Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thoughts on the passing of J.D. Salinger

I used to have opinions about J.D. Salinger's work, but I don't know what they would be anymore.

I read Franny and Zooey first of Salinger's works when I was 12 , on my librarian mommy's recommendation. She'd been a teenager in the early 1960s when Salinger-mania was at its height. I'd read almost nothing but children's literature up until then -- the Allentown Public Library wouldn't let anyone under 12 check out books from the adult section, and I confess I was far more excited about being old enough to check out adult books than about becoming old enough to drive, vote, or drink legally when those birthdays came. Franny and Zooey offered a glimpse of a world I'd never seen before. The Glasses were more brilliant than anyone I knew, certainly. I felt inadequate reading all of those casually tossed off references to Eastern mysticism. Not to mention how I envied their radio quiz show successes! (This was three years before my glory days on local public television quiz bowl.) But I felt a little bit neurotic and a misfit in the same way that Franny Glass was. I didn't like her smarmy date one bit either. I knew she deserved better. I wondered if we could be friends in real life, and if we'd each feel less angst if we knew each other.

Drawn to the Glasses' strange world, I raced through Catcher in the Rye and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters within a year or two. In ninth grade, I was assigned to read Catcher again in English class. I know now that it's impossible to assign a novel to sixteen kids that age and expect most of them to like it. Predictably, most of my classmates didn't. The popular girls leaned back languidly, running their French manicured hands through their perfectly highlighted hair, and sighed, "Like, Holden is so negative about everything." One or two of the most prudishly religious of the lot would throw in something apparently sincere about all of the cursing. I felt proudly edgy being comfortable about it and wondered if (despite my then-steady Rush Limbaugh habit) if that means I was fated to end up somewhere on the left side of the spectrum. Our teacher, perhaps anticipating David Brooks's stuff six years later on Establishment Kids, allowed that it might be generational and that the novel was "dated" in places.

A year later, an acquaintance of mine ("Madame Merle") took the class and read the book. "It's so trite," she sighed dramatically. "Do you know what Marks said that the theme of the class is? Loss of innocence. That's so trite. Once you're educated, you're not innocent anymore."

That was wrong -- or, at least, oddly phrased. It's possible to have a head full of literary and artistic knowledge and still be as innocent as a lamb about any number of practical subjects. In fact, I blush now to think just how innocent I was when that conversation took place.

I found Merle fascinating and simultaneously deeply aggravating. I couldn't decide if I wanted to like her or how the hell one would go about managing a friendship with someone as obviously mercurial as she was. (In this post from my old LJ, I recount the story of a particular teacher whom she worshiped. She was the girl who convinced herself that a 60-year-old European history teacher was in love with her and wanted an affair.) But she oozed sophistication. She wore suits and four-inch designer heels" to class every day and put her hair up in a sleek chignon because it made her feel more like Grace Kelly. I slouched around in clogs, corduroys, and sweaters from J. Crew, attire which was both comfortable and minimally socially acceptable. On days when you could pay to wear jeans for charity, I'd happily fork over the $1 to help the Somalians; she never did. Merle had a quasi-professional acting career outside of school, and in it, she played the female cultural conservative intellectual to perfection. I had a tattered copy of The Road to Serfdom, of which I actually understood about one quarter.

I don't wonder about 90% of the people I knew in those days, although quite a few of them have friended me on Facebook. I wonder about Merle every two weeks or so. Alas, her real name is quite common and doesn't Google well.

Merle thought we should be reading more Shakespeare and Aeschylus. As I delved deeper in more sophisticated literature, I wondered if she wasn't right. Maybe Salinger was just self-indulgent pablum, a misbegotten attempt by the adults to convince us that they were really cool and knew what we were thinking. I found myself agreeing with Merle that it would have been better if they hadn't tried. So I left Salinger alone on my bookshelf for years and immersed myself in other authors instead. I don't think I've read him since.

What do I think now from the height of wisdom of twenty-eight? Of course I care about opportunity costs in assigning literature. Aeschylus and Shakespeare probably are better choices. But Merle's sophistication seems more obviously fake, more of a transparent pose, than it did then. So does her patron's. As I slowly grow less fixated on impressing the New Criterion crowd, I wonder if I'd like Salinger more again. I wonder if I'd just enjoy his sketches of a world very different than the one I grew up in for what those sketches are.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

On hipsterdom

Pnin and I spar occasionally on what counts as a hipster. It all started when I was telling him about one of my friends from undergrad who's moved to Pittsburgh, and how Clarissa Dalloway occasionally talks about how great it would be if our entire circle would just pack up and move to Pittsburgh to join him. Pnin protested that that sounds horrible.

"I know. It would break my heart to be away from the libertarian movement. But Pittsburgh is apparently kind of cool and hipster."

