Sunday, May 31, 2009


1)On my hatred of ev bio types: Tyler Cowen has a good post titled "Why Steve Sailer is Wrong.

2)An interesting anecdote about the Sotomayor choice.

3)Does the Right need a "Heritage of the Left" on the right? Though the last couple paragraphs of snark are pretty silly, this post nonetheless raises a fascinating question. I've read that the Center for American Progress is actually much more engaged directly with political institutions than Heritage and AEI are. Maybe it would be better for the right to have one or two think tanks that engage more directly with politicians, and let Heritage and AEI continue to play their current role.

4)How introverts should travel.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obligatory Sotomayor Post

So it's Sotomayor. I admit I have little to say that at least three Volokh Conspirators haven't said already. Still, let me direct my few readers to David Lat's lively and entertaining profile of Sotomayor from back in the days when he was still moonlighting as Article III Groupie. For years, I confess I've mentally referred to Sotomayor as "Sonia from the Block."

Elsewhere, I have to say I don't find Obama's latest remarks on empathy heartening.I found the bit about "Now, in some ways it might cut the other way. I want a judge who has a sense of how regulations might affect the businesses in a practical way" discouraging. Does "the other way" mean that a judge who has empathy necessarily can't understand how regulations affect businesses? Or does he simply mean that (in contrast to the prior sentence) that businesses typically aren't the little guy, but it's helpful to understand the business perspective nonetheless? Of course, that Obama regards businesses in the aggregate as vastly more powerful than entrenched bureaucracies is itself revealing. Or is it mere syntactical sloppiness? Not that I blame him - a verbatim transcript of my day to day speech would look pretty embarassing, too.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Geek Love and Finding the Perfect Wedding Song

Slate's Double X has a post up on the challenges of finding the perfect wedding song. I do fear to blog about my upcoming nuptials, lest To My Parents, Ayn Rand and God devolve into an abyss of pastels and questionable grammar à la But it is is something I've struggled with myself, as so many of the songs that I love most are ill-suited for weddings.

I've thrown out several suggestions to my fiance. Sadly, we cannot use the closest song that we have to *actually* having a song, which is Vampire Weekend's "Mansard Roof. The song came to be ours because he was going to teach a course in Argentina, and I'd hoped to come with him. I confessed once that I thought of this upcoming trip every time I heard the line in "Mansard Roof" about the Argentines collapsing in defeat. The trip then fell through because of budget cuts, so I suppose the Argentines really did collapse in defeat. Still, there is nothing that is romantic whatsoever about "Mansard Roof" or indeed about Argentines collapsing in defeat.

So, to the actual suggestions. First was Bob Dylan's "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, which is one of the few love songs I find non-sappy enough to be bearable. "Situations have ended sad/Relationships have ended bad/Mine have been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud's" may also be my favorite lyric ever.

Second, Buddy Holly's "Dearest." It is sweet, melodious, and lovely.

Third was the Velvet Underground's "I'll Be Your Mirror." This is a tougher question. It is one of the most beautiful songs I know, and it is actually rather perfect as a first dance for a wedding. On the other hand, it is not actually my fiance's and my song. Rather, it's an "our song" to a friend from undergrad and me. This would not be so bad -- "I'll Be Your Mirror" functions beautifully as either a song about two super-close friends or as a love song -- except that the platonic friendbecame a Catholic priest and once confessed that he had romantic thoughts about me, but had, um, decided to stay in the priesthood anyway. Further details of this situation probably properly belong off-blog, but one can understand the dilemma I face. Is it worth it to try to re-purpose the song, or just stick with the less emotionally fraught "Dearest?"

Although I must say I've never cared for "The Last Days of Disco," I suspect the Double X columnist might understand.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

letters I will never send, #1

Dear people who post videos of your golden retrievers on YouTube,

Hello! First of all, hearts! You should know that, when I feel sad or nervous or otherwise stressed out, one of my preferred strategies for calming myself down is flipping on a YouTube video of a golden retriever. I particularly appreciate goldens in the snow, but I also often enjoy brown-eyed boys and girls romping in the leaves or diving into the pool.

