How To Be Pedantic — Ascot Optional

AscotSince I’m out of the office today (And I hate being out of the office), I am cramming to put out articles. And Will offered me a good idea for one. He wanted to know the difference between the words “diploma” and “degree.” I thought it was pretty obvious. A diploma is a physical document. A degree is the level of mastery that one has attained in a given field of study. One is given a diploma to recognize a PhD, but the PhD is a degree. I related this to Will, but by that time, he had made his way over to Difference Between and determined that I was wrong.

I disagree. Difference Between makes bizarre distinctions that are not at all common. It says, for example, “The tenure of a degree course can be around 3-4 years based on the geographical location while one can complete a diploma within 1-2 years.” All I could think is, “You have got to be kidding!” Merriam-Webster doesn’t agree; it defines diploma as “a document which shows that a person has finished a course of study or has graduated from a school.” Not good enough? How about Oxford, “A certificate awarded by an educational establishment to show that someone has successfully completed a course of study.” Oxford is good enough to inform us that “diploma” comes to us through Latin from the Greek word “diplōma,” which means “folded paper.” Fowler doesn’t even mention the word except to indicate what the plural is, “The plural is always –mas in the ordinary senses (certificate of degree etc), though –mata lingers in unusual senses (State paper etc) as an alternative.”

“Degree” is rather easier. I mean, the word describes measurement. You fall in love suddenly and out of love by degrees. (Did I mention that I’ve been depressed recently?) So logically, an academic degree should be a measure of attainment. And indeed, Merriam-Webster defines the word “a title conferred on students by a college, university, or professional school on completion of a program of study.” It provides three other minor variations that make my argument look even better. Oxford is similar, “An academic rank conferred by a college or university after examination or after completion of a course of study, or conferred as an honor on a distinguished person.”

So if you want a degree in pedantry, go over to spend a few months at Difference Between. Then, at a cocktail party, you can impress everyone by saying things like, “You don’t have an Associates degree you have an Associates diploma or if more than one, diplomata. Don’t be embarrassed; it’s a common mistake.” It is best that you be wearing an ascot when you say it. That really sells the deal. But if you want a diploma in pedantry, I’m not sure where you go to get one. Although, I think my PhD diploma is a good facsimile.

Afterword

As a matter of fact, I have lost my PhD diploma. If I want to, I can contact my school and get the diploma replaced. This is because I earned the degree of PhD. It is not something they can take away from me, much as they may want to.

Education Is Not Not Not the Cure for Inequality

Lawrence MishelThere was a time where it was plausible to argue that more education and innovation were the primary solutions to our economic problems. But that time has passed. You cannot tell that, however, to the Wall Street Democrats and their Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution…

The new framing paper released by the Hamilton Project details how “advancing computer power and automation technology” creates a challenge for “how to educate more people for the jobs of the future, how to foster creation of high-paying jobs, and how to support those who struggle economically during the transition.” This is pretty much the same analysis we heard from the Clinton administration 20 years ago, when the discussion was of a “transition to the new information economy.” Let them eat education.

The education-only solution wasn’t appropriate when it was first put forward, and it is not even remotely plausible now given developments since the mid-1990s — and especially since 2000. Wages for the college-educated have been stagnant for the dozen years since 2000 (when the wage boom of the late 1990s receded). That stagnation has affected the bottom 70 percent of all college graduates both in the last recovery and throughout the Great Recession and the recovery from 2009 through 2014. Moreover, the college wage advantage has grown very little since the mid-1990s: This means that the continuously growing wage gap between high-wage and middle-wage workers since then has had very little to do with education wage gaps.

As documented by the New York Federal Reserve Board, we have seen accelerating underemployment of young college graduates. Recent cohorts of college graduates have been taking jobs at lower wages and with fewer benefits ever since 2000. Besides that, the observation that there are multitudes of college graduates working as free interns should tell us that there is no widespread shortage of college graduates. So the idea of education as cure-all is absurd…

[T]here is not much in this narrow agenda that provides any prospect that the vast majority will soon share in the economic growth they help to produce. Any real solution, after all, will need to challenge the current dominance of employers over wage growth.

