We still need liberal arts, you morons

A quick open letter to those who don’t value liberal arts in college, figuring we can just skip the whole college experience in favor of a few online courses in the technology du jour:

Today’s technological possibilities are virtually limitless. We can communicate in real time with nearly any spot in the world. We can store a lifetime of memories on a device the size of a thumbnail. We can carry our music collections on our phones. We can even produce electric cars.

We can’t spell. Our resumes are embarrassing. We’re befuddled by contractions, let alone any of grammar’s more complicated rules.

And you want to cut the liberal arts?

We flunk quizzes not only about international issues but also our own. The world map looks fuzzy to us. Twenty-nine percent of us think the USA’s population is over 1 billion.

And you want to cut the liberal arts?

We have political ads that hardly even attempt to make a point other than painting the opponent as evil. Politicians and the media convince us that we could cut 5% from the federal budget by getting rid of public TV and radio. We believe conspiracy theories ranging from birtherism to Sandy Hook trutherism.

And you want to cut the liberal arts?

We don’t speak foreign languages, which will eventually kill us in the global marketplace. Or in the intelligence community, where they’re studying brains to see if they can somehow compensate for their inability to find warm bodies who can speak important languages.

And you want to cut the liberal arts?

Employers consistently say they’re looking for liberal arts grads. “Employers understand that everything else can be taught, so they look for the most promising raw material to work with,” says one survey taker.

Whatever technology you learn in college will be outdated by the time you’ve been in the workforce for 20 years. The ability to think and communicate will not. 

Decent employers will make sure you’re up to speed on what’s changing in your profession.  They won’t teach you how to write and analyze.

Medical schools hardly bar the door to liberal arts grads. UConn’s med school says this: “The School of Medicine faculty believes that a broad liberal arts education provides the best background for those entering the medical profession. In addition to the required courses in the physical and biological sciences, applicants should include courses in the undergraduate curriculum encompassing mathematics, foreign languages, literature, history, art, religion, psychology, and political science. Medicine is best served by physicians whose learning has been thoroughly grounded in both the sciences and the humanities.”

And you want to cut the liberal arts?

Let me put this in words we can all easily understand:

Go cut yourself.

Talk is cheap; printing howitzers at home is only slightly more expensive

Starting with the disclaimer that we all know journalists gravitate toward extreme points of view for their quotes, and the related disclaimer than an NRA friend of mine considers Gun Owners of America “the Westboro Baptist Church of gun rights,” take a peek at this quote in response to the idea of making gun parts at home:

“Obviously, that has to be one of her nightmares,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, a lobbying group opposed to additional restrictions. “If her ban was to pass and this technology moves beyond its infancy, Dianne Feinstein is going to have a bit of a challenge.”

Disclaimers notwithstanding, this is hardly the first instance I’ve seen in which the first wingnut reaction to a policy question isn’t “Whoa, this is something that requires some serious thought” but “Oh cool — this’ll piss off the liberals.”

And even some of the non-GOA people in here have that attitude. Take this oh-so-previous Texas law student, Cody Wilson:

My challenge is: Regulate this. I hope with that challenge we create such an insurmountable problem that the mere effort of trying to regulate this explodes any regulatory regime.

OK, so let’s regulate nothing. Whoever has the best printer can just rule the streets.

Yes, these two are caricatures, not representative of all gun owners or all who love 3-D printers. Surely some people are interested in this topic just because it demonstrates the difficulty of making laws with rapidly evolving technology.

So maybe the media should talk to a few more grown-ups?

Weapons made with 3-D printers could test gun-control efforts – The Washington Post.

Why the critics are wrong about ‘The Office’

The Office, like Saturday Night Live or any other show with a history, has always been prey for cynics. Some say it was never as good as the UK version, some say it went downhill a few years ago, some say it’s been pointless since Steve Carell left.

I’m not one of those cynics, about SNL or The Office. I’ve seen almost every episode, and the show has rewarded me for my loyalty.

Until January. And the reason I’ve skimmed through or ignored the last few episodes illustrates a blind spot shared by many in the entertainment industry, even among otherwise brilliant and perceptive people.

The problem is Jim and Pam, the couple at the heart of the show. We’ve gone through a wonderful love story with them through the years. And while The Office is fundamentally a comedy, Jim and Pam’s drama has provided some of the show’s best moments. Casino Night, in which Jim confesses his feelings to Pam, is brilliant. So is The Job, the episode that brings them together. Those are the best episodes of this show, even if the funniest episode is the classic farce Dinner Party.

Producer Greg Daniels seems impressed with this season’s Jim-Pam story arc, which has culminated in a full-blown fight that moved the documentary crew to intervene. And many critics in Wikipedia’s exhaustive roundup agree.

– “This was one of the more naturalistic marital fights I’ve seen on TV in a while,” said Time’s James Poniewozik.

– “Even if you jumped ship from The Office the minute that Steve Carell did, last night’s episode was one worth tuning in for,” said Hollywood.com’s Aly Semigran.

– “It felt just like the kind of argument that two real people would have,” said the Boston Herald‘s Mark Perigard.

– “In a rare moment of real, grounded and almost painfully honest drama, The Office illustrated one of the things they have gotten absolutely right: the Pam and Jim relationship,” said IGN’s Roth Cornet.

The intrusion of the documentary crew doesn’t bother me.

– “(It’)s good, since those of us in the audience couldn’t jump through the screen to comfort Pam,” said Zap2It’s Rick Porter.

Agreed. I wanted to jump through the screen after any number of Pam-and-Roy incidents.

Here’s the problem:

– “Part of The Office died when Jim and Pam hooked up and started living their perfect little lives together,” said The Citizen’s David Wilcox.

That’s the bias, that’s the blind spot that separates a lot of the entertainment world from the real world.

Real couples can be happy. And funny. I’ve been married 13 years, and I’m still occasionally amusing. The circumstances around me are hilarious.

Sadly, I’m not able to comment on those circumstances as well as Jim and Pam (and the camera crews) do on The Office. Jim and Pam are our window into this mad world. We empathized as they dealt with the workplace, and we empathize as they deal with the work-life balance.

Sure, fights happen. But not always. It’s not “unrealistic” to have a couple go about its routine for years without a protracted shouting match.

The roots of this argument are not “realistic.” They’re contrived, and they’ve forced The Office to push Jim far out of character.

The Jim we’ve known for eight seasons wouldn’t make a risky investment without talking with Pam. He wouldn’t put his family down a path toward moving to Philadelphia without talking with Pam. He spent years lamenting Pam’s inability to stand up as Roy walked all over her, and now he’s going to walk all over her?

And then the Pam who has been devoted to Jim is suddenly going to be tempted by a guy who was presumably there all along, holding the boom mike?

Fortunately, the critics are drawing the line there (see Poniewozik). Let’s hope the producers draw the line there as well.