Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Blog titles that have gone to waste

1)There should be a media watchdog/political blog called In Medias Res. National Review calls its media blog simply The Media Blog, which I have always considered to be an unconscionable waste of a good title opportunity.

2)In honor of The New Pornographers song, there ought to be a left of center political blog called The Bleeding Heart Show. The left of center political posts should also be interspersed with commentary on indie music.

3)I have observed to Ilya before that he should have an individual blog called The Iliad. But, because he already has a group blog with lots of readers, he would never do it.

4)There should be a conservative political blog called A Series of Irritable Mental Gestures, after Lionel Trilling's line that conservatism is a series of mental gestures tending toward an idea. I've thought of naming this blog that, actually, but I already have a title.

What else am I missing?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Deterring pants bombers

So posts about the Pants Bomber are currently dominating my RSS reader.

This post from Professor Bainbridge is very good. Co-sign most of it, this despite my fear of flying. See also this much-linked-to post from Bruce Schneier.

No, I am not inclined to call for Napolitano's head. One of my Facebook friends posted a status update to the effect that counter-terrorism security regulations ought to be subject to cost-benefit analysis, just like everything else. That strikes me as roughly right; that is, yes, it may not be appropriate to try to deter 100% of terrorism accidents if 100% deterrence comes only at enormous cost and difficulty.

That said, counterterrorism requires particularly weird kinds of cost-benefit analysis. The typical terrorist would rather kill 100 passengers in a sensational, much-publicized air disaster than kill 100 people via car bombs scattered in tiny towns throughout the country. The point is to sow fear among the general population that's disproportionate to the actual carnage inflicted. In some ways, terrorists are good behavioral economists; they manipulate the availability heuristic like nobody's business. This makes it hard to determine what the relevant benefits are: is it lives saved, or is it some inherently amorphous feeling of security?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Xmas, libertarian atheist style

Still, on this Christmas eve, we can all celebrate the marvelous world, so filled with uncountable comforts and beauty (including Christmas traditions and all its music), that men have built for themselves, whether through their own innate hunger for knowledge or with divine assistance. Merry Christmas!

-- Heather MacDonald over at Secular Right

I know, I know. I'm an atheist, and I suspect I'm walking around without some critical gene that enables people to feel sentimentality. Thus my lukewarm or worse feelings about nearly all Christmas movies. I'm happy to defend Scrooge, and I recognize Hayekian knowledge problems with gift giving.

Yet as MacDonald puts it, I do love the "marvelous world, so filled with uncountable comforts and beauty." Speaking of Christmas traditions and their beauty, many thanks to my kind relative who found online a CD version of the Christmas tape that I loved as a kid. While I can't stand most modern Christmas music, the Placido album is genuinely beautiful. Of course, my parents have been playing this tape repeatedly at the holidays since I was a kid in the mid-80s, and it's sort of on its last legs.

And on other examples of charming generosity overcoming Hayekian knowledge problems, a public thanks to Pnin for his generous gift of Spock Bear. Early in our courtship, we were talking about bears at some point, and Pnin pointed out that he thought that they had pointy ears. I insisted that no, bears have round ears, had he never seen pictures of bears as a child? He conceded that I was right after a Google Image search. I then later speculated that he might actually have grown up on Vulcan, and if Vulcan hominoids have pointed ears, perhaps Vulcan bears have pointed ears too. So imagine my surprise and delight to discover a pointy-eared Vulcan bear.

There's part of me that wants to spit out a dyspeptic post about health care. But not today -- not on my birthday/this festive holiday. Maybe within a couple days. Nobody should read its absence as a signal that I don't care. People should instead interpret its absence as a statement that sometimes, it's good for the soul to leave politics alone and think about the beauty of Placido Domingo's music and the wonderfulness of friends and family.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thundersnow-inspired kitchen adventures

We're out from under the thundersnow, thank heaven. Though Pnin and I did have to cancel our holiday party due to said storm, at least we were able to stock up on provisions in advance and have some interesting kitchen adventures while hiding from the elements. Below, some reports from the front lines:

1)Lemon and cranberry scones ftw! These were beautiful and went well with eggs on snowy mornings. N.b. not with Meyer lemons; I'm not sure I've ever actually seen Meyer lemons on sale, despite living in a suitably Yuppified part of Arlington. New project in life: figure out what they are and whether they are indeed worth the fuss made over them.

2)Cook's Illustrated Cincinnati chili. Behind a subscription firewall, alas, but I'll post if there is demand for it. I've made before, and it's great to smell on a cold winter day.

3)My mother's boeuf bourgignon. It's quite easy and tasted the same way it did when I was growing up.

Directions: using a large pot, take 4 strips of bacon and saute the bacon to release fats. When bacon turns golden brown, remove.

Take about 1 lb. of beef cubes (stewing beef) and sprinkle with flour, salt, and pepper. Then throw them into the hot bacon fat. Saute cubes until golden brown. Then add about 1 cup of red wine and scrape off little bits of stuff on the bottom. Then add about 1.5 to 2 cups of beef broth.

Add about a small can of mushrooms or about 1/2 cup of sliced fresh. Add some peeled carrots, some peeled quarter potatoes (2-3), then add some fresh chopped garlic. Stir. Stir together, put lid on, and stick in oven at 300 degrees for about 3-4 hours. Can keep almost indefinitely in oven.

4)Fennel, prosciutto, and pomengrate salad -- This dish is beautiful and ridiculously easy to make. No cooking required! Yet Pnin solemnly informed me that he does not like pomegranate seeds. They are too much like nuts, he informs me, which he does not like either. I protested that they are not at all like nuts, actually, but there is little sense in arguing about it. If he does not like something, he does not like it, and we ought to move onto foods that he actually does like. Maybe I will make this salad regularly when he is not here, as it is stupidly easy, and I never feel like things that are involved when he is gone anyway. Also, maybe parties?

5)I did not so much make this cranberry vanilla coffee cake as a sort of inspired riff on the recipe. Inspired riffs happen when you do not have any milk and instead have to substitute half and half. Also, when you do not have a vanilla bean, and instead dump half a bottle of vanilla into the sugar hoping that it will work. The inspired riff was actually surprisingly delicious, but I won't ever be able to make it again.

What was the worst legislation ever?

I mean this in the nicest possible way -- especially since otherwise, this is a good column -- but could there please be some sort of agreement among the pundit class that, like, the Fugitive Slave Act deserves the crown for "Worst Legislation Ever?" Or fine, if you must, possibly the The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798? The health care bill is bad, as are the racial preferences therein, but it is not as bad as either of those two.

See also this George Will review of a Bruce Bartlett book:

Sometimes Bartlett is a tad too robust... And when he says the law establishing the Medicare prescription drug entitlement "may well be the worst piece of legislation ever enacted," one wonders what consideration he has given to, say, the Fugitive Slave Act.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The best Mann Act joke ever

Josh is right, this is the best Mann Act Joke ever:

A zookeeper fed his long-lived dolphins sea gulls, which was the secret to their longevity. One night he was was carrying the gulls, but he had to jump over a sleeping lion, and so he was arrested for transporting gulls across staid lions for immortal porpoises.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sense and Ressentiment

I like Julian Sanchez's writing a lot; I think I've thrown up links to his stuff frequently enough here. But I was underwhelmed about this column about ressentiment and the right. I suspect I probably agree with most of his substantive points about why Palin shouldn't advance further in the political world -- despite her obvious oratorical talents and homespun charm, she has a dangerous lack of interest in governing and in policy.

Still, I don't quite buy the thesis that ressentiment primarily drives the people who support Palin. I'm the wrong member of my household to beat this particular tocsin, I know, but what about rational political ignorance? The details of policy are boring! Mastering an issue isn't likely to gain you personally much of anything; you only get one vote, mastery of public policy or no. So it's rational to remain ignorant. But colorful personalities like Palin are fun! As are the colorful personalities of the radio talk hosts who promote her. Note that, while the rational ignorance and ressentiment explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive, a rationally ignorant voter need not suffer from ressentiment.

This column would also be better if it named names. Of course, I understand why that might be impolitic. But it's one thing to say that there are two or three pundits somewhere who suffer from this problem - I can buy that easily -- and another altogether to say that some large percentage of a popular politician's fans do. The latter's necessarily difficult.

Look, a picture of some seals

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Quotable quotes

Isabel: Leaving your apartment is like discriminating on the basis of race.

Isabel's Friend: Wait, what?

Isabel: As in Justice Roberts in Parents United. The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. And so, too, the way to start getting out of your apartment and doing things is to start getting out of your apartment and doing things.