—Lawrence Mishel
Failed Theory Posed by Wall Street Dems Puts Hillary Clinton in a Bind

I Am the True Conservative

Proud ConservativeI went outside to get the mail earlier and I looked at the house across the way. They recently painted it and it is now a beautiful shade of green. I think it is the prettiest house in the neighborhood. But I remember talking to Bob, the husband of the house, a couple of months ago. He said they needed to paint it. He said his wife wanted to paint it green. We agreed that this was nonsense. Why not just paint it the same color? It looked fine. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Blah, blah, blah. But Bob’s wife got her way as she usually does. And not surprisingly, she was totally right. The house looks great.

It doesn’t bother me that I am this way. When it comes to stuff that matters, I am very conservative. Why risk painting your house a new color when you know the current color works just fine? Sure, in this particular case, it worked out great. But why risk it? There were far more ways for it to go wrong than for it to go right. I feel like Jean-René in Romantics Anonymous, “Let’s hope nothing happens to us.” Because change is hard and almost always for the worse.

The question is, why is it that such a conservative person such as myself believes in liberal and even radical politics. Over the years, I’ve come to see that the problem is not with me. My politics are very much conservative. The “conservatives” are the radicals. They are the ones who believe in gambling. Look at one of the great Republican canards, that people must be rewarded for “taking risks.” Of course, they don’t mean actual risks. Look at the obsession of our society about repaying debts. When people couldn’t afford their mortgages after the 2008 financial crisis, the government stepped in to save the banks. What did the banks risk in loaning out money to people they knew couldn’t pay it back? Nothing. But still, “conservatives” fetishize the idea of gambling. As I’ve written before, I’m a Five Dollar Man — I’m not a gambler at all.

To the true conservative, life is not a game. There are resources. We need to use them to feed and clothe and house ourselves. Beyond that, everything else should be used to live as pleasantly and meaningfully as possible. But instead, we are stuck in a system that is dominated by radicals — gamblers — people who see the world as nothing but a game. And that game is all about how much power you can gain. They are the ones who came up with the idea that you could own land. And this is not owning land because you are making use of it. It is ultimately — and millions of native peoples can attest to this — “might makes right.” One man owns a piece of property because he has the ability to kill (or simply imprison) anyone who doesn’t agree with his contention. This is, interestingly, a form of theft that one never hears modern libertarians complain about.

The fallback position for these radicals is that we have all these great innovations because of inequality. The logic is something like this: Koch brothers have gobs of money; magic of the marketplace; Einstein discovers relativity while working in a patent office. Or we get to the moon. Or something. But that logic doesn’t make any sense. And as David Graeber discussed in, Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit, it is probably the case that all this inequality is what is holding us back technologically. Why invent an intelligent robot that can clean your whole house when the people with all the money can hire some recent immigrant for peanuts?

I am the conservative. I am the one who cares about the greater good. The so called conservatives of this country are the ones who want to treat the very serious topics of living and dying as games. They are the ones who think that the quality of a person’s life should depend upon who their parents happen to be. Calling these people conservatives just plays along with their game. All they conserve is their own stolen wealth and power.

As for the pretty green house, there will be plenty of those. If it weren’t for the wealth game that we are all forced to play, there would be more time to experiment with different colors and different houses. Clearly, I wouldn’t be one of those experimenters. But there are perhaps more important things that I could be doing to subvert the status quo within the framework of my general, vanilla ice cream loving, conservatism.

Chris Matthews Is Wrong Again — Praise Him!

Chris MatthewsFor some reason, Martin Longman watched Hardball with Chris Matthews recently. Is he suffering from a savior complex? Is he intentionally suffering for the sins of cable news? I cannot say. But he highlighted an interesting exchange between Chris “Blowin’ in the Political Winds” Matthews and Deputy State Department spokesperson Marie Harf about the Islamic State. And Matthews, who is always and forever looking for ways to raise the level of public discourse asked, “Are we killing enough of them?” And because she works for the American government, which actually has quite a lot more blood on its hands than the Roman Empire ever did, responded, “We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them.”

