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.