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Comment: Re:Cultural issues (Score 1) 325

by debrisslider (#47184375) Attached to: Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

I'm not sure why you'd put it that way. I would sooner say that, as a humanities crank myself, I'm bitter towards the treatment humanities get in academia, and in society as a whole. I'm not drawing on conservative news stories as much as on my own experience in going through higher education.

I was a literature major myself, stopped taking classes just in time after my first experience with graduate-level education. Most of my post was written as a defense to the layman, going over issues I've debated with my more technically-minded friends. The "taking one stupid professor/artist you've read about and condemning the whole idea because of it" tactic is one I have had to dismiss more than a few times - not all modern art is scatological, postmodern books aren't incomprehensible, and subjects besides the classics are worth discussing, etc.

As much as anything, hopefully you will have a better reading circle if you're paying thousands of dollars in tuition to attend it. Otherwise, I'm not sure how the principle of the thing should differ. I guess a lot of people pay the tuition so that they can associate themselves symbolically with a minor league football team or basketball team, so paying for a superior reading circle doesn't seem so silly to me.

That argument was against the anti-intellectualism of undergrads, complaining about too much theory. There's nothing wrong with casual reading circles, and if that's the style of study you want to follow, that's great, but if you're going to take classes you've got to leave your preconceptions at the door. And if you're going to turn a class into a Harry Potter plot recap (which seriously did happen in one of my Dickens classes one day), why are you paying thousands per year to stunt your growth and career potential?

Towards the end of your post, I have no idea what you're going on about. I certainly didn't say that analyzing old artistic/literary works wasn't a good thing to do, or that you shouldn't learn theories and develop frameworks for discussing them. I didn't complain about professors not making sense to me. My complaint was more that my experiences with higher education indicates that it's generally not rigorous enough. It focuses on modernity and novelty, and the professors don't actually understand their own fields well enough-- when it's taught by professors at all. Instead everyone is focused on getting published, which often means being controversial or novel while paradoxically playing it safe to please your peers.

Again, I had no idea what position you were arguing from, so I gave a summary and basic defense of lit 101. Hopefully someone else will read it and get something from it if you don't need to.

I was lucky enough to go to a good school in the UC system, so most of my professors WERE actual professors - one was a world-class Chaucer scholar (fluent in middle english and all), and another for Dickens (who unfortunately did let his class turn into a Harry Potter recap occasionally, but then again there was not one word of theory mentioned and he kept it free of 'bullshit' academic jargon). I don't think that there's anything wrong with modernity and novelty as subjects - and I had to go out of my way to take a class that had anything more recent than 1930. The publish-or-perish issue is certainly valid, but like I said, I view that as the symptom of the larger issue of the humanities' decreasing importance - bordering on outright scorn in at least half of the comments on this very story.

Comment: Re:Cultural issues (Score 3, Insightful) 325

by debrisslider (#47182159) Attached to: Fixing the Humanities Ph.D.

What happened to you to make you so bitter towards harmless humanities cranks?

The whole point of the article is that there are too many Ph.Ds out there. One way to get noticed is to do work in new areas - either reexamining an older work through the prism of newer theories, examining a newer book/artist that hasn't had a lot of critical attention paid to it yet, or tearing down someone else's criticism of older work.

The humanities isn't narrowing, it's broadening. I assure you there are just as many people studying the classics as there were before, but there are also people following other interests that have more meaning for them - people spending their time on minority authors, foreign works, the avant garde, or radically different approaches to criticism. There's also a lot of political ax-grinding and agenda-driven studies, but that comes from being in such a personal field.

It's easy to set up a strawman argument against professors who write theses about things you don't understand or don't want to understand or don't think are valid art (let's not go there), but it's still a pretty small area of interest. You are, however, more likely to hear some (cultural) conservative bitching about corner-case dissertations and minor gallery pieces made with menstrual blood, and whatever happened to gosh-darn UNDERSTANDABLE art, in the same way that you get old-timer laments about how violent the country has become when crime is at an all-time low, or how every teenager dresses like a prostitute because Miley Cyrus.

