Signs of Reason

October 31, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s Halloween, and I feel sadly deficient for my lack of knowledge of the zombie. I think I missed about 80% of the allusions in Gabriel’s post, just as I did last year. But then this picture from the Jon Stewart rally turned up in my inbox.

I wasn’t there, but what I’ve heard and seen does convince me that sanity is possible. The event was sort of a meta-rally – a rally about rallies – delightfully devoid of anger, hyperbole, paranoia, demonization, and self-righteousness.

I confess, I had to look twice at the Biblical citation.

Many more on display here.

Atheists in Foxholes on the Campus Battlefield

October 28, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

We all know that conservatives on campus have it rough.
outnumbered by liberals by 3 to 1 even in fields known to be relatively conservative, such as economics, by more than 5 to 1 in moderate fields such as political science and by 20 to 1 or more in many fields, such as sociology and anthropology.
The numbers are cited by Richard Redding in a recent op-ed in LA Times and other newspapers (including yesterday’s Star-Ledger, which is where my colleague Arnie Korotkin found it and brought it my attention.)

If you’re a conservative like Redding, what do you see as the solution? Surely you would not be in favor of affirmative action, forcing schools to hire more conservatives to the faculty and admit more conservatives to the student body. That tramples on the sacred rights of the individual. If you oppose affirmative action based on demographic characteristics (race, sex), you would oppose it even more strongly when it’s based on ephemeral qualities like political orientation.

But no. Redding is all for affirmative action for conservatives, and he defends it on the same grounds that liberals defend affirmative action for minorities and women. It makes for greater “educational benefits.”

Campus conservatives like Redding (he’s a dean and professor at a law school) feel as though they’re in a foxhole (a FoxTVhole?), and they’re giving up their affirmative action atheism. Now they believe.

Conservatives also oppose campus speech codes. These are well-intended, they argue, but by trying to assure that feelings are not hurt, these codes trample on freedom of speech. From the conservative view, if the minorities and women on campus feel intimidated by other people’s free speech, that’s too bad. They’ll just have to man up.

But another part of Redding’s argument is very similar to the speech-code rationale. He cites a survey of students which found that “most did not think it entirely safe to hold unpopular opinions on campus . . . . conservative students feel alienated . . . conservative students lack academic role models.” Apparently, when the feelings of conservatives are involved, it’s time for action – affirmative action.

On the Money

October 26, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the previous post, I suggested that Americans were much more likely to name streets after military heroes than after luminaries in other fields as the French do.* As Denis Colombi noted in his comment on that post, the French don’t ignore their military victories. But in looking for people to name things after, they cast a wider net.

Whose praises do we sing? Follow the money. If you’re an American, you know the greenback line-up: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, Franklin.

How surprising to go to France and see a bill like this – something you would never have seen in the US. (You won’t see it in France any more either, now that the Euro reigns.)

An artist (Delacroix) and bare breasts.

Or this:

A female scientist, Marie Curie, and her husband Pierre.

Or this.

Voltaire, a writer remembered chiefly as a satirist. Why not a Mark Twain bill for the US?

Who else filled the bill? Eiffel, Cézanne, Saint-Exupéry, Hugo, Molière, Racine, Voltaire, Debussy . . . .

* We do sometimes confer these naming honors on artists. I myself attended a primary school named after the great composer Stephen Foster.

Sociologists in the Street

October 21, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

My wife was reading Comfort Me With Apples, a memoir by foodie Ruth Reichl. “When she got to Paris, she stayed in an apartment on the rue Auguste Comte. Do you know where that is?”

Not only did I not know where, but much to my embarrassment as a sociologist, I didn’t even know that such a street existed. I checked the map and discovered that it runs along the south edge of the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I have walked through the Jardin a few times, butI never noticed a street sign with the name of the man who coined the term sociology. Of that I’m positive.

Here’s a photo taken in 1870, barely a decade after Comte died.

For a more recent and elegant view, go to Flickr (here -- I’m honoring the photo copyright and not reprinting it). Or go to Paris . . . after this retirement-age thing is settled).

The French name streets after sociologists (several other cities in France have rues Auguste Comte), philsophers, writers, composers, et. al. American tastes run to other areas. I grew up on MacArthur Drive, which came just after Eisenhower Drive and Wainwright Drive in our peaceful town.

I doubt that a US city will ever have a sociologist street. Just about every city in the US has a Park Street (or Park Place or, in the city where I live, Park Avenue), and I suppose we can take some secret pride in this, even though the link to sociology is coincidental.