Not a real health care post

Okay, I still haven't read enough about health care to be able to write a real post. But let me at least flag some other people's things that I've read so far and liked: Julian Sanchez on the ideological incoherence of this particular bill,Conor Friedersdorf on the inherent problems with any "comprehensive" reform, and Michael Weiss on what drives Joe Lieberman and how he can be opposed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The $80,000 question

I was going to write a response to Elisabeth Wurtzel's WSJ column lamenting young lawyers' refusal to take $80,000 deferrals from fancy law firms. But then I saw Larry Ribstein's commentary on same, which is both a)more diplomatic than mine would be and b)still squarely hits many nails on their heads. So you should go read it instead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

There's a part of the country/Could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake

As indicated below, I am in San Diego for work.

I am sort of afraid of California. When I think of it, I think first of Stephen Reinhardt, and then second of Hollywood and its swarms of attractive people. That is, the real Hollywood, not my own beloved semi-home which is Hollywood for ugly people. In that vein, I learned recently that one of the socialite girls of whom I was terrified in high school has is now in California doing entertainment reporting.That yours truly is what passes for a D.C. socialite of equal rank may say everything about the two regions.

I learned New York, long before ever visiting it, from the pages of various novels. I know virtually everything I know about California from various indie songs. See, e.g, Dar Williams' "Southern California Wants To Be New York", the Decemberists' "Los Angeles, I'm Yours" and more Mountain Goats songs than I can count easily. I know I should recognize that, of course, San Diego is not Los Angeles. At the same time, I persist in naively seeing California as a vast undifferentiated and scary mass. I have a hard time getting past the concept that states can be bigger than some kind of Platonic ideal of U.S. state-ness etched in my brain.

So far, though, California is less scary than I would have imagined. I found seals lying on the beach. The seals were nice, and perhaps another time, I will even post photographs of them. There are oddly high numbers of undergrads who walk around wearing fuzzy boots at the university that I am visiting. This is strange, given that is warm out, but undergrads are too young and naive and foolish to be scary. I have also even managed to do actual work and also, not die from the cat.

Work travel is also nice. I fear I am not used to travel being so nice and so feel absurdly guilty about spending any money on anything. I am not going to blog about the specifics. I fear that if I do, I will read this entry in ten years and ask myself, as Joan Didion did in one of her essays, "Was anyone ever really so young?"

Tomorrow perhaps, there will be a substantive post about policy. I briefly considered putting one up about Lieberman and health care but could not think of anything to say that would not sound like boring hackery. Again, perhaps, tomorrow.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An anecdote about subcultures and fragmentation

We have democratized elitism in this country. There is no longer a clear pecking order, with the Vanderbilts and the Biddles and the Roosevelts at the top and everybody else down below. Everybody gets to be an aristocrat now. And the number of social structures is infinite. You can be an outlaw-biker aristocrat, a corporate-real-estate aristocrat, an X Games aristocrat, a Pentecostal-minister aristocrat. You will have your own code of honor and your own field of accomplishment. And everybody can be a snob, because everybody can look down from the heights of his mountaintop at those millions of poor saps who are less accomplished in the field of, say, skateboard jumping, or who are total poseurs when it comes to financial instruments, or who are sadly backward when it comes to social awareness or the salvation of their own souls.

-- David Brooks, "Superiority Complex," The Atlantic Monthly, November 2002.

I was trying to find something about Institute for Justice co-founder Clint Bolick on the Internet recently. After typing in a few letters of his name, Google prompted with a list of suggestions, which mysteriously included many variations on "Clint Bolick" and "girlfriend." I found this odd, because a)most normal humans are actually far less interested in libertarian/conservative legal movement gossip than I am, and b)also, I vaguely recalled hearing that Clint Bolick is married.

Closer examination reveals that lots of people are actually Googling Clint Bowyer, who is some sort of NASCAR star who apparently has a really hot girlfriend. Though I do have a cousin-in-law who works at a NASCAR track back home, I had no idea that this person existed or that people cared about what his girlfriend looked like. C.f the David Brooks essay quoted above.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Against Loren Pope

In a fit of dyspepsia inspired by interviewing Dartmouth applicants, I once wrote a very bad contrarian essay counseling high school students not to worry about fit in choosing colleges. Instead, they should just pick the most selective school that accepts them and then promptly shut up about it. Figuring I had nothing to lose by sending it to Slate, I e-mailed them a draft which I'm sure some eighteen-year-old intern promptly sent to the slush pile.

I thought of my ill-fated column recently when reading this New York Times column by a high school senior about "Taking the Magic of College." She starts out with a few pointed observations about a trend toward colleges promoting themselves as like Hogwarts from the Harry Potter novels. I chuckled. But then, needing something more, she goes on to describe what applicants want that is more important than "magic." And she comes up with the following paragraph:

What really matters to me as I prepare to make my decision? Well, I loved hearing about Williams College’s two-student classes called tutorials, and how Swarthmore lets students weigh in on almost every big decision made by its administration. I was really impressed by Middlebury’s student-driven campaign to save energy on campus. (For the sake of full disclosure, I just might be applying to some of these schools.) I care about diversity and need-blind financial aid — and, of course, the social life. But I don’t care about what percentage of the student body runs around on broomsticks.

So, let us go, then, through certain half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats, to your own Mlle. Archer's red state adolescence. Back to the mid-90s, back to the summer of an enormous piety binge, when I first started researching colleges. As soon I'd dipped a toe into the process, everyone told me that I should care about "fit," about "finding a college that fit my personality," and not about "prestige." Well, okay, it was okay to care about prestige, as long as one was not too open or obvious that that was what one was actually doing. Some high school teacher recommended Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives. Somewhere on the Stuff That White People Like blog, there should be an entry on the book Colleges That Change Lives. (There is this, which roughly explains the attitude that one is supposed to have.)

It is a book about how one should not care about chasing names or labels in picking a college. Instead, one should care about intellectualism and schools that build character. I learned that conventionally selective schools -- e.g., Harvard or Yale, where I wanted to go -- were not serious about intellectualism and do not build character. Schools that nobody I knew had ever heard of -- like Antioch, Earlham, and New College, Florida -- were serious about advancing intellectualism and building character. You will notice the nexus between "intellectualism," "character," and what a charitable conservative might call "advocacy of radical left-wing views."* I noticed said nexus in 1998 and was confused because what I thought I was doing was being serious and intellectual, except I was far from left wing.* I did not understand then that, in Brooklyn, it is more embarrassing to have been influenced by Ayn Rand rather than Karl Marx. And, rather than blindly following the anti-intellectual, anti-virtue hordes, Pope counsels good budding intellectuals to go to schools that "fit their personality" and "will be a good fit."

As I said, I did not fully understand this phenomenon then. But I smiled and nodded whenever adults asked me if I had read Colleges That Change Lives and said that I thought that Pope had really, really important things to say about not getting too caught up in the rat race. Yet inwardly, Pope caused me to wrestle with myself more than I would have. Would the "name" schools I liked fit my personality? If I were lucky enough to get the opportunity to surround myself with smart kids, could I walk away from it? Ought I to be so concerned about being around smart kids in the first place? Should I instead be making the same kinds of earnest noises that Ms. Edelson is in her Harry Potter column -- about opportunities to "weigh in on every big decision made by the administration," "student-driven campaigns to save energy on campus," and "diversity?"

I did not go to a university with an especially intellectual reputation. A hefty dose of Pope-inspired guilt notwithstanding, I went to the most selective one that accepted me. I loved it, despite often wondering in the month after acceptance letters went out if it would fit my personality. With all the lofty I know now that "diversity" is often code for "racial bean counting," that "weighing in" on decisions made by the administration means "divestment foolishness." A student-driven campaign to save energy at my alma mater ended with the school's installing special thermostats in all of its recently remodeled dorms with LCD screens adorned with a sad polar bear that frowns if you use too much energy. I am wiser now in the ways of a certain kind of upper-middle-class left-liberal. I understand that their efforts to urge me to choose a college that "fit" meant that I ought to choose a college that would "fit" a person destined to become a certain kind of upper-middle-class left-liberal. That is not entirely bad -- their class has its virtues -- but it would be better if they admitted it directly.

Pope and his ilk often lead high-school students to unfortunate levels of angst. As I said above, I interview for my alma mater. Perhaps a prospective will tell me that she is worried about how “conformist” and “upper middle class” Dartmouth is, because there are “all of these people wearing J. Crew around.” So she is maybe thinking about going to Columbia instead, which might be a better fit for her personality, because people there are more “open,” “aware” and “diverse.” In these situations, I smile and recite bland platitudes about the varied backgrounds from which my friends came. Or, perhaps, mention the LCD screens with the sad polar bears. Meanwhile, I am thinking, “There are teenagers who apply to Ivy League schools to get away from upper middle class white kids who like J. Crew?” and struggling not to claw my own eyeballs out in disbelief.

