Friday, April 30, 2010

Harvard e-mail controversy follow-up post

So, various loose ends on the Harvard e-mail controversy: the e-mailer is out. Her name is apparently Stephanie Grace. Her judge is Alex Kozinski. ( I'd envy her, but I fear I don't have the necessary work ethic to be a successful Kozinski clerk.) He's one of the most avidly pro-free speech judges on the federal bench, so earlier fears that she might lose her clerkship over this current flap are probably unfounded.

There was also a statement from the Dean, which reminds me of nothing so much as old and not-that-witty LiveJournal threads from 2005 proposing a "community" and "diversity" drinking game. Note also the somewhat strange sounding Ogletree "heart to heart."

And then there was this Feministe post. To which Amber has it right: yes, intellectualized discussion is not the enemy. (And incidentally, thanks to both her and Phoebe for links to my original post on the topic.)

Also, what Eugene Volokh said.

Re: Volokh's "On a Bus in Kiev" post -- my original post contained a line after "Preferably in whispers" to the effect of "And this is what my grandfather left Soviet era Ukraine for?" I deleted it. There's no state action going on here. Talking about Kerry Howley-esque "culture of freedom" arguments is difficult and controversial. Etc. Plus I feared looking intemperate. But Eugene Volokh has put this argument out there, so... so be it.

But side note: I wonder what percentage of the hard line libertarians out there grew up in Soviet Russia, or have close relatives who did? There's of course my Pnin and me, but also a good number of his co-bloggers, Cathy Young, the Other Ilya. It's got to be extraordinarily high, even just going off of my personal experience. It's also perhaps regrettable that we aren't better at exogamy. Don't follow my example here, people!

Thursday, April 29, 2010


1)Pittsburgh may in fact actually be hipster.

2)Dating by blood type is apparently fashionable in Japan. Note that, while I am an O, I don't think I am especially confident or decisive. Fail.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Harvard 3L e-mail contretemps

With this post, I introduce a "this is why Phi Beta Cons will always be with us" tag. See this latest blog flap about a Harvard 3L's controversial e-mail about a possible genetic basis for racial group differences. Note that I said "possible": it's pretty clear from the text of her message that she isn't clear to what extent culture, environment, or other factors might explain these differences. None of this, of course, is inconsistent with accepting that there is large variation within racial groups on intelligence and other characteristics. Therefore we ought to judge our friends and adversaries smart, dumb, or in between on the basis of whether they actually act smart, dumb or in between, rather than on the basis of their membership in a particular group. This all feels a bit Classical Liberalism and Race 101, but apparently it's violently controversial enough to cause people to start calling for this student's federal judge to rescind her clerkship.

I didn't get nearly all the way through all 800-odd Above the Law comments, but one of the more striking themes that emerged repeatedly was the contention that whatever this student thought, she was unbelievably foolish, showed "poor judgment," a "lack of professionalism," etc. by putting it in e-mail form. See also the title of this Lyrissa Lidsky post at Prawfsblawg and some of the comments. Apparently it is never appropriate for an attorney or future attorney to venture to say "Controversial Idea X may be true, or Opposite of Controversial Idea X may be true" in samizdat private e-mails to one's friends. Rather, members of our honored profession are only supposed to discuss controversial ideas behind locked doors. Preferably in whispers. Where is Kenneth Anderson to sound off about excess professionalism and therapeutic authoritarians when we need him? Not a glorious profession because it is not a glorious cause, indeed.

Also, I wonder to what extent aggressive left-wing PC like this drives the epistemic closure phenomenon that everyone's been chattering about recently. Tarrings and featherings like this deter some conservatives and libertarians from wanting to speak or write anything remotely controversial. Put another way, PC increases the marginal costs of controversial speech.

Some conservatives or libertarians of more moderate temperaments are less willing to pay those increased marginal costs, once they rise above a certain level. They'll happily retreat to blogging about lemon tarts and polka dot dresses (not that there's anything wrong with that!) That leaves the Ann Coulters and Michelle Malkins of the world, who aren't deterred easily by raised stakes to free speech. So one winds up with a chattering class that's disproportionately slanted to the intemperate -- thus adding fuel to the epistemic closure phenomenon that everyone's discussed so much.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's amusing to behold unholy alliances between my enemies

Obligatory acknowledgment of Elizabeth Nolan Brown's nice piece in Doublethink attacking the unholy alliance between socially conservative women and the pick-up artist movement. Her explanation for this seemingly bizarre phenomenon -- that the enemy of my enemy is my friend -- is quite sensible. See my own take on Allen's piece when it first came out.