There has been a backlash against 70s-80s style Continental theory for quite some time now - the heyday of 'overly theoretical' has died down. But also... why should undergrads dictate what they should be taught? I promise you, any high-schooler coming into Lit 101 has a pretty narrow view of how to interact with art, because that's just not taught in high school, because high school English is geared towards SAT scoring. It's difficult to learn new ways of reading outside of the common-sense interpretations, the "what does X symbolize?" essay questions printed in sophomore textbooks. If all you want to do is talk about what base symbolism means and whether characters have 'realistic' depictions, or bear testimony about how deeply something moved you, why pay thousands in tuition when you could just join a reading circle?

What is so scary about learning new frameworks with which to interpret art? Placing works in context, historically and stylistically and politically? Spending some time thinking about how meanings are produced? Examining how something completely constructed and with a particular motivation can end up seeming so 'natural' and 'true'? Learning to completely disregard authorial intention in favor of coming up with your own meaning for something, OR learning more about an author and how the circumstances they lived in shaped their thought and style? Examining cultural or historical bias in older works through today's ideas about race, class, ethnicity, gender/sexuality, political power, psychology, etc? About looking beyond 'obvious' meanings? Learning a bit more about linguistics and grammar and cognitive language processing?

All those things take a bit of "theory," because you kind of need a framework of words and concepts to be able to articulate them - how do you describe what you don't know how to describe because you haven't known to look for it before? Or if you don't need them, it's certainly easier to have a pre-established dictionary of terms to work with than to reinvent the wheel in every paper you write. Theory is shorthand for complex ideas. It's jargon, but no worse than reading a scientific paper without enough preparation. It makes no sense to an outsider, and people feel threatened by that for some reason - the big scary professor doesn't make sense to me, therefore he doesn't deserve a living. Kind of like how some people don't understand science, therefore it's wrong or incomprehensible or against the natural order of things because it doesn't make sense according to what I've seen with my own two eyes or it's those goddamn liberals pushing their values on me to take away my oil and turn our children into perverts and drug-users (which, I'll admit... art does kind of have a tendency to doing that.) It's not grounded in something I can easily understand without learning something or using a different viewpoint, therefore it's bullshit.

Humanities and science aren't enemies - ignorance is their joint enemy. There shouldn't be such enmity between the two; one investigates natural truth, one examines man-made truths. The problem with the humanities isn't the content or spirit of it, which is simply finding/learning how to create new meanings, but economic and political aspects of academia, based on the choices our culture has made about its value.

Comment: Re:Ending badly? (Score 1) 407

I'm pretty sure she's referring to the Asian Carp becoming a massively annoying and costly invasive species in the Mississippi River. It is like she said, in the 1970s a bunch of fish farmers in the south brought in carp to clean their ponds (they feed on plankton and algae and microorganisms). But the carp thrived, and various factors including flooding caused them to escape the ponds and enter the Mississippi, where they have been swimming upstream and infesting other rivers and lakes for decades. The U.S. government has spent a decade trying a bunch of different tactics to prevent their entry into the great lakes - dams, gates, electrified fences, and mass poisonings. According to this article, in the Illinois River, which is connected to the lakes, 9 out of every 10 fish are Asian Carp. They wreak havoc on fishing and tourism, and are only eight miles away from Lake Michigan. One way of stopping them, closing the Chicago Lock, would cause at least a billion dollars in lost or wasted money from barges having to transfer loads back onto land. There has been a hundred million dollars spent in the past few years to examine the issue nationwide (they are now found in 23 states), to attempt to mitigate or remove them. All because some fish farmers tried to save a bit of money cleaning their ponds by changing one element of the local ecology.

Sorry I blew your cover, whoever wanted to hide that they live by any of the thousands of miles of rivers and lakes effected.

