Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On French and the liberal arts

So John McWhorter recently wrote a piece in the New Republic explaining why he is less upset than he might be that universities are eliminating altogether or scaling back French departments. Now, I could probably devote an entire blog consisting of short hyperlinks to things that John McWhorter has written merely with comments like "YEAH!" appended. I try not to give into this temptation too regularly because that would make this blog even less interesting than it usually is.

But I am a bit more torn here because I studied French in high school and loved it. While I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, Googling my real name yields a fifteen year old newspaper article from my red state hometown about my score on the national French exam.* I'd echo many of the positive things that Conor Friedersdorf's commenters say about why studying French is fun, useful, or beautiful.

At the same time, I recognize how desperately cash strapped many universities are. I'm also aware how scandalously high tuition is across the country. In many places, something has to drop. So long as students who wish to study French still have some good options left, I won't mourn it terribly if others cancel or scale back programs. As a non-New Yorker, I am sort of baffled by the SUNY system, but I am able to figure out from cursory Wikipedia and Google research that there are three other University Centers that all offer French degrees. There are also thirteen other institutions called University Colleges, and a perhaps not entirely reliable College Confidential thread indicates that many of them offer French majors as well. While private or out of state public universities may not be an affordable option for other New Yorkers interested in French, they may of course be viable options for other students. Let me stress, though: if this trend really did become more widespread -- e.g. if there were no SUNYs offering French -- then I would see more cause for concern.

Finally, I would dearly, dearly love to see more American schools invest more time and resources into foreign language education at a younger age. While not quite Exeter level of elite, the schools I attended were good by most standards. Most of my classmates came from middle or even upper-middle-class backgrounds. Yet we had Spanish classes only once a week at the elementary level, and they were regarded as non-challenging fluff akin to art and the dreaded Physical Education. We essentially sat around for five years saying "Hola!" and "Como estas?" to each other (sorry, no accent marks) and occasionally watched videos from the Muzzy series that none of us understood. We could have started memorizing vocabulary lists of foods, clothing items, or other such basics as early as second or third grade and gotten letter grades on the quizzes. Yet we didn't. We didn't start grammar until seventh grade and only then moved at a painstakingly slow pace. We could, I think, have started on the very simple stuff -- conjugations of present tense verbs and the like -- a year or two earlier. Yet nobody seemed inclined to encourage us to do it. This neglect seems all the more pedagogically baffling because young children pick up languages more easily than do their counterparts who are even a few years older.

By high school, I was one of very few loons who insisted on taking two foreign languages. Again, while I can see why two foreign languages might have been overwhelming to some students who didn't like them, there seemed to be plenty of perfectly capable students who could have handled a third language and didn't try to pick one up. Curricula that encouraged students to take up one European and one non-European language would also have the nice effect of being responsive to McWhorter's concerns while not displacing existing strong programs in French or in classical languages. Sadly, there's enough fluff in many schools -- the incessant anti-drug and safe sex propaganda;to take one easy target -- that could be cut so as to accommodate these changes. Who knows, maybe some of this would even drive up the supply of language majors...

*Subsequent life accomplishments that have eclipsed that, at least according to Google's algorithm, are my NYT wedding annoucement and a white paper I wrote for the Federalist Society.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Phillip Pullman as Unitary Executive Theory Guy?


"The Papacy itself had been abolished after Calvin's death, and a tangle of courts, colleges and councils , collectively known as the Magisterium, had grown up in its place. These agencies were not always united; sometimes a bitter rivalry grew up between them... But it was always possible for independent agencies to grow up under the protection of another part of the Magisterium, and the Oblation Board, which the Librarian had referred to, was one of these."

-- The Golden Compass at 27.

Trigger Happy Cop Kills Golden Retriever

*$%($(#%$#($($. Vicious breed my eye. If this doesn't lend fuel to the fires of the anti-overcriminalization movement, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Columbia Eminent Domain Case

I mostly liked Megan McArdle's post on the Columbia eminent domain case. But I'll take issue with the statement, "I don't understand why this is an issue that only fires up libertarians." Three amici filed in support of cert in the Columbia case. While two are combinations of libertarian-leaning organizations, the third is a Democratic New York State Senator, who is not especially otherwise libertarian so far as I know.

An even more ideologically diverse coalition came together against eminent domain abuse in the Kelo case. It included the NAACP and AARP. Prominent liberal politicians including Maxine Waters, Ralph Nader, and Bill Clinton also weighed in after the decision came down and condemned the result.

