Posts tagged ‘New York Times’

October 18, 2012

Newsweek to End Print Publication

by Eric T. Phillips

The December 31st issue of Newsweek will be the last. From then on, the magazine will be available digitally (still for subscription). “Regrettably,” the editors write, “we anticipate staff reductions and the streamlining of our editorial and business operations both here in the U.S. and internationally.”

This is great news. For the better part of a century, the establishment press represented by the likes of Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, the Washington Post has used its vast market share to limit the scope of “respectable” political debate and marginalize figures who lie outside of that spectrum. The establishment’s power has been in rapid decline since the rise of the internet, but the demise of Newsweek’s print edition is perhaps the most significant event to date that marks the erosion of the old media’s influence.

Many modern-day liberals will no doubt continue to mourn the end of those  supposedly nonpartisan days when Americans received their news from a small number of magazines, papers, and networks. They may wax nostalgically about getting newspaper ink on your hands every mourning or, as Newsweek’s editors do, about “the romance of print and the unique weekly camaraderie of those hectic hours before the close on Friday night,” but what they’re really mourning is the decline of their power. May it continue.

 

October 24, 2011

Some Thoughts on the Anti-College Movement

by Eric T. Phillips

With hundreds of thousands of college grads unemployed, the skyrocketing cost of tuition, the growth of online education, and the prevalence of dropouts among the super-wealthy (Steve Jobs first among them), an anti-college movement has slowly begun to form. Michael Ellsberg’s article, “Will Dropouts Save America?”, published this weekend in the New York Times, is the latest case in point. Ellsberg, the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late, argues that America’s educational system is not geared towards teaching young people how to be good entrepreneurs, who are the real drivers of economic growth. All that most Americans learn about sales and marketing in college, for instance, is that they are part of the capitalistic system and therefore evil.

I have been in school for almost my entire life. I graduated at 22 with degrees in history and economics and, six months later, enrolled in a masters program in American history. Three years later, I’m still there, working part time to pay the bills. And it’s obvious to me that what Ellsberg says is largely true. The only thing I’ve ever learned in school that has helped me in the non-academic world is how to use Microsoft Excel. My accounting teacher in high school, herself a former business woman, taught me this useful skill, which I put to use for my dad’s carpentry business. To this day he uses the proposal and billing templates that I created.

Even now, after twenty years in school, my most marketable skill is my steady hand with a paintbrush. I don’t know where I got this talent for painting straight lines where the ceiling meets the wall, but it certainly wasn’t in school.  I have had some success with tutoring, but this business offers sporadic and unpredictable hours and requires a tremendous amount of prep time. A big painting job pays much better with a lot less hassle than does taking on a new student looking to ace the SAT next month. And even though the material you teach as a tutor is the same stuff you’ve been learning for years in school, the process of actually finding students, of maintaining relationships with customers, and of managing your time and costs are things the average student (including me) have never learned in school.

I can’t say how beneficial business classes are. I’ve never taken one, though I hear bad things. Judging by my friends’ experiences, it seems to me that you don’t need a business degree to get a job in the corporate sector and that your work history is far more important than your college grades are. Plus, you don’t need any degree to start your own business.

But few of the people I’ve met during my long career in school have ever had that ambition. Which makes sense since, even today, going to a good college is seen as the safe route to a good career. After all, the average college grad makes a million more dollars over the course of a lifetime than the average high school grad, as universities and the government that subsidizes them like to remind us. But as Ellsberg points out, this could be just because motivated people tend to go to college, not because of any of the supposed benefits of higher education.

But then, if college is so useless, what should people do after they graduate high school? Ellsberg says they should go to college, but if they decide to drop out and start a business, the government should continue sending them financial aid. James Altucher says 18 year olds should spend the money they would have spent on tuition starting a business or traveling the world. Peter Thiel, the founder of Paypal, has recently set up a fellowship program that provides $100,000 grants for a select group of entrepreneurial-minded students to put their business plans into action. Gary North thinks that young people should earn their BAs from an accredited college by taking CLEP exams while working part time.