But there are a few things that we need to talk about.

There is only one song that is acceptable to play in tribute videos to a dead golden retriever. That is "Femme Fatale" by The Velvet Underground. Relatedly, valuable advice for life: music by the Velvet Underground is almost always superior to all music not by the Velvet Underground. Whatever you do, avoid "Hero" by Mariah Carey, a song that is so sappy and awful that I would hesitate to play it for a recently deceased cat. Such videos must unfortunately be watched with the sound off and "Femme Fatale" played on I-Tunes instead.

It is also annoying if you include PowerPoint comments likening your retriever to an angel, or talking about what your golden will be like in heaven. Goldens are deeply intellectual dogs who find such sentimentality to be beneath them. Most of them are intelligent enough to be atheists,though a few do cling Evelyn Waugh style to a kind of ornamental Catholicism. They therefore find your cloying to outmoded dogmas unduly insulting to their memories. Minus still more points for ugly PowerPoint designs or weirdly ornamental fonts. The pictures of the retrievers speak themselves.

For the same reasons, you should also avoid trite quotations from famous people.

Should you follow these simple tips, everyone can more easily enjoy watching videos of golden retrievers.


Reports of the death of the right have been greatly exaggerated

Apologies for the continued Jonathan Rauch fan-girlishness, but I can't resist linking to his superb review of Richard Posner's new book on the financial crisis. I haven't read the book yet, but I suspect my views on it will be similar to Rauch's second to last paragraph. That is, perhaps vigorous government intervention might have prevented the financial crisis. But given the lack of consensus among smart people regarding what happened and why, it's unlikely that government could have formulated an effective response. Very likely aggressive government intervention would have made things worse.

In other Posner-related news, I've read with interest his blog posts on the decline of conservatism. Though I recognize saying so is borderline blasphemy in my circles, I'm... underwhelmed. First, there's his laundry list of contempo conservative policy positions with which he disagrees. There seems to be no unifying principle explaining why these are extremist rather than sensible; I admit I'm especially confused because I agree with some on that list strongly and others not at all.

Second, I fear he's not comparing apples to apples. I dislike the anti-intellectualism that Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber as much as he does. At my fellowship program, we're fond of discussing a theory of the tri-partite structure of social change according to which 1) academics and intellectuals develop theories; 2)think tank types refine and develop ways to apply these theories; and 3)grassroots and activist types then communicate these theories to the general public. Buckley and Rand worked at Level One of the structure, whereas Wurzelbacher and Sarah Palin work at Level 3. It's not terribly surprising that the first level types find the third level types sort of icky. He ought to be comparing Hayek and Friedman to, say, Vernon Smith or Tyler Cowen or Robert Barro, not Sarah Palin. Once one starts comparing academics of yesteryear to those of day, the movement's future starts looking more rosy.

I rather like his co-blogger Gary Becker's remarks, although he does seem to be describing libertarianism rather than conservatism.

But popular politicians and grassroots activists like Wurzelbacher generally aren't great intellectuals and weren't t

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jonathan Rauch on Leah Ward Sears

If the Circulator were to broadside me some sunny afternoon so that I were stuck in a coma and could not opine on this blog any longer, not much would be lost. You could just go read Jonathan Rauch's columns in the National Journal, and, for the most part, it would be kind of the same thing as talking to me and finding out what I think.

So I was touched to find this Jonathan Rauch post about Leah Ward Sears. I'm rooting for her for entirely self-interested reasons, but it's nice to see a favorite political writer of mine reach the same conclusions for better ones.

weekend update

Went to Hanover briefly for a mini-reunion with four friends: one is starting med school classes in June and won't be able to make it up for the full version.

I was surprised by how little anything changes up there. The restaurants lining Main Street are all pretty much the same. My standard breakfast at Dirt Cowboy -- med. iced latte, large orange juice and everything bagel with cream cheese -- was still exactly the same. That is, the bagel was too thin and crispy and didn't have enough cream cheese. Somehow, I found that reassuring; if it had been more appropriately fluffy and had more cream cheese, I would have been almost sad. Their orange juice is also foamy as no other orange juice is. The price went up to $9.99 from $7.58 when I was an undergrad, though: boo inflation!

