everything, "even that dream where you're at a dinner party."

Second, Secretaridad's poem "The View from Halfway Down" justifies the entire episode.  The whole episode could have been garbage and this single poem (and the voice actor's delivery of it) really, really hammers home the terrible final thought processes of suicidal people.

 Click for full view.

Third, Herb's responses to Bojack.  When Bojack refers to the dream sequence as "this place," Herb says, "There is no place.  It's just your brain going through what it feels like it has to go through."  Later, Bojack says, "See you on the other side," and Herb gently replies, "Oh, Bojack, no.  There is no other side.  This is it."

One of my big complaints about this episode was the implication that you dream when you're dead, that you experience something, that there's some sort of fantastic dreamworld or meaningful experience you have in your final moments.  Herb's grounding the episode took care of that for me.  This episode wasn't for Bojack.  It was for us, the audience.  Bojack was incapable of having such a lucid dream while he was dead, and I felt like Herb's character helped clarify this.

But then we got the last episode.

In the very last episode, Bojack attends Princess Carolyn's wedding, and at the end, goes onto the roof to talk to Diane, who reveals she is also married and now lives in Texas.  Bojack "making it" felt like a little bit of cop-out.

But worse, Bojack's story ends with him going to jail.

First of all, one of the strengths of the show is that it's always been relatable.  Not all of us were stars in '90s sitcoms, but generally, Bojack's experiences are universal.  His need for approval, his fear that he's not good enough, his desperate chasing for friendships that validate him.  It feels very human (even though he's a horse).  Going to jail is not a universal experience.  And it can't even be said to be Bojack's rock-bottom, either.  Bojack is forced to go sober, and let me tell you, not a lot of recovering addicts ever really get "forced."  Most hit a personal rock-bottom and then realize they have to fix themselves or they will end up dead.  In other words, pardon the cliché, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

They made Bojack drink and I hated that.  Bojack made his own bed and was constantly being forced to deal with the consequences of his own actions and choices.  Being sent to jail isn't the same as holding yourself personally accountable.  It's just being caught being shitty.  It says nothing of personal growth.  The show's relatability fell apart for me in the final episode.  The cheesy marriages of P.C. and Diane, respectively, also felt a little cliché. 

Bojack going to jail reminded me of Robert Downey Jr.'s '90s issues but, for most of the viewing audience who is not Robert Downey Jr., it was totally inaccessible.  Also, please explain to me why Bojack was sent to a maximum security facility for drug and trespassing charges?  Also, please explain to me why they would let him out for the weekend, if it's maximum security?  This episode was formulatic and hackneyed and, worst of all, it failed to deliver the relatability that made the rest of the show so totally phenomenal.  Bojack was a show built on exploring universal experiences, and the final episode felt all wrong to me.

A few things I liked.  I liked the reveal that Bojack had called Diane and left her a shitty, manipulative message wherein he basically held himself hostage.  This is classic suicidal drug abuser behavior and I love this final exploration of Bojack's and Diane's relationship. 

I also really, really liked the resolution with Hollyhock, which is that there wasn't one.  He fucked up and Hollyhock cut him out of her life because he was a toxic person, and even now that he's in recovery, he can't get it back.  That happens in real life and it's devastating and raw and real.  It's an open wound that never quite heals because you don't get the resolution or closure you want, no matter how much you get better.  I felt that.

As usual, I can't bring myself to complain about something without an attempt to fix it, so I thought up four alternative endings that I think would have worked better than Princess Carolyn's wedding, which had the gaudy, sitcommy weight of reassurance to it.  It felt out of place for the show, whose usual tone toes the line between absurd meaninglessness (ie, Dadaism) and unsatisfactory real-life stories that are relatable because of their open-ended rawness.

Alternative Ending #1: Bring Back the Baboon

One of the earliest moments in the series that really, truly resonated with the fan community was at the end of season 2 when the jogging baboon looms over Bojack and gives him some advice about running: "It gets easier… every day it gets a little easier.  But you gotta do it every day — that’s the hard part. But it does get easier."

