Monday, February 13, 2023

Resurrecting Feiwu's 2013 interview with GigGuide

I discovered recently that an interview Bob and I did 10 years ago on before our February 17 2013 reunion shows in Taipei and and a show later that year in New York was taken offline after GigGuide was discontinued. The interview is worth reposting; it captures a moment in time that shouldn't be lost. It's hard to believe that show was 10 years ago and the band formed 26 years ago in Taipei!

If you were born after 1990 then it's quite possible you are too young to know them, but Feiwu, along with the likes of Ladybug, 1976, Sugar Plum Ferry and The Clippers are the progenitors of Taiwan's underground music scene. Forming in 1997, Feiwu were among Taiwan's early indie successes, releasing two albums, Birds of a Feather (1998) and Ring of Fire (1999), and playing regularly at venues like Roxy Vibe, and Spring Scream in its early years. Sadly, it was at Spring Scream twelve years ago that Feiwu performed for the last time. Or so they thought. As part of Legacy's 'One Night Only' series, Feiwu are reuniting for one final show on February 17th.


Photo(s) by David Smith - © 2013

Feiwu are; Steve Tsai (蔡承宇) on drums, Joe Huang (黃俊喬) on guitar, Bob Hsiung (熊天焱) on bass, Andrew Watson (安德魯) on lead guitar & vocals and Ian Lamont (藍醫恩) on guitar & vocals.

What have Feiwu's band members been doing since the split? Do you continue to play music?

Ian: I returned to the states in 1999. I've been doing music off and on, mostly home recording with friends, but no performances. Andrew was much more dedicated after he returned -- he moved to New York, works in the music industry, and was in a couple of bands, and his current band Coda Resistance plays regularly. Steve has also gigged in Taipei with various people and is really connected with the music scene there. One time he sent us a video of him playing drums with Wu Bai.  

Bob: I've bounced around a bit. I worked in Africa for awhile building HIV clinics, then I was at MIT building performing robots for a futuristic new opera. Sadly, I haven't been playing much music other than jamming with my kids (1 & 3 yrs old). We play a mean "Puff the Magic Dragon".

How did this reunion come about?

Ian: Even though we broke up years ago, we have remained very close -- any time we visit Taiwan, or Steve comes to New York or Boston, we get together. Steve came to Boston a couple of times in the early 2000s to study English and also music at the Berklee College of Music, and we would get together for some jam sessions at a practice space. When the opportunity came up, the idea of getting together again for a performance felt right. 

The actual invitation came to Andrew. He used to work in the Taiwan music industry and was a guitar teacher to a lot of young musicians, including one or two of the guitarists in 88 Guava Seeds. He also sees a lot of Taiwanese bands when they pass through NYC, so his network is strong. And his Mandarin is unbelievably good.

Last April, Legacy approached him and asked if Feiwu would be interested in taking part in this retrospective performance series at Legacy involving underground bands from the 1990s. We were part of the scene along with bands like LTK, Chairman (董事長), 1976, Ladybug (瓢蟲),Backquarter (私分街),Ah-de (啊德), Sugar Plum Fairies (甜梅號), Clippers (夾子),Chthonic, Sticky Rice, Air Dolphins (海豚), etc. We wrote a lot of songs in Mandarin, and a few of them, including 我愛台灣啤酒 a.k.a. The Taiwan Beer Song and a song about Coco Lee, gained a small degree of  local popularity … or notoriety depending on how you view things. We couldn't do the show in 2012, but I was planning on coming out to Chinese New Year for a family visit this year. We were able to work it out to get all five former members of the band together for a reunion on February 17 at Legacy in Taipei. 

Bob: We've got A LOT of people to thank for helping make this happen - like Chairman and especially Daisy Lee!

Has it been 'like old times' reuniting and rehearsing old material?

Ian: Absolutely! Bob, Andrew and myself started monthly practices in a rehearsal space outside of Boston last November. The music came back pretty quickly, and we also went over some of the songs that Andrew wrote after I left the band. There are quite a few of them -- enough for a third album, actually. As you might expect, it's pretty heavy! My only regret about the Boston practices is Steve and Joe weren't there, but we have a full week of rehearsals in Taipei before the show on February 17.