We went to Sig Nu briefly for '80s. They'd wrapped up 'tails, and none of us wanted to stand around the smoky basement drinking cheap Keystone Light for long. But we did meet a young lady who inherited the little shirt through Theta bequests. She confessed that she'd wondered how anyone was ever little enough to fit into it. Honestly, so am I.

We also went to see my friend Clarissa Dalloway's* father. Mr. Dalloway and his girlfriend are fixing up a little house deep in rural New Hampshire. Clarissa's Jeep bumped up and down the roads quite a bit on the way. We sat outside and ate mixed berry pie from Lou's, which was lovely. Dalloway pere also told us that he's excited about Justice Souter moving nearby. Perhaps they can bond together. We even stopped by the neighborhood dump briefly, as it's apparently the big gathering place for the community. So maybe Justice Souter will show up eventually, and I can stay that I was there first. The group of us also found the abandoned books quickly and clustered around them. Given our tendencies, I wouldn't say that was surprising.

Notably, we found a book called "Basic Microwaving," an authentic vintage 1970s cookbook. Maybe microwaves were harder to operate in those days; I wouldn't know.

Still, our trip to the dump did feel a little bit like we'd landed in a David Brooks column. Or possibly a chapter of Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons. But I like thrusting myself into situations that seem ripe for class conflict, yet are not.

Then we stopped by Canoe Club. Their apple martinis are delicious.

*For purposes of preserving anonymity, I'll call her Clarissa Dalloway. In case you're wondering, she's named for the heroine of a Virginia Woolf novel. While I see some resemblances between the two, this reflects all of five minutes of me drumming my fingers against the keyboard trying to come up with something that fit. She is also very different from Clarissa in plenty of ways, so the name should not be taken too seriously.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Very good sentences

To steal a page from Tyler Cowen's playbook:

My aspiration is to one day vote for a president who gets the nation to go along with his trillion+ dollar policy proposal by persuading us the trade off is worth it, rather than pretending that there is no trade off. But it seems instead I'll be forced to choose between Republicans who act as though military spending isn't real, Democrats who act as though social services spending isn't real, and George W. Bush, who managed on this issue to be a uniter, not a divider, by pretending that all spending wasn't real.

-- Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene.

Things That People In My Social Like That I Do Not Understand -- Thank You Notes

I have read -- many, many times -- about the importance of writing thank you notes in both personal and professional situations. I know that all good, well-mannered people write them, and so I follow suit in the interest of not being considered ill-mannered.

Yet I am bad at them. I write one sentence, "Thank you for [X]" and then find myself squinting uncomfortably at the abundant blank sheet of paper in front of me. What else to include? I have already gotten to the point. I find myself struggling to come up with three or four more sentences of content before lamely concluding "Thank you again for X." As though I needed to resummarize the three sentences of content, because otherwise my reader would be confused about the central point.

Nor am I particularly touched when I receive them from other people. Instead, I find myself wondering if I should keep them. Living in a small studio and such, I do not have space to keep people's thank you notes, Hallmark cards, and the like. Yet it feels rude -- a degradation of someone else's effort and caring -- to throw one immediately in the trash right after I receive it.

What am I missing? Am I just bad at writing thank you notes?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Should Libertarians Go to Law School? (Part II)

2)Okay, so I'm not interested in law firms. I'm more interested in public interest law, journalism, or think tankery. What can you tell me about those fields?

Every once in a while, I get approached by more idealistic young libertarians, who profess that they understand the trade-offs listed above and therefore want to do something else. They usually mention 1)libertarian/conservative public interest law (often IJ), 2)think tankery; journalism, and/or other punditry; or 3)legal academia. I usually sigh with relief when these people approach me, because they're much more thoughtful and interesting than the "think like a winner" types. So I'll devote this next post to talking about some of these alternatives.