Comment: Re:Your real problem here.... (Score 1) 412

by debrisslider (#40122505) Attached to: Can You Buy Tech With a Clean Conscience?

Well, in the middle of hundreds of hours of political investigation into whatever third-party candidate Slashdotters insist you should vote for (both parties are the same after all), and doing all the research into every single product I buy (because if you purchase something and it ends up being a dud, you obviously should have done the market research as a fully rational and informed consumer), and learning how to do all my own home improvement, programming, cooking, car maintenance, electronics repair, contract law (because if you break the terms of a contract it's on you regardless of how ridiculous the contract is, since contracts are sacred unless it you're talking about a EULA), disproving religion, teaching myself economics (Austrian or Keynesian depending on whether I am employed or not) researching climate science so that we can be Fully Informed and Decide for Ourselves whether climate change is for real, and anything else us fully independent and high-IQ posters don't need the government or expensive third-parties to help us with, sometimes it is helpful to have cognitive shortcuts, and let an organization whose politics form some sliver of a Venn diagram with mine do a bit of the work for me. And in exchange for the smallest bit of peace of mind, I'll send them a donation. Capitalism at work! What could be more ethical?

Comment: Re:The Supremely Stupid Court (Score 2) 420

by debrisslider (#40069555) Attached to: SCOTUS Refuses To Hear Tenenbaum Appeal

Inequality, yes, the vaguest of concepts. If you're going to credit the Tea Party with anything other than retired seniors with signs saying "big government get your hands off my medicare!" then you could charitably allow the Occupy people a noun or two about higher wages, a more equitable tax structure, fewer loopholes and subsidies for corporations, expanding (or at least not cutting) vital social services - all of which have at least as much popular support if not (much) more than the tea party platform which is pushed by a vocal minority of the Republican party. The Occupiers haven't had a congressional election to demonstrate their numbers yet.

Comment: Re:I have trouble seeing the point (Score 1) 138

Because the upkeep/maintenance costs for thousands of nuclear weapons is really expensive even today. A huge portion of the Department of Energy budget is devoted to nuclear weapons. So the fewer we have, the less money we spend, no? But the majority of nuclear weapons are for counterforce purposes - destroying military installations and other nuclear weapons. So a unilateral disarmament down to a fifth of the previous arsenal places the U.S. or Russia at an unacceptable risk for a decapitating first strike - regardless of how likely that actually is, you can't roll the dice with MAD. Both sides must have equivalent armament to assure MAD - you don't want to upset the strategic balance because even if you aren't realistically going to be attacked, a much greater nuclear arsenal still generates a lot of diplomatic soft power and you'll have the threat hanging over your head. I sure hope you don't make libertarian/tea-party posts elsewhere, because the cost difference between 1000 and 5000 is huge and both countries would dearly love to clear up some budgetary room at zero cost to their military's effectiveness. 1000 IS as effective as 5000 if both sides are at that level (and in the event of a nuclear war, 2000 exploded bombs results in much less fallout than 10000 - fallout is awful in either case, but you may as well have a whole lot less of it) and we're long past the one-upsmanship of the mid-period Cold War. Again, the majority of nuclear missiles are targeted at the other side's nuclear capabilities - it would take fewer than 1000 to decimate the civilian government, population, and infrastructure. We have no need to drive Russia into bankruptcy - indeed, Russian financial trouble is actually more likely to cause a nuclear incident, as weapons are stolen and engineering talent set free to be hired by other organizations and countries.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 1) 532

by debrisslider (#35965832) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

I don't want to take anything away from the sciences (when I get cancer, I could fucking die anyway, research or not), it's mostly an economic issue. IF the school thinks it can attract more students/make more money through price discrimination, well, this is Slashdot, let's call that a market inefficiency being addressed.