I'm reminded again of the Tyler Cowen question, "What book would you like to read that doesn't exist?" I would love to read a book by an actual evolutionary biologist examining the PUA movement's use of evolutionary biology concepts. Also, containing some history on how this particular popularization of evolutionary biology arose. Perhaps a book might be a bit much -- I don't know -- but a long New York Times magazine article by someone like Steven Pinker on this topic would still be great. My gut feeling is that the Roissys of the world may not know their science as well as they think they do, but I'd love to read a real expert holding forth on these questions.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I am a right-wing rock and roll girl, actually. Well, sort of.

Pnin is in the desert with Frank Buckley and a bunch of judges talking about law and economics. So I am here in Arlington by myself for a week.

Yesterday, there was a spider in the bedroom. I was momentarily freaked out by the thought of having to kill it. I contemplated putting up a Facebook status update asking if someone local was willing to come over and kill it for me, and/or making a few discreet phone calls to nearby friends. But I thought better of it, remembering the above scene, and decided to (wo)man up and kill it myself.

My spider-killing weapon of choice was a biography of the Duke of Wellington that happened to be lying by the bed. Only after I'd done the deed did it occur to me that I really ought to have used a copy of National Review. We have a bunch in the magazine basket downstairs, actually.

This incident may or may not prove that I am more Vulcan than either Annie Hall or Lori Gottlieb.

Notes Further Toward a New Political Taxonomy

Noah Millman has a provocative and interesting post up at The American Scene titled "Notes Toward* a New Political Taxonomy." He argues that writers ought to use a three axis system for classifying political writers and thinkers. First, "liberal" or "conservative" to classify the writer's attitude toward individual ability and authority. Second, left wing or right wing to indicate whether one is more animated by failure than by success. Third, reactionary or progressive to define one's attitude toward the future and past.

Only #2 is easy for me. I'm unabashedly right wing.

Axis #1 is hardest. What if one is generally impressed by individual capacities, but also deferential to authority?

Take Pnin and me. While I'm prepared for the possibility that he might vociferously disagree with me, I would say that he is much less impressed than I am by individual capacities, but also far less deferential to authority. It's manifested itself to some degree in our professional lives. Most of my scattered professional endevaors to date have involved sticking up for plucky little guys against the system -- Up with hairbraiders and non-licensed tour guides! Down with racial and gender preferences; their intended beneficiaries can make it on their own, thanks! Much of his scholarship, on the other hand, involves voter ignorance -- an endeavor that necessarily involves taking a dim view of individual capacities.

This difference also manifests itself in our daily lives sometimes. I imbibed some kind of red state can-do optimism in childhood that I have a hard time shaking. Of course I can learn how to bake rhubarb pie this weekend! Or do yoga! Or look fashionable! Or, possibly, Japanese or German or Russian (or all three at once!) Only physical collapse is an excuse not to keep going with new projects. Pnin, on the other hand, has a much more focused conception of his abilities and interests. He wants to be a good scholar, a kind person to his family, and pursue a few selected hobbies (like following sports statistics and science fiction.) Outside those selected realms of expertise, he's much more deferential to those he recognizes as experts; I, on the other hand, am more likely to try to compensate for lack of real knowledge with frantic Google searches and crash courses consisting of a few books. I've seen it also when we talk about the nature/nurture debate. We've seen much of the same social science. Yet at some gut level, he seems to find nature explanations, with all their limited capacity explanations, infinitely more interesting than I do.

Each tendency has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of mine is that it gives my life variety. But sometimes vaa taste for variety turns into dilettantism, which is one of the reasons why I On the other hand, the down side of thinking that one can do anything if one works hard enough is that it seems all the more crushing when one can't. I take umbrage easily at the suggestion that I can't be all things to all people. He doesn't. Yet he takes slights harder when they come in his areas of focus, from what I can tell.

Yet our views on deference to authority diverge. This emerges at a grand philosophical level when we've debated the individual duty to obey unjust laws. My position: yes! Otherwise, anarchy. How can most people know if their resistance to the law is justified? His: of course not! Law is merely an instrument to an end!

As with the individual capacity split, the authority split manifests itself in interesting ways in everyday life. He's much more willing to argue with authorities about some small injustice -- say, debating a parking attendant charging us for three hours when we've parked in place for two hours and five minutes. My instinct is along the lines of "The rules are the rules! If we've parked there for more than two hours, then we should pay for more than two hours. We shouldn't expect the rules to be bent for us." Ditto my weird anxieties about interacting with people more important than me, which he doesn't share to nearly the same degree.

