Wednesday, December 22, 2010

On French and the liberal arts

So John McWhorter recently wrote a piece in the New Republic explaining why he is less upset than he might be that universities are eliminating altogether or scaling back French departments. Now, I could probably devote an entire blog consisting of short hyperlinks to things that John McWhorter has written merely with comments like "YEAH!" appended. I try not to give into this temptation too regularly because that would make this blog even less interesting than it usually is.

But I am a bit more torn here because I studied French in high school and loved it. While I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, Googling my real name yields a fifteen year old newspaper article from my red state hometown about my score on the national French exam.* I'd echo many of the positive things that Conor Friedersdorf's commenters say about why studying French is fun, useful, or beautiful.

At the same time, I recognize how desperately cash strapped many universities are. I'm also aware how scandalously high tuition is across the country. In many places, something has to drop. So long as students who wish to study French still have some good options left, I won't mourn it terribly if others cancel or scale back programs. As a non-New Yorker, I am sort of baffled by the SUNY system, but I am able to figure out from cursory Wikipedia and Google research that there are three other University Centers that all offer French degrees. There are also thirteen other institutions called University Colleges, and a perhaps not entirely reliable College Confidential thread indicates that many of them offer French majors as well. While private or out of state public universities may not be an affordable option for other New Yorkers interested in French, they may of course be viable options for other students. Let me stress, though: if this trend really did become more widespread -- e.g. if there were no SUNYs offering French -- then I would see more cause for concern.

Finally, I would dearly, dearly love to see more American schools invest more time and resources into foreign language education at a younger age. While not quite Exeter level of elite, the schools I attended were good by most standards. Most of my classmates came from middle or even upper-middle-class backgrounds. Yet we had Spanish classes only once a week at the elementary level, and they were regarded as non-challenging fluff akin to art and the dreaded Physical Education. We essentially sat around for five years saying "Hola!" and "Como estas?" to each other (sorry, no accent marks) and occasionally watched videos from the Muzzy series that none of us understood. We could have started memorizing vocabulary lists of foods, clothing items, or other such basics as early as second or third grade and gotten letter grades on the quizzes. Yet we didn't. We didn't start grammar until seventh grade and only then moved at a painstakingly slow pace. We could, I think, have started on the very simple stuff -- conjugations of present tense verbs and the like -- a year or two earlier. Yet nobody seemed inclined to encourage us to do it. This neglect seems all the more pedagogically baffling because young children pick up languages more easily than do their counterparts who are even a few years older.

By high school, I was one of very few loons who insisted on taking two foreign languages. Again, while I can see why two foreign languages might have been overwhelming to some students who didn't like them, there seemed to be plenty of perfectly capable students who could have handled a third language and didn't try to pick one up. Curricula that encouraged students to take up one European and one non-European language would also have the nice effect of being responsive to McWhorter's concerns while not displacing existing strong programs in French or in classical languages. Sadly, there's enough fluff in many schools -- the incessant anti-drug and safe sex propaganda;to take one easy target -- that could be cut so as to accommodate these changes. Who knows, maybe some of this would even drive up the supply of language majors...

*Subsequent life accomplishments that have eclipsed that, at least according to Google's algorithm, are my NYT wedding annoucement and a white paper I wrote for the Federalist Society.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Phillip Pullman as Unitary Executive Theory Guy?


"The Papacy itself had been abolished after Calvin's death, and a tangle of courts, colleges and councils , collectively known as the Magisterium, had grown up in its place. These agencies were not always united; sometimes a bitter rivalry grew up between them... But it was always possible for independent agencies to grow up under the protection of another part of the Magisterium, and the Oblation Board, which the Librarian had referred to, was one of these."

-- The Golden Compass at 27.

Trigger Happy Cop Kills Golden Retriever

*$%($(#%$#($($. Vicious breed my eye. If this doesn't lend fuel to the fires of the anti-overcriminalization movement, I don't know what will.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Columbia Eminent Domain Case

I mostly liked Megan McArdle's post on the Columbia eminent domain case. But I'll take issue with the statement, "I don't understand why this is an issue that only fires up libertarians." Three amici filed in support of cert in the Columbia case. While two are combinations of libertarian-leaning organizations, the third is a Democratic New York State Senator, who is not especially otherwise libertarian so far as I know.

An even more ideologically diverse coalition came together against eminent domain abuse in the Kelo case. It included the NAACP and AARP. Prominent liberal politicians including Maxine Waters, Ralph Nader, and Bill Clinton also weighed in after the decision came down and condemned the result.

It's not often that the rest of the world seems eager to join forces with libertarians. Eminent domain abuse is one exception. Let us bask in the sunshine and enjoy it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where Are All the Female Libertarians?

I think I have tried to answer this question before.At least, I feel like I really ought to have something to say about it. But I don't, which is why I let this languish starred in Reader for a day or so. Note, however, that I really don't think that libertarian activists are more pretentious or argumentative than left-liberal ACS types, social conservatives, or any other political grouping I've encountered. Such is the nature of people interested in politics.

Alternative Job Ideas

For the file referenced in the headline file, yes, but also for the "Very Good Sentences" basket:

"Why is there no SF [science fiction] whose author seems to have read and understood even so basic a work as Micklethwait and Wooldrige's The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea?"

-- Stephen Bainbridge, who is also the owner of a magnificent golden retriever

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Petiteness, overanalyzed

I have never been to Los Angeles and so decline to speculate about how superficial the place is. Still, I do think that this reference is innocent and does not betray any particular SoCal esthetic of superficiality. First, I'm used to thinking of petiteness as a polite euphemism for shortness, rather than thinness or shortness plus thinness. After all, petite dress departments usually run in almost the same range as regular ones (up to 12 or 14) and cater to women within a wide range of body mass indexes. I'm curious if others prone to overanalyzing shortness see this differently, though.

I am not sure that anyone has ever liked me for being short. That is probably more because I am good at alienating and offending people of all heights than because of anything else. Nor do most women find shortness in and of itself especially aesthetically appealing. So I suspect that this is an attempt at literary flourish, at sketching a physical description, that just came out kind of oddly.

Economics and Marriage

Some foolish humans have chided Pnin and me for inviting an economist to give a lecture at our wedding in lieu of having a member of the clergy deliver a sermon. Recently, I have come across an entire blog dedicated to applying the insights of economics to having a good marriage. I feel validated.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elephant Law

I bow to nobody in being a totally sentimental loon about elephants. This is because pachyderms are awesome, and I know amazing animals when I see them. However, I must agree with Eugene Volokh here regarding the problems inherent in this pro-elephant litigation.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mad Men and Dungeons and Dragons

A handy chart to keep all the characters' alignments straight. Note, however, that Polly the Golden Retriever should probably be placed in the Chaotic Good quadrant rather than Sally. Because Polly is excellent and amazing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Unabashed Materialism -- 2010 Christmas Wish List

Because other humans actually found last year's list useful, pls. allow me to leave aside pontificating abou education and compose a wish list of Christmas gifts.

1. I have been staring lustfully at this bag on the Internet for about two or three months. The difficulty is that, as humans who already know me in real life know, I have an established weakness for colorful bags and thus already have several that are fairly nice. But I found aqua ballet on Gilt that were relatively cheap that would match this one, I howl in protest!

There is also the separate problem that apparently colorful accessories tend to make one look younger than one really is, a problem that I have faced before. Oh well. At least I haven't been carded for an R-rated movie since I was 24.

2. Relatedly, I am developing a weakness for darling polka-dotted accessories. NIce accessories are a good cure for many things, including the stresses of packing that I hate.

3. Absurdly overpriced yoga pants. Again, these would never help me honor any gods of frugality, but they are ever so super comfortable. I've never tried anything else from the line, but I would bet same.

4. I've been listening to some of the Teaching Company courses on my beloved i-phone Helvidius when I walk to work in the mornings. Pnin and I have listened to others in the car. Right now I've been enjoying the History of Western Music one, and I have been eagerly waiting for the podcast version of the Opera class to go on sale. So far, no luck.

5. Gift certificates covering all or in part nice facials or massages are always appreciated.

6. Not sure where to look for replacements, but nice makeup brushes would probably be good. Mine are starting to show age.

7. In general, nice earrings are a good idea. I have one pair of pearls that I wear nearly everywhere. They're beautiful and classic. But variation (at least in principle) might be good.

