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Week in Review


As a new wave of students began their college careers this week, we republished (and retweaked) an essay written three years ago with some advice for first years looking to get the most out of college. Here’s a selection from one of the seven tips offered up:

Get a traditional liberal education; it is the only thing that will do you any good.

Following this advice will be hard; a liberal education is no easy thing to get, and not everybody wants you to have one.  However, in times of rapid change, it is paradoxically more useful to immerse yourself in the basics and the classics than to try to keep up with the latest developments and hottest trends.  You can be almost 100% sure that the hot theories making waves in academia today will be forgotten or superseded in twenty years — but fifty years from now people will still be reading and thinking about the classic texts that have shaped our world.  Use your college years to ground yourself in the basic great books and key ideas and values that will last.

For the same reason, don’t worry too much about getting specific skills at this stage.  You are going to keep learning new skills all your life and you are going to find many of your skills obsolete as time goes on (when I was a kid I was very good at operating something called a mimeograph machine).  What you want to do now is to develop your ability to learn.

It’s a lot of work, but don’t panic; you are not going to get this all done in four years.  Becoming educated is a lifelong project; you can’t turn your mind off and stop reading books when you finish college and expect to get anywhere.  Here are some tips to help you get started.

Once again, India featured heavily in news out of Asia this week. The rupee continued its precipitous decline, but India’s best bet for turning its economy around might be in making the country an industrial juggernaut. Controversial presumptive prime minister candidate Narendra Modi has the overwhelming confidence of India’s business leaders, and it’s looking more and more likely that the divisive figure is the top man for the top job. While India struggles with its economy, an Asian naval arms race is heating up. Taiwan has plans to build an outpost in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea, and Japan announced that it will increase its defense spending by 3 percent in the coming year, the largest such increase in more than two decades. The naval build-up comes largely as a response to Beijing’s aggression in the East and South China seas, though China’s pollution problem may be a more pressing concern at the moment.

America’s slow stumble towards intervention in Syria continued this week, and the latest casualty might have been the notion of R2P: the responsibility to protect. Obama posed the Syria strike question to Congress, which seems to be reluctantly inching towards a reluctant approval, though lawmakers shouldn’t kid themselves with designer war plans—their decision is binary, either war or no-war. The President, for his part, is still floundering. At this point, if he doesn’t bomb Syria, he will have bombed his own credibility into oblivion. One bright spot in Middle East news: Turkish-Israeli relations seem to be thawing, despite recent anti-Semitic remarks from high-ranking Turkish officials.

Germany’s mainstream media lashed out at the country’s green energy revolution this week, decrying the program’s high costs that have been passed on to consumers. Ahead of elections later this month, German voters seem to be ready for fewer commitments to the EU and other eurozone countries. Spain got smart on pension reforms this week, outlining a plan that will link pension payments to life expectancy. Putin got a boost after tiny Armenia agreed to join Russia’s economic union.

America received a great bit of energy news this week, after a new study showed that the shale boom boosted the average American household’s income by more than $1,200. Beefing up America’s oil supply is more important than ever as oil supply disruptions in Nigeria and now Libya—which is struggling to bring any oil to market after a wave of protests hit the country—are driving the price of oil up.

Stanford University is investing in its students…literally. It announced plans earlier this week to invest in startups created by students and alumni. But all is not well in the world of higher ed, and declining enrollment has colleges running scared. One of the big changes sweeping through higher ed—the rise of MOOCs—hit a roadblock this week, as a star MOOC professor gave up the experiment, concerned over the future of his profession. But at Duke University, professors are figuring out new ways to use MOOCs in their on-campus courses. A new index breaks down parents’ ability to control their children’s education, and the Midwest is leading the way in reforms. We’d like to see as many schools with many different approaches to learning as possible, now more than ever considering the rise in teaching styles meant to stamp out individuality and the use of prescription drugs to keep restless children in line.

The Obamacare data floodgates started to open this week, and the results were a mixed bag. Labor unions are turning against the ACA, but the bigger problem facing our health care system is its lack of price transparency. We’re also facing down an eldercare crisis, one without any easy solution. Health care news is grim, despite the assertions of a neat but misleading new infographic launched by the Democratic National Committee—the DNC celebrated “successes” that could ultimately undermine the whole law. Word to the wise: get your Obamacare analysis elsewhere.

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  • USNK2

    Via Meadia missed one of the most interesting news stories of the week, September 1-7, 2013:
    Congratulations to the city of Tokyo, and the nation of Japan for giving the world something important to look forward to:
    the Tokyo Summer Olympics of 2020.
    Thanks also to the IOC for a good final vote process.

    • Corlyss

      A sports story about something that’s going to happen 7 years from now was interesting?

      • USNK2

        Would anyone be looking forward to Istanbul2020?
        Glass half full…

        • Corlyss

          I take your point.

          Personally, if I were the sort that actually attended the Olympics, I’d rather go to Istanbul. What I’d most likely be doing is looking for those cafes where singers engage in days-long recitations of ancient sagas, like the Trojan war and Gilgamesh. I understand there are such places in Turkey.

          • USNK2

            Corlyss: last time in this comment thread, but, interesting that you enjoy the saga of Gilgamesh.
            Why would Turks celebrate the epic of Mesopotamia?

            I am more into Hindu India’s foundational epics: Mahabharata and Ramayana.
            Maybe see you in another comment thread, but am increasingly disappointed at the work of young interns here at VM.

  • dankingbooks

    I totally disagree with Dr. Mead’s advice to pursue a liberal arts education. Today it is mostly a consumer good, and not something of economic value. Technology now enables students to read the Great Books on their own, later in life. Thus the liberal arts needs to move into the continuing ed column.

    I’ve posted about this here:

    There is more at the end of this post, here:

    • Corlyss

      I have to disagree with you and agree with the Prof. A liberal arts education gives the owner maximum flexibility in the non-science, non-tech world, which is actually most of the world. What’s missing from all of ’em is critical reasoning.

      BTW are you a bookstore owner?

      • dankingbooks

        No, I am not a bookstore owner–how’d you get that idea? I do blog over at Trotsky’s Children. I have written a couple of books, which you can find by searching “dan king” at Amazon. But they’re not for polite company.

        I think the liberal arts have great value, but not economic value. I also don’t think they’re best suited for 18-year olds. The ideal LA student is 30, in a career, and pursuing it for its own sake.

        You can learn critical thinking studying anything rigorously. It doesn’t have to be the liberal arts.

        • Corlyss

          *******books sounds like a lot bookstores that I’ve done bidness with. That’s all. Never occurred to me that you might be a writer. Sorry. No insult intended.

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