For a special type of 18 year old with a special set of parents, these are interesting ideas (except that one about the government giving financial aid to dropouts). But most people aren’t cut out to be full time entrepreneurs, especially when they’re 18.

I know the anti-college response. College is risky too; 46% of college students never even graduate. They’re left with piles of debt and no degree. And even for those who do graduate, many end up with jobs they could have gotten without a degree. But they have the debt and 4-6 year of foregone experience.

All true. But the solution, for the 97% of kids who aren’t ready to start a business at 18, is to work smartly within the system. First of all, if you want to be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, scientist, or college professor, you have to go to college. Because for these careers, you have to go to grad school, and to go to grad school, obviously, you need to go to college. But that doesn’t mean you should spare no expense in selecting a school. Go to a good state school or, if you have the grades, go to a private school where you can get generous scholarships. No one should ever go to an expensive private school if they’re not offered a good scholarship (unless they’re rich). The debt from spending 4 or 5 years without funding at say, NYU, can be financially crippling even if you find a well-paying job after graduation.

Second of all, no one should ever major in subjects like gender studies, art history, or sociology without a very specific plan on how to make use of it. (And the only specific plan I can think of for these subjects would be to become a professor, and this is in itself a very risky plan, given the glut of PhDs on the market.) I was told dozens of times in college that I should pick whatever major held my interest and not to worry about how to find a job with it. While it is true that classics majors do sometimes end up getting jobs in the corporate sector, that’s usually because they had no idea how to utilize their major, desperately needed money to begin paying off their student loan debt, and ended up falling into a job by luck. Career change for these people is difficult, especially as the years go by and their financial and familial responsibilities pile up.

It’s far better an idea to choose a field whose graduates are in demand, and to seek internships that supplement your study. While it might seem like reading novels all day as an English major is a rewarding way to spend a college career, people considering such a course should see the utter bewilderment that strikes English majors after graduation. No other group that I’ve ever observed is more unprepared for the non-academic world. The result: lousy retail jobs, dingy apartments, and crushing debt. Reading Ulysses isn’t that fun.

And finally, there’s always technical school. Students who do poorly in traditional academic subjects are not necessarily unintelligent, and teachers and parents should stop trying to force them to like and do well in things they’re not suited to. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, and IT specialists are all integral to the economy and can make decent money. There’s no good reason for an 18-year-old ‘C’ student to spend two years in college as a history major before dropping out with nothing to show for it but student loan payments. Many of these students have the type of entrepreneurial skills that their more bookish counterparts lack, and we shouldn’t let formal schooling get in the way of that.

I do hope along with Michael Ellsberg, James Altucher, Peter Thiel, and Gary North that that unusually talented and ambitious 3% will not waste any time with college and instead get to work on becoming the next generation’s great innovators, inventors, and capitalists. But for the rest of us, the answer is not to avoid college, but to go to college smartly. Easier said than done, I know. I, myself, have not done perfectly. But I did manage to graduate in a reasonable period of time without racking up an unsustainable amount of debt. My painting abilities might still be my most valuable asset, but, in college, I did meet dozens of new people, learn many things I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to on my own, and gain experience as a writer and researcher. Would I be better off now if I had forgone college and tried to start my own business or tried to make it as a freelance writer? I actually thought about both ideas. I could have had a million dollar business selling war relics on ebay or I might already be a best-selling author. But I doubt it.

October 18, 2011

A Progressive in Any Age

by Eric T. Phillips

Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column, “A Progressive in the Age of Austerity,” is a paean to Chicago mayor and former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel. Emmanuel, according to Friedman, has found smart ways to trim the city government while “reinvesting” the proceeds into a variety of social programs. (“Investment” is the socialists’ word for government spending.)

In campaigning for his agenda, Emmanuel has warned,

The cost of putting political choices ahead of practical solutions has become too expensive. It is destroying Chicago’s finances and threatening the city’s future. In all of these reforms, we will be guided by principle, pragmatism and progress — not politics.