Imagine if in the final episode, Bojack leaves prison, ends up in a crappy apartment, and drags himself to court-ordered AA meetings.  And... there's the baboon.

Baboon:You know what they say.  One day at a time.  I try to live my life by those words, but--
[Bojack is nodding.]
Baboon: --the truth is, it never really gets any easier.
Bojack: Wait a second!  You told me it gets easier.
Baboon: ...what are you talking about?
Bojack: When I was running!  You told me if I did it every day it would get easier!
Baboon: That was about running, man, not life! you mean to tell me you try to ascribe meaning to every casual interaction in your life like it's some kind of sitcom?
Bojack: Well screw me for trying to find meaning!
[Bojack gets up to leave.]

Baboon: Wait.
Bojack: What?
Baboon: Look.  Life isn't like a sitcom, or training for a marathon, because there's no conclusions.  There's no moment where you're suddenly just... done.  That's why we say you gotta take it one day at a time.  And I'm not going to bullshit you.  It doesn't get easier.  But... you get stronger.
[Bojack contemplates this, and then sits back down.]
[In the final scene, the camera pans out, showing Bojack and the baboon talking outside after the meeting.]

What it means: Exactly what it says.  You live each day and try to do your best, and it's hard, but if you keep trying, then hopefully it will get better.  People love that goddamn baboon and he disappeared after season 2, so I think this would have been an amazing reappearance.  Also, the wise old baboon being in AA and being shown to struggle is a powerful message.  Everyone's dealing with something; we should help each other out.

Alternative Ending #2: Callback to the Bag of Mulch

Bojack leaves prison and/or fades into obscurity after the bad press regarding Sarah Lynn.  He moves into a crappy apartment next to the 110 freeway.  At the end of the episode, he goes outside and leans on his car, smoking, and looking up at the skyline, listening to the traffic in quiet contemplation.

Bojack [to himself]: Maybe being on that show for all those years gave me a false impression in neat conclusions.  That everything always wraps up nicely at the end.  That, no matter how messy things get, there's a point to it.  [pausing] I'd like to think there's a point to it.  I don't believe in God but I wish I did.  I wish I could.  ...God?  ...if you're there... give me sign.
[There is a long, quiet pause.  Nothing happens.]
[Bojack sighs.]
[Suddenly, a bag of mulch falls from the overpass and lands into his car.]

[Bojack stares at it in shock, then looks up, then looks back down at it.  His incredulous expression turns to one of annoyance.]
Bojack [yelling]: Well what the hell is that supposed to mean?!
[Cut sharply to the end credits.]

What it means: Life is absurd and we are the ones who give it meaning.  This fits perfectly with the existentialism and dadaism that is a cornerstone of the show's aesthetic.  It's also a punchline to a confusing joke, which is about 90% of the show's plotlines.

Alternative Ending #3: Why the Long Face?

We got some of this in the final episode, in the form of a song that I personally didn't like much.  But for a long time, I had hoped, desperately, that the series finale would involve Bojack going to a bar and getting asked this question.

Ideally, I would have liked Bojack to have been driving and to have reached a crossroads.  (Literally.)  He parks, get out of his car, and goes into a bar.  He sits down.  (Cameo appearance: Dr. Champ in the background, getting shit-faced.)  The bartender comes up to him.

Bartender: What'll it be?
Bojack: Huh?
Bartender: ...what'll it be? need to choose something, you know.
[Bojack stares pitifully at the drinks along the wall, realizing he needs to make a choice.]
Bojack: But... what if I make the wrong choice?
Bartender: Then I guess you order something else?
Bojack: But what if the first choice influences every other choice?  What if I set myself down an irrevocable path of self-destruction and I get in too deep and can't turn back?
Bartender: Um...
Bojack: I shouldn't even be here.  What am I doing?  ...I have to choose something, but it feels like, no matter what I choose, it's wrong.  And not choosing... that's a choice, too, isn't it?
Bartender: I guess?
Bojack: I could choose to get a drink or I could just... go home. But then what?  What's the point?  Be good now, so I can mess up later?  
[A long, awkward pause ensues.]

