9/11: An Emergency Wake-Up Call

What good is an anniversary if we don’t reflect on what the experience memorializes and signifies? A historical turning point, 9/11 exists in both past and present. It was a singular event and is a still-unfolding one. We don't know all its consequences or how they'll play out, but some lessons are apparent -- most urgently the need for compassion and understanding in a world sputtering on ignorance, fear, greed, hatred, and pride. The second is the need for vigilance in protection of all that is worthy and good -- which includes not just life and property but the values that give existence meaning beyond mere survival. Read more

Father’s Day and the Value of an Education

Father’s Day is as good a time as any to reanimate the PubArts blog after its months-long slumber. It’s my offspring, after all. And where would I be without my own dad, who worked so hard to make sure I had a great education and could earn a living myself. Okay, so I chose to ply the writing trade and calling that a living is a bit of a stretch at times. But still. It was awfully good of him, and I have always been tremendously grateful to him, and my mom, for their innumerable, and strangely willing, sacrifices.
It's among the most basic parental (and societal) responsibilities: preparing the young to stand on their own.
So it’s worth looking at the value of college education today, which can confer crippling amounts of debt with dubious real skills as a crutch. Does Shakespeare pay off? The Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University studied lifetime earnings of degree holders to find out. The chief finding: those who majored in engineering, computer science or business earn half again as much as those who majored in the humanities, the arts, education, and psychology. [ ] Well, duh. The study found the median annual earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering is $120,000, in pharmaceutical sciences $105,000, and in math and computer sciences $98,000. Not too shabby. Holders of bachelor’s degrees in English, on the other hand, have median earnings of $48,000, while a degree in early childhood education will likely earn you $36,000. Counseling or psychology brings up the rear at $29,000. The lesson: daddies, don’t let your kids grow up to be philosophers. Yet it’s worth noting that the holder of a bachelor’s degree still makes 84 percent more than someone who topped out academically in high school. The Georgetown study didn’t cover advanced degrees. But if money is your bag, also note that an MBA can really pay off, especially if granted by a top institution, according to research done for Bloomberg Businessweek. A Harvard MBA is particularly rewarding, netting its average holder $3.6 million over 20 years, and consulting is the most lucrative field. [] What have we learned? Spouting synergistic babble means big-time bucks and helping kids make good choices, not so much. That’s the marketplace. But here’s something no study can quantify or slap a price tag on: Education is still the greatest gift because it is the give of love. So a big thank you to all the good, education-minded fathers out there. ... Especially mine. I love you, Dad.

Tiptoeing Through the Typo Minefield

So you’re writing an article about new laws. Being thorough, you do a computer spell check when you’re finished. Now, thanks to technology, you’re good to go. Too bad the word you meant to write as “statutes” came out as “statues,” and the computer didn’t think to correct it. Because statues is also a word. And because computers don’t think. That’s your job. Consider yourself lucky: you could have typed “pubic” instead of “public.” It happens. You have to be careful; there are so many ways to get caught with your pants down when it comes to professional communications. You may be writing about policies, but end up with polices. Resigned can become re-signed. Just. Like. That. Or you might type a word according to how it sounds and end up with sense instead of since. Or peak instead of pique (or peek), woe when you meant whoa. Editing is integral to good writing, and it has many levels, from structural to proofreading. The more important the document, the more crucial it is to have an outside editor assist you in your cause. Even as simple a task as proofreading may seem, it’s difficult to perform properly on your own work. That's because your brain knows what you meant to say and will read something that isn’t actually on the page or screen. Your brain is just trying to be helpful -- helpful like a lame friend who doesn't know how to tell the truth you need to hear. One way to avoid an ugly confrontation with yourself is to proofread your work backwards, from the end to the beginning. This forces you to read each word individually instead of scanning whole sentences. Still, reading backwards is most effective if you are only looking for incorrectly spelled words and less so for catching correctly spelled, but incorrect, words. So you might also employ the following trick: search for “danger words” after you’re finished proofreading. For example, if you intend to use the word “public” be on the safe side and search for “pubic” when you're done. Similarly for “manger” if you use manager in your publication, “contact” for contract, "county" for country. Or vice versa. A sloppily edited piece makes you look bad and may even cripple your objective. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or aptitude to proofread (or do other editing) properly, contact PubArts. We guarantee a 24-hour turnaround on small projects. We'll help you out. Unlike that unreliable so-called friend of yours, your brain.

Talking Big and Thinking Big

Big words, small words, little gray words and florid ones too: I love them all. Not necessarily equally, but each has its place and time. The common thinking goes, however, that only pretentious or insecure individuals would use what used to be called five dollar words (back when that was a lot, not a latte). I disagree. Golly, what’s wrong with an evocative term like “palimpsest” or “gimlet-eyed” when they are just the right ingredient? (For that matter, what’s wrong with “evocative”?) Instead of rolling his eyes, shouldn’t the reader turn his gaze to a dictionary? The point of communication is to connect with others, absolutely. The point is not to talk down from your lofty pile of words. Here’s a point of view from an author I greatly respect: “The person who says “adamantine” when in plain talk he means “immovable” or says “coquette” when we would understand him better if he said “flirt” may have a big vocabulary,” writes David Schwartz in his great book The Magic of Thinking Big. “But does he have a big thinker’s vocabulary? Probably not. People who use difficult, high-sounding words and phrases that most folks have to strain themselves to understand are inclined to be overbearing and stuffed shirts. And stuffed shirts are usually small thinkers.” Ouch. It’s true that what matters in communication is the effect words have on others, not the size of the vocabulary … but still can’t we luxuriate in the richness of the language? Once in a while, just a little? Broccoli benefits from a little béchamel now and again, right? (Béchamel? Happy to oblige:

Internet vs. Books

The Internet makes so much information available so quickly and to so many that it feels like a fount of endless and everlasting knowledge. It’s not. To know is to learn. The Internet feeds conversationalists, but can’t compete with books for forming students’ minds. But, wouldn’t you know it, there are two schools of thought on the matter. One, exemplified by Nicholas Carr in his book “The Shallows,” thinks the Internet is a flashy, link-happy distraction the erodes the ability to think deeply. Backing that up, researchers recently found that the disadvantaged students who read books (of their own choosing) over the summer had significantly higher reading scores than similar students who didn’t. Another report on 27 countries found that kids who grow up in a home with at least 500 books stay in school longer and do better. Meanwhile, a recent Duke study of a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access coincided with major declines in math and reading scores. Another group maintains the Internet benefits education because playing computer games and conducting online search heightens attention and the ability to process information. New York Times columnist Richard Brooks recently adjudicated this debate and shared the interesting observation that it’s not the mere presence of books in a child’s private life but the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as a distinct group called “readers.” [] The book reader begins as a novice and builds his knowledge brick by brick, layer by layer. The egalitarian and youth-oriented Internet scoffs at such hierarchy and at the book learner’s respect for the authority of masters. These different cultures foster different types of learning, as Brooks points out. The Internet is great at keeping you “with it” on current events, figures, and trends. But literary culture – with its requirement that you defer to greater minds and respect the authority of the teacher – is better at cultivating the mind. It ranks the greater over the lesser, the important over the unimportant.
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