Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pretty Privilege

I thought this Unfogged post written by a woman about the ways in which her unusual beauty has served her well was really interesting. C.f. this discussion on "pretty privilege."

I can't say I empathize with Ms. Alameida, exactly. Well... maybe a little. I've had the "girl on a bus" experience that she described quite literally twice here in D.C. But, as one of her commenters says, that may have had more to do with looking like a nice white upper-middle-class girl who wasn't trying to scam the system than with prettiness. I fear that commenting on some of the other specific issues that Ms. Alameida touches on -- how prospective dates or sexual partners size her up, and how different that experience is from other people -- would be TMI territory.

I suspect the real problem is that, as this Jezebel writer wrote, there is some "watershed period in a young girl's life that determines her self-perception; whether she'll view herself as a Pretty Girl, or as a woman who, while may or may not end up being conventionally attractive, views this, when she considers it at all, as incidental to her self-perception." Occasionally, I'll catch someone responding -- I think -- favorably to me based on appearance, and it's more weird than anything else. I feel cognitive dissonance more than privilege. So my middle school moments may effectively blind me to the pretty privilege concept, for good or ill.

Also on the pretty mystique, I've been reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned on Kindle for I-phone on my metro commute. Yay free books for i-phone! So the Unfogged post reminded me particularly of Gloria Gilbert's mystique.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Short review of The Death of Conservatism

I am an extremist in the defense of liberty. Sam Tanenhaus isn't. In my view, books about American conservative intellectual history written by people who aren't extremists in the defense of liberty -- or who aren't at least making a good faith effort to understand us -- are not worth reading.

My friend Menashi raises excellent criticisms in his review. He was a government major in college, if I recall correctly, so he naturally focuses on Tanenhaus's fuzzy understanding of conservative political theory. This is all well and good, but I'd love to see a real economist light into Tanenhaus. There is part of me that thinks that if you can't formulate a one or two-sentence definition of "public choice theory," you have no business writing an intellectual history of the American right. Based on Tanenhaus's scant attention to developments in economics over the last fifty years, I'm guessing he can't.

Yes, I know, I'm perhaps biased toward granting the libertarian/fiscal conservative elements of the right outsized importance in the overall movement. But I maintain it's even odder not to grant us any role whatsoever, which is essentially Tanenhaus's position.

Things that People In My Social Like That I Do Not Understand -- Short Stories

Perhaps "social circle" is the wrong term here, since my social circle right now is mostly full of political types. But back in college, when I used to hang out with more literary-minded students and creative writing professors, people in my social circle liked short stories. Or, at least, understood the point of their existence. In Intro Creative Writing, everyone had to write five short stories and choose one to polish for final grading. Similarly, in Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction, you had a choice of submitting novel chapters or short stories for most individual workshop classes, but had to polish two for final letter grades. My middle and high school teachers assigned them. The other students who were good at English obligingly read them and seemed to enjoy them.

I was looking through a stack of discount books in Barnes & Noble in Arlington this weekend, and I found a cheap copy of Eudora Welty's short stories. I was tempted to buy. But I knew I'd never read it, because despite Welty's name, short stories have always struck me as sort of ew. So I left it languishing with its other neon-red-tagged bargain book companions. As I left the store, I realized that most other people wouldn't respond the same way, and I started musing about why.

I've never been able to write short stories. Well, I knocked them out for the two creative writing classes described above, as well as other exercises earlier in my educational career. Most of my professors and teachers signed off on them. But they weren't really short stories; they were novel chapters that stood more or less alone. Sometimes in college, people called me out on it. There were the obvious call-outs: "You wrote about a character with the same name for the novel chapter, is this actually connected to a bigger project?" But there were less obvious criticisms: "You're trying to develop this character much too fast in too short a space. Your project's better suited to a longer piece."

They were right. My arcs were always off. I'm comfortable writing long pieces, in which characters slowly shift and develop over hundreds of pages. I can't do character-driven short right. I wonder if it's some misplaced conservative urge; I believe that people don't fundamentally change much, and that character-driven stories are only convincing if they're over a suitably long haul.

That aside, I don't much like other people's short fiction -- even acknowledged masters of the genre, like Eudora Welty. I always feel cheated, like I want to spend more time with the characters and have been unfairly cheated of the chance.

ETA: It's actually 7:30 p.m., not 4:14. Stupid timestamp...

