Saturday, May 29, 2010

Notes on visiting Amherst

I am visiting Amherst for Pnin's 15th reunion this weekend. It is sort of extremely like Dartmouth, actually, to the point that it is a little bit scary. Each institution has many similarly very nice red brick buildings, built in or around the 1920s, with similar architectural flourishes, though I admit it is a bit odd to see so many former fraternities turned into regular dormitories. It's a bit history stripping and so forth.

The library is also decidedly uglier what I can tell. Another point in Hanover's favor, as I've long been convinced that if there were a heaven, and if I were actually nice enough to deserve to go there, it would have to be a place very much like Baker Library at Dartmouth, especially the Tower Room or else the English literature library in Sanborn House.

The used bookstores are good. Again, remarkably similar to Hanover's.

Amherst may be slightly more left wing. This is far from dispositive evidence, but I found packets of tissues for sale in the college bookstore made to look like newsprint and titled "The Wall Sneeze Journal." I'm not sure if that is meant to insult the WSJ or not, and also, whether it would be amusing or needlessly insulting to buy any to give to friends who write for said publication. Also for sale there: Obamamints, or Yes We Can(dy). But this may cut the other way: perhaps this is not the best thing to give to Obama supporters.

There was a farmers' market/craft fair thing of sorts going on on the town Green this morning. I was almost sad that there were no lefties protesting the war in Iraq. There was a group of Iraq war protesters that could be trusted to stand around and demonstrate at pretty much any such event that was ever held in Hanover. And, like, the war is still going on. Did they just run out of steam sometime around 2003, a development that would make me feel a bit superannuated, but oh well? Did they decide to stop once Obama got elected, despite his less than pacifistic record so far? Granted, there were some people who looked to be student age arguing about whether George W. Bush should be convicted of war crimes as I was getting my iced coffee, which did make me feel kind of at home and suitably non-geezerish.

There are also lots of small children at Pnin's reunion. This is also nicely confirming my sense of non-geezerishness, what with my not having any.

Note also that Amherst and Dartmouth score remarkably close to each other in revealed preference college rankings.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Isabel: Pnin, are you having wine with dinner tonight? We have the Echelon Pinot Noir that you like from Trader Joe's.

Pnin: Maybe I shouldn't. I have to grade exams.

Isabel: I'm not sure that fact cuts the way you think it does. Wine will make grading more bearable.

Pnin: Hm, maybe you're right. (Pauses, pours himself glass of Pinot Noir)

Very good sentences about libertarians

"If returning to the gold standard is unthinkable, is it not just as extreme that President Obama claims an unchecked power to assassinate, without due process, any American living abroad whom he designates as an enemy combatant? Or that Joe Lieberman wants to strip Americans of their citizenship not when they are convicted of terrorist activities, but upon their being accused and designated as enemy combatants? In domestic politics, policy experts scoff at ethanol subsidies, the home-mortgage-interest tax deduction, and rent control, but the mainstream politicians who advocate those policies are treated as perfectly serious people."

Conor Friedersdorf in Newsweek

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


1)Why I find the libertarian tribe more tolerable than most of the rest of D.C.: "Lucky for them, libertarians are somewhat less subject to the pernicious effects of Washington, D.C., as evidenced by the greater degree of intellectual honesty and ideological diversity seen at those institutions. It helps when your party is never in power, when your social circles comprise people beyond your relatively small ideology who expect that you'll disagree with them, and when stubborn individualism is a guiding light of your philosophy. It isn't that these institutions are perfect, or untouched by the corruptions of the Beltway, but based on my limited knowledge I am impressed by them and much of the work they do, and I'd say so bluntly if I weren't."

OK, so I sort of agree with Julian Sanchez and Ezra Klein that Friedersdorf overstates the case against D.C. I agree with them both that it's fun and valuable to be able to thrash out ideas with other people interested in the same things. The bit about libertarians just made me smile.