Lovely things that are lower on my list at this point: though some may have thought it impossible, I have found a way to in part abate my cravings for books and kitchen gadgets. That's right, marrying a law professor has had the wonderful effect of getting me thousands of books for free. And lots of lovely kitchen gadgets have come in from friends and family, too. So I'm actually feeling fairly well satiated on both those fronts.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


1)Above is a map that is cool. (via)

2)A good essay on "why the presidency is too big for one man":

[Glenn] Reynolds should rethink his position. Electing someone else to sit in the White House isn’t necessarily going to bring about a federal government that functions better. For that to happen, we need to give our presidents fewer tasks to perform well, rather than asking that they give their attention to everything from childhood obesity to North Korean nukes to stem cell policy to the future of GM to… well, you get the idea.

3)How vouchers can help gay teens. I'd call this a libertarian argument rather than a conservative one, but whatever.

4)Who says you can't buy virtue?

5)Here's a nice essay on locavores, libertarians, and food safety.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Disjointed crankish libertarian rambling on the triumph of too-brilliant-to-bathes

So I have been following this conversation on "homework helpers," whether boys are more disorganized than girls, whether this is a real handicap in later life, and whether/how this drives gender gaps in academic achievement. To wit, some disjointed thoughts:

1. To my way of thinking, there is all the difference in the world between "learning how to follow senseless rules for the sake of following senseless rules" and "learning how to follow rules that seem senseless, but in fact actually have some purpose." The latter is quite useful in life and work. The former, not. I recognize that which one is which is somewhat in the eye of the beholder....

2. Yes, learning how to submit things on time and complete is an essential skill. On the other hand, I can remember being scolded in eleventh grade for stapling an essay at a funny angle. My teacher preferred staples at a forty-five-degree angle from the page, and I tended to misfire and let my staples run almost parallel to the horizontal edge of the paper. My good friend Clarissa Dalloway teaches high school in CT, and her students have to hand in one-page journal entries. They are shocked, shocked that she lets them submit papers torn right out of spiral notebooks without lowering their grades. Their previous teacher simply could not abide the ugly, rough scraggly edges. Etc.

3... which brings me to the libertarian crankery. In my experience, workplaces have generally been more tolerant of eccentricity, messiness, and what have you than schools. People who are trying to make stuff and sell it usually have incentive not to create overly complex rules and bureaucracies. In schools, the incentives are different. It's all too easy to get drunk on the power of being a petty despot and terrorize students for poor stapler use or scraggly paper edges. There's nobody looking over your shoulder and asking you,"Yes, but does this really contribute to learning?" Of course there are many wonderful teachers who don't fall prey to bad incentives. But neither most teachers nor most people are angels, and bad incentives do tempt otherwise good people to indulge bad tendencies.

Go to enough libertarian happy hours, and you're bound to hear a rant or two on how government schools socialize kids for passive obedience to the state. A lot of this rhetoric sounds a bit too "the black helicopters are coming for you" for my taste. But I don't think these concerns are misplaced altogether either.

4. So I'm pretty comfortable with schools grading students primarily based on their mastery of material, rather than on "life skills." Note that if organization and so forth actually helps students get A's rather than C's, presumably most will figure this out.

5. As far as I can tell, most other advanced industrial nations have school systems that focus much more heavily on content mastery as measured by high-stakes testing. This is perhaps a single point, but my in-laws have remarked on several occasions that they and other Russian immigrant friends are often shocked by how much the American system values "effort" and other soft factors over getting results come test time. Grading on notebook organization and so forth would be unheard of over there. I don't want to go into the weeds on international comparisons of student test scores here; while America often lags on such comparisons, some commentators claim that it's because a wider range of American students take the relevant tests. Still, to my knowledge nobody claims that America is vastly outperforming peer nations on most such tests. So the international experience suggests that adopting a more results-oriented approach would probably not hurt our students and might well help.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Constitution-subverting tendencies have been found out. Darn it.

From the ever-thick files of Really Stupid Things Written About Libertarianism comes this gem: (via):

Anytime anyone says anything libertarian, spit on them. Libertarians are by definition enemies of the state: they are against promoting American citizens’ general welfare and against policies that create a perfect union. Like Communists before them, they are actively subverting the Constitution and the American Dream, and replacing it with a Kleptocratic Nightmare.

I would not, actually, mind if people spit on me every time I said something libertarian. I do not own enough expensive accessories for it to much matter if my things get damaged by flying spittle. It is true that I say things that are libertarian several dozen times on a good day, especially if comments like "Good morning, Pnin, how are you today? Would you like pancakes?" can be construed as libertarian.

But the spitters should think through whether they want to devise some kind of counter-spit mechanism for comments that are not really libertarian. Like, imagine that Mark Ames went to a bar with two Koch Fellows. Koch Fellow #1 might say something like, "I want to cut the Department of Education's budet by 85%." Mark Ames might be tempted to spit on him for that remark. Except Koch Fellow #2 might fly out of his seat and proclaim, "Eighty-five percent? Eighty-five %*$* percent? Why not abolish it altogether? Statist!" Koch Fellow #1 might then argue that it is perfectly libertarian to have a federal Department of Education that runs American Indian tribal schools and schools on military bases. But Koch Fellow #2 might not agree. So there would need to be a rule in advance: does Ames spit at the initial remark? Or should he wait until the two libertarians have agreed that this argument is in fact actually libertarian? Or is there some kind of viable counter-spitting procedure? Ames might assume that young libertarians do not spend a lot of time sparring with each other about what views count as libertarian and which do not, but I can assure him that his assumption is entirely wrong.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Against Making Legal Writing Classes More Important

Law professors and lawyers who have blogs (or, indeed, most any other kind of bully pulpit) like to talk about reforming the law school experience. One of the reforms most commonly proposed is Making Legal Writing More Important. In Legal Writing classes and only in them will aspiring lawyers learn the skills that are Really Important for Success in Practice. Down with the eggheaded doctrinalists, with their "tenure" and their three and four-credit classes (Really Important Subjects should be given three credit, at a minimum) and their allegedly important "scholarship" and graded classes and their other caviar-swilling aristocratic ways! Up with the proletariat, who do the real work of educating lawyers! Indeed, near as I can tell from my admittedly haphazard impressions of the legal reform blogosphere, "Let's Make Legal Writing More Important" is a vanilla platitude akin to "Puppies are cute" and "Chocolate is yummy."

Except... such blog posts inevitably set your loyal contrarian correspondent's teeth on edge.

I went to a forward-thinking institution that tried to make Legal Writing Important. It is true, I believe that they did not normally grant the legal writing faculty tenure, and my Legal Writing professor left (to howls of protest) while I was there because my law school would not let him teach doctrinal classes, reserving that honor for the tenured and tenure-track champagne-swillers who published law review articles in the relevant discipline. Legal Writing classes were also two credits instead of four, a fact that again occasioned howls of protest from most of the students who were not me.

The heart of the problem lay in that in Legal Writing classes that are actually important, professors have two goals that are directly in tension with one another: first, to get everyone up to some bare minimum of competence so that not even the lowest-ranked students embarrass themselves in their summer clerkships and first jobs; and, two, to generate a forced curve along which it is easy to sort students into A/B/C categories. In schools where Legal Writing is not actually important, Goal #1 is quite easily accomplished. One gets lots of drafts of a memo and a brief, which means lots of revisions, lots of hand-holding, lots of bites at the apple, and everyone eking out a nice pretty P for Pass. But at schools where Legal Writing is actually supposed to be important, all of this hand-holding tends to result in extraordinarily flat curves. Keep in mind also that 50% of the class at most American law schools scored within two or three LSAT points of one another and is similarly well matched in terms of work ethic as measured by undergraduate GPA, again pushing curves toward flatness.

So what is a well-meaning Legal Writing instructor to do? One could cut out some of the hand-holding and generous multiple draft policy, but that might mean that some students would have trouble attaining Goal #1. Instead, often as not, mine tended to keep the generous rewrite policies in place, but instead grade us rigorously for compliance with arbitrary or entirely false grammar and style rules. My favorite entirely false rule was said instructor's stubborn instance that passive voice was always wrong, when in fact it is often stylistically undesirable but not technically wrong. He also had the charming habit of insisting that verbs in the pluperfect -- e.g. "Professor Throttlebottom had addressed the Federalist Society once before he gave the keynote speech last year" -- were actually passive and thus marking them wrong.