I'm not sure how to classify myself along Axis #3 either. I think scientific and technical progress is wonderful, and so long as just a few wealthy societies stay basically politically and economically free, I can see it making life infinitely richer and better. That's a kind of Whiggishness which should make me a Progressive on Millman's axes. But I'm not nearly so sanguine about political and economic freedom. And I have deep reactionary tendencies when it comes to culture. I don't think that there's much that can be more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace or the Venus de Milo. Not to mention my weakness for the Victorian novel. Likewise, I don't think that human nature can be fundamentally changed or revamped, as some true Progressives do.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend baking project

At long last, strawberries and rhubarb are in season! Behold, then, this weekend's baking project. Note only one amendment: I've made this once before last spring, and the 1 hour 25 min at 350 seems crazy long. The last time around, the pie was done after 60 minutes at 350. This time, it was done around 70 minutes at 350. I don't think my over oven runs hot, either.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Epistemic closure and political entertainment

I wrote before briefly about the epistemic closure debate. Since then, Jim Manzi recently stepped into the thick of it by publishing a long blog post criticizing the global warming chapter of Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny. I know little about Mark Levin's career -- I don't think I'd heard of him until he was tapped to be the closing speaker at this year's Fed Soc convention. Pnin was somewhat upset, stating that Fed Soc prides itself on its intellectual reputation and ought to have gotten someone more intellectually serious. I believe he may have raised the point to some of the organizers. I myself was underwhelmed by the speech, but it might well have been a bad day for Levin. In any case, none of the details stuck in my mind. But after the speech was over, a few friends and acquaintances told me afterwards that they were delighted that he'd been able to come. De gustibus non disputandum: I also have friends who dislike rhubarb pie, like cats, and consider gladiator sandals acceptable footwear. Some of the sermonizing about "tolerance" from my seven years of expensive higher education must've stuck.

I also know squat about global warming. But I do know something about logic and argument, and most of Manzi's criticisms seemed fair. So I was not impressed by Kathryn Jean Lopez's and Andrew McCarthy's posts in response, which offered up almost zero response to any of Manzi's substantive points. True, the latter included some populist rhetoric and a few tu quoque comments about the liberal scientific establishment, none of which I found especially persuasive. Ms. Lopez is of course right that liberty is endangered, but that means that its defenders ought to be especially careful not to make sloppy arguments. In any case, while I'm not sure if any of this reflects epistemic closure per se, it does reflect rather poorly on some segments of movement conservatism.

Ross Douthat then attempted to defend Levin on the ground that he is primarily an entertainer, someone whose work is fun for the already converted but that need not be taken seriously by Serious People. It's a reasonable enough argument, but thinking about it more closely, I'm not sure that it works. I enjoy political humor; P.J. O'Rourke and Dave Barry are two of my favorite libertarian-ish writers, and I'm sure that they've done as much or more to attract converts than have many more serious, systematic writers. Likewise, though I'm no left-liberal, I went through phases of enjoying The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It's true, I started watching the shows to give me topics to make small talk about with other twenty-somethings, an area in which I sometimes have trouble. But every once in a while, I found the jokes sticking and shaking up my world view ever so gently.*

In each of those cases, though, the performer is pretty clear that what he's doing is entertainment. O'Rourke and Barry bill themselves as "humorists" on their jacket covers. Stewart and Colbert use the standard tropes of late-night televised comedy shows -- the laugh track, the drums that go "Zing!" after a punch line, the goofy Top 10 lists. They give away the jokes.

But Levin (and by the same token Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, or Rush Limbaugh)... aren't. Liberty and Tyranny sounds like it could plausibly be the title of some long-lost , recently released Hayek manifesto that was gathering dust in some archive in Vienna until unearthed by an intrepid IHS-funded grad student. Parliament of Whores or Eat the Rich, not so much. I came away with the same impression of Rush Limbaugh's show, which I used to listen to avidly when I was in middle school.** On the one hand, there were the goofy song parodies and plenty of zingers. On the other, he really wanted to give his listeners the sense that they were listening to a person of gravitas. So he'd occasionally refer to his "Institute for the Advanced Study of Conservatism" and otherwise try to dress up his ideas in scholarly garb. He really wanted to give his readers the sense that they were engaging with someone serious -- while all the while throwing them enough candy to make the medicine go down. So contra Douthat, I don't think that the conservatives who praise Levin are actually making a category error. The issue is that, like Limbaugh, he doesn't fit neatly into either the comedy or serious political argument boxes because his work contains elements of both.*** Thus Kathryn Lopez's comments about Levin's exhaustive footnotes, which have the effect of lulling the unsuspecting into thinking that they're actually reading a book by Randy Barnett.