1)Legal academia – IHS actually wrote a nice screed length pamphlet directed at conservatives and libertarians on how to crack legal academia. agree with around 95% of what appears there, so I see little need to reprise it here. (N.b. that the site appears to be down at the moment; I'll update with a link later. I swear that this thing exists, though. Really; I have read it.)

2)Libertarian/conservative public interest law: First, I highly recommend Steven Teles’ The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement to anyone falling into this category. It’ll tell you a great deal about the history of the specific groups in which you’re interested, more than I can possibly recount here. He notes in particular that the early conservative legal groups were founded much later than their left-wing equivalents. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the right’s historic aversion to “judicial activism.” What this means for you is that there are still far fewer conservative and libertarian public interest firms than there are left-wing such organizations. Walk through any law school’s public interest career fair if you don’t believe me.

It also means that walking into your law school’s career services office and announcing “I am a libertarian who would like to go into public interest law” will attract roughly the same stares as it would if you went in there and announced “I am a monkey who would like to eat bananas with a straw.” That is, the resources that most law schools have in place to help aspiring public interest types may not be of much use to you. The career services officers in charge of public interest advising, the student groups who work to raise money, etc. are all likely to be extremely left of center in ways that you will find confusing and alienating. Some will respect your idiosyncratic beliefs – some of the left types I met in law school respected mine – but not everyone will be so kind. On the other hand, many of the conservatives and libertarians you meet will be pro-business types who still go around mouthing platitudes about the importance of thinking like winners. They will strike you as insufferable tools, and you may feel quite alone sometimes.

I don’t discourage aspiring libertarian public interest law types from law school. (See #2 above about unclean hands.) But I do ask you to acknowledge how few slots there are for you, and also to have some more easily attained alternatives in mind. That is, if IJ is a 96/100 life outcome for you, would working at a large firm and taking on a couple of pro bono cases be at least an 87/100 outcome? If your paper credentials are insufficient for that, what about being a public defender? If you can’t describe a couple alternate outcomes that are at least 87/100 desirable, you might likely be happier working in some non-legal capacity in the libertarian or conservative movement.

Oh, n.b. that things like loan forgiveness and debt repayment are also issues. Because that’s covered elsewhere, though, no need to rehash it here.

3)Think tankery, journalism, and/or punditry – I am admittedly lumping three distinct paths together. I do it because a young libertarian lawyer hoping to break one of these fields faces essentially the same challenges.

There are lawyers working in each of these fields, to be sure. There will continue to be lawyers working in each of these. The difficulty is that a law degree isn’t necessary to break into one of these, and may not be worth the opportunity cost. Again, the calculus varies immensely from individual to individual, and I can’t say whether the opportunity cost is worth it in yours.

A word more about think tanks in particular: you may have noticed that the senior people who work there are supposed to be experts in something narrow. Think tanks hardly hide this: several of the prominent ones bill their staff members on their websites as “experts.” The problem is that law schools, in contrast to most other graduate programs, aren’t out to produce experts in anything. They’re out to produce generalists, people who know a little bit about many different areas of the law.

And this actually makes perfect sense. As a lawyer, you’re supposed to know what to do when a client walks into your office and tells you some long and complicated story of woe. Any particular tale of woe might touch on several completely discrete branches of law; a story of a business transaction gone awry, for example, might invoke agency law, the law of commercial paper, and the law of contracts. So law schools try to equip their students with broad rather than deep knowledge of particular branches of law. In your first year, at any law school in the country, you’re likely to take the same eight to ten basic courses. Though you have more freedom to take electives afterwards, most students still fill up their schedules with meat and potatoes courses like Business Associations, Evidence, Fundamentals of Tax, and Administrative Law. Interestingly, non-lawyers tend to overestimate the desirability of specialization in law school: I often got asked what type of law I was majoring in and such.