I am actually writing this post in a fit of PTSD because my professor also marked us down for using "since" and "because" interchangeably. I suspected then that this rule made no sense whatsoever, since the New York Times and much of the rest of the respectable world seemed to be with me. Today Eugene Volokh weighs in and informs his blog readers that writers have been using "since" to mean "because" since approximately 1450. My fellow offenders on this score include Shakespeare, Swift, Defoe, and Austen. While it is nice to be proven right, I can't help but feel a bit sorry for law students who may be caught up in similar experiences now. Also, I'd like to try to prevent them from spreading if I can.

Finally, I suppose I should pull apart some of the dimensions of "importance" that I have deliberately muddled together for maximum comic effect. I suppose my core argument here is really one against letter grades, at least at the many American law schools at which most students fall within an extremely compressed range of the I.Q. and conscientousness curves.* If one takes away letter grades, then I'm not sure what argument remains for making Legal Writing worth more credit hours. The arguments against granting Legal Writing profs tenure are perhaps more complicated. Because I'm inclined to oppose tenure for even pointy-headed doctrinal profs, I suppose I'm not the best person to expound on why it isn't necessary to expand the institution. But inasmuch as many Legal Writing professors' arguments for it come down to "You need to raise our status vis-a-vis professors of doctrinal classes because our subject is more important!", I don't find their pleas convincing.**

*This is perhaps a separate post, but I don't think the same argument applies against grading in doctrinal courses. High-stakes exams do generate pretty bell-shaped curves pretty easily, which is why doctrinalists find them useful. I suppose also that Goal #1 is less important here. Minimum proficiency in Crim Law isn't important to a future practictioner of Corporate Law. There is the bar, but the standard prep courses are pretty well designed to bring people over minimum competency thresholds.

While these facts are well-known to regular readers of this blog, I am married to one eggheaded doctrinalist and work for another, which I suppose might indicate conflict of interest. Maybe, although I held these views on not making Legal Writing more important years before I met either. Also, on information and belief, neither swills champagne much and only one of them likes caviar.

**I suspect there is a Baptists and bootleggers dynamic at work here. Many of these people want tenure because they want more money and job security. The bits about how their subject is really, really important may well be a polite rationalization, even though most of these people wouldn't admit it to themselves. Fair enough. I'm attacking them on their Baptist claims. My husband has perhaps better responses to the bootlegger claims.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Asceticism, government, and the pursuit of happiness

Conor Friedersdorf has a series at The American Scene reviewing a new Jonah Goldberg-edited anthology on why various writers turned right. I found particularly interesting the installment reviewing Joseph Ashby's contribution:

In modest enough fashion, Joseph Ashby recounts the ordinary but nevertheless impressive story of how he and his wife worked full time while putting themselves through college during the first year of their marriage. Despite all that, they were “resolved not to let schooling keep us from starting a family,” he remembers, so aside from classes he worked as a landscaper, she answered phones at a customer service center, and they conceived a child. “Our plan was simple: put in the heavy work hours while we could, pay off the car, set aside money for the pending baby, and save as much as we could after that,” he writes, so they got rid of their cell phones, washed clothing in the tub to save trips to the laundromat, studied rather than getting a full night’s sleep, spent long Saturdays mowing lawns, and otherwise lived as ascetic an existence as they could.

Baby arrived! Sleep declined. Then tax time came, and “we felt like something had to be wrong. Our tax liability (mostly payroll) was more than we had paid in rent over the entire year…” The experience caused the author to set out on a quest “to answer certain fundamental questions about government.” This being a book of essays about conservatism, you can imagine his conclusion: the tax burden is too high...n modest enough fashion, Joseph Ashby recounts the ordinary but nevertheless impressive story of how he and his wife worked full time while putting themselves through college during the first year of their marriage. Despite all that, they were “resolved not to let schooling keep us from starting a family,” he remembers, so aside from classes he worked as a landscaper, she answered phones at a customer service center, and they conceived a child. “Our plan was simple: put in the heavy work hours while we could, pay off the car, set aside money for the pending baby, and save as much as we could after that,” he writes, so they got rid of their cell phones, washed clothing in the tub to save trips to the laundromat, studied rather than getting a full night’s sleep, spent long Saturdays mowing lawns, and otherwise lived as ascetic an existence as they could.

Baby arrived! Sleep declined. Then tax time came, and we felt like something had to be wrong. Our tax liability (mostly payroll) was more than we had paid in rent over the entire year..... The experience caused the author to set out on a quest “to answer certain fundamental questions about government.” This being a book of essays about conservatism, you can imagine his conclusion: the tax burden is too high. But the faulty logic that Ashby employs to get there is problematic, especially if he hopes to persuade an educated audience of non-conservatives that he is right.

The essay’s personal narrative is weakened by the fact that a married couple with a child and both husband and wife qualifying as full-time students don’t actually face a particularly high tax burden, especially if they are making a typical customer service and landscaping wage.

[snip] Ashby then turns to various works about government to understand his dilemma, and he figures out that there are roughly two principal worldviews addressing justice and redistribution:

The first philosophy would seem to prohibit taxation entirely in a just society. The second philosophy is too vague to be usefully descriptive — what exactly is relative economic equality? — but however defined, neither worldview describes very well the philosophy that is the reigning consensus among many Americans: put roughly, some redistribution is justified to care for the least well off, but beyond that debt to society people are by and large free to keep what they earn and spend money on what they wish. The devil is in the details, and there are intense disagreements about degree, but it’s a glaring omission when you don’t include a middle ground so big it encompasses John F. Kennedy and Milton Friedman.

I have mixed feelings about some other sections of the essay; I'm more skeptical than Friedersdorf is, for example, that federal redistribution was quite so vital to helping people through the Depression. Also, while I respect Ashby's decision to have a child while young and lead the ascetic lifestyle necessary to support that choice, I am less convinced that his "personal story of self-reliance and delayed gratification" is one that "anyone in a similar position would do well to emulate." Deferring childbirth for a few years so that one can more easily afford a mere $3 or so per week for laundry (!) may be a perfectly defensible choice for many. Then again, we've already established that I have stronger hedonistic spendthrift tendencies than Conor Friedersdorf does. Still, however, an interesting read.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Annette Gordon-Reed and Dartmouth

I appreciate much of Joe Asch's blogging about Dartmouth and specifically about Board of Trustees, but this post about the College's new academic trustee Annette Gordon-Reed was a bit off the mark. Specifically:

1. Asch notes that Gordon-Reed formerly taught at New York Law School, which he states is not affiliated with another undergraduate institution. He remarks a second time on Gordon-Reed's teaching career at an "unaffiliated law school." His point appears to be that she is somehow less qualified to be a good trustee than a law professor who teaches at a law school affiliated with an undergraduate institution.

I'm skeptical of that. I graduated law school less than three years ago myself; my husband is a legal academic who teaches at the same institution as Todd Zywicki; and I work as an advisor and assistant to yet another law professor in her capacity as a federal government official. So I spend quite a bit of time around the breed. And... from what I can tell, most law professors spent minimal time interacting with undergraduate faculty and students. They have more than enough to do within the four walls of their respective law schools. Indeed, gaining perspective on the needs of GMU undergrads might be especially challenging for Professor Zywicki, as the law school and undergrad campuses are half an hour's drive away from each other and very different places culturally.

2. I have mixed feelings about the omission of her recent career at NYLS. Yes, as Asch says, it's less impressive than the institutions where the others taught. On the other hand, lateral moves are common in the legal academy. Lots of people start out at a law school less prestigious than where they finally end up. It seems begrudging, a little bit petty, to hold her pre-Harvard career against her. Note also that while NYLS is not high-prestige, it's in a high-demand city, and so therefore might be more attractive to junior prawfs than a higher-prestige job in a remote location. Gordon-Reed's husband is also a lawyer, which might also have constrained her options higher up the academic totem pole.

3. The points about the D's different emphasis in covering the Zywicki/Smith elections aren't really fair either. Todd Zywicki was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2005 and Stepen Smith in the spring of 2007, before any of the D's current editors or writers matriculated as freshmen. Different editorial boards can have different priorities, and it's entirely possible that the current crop simply thinks that academic perspectives are more important than did their predecessors three or five years ago. It's also possible that both groups of editors are all flaming liberals, of course, and that they're hellbent on doing whatever possible to make liberal trustees look good and conservative ones look bad. Perhaps, but it's in better taste to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Brief facts and stats on married life

Pnin and I have been married for 51 days.