Bob: It's been really great practicing with Ian and Andrew, but I can't wait to get back with XiaoYu and I'm really excited to hear what we sound like as a 5 piece with Joe

Feiwu promotional CD cover

Did someone say "FREE BEER"? How does it feel to have your reunion show sponsored by Taiwan Beer?

Ian: Ha! I was really surprised when I heard about that. We really do love the beer, but had no connection with the company. When we started playing that song in the 90s, Taiwan Beer was an old school monopoly. We weren't even sure if they were aware of the song. But the brand has really modernized and I think it's so cool that they're receptive to supporting the show -- with free beer to people who come to the concert! 

This is not the first time there has been free Taiwan beer at a Feiwu concert. At one of the Spring Screams we did, we brought a case or two of the blue and white cans on the stage right before we played the song. "Hey, who wants some free beer?" we asked the crowd … and they rushed the stage! This time it's official, and I heard they are bringing a huge amount of beer to this concert. No need to rush the stage ...

Bob: Ah, if only their marketing people had figured this out in 2000, Taiwan beer would be bigger worldwide than Heineken by now

The Taiwan Beer song will likely be the crowd fave, but do you yourselves have a song you're looking forward to performing?

Ian: Bob was talking about this at one of the practices in Boston. There are a couple of really good tunes that were never recorded or only appeared on compilations. They will be fun to play, especially with three guitars -- listen for "Mary Jane" and "Deafened" and "Closure". Bob likes another unreleased tune that's kind of delicate, called "Say Something." From the second album, "Cuckoo for Coco" is another one -- tough to play, but it's fun. 

One of my personal faves is "Puppetmaster" (布袋戲), off the first album. It's an instrumental. Westerners assume it's an acid surf song, Taiwanese hear it and think of Taiwanese puppet opera. The story is a little of both. Before Spring Scream '98 I decided to write a surf instrumental that we could play at the festival, which at the time was next to the beach in Kenting. The first time we played it at practice, our drummer Steve said, "布袋戲!". This was the Taiwanese puppet opera that used to be on Taiwanese TV. I didn't get the connection at first. But it turns out that the soundtrack for some broadcasts was none other than American surf instrumentals from the 1960s. We dubbed the song 布袋戲, and gave it the English title "Puppetmaster". 

Bob: We have a few songs that we played at Spring Scream 2001 but never had a chance to record. "Resolute" is one of them and is probably my favorite Feiwu song of all time.

Have you been continuing to listen to Taiwanese music, new or old? If so, which bands?

Ian: Well, two out of five live in Taiwan -- Steve in Taipei and Joe in Taidong. Of course, they're pretty plugged in. I know Andrew sees practically any Taiwan indie band that passes through New York City. 

One of the things that I did to prepare for this show was watch a lot of YouTube videos that were shot at Legacy and other places around Taiwan. We saw some of our old friends like Ladybug and Sugar Plum Fairy and Chthonic, but I was also blown away by some of the new bands. Touming Magazine is one of my favorites -- I really want to see them live!

A couple of other things I discovered by watching those videos: Many of the bands we used to play with with are not only still together, they've gotten really, really good. A lot of underground bands from the 1990s (including Feiwu) were DIY punk rock hackers back then … we were still feeling our way and developing our musical voices. 15 years later, I look at bands like Sugar Plum Fairy, Backquarter, 1976 and other people that have stayed together, and they've really blossomed as songwriters, musicians, and performers.  

One other thing I'd like to say: I really wish there was something like GigGuide back in the 1990s. Great writing, great listings, and whoever is taking photographs at the shows -- he or she (or they) are amazing. When we were starting out there were some paper fanzines in Chinese and English, like POTS. The distribution was irregular and many people had no access to paper issues. If you missed an issue you might never see the concert listing or interview that would change your life! 

What have you missed most about Taiwan?

Ian: One time in the summertime, I saw the number 57 bus driver in central Taipei take a meter-long section of vacuum tubing and … oh, I'm supposed to say something serious here, right?

OK. I arrived in January 1993 and except for 6-month period in 1996, lived in Taipei until June 1999. I lived in Wanhua for a while, and there were all kinds of things going on there. It was a very Taiwanese part of Taipei, if you know what I mean. It had a great night market. There was a stand there that had the best 花枝羹 , a kind of thick stew made with squid. That district also had religious and folk celebrations like "God's birthdays" when you'd see these incredible processions down the street. Of course, sometimes the religious celebrations would start early -- at the time getting woken up by paid mourners fake crying through loudspeakers wasn't fun … but I can look back and laugh now.   