Bartender [leaning onto the bar]: Wow, man.  That's all really heavy.  Sounds like you're working through some shit.
Bojack: I'm trying to figure things out and I just... don't know how.
Bartender: Need someone to listen?
[Bojack nods.]
Bartender: Alright, go ahead.  Tell me what's up, big guy.  ...why the long face?

What it means:  I love the idea of six seasons of suffering building up to a played-out one-line joke.  It perfectly captures life's absurd pointlessness.  However,  I also like the idea of Bojack being shown making a choice.  Does he relapse?  Does he go home?  What's next?  No idea!  Doesn't matter.  The point is that our lives are made up of a series of choices, and to live meaningfully, we have to acknowledge those choices, as well as their consequences.

Alternative Ending #4: "What's Behind That Door?" 

The iconic opening sequence of the show, each season, has been Bojack floating through life to a funky jazz tune before falling into his swimming pool.  He sees Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter appear above him, looking worried, and then a bright life from a helicopter.  The bright light transitions into him floating on the surface of the pool in shorts and sunglasses on a bright southern California day, and the camera pans out to show his hillside home in the Hollywood hills.

Now imagine this.  The final episode opens with the same opening sequence.  Bojack floats through life: his abusive childhood, his rise to stardom, his downward spiral, his falling into the pool... we see Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter appear and the bright light...

...and then it cuts to darkness.

For twenty-two minutes, we get a black screen.  No images.  No sound.  Just black.  And then it cuts to the credits.

What it means: As Herb already said, there's nothing behind the door.  When you die, you're dead, and your story ends.  This ending would be beyond frustrating for the viewers, but that's the point.  We got to know Bojack, to love him despite his faults, to want to his story to continue.  By killing himself, he robbed us of that.  Death is finality and there's nothing else beyond it.

So make it count.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Climate Change Is Causing Wildfires. Yes, Really.

I'll admit it.  The title of this post was clickbate.  Climate change doesn't cause wildfires... at least, not directly. But it certainly contributes to all of the conditions that feed wildfires, and that is what today's post is about.

Be forewarned: this is what my writing looks like when it's "forced."  I'm not entirely sure the structure here is as rock-solid as it could be, or that the transitional flows from one paragraph to the next are seamless.

I wrote this in response to a prompt for class.  The prompt: Please write an 800 word analysis on a topic of your choosing. Please remember: a news analysis is meant to examine, explain, illuminate, and suggest new and different ways of thinking about a topic than a straightforward news report. Analyses are not advocacy in the sense that they are prescriptive calls for action.

The professor advised us that news analyses often answer the question "how" or "why" about a breaking news story, and aim to answer that.  I had been thinking about the Australian brushfires, and decided to answer my own question: how does climate change actually cause wildfire?  The answer is below.

The view in Lake Conjola, South New Wales

The Australian brushfires of 2019 - 2020 received international attention as they grew into the nation’s largest wildfires on record, burning over 15 million acres of land and destroying over 6,000 buildings, almost half of them residential. The reasons cited for the fires include an intense heatwave and drought, but the severity of these conditions can be traced back to global warming. Climate change promotes conditions that affect the likelihood of wildfires, such as heat and dryness, and scientists have been able to draw a strong causative relationship between rising global temperatures and an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires worldwide.

The first factor in Australia’s record wildfires was the extreme heat. 2019 was Australia’s warmest year on record. Over the past century, Australia’s climate has shifted by about one and a half degrees Celsius, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Intense heat waves have begun to occur more regularly, and are often coupled with drought.

