The Twilight Zone

I know everyone says this, but what a great show that Twilight Zone is. After 50 years, it still holds up. Tonight, like on New Year's Eves past, the Sci-Fi channel is running a Twilight Zone marathon. I caught "Long Distance Call" just now. A fine episode. The end, where the father is talking on a toy telephone to his recently passed-away mom is quite moving and well done.

Many years ago, a friend and I were sitting in Pizza Man and decided to try to recall all the TZ episodes we could. We got all of the 1/2 hour episodes. Pretty good, if I do say so myself. It was one of the first shows I was ever a fan of. I'm still a fan.

Happy New Year!

With a gratuitous baby shot...

We spent Christmas in Virginia with my wife's sister and her husband. We all had a great time. We had a small party for Shivani too, who will be one year old in a few days.

Tonight, New Year's Eve, we will spend at home, watching a movie and waiting for midnight. I'm happy with that.

Happy New Year everyone!

The future of the university

I really love the City Journal magazine. They have great, fairly long-form articles on interesting subjects.

Victor Davis Hanson has an article currently about higher education...and the fact that it really isn't higher education anymore. As a classicist, he spends much of the article talking about the importance of his own discipline, but he also points out that the classic college or university is dying right along with his subject.

His argument is simple: post-modernism, political correctness, and a focus on job skills (such as pre-med, pre-law, computer science, or business) have greatly reduced the shared knowledge that students used to gain from a liberal arts education. Have reduced the whole personal intellectual growth aspect of a BA.

But instead of whining about this decline, he points out that in our fine capitalist tradition, the private sector is jumping in where the old institutions have failed.

Want to learn a language? Buy Rosetta Stone CD's.
Want to learn about philosophy or Homer? Buy a course at the Teaching Company.

Want to learn how to do accounting, computer programming, or business management? Sign up for online coursework at a traditional-turned internet university or a University of Phoenix-style online, for-profit company.

VDH posits that in the future many technical subjects will be learned without the extra coursework of a liberal arts education. Then, if people want to broaded their minds, they can sign up for online or video courses.

What of today's schools? He says:
Traditional colleges and universities aren’t about to die, of course. But their attractions—and especially the enticements of the Ivy League schools, Stanford, Berkeley, and such private four-year colleges as Amherst and Oberlin—will largely derive from the status that they convey, the career advantages that accrue from their brand-name diplomas, and the unspoken allure of networking and associating with others of a similarly affluent and privileged class. They are becoming social entities, private clubs for young people, certification and proof of career seriousness, but hardly centers for excellence in undergraduate education in the classical sense. For all the tens of thousands of dollars invested in yearly tuition, there will be no guarantee, or indeed, even a general expectation, that students will encounter singular faculty or receive a superior liberal arts education—let alone that they will know much more about their exceptional civilization than what they could find on the Internet, at religious schools, or on CDs and DVDs.

I think he's spot on here. Many degrees today are either what a high school diploma should be, but too often is not, or merely tickets of entrée to a social upper class of educated elite.

No kidding

Hat tip Instapundit:

[ John Tierney, New York Times ] If we want our children to be scientifically literate and get good jobs in the future, why are we spending precious hours in school teaching them to be garbage collectors?

That’s the question that occurred to me after reading about the second-graders in West Virginia who fought for the right to keep recycling trash even after it became so uneconomical that public officials tried to stop the program. As my colleague Kate Galbraith reports, their teacher was proud of them for all the time they spent campaigning to keep the recycling program alive.

[...] I’ve always thought of recycling as essentially a religious sacrament –a fine activity if pursued voluntarily, but not something that should be mandated or taught in public schools.

Of two minds

This is cool. Tim McGuire over at Just One Minute mentions the death of one of the most important people in the history of brain science. A profound amnesiac who was completely unable to make new memories:

At the time, many scientists believed that memory was widely distributed throughout the brain and not dependent on any one neural organ or region.

[...] That began to change in 1962, when Dr. Milner presented a landmark study in which she and H. M. [the amnesiac] demonstrated that a part of his memory was fully intact. In a series of trials, she had Mr. Molaison try to trace a line between two outlines of a five-point star, one inside the other, while watching his hand and the star in a mirror. The task is difficult for anyone to master at first.

Every time H. M. performed the task, it struck him as an entirely new experience. He had no memory of doing it before. Yet with practice he became proficient. “At one point he said to me, after many of these trials, ‘Huh, this was easier than I thought it would be,’ ” Dr. Milner said.

It just so happens, that two nights ago I came across this sort of memory. My niece was at soccer practice, and I was kicking around a ball. I put the ball down and walked a few paces away from it, then took a running kick. Without any conscious thought, I stuttered my steps so that I was ready to take a full swing at the ball with my right leg. There was no thought involved in changing my stride to make the kick, it was the most natural and smooth thing in the world. But the difficulty of what my brain was able to process automatically and immediately have my body do struck me suddenly as impressive.

My mind must have used its prior experience to judge how to run at the ball. It must have been accessing some sort of stored knowledge. But if you asked me how my brain went about making the calculation, I wouldn't have a clue.

The brain is a really cool place.

Sign of The Times

I ran across this video recently. It's a tour of my high school library, which there is a plan to remodel.

I note some things
  • The library hasn't changed a whole lot in a quarter century
  • The biggest change seems to be the addition of computers
  • The new proposed changes are essentially even more computers and more space for collaborative work
  • The proposed changes seem to mean that the last of the books will be removed
A library without books may seem strange, but I accept that it's the way of the future. With research materials on-line, there will be less and less need for books. I'm less certain about the focus on "collaborative work." Is it here to stay, or just a fad?

Harvard Takes a Hit

The president of Harvard sent a letter out last month:

I write today about the global economic crisis and its implications for us at Harvard.

We all know of the extraordinary turbulence still roiling the world's financial markets and the broader economy. The downturn is widely seen as the most serious in decades, and each day's headlines remind us that heightened volatility and persisting uncertainty have become our new economic reality.

For all the challenges such circumstances present, we are fortunate to be part of an institution remarkable for its resilience. Over centuries, Harvard has weathered many storms and sustained its strength through difficult times. We have done so by staying true to our academic values and our long-term ambitions, by carefully stewarding our resources and thoughtfully adapting to change. We will do so again.
It seemed rather overwrought to me. It's well known that Harvard's endowment is enormous. Now this report today tells us that Harvard's endowment lost 22% of its value in 4 months!

Harvard University's endowment suffered investment losses of at least 22% in the first four months of the school's fiscal year, the latest evidence of the financial woes facing higher education.

The Harvard endowment, the biggest of any university, stood at $36.9 billion as of June 30, meaning the loss amounts to about $8 billion. That's more than the entire endowments of all but six colleges, according to the latest official tally.

Harvard said the actual loss could be even higher, once it factors in declines in hard-to-value assets such as real estate and private equity -- investments that have become increasingly popular among colleges. The university is planning for a 30% decline for the fiscal year ending in June 2009.
Yipe! Someone needs to be held accountable for this. Those responsible should be forced to take their multi-million dollar golden parachutes and get lost!

Ann says: Obviously, you aren't a Grinnell grad! If you were, you would know to look over any story about college endowments for a mention of Grinnell--which has long had the second biggest per-student endowment, second only to your Harvard.

And there it is in paragraph 8:
In Iowa, Grinnell College's endowment dropped 25%, to $1.2 billion.
Hah! I laugh at your puny 22% drop! And take pride in my alma mater's 25% wipe-out!

Idiots on Parade

They are lucky they weren't shot by police.