Bad advice repeats itself; first as earnest if campy advice manuals, then as teen drama plot points. To turn back to my own youth, there was She’s All That (1999), in which Freddie Prinze Jr. spurned my alma mater to “follow his dream” and go to art school. Most of the other teenage girls sitting with me in the theater oohed and ahhed at his independence of mind; I felt more annoyed that none of the writers apparently bothered to conduct the five-minute Google search to learn that Dartmouth had a respectable Studio Art Department. More recently, Gossip Girl offered us Nate Archibald as a putative Gen Y James Dean, who announced grand plans to turn down Yale for Columbia. A rebel without a cause, indeed.

My advice to the affected is simple: stop worrying about "fit." Stop emoting, and stop seeing your choice of college as something that expresses something deep about you. It doesn't, and you sound ridiculous to anyone over the age of 25. Most of all, stop writing columns in national publications about your delicate bourgeois epiphanies about how diversity is really important to you.

*The lone exception to this rule might be UChicago, which Pope allows is serious and intellectual. Even then, I'm not sure most undergrads are there are actually right wing**; they're just slightly less radically left-wing than at most other comparably selective schools.

**Right of where I am today, actually. But that's a story for another day...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Koch Associate Program

Also, I saw this in Google Reader. I thought I should pass it on because I'm a Koch alumna (although, contra Will, of the strictly non-impressive variety.) Here's the official site. If anyone has questions that I can answer, please drop a comment.

I do not dig the Singulairity.

I realize it is in perhaps bad taste to write about one's personal health struggles. Think of this post as a dress rehearsal for my sixties, which I plan to spend griping with suitable eccentricity and wit, while wearing gaudy jewelry and sipping Bloody Marys. I fear I am already such an old soul -- c.f. Winston Churchill-- but that's another story.

Longtime readers know that I am allergic to cats. I'll be traveling across the continent next week, and I anticipated possibly spending some time while there in a house with a cat. I've also struggled with more seasonal types of allergies off and on (including, I fear, some that are making my current cold worse) and so I figured that it might be a good idea to meet with a local allergist. The person might have suggestions for dealing with the seasonable allergies and/or might be able to give me something prophylactic so that I can be in the house with the cat. I do not actually like needles,* but I figured I could withstand one if I had to.

Allergists apparently make new patients do skin tests as a matter of course. A nurse injects tiny quantities of different common allergen into your arm and sees which ones cause slight irritations. About fifteen seconds into said skin test, I started yelping in pain. The nurse started looking at me, worried, since apparently people do not normally react that harshly to quantities of allergen that tiny. I could not take anti-histamines to relieve the throbbing in my veins, nor scratch. But the allergist herself did bring me some water with ice cubes to suck on, which dulled the ferocious itching some. She also offered a granola bar, but it was the unfortunately too chewy kind.

I'd brought along a a book about voter fraud to keep myself entertained while waiting. In some ways, it had significant waiting room/metro book potential --1) non-challenging enough that I can read it comfortably in an environment with many distractions, unlike certain prior metro reads; 2)but intelligent enough not to be insulting; and 3)ideologically congenial enough that I will not seem too outwardly surly to other humans who do not know me.

Except... it may not be the best idea to degrade a good Metro book by reading it while being injected with painful substances. I took it out again on the ride home from work, hours after my arms stopped looking like Scantron sheets. And I started... twitching.. slightly again. I hope that was coincidence and not Pavlovian.

To go back to the allergist: the good news is that I am not allergic to dogs, so that I can have a golden retriever, and I am only mildly allergic to the marsh elder (whatever that is.) I am allergic to just about every other kind of flora and fauna that there is, including the aforementioned cats. And that I had rather strong reactions -- the scale conventionally used runs 1-4, with 1 as negative and 4 as "very positive." My chart is a long list of 4 pluses.

The allergist felt sorry enough for me that she offered me a prescription for one of the more aggressive anti-allergy drugs out there, Singulair. She warned me that several of her patients have nightmares while on it and also that about 3% of people who try it have lower back pain. Despite the pretty good odds, but perhaps one should not mess with lower back pain several days before embarking on a five hour flight. The Internet also mentions suicidal ideation as a side effect. I am a libertarian who works in government, which makes me prone enough to depression without chemical help.

Nor are allergy shots a viable response for dealing with the cats, apparently. In the 1970s, apparently allergists gave out prophylactic steroid shots like candy. My father had some which significantly helped his allergies, and he has encouraged me to look into the possibility. But allergists now are more reluctant to give them -- I've imbibed enough of the Overlawyered Kool-Aid to suspect that shifting med mal rules might be at fault, but I'm no real expert and can't say for sure. There are "desensitization" regimes that work, but each regimen requires months and are thus not a practical response for dealing with individual cats. So, at least for the immediate future, I am stuck with my cocktail of over-the allergy counter-drugs.

*Several of my mother's Ukrainian relatives made long visits to our house during the glasnost era. At one point, my mother asked our cousin Olga if she wanted to take anything special back to Lvov with her, and she comes up with "Lots of hypodermic syringes!" Apparently Soviet doctors didn't generally sterilize needles, and Olga had lots of horror stories about infections her children got due to lack of sterilized needles. So my mother and I at age 7 show up at a medical supply store and attempt to purchase about 1000 clean needles. And, of course, the people at the medical supply company laugh at us and refuse to sell us the needles, because non-drug-addict Americans do not generally purchase needles in bulk.

Eventually, my mother was able to get adequate needles through her family physician. But not after I heard story after story about the horrors of lack of sterilization, which makes me dread the possibility of infection through needles even today.

Pnin no doubts thinks this is ridiculous, because he does not fear needles, despite the fact that I was the one who actually grew up in a first world country...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hint, hint

1)Megan McArdle has a mammoth thread on kitchen equipment as gifts. Some stray thoughts:

a)MIcroplane graters are awesome, and one cannot have too many. I actually bought one specifically to leave at Ilya's apartment when we lived apart.

b)So are silicone matts.

c)I suspect I would never use anything else on her inexpensive list. There is no way I would ever froth my own milk in the morning before work. Also, separating eggs is not that hard.

d)To the medium priced: the rabbit corkscrew would be useful. There was a ten-minute ordeal at one of my dinner parties featuring Pnin wrestling with the cheap Ikea one that I bought in law school. It was entertaining viewing, but at the poor boy's expense.

e)I don't actually like pepper at all and would never use a pepper mill.

f)I do want an immersion blender.

g)And a kitchen scale.

h)The magnetic spice rack sounds like an overly complicated nuisance.

i)I have a silicone rolling pin and still can't roll out pie crust. I follow a trick I saw on Cooks' Illustrated once, which consists of ripping walnut-sized pieces of dough off a round and just pinching each into the pie plate. Nobody seems to have noticed or objected to my pies so far.

j)I do want expensive knives! Alas, I'm not registering for any because it's bad luck. This just seems sad and patently unfair.

k)Pnin has an electric teakettle. It makes me utterly happy and delighted every time he uses it.

l)Am not seeing the virtues of the electric griddler over plain griddle pan, which I already have.

m)I do ardently, ardently want a real stand mixer. Co-sign the trendy colors point. My mother's is avocado, which was the height of fashion in 1974 when my parents were married. Though the color has come back into fashion...

n)Co-sign the food processor. I have a mini but not a large one. It's still useful but is limited.

o)And her love of Le Creuset.

2)See also Double X. The hippo mat is excellent*, though the price is a bit much to ask. If it helps anyone, I am deeply attached to my i-phone Helvidius and endorse its gift potential. Ditto overpriced yoga equipment.

*Clarissa Dalloway and I had a running joke in college about hippos, which is perhaps way too complicated to explain fully here. The genesis of this story is that I tried to wake her up early one morning to go buy books, and she replied that she could not go because she was "a tired hippo." This led to the purchase of hippo slippers for her as a birthday present a few weeks later and numerous references to feeling like "tired hippos." We also commonly use "hippo" as a slang term, which means roughly "an eccentric person who has abundant quirky charm." There is substantial overlap between our term "hippo" and the definition of an X person in Paul Fussell's Class, for those who've read it.

3)Not recommended elsewhere, but lust.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What our looming overlords have in store for us?

