Archive

Monthly Archives: June 2013

Something strange started happening in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in South Africa in 1992.  Dead rhinoceroses – a lot of dead rhinoceroses – were being found.  By 1997 more than 40 had been killed.  Wildlife authorities were completely stumped as to the cause.

Clearly, humans weren’t responsible; the rhinos had been brutally mauled to death and their ivory tusks were intact.

Neither could the deaths be attributed to predatory animals; adult rhinoceros have no real natural enemies other than humans although young rhinos can fall prey to predators such as big cats, crocodiles, wild dogs, and hyenas.

After much head scratching somebody had a thought, a thought that proved out but one that also raised some troubling questions: elephants were behind the killings.  But why? Elephants and rhinos aren’t enemies and both are herbivores.

Not for the first time, the answer lay in horribly imperfect human understanding and actions.

Many years prior to the rhino killings South Africa found itself facing a serious elephant overpopulation problem.  Not only was sufficient grazing land rapidly dwindling, people (or rather their farms and gardens, and even their newly constructed tasty grass huts) were being threatened, sometimes fatally.

At the time, the accepted solution was to cull the herd of breeding adults, both male and female.  Grotesquely, the process included young calves often left tied to a dead parent, usually for an extended time, until a team returned to gather them up for transport to another elephant range.

An elephant never forgetsRead More

Advertisements

Bankrate.com, a website by and for the financial services industry, recently published an article titled 5 graduate degrees that don’t pay off .  Among those listed were computer engineering (#2), PR, advertising and mass-media programs (#3),  a law degree from a fourth-tier school (#4), and atmospheric sciences and meteorology (#5).

The list makes a partial degree of sense to me but I don’t understand what relationship most of the entries have to financial services, and I’d go a step further by suggesting that any degree in any subject from a fourth-tier school is probably a waste of time and money unless your sole objective is adding initials and abbreviations to your business card to make it more awe-inspiring.  I also note a  question of morality in a great deal of PR, advertising and mass-media programs which, ironically,  benefit Wall Street greatly.

Whether or not the other three are applicable to financial services is beyond my ken but at least they can generate a decent income, self satisfaction and, in the case of atmospheric sciences and meteorology, serve the greater good (see my Global Warming and Incoming Bad Stuff.)

What really caught my eye was Master of Fine Arts at #1 on the list.

There is more going on here than a list of disciplines that generally don’t make money for the financial services industry.  5 graduate degrees that don’t pay off  says a great deal about how we see ourselves and value (or don’t value) ourselves and our society overall.  It is an indictment that brings to mind an observation by Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964) to the effect that when surrounded by an irrational environment the only rational response is to behave irrationally.

Read More

A few millennia ago a nomadic people wandered the broad expanse spreading from modern Iran to Egypt or even further. Collectively, they referred to themselves as Ivrim which, logically enough, meant “traverse or pass over”. Culturally and demographically they were insignificant and never had much impact on their neighbors. Mainly they kept to themselves which was the way the liked it, wandering and minding their own business.

Historically the Ivrim were a dud if by “history” one means victorious generals, and vast empires. Neighbors like the Egyptians and others considered them nuisances at best. What the Ivrim accomplished culturally, however, is an entirely different matter. They largely achieved mass literacy among males (females weren’t explicitly excluded: female leaders, jurists, and scholars occupying positions of respect were not unheard of then or among the later descendants of the Ivrim). The Ivrim also had the first written constitution to guarantee equal justice under law for all. Their constitution also established an independent judiciary with codified and enforced rules of evidence and procedure.

The Ivrim had a system of progressive taxation that didn’t unduly burden the less fortunate, health care and care for the elderly and infirm, and by no means least significant, they practiced the rudiments of personal hygiene and public sanitation. In today’s terms, the Ivrim had a social safety net designed to ensure the community as a whole that everyone’s basic needs would be met.

Read More