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!