If your friends can't hack it in their chosen fields and want to default to something else that's their problem; since they're doing well I assume they managed to motivate themselves. Maybe the idea of potentially earning several hundreds of thousands of dollars more is financial incentive enough, rather than a 20% break on your tuition.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 1) 532

by debrisslider (#35965740) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

I dropped grad school for lit because I realized it wasn't going anywhere. Then I became disabled for six years. Now I live in a small rural town of a few thousand with no opportunties because I can't afford to leave yet. I guess you're just one of those people who'll assume the worst. Christ, subcontracting for $10, you think that's my chosen career?! A job is a job when the county unemployment rate is around 13-15% depending on the season.

I was never interested in making a lot of money; everyone in the major knew it was unlikely that more than a few of us would be making six figures. But there are decent jobs - paralegaling, teaching intro to english classes at a state university (with only a Masters'), publishing, and hell, one of my friends learned how to program anyway and was working for the Smithsonian. Now he is an upper-level manager at a large power company in California. And, you know, any white-collar job that doesn't care about what degree you have, which makes a B.S. as good as a B.A. to my friend with a bio degree doing secretarial and accounting duties. It's not like the arts are for total losers; a fairly large percentage end up becoming teachers (often after not getting a break in their chosen industry, which is always a long shot). So, unless solidly middle class isn't 'decent' money anymore, you are a liar.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 1) 532

by debrisslider (#35964968) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

I honestly have no idea what the cost:earning ratio is for alumni donations, research grants, or additional funding. I'm sure that's a secret. Do STEM professors bring in more money? Undoubtedly. Is that enough to offset the cost by itself? No way. And I'm pretty sure the guys bringing in the grant money aren't actually teaching; UCSC is a pretty important astronomy, physics, and marine research university. However, at least for the university in this article, I would assume they've done the math and determined that the liberal arts just aren't as demanding of campus funds - not like they're going to just throw away money by lowering their fees while raising science students' fees, after all. There must be a supply & demand curve that makes the university more money with an influx of cheap arts students, probably because of all the non-tuition related expenses that more students bring; filling up on-campus housing and dining plans, selling more books and shit at the bookstore, maybe something like bringing in more state revenue because of the increase in the student body size.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 1) 532

by debrisslider (#35964850) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

Dude, I hardly net out to a loss; for the extra $40k tuition cost I'll make up at least a few hundred thousand even if I never get past white-collar work; I'm sure the gov will get much more than that out of my increased marginal wages, plus there's the fact that the school still made $40k off me for a much smaller investment than most students. Just because you don't get as large a return on arts students doesn't mean you don't get something - and there simply isn't enough demand (or skill, especially) to simply cast aside the softer studies and fill our colleges to the brim with arrogant STEMs.

Also, how do you know I won't improve the world? There's a lot of ways to do that besides building a new gadget or whatever (for instance, engineering for Mercedes-Benz and developing a website for a housing realtor are what my richest college friends are doing, big difference that makes to humanity).

As for useless major... that's a different argument. A lot of my lib arts friends got their training in career-type skills after they graduated, often on the job. It's the mental muscle building (and stuff like better-than-average literacy and writing skills) that is valuable later in life (and to the people that hire us), not my encyclopedic knowledge of the works of David Foster Wallace.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 1) 532

by debrisslider (#35964330) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

To clarify my point: while I was a student there, Jack Baskin Engineering 2 was built for $61 million. Two years later construction was finished on a new five-story Physical Sciences building, and just last year ground was broken on a $65 million biomedical sciences facility. You can be sure the liberal arts may have got a few million to renovate over the past decade but the sciences get orders of magnitude more funding; admittedly, there have been large alumni donations helping to fund those (a few million dollars) but it mostly comes from the state budget (you're subsidizing STEM majors as well) and tuition fees. And the literature department was the largest one at the school, with (when I was there) something 970 students out of 11,000.