What are these principled and practical reforms? A lengthened school day, more cops on the street, and subway renovation. There have been a few cuts, but not nearly enough to close the city’s $636 million operating budget. To make that up, Emmanuel is looking to increase the fee for using city water, impose a surcharge on people who park downtown, and up the fine for drunk driving. In other words, he is trying to maximize the visibility of his spending programs while hiding his tax increases (which he calls “fees”). Traditional progressivism. Traditional politics.

Both Obama and Emmanuel would like you to believe that their ideas are pragmatic and nonpolitical solutions, crafted with the help of experts, and aimed at achieving goals that everyone agrees on. This rhetoric, however, is nothing but a political trick. Their “experts” are just as biased as they are, and the programs they support are politically crafted to help ensure their reelection. The stimulus, for example—which Obama called an idea that was “ahead of the old ideological battles”—was in reality a massive payoff to the traditional Democrat constituencies that helped elect him. The green and union lobbies got their cut; funding for Medicaid and food stamps was increased; federal bureaucracies were bolstered.

Obama never intended to bring “hope” and “change” to Washington. Using that soaring language was never anything more than a marketing campaign crafted by David Axelrod. Like Rahm Emmanuel, he intended to govern as a traditional progressive, and that’s what he’s done. He’s increased the power of the state by awarding his political allies (that’s what the “experts” told him to do). And he’s tried to build support for his programs by hiding their cost, marginalizing his opponents, and using misleading language. Traditional progressivism. Traditional politics.

October 2, 2011

Thought of marrying your iPhone recently?

by Eric T. Phillips

According to Martin Lindstrom, people love their iPhones. Like in the same way they love their friends and families.

In a study he recently conducted, he used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests to observe his research subjects’ brain activity as they were exposed to 16 different images and sounds of  iPhones. The most striking result, he writes, was

the flurry of activation in the insular cortex of the brain, which is associated with feelings of love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member.

He concludes:

In short, the subjects didn’t demonstrate the classic brain-based signs of addiction. Instead, they loved their iPhones.

Reading this article I can’t help but wonder if Lindstrom knows what an iPhone does. An iPhone, you see, allows people to talk and write to each other from a distance. Maybe the reason subjects’ brains responded to the sound of their phones as they would respond to the presence of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member is because, 90 percent of the time their phones ring, they are about to talk to their girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. Maybe people don’t love their iPhones. Maybe people love those who call and text them on their iPhones.

Strangely, Lindstrom doesn’t consider these explanations. Instead, he wildly jumps to the conclusion that

As we embrace new technology that does everything but kiss us on the mouth, we risk cutting ourselves off from human interaction. For many, the iPhone has become a best friend, partner, lifeline, companion and, yes, even a Valentine.

That’s right. If you talk to too many people on your iPhone, you risk cutting yourself off from human interaction. And because you think of your girlfriend when you hear her custom ring tone, your phone has become your Valentine.

This is what happens when you try to interpret human behavior based on some blobs on an MRI scan.

September 21, 2011

Light Bulb Nihilism

by Eric T. Phillips

Margaret Carlson thinks that some Republicans’ opposition to the impending incandescent light bulb ban is evidence that the party has become “unmoored.” This is just one more example, she argues, of how Republicans have come to identify themselves solely by what they are against.

Apparently for her, being in favor of freedom and choice is the same as being in favor of nothing at all.

Writers for the New York Times have similarly categorized opposition to the Obama agenda as nihilism. In other words, to oppose progressivism is to reject all notions of political reality and meaning.

Of course, most Republicans are hardly as anti-government as Carlson and the Times make them out to be. Take the recent debate between the two Republican front-runners as an example. Romney attacked Perry for calling Social Security a “Ponzi Scheme,” and pledged to save the program. Perry, on the other hand, refused to stand unequivocally behind behind his previous rhetoric and backed away from the idea that Social Security should be a state responsibility. Add in the two candidates’ similar positions on Medicare, their support for the police state, and their belligerent foreign policy views, and you have two solidly pro-government ideologies.

But Carlson is worried that some recent criticism of light bulb socialism is a sign that the Republican Party is embracing some kind of nihilistic anarchism. If any of the establishment candidates wins the presidency, she should rest easy.

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