So an aspiring wonk in law school will find herself pulled in two directions. The wonk in her will want to drill down on a narrow specialty. Yet everything in her environment – logistical pressures, classmates’ inclinations – will push her toward thinking like a generalist. It’s no wonder that most lawyers who go into think tanks do so only after years of practice, when they’ve had an opportunity to build up knowledge in one particular topic area.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Should Libertarians Go to Law School? (Part I)

Dear young libertarians (and libertarian-ish conservatives, moderates, etc.) who are considering law school –

I write in response to the question that you all have asked me a dozen times. Oh yes, you – you bright-eyed, bushy-tailed things who swarm around me at AFF and Reason and IHS happy hours when I said that I graduated from law school last May and work in libertarian/conservatie public interest law. Yes, you who have immediately said, “Oh, I’m wondering if I should go to law school. Do you have any advice for me?”

You may have noticed that I looked at you, then away from you, then deep into my glass of wine, before deigning to respond. You may remember also that I may have said,“Um, what word count are you looking for in my answer? Because I’m not sure it’s consistent with social norms to give you a three thousand word answer? And really, it would be more fun if I talked about going running this weekend, or the last novel I read, or that great new restaurant in U Street?” And that ultimately, I ducked with a very lawyerly "It depends."

So, here it is: an attempt at a long open letter about law school for libertarians (and libertarian-ish conservatives, moderates, etc.)*

1)But isn’t the field already pre-empted? Lots of people have already written angry screeds directed at pre-laws. What can you possibly have to add?

First, it’s true that there are already plenty of anti-law-school screeds out there directed at naïve pre-laws. See, e.g. this Law School Advice Wiki for a decent round-up. But let me note a couple of things. One, I’m not universally opposed to anyone, anywhere, attending law school, as several of the authors listed on the Wiki are. That is, I think most of the screed authors have the cost-benefit analysis right, but I’m more willing to concede that benefits outweigh costs in certain individual cases.

Two, law school graduates who sound too discouraging about law school leave themselves vulnerable to accusations of bad faith and rent-seeking. That is, surely I must be discouraging you, O bright eyed and bushy-tailed ones, from applying to law school only because I’m afraid of the competition you pose. Or so my mother responded when a former housemate of mine, then a frustrated associate at a large D.C. firm, tried to talk me out of going to law school, c. 2004. This is a little silly – by the time any current pre-laws graduate, I'll have about five years of practice experience. It would be unusual for a legal employer to consider both newbies and mid-level associate types for the same position. Still, I recognize the intuitive appeal of an unclean hands argument, and so I will try to write with an eye toward it.

Third, much of the advice out there is targeted at naïve souls who apply to law school because they – rather like Alec Baldwin in the movie Team America – hate corporations because they are “all corporation-ey.” These people are then shocked to discover that many lawyers, especially from the most elite law schools, work at large law firms that mostly service said odious corporation-ey corporations. Libertarians interested in law school rarely suffer from this particular delusion.

But they often have their own particular misperceptions about large law firms. First, there’s an unfortunate Social Darwinist streak running through many college libertarian and Republican groups. Many college-age libertarian types thus find themselves taking the affirmative position in debates with their lefty brethren about whether markets deliver “social justice.” So plenty of twenty-something libertarians come to imagine that a high salary is a signal of high personal value in some deeply cosmic sense. And, during their summer internships, these same people solemnly inform me at AFF happy hours that any unhappy Biglaw associates must only feel that way because they aren’t “winners,” or don’t “think like winners,” or some damn thing like that. After all, how could they be unhappy? That might mean the market failed to deliver social justice, right? These kids are often shocked to hear that I have no idea if markets are good at delivering social justice, and, like Friedrich Hayek before me, I’m perfectly fine with that.

The take home point: working at a large law firm (or any job, for that matter) involves making a particular set of trade-offs for a particular set of benefits. In the case of large law firms, the benefits are mostly sky-high salaries, the pleasure of prestige, and attractive exit opportunities. The trade-offs include (almost universally) long hours and the stress that comes with working such hours. Many large firm associates also complain about being forced to work for difficult partners and on incredibly boring assignments, though mileage can vary considerably on those two points. Different people may weigh these benefits differently relative to these trade-offs, according to their own subjective values. This is entirely okay and has nothing to do with whether or not you are capable of “thinking like a winner.” I have no idea what the optimal trade-off to benefit set-up is for you, O bushy-tailed young libertarian. Hell, it's been hard enough figuring out what I value.