2019 was also Australia’s driest year on record; rainfall was 40% lower than average. Drought is not uncommon in Australia; its lower elevation and uniform landmass, aided by the cold ocean currents that move in from the South Pacific, prevent evaporation from occurring inland. This prevents rain cloud formation. Another factor in preventing rainfall is high-pressure systems, particularly prevalent in the southwestern area of the continent. Drought increases the probability of brushfires by drying out vegetation, creating a ready source of fuel for wildfires and lowering the ignition threshold. Coupled with intense heat and electrical storms that can spark fires, Australia’s dry season is also called “brushfire season” because of the likelihood of uncontrolled wildfires.

The heat from the fires melted the rims off of this car.

A third consequence of the rising global temperature for Australia is higher summer temperatures, which result in an earlier onset of spring. This begets a more rapid melting of spring snowpack, which in turn causes the topsoil to dry out earlier and remain dry longer. The dry soil contributes to the dryness of the brush. The spring snowpack is also melting more rapidly simply because there is less of it; Australian rainfall has declined since 1970 in the southwest, and the below-average winter rainfall reduces the spring snowpack. Having a small spring snowpack that can be rapidly melted in high temperatures makes spring come on more rapidly and lasts longer.

Longer, hotter summers and longer, warmer springs have a fourth consequence that impacts wildfire likelihood: insect populations that thrive in warmer temperatures have exploded. The Fourth National Climate Assessment, which studies global climate change but predominantly focuses on North America, notes that warmer temperatures and longer springs allow beetle populations to grow unchecked. Typically, cold climates limit their numbers; left unregulated, tree beetles and other insects negatively impact plant growth in forests, killing off new tree growth and susceptible forest populations, which, once dead, dry rapidly and act as kindling in wildfires.

A man and his dog watch their ranch burn.

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, was the most significantly impacted by the wildfires and exemplifies how the changing global climate can contribute to the severity of wildfires. The 2019 brushfire was the state’s worst fire on record, both in terms of the area it affected (9.9 million acres) and how long it burned. 25 of the 35 fatalities from the fire were in this state. New South Wales has also experienced the most significant drought conditions in Australia, with rainfall 77% below average. Rainfall in New South Wales has decreased overall by 10 - 20% over the last fifty years.

Narrowing the scope even further, an example of how global climate change can be said to “cause” wildfires is New South Wales’ Gospers Mountain forest fire. The Gospers Mountain fire started from a single ignition point, caused by lightning. Dry forests are more likely to ignite naturally from lightning strikes. The Gospers Mountain fire has now destroyed 860,000 acres - an area twice as large as Hong Kong. According to the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Brushfires at the University of Wollongong, this is the largest forest fire in Australian’s history, and it was unavoidable; the fire was started naturally, and its rapid growth was a natural consequence of the drought that hit New South Wales particularly severely.

 No filters.  
 Evacuees have flooded Instagram with photos of the red hellscape that is New South Wales.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology, in its annual State of the Climate report, states that Australia’s climate over the last century has shown an increase in “extreme weather,” with more warm extremes and fewer cool extremes. Projections for Australian climate, based on global trends, predict that Australian temperatures will continue to increase, with more extremely hot days, and that average rainfall will decrease in southern Australia. Based on these trends, it goes on to predict that extreme “fire weather” will continue to increase, and that the fire season will lengthen as climate change continues to promote ideal wildfire conditions.

The Australian government has acknowledged that climate change and global warming is negatively impacting Australia’s environment. The continent is uniquely susceptible to negative impacts due to its geography, already-arid inland, high-pressure systems, strong coastal winds, and unpredictable rainfall. Although techniques for fighting and containing wildfires have improved over the last century, severe wildfires, like those seen in southwestern Australia, are expected to continue to grow in their frequency and intensity as global temperatures rise.