It's not often that the rest of the world seems eager to join forces with libertarians. Eminent domain abuse is one exception. Let us bask in the sunshine and enjoy it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where Are All the Female Libertarians?

I think I have tried to answer this question before.At least, I feel like I really ought to have something to say about it. But I don't, which is why I let this languish starred in Reader for a day or so. Note, however, that I really don't think that libertarian activists are more pretentious or argumentative than left-liberal ACS types, social conservatives, or any other political grouping I've encountered. Such is the nature of people interested in politics.

Alternative Job Ideas

For the file referenced in the headline file, yes, but also for the "Very Good Sentences" basket:

"Why is there no SF [science fiction] whose author seems to have read and understood even so basic a work as Micklethwait and Wooldrige's The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea?"

-- Stephen Bainbridge, who is also the owner of a magnificent golden retriever

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Petiteness, overanalyzed

I have never been to Los Angeles and so decline to speculate about how superficial the place is. Still, I do think that this reference is innocent and does not betray any particular SoCal esthetic of superficiality. First, I'm used to thinking of petiteness as a polite euphemism for shortness, rather than thinness or shortness plus thinness. After all, petite dress departments usually run in almost the same range as regular ones (up to 12 or 14) and cater to women within a wide range of body mass indexes. I'm curious if others prone to overanalyzing shortness see this differently, though.

I am not sure that anyone has ever liked me for being short. That is probably more because I am good at alienating and offending people of all heights than because of anything else. Nor do most women find shortness in and of itself especially aesthetically appealing. So I suspect that this is an attempt at literary flourish, at sketching a physical description, that just came out kind of oddly.

Economics and Marriage

Some foolish humans have chided Pnin and me for inviting an economist to give a lecture at our wedding in lieu of having a member of the clergy deliver a sermon. Recently, I have come across an entire blog dedicated to applying the insights of economics to having a good marriage. I feel validated.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elephant Law

I bow to nobody in being a totally sentimental loon about elephants. This is because pachyderms are awesome, and I know amazing animals when I see them. However, I must agree with Eugene Volokh here regarding the problems inherent in this pro-elephant litigation.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mad Men and Dungeons and Dragons

A handy chart to keep all the characters' alignments straight. Note, however, that Polly the Golden Retriever should probably be placed in the Chaotic Good quadrant rather than Sally. Because Polly is excellent and amazing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Unabashed Materialism -- 2010 Christmas Wish List

Because other humans actually found last year's list useful, pls. allow me to leave aside pontificating abou education and compose a wish list of Christmas gifts.

1. I have been staring lustfully at this bag on the Internet for about two or three months. The difficulty is that, as humans who already know me in real life know, I have an established weakness for colorful bags and thus already have several that are fairly nice. But I found aqua ballet on Gilt that were relatively cheap that would match this one, I howl in protest!

There is also the separate problem that apparently colorful accessories tend to make one look younger than one really is, a problem that I have faced before. Oh well. At least I haven't been carded for an R-rated movie since I was 24.

2. Relatedly, I am developing a weakness for darling polka-dotted accessories. NIce accessories are a good cure for many things, including the stresses of packing that I hate.

3. Absurdly overpriced yoga pants. Again, these would never help me honor any gods of frugality, but they are ever so super comfortable. I've never tried anything else from the line, but I would bet same.

4. I've been listening to some of the Teaching Company courses on my beloved i-phone Helvidius when I walk to work in the mornings. Pnin and I have listened to others in the car. Right now I've been enjoying the History of Western Music one, and I have been eagerly waiting for the podcast version of the Opera class to go on sale. So far, no luck.

5. Gift certificates covering all or in part nice facials or massages are always appreciated.

6. Not sure where to look for replacements, but nice makeup brushes would probably be good. Mine are starting to show age.

7. In general, nice earrings are a good idea. I have one pair of pearls that I wear nearly everywhere. They're beautiful and classic. But variation (at least in principle) might be good.

Lovely things that are lower on my list at this point: though some may have thought it impossible, I have found a way to in part abate my cravings for books and kitchen gadgets. That's right, marrying a law professor has had the wonderful effect of getting me thousands of books for free. And lots of lovely kitchen gadgets have come in from friends and family, too. So I'm actually feeling fairly well satiated on both those fronts.