Since then, I have been carded twice. Once at my younger cousin's wedding, the second time at our own post-wedding reception. The bartender seemed somewhat embarrassed when he realized that I was the (presumably non-child) bride being honored. I am not sure exactly how many times total I have tried to procure alcohol in the last 51 days, but I think that that was two out of five occasions. The other three involved buying wine at Whole Foods in Arlington, ordering a beer at Harry's Tap Room, and taking a glass of wine from a bottle ordered by the table at a work dinner.

Pnin's dental hygienist also asked him on Day 33 of the marriage if I am pregnant yet. He explained that she is Russian and speaks to him in Russian, and that Russians tend to be more blunt about this sort of thing than are Americans.

I feel like this juxtaposition expresses something profound, but I am not sure what it is.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

On making exercise more aesthetic

So I read the essay to which Amber linked a few days ago encouraging men to care more about their looks. I thought about writing something -- either here or at that thread -- in response,but Phoebe's response covered most of what I'd have said. That is: yes, heart of original essay writer in right place. At the same time, yes, the greater emphasis on women's looking good comes at a cost. At its most tragic, the female obsession with weight leads to hospitalization and even death from eating disorders. But even setting aside those extraordinary cases, as Phoebe indicates, there's a whole lot of garden variety neurosis among women who look perfectly fine that doesn't really do anyone any good. So, those points made, I left the whole alone in favor of rambling instead about the evils of the Ron/Hermione pairing.

But to another related issue, which I was mulling mid-long-walk-around the neighborhood this weekend: it's a shame that so much of the discourse around exercise in this country focuses around shaming and sin, rather than aesthetics. Mary Eberstadt's "Is Food the New Sex?" focused on our grimly Puritan approach to calorie intake. But the same neo-Puritan aesthetic permits "redemption" from the sin of eating: there's at least one gym named Redeem Yourself Fitness in the world, as well as handy-dandy chartstelling us precisely how many minutes of different forms of exercise will permit us to recover eating "sin" foods. Relevant numbers of Hail Marys and Our Fathers are not included.

The dominant aesthetic of gyms I've visited seems in line with this. I occasionally observe women circa age forty-five at mine, marching around with iron bars across the backs of their shoulders and/or occasionally with heavy metal chains around their necks, while a (no doubt expensive) personal trainer barks orders at them. Their faces have these looks of grim determination: they can do this, they will lose the weight! The whole aesthetic reeks uncomfortably of Jean Valjean's prison scenes in films of Les Miserables. (Stealing a loaf of bread, eating too much bread; perhaps all the same thing?) I find myself longing for crows' feet in a probably misplaced attempt at farewell to arms, to renounce nubility out of solidarity.

It need not be, of course. Physical movement can be beautiful. Just think of all of those lovely Greek nudes of gorgeous men partaking in sport! Murrayian elitist though it makes me, I can stomach yoga largely because I can look at least somewhat graceful while doing it. There's a connection, however weak, to thousands of years of Indian tradition. There's elegant bending and stretching. There is a noticeable lack of grunting, chains, and/or iron bars.

While I'm sure this is fanciful, it would be wonderful if Michelle Obama's much-discussed exercise campaign tried to infuse a little bit of much-needed Hellenism into our painfully Hebraistic national discourse on exercise. Though I'm sure I disagree with about 96% of her policy views, I'm happy to give her points for Jackie O.-esque glamor. So she might be an aesthete deep down. Unfortunately, her website doesn't leave me optimistic. The typeface and graphics are more blandly corporate PowerPoint than anything else, and the content is mostly nanny-state-esque finger wagging.

Not surprisingly, the private sector has been better at imbuing other sectors of the health movement with much-needed Hellenism. As Virginia Postrel has said about the successes of the locavore food movement: "The local-food movement's ideological parochialism would be dangerous if it were somehow enacted into law. But as persuasion, it tends to focus on the positive: the delights of local peaches and fresh cider, not the imagined evils of Chilean blueberries and prepeeled baby carrots. In this regard, it resembles the English Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century. William Morris, who is remembered today more for his wallpaper and book designs than for his social theories, didn't manage to overturn the industrial revolution. But he and his allies left a legacy of beautiful things. Pleasure is persuasive." Indeed: would that the exercise sector of the movement -- whether gently encouraging men and women alike to find new forms of delight -- would focus on same.


1. Nancy Pelosi is actually right that the world would be better if people who want to become photographers, artists or writers could more easily leave their day jobs without having to worry about buying health insurance. Contra Ms. Iannone, though, this same goal could also be accomplished by ending tax breaks to employers who give their employees health insurance. Libertarians have been saying as much for years. True, some of us may feel more spiritual kinship with people who want to leave conventional employment for non-artsy pursuits, but the point still stands.

2. An interesting essay on doubt.

3. Against National Greatness Conservatism, Part XVIII.

4. I should probably write something longer about this. But in the meantime, let me note that I suspect the author's right that most of the hostility directed at the right on elite campuses is directed at social conservatives rather than libertarians and that this all is kind of tribal and aesthetic. N.b. that *most* -/- all, and I did occasionally hear unpleasantness directed at libertarians when I was in such schools. But I think I had an easier time than did true believer social conservatives.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On not being a trial lawyer

Here's another tale from my "men are from Mars, women are from Venus, but I am from Vulcan" file: Eugene Volokh has a summary of a Georgia appellate case involving a prosecutor who, mid-closing-argument on a murder victim's birthday, brought out a birthday cake and began singing "Happy Birthday" to the victim.

All 2Ls at my law school had to enroll in its Trial Techniques program, which culminated with us having to try a mock case in front of mock juries drawn from the local community. In contrast to real life, we student lawyers got to watch the mock jury deliberations and then got to listen to feedback from the jurors afterwards. A number of my jurors came from a paralegal program at a local community college, or something similar (I may be misremembering the details of what they were studying.)

Anyway, they had seen the birthday cake trial that Eugene wrote about on a field trip for their educational program. They LOVED it. Positively thought it was sheer brilliance. They understood that it was not our fake murder victim's birthday and so that we could not have literally done the same thing. But really, our performance had been disappointingly colorless by comparison. If we took home anything, it should have been the need for more drama.

I had an Advanced Con Law paper to polish that night, but I remember putting it off for a nice stiff drink. After a glass or two, I concluded, "Well, there's always civil lit. And blessed are those who wrote Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure..."

I don't have an opinion on the substantive legal issues in the appellate decision itself to which Eugene linked. But for good or ill, I understand why that prosecutor decided to risk that stunt. And perhaps why the defense lawyer hesitated to interfere with the performance.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On being Yoko Ono/Rose Friedman

Pnin and I were discussing last night why it is that so few of the intellectual female characters prominent in pop culture wind up with equally intellectual guys. We started off talking about Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. Most of the other examples that came readily to mind -- Willow Rosenberg from the Buffy series, or Rory from Gilmore Girls -- didn't pair up with especially more intellectual boyfriends. It's all the odder because the "only when like marries like can there be any happiness" appears to explain many more pairings in our lives. Survey data also indicate that, inasmuch as educational attainment and intellectual orientation are related, our friends' experiences here are typical.

I suggested the need to develop characters and generate drama. The Willow plus Oz relationship helps the writer show her breaking out of her nerd girl shell to date a cool band guy. Ditto for Hermione and her dashing Qudditch player Herr Krum. But, Pnin suggested, why not then a guy who was intellectual *and* socially skilled or athletic? Most of us had an acquaintance like that in high school, right, so it can't be all that impossible? I scratched my head and couldn't come up with a good such relationship drawn from pop culture. It's true also that stable relationships make for uninteresting television or plot interest in a series of novels. But I can't think of many more examples in which intellectual heroines *end up* with intellectual guys either.

I'm not sure literary fiction is much better in this regard. George Eliot understood how to write intellectual female characters, perhaps better than any other female novelist ever has. Yet she has Maggie Tulliver die ignominously in a flood, and Dorothea Brooke's first marriage to the intellectual Casaubon floundered disastrously. She finds some happiness eventually with his much younger nephew Ladislaw, who has some intellectual inclinations, but that part of his personality isn't emphasized. On the other hand, I suppose Jane Eyre and Rochester count as a marriage of co-intellectuals of sorts?