It might be more accurate and useful to defend Levin et al. as popularizers -- people who take ideas developed by others and market them to mass audiences, using clever combinations of rhetoric and humor. Is the issue, though, that the populist intellectuals of the right (and populist Republican politicians) would break out in hives if too many people did? Anyway, perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that the next generation of conservative and libertarian popularizers adopt a model more along the lines of what O'Rourke or Barry does. That is, that they sell politically inflected entertainment that looks more purely like entertainment.

*I stopped after I moved in with Pnin, who doesn't watch either show. I admit also that Stewart in particular got to be too preachy for my taste -- I would cringe every time he'd go off on some point to the effect of, "I'm an entertainer, but sometimes my routines TOUCH ON SERIOUS POINTS!" I would be all like, "Yes, I was awake on the day of tenth-grade English when the teacher explained the definition of 'satire,' thank you." I found Colbert more tolerable because the premise of his show forces him to stay in character as mock O'Reilly. Political comedy works better if the fourth wall stays in place.

**Yes, I know.

***I'm not sure if Levin goes as far in leavening his work with jokes as do Limbaugh, etc. It does seem wrong -- dare I say it, a category error -- to confuse bombastic rhetoric, exaggerations, and mischaracterizations of other people's work entertainment. Usually entertainment is supposed to be more.... jokey. From Manzi's characterization of the particular global warming chapter, it didn't sound as though there was much in the way of jokishness going on.

****I know I'm overlooking politically inflected fiction as a type of entertainment that can be a great vehicle for marketing ideas. I wouldn't go quite so far as to insult Mr. Levin by likening his oeuvre to fiction, though... In any case, I've written on that topic in bits and pieces elsewhere. And yes, it would be great to see more good politically inflected fiction, and not just by libertarians.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

An accidentally libertarian novel?

I noticed Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale on Amber's list a few weeks ago when lots of sites I read were absorbed with the ten books game. I'd never read it, and the Kindle for i-phone edition was a little less than $4. It seemed like a decent Metro book. So... why not?

Oooh. It's painfully addictive. Dystopian fiction does that to my brain; I want to learn the rules of the alternate universe perfectly, and I can't do anything else I do. I've resorted to ordering more complicated lattes and sandwiches than usual so that I can get a few extra seconds with Helvidius while I wait for my beverages and food. Worse yet, I'm finding myself tempted to read my Metro book in non-Metro settings...

It may be the most libertarian novel written by a non-libertarian I've ever read. That is, the novel's set in a dystopian United States (now called Gilead) sometime after a radical right group of Christian revolutionaries have seized power. They proceed to freeze women's bank accounts; forbid women to hold property or even to learn how to read (with a narrow exception for the den mothers called Aunts) and otherwise rigidly circumscribe female sexuality. The not that subtle message is, "If we're not careful, this might really happen!" (Were Atwood an even slightly less subtle writer, it would be unreadable. But she's skilled enough to keep the novel from slipping into polemic.)

But what's really interesting about Gilead is how little economic liberty there seems to be. I don't think Atwood has thought much about the economic liberty question; there are no disquisitions (at least not so far) on taxes, regulation, or antitrust in Gilead. It is clear that the whole society is tremendously poor. We're told that commonplace items like meat or oranges, once common, are luxuries in Gilead. Food and other basic consumer goods appear to be rationed from central planners, although the system isn't explained in any great detail. There doesn't appear to be much in the way of even small-scale NEP entrepreneurship. This is even more striking because the narrator appears to be telling this story only about a decade or so after the revolution.

Atwood didn't have to make her dystopian society an economically coercive and poor state, of course. Indeed, the 1980s Christian right -- the anti-feminist groups whom she claims inspired the novel -- are generally actually pretty free market. Furthermore, from what I can glean about Atwood's political views, she herself is far from libertarian according to any conventional definition. Yet in her imaginary society, economic and social liberty are inextricably intertwined.

So what gives? Was she channeling newspaper accounts of life in unfree countries (Afghanistan, etc.?) Just as those countries were poor and economically unfree, so it seemed obvious that Gilead had to be poor and economically unfree, too? Or did she realize intuitively how closely economic and social freedom are intertwined -- that a large, coercive apparatus tasked with policing female sexuality is unlikely to limit itself to that particular purpose for very long?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Painful Dartmouth student responses to diversity questionnaire

On the one hand, I think people should largely be given free passes for stupid things that they say while under the age of 23 or so. On the other, there are forms of foolishness that remind me why Phi Beta Cons, like the poor, will always be with us. Thus my linking to the Dartmouth Student Assembly candidates' questionnaires on "diversity at Dartmouth." You can read their answers in full here.