Just, whatever you do, don’t approach your career search as some kind of Darwinian competition, in which the market looks into your heart and soul to determine if you’re worthy or wanting. A labor market can tell you how much someone else is willing to pay for you to perform a particular type of task. It can’t tell you your worth in some more cosmic sense. It can't tell you how kind or witty or intelligent or how good a friend you are. Free markets are not supposed to tell you these things. Rather, we value free markets because a government planned bureaucracy that tried to reward people for being smart or witty or kind, rather than productive, would create a disease worse than the cure. There is part of me that wants to depart from first principles and make young libertarians who try to argue this point attend some kind of forced re-education camp where they have to read Chapter Six of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty over and over again until they grasp this crucial point.

Second, let us all take a deep breath and repeat after Milton Friedman: being pro-market is not the same thing as being pro-business. Libertarians who represent business clients often find themselves crashing up against this distinction. Thus a friend of mine from my summer clerkship found himself at a large law firm interview with a partner laughing about how his private clients benefited from Kelo-style takings. Your clients may have more in common with James Taggart than with Dagny. Though these sorts of situations are probably less common for libertarians than anti-corporate left-liberals, think through these issues before you settle on law school.

I should note that I'm writing about the big law firm world as it's been up until recently. There's some interesting commentary out there claiming that the standard big law firm business model was never stable and, post-financial crisis, is certain to change dramatically. I direct you to Bill Henderson's SSRN page and his blog.and also to some of corporate law scholar Larry Ribstein's writing on over-regulation and over-leveraging of law firms. Their work is interesting, but I'm ill-equipped to comment on what it portends for the future. For that matter, so is everyone else.

*I'm defining "libertarian" loosely for the purposes of this letter. That is, some of my advice might be useful to moderate conservatives and other fusionist types. But I'm not a social conservative, have never really been one, and don't have much insight into how social conservative activist groups really work. Intended audience, you probably know who you are.

Monday, May 11, 2009


1)Matt Taibbi on agnosticism. The tone's a little harsh, but I mostly agree.

2) I find this TNR post by Alan Wolfe about how classical and modern liberals are exactly the same bizarre. In order to get the result he wants, he somehow reads Hayek out of the liberal tradition. While Hayek himself rejected the "liberal" label for semantic reasons -- he claimed that left-wingers had distorted the term beyond repair in The Constitution of LIberty -- he saw himself as part of a liberal intellectual tradition stretching back to Smith, IIRC.

Wolfe suggests I've fallen into this trap because people like me think that "the most fundamental question facing mankind is how much government intervenes into the economy." I wouldn't say most fundamental, but figuring out how to respond to scarcity is certainly up there. Insist otherwise too loudly, and you devolve into the kind of nineteen-year-old hipster who insists that he's against all those Big Corporations That Are All Corporation-ey while sitting at a MacBookPro sipping a latte. Also, classical liberals see government as a different kind of threat to human liberty than even the largest corporations can be, because of the awesome powers government has that corporations lack. Wolfe doesn't acknowledge those differences.

In fairness, though, I have not read Wolfe's book. Possibly his argument makes sense if developed at greater length.

3)A good essay on what I dislike about suburbs. N.b. I am less planning-oriented than the authors.

Founding Father Related Romantic Getaways

News that con law dorks can use.

1)First, the ultimate con law dork first date: Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. A beautifully restored plantation house, located about a forty-five minute drive from D.C., belonging to this important but often overlooked Founding Father. You and your first date can awkwardly make eyes while you follow a tour guide through the brick house. You can then walk around the outbuildings, shyly holding hands. Eventually, the two of you can look together over the Potomac.