Friday, October 9, 2009


I doubt it matters much to anyone, but the date stamps on my last few days' posts are off. They're showing up as consistently around seven hours too early. And a post that I actually wrote Thursday night is listed as being early on Friday evening. Hm.

I once had a "situational omniscience approaching God's." Then I graduated from college...

I am probably too old to care about the latest Dartmouth contretemps, but I can't resist. Besides, it's fodder for a blog post that is not about Barack Obama winning the Nobel Prize! And there just hasn't been that much else in my RSS reader...

The Dartmouth, the campus's daily paper, decided not to run an ad advertising Dartblog, a weblog focusing on campus issues. The blog was founded by Joe Malchow '08 in the fall of 2005. It covered the petition trustee candidates sympathetically and leaned generally right of center on national affairs. More recently, Joe Asch '79 has taken over the reins, though Joe or a handful of other student contributors still seem to post occasionally. Asch is as critical of the College administration as Malchow was. In fairness, I don't have much of a sense of where Asch falls on national issues, but I haven't read Dartblog that attentively.

I'm not especially exercised about the denial of the ad. That is, I do think the decision was a little silly. I doubt the D's much threatened by the existence of outside blogs. If anything, more links and commentary on their articles is good for them. And I am all in favor of tolerance of opposing ideas and perspectives; I've written here before about my love of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty.

At the same time, the D is a private organization that has every right to exercise tight editorial control over the content of its pages. It's silly to pretend that it has to accept all potential advertisements. (Often, though not always, conversations along these lines devolve into claims that the newspaper is suppressing someone's First Amendment rights. Someday, in our nation's elementary schools, people will teach kids about the state actor vs. non-state actor distinction. Until that glorious day...) I'm also think there's some libertarian case for vigorous civil society mechanisms for suppressing offensive speech. If newspapers themselves set boundaries for what's appropriate discourse, there's less need for government to set in.

Malchow returned to the blog he founded to weigh in on the whole affair. A few choice quotes:

The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes, or at least low-level associates at start-up blogs focused on shoe designers. When a D staffer swoops into a campus situation, it is with a situational omniscience approaching God’s; when she unclams her MacBook to compose her report, the elders of Oxford decamp upon the keys and poise her knowing lily fingers—the ones not smoking—over just the right letters.

Look, I graduated five years ago, and haven't submitted a D article since. But it's nice to imagine that, as I am sitting here at this Macbook, the elders of Oxford are decamping on the keys and poising my knowing lily fingers.

Also, some really important questions:

1)Which of my fellow D alums are now low level associates at start-up blogs focused on shoe designers? I'm still Facebook friends with most everyone through the Class of '07, and... I don't know of any?

2) Why were these blogs not recruiting on campus when I was a D writer?

3)And do any such blogs give out free samples?

Elsewhere, we are also told that "The D is famous for penetrating its tumescence into complex phenomena, making them relatable to ordinary people" and "In short it means that Dartmouth is so full-up and satisfied by the D’s writing, satisfied deep in its paunch, like after a large breast of turkey, that no other publication can compete." To which I have no comment.

I can't find it online anymore, but there was a hilarious thread on the Little Green Blog back during the Andrew Seal era about Joe's penchant for florid Victorianisms. One of the anonymous commenters snarked that Joe would benefit from "an intervention staged by George Will and ghosts of William F. Buckley Junior and G.K. Chesterton." I couldn't help but agree. The last I read, Joe was at the Wall Street Journal: perhaps the flesh and blood versions of Peggy Noonan, John Fund, and Bret Stephens could be pressed into service? Sure, the nineteenth century dandy style can be fun on occasion. But I fear that all too often, young conservative writers who use it too heavy handedly just look like pretentious twits -- and we only wind up unnecessarily alienating the left.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A libertarian Constitution in 2020 project?