"Cool? Hipster? Pittsburgh? Only if you consider old, falling-down factories to be hipster," Pnin protested.

"Well, the hipsters have taken over the falling down factories and made them into studios and microbreweries and things like that. I hear they first moved to Philadelphia because they couldn't afford Brooklyn anymore. And then they couldn't afford Philadelphia anymore either, so they settled on Pittsburgh instead. Being a hipster in Pittsburgh was sort of ironic. Except now there are enough of them that maybe it isn't ironic anymore. I don't know."

"Our neighborhood is more hipster than Pittsburgh," Pnin sniffed back.

"No, dude, it really isn't. We live in Clarendon, for crying out loud. "

"Why? We have bookstores and trendy coffee shops and a lot of restaurants. It's a very hip neighborhood. More hip than Pittsburgh."

"It's too corporate."

Pause."I know, you're going to say something snarky about limited liability and pass-through vs. entity level taxation. I took Business Associations too, you know. But hipsters don't like anything owned by large chains like Barnes and Noble. They see them as inauthentic or something. And no, they're not sophisticated about limited liability and taxation and what have you."

"But Barnes and Noble is cheaper than independent bookstores like Kramerbooks," Pnin continued. "And hipsters should value being frugal and doing what they want, and not worrying what other people think of them. So because I shop at Barnes and Noble and don't care about what other people think of me, then I think I'm more hipster than the hipsters."

I conceded that he wears generally appropriate glasses, but that otherwise, he is not a hipster.

Well, along comes the ever helpful American Scene to help shed light on this key question. See also Ivy Gate. The comment about "Maybe if you let Julian Sanchez dress you" is spot on. At some point during the hipster discussion, we were each trying to come up with someone we both knew who exemplified the platonic essence of libertarian hipster, and at exactly the same time, we said "Julian Sanchez," while conceding that the Wilkinson/Howley duo was not far behind. Also, possibly James Poulos, though Ilya claims not to have met him or to remember meeting him. I have only met Ross Douthat once, though he did once live in a group house with one of my ex-boyfriends for a while. (They lived together before I was dating said ex-boyfriend, though.) Suffice it to say: totally not hipster.

Still, entertaining and instructive as the TAS comment thread is, perhaps the readers of this humble blog might be able to help. What is a hipster? Is Pittsburgh plausibly hipster? What about Clarendon? Etc.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

sotu (ii) -- reactions

10:25: Krauthammer: "strained and unctuous." "feel pain," channeling of Clintonism. Where is Kenneth Anderson to talk about therapy and the overclass, when you need him? Washington = seven times, as pejorative.

10:26: McDonnell, my governor, is doing the Republican response. Interesting choice.

10:28: Ilya: "My boss!"

10:29: Ilya: Scott Brown instead? Me: that would be glibly triumphalist.

10:30: A.B. Stoddard of The Hill, whoever she is -- shallow optimism? Ilya -- it's his job. You're supposed to be optimistic! Saying "things really suck" is impolitic.

Steve Hayes: no pivot centerward. Comprehensive climate legislation. Seriously? Ditto health care.

10:32: Ilya: this speech was missing a "drill, baby, drill."

10:33: Ilya: who are these people in the VA State House? Me: People cooler than us. Ilya: They don't look cool.

McDonnell's twin boys are fraternal. No?

Ilya: If you can avoid saying anything about how women should stay at home, I'll be happy.

McDonnell: meaningful work, dignity that comes with it. Am getting distracted, thinking of IJ right to work cases.

10:34: McDonnell has blue tie, Obama red. Did they plan the color reversal?

Ilya: there's an ethnically balanced group of people sitting behind him. Also, woman, and military dude.

10:35: Jefferson quote. Ilya: hear, hear!

10:36: Ilya: would that Republicans meant it about limited government a few years ago. Yes. Me too. Me too.

10:37: I don't want cooperation. But the VA State House building is nice.

Buy health insurance across state lines! YAY!

10:38: Why do we have to be energy independent, Ilya? Ilya: we don't.

10:40: choices, charter schools, all to the good.

10:41: commends daughter for military leadership. This is good, esp. given his earlier remarks about women.

Scott Brown reference.

10:42: "equal opportunity."

10:43: Me: "Republicans are so palatable when they're in opposition." Ilya: also, there are good Jefferson quotes. Would that they had ruled by these principles for the past eight years.

There is a Scripture quote, just so that the two of us don't sleep TOO easy.

10:45: liberty, property, and "innocent life." Me: just so that I don't find Republicans too palatable. Ilya: well, that was sufficiently oblique that it would appease the faithful, without a lot of people getting it.

Maybe.

10:47: Yes. Better than Jindal.