Comment: Re:Such a great idea (Score 2) 532

by debrisslider (#35963982) Attached to: University Proposes Tuition Based On Major

Hey, to study scientific fields, you need labs and facilities costing tens of millions of dollars, upgraded every few years. At my school (UC Santa Cruz, Literature major) we read 300 year old books outside when the professor thought the day was nice enough. Why should I pay the same $40,000 to subsidize the hugely expensive and resource-intensive programs for engineers who are gonna make ten times what I make in my life? I doubt anyone is going to switch from one of the harder majors to a 'soft' liberal arts program for basically any amount of money - I have comp sci/eng friends who paid off their student loans within a *year* because of their $60,000 out-the-door starting salary. I'm a postal subcontractor making $10 an hour 4 hours a day, and none of my friends from the major have ever made more than $40,000, and we graduated almost a decade ago. Boo fucking hoo some B.A.s have to pay a couple thousand more per year for their state-of-the-art facilities while their friends in the liberal arts use the same leftover classrooms, stages, studios, rehearsal rooms, and theaters that were there 40 years ago.

Comment: Re:Seattle COL (Score 1) 866

by debrisslider (#33654780) Attached to: Ballmer, Bezos Fund Effort To Undermine Bill Gates
Sales taxes are regressive taxes. When you're poor you pay a larger share of your income than a richer person. Say you earn $30k a year and you buy a 10k car. With a 10% sales tax (just for easy figures' sake) you pay $1000, 1/30th of your income. If you earn $60k and buy a $10k car, you're only paying 1/60th your income in taxes on it. Now if both guys spend their entire income then they're paying 10% of their wealth in taxes, but the marginal utility of their dollars are not the same. $60k gets you a lot more in terms of basic necessities than $30k does, so it is a greater burden on the poorer earner; say you have to spend $20k per year on food, rent & utilities, assorted bills like student loans and insurance, and expenses like health care. Sales taxes take up a disproportionate amount of what is left of the 30k's income, whereas the 60k guy can save, invest, or choose to spend a greater proportion of his money on taxable goods.

Comment: Re:Seattle COL (Score 1) 866

by debrisslider (#33653468) Attached to: Ballmer, Bezos Fund Effort To Undermine Bill Gates

The more money you make, the more you benefit from government services. It's as simple as that.

For one, there's the old standard: infrastructure. Roads and stuff like the postal service. Have a business? You extract a lot more value from the highway system than the guy that drives 10 miles to work a day.

Education: unless you don't hire anything but illiterates for manual labor, nearly every worker you have has had 100k spent on their public education over at least 13 years. Oh, and your customers are educated too, allowing them to earn enough to buy (as well as being smart enough to want, in some cases) your products.

Law enforcement: criminals aren't just disruptive to individuals but to business as well. The implied threat of punishment prevents a lot of theft, vandalism, and fraud being perpetrated on you. A rich guy is a much bigger target for crime than the average worker. A subset of law enforcement is the court system and patents/copyright laws. There is a vast infrastructure set up purely to protect your assets and provide enforcement of abstract, artificial limits that you would in no way be able to enforce yourself (not talking about music and movies; think industrial patents and trade secrets). Without the threat of a lawsuit, what stops your competitors from making exact copies of your goods without spending the R&D costs, or keeps your debtors paying you?

Military: protecting shipping lanes and, abstractly, your life and goods from the threat of invasion. Opening up foreign markets through force (happened plenty of times throughout history), keeping stability in unstable regions to protect worldwide markets, and (let's get realpolitik here) keeping the price of oil low.

As a society, we all benefit from all these services to a greater or lesser degree, but who do you think uses more of these benefits proportionately, Joe Blow getting the median $21k a year, or billionaires like Bezos, who uses the hell out of the roads and postal service, whose business was set up by highly educated individuals, whose customers were literate [Amazon did start out as a book store, after all], that is well-known around here for attempted abuse of the patent system, that generally enjoys having secure facilities, pirate-free transportation, and the cheap oil necessary for a business based on transport? The wealthy get much more out of the government in invisible and implied benefits than any welfare queen ever could.

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins

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