Good to see the IHS offer “equal time” on the question. My only quibble with Aeon’s take relates to theory vs. practice. In theory, he is correct, and I applaud him for standing up against the mass of “STEMsters” and calmly asking (as a philosopher would) the world to think about the new conventional wisdom a bit more before fulling embracing it. Thus, I agree that there is a lot of value to what the humanities in theory can do for the minds of our students. However, I have little doubt from what I read about other places and hear around my campus that wayyy too many humanities classes are failing to do what Aeon thinks they can do. Indeed, I often wonder if many of those humanities classes are actually providing negative value! I have a hard time imagining that this is the case in STEM classes. That being said, the battle shouldn’t really be whether the humanities are useful (even in the non-economic sense) – since Aeon is correct – but about how the humanities ought to be taught in order to benefit our students (and society).
Archive for May, 2013
If you see corruption in the upper tiers of government as a major problem for an economy’s health in the long run (and the balance of evidence suggests that it is, at least at high levels in capitalist countries), then externally imposed austerity might be the only way to root it out. Syracuse prof Glyn Morgan passes along this story from Spain:
Rato, Castellanos and others jointly own a commercial lot near Madrid that is leased to a third party, according to Ayala’s Jan. 10 statement to the court. They also controlled a company together while Rato, 64, was running Bankia, Ayala said.
At the same time, Lazard billed Bankia 9.2 million euros ($12 million) for work either assigned or executed during Rato’s 27-month tenure at the bank, court documents show.
Their relationship exemplifies how a network of leaders from the governing People’s Party helped their associates among the financial elite to profit while the country’s savings banks, known as cajas, racked up losses. That toxic combination flourished during the boom fueled by Spain’s entry into the euro in 1999 and served to deepen the crash that resulted in a 41 billion-euro bailout of Spanish lenders, according to Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
Whether harsh spending cuts are a good idea or not for countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece depends in part on how one values the long run versus the short run. Also from the story:
“The things that we need to do to make Spain work require pulling the rug out from under the core interests of everyone” in power, Ken Dubin, a political scientist who teaches in Madrid at IE business school and Carlos III University, said in a May 22 telephone interview. “This is a political racket run for the benefit of politicians who suck the marrow out of the citizenry.”
As I do every Memorial Day, a salute to all those Americans who have lost their lives fighting in foreign wars. I would add that while it is always nice to celebrate a living veteran, our thoughts today should be turned to those who died in service rather than those fortunate enough to return home alive.
A special salute to Major Brian Mescall, a graduate of the Citadel, who was killed in action in Afghanistan. And one to Captain Ray Conard, killed in his B-24 during WWII (he was a member of the 734th Bomber Squadron, 453rd Bomber Group in Britain). This may be the story (though I haven’t been able to verify it) of what happened to Captain Conard:
MISSION # 182 – BIELEFELD, GERMANY – 26 NOV. – SUN.
41 aircraft flew on to bomb a railway viaduct just outside Bielefeld. Using a visual correction through a cloud break on a PFF run, 101 tons fell on the target with fair results.
For the third time in the month, tragedy stalked the 734th Squadron. Capt. Conard, leading mission 182, crashed a few miles from the base. Apparently unable to get his plane to climb, Capt. Conard jettisoned his bomb load. Never over a few hundred feet above ground, the ship lost altitude steadily and headed for two homes about forty or fifty feet apart. Unable to climb over them or fly between them, [Capt Conard stood the big ship on its right wing and cartwheeled between them.]* Capt. Conard’s action is believed by Major McFadden and Col. Thomas, who investigated the crash, to have been deliberate in order to avoid striking the homes and injuring or killing the occupants. His courageous action cost him his life along with the lives of his crew, but the occupants of the homes were in no way harmed, This, despite the fact that an engine damaged a corner of one of the homes as it was dislodged from the plane. Capt. Conard has been recommended for the DSC, posthumously.
*added in some versions of the story found on the web
A very cool story here about an unheralded lecturer in math who in isolation from the big names in his field (and who even had to work at a Subway at one point) comes up with a huge advance in solving a famous and very vexing problem in numbers theory. How did he come up with the solution to the challenge that had really worn on him?:
To take a break, Zhang visited a friend in Colorado last summer. There, on July 3, during a half-hour lull in his friend’s backyard before leaving for a concert, the solution suddenly came to him. “I immediately realized that it would work,” he said.
This scene fits quite well with what the recently deceased Kenneth Waltz thought about where theories come from. To Waltz, a theory doesn’t come from the collection of more and more data but from this: a moment when a “brilliant intuition flashes, a creative idea emerges” (Theory of International Politics). Richard Ashley described Waltz’s view of the theory construction process as “all very mysterious.” Waltz himself said: “One cannot say how the intuition comes and how the idea is born.”
Perhaps we should spend more time in the backyard and less time in the office?
Drudge is linking to a Weekly Standard post whose purpose can only be to take the President to task for alleged disrespect of the military. According to the WS, Obama boarded Marine One today without returning a military salute rendered by the Marine on duty outside the rotary wing aircraft.
But what is the real problem here? The President is Commander-in-Chief but this is certainly not a military position and the holder of that office is not bound to return a salute. Indeed, the President returning a salute is a relatively new phenomenon that one could argue is bound together with the overall rise of militarism in American society since WWII. It only really became the norm with Ronald Reagan and should be viewed as oddly as a member of Congress returning a salute (given the fact that civilian control of the military is divided between the branches and is not just the purview of the President). For more on the history of presidential saluting, see Michael Desch’s excellent Foreign Policy piece from last summer here, titled, “Mr. President, don’t salute the troops this 4th of July.”
Here is the best part of that piece:
But it is the constitutional issue that is ultimately dispositive for me. America’s Founders took deliberate steps to ensure civilian control of the military. One was to split the war powers — the power to declare war and the conduct of the war itself — between the legislative and executive branches. Their aim was to prevent the president from becoming a king. But they were also careful to specify, as the participants in debate at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788 framed it, that the president was a “civil,” not a military, officer. As one participant observed, George Washington was not president when he was a general and not a general when he became our first president. Civilian control of the military was at the core of how the Founders thought about the institution of commander-in-chief and I worry that we are losing sight of that when we treat it as just another military rank.
Desch goes onto argue that a better way for the President to acknowledge military members is “a nod in the direction of the individual saluting, a quite word of thanks, and perhaps a handshake would be sufficient. Presidents should, of course, honor the troops — they just should not salute them.”
And what did Obama do today – perhaps after being reminded by a staffer that he’d get heat for doing nothing? He went out and shook the hand of the Marine. This seems perfectly fine, but even that should not be expected of a civilian leader who certainly shouldn’t be obligated to shake the hand of every citizen or soldier he passed by and who acknowledges him.
Trying to make a big deal out of this stuff is just the kind of baloney that neoconservatives serve up on a regular basis. For people who claim to appreciate the Founders, history, and prudence, neocons can be strikingly blind to all three when it suits their purposes.