I attended part of the Yale ACS conference with my beloved Pnin this past weekend. One of our friends, who was also present, live-blogged throughout. Paul Horwitz of Prawfsblawg put up an interesting response to his posts:

What struck me about the conference was that it was directed around a "project" (an oft-used term over the weekend) whose terms are still quite uncertain, and to which not everyone who served as a panelist had signed on. Some panelists were decidedly social activists who believe the value of the Constitution in 2020 project is that it will lead to a more just society along the lines they would like to see; to some extent, constitutionalism was present but only sitting in the passenger seat for these panelists. Other panelists, and perhaps the organizers themselves, are good-faith constitutionalists who believe that there is room for a politically progressive constitutionalism and see the goal as constructing a vision of progressive constitutionalism that is both theoretically legitimate and politically saleable. Other panelists (Rick and I fall in this category, I think) are very happy to think about what the Constitution requires and think there is always room to rethink its meaning and that there is value in doing so, but we come from a variety of theoretical, methodological, and political perspectives, and don't care so much whether the Constitution in 2020 is a progressive one or not, let alone whether it can be sold to the ranks of political progressives.

I very much enjoyed the conversation among the panelists in category three, which although it leaned left was conducted in good faith and involved a variety of perspectives. The folks in category two, I would say, were probably well-positioned to talk to the folks in both category one and category three. But there was a serious gulf between the folks in category one and category three, even when they happened to share political perspectives, which wasn't always the case.

I haven't spent much time aside from this weekend in progressive circles, but I've seen similar tensions in the conservative and libertarian circles in which I do move. Well, I suppose there are fewer people who see themselves as pure social activists per the first category. Fed Soc conferences have beaten respect for the rule of law -- and hatred of activist judging -- into us too well for that. So even the public interest lawyer types I know, the "litigators for liberty," seem to imagine themselves as constructing a vision of libertarian constitutionalism that is both theoretically legitimate and politically saleable.

There's good and bad to having a lack of pure one types. I suspect there's more communication between academics and public interest lawyer types on the right. I think it's perhaps easier for us to imagine ourselves all engaged in a common enterprise of constructing a vision of libertarian constitutionalism that's both theoretically legitimate and politically saleable. On the bad side, I've sometimes felt ashamed of having any pure social activist impulses. I'm not sure that's quite right. Second, I fear that our hatred of activism makes it harder to be honest with ourselves about potential weaknesses in our theoretical arguments.

Finally, I shouldn't close a post on this topic without a plug for Steven Teles's Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement. It's a great resource for anyone who wants to understand the lawyers of the right.


1)This Prawfsblawg post about why magazine lists of "Best Places to Live" are based on fallacious economic reasoning was fantastic.

I have to confess, I was initially excited because most of the Prawfs contributors are left of center, and I thought it was exciting to see left-of-center types applying economic reasoning to everyday life. Then I looked up the author and figured out that he's a GMU prawf whom I'd just never met. I'm slightly disappointed that the gospel isn't spreading as rapidly as I'd hoped. But it was still a good post to add to my anti-suburbs files.

2)Popular career advice blogger tweets about having a miscarriage. It turns out that Trunk has Asperger's, which may explain her faux pas. Though I've internalized enough social norms to understand why twittering about this sort of thing would gross out many reasonable people, I score highly on Asperger's tests and thus have some empathy with Trunk's situation.

3)My friend Steven Menashi has an excellent essay on the Undead Constitution. You may also enter and explore the Menashiverse more fully at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Cycle of the Wedding Rings

Again like Megan McArdle, I have been researching wedding planning in D.C. I am trying not to be disheartened by how expensive most of the initially intriguing options are. Like, even the Holiday Inn in Alexandria is charging $75 for a head... and it's not even in the heart of Old Town, for Pete's sake. The places that are slightly more up market are often comfortable asking for $125 or $135. Read: it's easy to spend to close to what I made per annum as a 22-year-old research assistant on a single day's party.

I mean... I probably spent about $100 total for food for the 20 guests who came to the Hayek party And still plenty of compliments for my culinary skills. $75 a head for leathery, under-spiced chicken with rice and creamed corn and iceberg lettuce doused in acid-sharp vinaigrette just adds insult to injury. Dresses likewise commonly run into the four or five figures. Yes, I could go the David's Bridal route* and "save" by buying something that was $500. But all the while, I would be thinking about the discounted gorgeous discounted Nina Ricci I could get on Gilt for the same price, or, in the alternative, two cute BCBG dresses priced retail that I saw the last time I went for a walk in Georgetown....

I understand -- as Pnin tells me -- that extravagance in this context is supposed to signal the strength of our commitment to each other. Maybe, but there's a tiny bit of me that is afraid of accidentally blundering into marriage with Gilbert Osmond, as per my namesake, and I'd rather minimize my damages in that unhappy scenario. So yours truly is on the brink of revolt.