I'm going to sound like an old man saying this. Every time I go back, usually every two or three years, I see a lot of change. I kind of regret that I have not been around to witness that -- it's almost like I've been left behind. 

Another good thing about living in another country, especially one that is so different from your own, is the feeling of constant discovery. Could be discovery of some cultural or social aspect, the food, the people, the language, nature, music, whatever. I miss that too.

One other thing I used to do a lot of when I lived in Taipei was hiking, which I can't do near Boston without driving for at least 30 minutes. In the mid-1990s I lived in the Hsinyi district and hiking trails were almost right outside my door. Sometimes I'd hike all the way out to Shenkeng and beyond. That area of course is totally changed by heavy construction, including that highway tunnel that goes all the way to Ilan and those trails may not be there anymore. When I go back this time, I am going to hit some of the trails in the north part of the city. My brother-in-law says that some new trails have been added near his house in Neihu, so I am going to explore those. 

Bob: The food, the people, the music scene, the food.

For those of us that have yet to see a Feiwu show, what can we expect?

Ian: Definitely loud! Lots of energy. Singalongs in Mandarin and English. Andrew spouting random words in Taiwanese. We also have some special guests joining us on stage for some songs. Oh yeah, and expect free beer! It's going to be fun!

Bob: 12 years worth of pent up rock and roll exploding on stage in one night (and a whole lot of Taiwan beer.)

You can catch Feiwu's final show ever at Legacy on February 17th.

See also: Feiwu's only official music video



Sunday, January 1, 2023

IBM ThinkPad 701: Powerful enough to run DOOM!

In 1996, I bought a used IBM ThinkPad 701c (486 architecture) in a Hong Kong computer market. I think it was about $900. A journalist at the time, I was backpacking through China and Southeast Asia, and needed something small yet powerful enough to handle writing assignments, email, and a manuscript idea I had floating around in my head. I was also transitioning to digital media, and needed something that could render my hand-coded HTML and scripts.

Ten years before "netbooks," IBM's wonderful little 701c ThinkPad had a very unique approach to compact size: A "butterfly" keyboard that unfolded when you opened the laptop. There are some photos and historical information about the IBM ThinkPad 701 here. This video show the 701c in action. It's pretty much what I remember ... a little thick, but very functional. And more powerful than I could have ever imagined.

Supposedly, the design was inspired by a black bento box. Although primitive by today's standards, it was a solid little laptop that served me well for the tasks I was engaged in at the time -- writing, Web surfing, learning HTML, email, and Word. It ran Windows 3.1, but I could also run programs from the DOS command prompt.

At one point, I set up my little writing studio in the Golden Queen hotel, Georgetown, Penang, on peninsular Malaysia facing the Indian Ocean. One day, while taking a break from writing and fiddling around in the DOS directory structure, I discovered an interesting folder. /id ... DOOM? What happens when I RUN the .exe ... 

The next thing I know, I am playing DOOM. On a tiny IBM laptop. Oh, man!


In the late 1990s, I had a house fire. No one was injured, but the butterfly ThinkPad was burned, the exterior case charred and partially melted. There was data on it that I wanted, including a manuscript. I brought it to the local IBM repair center in Taipei. Two young techs were at the service desk, and hardly battered an eye when I took the charred, plastic hulk out of a plastic bag. They got a small electric saw, cut open the case, removed the keyboard, and took out the hard drive which looked intact. They attempted to connect it to their diagnostic machine but it wouldn't read, unfortunately. But I really respected their attempt.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Why our ancestors sometimes lied on official records in the pre-digital age

Sherry Turkle and mother

I'm reading a memoir by MIT professor Sherry Turkle, The Empathy Diaries. I attended a talk she game some years ago at the MIT Media Lab and was fascinated - her research revolves around questions about how technology impacts people. In the book, she not only traces the evolution of her academic passions, but her personal influences. She shared some interesting facts about her mother, shown above. There were some discrepancies listed on official documents filed in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s:

"She had a drivers license that gave her incorrect height and also shaved a few years off her age, something she told me that certain ladies at the Department of Motor Vehicles would agree to do, understanding it was better if unmarried women over 23 were officially younger. When she married Charles Zimmerman in 1947, she took a year off her age on the marriage license declaring herself 28. Six years later when she married Milton Turkel, their marriage license had her at 29."