First, it's telling that the questions are so bad. I'll start with #1 -- "Can you identify the underrepresented communities at Dartmouth?" Were I in a particularly snarky mood, I might have mumbled something about finding a statistician. But no -- the SA candidates all trot out a long and appropriately PC list of underrepresented communities. I'm not even sure the "environmental sustainability community" is an underrepresented community. I'd bet $100 of my own money that Dartmouth students tip more environmentalist than the general population. Also, the phrase "accessibility community" reflects a particularly unfortunate spin of the euphemism treadmill.

There's an Alliance for Socioeconomic Awareness there now, too? Oh well: perhaps their brand of identity politics is less silly than the brands of identity politics that people in my time indulged in. Also, I fear their numbers are probably off. Households that have at least one 18 to 22 year old are likely to be wealthier than average because the parent(s) heading them tend to be toward their peak income years. I'll use myself as an example; I made $31,000 as a research assistant at the social research firm when I first graduated from college. My household income in that year (2005) counted toward the national average. So did the incomes of a lot of other households like mine. By the time I have an 18-year-old child ready to attend college, I expect to be making quite a bit more than that.

What's also interesting about this is that there are no faculty members, no administrators, putting pressure on these candidates to answer a certain way. (As far as I know, the questionnaire was also student drafted. So students are responsible for the sheer inanity of question #1.) Most of them could have waxed a little less PC and still avoided offending anyone. Sometimes in conservative critiques of academia of the Phi Beta Cons variety, the writers seem to assume that students are merely mouthing PC bromides to keep administrators and faculty happy. Students can't really believe these outrageous things, the PBC writers seem to suggest. That doesn't seem the case here -- these people all seem to be true believers.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

assorted frivolities

I would really like to have spent my weekend hooked up to a Nozickian experience machine that would led me believe that I am living that would let me experience a world in which a Republican president would appoint Richard Epstein to the Supreme Court. As I am stuck in the actual world, in which I know that there is not a prayer of elevating most of the VC bloggeriat to our nation's federal courts, I have to content myself with looking at dresses. Behold at left, an acquisition.

Also, I really love this, but there's no way it could be altered at reasonable cost to suit someone my height. If anyone tall actually reads this, please go buy it -- it'll gratify me that I've performed a fashion mitzvah for someone else.

dress presents a closer question.
Yes, it's adorable and would be lovely for one of Ilya's friends' spring weddings. But the straps are a little large on me even in the smallest size sold. The bodice fit properly but was skintigh. Read: it won't fit if I gain half an ounce between now and the first week of May. If I go up to my regular size, the straps are huge. My mother and Clarissa Dalloway tell me that it's virtually impossible to alter the larger size to fit better, too.

Sometimes being small is unpleasant. Growl growl growl. See also, although I wonder if the effects don't run the opposite way outside Britain. There, women of aristocratic descent are disproportionately tall. And one would think that aristocratic descent correlates with high education and in turn with income... In the U.S., on the other hand, Ashekenazim and Asian women are disproportionately high earners and tend to be short. Or so I've chosen to believe...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Clementine Vanilla Quick Bread

Another use for the giant box of clementines. I thought it turned out well and was pretty easy:

10 clementines or tangerines
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use
2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan. Zest 4 clementines to yield 1 tablespoon zest. Juice 2 zested clementines and 6 remaining unzested clementines to yield 3/4 cup juice. Cut pith from 2 remaining zested clementines. Slice fruit along membranes to release segments into a bowl; discard membranes and any seeds.

2. Combine 1/4 cup clementine juice, the cream, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.
Beat zest, butter, 1 cup sugar, and the vanilla seeds with a mixer on medium speed until combined, about 4 minutes. With machine running, add eggs, 1 at a time. Reduce speed to low, and beat flour mixture into butter mixture in 3 additions, alternating with cream mixture, beginning and ending with flour.

3. Fold clementine segments into mixture, and pour into pan. Gently smooth top using an offset spatula.
Place pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Meanwhile, bring remaining 1/2 cup clementine juice and cup sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat, and simmer for 3 minutes.

4. Remove bread from oven, poke top all over with a skewer, and brush with half the clementine syrup. Transfer pan to a wire rack; let cool for 15 minutes. Invert pan to remove bread. Let cool completely on wire rack, top side up.

5. Brush remaining clementine syrup onto sides and again on top of bread. (Bread can be stored, wrapped, at room temperature overnight or refrigerated for up to 5 days.)


Should this post be called "Elephants and The Future of the Libertarian Movement?"