So I started thinking about alternatives during the walk home from work, and came up with...holding something like a long Festival of Pnin and Isabel. We would have something like a cycle of parties in our house. I would not wear a frilly long white dress that I could wear exactly once. I would instead spend the cash equivalent on a series of cute designer dresses from Nordstrom's or whatever that are all just a bit more expensive than anything I'd wear normally. There would be appetizers, similar in type and quality to the menu I put together for the Hayek party. Each party could even have a theme or a pillar, sort of like the pillars of Islam, but different. Like "Love" or "Fidelity" or "Patience" or "Economic Liberty" or "Property Rights." And there could be literary readings and discussions of the pillar before everyone wandered out into the backyard to dance underneath Japanese lanterns and drink sangria and eat fresh-grilled mini-cheeseburgers.

Apparently there is supposed to be something special about having all of the people you love in one place. Forgive me, but I could not have less desire to have all of the people whom I love in one place. I do not need my slightly deranged Vietnam vet distant cousin whose wife works taking tickets at a NASCAR track (yes, really); the trustafarian kids from my freshman dorm at Dartmouth; and Randy Barnett under the same roof. Yes, I love them all, but differently, and throwing them all into one room would just feel too much like a chapter from I Am Charlotte Simmons or (worse?) a really bad David Brooks column. I would be tempted to start noticing people's iliac crests, deltoids, and abusing onomatopoeia. Or, alternatively, start embracing national greatness conservatism. Suffice it to say that I prefer my life compartmentalized. Having a Festival of Pnin and Isabel lets me pander to the needs of my different audiences better.

Reason 1, 739 why I am not a Burkean conservative: I came up with all of this in about 20 minutes walking to the metro.

Sadly, I doubt I'll be able to put these insights into practice. Our two respective families will demand something more traditional.

I am half-tempted to write to about The American Scene advice column about all of these dilemmas. It's the sort of subject matter that's right up their alley, I think. But we'll see.

*I sort of feel Cintra Wilson's pain. Not because I'm a model of litheness; I'm comfortably above the Roissyite threshhold of desirability (thank G-d?) -- but because I'm so short I wear small sizes anyway. And invariably, the expensive stores have more and better fitting option than discount brands like David Bridal's will.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

RIP Gourmet

Like Megan McArdle, was sorry to hear of Gourmet magazine's decline. But I disagree with McArdle about the huge differential between Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Pnin will attest to my Epicurious junkie-hood, so I know that of which I speak. As described below, my record of outstanding and mediocre recommendations from both magazines seems about equal.

This filet mignon recipe from Bon Appetit is utterly heavenly and rates easily on the top five things or so I've ever made. This salmon from Bon Appetit is also one of Pnin's favorite dishes.

I made this orrechiette a few weeks ago also and it's quite serviceable and easy for a weeknight, if not exactly setting my world afire. And this gemelli from Gourmet was good and easy, but again, not hitting the top list of things I've ever made.

On the other hand, I made this cilantro-coated tilapia last night, which was almost sinfully easy and quite delicious. Pnin thinks it's slightly too spicy, however, so am not sure if I'll repeat it regularly.

This cake from Gourmet is also utterly outstanding. It is one of the best five desserts I've ever made, perhaps the best. But it's a three to four hour project that's not really suitable for regular rotation status.

College advice for young libertarians -- addendum

Re-posted comment of mine from Roger Simon's blog, which makes a nice addendum to this post.

Not a Yalie, though I am a recent alum (’04) of one of its rivals, and I was taken aback by Rabbi Hausman’s statement that he would never send his child there. From everything that I’ve been able to discern about Yale in particular, there’s a thriving conservative and libertarian intellectual subculture. Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason magazine is a fairly recent Yale grad; Helen Rittelmeyer of the Cigarette Smoking blog and Nicola Karras have gotten link love from high places; and Dara Lind is a recent Yale grad whose stuff I’ve seen at the highbrow blog American Scene. See also this profile of four hotshot Bush White House speechwriters— three of whom are Yale grads.

I’m not denying that Yale and schools like it lean left far more than right. I’m also not denying that more intellectual and ideological balance would be good for these places. The point is that there are plenty of talented conservatives and libertarians who make it through the ideological hazing and come out stronger and more interesting because of it. I’d therefore encourage Rabbi Hausman’s children, and applicants like them, not to flee these institutions so quickly.