What’s The Purpose of College?


There is a very good cover story in Harpers Magazine this month (September issue) by William Deresiewicz entitled “How College Sold Its Soul… and surrendered to the market.” This story is especially relevant here in Wisconsin, where Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature recently slashed the UW system budget by $250,000,000 while freezing tuition, and “the search for truth” came close to being excised from the UW’s mission statement. Although many students are under the misapprehension that eschewing liberal arts programs in favor of business and professional ones is likely to improve their financial position over the long run, pointing that out isn’t Deresiewicz’s main concern; rather, he’s arguing that college should not be viewed in economic terms at all. Here’s a brief excerpt from the article:

It is not the humanities per se that are under attack. It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake. It is the liberal arts, but understood in their true meaning, as all of those fields in which knowledge is pursued as an end in itself, the sciences and social sciences included. History, sociology, and political-science majors endure the same kind of ritual hazing (“Oh, so you decided to go for the big bucks”) as do people who major in French or philosophy. Governor Rick Scott of Florida has singled out anthropology majors as something that his state does not need more of. Everybody talks about the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – but no one’s really interested in science, and no one’s really interested in math: interested in funding them, interested in having their kids or their constituents pursue careers in them. That leaves technology and engineering, which means (since the second is a subset of the first) it leaves technology.

Deresiewicz locates the origin of the problem in the ascendence of “neo-liberalism”, by which he means “an ideology that reduces all values to money values.” Corporate and other business interests would prefer that colleges act as vocational schools, rather than that they train students to reason critically and creatively. He points out that it is not in the interests of economic elites to have students conceiving of alternatives to the status quo, or at least to have them gaining the skills that would allow them to do so. Whether you agree with his diagnosis or not, his critique of current attitudes towards higher education (even on college campuses themselves) is well worth reading.

If you have trouble finding the article, Kathleen Dunn of WPR interviewed Deresiewicz on Monday 8/31, and they covered many issues not discussed in the article, including Wisconsin-related ones. You can listen to or download the segment here. You can also find the podcast on iTunes.

And The World Spins Madly On


When I first heard the Weepies back in 2006 (thanks Cheryl!), it was by way of the song featured in the video below: And The World Spins Madly On. I thought: “Hmmm… a duo that, in some oblique way, sounds a lot like Simon and Garfunkel”. It was partly the two-part harmonies, partly the songwriting, partly the lightness of the production, bathed in a semi-transparent haze of reverb – one reason why this song seems to almost float away as you listen to it. I’ve since learned to appreciate the duo for their own quirky but relentlessly accessible style, which is most evident on their current release, Sirens.

Ryan Woodward’s animated video, uploaded in 2010 but which I just stumbled upon, nicely captures the song’s tragi-romantic sentiment.

“How I Got My Song” – Leonard Cohen


So… it seems that I haven’t posted anything all month. Chalk it up to the summer doldrums.

In any case, I’m determined not to neglect July entirely. So, for your amusement, here’s a curious little acceptance speech Leonard Cohen gave at the 2011 Prince of Asturias Awards event in Spain. He won the prize for Literature, but his speech is mostly about how he came to be a songwriter. As you might well expect from Cohen, what he has to say is a little bit beautiful, a little bit tragic, and just a tad absurd (particularly in its opulent setting).


Monk Seal on Sans Souci Beach


Monk Seal on Sans Souci 2

Monk seals have made a comeback in Hawaii of late, but rarely (if ever) have any decided to take a nap at this crowded beach just a few hundred yards from Waikiki beach. Fortunately, the humans were well-behaved, and let it rest.

This Is Not A Wooden Horse


This Is Not A Wooden Horse

That’s because, although it was originally constructed in wood, it was cast in bronze. I know, I couldn’t believe either, until I touched it (and thereby broke a museum rule). It is entitled Mali’u and Ahona (2013), by Deborah Butterfield.

Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes”


I haven’t had much time for music lately, but for a few months I’ve been dabbling with Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” in my spare moments. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, along with a collection of fractal images I’ve generated using FRAX, the iPhone app. If you enjoy it, please go to iTunes and buy Wayne Shorter’s own one-of-a-kind rendition.

Infant Eyes from Larry Herzberg on Vimeo.

Particle Fever: Supersymmetry versus Multiversal Chaos


You may dimly recall media reports that the so-called “God Particle”, otherwise known as the Higgs boson, had been observed by CERN’s “large hadron collider”. Probably the clearest, most succinct explanation I’ve seen or heard of its importance to particle physics can be found in the the documentary “Particle Fever”. If you are the curious sort (and you must be to be here reading this), I highly recommend it. Here’s the trailer, which you can watch by clicking on “Watch Trailer” below. You can find the whole film on NetFlix (if you have a subscription), on iTunes, or rent it on Vimeo by clicking on the bouncing icon.

On Governor Walker’s Plan To Slash The UW System’s Budget


I’ve been pretty quiet over the last couple of years when it comes to commenting on Wisconsin politics. There seems to be very little left to say about the state Republican Party’s war on the public sector, and especially on public education at all levels. But what little there is left to say was well said by a couple of guests on Joy Cardin’s WPR show a few days ago, especially by the self-identifying conservative UW History Professor, John Sharpless. Here’s the first 30 minutes of that conversation-

Oh… and could someone please remind the Governor that Wisconsin Underpays Its Professors?