Here is a very splendid joke involving elephants:

"A Frenchman, a German, and a Jew were asked to write books about elephants. The German writes a seven-volume treatise, Die Elefanten. The Frenchman writes The Love Life of the Elephant. The Jew writes Many Famous Elephants Were Jewish."

There are also more elephant jokes in the comments.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


1)Tyler Cowen finds a study that seems to cast doubt on the validity of concerns about epistemic disclosure. At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, cool?

2)Large home libraries are good for children. Yay. So I'm doing something right. Or, at least, it's a fine excuse to invest in bookcases no. 15 and 16...

3)A good post about Mitt Romney.

4)Matt Yglesias has one of his "welcome to the Dark Side" moments and complains about stupid regulations that hinder the opening of cool restaurants in some of D.C.'s more fashionable neighborhoods.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

This week in libertarian blog fights

So David Boaz wrote an essay in Reason called "Up From Slavery" in which he defended the proposition that there really has never been a libertarian golden age. I read it, nodded a lot, and thought it made many sensible points. I thought about posting it to the blog, but since I didn't have many new thoughts of my own to add, I refrained.

Then other libertarians started debating some of his points. Perhaps the most vociferous was Bryan Caplan, who claimed that women were more free during the Gilded Age than they are now. I have been trying to grok how all of this is relevant to the problems of moving libertarianism forward today, but alas, nothing is coming. Also, what Jacob Levy and rapscallion said.

Really, though, I've very little interest in wading into this. Women's rights are good. More economic liberty would also be good. Can't we libertarians just all agree on those basic two points and start talking about say, cap and trade or immigration again?

What's the Matter with Fox News?

Megan McArdle has a long, thoughtful essay up about the state of the intellectual right called "What's the Matter With Fox News? There's a lot of ground in here to cover, but briefly:

1. What she says about how "soft" forms of discrimination effectively keep conservatives and libertarians out of certain types of positions within the cultural elite rings very true with my experience. As far as I'm able to tell, "hard" discrimination -- faculty committees coming together to blacklist conservatives or libertarians -- is extremely rare. Yet the "soft" kind still matters.

2. She's also right on in her discussion about privilege and how out-groups perceiving themselves as marginalized leads to disproportionate reactions.

3. Regarding the later paragraphs about the lack of great work being done on the right... I fear that to some extent, this is an inevitable problem that we small government types face. If one's view of the regulatory state is "End it, don't mend it," of course one won't have as many intellectually grand plans for reform as one's unconstrained vision brethren. I suppose one can always find new and different ways to make the case for small government. One can write novels a la Rand or expound on the relative persuasiveness of deontological vs. consequentialist approaches, etc. Or you can find new data sets or new methods of testing libertarian or conservative ideas empirically. But note that all these projects involve finding new arguments in favor of old ideas, not coming up with an altogether new ideological framework.

And one can also Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam-esque small bore policy initiatives that help politicians move closer toward small government. Such as... uh... tax cuts and vouchers. But the problem with such initiatives is that, as one of my friends once observed, one man's quasi-market is another man's quasi-socialism. See also: Romneycare. So small bore initiatives often don't work particularly well or fail to inspire the limited government base.

So I fear there may always be less intellectual ferment on the pro-limited-government right than in the more ambitious central planner friendly* communities of the left. That's unfortunate for people like McArdle and me, who enjoy the lively give and take of ideas for its own sake.

*Yes, I know that most modern Democrats don't see themselves as pro central planning. Labels for convenience's sake, people....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sunday Brunch Recipes

It's been awhile since I've done a kitchen adventures post. To wit, my achievements in planning a gluten-free brunch for some friends on Sunday.

First, the Spanish tortilla with chorizo and scallions. It's Cooks Illustrated, so subscription only, but I reproduce in full below:

4 ounces Spanish chorizo , cut into medium dice
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (3 to 4 medium), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 small onion , halved and sliced thin
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 large eggs
4 thinly sliced scallions (green and white parts)

1. Heat chorizo with 1 tablespoon oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until chorizo is browned and fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low.

2. Toss 4 tablespoons oil, potatoes, onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper in large bowl until potato slices are thoroughly separated and coated in oil. Add potato mixture to skillet, and set bowl aside without washing. Cover and cook, stirring with rubber spatula every 5 minutes, until potatoes offer no resistance when poked with tip of paring knife, 22 to 28 minutes (it’s OK if some potato slices break into smaller pieces). [Note -- the 22 min. is quite long. Mine were ready well before that.]