2)I'm sorry, but almost 1 out of 10 young women gets pregnant on her first year onthe Pill? Like... in the sense that if this were true, there would have to have been an epidemic of pregnancy sweeping across the Hanover plain that I somehow failed to notice... really? Could someone with more spare time than I have at the second please dig into this and explain what the deal is?

3)More Kentuckians think Rand Paul is too liberal than think he is too conservative.

4)The Htipiti spread at Zaytinya is seriously amazing, as is the crispy brussel afelia. The little crab cakes are also very, very good. Everything else was good but far less memorable.

Monday, May 24, 2010

assorted frivolities

1. Visited the senior Archers this past weekend. Latest notes on the wedding industrial complex: Mama Archer tells me of her struggles to find an appropriate mother of the bride dress. "They all look... very Spanish Inquisition," she told me. "I feel like I'm dressed like a person in one of those Spanish paintings that I looked at in art history classes in college. It's like, here's me in my Spanish Inquisition outfit, here's Torquemada, there's the dead Jew." Pause. "You probably shouldn't quote this out of context. I might be misunderstood. I really wanted to say this to the salesclerks, too, but I'm sure that they' might have been insulted. Also, that they might not have understood." Relatedly, sometimes I suspect that my neuroses are not my fault.

2. Due to weight fluctuations (of the good kind), suddenly I can fit comfortably into a lot of wool skirts that I purchased c. 2004 and perhaps not much else. I apparently did not believe in buying clothes that were not wool skirts to be worn with tall boots back in 2004. While this development is flattering to my vanity, wool skirts were infinitely more useful in, like, Hanover six years ago than they are in D.C. in May. Still, I fear that this moment is likely to pass, and that I need to wear all of the wool skirts this week before it flees again. Except that the air conditioner in my office is not really functioning, which makes this plan even less practical that it sounded in the abstract. Oh well.

3. Should law schools give away the first year? Or, perhaps more precisely, let people walk away after 1L cost free, but charge them heftier prices over the second and third years? It's an interesting idea. It certainly would make attending a lower ranked school more attractive than it currently is -- if you do well and/or find something non-competitive you like, you can stick around. If you don't, you're essentially out only your opportunity cost for a year of not working. But at least you're not deeply in debt from the year.

4. Daria is on box DVD! (via) This is incredibly exciting, and I confess to being extravagant and shelling out $44 for a used copy on Amazon immediately. I fear my Pnin has not been introduced, and that he might need to be.

Friday, May 21, 2010

quotable quotes

"Much of the lawyer's craft involves the thoughtful resolution of indeterminacy."

-- Bruce Ackerman, We The People: Transformation

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On nerdiness

A possibly glorious addition to my registry. What, other than Star Wars pancakes, could be a more auspicious beginning to our married life?

See also.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

He had me at "abolish the Bluebook."

No, I've never noticed any nefarious dating market conspiracy against high achieving women either. True, I am probably vastly dumber than de Beauvoir, Arendt, or even Kagan, and most of my relevant anecdotal evidence concerns women who are high achieving in a more ordinary sense of the word. And yes, I found middle and high school painful in that regard. But the real issue there was that "high-achieving" meant "different", and different meant dating was difficult. But there were all sorts of other ways of being different in high school that made life difficult, and high achieving probably wasn't necessarily the worst sort of different.

I also find it weird that the Roissy types so often claim that there's some vast supply of working class, non-ambitious women out there who are vastly more attractive than their high achieving sisters. As far as I'm able to tell, the three big constraints on female attractiveness are genetics (being blessed with nice bone structure and so forth), money , and time. The first seems randomly distributed across all levels of female achievement. While there are high achieving status income disequilibrium babies who lack the second (writers, art historians, non-profit leaders and so on), even they usually wind up fairly well off eventually. It's much easier to eat healthfully, buy flattering clothes, and so forth if one has money than if one doesn't.* I suppose high achieving women do lag as a group on the third: needing to devote time to school and work necessarily means less time spent on one's looks. But... one can balance out vulnerability on #3 via consumption along dimension #2, which suggests that not all is bleak for the ambitious among us.