Both scenarios described by Turkle - asking a DMV clerk to fudge the birth year, or providing the wrong ages on marriage registrations - are almost impossible now.

But a long time ago, this was not unusual. We know not only because of Turkle's mother's experience, but because a few people on my own family tree also had discrepancies, particularly for marriage certificates and job applications.

In the pre-digital age, many people (including immigrants, cross-country migrants, adoptees, and poverty-stricken families) may not have had access to birth records. Government officials had to go by what they were told, and may not have been told the truth for various reasons, including very compelling reasons. In some cases, sympathetic clerks may have helped, as we learned from Turkle's book

We know this happened in other situations, too. Teenagers lying about their age to join the military was commonplace. An estimated 200,000 underage men and women enlisted during World War II. Not long after the war, enumerators for the 1950 federal census (released in April) could note in a dedicated field on the census form if they thought a respondent was not being truthful!

The moral of the story: Sometimes ancestors supplied incorrect information to officials, and they had good reasons to do so. Try to confirm dates and ages using other types of records that are less likely to be fudged, such as birth and death certificates.  

Saturday, May 8, 2021

What killed rock n' roll? Payola 2.0

There is an interesting article titled "Bob Dylan Lays Down What Really Killed Rock ’n’ Roll." I don't agree with the thesis that rock was destined to stay locked into the modes of the 1950s, but the insidious successor to the Payola scandal had a lasting impact on popular culture, and by extension youth and mainstream culture.

So, what did Bob Dylan lay down in his interview with AARP, cited in the article above? 

Dylan said that this was very threatening to city fathers, so "they had to dismantle it." The black element became soul, white elements became English pop. And then there was payola controlling what was played, Bob noted.

Here's a short history of early Payola, from  

Aware of their rising status, jocks established flat rate deals with labels and record distributors. A typical deal for a mid-level DJ was $50 a week, per record, to ensure a minimum amount of spins. More influential jocks commanded percentages of grosses for local concerts, lavish trips, free records by the boxful (some even opened their own record stores), plus all the time-honored swag. As Cleveland DJ Joe Finan later described the decade, “It was a blur of booze, broads and bribes.

As payola escalated, Variety and Billboard did lengthy features, calling for reform and government intervention (to its credit, Billboard wrote, “The cancer of payola cannot be pinned on rock ’n’ roll”). ASCAP was also vocal in their opposition to payola, using it as a means to lambaste their competitor BMI. At the time, the larger ASCAP represented the old guard of mostly white composers from the Tin Pan Alley days. BMI was associated with the young, racially mixed writers of R&B and rock ’n’ roll, as well as indie labels such as Aladdin, King and Chess. By the mid-’50s, BMI single releases outnumbered ASCAP’s by almost two to one. The older organization cried foul, accusing BMI of promoting payola.

So here's my take. I agree with some of what Dylan said, but he got a few things wrong in my humble opinion.

Popular music has been on a fast-track evolutionary cycle since the invention of the radio and LP. Other factors have contributed, from the music press to cable television to more disposable household income in the United States after WWII. The idea that popular youth music would stay locked into the modes of mid-1950s America while culture and society shifted, millions of new teenage humans entered the scene every year, musicians absorbed new influences, and musical trends crossed borders and linguistic barriers -- and sometimes came back -- seems like a stretch.

But one thing that is not a stretch is what might be called Payola 2.0, after the 1.0 scandal described in the article died down. Record companies couldn't give outright cash payments to DJs, but there were many other ways of exerting influence on influential media gatekeepers. In my opinion, this is where the suits really were really able to promote biases and sideline non-mainstream musical trends.

Some of the influence was obvious. Picking artists that had the "right" look. Promoting "safe" artists. Selective access and backstage benefits for powerful DJs and music journalists and other influencers. Ignoring, sidelining, or co-opting trends bubbling up from the underground, from proto-metal in the late 60s to punk in the 70s to rap in the 80s.

And then there are the charts, which were segmented according to race and other factors aligned with the needs of the music "industry." Did you know that until the early 90s music charts in the United States were based on a sample of self-reported sales from record store managers? Can you imagine the bias and BS that went on with those numbers? As soon as soundscan was implemented, there was an immediate realignment, with rap and grunge and techno and country storming the pop charts:

When Billboard, the music industry's leading trade magazine, began publishing new pop and country album charts last month using a new computerized method, the change set off alarms in the record business that have not stopped ringing.