How you can help:

Monday, February 3, 2020

Eliminating FAFSA Benfits Students

The cost of higher education has always been a hot-button issue for presidential hopefuls, and it’s no wonder why; the cost of college tuition has increased eight times faster than wages since the 1980s, according to Forbes. But amid all the talks of reforming how much college costs, it’s rare to hear anyone speak of how college is paid for, and of the necessary re-examination of FAFSA, a 28-year-old piece of paperwork that’s letting students fall through the cracks.

FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a single form that determines student eligibility for all federal financial aid, and its link to college success cannot be overstated. The National College Access Network has found that students who file a FAFSA form are 72% more likely to finish college than those who don’t. According to the Department of Education, each year, FAFSA awards over $120 billion in grants, loans, and other types of aid, such as work-study programs. So why would anyone not fill out this form?

The answer is two-fold: the form is overly complicated and, worse, requires the income information of students’ parents if the students are under the age of 24.

FAFSA is 108 questions and, using a student’s parent’s income information, it generates a Student Aid Report, including the EFC, “expected family contribution,” which is the amount of money the government calculates that a family will contribute to the student’s college costs. The EFC determines how much financial aid a student is eligible for, such as how much they will get in grants (as opposed to loans), and whether their loans will be subsidized or not.

The students most negatively affected by this system are the socioeconomically disadvantaged ones that FAFSA was originally designed to help in the first place.

Let’s start with the simple fact that FAFSA does not look at how much a family actually contributes to a student’s tuition, but instead bases its calculations on tax returns. Tax forms do not, in any way, shape, or form, demonstrate how charitable one’s parents might feel; how much a parent can contribute does not necessarily reflect how much they will.

But the problem is deeper than this, because if a student under the age of 24 can’t get their parents’ income information on their FAFSA, then they are unable to file it at all and are ineligible for any form of student aid. According to the Harvard Political Review, each year, there are roughly $2.8 billion worth of Pell Grants that remain unclaimed.

It’s been over a decade since I had to fill out FAFSA, but I still remember it not-so-fondly as one of the worst parts of my college experience, because I was one of those students made ineligible due to a technicality. I was estranged from my parents and therefore could not complete the form. Mine was not a unique experience; each year, about 25% of FAFSA forms are left incomplete, according to the Federal Student Aid office.

There are plenty of reasons a parent might refuse to fill out their portion of the FAFSA form. Some have cited political protest; the FAFSA form is linked to the Selective Service System. Parents who are undocumented citizens or who didn’t fill out their taxes might understandably prefer not to get mired in legal documentation with the federal government. An illiterate parent might find the process too complicated. And some parents, like my own, might simply have a distant relationship with their child.

There are, of course, stipulations. You can bypass the FAFSA’s “dependence” clause if you are married, a veteran, or a parent of a child. But I, like many 18-year-olds, was disinclined to get married, have a child, or go to war just to complete the form.

A college’s financial aid office has the authority to change a student’s status from “dependent” to “independent” under “unusual circumstances,” but according to the National Postseconday Student Aid Study, only 0.5% of all undergraduate students are independent because of a dependency override. Parental refusal to fill out the form is not considered an unusual circumstance; students whose parents refuse to furnish their income information are routinely told to wait until they turn 24 to be able to complete the form and secure funds to attend college. This was the advice I, too, received from my alma mater’s financial aid office.

The question becomes whether or not FAFSA is even necessary to determine eligibility for federal financial aid in the first place. Susan Dynarski, a professor of public policy, education and economics at the University of Michigan, suggests that FAFSA could be eliminated altogether; she points out that “the information needed to calculate eligibility for that aid is already collected by the I.R.S.” The FAFSA is supposedly designed to help low-income students, but instead, it regularly fails them, thwarting attempts to receive aid based on technicalities, an inevitable byproduct of the form’s complexity.

FAFSA needs to be re-examined and simplified, and perhaps even eliminated. The poorest and most disenfranchised students that it is designed to help are the ones most likely to fall through its cracks, and it’s only by reforming FAFSA that these students can be saved. There are many factors that create a gap in education between low-income and high-income Americans. But FAFSA doesn’t have to be one of them.