I am fighting off a dreary cold, or possibly, a nasty bout of allergies. I was initially panicked about pneumounia, but I think I may just have over-strained an abdominal muscle lifting weights on Saturday in addition to said cold/allergies. Anyway, this led me to note to Pnin that I once missed about 35 days of elementary school in one year because of pneumounia (and to having to log in half-days for something like two weeks afterwards.) This was a surprisingly pleasant experience, as I remember spending a lot of time lying in bed reading and eating delicate sandwiches on toast that people brought me. It was also an excuse to avoid the unpleasantess of physical activity and forced socialization with dumb kids. Except that at one point, I did have to go to the hospital and stay in an expensive oxygen tent

Pnin: I was also really sickly as a child and had to spend time in the hospital when I was about that age.

Isabel: Oh?

Pnin: Yes, but at least you were spared the Soviet bedside manner. Once, a nurse asked my mother if she had any other children, and she of course said no. The nurse then told her, 'That's too bad, because the one you have isn't going to make it.'

Isabel: Well, I'm glad you did make it?

On disclosing Fed Soc membership

So every blogger and her mother has already reacted to this Randy Cohen column, in which a large law firm lawyer inquires about the propriety of rejecting applicants based on their Federalist Society memberships. Some scattered thoughts:

1)This may simply reflect my genetic lack of capacity for outrage, but it seems a bit twee to get the vapors over non-meritocratic factors playing a role in hiring. Though my mind reading may be off here, I suspect I owe current gainful employment in part to having studied art history in college; I also suspect I secured a competitive internship partially because the interviewer had ties to Georgia. My luck's probably cut the other way as well; see, e.g, several large law firm interviews in which my interest in art history and total lack of interest in sports led to precisely the opposite outcomes. Nobody feels particular outrage about discrimination against my competitors who studied German majors or came from Tennessee; rather, pretty much everyone accepts that sometimes non-strictly-meritocratic considerations influence hiring. Is that really so objectionable?

2)Per the above, I don't think it actually hurts law students to disclose Fed Soc membership. I think it helped me at the margin in some instances, and I probably wouldn't want to work anywhere where it would have hurt me anyway. Amber has an interesting post up in which she indicates that disclosing Fed Soc membership led to worse results for her. Choice of market may explain the difference in perspectives; there are enough conservatives in Atlanta that nobody there seemed to get much worked up over Fed Soc on my resume. (I did draw Atlanta lawyers who seemed to think I was on the left based on my descriptions of summer work at a libertarian public interest law firm. But that's another story...)

I've also met too many law students and young lawyers who want to be all things to all people. I had acquaintances who scrubbed their Facebook profiles of lists of favorite TV shows including "Lost" because they were worried about how interviewers might judge them for it. Others sanctimoniously made a point of drinking lightly at law school parties because they were worried about what their "future professional colleagues will think of them." See generally this website for more examples like the above. While others' mileage may vary, I've always viewed listing Fed Soc as a small step against degenerating into this kind of snivelling neurotic.

3)I do disagree that Fed Soc isn't a big tent. Yeah, there are people with annoying big-government theocratic tendencies, and I do wish that they had less influence over the organization. But there's plenty of space on the continuum between my arch-libertarian self and big-government theocracy, and most Federalists I've met fall somewhere in the middle of it. In some cases, this may be generational -- social norms are sticky, and fifty-five-year-olds probably have a harder time seeing the case for gay marriage than I do. I'm inclined to cut them slack for it.

Specifically libertarian, not-especially-socially-conservative organizations also do seem to value Fed Soc membership in law clerk or entry-level-attorney hiring. I'd discourage libertarians from fleeing also for that reason.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How Ayn Rand Benefits the Libertarian Movement

So I picture a bunch of Wall Street Journal editors sitting around a boardroom and saying to themselves, "Hm. It's hard getting ad revenue these days. We've also discoverd that there are vast numbers of ex-D.C. think tank interns still using five-year-old employer passwords to get to our subscription-only content.* So what can we do to get money out of our readers?"

And some brilliant soul jumps up with, "Let's throw some red meat to libertarian bloggers! That'll get lots of people to click through and look at our ads!"

"How?" asks another. "I mean, Ron Paul's kind of faded from the public consciousness, so we can't do a debate over whether he's good for libertarianism. Maybe start a fight over whether Lochner was rightly decided? Or maybe about the morality of secession and how the Lincoln administration really destroyed federalism?"

"Nah. No libertarians really think that Lincoln destroyed federalism, except for Mises Institute types. And everybody ignores them anyway. Let's start a debate on Ayn Rand's legacy!"

And so I imagine this article on why Ayn Rand is bad for libertarianism resulting from the above colloquy. And, as per the title of this blog, I am taking the red meat.

Scratch this libertarian, and you indeed find an ex-Randian. I've quipped to Pnin that, had I read Rand and George Bernard Shaw in reverse order in the eighth grade, I'd have turned out a socialist. Though I have conservative parents and grew up in a stereotypical red-state environment, my moral inclinations as measured byJonathan Haidt's scale predict that I should be somewhere to the left of Catharine McKinnon. That is, I am inherently the sort of arrogant, intellectually-inclined jerk who has never really cottoned to to Thomas Sowell's constrained vision libertarianism.

So a couple points in response to Wilhelm:

1)I've never really understood the charge that Rand was an "elitist." Her novels are studded with cameos of hard-working, plain-spoken, blue-collar charactes who were anything but moochers. There's a scene in Galt's Gluch in Atlas Shrugged where Dagny remarks to some guy that he has a face like a truck drive, but she knows that he was probably an astrophysicist in the outside world. The gentleman laughs that he was in fact a truck driver on the outside, but he didn't intend to stay one for long. Similarly, there's the ex-Twentieth Century Motor Company worker that Dagny meets on one of her train rides to Colorado, and there are a host of sympathetic low-level Taggart workers with "honest faces" whom we're clearly supposed to like. Conversely, Rand reserved a lot of her worst scorn for conventional intellectual elites. Ellsworth Toohey was a Harvard grad, after all, and Balph Eubank and friends all had fancy intellectual pedigrees.

If you walk away from Rand thinking that she was -- in the words of the vicious Whittaker Chambers review -- commanding the average-hard working citizen "To a gas chamber, go!" -- you're not reading Rand carefully enough.

2)Pnin and I have discussed occasionally why Rand grabbed me, but not him. (He's one of those rare libertarians for whom it didn't begin with Ayn Rand.) I read Rand as a thirteen-year-old stuck in an intellectually uninspiring environment, as the kind of teenager who had romantic visions of doing great things, who was constantly frustrated about being stuck with a peer group lacking in imagination and ambition. As the intro to The Fountainhead put it :"Whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.

I tried re-reading Rand one summer in college. I'd found an interesting and ambitious peer group by then, and so I couldn't say that I felt the same kind of pain as acutely. Rand no longer held quite the same visceral appeal. Pnin might be a bigger fish (in the sense of being more intellectually talented) than I am, but he was swimming in a bigger pond as a kid. So I suspect that's why he didn't find Rand as intuitively emotionally appealing. But there are thousands and thousands of big teenage fish in small ponds scattered throughout America's small towns and even big city working class communities. Based on Nathaniel Branden's memoir, I understand that he was one in working-class Ottawa, as was his eventual wife Barbara Branden.

While we're rare in any particular community, we are numerous in the aggregate. Rand's hardly the first novelist to appeal to us -- Willa Cather's Song of the Lark, which I've posted on here before, is equally attractive to the same demographic. So are some of the quintessentially American Horatio Alger novels, which admittedly feel far more dated than Rand. Ditto passages of Jane Eyre, which I read and loved at about the same age. So I suspect that we account for much of Rand's popularity. Bully for Rand for trapping so many of us in the libertarian movement. Hayek and Sowell, with all of their emphasis on epistemic humility and the knowledge problem, just can't reel in a certain type of teenager as well.

*Not that yours truly has ever done such a thing, or knows anyone who would have...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Scattered thoughts on nationalism

So I wrote a post last week on nationalism. My Ilya -- uh, the Artist Formerly Known as Ilya -- wrote his own post coming out still more forcefully against nationalism of both of the mystic and non-mystic varieties. Then Jonah Goldberg wrote a long post responding to Ilya's post. Will Wilkinson also weighs in, as does my friend Josh Blackman's guest blogger.

Some scattered thoughts:

1)As Ilya said in comments, I agree with nearly all of the content of Josh House's post. The kind of non-mystic nationalism/rational pride in one's country that he has is admirable, as I said in my original post.

2)Regarding Jonah Goldberg's post: as a threshhold issue, I respect things that are over-thunk. I fear under-thinking is nearly always a worse evil.