Semi-relatedly, Milton and Rose Friedman's joint memoir is adorable.

Monday, November 1, 2010


1_A good post on the limits of heredity.

2. This is David Broder's brain. This is David Broder's brain on the broken window fallacy.

3. This cookbook is excellent. It came in as a registry item, and I'm so glad it did. I don't know about other people, but I find it so easy to get excited about making interesting main courses and neglect side dishes. It's also nice that it's organized by season.

4. I had a request from a friend to write something about this Matthew Yglesias piece on law school licensing. I agree with the thrust of it. That is, it's good that the cartel is breaking down and that that is making it easier for the poor to get legal services. At the same time, we're in a weird intermediate period where the cartel hasn't quite broken down enough that aspiring lawyers have many cheap training options. The ABA accreditation rules still make law school wildly expensive for most. Many of the requirements that make legal education expensive, such as restrictions on what type of materials the law library must contain, probably do little to improve the education of lawyers. (Many of the specified materials on that list are available online for free or can be obtained easily online if the school provides student with Westlaw and/or Lexis access.) I hope things shake out so that a weakened cartel means less debt and lower salaries, but who could tell what direction the profession will wind up taking.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Color Purple

Is it me, or has deep purple become the it color of the fall/winter season? If yes, it's disappointing. Not because there's anything wrong with this color -- I tried on the sweater that I just linked to, and it's lovely -- but because this shade was apparently also the it color in the fall of 1957, when my mother started seventh grade. One of her older sisters took her to a local fashionable department store and bought her a number of sweaters and skirts in that color. She was all excited to start classes in such stylish clothes, especially since she came from a poor family. Turns out that her sister had charged every single one of the purple colors to their impoverished artist father, who exploded when he saw the bills. Much to her shame and disappointment, she had to return everything.

Note that I heard this story approximately fifty-five times growing up. My mother apparently considered it a vital turning point in her sister's fall from grace from the Archerist virtues. Anyway, I know it's ridiculous, but I'll probably wind up sitting out the purple trend because of it. The associations are too great.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Shakespeare Festival

"...And then I congratulated the young actress for pronouncing the difficult word 'cursatorily,' which sounds like a word that was made up by Sarah Palin."

Pause. "Shakespeare and Sarah Palin have two things in common. One, they both tend to make up words. Two, half the country can't understand what the other half of the country thinks is so great about them."

-- Peter Saccio, the recently retired Leon Black Professor of Shakespeare at Dartmouth College

Pnin and I are at a Shakespeare festival in Staunton, Virginia. The Dartmouth alumni folks are paying Prof. Saccio to come here and give lectures pre and post each play. We're also staying at a nice hotel on a group rate, courtesy again of the alumni office. While it has been delightful so far, note that Othello is probably not the best choice of play to watch together as newlyweds.

Note that we are both skipping the sanity rally. I'm against restoring sanity. My comparative advantage at dealing with insanity is too great. I want to continue to extract rents from it, please.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Final word on Murray, empathy, and economics

Navel gazing accomplished, let me turn back to my more substantive objections to the Murray op-ed. Here's Megan McArdle:

Elites are often missing crucial knowledge, and unaware of it. In some ways, that effect is more pronounced than it used to be, with more and more of the elites drawn from a narrow class of extremely well-educated people from a handful of metropolitan areas, few of whom have ever, say, been responsible for a profit and loss statement, or tried to bring a gas station into compliance with local and federal EPA regulations. In a world where your primary output is words, it is easy to imagine a smoothly operating process based on really smart rule-making. And there's a certain impatience with the grimy, self interested folks who complain about the regulations imposed for the good of society--a certain forgetting that in aggregate, those whiners are society. In essence, elites are always missing one vital piece of information: what it is like to be someone who is not in the elite.

Well, yes, but there are avenues other than personal experience of figuring out why excessive regulation of small businesses is bad. I've never been responsible for a profit and loss statement either, and I've never tried to bring a gas station into compliance with EPA regulations either. I've never met McArdle, but I've read her blog for a couple of years now, and from I've read about her life, it doesn't sound like she has either. But she and I have each figured this out because, well, we've read things. Books are powerful. Books can work!

Note that misconceptions about economics that likely lead people to favor increased regulation appear to be quite common outside of the so-called New Class as well. The professor whose research described is at SUNY Oswego; while its students are probably a more privileged group than Americans overall, they are likely only an elite in a much broader sense than McArdle or Murray means the term. In the Bryan Caplan paper to which Tabarrok links, the (presumably more elitely educated) economists come out with pro-small-government views more congenial to the typical Tea Partier than the non-economists. All of this indicates that what libertarians and limited government types ought to be doing is showing elites relevant facts, rather than encouraging them to socialize more with the white working class.

It was painfully silly when Barack Obama pushed for "empathetic" Supreme Court justices. Conservatives ridiculed him for it, and while I confess it got physically painful to read them piling on about it after a while, they were mostly right. So it's disappointing to read Murray et al. arguing that we need empathy to understand the plight of the small business burdened by Obamacare. These disputes can be sorted out without recourse to all of this emotion, thank you very much.

73% elite, although my real problem is probably misanthropy more than elitism.

1. Can you talk about "Mad Men?" Yes.
2. Can you talk about the "The Sopranos?" Yes.
3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right?" No.
4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? Maybe at some point in middle school, but not recently, so I'll just go with no.
5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? I'm scoring this as yes because I go to a class twice a week, but I've never held forth animatedly about it. I don't find my exercise routines to be that interesting to other people, and most of my close friends are guys anyway.
6. How about pilates? I went to a class once at my gym. The instructor wasn't very good, and Wednesdays are bad for me, so I gave up.
7. How about skiing? No.
8. Mountain biking? I can't ride a bike.
9. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? No.
10. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? Yes, it means nothing.
11. Can you talk about books endlessly? Yes.
12. Have you ever read a "Left Behind" novel? No.
13. How about a Harlequin romance? No.
14. Do you take interesting vacations? Arguably yes (Argentina and Japan b/c of Pnin's speaking engagements in each), but I don't actually get the upper-middle class love of travel, which argues against my scoring myself as "elite." I think I'll just set this as a wash.
15.Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? No.
16. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? No.
17. Would you be caught dead in an RV? I'd be fine with being in one theoretically. But I'm not eager to do it either, so I guess I'll score this as an elite answer.
18. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? Again, not philosophically opposed, but not eager to travel via cruise either. I guess I'll score this as elite.
19. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo? No.
20. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? No.
21. How about the Rotary Club? Actually, yes. They used to give out scholarships and things for high-achieving high school kids in my town and invite us to breakfast.
22. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? I lived for five years with a town that had 2,043 people. Safely non-elite.
23. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? I used to live near the U Street Corridor in D.C. It was a mix of gentrifiers and urban poor, although I think that the balance tipped far enough toward the gentrifiers that I'll say no.
24. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? No, unless you count me on my own during law school.
25. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? No.
26. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yes, although I think this marker's actually useless. I feel like every elementary school in my town -- rich, poor, in between -- took the kids to see the Crayola Crayons factory at some point. They've since put up a Disneyfied version of it, similar to the Disneyfied factory tours that kids can take of the chocolate plants in Hershey.
27. Have you worked on one? No.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Identity politics is also silly when the right does it.

I am sort of confused about Charles Murray's column about the "New Elite." In it, he claims that the rule of this class is problematic because it has failed to experience a wide enough swath of America. Though the column is somewhat problematic because many of his markers are off or oddly chosen, I have a different problem with it.

One possible explanation: I should care because navel gazing is fun. Hells yes it is. Otherwise, what is the point of having a blog? But I imagine Murray had grander ambitions, and so I ought to toss this thesis aside.

Another: it is good to have an elite that has "experienced America" because they will create more interesting art about it. There is a fantastic essay in Tom Wolfe's Hooking Up in which he argues that modern literature has grown far too insular and that writers really ought to forget the delicate epiphanies bourgeois and go pound the pavement looking for America. I agree entirely with respect to literature. But the paragraphs about the Tea Party at the beginning suggest that Murray is writing a column about what is wrong with elite politics, not elite literature.

