Cory Leonard

Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Why Study Liberal Arts?

In career on August 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

In the face of “humanities decline” and the debate over “relevant coursework” its nice to see a good friend–turning 50 this year, by the way–that continues to thrive. Stephen Greenblatt notes, “through reading literature we can make ghosts speak to us, and we can speak back to them. Besides–as many studies ahve shown–cultural knowledge turns out to be good for your career.”

For a prospective undergraduate reading this Q. and A., how would you answer the question, Why study literature?

Abrams: Ha — Why live? Life without literature is a life reduced to penury. It expands you in every way. It illuminates what you’re doing. It shows you possibilities you haven’t thought of. It enables you to live the lives of other people than yourself. It broadens you, it makes you more human. It makes life enjoyable. There’s no end to the response you can make to that question, but Stephen has a few things to add.

Greenblatt: Literature is the most astonishing technological means that humans have created, and now practiced for thousands of years, to capture experience. For me the thrill of literature involves entering into the life worlds of others. I’m from a particular, constricted place in time, and I suddenly am part of a huge world — other times, other places, other inner lives that I otherwise would have no access to.

Abrams: Yes. Literature makes life much more worth living.

Greenblatt: You speak with the full wisdom of your hundred years of life.

Abrams: That’s portentous enough.

via ‘Norton Anthology of English Literature’ Turns 50 –


Drezner Explores the Power of Public Intellectuals

In media on August 24, 2012 at 2:53 pm

A full treatment of the wiles and woes of Fareed Zakaria and Niall Ferguson, including the dynamics of academic credentialing, speaking fees, envy, and power.  Re-quoting himself he shows what has changed, and why names like these two wield so much outsized influence:

The most useful function of bloggers is when they engage in the quality control of other public intellectuals. [Richard] Posner believed public intellectuals were in decline because there was no market discipline for poor quality. Even if public intellectuals royally screw up, he argued, the mass public is sufficiently disinterested and disengaged for it not to matter. Bloggers are changing this dynamic, however. If Michael Ignatieff, Paul Krugman or William Kristol pen substandard essays, blogs have and will provide a wide spectrum of critical feedback.

via Intellectual power and responsibility in an age of superstars | Daniel W. Drezner.


Utah Up, Chicago Down: Why Mitt Romney Should Embrace His Mormonism – The Daily Beast

In politics on August 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Journalist and social chronicler Joel Kotkin tells the story of a different Mormonism and Utah than is commonly understood:

Like the church around which it is built, the Mormon Zion in Salt Lake Valley has also changed. It has what may be the largest concentration of multilingual people in the country. With 55,000 missionaries at 340 mission sites across the globe, native English-speaking Mormons have learned more than 50 languages. Former Utah governor and Romney rival Jon Huntsman gained respectability—even among sophistos—for his fluent Mandarin.

On the business side, Mormons’ linguistic skills have attracted loads of big international companies, such as Goldman Sachs, who need people capable of conversing in Lithuanian, Chinese, or Tongese. Goldman has 1,400 employees in Salt Lake City, making it the investment bank’s sixth largest location in the world.

In contrast to the antediluvian nonsense sometimes expressed by right-wing evangelical Christians, the LDSers have become more cosmopolitan as their faith has expanded. Once a peculiarly American creed, with the vast majority of its faithful living in the Western United States, Mormonism has morphed into a global religion with over 11 million members—more than half of them outside the United States. Once narrowly white, the church’s biggest growth now is in Brazil, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands. Even in the U.S., converts have made for an increasingly diverse church, with blacks and Hispanics accounting for one in five new Mormons, according to Pew.

via Utah Up, Chicago Down: Why Mitt Romney Should Embrace His Mormonism – The Daily Beast.

via Utah Up, Chicago Down: Why Mitt Romney Should Embrace His Mormonism – The Daily Beast.

Guide for the Perplexed –

In politics on August 22, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Ok, David Brooks–you captured my angst again so perfectly, logically, and artfully that you maybe just articulated why I might have to vote for Mitt.  Maybe.

The federal government would define a package of mandatory health benefits. Private insurers and an agency akin to the current public Medicare system would submit bids to provide coverage for those benefits. The government would give senior citizens a payment equal to the second lowest bid in each region to buy insurance.

This system would provide a basic health safety net. It would also unleash a process of discovery. If the current Medicare structure proves most efficient, then it would dominate the market. If private insurers proved more efficient, they would dominate. Either way, we would find the best way to control Medicare costs. Either way, the burden for paying for basic health care would fall on the government, not on older Americans. (Much of the Democratic criticism on this point is based on an earlier, obsolete version of the proposal.)

You’re still deeply uncomfortable with many other Romney-Ryan proposals. But first things first. The priority in this election is to get a leader who can get Medicare costs under control. Then we can argue about everything else. Right now, Romney’s more likely to do this.

via Guide for the Perplexed –


The Duck of Minerva: Applying for a PhD in Political Science

In career on August 12, 2012 at 3:14 am

Good advice for students pondering the so-called “life of the mind” (Ph.D. program):

I teach at Georgetown and not at, say, Harvard or Princeton. We have a solid PhD program with excellent students, but we are not as competitive as the so-called “top tier.” Yet we routinely receive, for example, over three hundred applicants in the subfield of International Relations. And two fellowships. In some years we will let in twenty people aiming for a class of five. Do the math.