Onto the substance. Regarding Goldberg's first point - that the lethality of nationalism is in the dosage -- Ilya has a fine response that it's difficult to calibrate dosages precisely. But I don't agree with Goldberg's broad point that moderation in everything is always the right course. I don't think that there can ever be too much freedom or too much individualism. Or, at least, I am more worried about someday becoming too rich, too thin, or about owning too many silk shirts than living in a society that has too much freedom or too much individualism. Can Goldberg name a society that has suffered from too much freedom or too much individualism? A single public policy that is bad because it permitted (permits?) too much individualism and too much freedom? I can't.

Second, I don't think irrational affection is getting such a bad rap here. I admit that there are situations in which low doses of irrational affection are probably harmless. But I don't think there's anything especially laudable about staying in loveless marriages or in keeping a job at your current firm when you could make more money at a different firm. I admit the former situation gets more complicated when your concerns about children that you love come into play. But if it's just two adults involved, what is so wrong with ending an unhappy or loveless marriage? Why not do what will make both people happier? Ditto with abandoning a job for a more lucrative one. Mobility of labor is good for the broader economy, after all.

Regarding Goldberg's #5, I'm also unconvinced. It's a nice rhetorical strategy to say that freedom is intertwined with our national DNA. It's also kind of like looking over the heads of people we don't know at a cocktail party and noticing only our friends, to use Justice Roberts' analogy in a different context. Yes, the Founders wrote magnificient paeans to freedom -- and also crafted the Alien and Sedition Acts. Liberty's better defended on purely theoretical grounds.

3)Half-formed thought: is nationalism in low doses, of the non-scary kind, efficient because it bundle certain kinds of cultural goods together for us and makes it easier to consume them ? That is, the French ethnic nationalist doesn't have to do several sets of independent research on what to eat or what to read? She can just be like, "Oh, today I should read Victor Hugo, and I should eat a croissant while I'm doing that." And perhaps there are other benefits that are hidden in consuming goods largely from one culture? For example, sushi and edamame beans taste better together than sushi with tomato, basil, and mozzarella salad? Or perhaps people who sample distinctively Russian nineteenth-century literature and music together for nationalistic reasons have a more pleasant and coherent esthetic experience than people who sample literature and music from two unrelated cultures?

Tyler Cowen, who is as forcefully cosmopolitan as anyone I've ever met or read on these issues, would argue the opposite, I'd imagine. He's a champion of the idea that the ability to create our own distinctive blend of different cultures is what makes the modern world so interesting. Maybe he's right; I practice an approach that's much more like his in my own life. But many other people might not have the time and might find sampling nationalistically bundled cultural goods more efficient and enjoyable.

Again, half-formed thought. That is, however, the point of having a blog.

4)I mostly agree with Ilya's post, but I do have a nit to pick about the sentence "Americans made great sacrifices in the Revolutionary War, despite the fact that there was no nationalistic objective involved (18th century white Americans overwhelmingly came from the same ethnic and cultural background as the British they were revolting against)." I am no real historian of this period, but my sense is that people who are love to fight about how strong distinctive American national identity was before the Revolution and to what extent such national self-identity influenced the Revolution. I believe that there are scholars who argue forcefully on both sides of the question, and I distinctly recall writing an essay in eleventh-grade AP U.S. History coming out on the distinct national self-consciousness side. I know, high school, but I still think the arguments I made would pass the laugh test if shown to a real Americanist. Still, I defer to real historians here.

That said, I do agree with the broader point that wars can be successfully waged by people who lack strong national self-consciousness.

Letters I will never send, #3

Conorf, dude --

Really, must you persist in linking to the Roissysphere? Every time some serious-ish blogger links to them, I am tempted to wander back into the lions' den. I grant Roissy's a talented wordsmith, and that he is sort of compelling in roughly the same way that rubbernecking at five-car pile-ups on the interstate is compelling. That does not mean, though, that acting on the instinct to rubberneck at the blood and guts and gore is good for either of us.

Please don't get me wrong. You're one of the more consistently engaging young libertarian-ish writers my age out there. You're doing yeoman's work standing up against some of the more ridiculous Republican hackery that sullies our fair city. But if anything, that makes your continued fascination with the PUA imbeciles all the more frustrating.

I mean, I suppose there are insightful things to be said about them. Maybe they are trying to articulate a new vision of post-feminist masculinity. Or that they represent some kind of powerful new voice of human bio-diversity conservatism or something like that. I actually think that the second sentence is easier to dispose of than the first; I will start listening to Roissy on economic policy once he cracks an Econ 101 textbook for long enough to figure out why protectionist trade policies are ill-advised. Yes, even protectionist trade policies that are intended to revive masculinity. N.b. that I recommend Greg Mankiw for the purpose.

As far as the first, most of the most self-confident, fulfilled, manly men I have met are not falling for this particular nonsense. See, e.g., Will Wilkinson's stuff for additional insight along these lines.

Which brings me to the final point -- everything interesting to be said in response to those clowns has already been said. They're best left alone in their dark and dank corners of the Internet.

If you still feel the irrestible urge to gape at the psychologically mangled, might I recommend (re?)reading Dostoyevsky instead?

Oh, and while we're on the subject of that post -- I suppose I should confess a strange fascination with apostates. My instincts are exactly the reverse of Helen Rittelmeyer's here. I even feel a strange kinship of soul with apostates whom I think are wrong substantively. It's precisely because loyalty is so powerful -- and so instinctual -- that I am inclined to weigh apostates' opinions far more than those of people who stay loyal to one "team" all their careers. Or -- perhaps on the contrary -- because I am such an ornery reflexively contrarian INTJ type that I so easily empathize with heretics.

Anyways, keep on keeping on --

Yours in liberty,
Isabel Archer

*Please forgive the informal tone. We've met briefly -- I think at either Reason happy hour, or maybe it was AFF -- though I wouldn't expect you to remember it. Please understand that I may not have had multiple glasses of wine at the time, and also I was trying to get James Poulos's attention to tell him that I approved of his self-consciously 1940s-esque ensemble. S If that's not enough excuse for my presumptousness, we also have three Facebook friends in common.

**While I am being all teeny-bopperish, apparently Rittelmeyer and I have five Facebook friends in common, though I'm pretty sure we have never met.

Friday, December 4, 2009



2) On writing "simply" vs. "incomprehensibly." A very good post, not least because it reminds me of all of those annoying occasions in high school where some teacher would in effect scream, "No, Isabel! Big words BAD!," while I protested delicately, "Yes, but sometimes they are useful.

3)This site -- showing the hidden architectural history of New York -- is addictive. Would that there were one for familiar places in D.C. (or not, as it would distract me even further from productive endeavors...)

4)I like Megan McArdle a lot, but I'm not sure her last couple of paragraphs are right here. Isn't public employment due process case law mainly an issue for people already employed by the government? And isn't due process pretty minimal for people who are just applying for jobs? Especially with a jobs corps program like this, where the government would take pretty much all comers? Also, wouldn't the anti-discrimination law issues with this program also be pretty minimal, again because you're basically taking everyone who applies? I suppose there might be some fun ADA compliance stuff with respect to creating reasonable accommodations for disabled people who want to participate in the corps, but still.. I do suspect she's right generally about how the proliferation of federal law would make it hard to create an effective jobs stimulus, though.

5)More argh. I suppose I should just kick this to Gene Healy -- much as #1 should probably be kicked to Randy Barnett, him having the comparative advantage here and all -- but let me just state for the record that no, having a big government Republican run against a big government Democrat does not a true clash of competing visions make.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Political correctness and the academy

Stanley Fish wrote a good blog post at the NYT recently reviewing a new book on political correctness and the academy. I was going to quibble a bit with his comments about intellectual diversity. But then David Bernstein said almost exactly what I would have said, so you should just go read that instead.

He ends his post with an anecdote. I'll end mine with a similar one. When I was a senior at Dartmouth, one of my friends ("A.") started dating a boy ("J.") whose parents were both professors at a large California university. The three of us met for lunch at some point, and my friend disclosed to her boy that "[Isabel] is a Republican."J. expressed shock because he'd apparently never met one who was so "calm" and "reasonable" before. Apparently I'd accomplished something unique by being able to eat a tuna sandwich and make polite small talk about my thesis without literally frothing at the mouth. Okay, I can manage that on a good day -- not so much on bad ones.

After we'd gotten to know each other slightly better, J. expressed interest in sitting down with me for a series of conversations talk about conservatism and libertarianism, as he'd never met anyone who held my strange and exotic combination of views. The relationship between J. and A. ended before we could ever put this plan into effect, alas. As in David's case, I was pleased by J.'s open-mindedness and flattered that he thought I'd attained some remarkable height of thoughtfulness. At the same time, it's absurd that he made it through three years of college without encountering another "calm" right of center student or professor.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Letters I will never send, #2

Dear Homeless Looking People Outside Of The New England Conservatory of Music --

Why were you standing outside of the theater before the opera on Sat. night, holding sign that say, "I need a ticket?"