Note also that any discussion of Kagan groupies or lack thereof should include a nod to this Craigslist ad.

*This may be another example of libertarian tendencies coming to the fore, but in my admittedly anecdotal experience, expensive goods and services usually are better in some way than their lower priced equivalents. That is, expensive dresses do not exist merely because the rich are evil and want to flaunt their wealth conspicuously over everyone else.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Palindromes are the BEST.

I made most of the same dishes as last year for this year's version of the Friedrich Hayek birthday party. Because life's no fun without variety, though, I attempted the vaguely Central European esque and ridiculously easy Cooks Illustrated smoked salmon and dill dip, which everyone loved. Yay success. Recipe below:

3/4 cup sour cream (regular or light)
3/4 cup mayonnaise (regular or light)
3 ounces smoked salmon
2 teaspoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

In bowl of food processor, process sour cream, mayonnaise, salmon, lemon juice, and horseradish until smooth and creamy, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to medium mixing bowl; stir in dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill until flavors meld, about 1 hour. (Dip can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Monday, May 17, 2010


1)There is much that's wrong with this Caitlin Flanagan piece, but let me note one flaw: much of the media that she cites as extolling the Boyfriend Story isn't consumed by many (any?) actual teenagers. My cousin's daughters -- the little flower girls in my wedding -- are positively obsessed with High School Musical, for example. I believe they're 6 and 9. I sat through it once with them while babysitting, and it reminded me of the Sweet Valley High and Babysitters' Club serieses that I consumed in the antediluvian 1980s. The target demographic of this stuff consists primarily of girls in what Freud quaintly called the latency period -- girls for whom the hormones haven't yet kicked in, but who are kind of curious about what their glamorous big sisters and their friends do at parties. Like those series, HIgh School Musical was sanitized enough not to scare off media savvy parents. I doubt any actual 16-year-olds anywhere would admit to enjoying High School Musical, any more than there were any 16-year-olds in 1989 identifying with Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield of Sweet Valley High.

2)People with bigger bully pulpits than I should should probably be yelling more about this.

3)Ways that the wedding industrial complex is vexing me, #280: my dentist offered me a series of tooth whitening treatments as a more or less free wedding gift. (More or less = it looks like I might have to pay for an extra cleaning beforehand because insurance won't pick up treatments off the six month cycle, but the cost of that is modest.) The catch: I am not supposed to touch anything seriously staining between July and September, i.e. life without iced coffee for a month and a half. In D.C. In late summer. Now... if I had the kind of self-restraint that let me give up my pleasant vices for forty days at a stretch, I'd still be a Christian. As it is, I'm an atheist who's left staring into the gaping maw of eternity with no comfort better than the Peet's in my hand. Trade-offs.

Along with her sales pitch came that Look, the Look patented so well by the foot-soldiers of the Wedding Industrial Complex. But it is the most important day of your life! You'll have those photographs for years! What are you, one of those worshipers of Gaia and Mother Earth who wants to spend her nuptial frolicking in the fields with unshaven underarms? And I am all like, actually, I was president of my law school's Federalist Society; not one of a demographic usually mistaken for a Gaia worshiper. But I do have one of the normal Federalist weaknesses; I'm not good at recognizing social norms. Do normal women all do this in preparation for weddings? Is this an addiction I should probably do something about anyway?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More on looking young, height, etc.

Was mistaken today by security guards in my sort of boss's building for his teenage daughter. I am not sure exactly, but she is either 15 or 16. This is awkward, given having a law degree and everything.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


1)Guesser. I'm amused by the comment that Russians are stereotypically hard line Askers. Small n, I know, but my Pnin and future in-laws all seem to be strong Askers from what I can tell.

2)Apparently many people have Neanderthal ancestry. That's very exciting and cool, though perhaps not quite as interesting as the prospect of another hominoid species existing alongside Homo sapiens and then dying out.