3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs and remaining ½ teaspoon salt in reserved bowl until just combined. Using rubber spatula, fold hot potato mixture and scallions into eggs until combined, making sure to scrape all potato mixture out of skillet. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until just beginning to smoke. Add egg-potato mixture and cook, shaking pan and folding mixture constantly for 15 seconds. Smooth top of mixture with rubber spatula. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook, gently shaking pan every 30 seconds until bottom is golden brown and top is lightly set, about 2 minutes.

4. Using rubber spatula, loosen tortilla from pan, shaking back and forth until tortilla slides around freely in pan. Following photos below, slide tortilla onto large plate. Invert tortilla onto second large plate and slide it browned-side up back into skillet. Tuck edges of tortilla into skillet with rubber spatula. Return pan to medium heat and continue to cook, gently shaking pan every 30 seconds, until second side is golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Slide tortilla onto cutting board or serving plate and allow to cool at least 15 minutes.

Via Smitten Kitchen: romesco potatoes. I liked the sauce, but the potatoes were only OK. Unless I'm missing something, the directions don't say to turn the oven up from 375. And... I suspect that's way low. Or, at least, after 50 minutes, my potatoes were still significantly on the tough side. The sauce was delicious, though, and Pnin and I had it on paninis with chicken and also cod last night and tonight.

Finally, the clementine cake did turn out well. It's been awhile since I've gotten that many complicated on a dessert. Also, it has the added bonus of being gluten free, so I can serve it to this particular friend without guilt. You'll notice that the photo is not pretty, but it was snapped up before I could take a more elegant picture of it...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Obligatory trustee election post

Petition candidate Joe Asch lost; establishment candidate John Repogle won. By a hearty margin, too -- 14, 176 votes to 5,823.

So, whither Dartmouth? Hard to say. Perhaps at some point, it was inevitable that the logic of collective action would stop working to petition candidates' benefit. That is, eventually the Gironde masses had to realize that the petition candidates represented a real disruption of their comfortable establishment liberal consensus. I always knew that there are far more of them than there are of us.

It's possible that specifically, the litigation was the turning point. Girondins don't like conflict, but even they can be raised out of their stupor every once in a while. Yet note that only something like 22% of the alumni body politic voted in this election. It's possible that there are even larger Girondin majorities out there.

It's all my fault.

Apparently I live in one of the most spendthrift cities in the country. It must be the temptation of all the delicious bread in Whole Foods. See also.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Point: Julian Sanchez writes a long, thoughtful essay on "epistemic closure" and the intellectual state of the right. Reihan Salam, and Noah Millman write long and thoughtful responses. Counterpoint: today the Heritage Foundation launches a new, explicitly political arm.

Perhaps it's unfair to juxtapose these items. Yes, it's important to be able to influence legislation; I certainly hate bad legislation as much as the next person. And perhaps a group that's loosely connected to an existing think tank would have a comparative advantage at reaching legislatures. At the same time, when there's plenty of ink being spilled by very smart and thoughtful people about the hyper-politicization of the right, I'm inclined to suspect that there's some meat to their complaints. So I'm not really sure that it's wise for Heritage -- an institution that might well have some comparative advantage at standing above the political fray and serving as a quasi-university-like generator of ideas -- to get more actively involved in the nitty-gritty of politics itself.

I should add that I have some thoughts on Noah Millman's points about funders, as I worked for one of the large right-of-center foundations for about a year and change. I'm not sure it's politic to post them here. I will say that the Institute for Humane Studies does give out plenty of grants and scholarships to libertarian-ish academics just starting out on their careers. While they look for people in the libertarian-ish ballpark, they don't require the people they fund to take particular positions. Pnin and I were both, at different times, beneficiaries of their generosity. I'd encourage Millman to learn more about them if it so interests him.

Virginia Confederate History month contretemps

As a NoVa resident and member of the VA bar, let me join the chorus of naysayers saying yes, Virginia's Confederate History Month was a terrible, terrible idea. Those of you who love primary sources are encouraged to check out Jack Balkin's impressive collection of relevant documents. In any case, I'm glad McDonnell has stepped back a bit and agreed to acknowledge the role that slavery played in causing the Civil War.

I'm happy that many conservatives have come out against this particular foolishness, too. Still, while I was beaming when I read the beginning of this Powerline post, I was less pleased by the remark that "McDonnell has no problems with his base." It reads as though this might somehow be acceptable if McDonnell did have problems with the base, sort of as though this were a mere Bridge to Nowhere or an otherwise ordinary piece of pork. But... morally speaking... it really isn't.