2)For the ultimate con law dork romantic long weekend, Philadelphia. There are enough interesting sites to keep you busy for a good 2-3 days. There's Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the Betsy Ross House. You can also visit the Constitution Center and dorkishly pose alongside your favorite Founding Father statues. Extra special bonus: you can debate the constitutionality of tour guide licensing requirements.

3)In a similar vein, I recommend Lexington, Massachusetts, site of the famed Revolutionary War battle. I hear it has a better minuteman statue than Concord.

4)And finally, the ultimate con law dork engagement site: James Madison's Montpelier. The house was recently restored after long years of ownership by the Dupont family, so it is not furnished as interestingly as the Mason house. The viewing deck is also somewhat less impressive. But the formal gardens are beautiful, as are the views of the Virginia horse country and the little temple. It may even double as a con law dork wedding site.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In defense of libertine libertarians

Not so long ago, back in 2005 or so, I wanted to be David Brooks when I grew up. I admired the liveliness of his prose in Bobos in Paradise and (to a slightly lesser extent) in On Paradise Drive. I still strive to cast out zingers like he does. And yet I can't quite love a poor deluded Hamiltonian who periodically spits out columns like this.

My immediate visceral reaction was nearly identical to Will Wilkinson's. See, e.g., elsewhere in Brooks's own paper. Still, I should try to follow Wilkinson's own wise advice (last paragraph) and try to engage constructively with Brooks.

The heart of my disagreement with Brooks comes through in Brooks' second to last paragraph:"And there is the more conservative vision in which government sets certain rules, but mostly empowers the complex web of institutions in which the market is embedded." That is, I'd agree wholeheartedly with that sentence if Brooks struck "empower" and substituted a formulation like "let alone." I suppose that government can "empower" the complex order of civil society-- or at least avoid destroying it -- by letting it alone, though that's rather distorting the ordinary meaning of the word. I fear rather Brooks has in mind
"empowering" in the sense of more ownership society nonsense, which has hardly worked out well to date.

I am all in favor of strong civil society, in favor of the kinds of strong community groups and civic associations that Brooks champions. I lament the extent to which the welfare state has destroyed the kinds of local groups that once thrived. But I don't see how a national political party can, or should, have any role in building one up: back in the day, these groups were quintessentially small and local. I don't know what kinds of groups can most effectively address the needs of people of racial and ethnic groups quite different from my own. Neither can anyone else sitting in an air-conditioned office in Penn Quarter, five hundred miles away from the people she is trying to help. For the most part, we ought to just stay out of such groups' way.

People who want smaller government can essentially tell two kinds of stories in support of our arguments. First, we can tell stories about the failures of governments. We can tell stories about public choice theory and perverse incentives in action. These can be effective, but they work best when talking about policies that have already failed. So we end up telling a second kind of story about how individuals will be just fine without government.

Let me put it another way. I know a fair number of libertarians, including me, who are okay with government regulations of nuclear power plants. I know virtually none who are okay with government banning the distribution of cupcakes in elementary schools. (Yes, there are public schools that have done this.) If expressed to explain this apparent inconsistency, most of us will mutter something about the downside risk of moderate cupcake consumption being lower than that of nuclear explosions. This all seems quite common-sensical, and not many people have cared to push me on the point.

So the second kind of story that libertarians have to tell is why more things are like cupcakes than nuclear power plants. This is why, I suspect, my conservative friends get so exercised about some libertarians' libertine tendencies. I don't, really; I see these libertarians as trying to sell stories about why gay marriage or absinthe or marijuana or whatever is more like cupcakes, and less like nuclear power.

Anyway, I imagine Brooks is getting exercised because libertarian-leaning Republicans spend so much time telling cupcake stories. And maybe we should not be. Maybe we should be focusing more on telling government failure stories. Except there are limits to the government failure genre. First, it doesn't work well with regard to policies not yet in effect. Second, politicians are the people telling such stories, and it's in their self-interest not to knock the capacity of their employers too much. So they try to stay upbeat and keep telling cupcake stories.

In Russian class tonight

(Background: we are learning how to count.)

Professor: So in Russian, just like English, we have a special expression for thirteen. Just like you call it the dirty dozen, we have a phrase that means, translated literally, the "devil's dozen."