3)Victory! We short women earn more than do our taller counterparts.

4)Civil wars are also the nastiest. This perhaps explains why so many socially conservative Republicans have low opinions of libertarians relative to Democrats.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Obligatory Elena Kagan Post

Hello, neglected blog. My excuse this time: a weekend long Liberty Fund conference (and a few evenings spent frantically reading in preparation.) It was good. There were plenty of desserts and nice wine. Interesting people. Also, I did not say anything about civil rights law that made anyone cry, which was good.

So: Elena Kagan was nominated to SCOTUS. My gut feeling: probably the least bad of the available candidates out there. It's true that I confess some weakness for Leah Ward Sears, who a)had one of the more moderate records and b)also went to the same law school that I did.

Some scattered thoughts:

1)Populist critiques(or, if you like, anti-elitist) critiques of the current court are a little silly. First, the court is just so tiny; it's easy to read far too much into random fluctuations regarding the represented justices' alma maters. It's perhaps noteworthy that Diane Wood, who came within a hair breadth's of the nomination, went to Texas -- an excellent but still near universally lower ranked school. Also, many of the plausible nominees will have led remarkably similar upper middle class lives in the years immediately following their nominations. Why continue to harp on education so?

2)I agree with my Pnin, as I said over a nice salmon dinner tonight, that Kagan probably made the wrong call regarding the ban of military recruiters on the Harvard campus. I do find the issue a bit more complicated, though, even for more or less libertarian/conservative reasons. If institutions like Harvard don't take it upon themselves to enforce certain anti-discrimination norms, calls for expanded anti-discrimination laws inevitably ensue. Libertarians like to say that civil society institutions can play an important role in constraining discrimination, which... sometimes means letting civil society institutions play important roles in constraining discrimination.

This issue also throws into relief the tension between two conflicting conservative visions for the academy. Adherents of one vision want universities to look like little classical liberal states. They ought to be agnostic on all different visions of what constitutes a good life. To the extent possible, universities ought to give equal time to all different perspectives -- in terms of hiring faculty of different views, in terms of making sure that different perspectives are introduced in the typical class, and in terms of making sure that the university regulates student speech and conduct with the lightest hand possible. The Foundation for Individual Rights has forcefully and eloquently articulated this perspective.

Adherents of the other vision are more comfortable letting universities vigorously articulate and enforce codes of values. See, e.g., Noah Millman or David Brooks. In fact, they often wish that universities would do more to differentiate themselves from one another. Some of these people are therefore forcefully in favor of the creation of alternative conservative and libertarian institutions of higher education -- they're thus great champions of schools like Hillsdale or Grove City. Others might not go as far. They're fine with the Harvards and Yales of the world vigorously articulating a center-left (OK, not-so-center left?) vision of the good life, so long as they're honest that that's what they are doing. So these institutions would literally follow the (tongue in cheek) recommendation in this thread that the Harvards of the world ought to just make a list of all the things that can be thought and said there. The real problem is that these institutions pretend to be morally agnostic miniature classical liberal states when they are in fact no such thing.

I don't know which vision I find more attractive. I'm usually more sympathetic on national policy questions with people in the first camp; they're usually more libertarian, whereas members of the second camp tip a bit more socially conservative. On the other hand, the second vision is more easily achieved. Adherents of the first vision sometimes also do silly things like call for criminal trial levels of due process in private university expulsion proceedings. This might be nice, but tailoring the scope of due process to the scope of the potential deprivation to the defendant is also a not crazy idea. Figuring out how to allocate "equal time" to different ideas is also a thorny problem, and I haven't yet found a satisfying answer to it.

In any case, if Kagan moved the ball closer toward Harvard's becoming an institution along the lines of #2, I am not entirely convinced that that is bad or blameworthy. Our shrieking about such decisions -- even if wrong-headed -- also undermines good faith efforts toward moving toward the second vision and should thus be avoided.