Which brings me to my biggest point of confusion: what, precisely, does Murray think would change about this elite class's policy views if it did experience a wider swath of America? Is watching Oprah supposed to make us rethink the economic stimulus? Will reading Harlequin novels change our positions on Obamacare? The bailout? Social conservatives like to argue that more time in middle America would make us more religious, but Murray himself has always been more of a libertarian than a social conservative. It ends up sounding as silly as the endless left-liberal paeans to the benefits of "diversity" -- read: proportional racial and gender representation -- in, say, the physics classroom or an Agriculture Department Peanut Farmers Advisory Board or teams of class action securities lawyers. Except that Charles Murray is supposed to know better.

He tries to wiggle out of it by saying "The politics are not the main point" near the end. But if the politics aren't the main point, then what is? Especially since the Tea Party has primarily positioned itself as a political movement?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Social Network

But as I watched this film, as a law professor, and someone who has tried as best I can to understand the new world now living in Silicon Valley, the only people that I felt embarrassed for were the lawyers. The total and absolute absurdity of the world where the engines of a federal lawsuit get cranked up to adjudicate the hurt feelings (because “our idea was stolen!”) of entitled Harvard undergraduates is completely missed by Sorkin. We can’t know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here. Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other “property”? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the “idea” of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.

-- Lawrence Lessig's review of The Social Network at The New Republic

The quoted is my favorite paragraph, but it's interesting and thoughtful throughout. Caveats: I don't know very much about the network neutrality debate, but based on what I do know, I disagree with Lessig. Still, there are good parts aplenty, and this is just one.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Third-party discrimination hypothetical question

I have been kicking this around in my head recently and in casual discussions with my husband re: the question of whether forbidding same-sex marriage is sex discrimination:

As many of you know, my husband is Jewish, but I am not. So here comes the hypothetical part: imagine that I apply for a job, for which I am qualified, and I am rejected. I learn later that it is because the employer is an anti-Semite. She refuses to hire Jews or individuals like me who are married to Jews. She is, however, willing to hire non-Jewish individuals who hold the same religious beliefs that I do. That is, if I were not married to a Jewish man, she would have hired me. Assume that this employer has enough employees, etc. to be covered under Title VII.

Under current law and doctrine, may I state a claim against her for discrimination on the basis of religion? What if the employer is a state actor -- may I state a claim under the Fourteenth Amendment? Are there any state laws that would reach this situation? As a normative matter, should anti-discrimination law reach this employer's conduct? Why or why not?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Matchbox D.C.

Did I first try it after it passed the height of its glory or something? I mean, I would have sooner based on the recommendations of countless foodie friends, but there are always four million people in line, and so my friends and I would wind up eating down the street somewhere.

I dearly love pizza with fresh mozzarella and basil, but this one arrived slightly cold. The cheese didn't have the right texture at all. 2 Amys was vastly better, as is Coppi's or even arguably Bertucci's. On the other hand, my companions' mini-burgers with gorgonzola did look delectable. Two little ones paired with a salad is probably a nice blend of self-indulgence and health -- maybe I should do that next time.

David Bernstein, be warned.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

quotable quotes

The passage of comparable worth legislation is likely to “accelerate the tendency among many people to regard ‘civil rights’ as a mere rhetorical cover in a seamy scramble for economic redistribution." -- Jeremy Rabkin, in U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Comparable Worth: Issue for the 80s (1984).


In which Pnin and I receive honorable mention, alas. Note also entertaining comment thread in which there is random populist support in our favor, led by anonymous commenters who are presumably not my mother. Then also counter-comments in which we are called "smug, Koch-loving libertarians." Actually, I think "insufferable" is more accurate than "smug" as applied to me, but Pnin is nicer.

Unrelatedly, these red flats are adorable.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Freedom ain't a state like Maine or Virginia

What is odd about Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is that I think it is trying to be a novel about politics, but is actually a novel about sex.

Let me explain. There is the title, which refers to a political concept. And every couple of chapters, one of the characters gets lost in a multi-paragraph reverie about freedom and the Way We Live Now. Except that it is probably safe to say that I am more interested in freedom than about 98% of Franzen's readers, having done all those IHS seminars and all, and I can't actually remember any of the multi-paragraph reveries about freedom. It wasn't that they were bad... I remember inane things I read about freedom very well, thank you very much... but just not interesting enough to stick in my mind for more than ten minutes.

There are also political elements to the plot. One of the main characters, Walter Berglund, is a left-wing environmentalist who runs a land trust that's designed to save the cerulean warbler. His son, Joey, gradually drifts right politically. Joey also gets ensnared in a plot to send defective truck parts to Iraq. One gets the impression that this is supposed to be some kind of point about the moral bankruptcy of the right, except that I got lost wondering why none of these people seemed to have heard of negligence liability.

Anyway, the plot points about politics seemed merely to be a way of moving forward a story that is really about lust and sex. In some ways, the basic story reads like a bad post by a PUA blogger: cute girl (Patty Berglund) feels torn by desire for aloof alpha rock star (Richard Katz) who keeps eliding her grasp; settles instead for beta Nice Guy TM Walter Berglund; and then feels miserable about her choices. Somewhere, some Mystery Method disciple is scrawling "Neg opener" in the margins of this book alongside Patty and Richard's conversations. Ditto the scenes about Walter's son Joey, an alpha-player-in-embryo type who just can't help but get multiple beautiful women to fall head over heels for him.

Except the story woven here is a bit more nuanced and interesting than the PUA guys' narratives. Every time Patty is drawn closer to Richard, the hyper-abrasive aloofness gets to be too much, and she founds herself being drawn back to Walter. It happens once when Patty and Richard travel together to Chicago after college, and again, many years later, after they begin affairs as adults. It's as if the Nice Guy and Bad Boy are yin and yang, opposite sides of the same coin. Richard's admiration and lifelong friendship with Walter also make the narrative more complicated than the typical PUA blogger account of human behavior. It's evident that Richard understands that Walter has qualities that he doesn't and appreciates him for it. True, some might say that Franzen's overly rosy-eyed. But I for one found myself buying in to his creation.

(Headline reference explained here.)

Sometimes I like to think of Evil Willow as my alter ego.

I should perhaps take up watching so-bad-it's-good soap operas or teen dramas like a normal person, rather than reading so-bad-it's-good bizarre conspiracy theories about the Koch brothers. Still, some observations:

1. My feelings are hurt that my husband and I are not mentioned as a "libtard power couple." I mean, I really think that we have accomplished as much in the way of world destruction as several of the profiled couples. Clearly I am a failure at self-promotion.

2. My take-home pay went up by a bit less than 50% when I left working for my evil, evil billionaire corporate overlords masters to...uh... go do civil rights work for the federal government. Apparently I am a cheap whore. In fact, I thought of posting a link to this article to my Facebook page merely with the status "Isabel is a cheap whore," but then realized that some of my more respectable Facebook friends might look askance at it, so I did not.

3. There are some words in this article that are not lies. Among them are "a," "and," "the," and the bit that "libertarians are fucking weirdos."

In which I attempt to return to the world

So getting married is exhausting. Lessons learned:

1) Invite an economist to speak at your wedding. Basically nobody other than me has ever thought to do this. Even Pnin was skeptical that this was a good idea. But economists are interesting and original and have more entertaining and insightful things to say. Everyone loved our economist. Other people please follow my lead.

2)Workaholism is rational and totally advised. As in, like, work until 3 p.m. the day before your wedding and then show up at your desk at the normal time on Monday morning. If one is prepping for a hearing and/or screaming at Congress that they REALLY REALLY should not vote up some terrible bill, one has no neurons left to worry about whether one's thighs are fat. Yes, there are sane people who manage to banish these demons from their minds by standing in front of a mirror and reciting affirmations to themselves about loving their bodies. Or something like that. I tend to feel that if there is an American woman somewhere in this day and age who is fully secure about her looks, she ought to be stuffed and exhibited. For the rest of us, workaholism is a perfectly serviceable substitute. Besides, if you have advance planning skills, it isn't like there is that much to do anyway.

3)The New York Times lies about how far in advance of your wedding they will contact you. Do not worry (too much) if they drag their feet. Do not panic and think about succumbing to Angelo Codevilla-esque depths of populist rage just out of spite at them.