Entire class looks blank, seemingly unaware of any such English expression.

Isabel, timidly: Do you mean... baker's dozen?

Professor: Ah yes, that is it!

Bakers, devils, totally the same thing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Because I am a shameless procrastinator...

I am overwhelmed with Russian and fellowship homework and do not time to write a real post, I pause to note my struggles with avocadoes.

I made a seven layer dip for a work event for Cinco de Mayo. It seemed to go over well, but the guacamole was thoroughly disappointing. The avocado remained stiff after a good twenty to thirty minutes of aggressive mashing, which can't be right. I know that I am a hopeless gringa-- I grew up in a small Pennsylvania town where we went to Chi-Chi's for "authentic" Mexican at the end of the year in fifth-grade Spanish, for heaven's sake-- so it's not surprising that I've hit this impasse. The only question is, what do I do to rectify it? Am I buying the wrong kind of avocadoes? Not using enough lime juice? Would putting them in a food processor help?

Monday, May 4, 2009

party like it's 1899

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I threw a birthday party for the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek. To fete Herr Hayek properly, we served a loosely authentic Austrian menu. So we had six Austrian wines; plenty of Gosser and Steigl; and one of our guests brought Eggenberg, another fine Austrian beer.

Our food menu included:

Endive with walnut vinaigrette. Good, but not horribly exciting. Salads are like that.

Cold sausages with mustard and peppers.

An invention of my own: take chicken breasts and sprinkle heavily with paprika. Put half a stick of butter on top of each breasts. Bake at 350 for one hour. After chicken cools, cut into bite-size pieces and insert a toothpick into each piece. Serve with sour cream and chives for dipping.

Mushroom strudel. Not really sure how it turned out, because I didn't get to eat any. That probably speaks well of it.

Crackers with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Smoked salmon is always a good idea.

Cheese plate with grapes. None of the cheeses were Austrian, I fear. We had Brie, Boursin, Humboldt Fog, and Purple Haze. Yes, I know I serve the same four cheeses at all my parties. But they are good cheeses, so I don't really care.

Desserts included my mother's kifles, the recipe for which is a state secret and will not be posted here. Also Linzertorte and Sachertorte. Each tasted good and looked impressive on the serving platter, but I'm not sure I'd make either recipe again. I had barely enough base dough to cover the springform pan for the Linzertorte, and my diamond lattice was also a tad on the skimpy side.

People devoured the Sachertorte, so they must have appreciated it. Still, the cake was a bit too thin and too crumbly to slice evenly into layers; I ended up rather hastily cobbling it together. I'd want to try other recipes to see if they get around the problem.

If possible, there will be another one next year, if only because palindromes are the best.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Obligatory Souter Retirement Post

As even tribespeople deep in the wilds of Africa know by now, Justice Souter is set to retire shortly.

I don't have much unique to add to the wealth of commentary that's already out there. To date, I've been rooting for Leah Ward Sears because we went to the same law school. Obama's not realistically appointing anyone with whom I'd agree on much, so I might as well forget judicial philosophy and cheer Sears on for purely tribal/self-interested reasons. Actually, she might well be one of the more moderate people on the short list -- see, e.g., her Solomonic baby-splitting on marriage in WaPo -- so she might be a desirable choice even for non-tribal reasons.

Also, snark aside, what is up with Ed Whelan's contention that liberals want to invent a constitutional right to human cloning? I had plenty of left-leaning professors in law school who were happy to discuss their pet projects for the Supreme Court, and I also went to plenty of ACS panel discussions and things. They were definitely excited about tortute; international human rights; the death penalty; abortion; and Ledbetter, but not so much human cloning. Had they been, I think I would have noticed. Is there some prominent liberal law professor who wrote a much-talked about article on human cloning that I somehow managed to miss?

Policy wise, I am not terribly excited about cloning. The moral questions are thorny and difficult, which means that government is likely to try to solve them in ways that will screw things up irreparably. But I don't know much about the topic, and I could be mistaken entirely.