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.

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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.

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I wish I could claim authorship of the following but I can’t; not a word of it is mine.  I came across it while the Internet was yet in its infancy and have kept it all these years as a kind of sociological comfort blanket.  One Man’s Opinion

I’ve seen it attributed, but only once, to a Punch article in the early 1960’s, which seems questionable, and will happily give the proper author his or her due if the “Punch Theory” can be substantiated;  for the most part this piece and a companion I’ve since lost titled P.E.N.C.I.L. circulated the universe via email.

To my old fogies’ sense of priorities and values the wry warnings of the future seem to have proven true beyond what Author X may have feared. Those apprehensions come to mind often when I’m faced with a crowd, often of young people or young adults while they talk to or text to nobody in sight, completely ignoring the flesh-and-blood humans who surround them.

The same apprehensions arise  when I am given to understand they are hurrying to finish “writing” their school assignments on a computer (with Spell-Check, of course) and drawing on the vast information available on the Internet (much of which is of questionable value) only leaving, if they must, their perches to text friends and relations.

Enough of my outdated sensibilities…. for now.

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Introducing the new Bio-Optical Organized Knowledge device, trade named B.O.O.K.

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Here’s how it works.

BOOK is constructed of sequentially numbered sheets of paper (recyclable), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information. The pages are locked together with a custom fit device called a binder which keeps the sheets in their correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) Read More

Oh, those pesky subordinate clauses. Take this simple sentence for example: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

When did guns become a totem representing all that is good and right in the US.? How did the Gun God acquire the unholy authority to condone, and according to some gun gurus, encourage rampant murder across the land? Pagan idolatry is still among us; we sacrifice 30,000 Americans to the Gun God every year.  We have nearly as many firearms as there are men, women and children in the US: almost 300 million guns In a population of 313 million.  The average gun owner has seven guns.

I know there are untold millions of honest, respectable, law-abiding Americans, responsible people all, who own guns. (I’ll hazard a guess, though, that those honest, respectable, law-abiding Americans don’t own 30-round assault weapons.) Some of those people belong to the NRA and others don’t. Members or not, people overwhelmingly want safer streets and schools and many think Wayne LaPierre is an unprincipled idiot-for-hire.

I also know the Supreme Court has ruled that, with a few inconsequential restrictions, every Tom, Dick, and Dirty Harry wannabe can own a gun. Johnny already got his gun. Be that as it may, the purpose – the spirit – of the Second Amendment was to ensure the new nation that it would remain a nation of citizen soldiers having a militia ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice to defend the new country.In 1783 guns were an important element of society and people who had guns knew how to use them; the Second Amendment wasn’t intended to create a society of thugs, murderers, or irresponsible gun owners.  Had the framers of the Constitution even considered that a looming danger the Amendment would most certainly have been phrased differently.

Having a prepared and ready militia was wise and essential. After the Revolution, having acquired a bad taste under British rule for large standing armies, America reduced the standing military to 5,000 men under arms (less than one-tenth of one percent of the population, essentially no army at all). Few of our citizen solders carried pistols and except in the hands of skilled marksmen both pistols and rifles were highly inaccurate. Indeed, you could stand before the broad side of a barn and not hit it.

Today the militia of post-Revolutionary America has become the National Guard and the Reserves. Contemporary organizations calling themselves militias have no legal standing as military bodies, which seems to bother them not in the least. Indeed they revel in the idea of ignoring and mocking the nation of law they assert they are protecting. Some openly want to overthrow the government and others want to make sure they are safe from government forces (pronounced “gub’ment” with a guttural mumble) smashing in their doors in the dead of night. All of them are alleged grownups who like to run around in the woods in silly costumes playing “Bang! Bang! You’re Dead”. To call them vigilantes is to flatter them.

A subordinate clause is a clause that augments an independent clause with additional information. In the Second Amendment, according to basic English and especially the English of America’s Founders, the subordinate clause is “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”, It was intended to support (augment) the primary purpose of the sentence namely “A well regulated, militia being necessary to the security of a free State”. For a couple centuries, the Supreme Court stayed away from the issue, leaving it to the states, or if pressed, supported the intent of the Framers of the Constitution. That wasn’t unusual; courts often look to what legislators meant (“the spirit of the law”) when making difficult decisions even though the spirit of the law is not, in fact, part of the law itself.

Why the Court did an about-turn and bowed to pressure and sentiments stemming from an imperfect understanding of basic, educated and informed, usages of the English language escapes me. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal subject to nobody’s opinion other than future Courts, but I don’t have to like it or agree with it. The Constitution guarantees everybody’s right to make their own decisions… and the responsibility of living with the consequences.

The consequences of the Court’s decision on the Second Amendment were that they gave everybody who already owned a gun or wanted one the right to continue making their own personal decisions about right, wrong, law, and justice. Nothing really changed and an ever growing number of people, especially young people, minorities, and the poor are dying. In a nation dedicated to the rule of law the Second Amendment has been interpreted as a license for lawlessness and violence.

I’m not against guns. I’m against stupidity. I grew up in a remote village on an isolated mountain farm where we didn’t have guns; we had a veritable arsenal. The gun closet in the kitchen held a least ten rifles, a few shotguns, and two or three pistols. We even had our own gun shop where we repaired our weaponry and loaded (or, more accurately, deliberately overloaded) our own ammo. The gun shop was in the haymow. Sometimes I look back and wonder how it was that we never blew ourselves up or burned down the barn.

Neither I nor anyone in the family ever shot a human being intentionally or otherwise. That compares favorably with the fact that legal gun owners are six times more likely to accidentally shoot themselves or somebody in the family than they are to shoot an intruder or attacker.  More to the point, the average number of outright homicides in the US (around 10,000 annually) offers a bloodcurdling comparison to other developed countries;  Western Europe as a whole averages fewer than 150 homicides annually. In Canada the number is fewer than 200 (which puts the lie to excuses that guns are part of our unique national heritage), and in Japan there are fewer than 50 murders per annum.

With regard to guns, and gun ownership, it is once again proven that law, justice, and common sense, are all too often mutually exclusive realities.

Planet Earth is facing two global catastrophes. One of them, global warming, is happening before our eyes.  The other, global winter caused by impact with a big rock falling from the sky, doesn’t get much attention – yet – but is nonetheless a statistical certainty if only because there are countless objects floating around our solar neighborhood.  One of these days one of them is going to hit with the force of mega-multiple nuclear bombs.One Man’s Opinion

It has happened before; one of them the size of two or three football fields struck Earth sixty-five million years ago.  The global winter caused by the ash and debris thrown into the atmosphere and cutting off sunlight exterminated all but the most primitive life forms.  Relatively smaller impacts have “only” wiped out tens of thousands, or perhaps millions, of acres of the planet’s surface.  We’ve already spotted a good number measuring hundreds of miles in diameter.  If we know one of those things is headed our way the only ones to benefit – briefly – will be enterprising sorts selling clean BVDs Read More