4)Do not get so distracted that you forget to eat your own wedding cake! I made the mistake of wandering off to dance and talk to people, thinking that I could always get some cake later. I forgot. The next day, everyone complimented me on how good the wedding cake was. At one level, this made me happy. At another, it made me sad. Do not fall into this trap, other people!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One more point in defense of emerging adulthood

Although I have mixed feelings about emerging adulthood as a life stage, one more point in defense of it: calling it a life stage would probably steer upper-middle-class kids from going to law school simply because they feel like a soft landing into the entry level market isn't possible.

I've seen this dynamic play out several times something like this: college senior in college is uncertain about what to do with his life. He finds the entry-level job market complicated and confusing. Unless he's an engineer or able to get a fancy consulting or i-banking job, he probably can't make much money in an entry-level job either. This seems dispiriting. Having to work in an unpaid or barely paying internship for a few months after graduation would be even more appalling. So, even though many of these people could *eventually* hit pretty decent incomes working in non-profits or Hill jobs or art galleries, they panic and feel like they have to run off to law school or medical school.

I've also observed plenty of upper-middle-class parents who have weird attitudes about helping kids out financially in these situations. Helping out with law school tuition, no problem. Helping out with rent for three months while Junior establishes himself in an entry level job... that's off bounds, because Junior is supposed to be an adult now and responsible for all such expenses. This even though the latter would be much cheaper for the parents in the short and possibly also long run.

Some of these kids wind up loving the law. But too many of them don't and wind up merely irking their fellow students and colleagues. Too many of them wash out of the law altogether a few years in. Giving these people a few years of socially approved "emerging adulthood" to think through their choices to go to law school would be advisable. And to some extent, this already happens -- plenty of big firms bring on paralegals for two years who are doing just this. But I've encountered at least a few parents and prospective pre-laws who still seem skeptical of the wisdom of doing this. Seeing more acceptance at the margin for these options would be great.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Czar system continues ridiculousness

All hail the Asian carp czar.

For actual substantive discussion of the limitations of the czar system, see see here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Against naming dresses after women

Is there some nice economic reason for why so many items of women's clothing have to bear female first names? E.g. naming a dress the "Amy" or the "Alexandra." At best, it's annoyingly cutesy. At worst, it makes me less likely to buy something that I otherwise would. I'll love the Amy dress, for example, but know and detest a person named Amy in real life and so not want to buy it. Or the Alexandra will look entirely wrong on an Alexandra I know in real life. There must be some reason that dress retailers have figured out, though, or else they wouldn't risk losing money on this...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to defriend someone on Facebook

Here. I recommend also this polka dot shirt, which is awesome, but which may or may not lead to the phenomenon described in the article.

Student loan debt ruins an engagement

Obviously I can't prove it, but I bet this relationship was already on the rocks anyway for other reasons, and the debt was just an excuse for the guy to break it off.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"Forty more years of sonorous phrasings about responsibility, expectations, institutional racism, 'getting on board' and baggy pants?"

Every time I see one of these marches or forums covered as significant, what occurs to me is that there is one thing we should all be focused on instead. It is, of all things, the War on Drugs. The most meaningfully pro-black policy today would be a white-hot commitment to ending its idiocy.

-- John McWhorter, in a provocative and essay calling for an end to the War on Drugs.

Not a heroine, part 27

Conor Friedersdorf continues rounding up reactions to his anti-lawyer post. This one is just weird:

What you completely left out of your rant about “elites” is their grades and the difficulty of those programs. Firms that wine and dine summer associates don’t just hire any schmuck who gets into Harvard and skates by with Cs because his dad is a senator. They’re wining and dining the top tier of honor students in some of the most difficult and renowned programs in the world. People who can get a 4.0 at Ivy League grad schools are people who can work seven days a week, twelve hours a day, for months on end, and not complain about it. Doing what these people do is so brutal that movies have been made about it. If you resent those elites, if you really can’t grasp why people will spend so much to have them on board, it’s because you don’t know what it’s like to work that hard nor do you know what those people are really capable of.

There are a few large law firms that only hire people at the very top of the class from the very top schools. But there are many that are considerably less selective and willing to wine and dine people considerably lower down. Finally, I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who did quite well at Ivy League law schools. I'm sure there are some who worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for three years of law school. But most had much more moderate study schedules.

For more on why the "but they deserve it" line is not a good libertarian defense of businesses' lavish compensation of meritocrats, see various blog posts under the meritocracy tag.

Should I stay or should I go?

Stay. True, there's what Lat said, but let me add:

1. I went to a school that's a little worse than his (usually ranked in the low 20s in U.S. News) pre-crash. Post-crash, the two may be roughly comparable. That is, we were high up enough that lots of people got Biglaw jobs, but lots of people also didn't. The people in the less favored half of the class usually found something without much trouble. In lots of cases, it was criminal law, after multiple stints in clinics or externships. Fed. govt. jobs at somewhere not-that-sexy, not-DOJ may also be an option, especially if he can manage to land an internship at one of these agencies this summer.

2. We're not told anything about the person's undergrad background or pre-law-school work experience, so we don't know what marketable skills this person may or may not have. But... like... pretty much every other sector of the economy is also suffering. Leaving a graduate program after one year does not really send an attractive signal to most employers. I can hear the questions from a mile away: "Why did you leave law school? Well, why did you go in the first place if you really weren't sure you wanted to practice law? Did you do any research in advance? Yeah? Well, why should I think that you did research on why you want to work in my field? How do I know you're not going to want to run off and do something different in a year?" The alternative -- a one year gap on the resume -- is no more attractive.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Status Income Disequilibrium Baby Anthem

Wise words from Megan McArdle:

If you have a job more interesting than doing ten years of document discovery, or proofreading pitch books, and you can afford all the health care and calories your heart could want, then it seems to me that you're way ahead of the game. It's downright greedy to think that you ought to have the great job, and the great salary (or that you shouldn't have to compete for things like nice houses with people who do pull in serious cash, which is really another way of saying the same thing.

(Headline reference here.)

I am apparently neither interesting nor happy

....or perhaps suspiciously both. My score is zero on the nose. I would've predicted interesting rather than happy, but who knows.

Though some of the questions are confusing. What if I have some fat friends and some thin ones, and most somewhere in between? I said yes anyway, but I'm not sure if that's right. Also, I'm not sure how harsh I'm supposed to be in judging people fat... is the boundary line something like 25 BMI, the government sanctioned boundary for overweight, even if many people at that weight look average-ish rather than fat? Or should it be something like 30?

Also: I have several close friends who are Jews. I have a few Facebook acquaintances who are Muslims and born-again Christians, but no close friends. Do the latter count? I didn't count them.

I went to a therapist precisely once at Dartmouth. I gave up because it didn't seem helpful...

Are there $70 eyebrows to be had anywhere in D.C.? Most of the nice salons that I'm aware of price waxes in the $25 to $30 range.

I have never tried on $200 jeans, but that's because I don't care about jeans that much. Expensive dresses or shoes, however, are a whole other story.

ETA: I'm also not sure that "interesting" and "maximizer in all facets of one's life" line up as neatly as Trunk seems to imply. I've never found people who are interested in maximizing their physical appearances -- the trait which the eyebrows, fat friends, and jeans questions seem to be getting at -- to be especially interesting. The girl who tells you within five minutes of meeting you at a law school happy hour that she only drinks rum and Diet Cokes because this is the mixed drink with the fewest calories is usually not going to be the most interesting person in your section. The time that it takes to accumulate facts like that is time spent away from accumulating the more esoteric knowledge that I, at least, find more interesting.

It's possible that there are people who are such strong maximizers that they can achieve perfect eyebrows and bodies AND also have time to become fantastically well-read about everything under the sun, Tyler Cowen fashion. I just haven't met too many of them. Opportunity costs matter for even the most hard core maximizers. Most of the really interesting maximizer types I know are more... focused.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The effects of immigration on fruit and vegetable costs?

I am not an economist and so lack the chops to sort out the battle of stats in this blog post. If someone who reads this is more competent to do so, I'd appreciate it. Vilsack's numbers on what cracking down on illegal immigration would do to fruits and vegetables seem high to me intuitively, but then Martin's seem quite low.