That’s right… you have a slightly better chance of getting into our IR PhD than a high-school senior has of getting into Harvard. Some years your chances are worse. The odds of being offered a fellowship are significantly lower.

via The Duck of Minerva: Applying for a PhD in Political Science.

via The Duck of Minerva: Applying for a PhD in Political Science.

The David Barton controversy | Getting History Wrong

In politics on August 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Misrepresenting history with style on the Daily Show–and building a following with a crazy successful business–David Barton is bad news for Christians who want to be taken seriously. He belongs in the same category as Glenn Beck (and Jon Stewart for that matter)–a skilled entertainer with an agenda of one part marketing genius and another part serious-sounding-stuff who shouldn’t ever be your primary source of knowledge.

A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), argues that Barton “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.” For example, they charge that Barton, in explaining why Jefferson did not free his slaves, “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery.”

via | Barton controversy | Thomas Kidd | Aug 25, 12.

The British Gift to American Letters –

In politics on August 8, 2012 at 2:48 pm

WHATEVER happened to American polemic? The land of the free is also the land of H.L. Mencken and Dwight Macdonald, who lacked for nothing in jaunty, bitter wit. Here is Mencken on the South: “There are single acres in Europe that house more first-rate men than all the states south of the Potomac.” Or Macdonald on Secretary of State Cordell Hull: “a narrow-minded, petty, pompous, provincial reactionary who has never made a speech that says anything.”That would barely be published today, at least in those parts of the American media that make a solemn cult of accuracy and balance, fearful of even honest opinion, to the point that statements of the obvious must be sterilized by such quaint circumlocutions as “analysts say that …” I’ve no doubt at all that there have been budding homegrown heirs to Mencken and Macdonald, but they’ve been educated out of their wits. And so when America wants guilty journalistic pleasure, it has to bootleg in bad boys from the old country. It might be our final revenge for Yorktown.

via The British Gift to American Letters –

via The British Gift to American Letters –

Of Luck and Success — Economic View –

In career, politics on August 7, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Its good to be talented, but better to be lucky.  Or is it?  Answering a very wide divide between liberals and conservatives (hard work pays off and rewards the talented v. luck favors a few) Robert H. Frank explores the implications for each view on public policy:

IN their experiments, the sociologists showed how feedback could be a vitally important random effect. And it can be seen in many other situations: it’s often hard to find information about the quality of a particular product, so we rely on the reactions of friends and acquaintances who’ve already tried it. Any random differences in the early feedback we receive tend to be amplified as we share our reactions with others. Early success — even if unearned — breeds further success, and early failure breeds further failure. The upshot is that the fate of products in general — but especially of those in the intermediate-quality range — often entails an enormous element of luck.

We always knew that it was good to be smart and hard-working, and that if you were born or raised with those qualities, you were incredibly lucky, just as you were lucky if you grew up in the United States rather than in Somalia. But the sociologists’ research helps us understand why many people who have those qualities never find much success in the marketplace. Chance elements in the information flows that promote that success are sometimes the most important random factors of all.

via Of Luck and Success — Economic View –


Brooks on the Illusion of Absolute Individualism

In career on August 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Filled with wisdom about how we think about our place in organizational and professional life:

In your 30s and 40s, you will begin to think like a political scientist. You’ll have a lower estimation of your own power and a greater estimation of the power of the institutions you happen to be in.You’ll still have faith in your own skills, but it will be more the skills of navigation, not creation. You’ll adapt to the rules and peculiarities of your environment. You’ll keep up with what the essayist Joseph Epstein calls “the current snobberies.” You’ll understand that the crucial question isn’t what you want, but what the market wants. For a brief period, you won’t mind breakfast meetings.

Then in your 50s and 60s, you will become a sociologist, understanding that relationships are more powerful than individuals. The higher up a person gets, the more time that person devotes to scheduling and personnel. As a manager, you will find yourself in the coaching phase of life, enjoying the dreams of your underlings. Ambition, like promiscuity, is most pleasant when experienced vicariously.You’ll find yourself thinking back to your own mentors, newly aware of how much they shaped your path. Even though the emotions of middle-aged people are kind of ridiculous, you’ll get sentimental about the relationships you benefited from and the ones you are building. Steve Jobs said his greatest accomplishment was building a company, not a product.

Then in your 70s and 80s, you’ll be like an ancient historian. Your mind will bob over the decades and then back over the centuries, and you’ll realize how deeply you were formed by the ancient traditions of your people — being Mormon or Jewish or black or Hispanic. You’ll appreciate how much power the dead have over the living, since this will one day be your only power. You’ll be struck by the astonishing importance of luck — the fact that you took this bus and not another, met this person and not another.In short, as maturity develops and the perspectives widen, the smaller the power of the individual appears, and the greater the power of those forces flowing through the individual.

via The Credit Illusion –