I mean, are you just really passionate Handel lovers? So that you see your lack of season tickets as the worst aspect of your current economic predicament? I can't say I empathize -- I was born nearly tone deaf, and so my cultural inclinations run literary rather than musical. (Like Florence King, I suspect that I might have been born with
an ear for music gone awry.
But that's another story.) And again fortunately for me, libraries are free.

But I fear that you are not really driven by love of eighteenth-century pastorals -- but rather, class warfare. And in that case, I do not get it. Do you really think that class war mongering will make people relinquish their tickets? Do you not think that they will not instead feel put off by your attempts to stir up ressentiment?

Alternately, are there not cheaper available alternatives for warm indoor places? Libraries -- yes, I know, again with the libraries. Bookstores? Coffee shops? Could you not stand outside of movie theaters, seeing as how movie tickets are cheaper? And some of them feature plotlines more interesting than love triangle among hot chick, hot shepherd, and Cyclops?

I fear I also do not quite see targeting opera as symbol of plutocracy. During my red state childhood, my parents often took me to opera and classical music concerts because they were supposed to be Improving. We used to run into one of my Sunday school teachers sometimes -- a woman whom I remember for her sublime voice and utter lack of imagination. Think Lily Fisher from Willa Cather's Song of the Lark. Teenagers in small towns across America do bad, bad things -- among them fad diets and Objectivism -- not to end up like that woman. I would know. So I associate the genre equally with a kind of middle-middle-class earnestness as much as with caviar-swilling aristocrats. That is okay -- beautiful things need not be defined by the likes of the people I like them.


Saturday, November 28, 2009


1)This post reminded me of Paul Fussell's carping in Class about "legible clothing." (Stolen from one of Alison Lurie's books, I believe. But my copy is back at my parents' house, and I'm still in MA.) Though I agree with Fussell on fashion grounds, the result of the case is absurd on 1A grounds.

2)A well-written post that provides a helpful anti-paternalism data point.

3)I am reluctant to comment on anything history of the civil rights movement related here because it hits too close to home (home = work.) But I thought these posts interesting. Note that interesting /= substantive commentary.

4)I think I was born without some crucial gene that allows people to feel outrage. It reminds me of the time that I told Pnin that I am not actually from Venus, and he is not actually from Mars; rather, I suspect that we are both actually from Vulcan.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Can I call myself a non-mystic nationalist?

I recently finished two of the new biographies of Ayn Rand (both Jennifer Burns's & Anne Heller's. ) One or both recount a story where some annoying know-nothing nativist goes off on a rant against immigration in front of Rand.* And she replies, "I chose to become an American. What did you do?"

This anecdote popped into my head as I've been reading the Jonah Goldberg/Will Wilkinson/PEG exchanges on "mystic nationalism." Unlike Rand, I can't say that I chose to become an American. (Though my maternal grandfather did as recently as the 1960s.) But the Rand quote encapusulates the kind of patriotism I feel and want other Americans to feel. I'm not proud of my country because I feel some kind of sappy atavistic pull toward the flag or apple pie. I'm an American because I'm rationally convinced that I live in a wonderful country.

I'm willing to allow that perhaps it would be good to have a pro-nationalist default rule in place. That is, if you're thought about a particular public policy a lot and are genuinely unconvinced that your country's right, go with being a patriot by default. Again unlike Rand, I'm willing to allow that there's much more room for uncertainty and ambiguity in human affairs. But sorry, I don't get much more mystic nationalist than that.

*I'm at my future in-laws' house in Massachusetts and don't have the books handy. Thus the story might be imprecisely rendered -- sorry! -- but that's the gist.

The ill-fated Battle of the Ilyas

I'd been meaning to link to this for a few days. But those interested can hear my Ilya compete against the other Ilya in a trivia contest to retain the name of Ilya. Definitely some amusing moments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Despite ladyblogging, feminism is doing just fine

I get weekly(ish) e-mails from the America's Future Foundation, the most recent edition of which contained a link to Helen Rittelmeyer's "Average Janes" and billed it as "provocative." Well, I've read more provocative, but I'm not buying it entirely.

The piece's tag line is "To save feminism, get rid of the lady blogs," which I take is Rittelmeyer's thesis. The piece does offer up some pointed criticisms at Slate's Double X. But it mentions virtually no other ladyblogs -- the ill-fated conservative-leaning Culture 11's Ladyblog, is notably absent, for example.* Does Rittelmeyer think Culture 11's attempt at ladyblogging worked out better? If yes, why?

Also, Rittelmeyer never quite makes her case that ladyblogging is fatal to feminism. Okay, I'm willing to bite that Double X, Jezebel, etc. are kind of like Cosmo for the overeducated urban woman. But even if these sites are dumber than they might be, how does that threaten the most essential gains of the feminist movement? It's not as though fluff floating around the internet prevents women from becoming engineers, scientists or corporate executives. Nor is online dreck leading anyone to call for the repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment.

The old saw has it that feminism consists of the radical notion that women are people. And people are flawed creatures who like anti-intellectual pleasures sometimes as well as intellectual ones. So, too, women can have equal rights under law and still enjoy guilty pleasures.

Rittelmeyer notes women who have succeeded in blogging by avoiding traditional ladyblogging, such as Ann Althouse and Megan McArdle. Ann Althouse is a little bit of a weird example to choose here. While she is wildly successful at drawing traffic, her style is chatty, discursive, and distinctly feminine in the way that Rittelmeyer purports to dislike. But their successes only prove my point. Clearly the existence of ladyblogging doesn't hold back women who want to do something more wonkish like write about finance or law. So some women have a comparative advantage at the serious stuff, and others at fluff, and the latter doesn't seem to be holding the former back.

I fear Rittelmeyer's also under-estimating the non-seriousness of even traditionally serious blogs and fails to note that the non-seriousness can also serve an important purpose in bringing a blog's readership together. One of my friends from undergrad observed that reading a really good blog feels like sitting next to a really smart friend on a bus. He's right: it's a feeling akin to that which draws me back to some of my favorite blogs, at least. I also really like blogs that draw a small but intelligent and consistently interesting group of commenters. Yet it's hard to build and nurture that kind of community if you adopt a cold and distant tone, or write only about abstruse subjects on which you're an expert. Thus the mix of high and low on even many of the most traditionally serious political blogs.

*I believe Rittelmeyer herself contributed to Ladyblog, but I might be wrong about that, and it looks their archives have vanished from the Internet. Someone please yell at me if I'm mistaken about that, though.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Miscellany -- of i-phone Kindles and The New York Times

1)Sublime ahead of the curve, not terminally geeky. True, I downloaded the Kindle for I-Phone app, not the I-pod touch. It's nonetheless amazingly nice not to lug a book (or two, if I'm approaching the end of one) on the Metro or bus in anticipation of a long ride. My phone, my music, and my distracting reading material can all be in one convenient place. How marvelous! I suppose I would be tempted to shell out for Kindle proper the next time Pnin and I take a long flight, as Helvidius's* battery life is not that long.

Speaking of the Kindle for i-phone, I recently finished Tyler Cowen's Create Your Own Economy on this device. This review by Matt Yglesias and this one from Crooked Timber are both very good. As Yglesias says, the book's so unorthodox that it's hard to do justice with a short summary. It's an extended riff on autism spectrum disorders, yes, and as someone who tests positive for Asperger's by the admittedly imprecise metrics of Internet quizzes, I find this stuff fascinating. There is also stuff on Sherlock Holmes, why our civilization has never made contact with aliens, Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game, and Facebook and Twitter. For all its extraordinary breadth and range, nothing about the book feels forced.

It's marvelous. One of the best non-fiction books I've read this year. Highly recommended.

2)I have some empathy, but not much, with Susan Goldberg's picky eaters rant (via) On the one hand, I recall trying to plan a dinner party in college with one guest on the Atkins diet and another who was a vegan. I threw up my hands, realizing there was nothing they could both eat, and finally decided to go with having two entrees. The two entree approach, of course, has the added benefit of providing the guests without dietary restrictions with a wider range of choices.

On the other, trying to plan around different people's dietary restrictions is sort of like doing an LSAT logic game. You would think that this would bring back traumatic memories of a life trial now long past, but you would be wrong. I kind of enjoy feeling that my brain is still sharp in this way. Being able to pretend that I am good at logic games also lets me fantasize semi-plausibly about leading another life in which I might have made Chicago or been able to crack legal academia or something.

