Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rorty colloquy

There's been some lively, serious, and very sophisticated discussion of Rorty, of the relationship between his political theory and his general views on philosophy, and of his stance toward religion and pluralism over the past few days. It's been spread across several places, some of them non-obvious (Damon Linker bounces from a TNR online article to Matt Yglesias' site to Open University), so here's a roundup.

Damon Linker
Matt Yglesias
Will Wilkinson
John Holbo
Russell Arben Fox
Patrick Deneen (hey, look! Patrick started a blog. I hadn't known.)

Lots of good stuff therein.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

French higher education

I posted before about the new Paris School for Economics and the changes that it might bode for French higher education.

Without any explicit connection drawn to that institution, some new developments, from the Chronicle.

Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to overhaul France's flagging higher-education system is one step closer to reality, after his conservative Gaullist party swept to victory in the first round of National Assembly elections last weekend.

Presenting his plan as part of an ambitious package of economic reforms, the newly elected president of France has pledged to allow universities greater autonomy, giving them leeway to exercise more control over admissions and their budgets and to impose some tuition fees. He has said he will pump billions into higher education, increasing universities' operating budgets by 50 percent over the next five years, and has proposed the creation of a new independent agency to oversee research and higher-education institutions.

Most French universities are public and, like much of France's vast public sector, are subject to extensive bureaucratic oversight and strict labor protections. Overcrowded, underfinanced, and poorly equipped, even renowned universities like the Sorbonne have slid down international-rankings tables.

"It's a catastrophic system," the Sorbonne's president, Jean-Robert Pitte, said of the situation now. Universities like his are bloated with students who enroll simply for lack of alternatives, he said, and their ranks are winnowed only by failure and withdrawal. At the master's-degree level, Mr. Pitte said, his university compares favorably with international rivals, but the costs are debilitating. "The problem is that French universities lack the means to compete and are functioning in a two-tier system," he said, referring to the gulf between the elite grandes ├ęcoles, which have long been the training ground for France's political and business leaders, and the universities.

Of course, not everyone's on board.

Students, however, have vociferously opposed many of Mr. Sarkozy's ideas, arguing that they run counter to France's egalitarian ethos.

The main national student union complains that students have been excluded from the political discussion of higher education and that the government is barreling ahead too quickly with its agenda.

"The objective of the reforms must be to permit university access to the largest number of students and to guarantee everyone success", the union said in a statement. [Italics mine-- JTL]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Old fogie watch

A couple of weeks ago, Paul Devlin wrote an elegy for the tie clip at Slate. It made me a little sad, but I knew he was right; the tie clip is disappearing. It's seen as a too-dressy affectation, even though it serves a useful purpose.

But now Matt Yglesias informs us that "these days few young people wear watches because we're all used to checking the time on our cell phones," a fact that "most older people don't realize." I certainly didn't. A commentator on the thread that follows points to this Daniel Gross article (also at Slate) that confirms the trend with sales numbers.

As I say in comments there: I don't get it. I thought the wave of the future was for my Treo to shrink down and get incorporated into my watch, so I could continue to tell the time with a quick glance but could also do so with my e-mail and calendar.

Instead, it seems like the wave of the future is to return to the pocketwatch-- a bigger, harder-to-get-at, uglier pocketwatch. Do you people really unclip your phone from your belt or reach into a pocket every time you want to check the time? Why isn't that less convenient than just wearing a watch?

In both cases I think there's something aesthetic lost, but I know that over time what was aesthetically pleased and dressy changes, often in the direction of the more-practical. But in both cases the change seems to me less practical than the status quo ante.
A great teaching story

...from Princeton. Those are some lucky students; wish I could take the class...

Monday, June 11, 2007

A request for help

Blogger insists on automatically generating my permalinks incorrectly. The URL for my post on Rorty is

but when you click on the permalink "5:57", what comes up is

(that is, the material after .html that specifies where on the archive page to go is duplicated)

and as a result, people are always directed to the top of a page filled with whitespace. Does anyone know how to fix this, short of abandoning blogger for a grown-up provider?