Pop albums by a number of new artists whose careers major record companies were trying to establish suddenly plummeted, while a bunch of country albums took dramatic upward leaps. A chorus of record company executives charged that the chart, prepared by Soundscan, a research film in Hartsdale, N.Y., would seriously undermine their efforts to promote new talent.

Boo hoo!

Since then, the digital transformations have resulted in an interesting fragmentation of pop music and youth tastes ... but with the music industry literally controlling major streaming platforms and paying for social media influencers, we're shifting into Payola 3.0, and with whatever algorithmically dictated patterns that will entail.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

What's holding back Taiwan entertainment media on the global stage?

Why does most Taiwanese film and media struggle outside of East and Southeast Asia, while Korean pop culture takes the world by storm?

I've been thinking a lot about this in recent years, but especially since the Korean film Parasite did so well at the Oscars. Not long after, I saw the K-pop supergroup BTS appear live on the Today show in front of thousands of young people, some of whom had camped out for two days to get a prime viewing spot in midtown Manhattan.

Why aren't Taiwanese films and musicians enjoying the types of success? After all, both countries have had very similar economic and socio-cultural periods of development, not to mention strong cultural foundations and healthy domestic media markets.

It's not a foreign language issue. After all, Parasite, Gangnam Style, and many K-pop artists have succeeded in global media markets where Korean is not spoken. Clearly, if you make great media that has cross-cultural appeal, the role of language decreases. Great media can even be quite alien and still make a big impression in foreign markets. Examples: Studio Ghibli, and foreign film telling "local" stories from Spain, Brazil, etc.  

I think one thing that holds back Taiwanese film & mainstream pop is a tendency to play it safe, and go heavy on sentimental themes, which don't play as well in the U.S., Europe, and other global markets.  

Example: "A Sun" (陽光普照, now on Netflix). The story is pretty deep, touching on coming of age themes, family strife, crime, and tragedy. It won a bunch of local and international film awards.

But the soundtrack goes heavy on the schmaltz. It's quite beautiful, but it's overpowering and I thought inappropriate at times, such as the violent scene that opens the film. 

The sentimental ballad is ubiquitous in Taiwanese pop, too. I think it's fair to say it's all too often very formulaic, in terms of the chord structure and vocal melody.

Why do this?  

It's not just because sentimental themes sell well in Taiwan, and audiences there have come to expect it. It's also a popular trope in other Chinese markets, especially the People's Republic of China, where many Taiwanese actors and musicians have found great success. 

Of course there are exceptions. Taiwanese underground music really punches above its weight, and has built a global fan base. It's not huge, but it's big enough to be known and respected in Japan, Europe, and North America. Bands like Mayday can sell out large venues when they tour here, and have found mainstream success. I am so impressed, as these guys played at the same venues as us back when both 五月天 and 廢物樂隊 were part of the underground scene in Taiwan.

Roxy Vibe Poster Taipei 1998
Taipei club poster from the late 1990s including Mayday (五月天)
But Mayday's international success is not on the same level as K-pop stars. When it comes to film, the only Taiwanese director who has made a global splash beyond the indie film circuit, I can think of is Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain among others).

I would love to see Taiwan's talented media creators take a bigger role on the global stage, but in my opinion it will require toning down the sentimental approach that plays well in Taiwan, China, and Southeast Asia.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

How dance music was made circa 1991

There is a great video about late 80s/early 90s studio tech, specifically the budget Amiga sampler ecosystem that drove a lot of experimentation with dance and hip-hop at that time:

I laughed out loud at the moment where the host runs out of memory after sampling just a few seconds of a 45. It points to the reality of working with digital media in an era where memory was expensive. The result: Samples tended to be really short.

But not for everyone. Some artists (and their labels) opted to make investments in studio time & professionals who knew how to take sampling tech to the next level.

I know this because I worked at Lillie Yard Studios, a 24-track professional recording studio in London in the early 90s where dance music was recorded, mixed, and remixed by The KLF and Nomad, among others.  There was a small army of people who not only knew the studio hardware (the board, Moog, compressors, gates, etc.) but also Cubase and other software, which was quite expensive but utterly necessary to crank out the hits played on the radio and the remixes that were preferred in the clubs.