3)At his new blog at The New York Times, Ross Douthat has a post up about how conservative Christians have slowly come to accept women in the workplace. I'm torn on how to respond. I can't quite decide if I want to pick on it as an easy target for snark, or if I should acknowledge it as a good faith gesture toward arch conservatives recognizing that sometimes evolving with the times is good.

I fear Douthat also fails to note that working class women did commonly work outside the home before 1960 or so. Both my grandmothers did, after all. Staying at home a la Betty Draper was something of a luxury even in the 1960s. So evangelical Protestants who grew up working class, with working mothers, might find women in the workplace less weird than Douthat thinks.

*My i-phone is named Helvidius, in honor of a pseudonym James Madison used while writing the Federalist Papers. Pnin and I discussed this in the AT&T store, I'm sure much to the amusement of the salespeople present. Having an i-phone named Helvidius is terminally geeky rather than sublimely ahead of the curve.

This is approximately the best video I have ever seen

Goldens are just too amazingly wonderful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Stray reflections on exercise, clothing, and economics

While Pnin was asleep this afternoon, I started looking at additional exercise clothes to buy. Specifically, pants to wear to yoga class.

Several observations: vanity sizing is particularly pronounced in exercise clothes. I'm a size smaller than I am relative to most non-exercise related clothing brands, which surprises me. One would think that people who buy lots of athletic clothing are disproportionately skinny? Or maybe the idea is that people who exercise a lot are more sensitive about weight and vain to begin with, so they're more susceptible to vanity sizing that strokes the ego? A third possibility is that, because of my wonderful shortness, I'm mostly patronizing regular clothing retailers whose sizing runs small. I tend to doubt the latter, though; when I experiment with stores that I don't normally shop at, I'm still consistently in the same size range.

Also, nice yoga clothing is extremely expensive, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of bargain priced stuff to be found. The same trend seems to hold true for most other forms of athletic clothing. I'm wondering if that's because -- as Pnin would say -- Yuppie types see exercise as a consumption rather than an investment good. That is, the point of gym going is not necessarily to invest in one's health, but rather to show one's friends that one is the the right kind of white person. Or maybe the high initial investment in the right kind of clothes convinces people to keep on top of exercise programs? Whereas people who spend only a little money on bargain brands feel like they can walk away from their commitments quickly -- and therefore quickly fall out of the athletic clothing market?

On another note,these are adorable. I remain amused that, while a frighteningly high percentage of what's in my closet is from J. Crew, I can't recall the last time I've ever bought an item there for full price. Sometimes price discrimination is the best thing ever.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


1)How regulation screws up our daily lives: in this case, our consumption of good cheese.

2)Why the left benefits from the rise of Sarah Palin.

3)Tyler Cowen pointed me to a calendar of economists. I expected Playboy-style images of hot young economists, but actually, it appears to contain only pictures of famous dead economists. Although I like dead economists, I was nonetheless disappointed.

Notes on domestic life

1. Thanks, whoever invited me to the Liberty Fund/IHS seminar thing this spring! I totally promise not to make Ann Althouse cry.

2. A loosely rendered version of a dialogue between Pnin and me:

Pnin... duck-billed platypus...

Isabel: You're sort of like a duck-billed platypus.

Pnin: Really? How?

Isabel: Eccentric, but in a charming way. And besides, monotremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

Although they are fossil animals, and you are not a social conservative, so perhaps you are not really like a duck-billed platypus.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I am such a sensible shoes libertarian

Both literally and figuratively.

Congressional architecture

I like nice architecture as -- probably much more than -- the next person. But every time I visit the Hill, I'm saddened by how beautiful and stately the buildings there are. Working for Congress ought to be less glorious. As Kerry Howley once said, it would be a better country if the new administrator of our public goods jurisdiction were ushered into office with all the fanfare of a shift change at Target. The same principle also ought to apply to the grandiosity of our legislative branch's working environment. And I am always weirdly torn by how I want to like the Hill's loveliness, even though I cannot.

I feel much the same way when I see tour buses full of middle school kids walking around D.C. Not because there are always about fifty twelve-year-olds at Subway when I'm trying to get a sandwich and then leave -- although there always are -- but because our country would be better if schools took them to, say, the Google headquarters and tried to get them excited about actually productive endeavors instead.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stray reflections on exercise and Sarah Palin

1. I am trying to be better about exercising regularly, but really, it is hard. Largely because I am convinced, deep down, that exercise is not actually good for me. The people who think it is are the victims of a false consciousness narrative inflicted on them in elementary school by adults who wanted to improve the dumb kids' self-esteem. You know the sort: the ones who tell you that you are all talented and special in your own different ways. So Isabel Archer might be a good reader, and that is her special talent! But Celia Brooke, over there, is a good runner, and that's her special talent! Oh, and Isabel, why don't you get out of the house and do something outside, as opposed to reading some more? To which I usually said, bah, let me suffer my early death and pry my Nancy Drew book from my cold hands then. This is not the healthiest attitude to have when I am huffing and puffing on Jacob's Ladder.

Also, I am prone to this day to suffer vestigial fits of self-flagellation due to excessive exhortation to respect the jocks' special talents. As in: okay, I get it. Being a good reader does not make me special or interesting. I concede that Celia is, in fact, interesting because of her special runner talents and deserving of self-esteem. If I am humble enough, will you please let me alone and go back to reading now?

Pnin occasionally chides me for having carried this habit into adulthood. I should get over it, now that I am not actually surrounded by any dumb kids. Okay, I am often surrounded by bureaucrats, but that is different. Well, sort of.

2. An acquaintance of mine from my last job, who sometimes links to her blog on Facebook, put up a rant a few months ago which included a broadside against people who read while working out. I submit that this is an entirely defensible practice, on the grounds that I don't know where else I can read Sarah Palin's book. Note that I do not actually expect Sarah Palin's book to be interesting, insightful, or especially good. But I nonetheless feel compelled to read it because, hey, I might be wrong about any of the above.

And even if I am not, it will be fodder for a good snarky blog post and/or cocktail party conversation. I am always in need of material for snarky blog posts. Also, I'm not good at cocktail party converstion, because it tends to require knowledge of sports, movies, reality TV shows, and the love interests of celebrities. I manage in such settings only because I care about politics, and I am a lawyer in D.C., so being unable to talk about topics other than politics in social settings is not exactly a critical handicap. But that does mean I have to know my lone conversation subject of choice well. I don't know what I'll do if Pnin ever gets a lateral offer anywhere, of course, but that's a whole other matter.

Back to the Palin book: I will not feel guilty about reading it if I am doing something else that I would normally be doing, like working out on elliptical machine. It does seem, however, wrong to just read it in my usual red armchair in the living room before I go to sleep, or on a weekend morning before Pnin wakes up. That would be an undue insult to an armchair that I like and that has stood me well through time. I could read it on the Metro, but then people might want to talk to me about it. And I will not feel like disagreeing with people whom I only have just met on the Metro. If I am engaged in even semi-strenuous physical activity, however, people are less likely to engage me in conversation about it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stray observations on Mad Men

In the interest of having things to talk to other white people about, I've started watching Mad Men. And also plumbing some of the vast blog literature on the topic.

First, I don't get the appeal of Don Draper. At all. I am glad that I reached this conclusion independently before reading a Steve Sailer essay that asserts that "What's sexist in the office is fuel in the bedroom." I went cold somewhere in the first episode in which Draper is talking to the female Eastern European consultant about Dr. Freud, cigarette advertising, and the concept of the death wish, and Draper makes a crack to the effect of "Freud? Was he in advertising?" It's the sort of crack that's as devastating in my eyes to a good looking guy's cause as an e-mail full of misspellings, non-capitalized first letters, and dubious punctuation.* Nor, four DVDs deeper into the first season, has he seemed any more interesting or compelling.

I mean, I guess I acknowledge that the actor playing Don is better looking than, say, most of the typical lawyers clustered in a D.C. bar after work. But... not feeling anything particularly visceral there. Certainly not enough to want me to forget the advances of the last fifty years.

If anything, my views are closer to Micha Ghertner's. The message of the episdoes I've seen so far is, "Look at these silly people, with their racism and their sexism and their cigarettes and salads drowning in mayonnaise! Let us feel superior to them, we with our Civil Rights Act of 1964 and arugula and twice weekly Pilates classes!" I do really like being patted on the back for being a nice socially liberal white girl who shops at Whole Foods and has gay friends and a personal trainer. But the typical Mad Men episode offers too much treacly self-congratulation even for me.