It's also a bit odd to see a conservative blogger so readily accept the conservative base = racist rednecks stereotype. I've been known to wave my hands around and yell that no, not every supporter of the colorblind constitution/opponent of affirmative action is a crypto-racist. I would've guessed that Mirengoff was with me on this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Things I like (yes, it happens)

1. Dave Weigel has a new blog up at The Washington Post, "Right Now" covering "the conservative movement and the Republican Party." I read a lot of Weigel's stuff when he was over at Reason and was generally favorably impressed. If you're reading this, you're also probably curious about the intellectual history, theory, and practice of libertarianism and conservatism. So check it out.

2. Here are two excerpts from posts by Ta-Nehisi Coates that I liked. The first:

I haven't seen Brooks' stats, but I strongly suspect that they don't tell us much about some people, they tell us something about most people. But if you're the kind of person who would single-mindedly devote yourself to pursuing an academy award, isn't it possible that you aren't like most people, and that stats like this are less indicative of your life? In which case, are you really crazy? Or is that your life, with all its nuances, and all its specifics, simply can't be folded into the square mind of the average pundit?

Sociology is porn for public intellectuals--or rather we seem intent on making it so.

The second, regarding Dana Perino's comment that there would be fewer sex scandals if there were more women in politics:

Let me chime in with a deep and heartfelt "Probably not." I think it's likely that a woman would like face a penalty in degree and kind that men don't. That probably serves as a deterrent. But it's not absolute. As Matt notes, there's a serious sample-size problem here.

I would suggest that the lack of sex scandals among women is more a marker of a kind of immaturity around women's issues in our politics. This nobler than thou approach is also a dangerous line of reasoning and (I hate to say this again) a kind of attack on the humanity of women.

3. It's beautiful in Washington! Unfortunately, I can barely enjoy the early summer because of my allergies. Hey, sometimes anti-histamines are the food of the gods.

This weather also makes me want to walk down the street eating ice cream cones. This is why I will never be a Leon Kass adherent.

Monday, April 5, 2010


1)A slight majority of the tea party movement is female. Of course, it's hard to define the scope of the tea party movement, and 55% is hardly a huge number. But it's still interesting, given that the tea partiers are often stereotyped as angry white men.

To be clear; I don't know what I think about the tea partiers. I'm with them insofar as having generally pro-limited government sympathies, though I'm not especially drawn to the populist tone of their movement. I'd love to read a long magazine piece by some well-respected centrist writer with an impeccable reputation for fair-mindedness who just followed a bunch of tea partiers around for a few months. Something New York Times magazine-ish.

2)While I'm clearing out my list of starred items from Google Reader: So this explains how I wound up in the public sector. One potential flaw: there's only a loose correlation between attractiveness in a paper facebook picture and attractiveness in real life. I feel ancient admitting that I remember the paper facebook era in undergrad, but...

3)Corporate diversity training does not actually seem to work.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Discussion question

The reason that this letter writer cannot get dates is not because attractive women his own age are dating older guys with more money and nicer cars. Rather, it is because he is an annoying and entitled whiner. See also the Nice Guy phenomenon discussed heavily on blogs a few years ago.

Notes on wedding planning

This is what I do with my precious spare time, apparently, rather than blog. So in no particular order:

1. First, there was the selection of registry items. This duty apparently falls almost entirely to me, as Pnin assures me that he does not care. It's extremely odd to pick out china, silver and fancy cooking toys with regard mainly to quality and not price. It feels like no kind of shopping I've ever done before, except possibly for shopping for educational institutions. This, alone, says much about my life as a status-income disequilibrium baby.

2. Second, there was the bridal magazine that advised naming tables at the reception after the couple's favorite books. This suggestion initially sounded kind of cool, except upon actual reflection, it isn't. At best, many of the obvious options are just kind of silly -- which of your friends are you really going to seat at Anarchy, State and Utopia? At worst, there are the choices that actually have the potential to offend. Our most socialist friends could sit at The Road to Serfdom! The conservative and libertarian civil rights people could all be at Pride and Prejudice! Does Vanity Fair work best as the table for a)our most attractive friends; b)Harvard grads; or c)legal academics?

3. I'm discovering that I have the world's lowest discount rate.

4. For about the 3,502nd time, I am wondering if I really have a second X chronosome. Not in the sense that I have Turner's syndrome -- though I am quite short, I do have an above average I.Q. -- but in the sense that I fear I am actually male, all hard biological evidence to the contrary.

5. I found a wedding etiquette book in my mother's house that advises that "business associates" of the bride may be invited, but only "if she's a career girl and will continue her work after the wedding."

6. Also, selecting readings for the ceremony. One possibility: the "Only when like marries like can there be any happiness" scene from Gone With the Wind. Also "O Tell Me The Truth About Love" by Auden and Shakespeare's 116th sonnet.