Ye-ha! We gots us a good old fashioned reason for bombing the hell out of huge areas — killing mostly people whose only sin is that they live in the wrong place. First they were oppressed by Saddam Hussein. Then they were oppressed by the Shiite run Iraqi government. Now they are oppressed by the Islamic State. And to top it off, the American government and its allies are killing “a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them.” Well, that ought to set Chris Mattews’ mind at ease. The talentless multimillionaire must know all about how your life prospects depend upon luck. So kill them all! They don’t matter! They weren’t born in America! They don’t have their own television shows! Kill them all!

Unfortunately, Marie Harf had to go and spoil the whole episode by adding, “But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war.” And then she said the thing that must never be said: that this was about opportunity and jobs and food and stuff like that. But Matthews was too clever for her. He noted that we won’t be able to do that in “fifty lifetimes.” You see, there will always be poor people. Of course there will! That’s because people like Chris Matthews, who I wouldn’t hire to copy edit a blog post, is worth $16 million after being wrong about every foreign policy question he’s ever expressed an opinion on.

Indeed, the rich are more than happy to tell you that there will always be poor. They state it as an established fact. But it is actually an aspirational claim: there will always be poor people as long as I have something to say about it! The whole thing must bring fond memories for Matthews of the good old days when he was pushing for war in Iraq and getting Phil Donahue fired from MSNBC because the network didn’t want to stand out as a media outlet that allowed anyone who would say anything against that Just War™.[1]

You would think that after the total catastrophe that was the Iraq War, that Matthews would be slightly circumspect. But you would only think that if you’d lived in a cave the last thirty years. Matthews wasn’t held accountable for his cheerleading for the Iraq War. In a sane world, he would have been fired long ago and gone off to play the “liberal” on The McLaughlin Group. But no. Let’s just suppose Matthews got his way and there was a full scale war with the Islamic State and it erupted into a regional conflict with millions dead including more than a hundred thousand Americans. What would the response be of American media? First MSNBC would give Matthews a raise. And then he’d get some kind of award for great journalism, which today just means good ratings.

How far can an empire sink before it crumbles to bits?


[1] Note how clueless media executives are. There was a huge audience out there that was against the Iraq War and not a single cable news network was willing to go after it. I see this again and again in corporate culture where they insist upon going for the largest market, even though it is already crowded with competitors. Corporate executives are generally cowards.

Nicolaus Copernicus

Nicolaus CopernicusOn this day in 1473, the great Nicolaus Copernicus was born. He’s the guy who put together the first model of the solar system with the sun in the middle. That was a brilliant insight. I remember a story about a student talking to his teacher, “Those primitive people were so stupid to think the sun goes around the earth.” And the teacher replied, “Yes, just imagine how it would have looked if that were true!” The point is that it would look the same. There is nothing obvious about thinking the earth goes around the sun. Indeed, did you see this article, Poll: 26 Percent in US Do Not Know Earth Goes Around Sun? And the funny thing? “[Americans] did better than EU residents on the question about whether Earth moves around the sun.” Go figure.

There’s an interesting thing about Copernicus’ model, though. It wasn’t very successful. He had a brilliant insight, but it still wasn’t right. He had planets moving around the sun in circles. Well, they don’t move in circles. The world had to wait almost a hundred years for Johannes Kepler’s insight that the planets moved in ellipses. (Yes, I know that circles are ellipses!) So all those old models with the earth at the center of the universe might have been complicated, but they were still better at predicting where things would be in the sky. So old Copernicus made a necessary (And difficult!) contribution to knowledge, but all alone, it wasn’t sufficient to improve the practical science.

Also: Copernicus was old. And wise. He waited until he was dying to publish his book. No torture for him! That’s my kind of guy.

Happy birthday Nicolaus Copernicus!


This is an edited reprint of last year’s birthday post. I’m out most of the day.