I am also skeptical that the 1950s themselves were quite so ridiculous. Watching the show, one wonders if anyone ever take a break from hostile environment sexual harassment long enough to get any actual work done? If not, how did it possibly take the Jews and white ethnics so long to complete their meritocratic tear through corporate America and the learned professions?

None of my grandparents or great-aunts and uncles were of the Drapers' social class, to be sure. Maybe the men of that generation that I knew growing up were just too wedded to central European old world social mores. So maybe they were more gentlemanly and retiring among women than Americans of the same age. I don't really know. But they just seemed like they'd recoil at the sort of crudeness depicted as routine on the show.

I suspect also that a lot of urban SWPL types find the show attractive largely because it is a lovely fantasy world in which they don't really have to live. Don Draper's world might be alluring because it is familiar yet entirely foreign. Half the fun of fiction is imagining yourself into places that you'd never really want to live. So, contra Sailer, Mad Men's as enjoyable as it is because we get to return to our day to day lives after each episode.

Most importantly, the Drapers' golden retriever Polly is positively adorable! She reminds me of how badly I want a retriever of my own. There should be more of her in each episode.

*Longtime friends and readers will know that one of my most rigidly held standards for lovers is the willingness to use capitalization and punctuation in e-mail. I've never been able to articulate why clearly, but I suppose that people who find it hard to use commas in e-mail because it's "informal" generally fall below some critical threshold of intelligence. Yeah, administering an I.Q. test might be a less fallible screen for the same quality, but it's hardly practical to do so.

Also, no link, but there was a post in the Roissysphere a few months ago counseling guys not to use capitalization in e-mail. I.e. my screening techniques automatically work on his ilk! This is kind of the karmic equivalent of finding $10 in the pocket of a jacket that I haven't worn since last winter.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why do vampires attract so many viewers and readers?

Tyler Cowen has a marvelous post purporting to answer this all-important question.

Look up "late to party" in dictionary, find this post

Pnin, writing under his real name at his own blog, wrote an interesting blog post a few weeks back in response to Kerry Howley's Reason essay on libertarianism and culture. Short summary of Kerry's thesis: that libertarians ought to spend more time focusing on cultural threats to freedom, rather than merely focusing on the evils of government coercion. Kerry Howley's response to that post is here; Ilya/Pnin's response to Kerry's response is here: and, because the blogging world clearly needs more incest and not less, here is Will Wilkinson's response to all of the responses.

Ilya and I hashed this argument out at some length in real life last month, thus my letting this post languish in draft form. But one of the articles I link to in my second point reminded me of it, so I figured I might as well resuscitate it.

1) Regarding Ilya's first pointI see little sense in distinguishing between "libertarianism" and "subjects discussed by individual libertarians." There isn't much consensus over what libertarianism ought to be, and that's as it should be.

There is also a structure of social change issue here. As I understand the liberaltarians' vision of their project, they see themselves at Stage 1 of the pyramid. They envision themselves engaged in conversation with our intellectuals, hashing out ideas at some safe remove from the rough and tumble of day to day politics. They most emphatically are notinterested in marketing their ideas to large audiences, or figuring out whether their ideas are politically saleable.

Or in other words, they really are just a bunch of individual libertarians writing to other libertarians and talking to them about culture. They are not interested in the work of communicating a platform -- call it libertarianism -- to a mass audience just yet. That's okay. There's room in the world for Stage 1 movements. Some of them don't make it to Stage 3. That's fine too.

2)Here is the part which makes writing this post weeks after the initial debate defensible: I admit that I am armchair psychologizing and possibly being completely obnoxious in doing so, in which case I apologize in advance, but I suspect part of what is animating Howley, Wilkinson and the liberaltarian project more generally is visceral disgust at the type of milieux described in this recent Marty Beckerman piece in Salon. Or, at least, I'm detecting echoes of frustration at them in an earlier post in the Howley-Seavey debate, in which Howley groused that "Most libertarian cocktail party critiques of feminism are utterly insipid and incoherent." So the liberaltarians are attempting to articulate a positive vision for a pro-liberty movement that utterly reads Beckerman's old friends out of the pro-freedom camp.

I share the liberaltarians' disgust for spiteful, narrow-minded, fire-breathing lunatics. And I also admire their attempts to stop kvetching about the more hateful elements within our own coalition and build something new instead. But for all the reasons that Ilya, Todd Seavey, etc. bring up, I wonder if it wouldn't be better and more honest to just resign ourselves to being negative for awhile. Put another way, I'm not particularly troubled that libertarian institutions aren't full-throatedly feminist. I am troubled that many of them have formed tactical alliances with more conservative groups that spew the kind of nonsense Beckerman described in that article. If most great popularizers of free market ideas and property rights really just stayed quiet on feminism, as Seavey would have them do, I'd be happy. I fear that in practice, most such popularizers aren't.

I should note that Ilya and I have disagreed in in-person conversations on the extent to which the kind of vile anti-feminists that Beckerman describes hold sway over the libertarian movement. He's claimed that most of these people self-identify as social conservatives or Republicans, not libertarians, and that most real libertarians like us know better than to listen to them anyway. Maybe that's true. All I can say is that I have spent more time in the free market activist movement proper than he has, and that I've encountered plenty of them. And I've felt repelled by them, and I find this repulsion sad. It's possible that he's run in more rarified circles in the movement than I have. He's certainly less scared of cold-approaching VIPs at libertarian social events, so he's probably spent less time talking to not particularly bright twenty-three-year old fusionists. It is also possible, even likely, that far fewer said not particularly bright twenty-three-year old fusionists want to hit on him. He also grew up in a left-liberal area of the country, whereas I did not, and runs in professional circles that are far less left-liberal than I do.

So: yes, liberaltarians, develop your project at the Koch Stage 1 level! But in the meantime, make more modest efforts toward a less stupid, less anti-feminist libertarian movement. That may bear fruit, even if the big project doesn't.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Quotable quotes

"A Veteran's/ Armistice/ Remembrance Day observed on November 11 in particular shouldn't just mean a gauzy and somber honoring of live veterans and fallen soldiers. It should be in part a day of anger and horror about the particular war that ended on this day, the stupid brutality of it, and the evil that followed in its wake."

Anti-statism in America is excellent

Though I count the need for only two shots (#5 and #7) according to the Richard Hofstadter Drinking Game, this John Judis op-ed on is still pretty dreadful.

(Side note: I am occasionally tempted to start some sort of sideline consulting business giving seminars to clueless center-leftists on what libertarians actually think.
See, e.g.)

Anyway, Judis's thesis is that while Americans are okay with specific government programs, they are not with expansions of the size and scope of government generally, and it is this seeming contradiction that prevents useful reforms from getting enacted. I, on the other hand, suspect that the anti-statists who nonetheless approve of specific programs are more genuinely libertarian than Judis thinks they are for several reasons:

1)Political ignorance: I should properly kick this to Pnin to write about at his own blog, as he's forgotten more than I'll ever know about political ignorance. But I do recall a blog post -- which I can't find at the second -- linking to a survey showing that a lot of people tell pollsters that they approve of specific legislation that doesn't actually exist. I wonder if the same effect is going on here? That is, voters who have genuinely libertarian impulses tell pollsters that they approve of specific programs, rather than just admitting "I don't know" or "I haven't had the chance to think this through."

2)Intuitions about slippery slope concerns: Although a specific policy may not expand the size and scope of government dramatically, its enactment may nonetheless lead politicians further and further down a slippery slope toward dramatically expanding the size and scope of government. Many of the most prominent libertarian thinkers have drilled down prominently on this argument: see, e.g., Hayek's Road to Serfdom or Higgs's Crisis and Leviathan. So some of Judis's anti-statists might be okay with Pelosian health "reform" in its current incarnation, but only if it doesn't lead us down any further slippery slopes.

Pennsylvania taxpayers are still paying an "emergency" Johnstown Flood tax enacted in the 1930s. The early federal income tax rates were extremely low compared to today's brackets. It is not bug-eyed insane to have slippery slope concerns about a particular public policy. In light of all of the historical evidence, it may be bug-eyed insane not to.

3)The seen vs. the unseen: I can't say it better than John Hasnas did in this editorial. It's easy to have compassion for the individuals who benefit most from a particular government program. It is harder to have compassion for all the small losses that individual taxpayers incur in taking on their health care costs. That doesn't mean that the small losses don't add up, and that these small losses don't have a real impact on the national economy. Some of Judis's anti-statists may favor expansions of government when they think about all the seen beneficiaries, but balk when asked to consider the more abstract consequences of helping small classes of seen beneficiaries. That doesn't mean that they're necessarily statists at heart.