Also, an average consumer unit spends only $7 on fruits and vegetables a week? That seems quite low. Do I really wolf down salad like I am actually a rabbit?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Weird Frank Rich Column on Fox

This Frank Rich column is bizarre, particularly the part about Walid bin Talal. If I'm understanding this correctly, Fox is criticizing a guy who owns a significant share of their parent company. Does not this show a healthy separation between the editorial and business sides of their company? Should not liberal journalists be celebrating Fox's guts for taking an editorial stance that could hurt their bottom line? Especially Rich himself, since he spends most of the rest of this column suggesting that the Koch brothers (and by association, the rest of the right) are evil folks who naturally value profits over principle at all costs? I know, I've said on here that I don't actually agree with the Fox editorial line on the mosque. But this particular criticism of them just seems too weird not to notice.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ron Paul on the Mosque

I am not really Ron Paul's biggest fan, most especially on race issues, but kudos is due to him for getting things basically right here.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In partial defense of emerging adulthood

The New York Times has a long piece up about the phenomenon of "emerging adulthood," or the idea that twenty-somethings are taking longer to pass traditional milestones of adulthood than have previous generations. Apparently it may be good that we are taking more time to make these choices, as perhaps that will help us make better ones. But some conservatives and libertarians are skeptical. Some not particularly coherent thoughts:

1. I've gone through emerging adulthood myself. I worked at a research assistantship for a brief period after college while trying to figure out if I wanted to go to law school or possibly some other type of graduate program. While spending the school years in Atlanta, I worked both summers up here in D.C. When I had to give the Virginia Bar an address list for the seven years prior to my application for admission, I had 17 different addresses on the list. So yeah, I moved around as or more often than the typical person portrayed in the Times article.

I'd also have a fairly long list of different jobs. If you look only at full-time employment, I had the social science research gig before going to law school, and two different jobs since. But if you look at summer internships and part-time jobs while in school and the like, the number would be much higher than that. Easily over seven. Keep in mind that I'm still only 28, and that there is a non-zero chance I may have yet other employment before hitting 30.

All of this has had some consequences for personal life. I did not marry the guy whom I started dating while I was working at the social science research firm, at least in part because of the long physical separation between us while I was in law school. I'm marrying a wonderful guy whom I met later, when I was more settled. There's part of me that's reluctant to have children in the really near future because of all of the bouncing around that I've done. I want at least another year or so of being able to say, "Oh, so that's what adult life feels like," of feeling settled, before bringing another human being into the picture. I sometimes feel that this is weird and wrong and crazy, but there it is. At the same time, I had lots of fun in law school and in the libertarian fellowship program I did after graduating, and on balance I am glad that I live in the dynamic world that I do.

2. There are good and bad approaches to emerging adulthood, and the fact that there are bad ways of approaching it shouldn't mean that the concept in and of itself is bad. There are low-skilled workers and hipster barista types who bounce around a lot, yes. But so do aspiring legal academic, who moves from a court of appeals clerkship to SCOTUS clerkship to VAP to tenure-track jobs. (Whew, that's four right there!) And there are people who bounce around among various tech startups and then make gobs of money eventually doing things I don't understand. Etc. There's bouncing that's likely to lead to bigger and better things and bouncing that's not so much. There's exploring in a purposeful, focused way and drifting around aimlessly. The differences get lost in articles like this one.

3. I suspect Maslow was roughly right at least descriptively in sketching out his hierarchy of needs.C.f. also the economist's commonplace that people tend to demand more leisure relative to other things as their incomes rise. Perhaps it is possible to tell people that they ought to behave under affluent conditions the same way they do under conditions of scarcity. But I suspect that such norms are unlikely to work well, and that fact goes to the desirability of enforcing the norm in the first place.

4. Yes, government subsidies for emerging adulthood type programs are silly and shouldn't exist. That I think this should not surprise anyone who reads this regularly.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


1)Checklist for determining if your husband/boyfriend/whatever is gay. The "late night use of computers" is by far my favorite, although in fairness, I guess everyone I have ever dated was not secretive/in fact completely open about spending way too much time on the Internet late at night. Sharing e-mail and web histories is also particularly nutty. First, there's the sheer volume; second, the stuff that is not particularly good but still slightly embarrassing ("Why are you lurking so often looking at dresses you can't afford?"). Third, for attorneys, there are all manner of privilege/confidentiality issues.

2)Matt Yglesias has another one of welcome to Jesus moments re: occupational licensing.

A Poem Written By a Bear

At least one reader of my blog claims that if he were in a character in the His Dark Materials trilogy, he would totally have a bear daemon. This poem is for him. (via)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On lust

Because I am too tired to have much of actual substance to say: this dress is utterly gorgeous, fits me perfectly in a suitably vanity-flattering size, and yet is scandalously expensive. Growl.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cordoba House Contretemps

"Furthermore, since Islam has 1.2 billion adherents and is not going away, it is important to set reasonable guidelines that promote harmony with Western society—such as, it’s okay to build a mosque in the Financial District, and it’s not okay to blow up buildings in the Financial District. "

-- From an excellent essay by my friend Josh Barro at National Review Online. My other favorite sentence is, "Newt Gingrich doesn’t want mosques in Lower Manhattan until churches are allowed in Mecca—making the bizarre case that our level of religious liberty is fine so long as it is no worse than in Saudi Arabia."

I have only one criticism: that Josh glosses over the possibility that, while the mosque's leaders are not themselves Islamists, they are nonetheless too soft on Islamism. Perhaps so, though those facts certainly don't cut in favor of governmental interference with the Cordoba House project. And although they do weigh more strongly in favor of private moral suasion not to put the mosque there, I still think that the point that the mosque wouldn't be that close to Groud Zero anyway may outweigh those considerations.

Also, a question about a paragraph from Ross Douthat's latest column on the subject:

The same was true in religion. The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

Is this right, historically? My American history training was limited to a high school AP course and a single course on the history of American foreign policy in college (I basically took as little non-European history as I could while still completing my major.) But my faulty memory tells me that the pressure applied to Mormons and Catholics was nastier than that. Take, for example, Blaine Amendments, state constitutional amendments that recently often have the unintended consequence of styming conservative and moderate politicians' efforts to create school voucher programs. Isn't Douthat seeing Group 2 through rather rose-colored glasses? If he is, doesn't that mean we owe them less deference now?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Marriage and Complexity

So I haven't read Vaughn Walker's opinion in the Prop 8 case because, well, travel and day job and impending nuptials and so forth. And there's part of me that doesn't want to have read it so that I can continue ducking questions about my opinion of it with, "Well, I haven't read it yet, and I don't like to venture opinions about judicial decisions without having the read whole thing."

But just one brief note on the policy arguments for and against gay marriage: I am puzzled by this Ross Douthat blog post, in which he cites an Eve Tushnet column on the "thickness" and complexity of the marriage ideal. I actually think that they are mostly right re: thickness and complexity, except that usually, thickness and complexity are conservative arguments against governmental authority over a particular sphere of life. Figuring out, say, the extent of the national demand for steel is also complex, and benevolent central planners tend to screw things like this up, which is why conservatives are generally against nationalizing the steel industry. So by the force of Douthat and Tushnet's logic, the state should get out of the business of recognizing marriage altogether. Yet neither of them get there. Why? Is there something that I am missing? And if the first-best alternative is getting the state out of recognizing marriage altogether, then why is the second best alternative having the state promote a more limited conception of marriage? Shouldn't the second best alternative be letting the state promote open up marriage to gay people?

There is part of me that feels more competent to be the kind of philosopher queen who could manage steel production for an entire nation than a philosopher queen who could design an ideal of marriage for an entire society. I can barely handle giving my best friends competent advice on how to build good lives. Really, I wish I were the kind of friend who could. And if I can't tell my friends how to create good marriages and families, how can I help out millions of people whom I've never met, many of whom are much less like me than my relatively culturally homogenous set of personal friends. How are Douthat and Tushnet so much more confident that they've figured out what seems so hard for me?

Also, re: the first sentence of the second paragraph cited in Tushnet -- "So if humans were perfectly able to control their reproduction, could pick when they had kids and with whom, and men and women are interchangeable both socially and biologically, then you don’t have marriage" -- humans already have significant control over their reproduction given widespread oral contraceptives. We can't completely pick when we have kids and with whom, but developments in reproductive technology are getting us closer to that every day. The third part of her test isn't true -- men and women aren't biologically interchangeable -- but we're getting more and more socially interchangeable. So by her own logic, isn't the marriage ideal destined to evolve into something else? Again, is there something that I am missing?