Working at Lillie Yard in 1991, I must have heard remixes of The KLF's "Last Train to Trancentral," "What Time is Love," and "3 am Eternal" as well Nomad's "I Want to Give You Devotion" several hundred times as the crew worked through the tracks and tried different beats, sounds, and speeds using the software.

The results The KLF was able to achieve were quite amazing. I was never a big dance music fan, but I respected what Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond were doing. I mean, what other pop act would have thought to meld 70s country music with the club sounds of London, and not only make it work, but turn it into a global pop sensation?

Then there were the experimental tracks The KLF did for The White Room and other projects. My favorite was "It's Grim Up North." The concept seems weird (Bill Drummond reciting the names of northern English towns over a dark synth riff) but it worked:

Finally, it's worth mentioning that the co-founder of Lillie Yard studio was Hans Zimmer, the German electronic music composer whose film career really started to take off around that time.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Yet another post about the future of liberal arts education

For at least 15 years, there has been a lot of hand-wringing in higher education about the impact of new technologies on education. I've written about it myself many times (see "For-profit schools take a hit from Frontline"). As online models disrupt traditional college education, there is another debate taking place about the value of a liberal arts education itself. That students, parents, and the business sector are questioning this shouldn't come as a surprise, considering the $50,-$75,000 "all-in" annual costs at many American colleges. What is surprising is the denial that proponents -- many of them academics -- continue to display. The January 2019 Seattle Times article titled "As STEM majors soar at UW, interest in humanities shrinks — a potentially costly loss" is a case in point:
"The swing to STEM is having unexpected consequences. With fewer students studying the humanities — history, philosophy, foreign languages and English — those departments are shrinking. Retiring professors aren’t replaced. Academics worry that the nation would be impoverished — both culturally and intellectually — if only an elite few understand the arc of American history, know how to find meaning in poetry, or can discuss the ideas of the great philosophers."

This type of thinking seems to harken back to the 1800s, when the only people who could afford a traditional liberal arts education were the elite. That changed with the introduction of public schools, state universities, and low-cost college programs that could be paid for with part-time work. Now the pendulum is swinging back to a high-cost model, and lots of students and parents are saying that a $200,000 - $300,000 undergraduate sociology degree is simply not worth it.

There's another problem with the argument put forth in the Seattle Times article, which seems to be trotted out in many articles about the future of liberal arts education. For decades many colleges have created core curriculums that require even the most hard-core STEM major to take a range of liberal arts classes. I experienced this myself 30 years ago at Boston University, and know that it's the same situation elsewhere. It's a good idea, and one that gives young students a truly well-rounded education.

That's not good enough to some academics, though. Quoting from the Seattle Times:
“The broad general education we want for all of our students is increasingly done at the high-school level,” said Robert Stacey, dean of the UW’s College of Arts & Sciences. “And with all due respect to a high-school history course, it’s not the same as a college history course.”
Is getting a broad general education in high school a bad thing? I think it's preferable to getting the basics covered in high school, not only because it frees up students to pursue professional and other interests in college, but also because it serves those students who will never attend college. Isn't that better for our society as a whole?

Here's another quote from the article:
Those introductory classes — refined over the years by some of the university’s best professors, and taught to several hundred students at a time in big lecture halls — are designed to inspire and delight, sparking an interest in literature, or history, or politics, that could lead a student to major in those fields.

The impacts of encouraging students to major in those fields has led to a vast skills imbalance in our workforce, and the sad situation of people with lit and history BAs taking unskilled jobs or jobs that are a poor fit for their skills (see "Fear of a College-Educated Barista").

Moreover, for those who graduate with PhDs in these fields, it's nearly impossible to get hired as a professor or researcher. There just aren't as many academic jobs available, and yet, amazingly, there are now more English and History PhDs awarded every year than 30 years ago:
Humanities programs awarded 5,891 doctoral degrees in 2015. That is the largest number recorded back to the start of collection of such information in 1987. The figure was 3,110 in 1988, then rose steadily to 4,994 in 2000, dipped to about 4,700 from 2002 to 2007, and then started going up again, year after year.

As that article notes, jobs in those fields "are increasingly hard to come by." Yet the universities keep churning out PhDs in these fields, to keep the tuition rolling in and as a source of cheap labor for undergraduate instruction.

I appreciate the value of including liberal arts in higher education, but only a cost that students can truly afford.