10:49: Juan Williams: McDonnell = pragmatist, someone who can find common ground. Yes, I agree.

liveblogging of State of the Union

9:00: Cannot remember how to work TV, due to not having watched anything but Netflix DVDs for four months.

9:01: Yell at Pnin to come upstairs and fix the TV. Pnin fixes it.

9:02: Start flipping around channels, trying to get to one that has the State of the Union. It occurs to me how much dumber the rest of the country that does not obsessively read the Volokh Conspiracy and the Atlantic is. Apparently, people are fascinated by thin, beautiful, and vapid teenagers, and also grotesquely, by the morbidly obese. Recall reading piece in Dartmouth Review kvetching about the anti-intellectualism of confusing St. Augustine of Hippo w/St. Augustine of Canterbury. Remember having read it and thought, "Yes, but, like, dude, what about reality television?" Renew this thought.

9:10: Am frightened by Sarah Palin's eye makeup. Perhaps more so than I am by her ignorance.

9:15: Grandiloquent historical appeal. Passing the health care bill is like the Civil War. Or someting.

9:17: Is doing annoying thing where he cites to specific towns in key battleground cities that are having hard times.

9:19: He's "never been more hopeful about America's future than tonight."

9:20: The American people need "a government that matches their decency." I agree, but I don't think that that phrase means what Obama thinks it means.

9:21: Now he's talking about shoring up banks.

We all hated the bank bailout.

Me: Didn't he vote for it?

Ilya: Yes.

Obama: I hated it like a root canal.

Me: What was the polling on it?

Ilya: 60/40.

Hm. Root canals don't poll that well.

9:22: We've recovered most of what we spent

Me: Did we, really?

Ilya: That's an exaggeration.

Biden is grinning.

Everyone is standing up applauding.

9:23: If we're going to have an anti-bank populist for president instead, couldn't we please have Andrew Jackson instead?

9:24: Did we cut taxes for 95% of working families, Ilya?

Ilya: Probably not, though a lot depends on definitions.

9:25: I think Megan McArdle had a good post on the 2,000,000 figure of people working who otherwise woudln't be. Will Google shortly.

9:27: Can't find post. Maybe it was someone else. Wake up briefly because O. has just started calling for a new jobs bill.

Am briefly debating abbreviating his initials as "BHO," then realize that I generally stop reading anything by a conservative who uses the Hussein.

9:28: The "small business" thing reminds me of my old job.

He is pandering to Allentown, Pennsylvania. Oh good. My parents will be flattered to know that they're real Americans.

9:29: Something with banks and credits. Couldn't he just do an across the board payroll tax holiday? Wouldn't that be better?

Also, a tax credit to businesses that hire people or raise wages. But would it not make more economic sense for some to invest in capital or r and d instead? Thus, payroll tax holiday, rathe than futzing around with jobs.

9:30: Eliminate capital gains tax on all small businesses. This is actually something I think I might be able to support.

He's building infrastructure.

9:31: You could also just create jobs by paying people to dig holes and then fill them in again.

9:32: Or you could just have a tax policy that treated out sourcing and in sourcing equally. And not be a bloody protectionist. Grrr.

Calls for Senate to pass jobs bill.

9:33: Can't afford another "expansion." I am thinking of the Hayek rap video. I normally try to disassociate myself with "End the Fed" libertarians, as they seem kind of crankish, and I am somewhat invested in trying to be reasonable and Vulcanish and not a crank. But maybe they are right about the boom and bust cycles. C.F. the Keynes v. Hayek rap video that like every one of my Facebook friends has posted to her news feed in the last two days.

9:36: What financial info do consumers need that they do not already have? What are they not disclosing to the SEC? Are they already not one of the most regulated sectors of the economy?

Also, miracles of aggregation?

9:37: Can we just leave innovators alone? Can we not encourage them that way?

9:38: I may actually be sort of okay with expanding the use of nuclear power. And at least he says "nuclear" right.

Also, w/opening new offshore areas for drilling.

9:40: More stupid protectionism about keeping jobs in the country.

9:41: There is truth to what he just said about trade deals.

I'm fine with enforcing the rules and making sure trade partners live with the rules. I say this. Ilya points out that this is a code word of protectionism. As opposed to the non-code words for protectionism he's been using all evening.

9:42: National competition to raise schools. Will fund only "success." This is problematic: it's hard to divert away money from schools that are struggling and failing. Poor kids tug on people's heartstrings. Even mine. But if he actually follows through on this, I might support it.

9:44: He has causation backwards re: education, I fear. The reason college grads do well is in part because they're a disproportionately talented group.

9:45: This thing about student loans is kind of pandering to me, but I'm not buying it.

9:46: Why do we want to encourage re-financing of mortgages, exactly?

At minute 36: Finally, health care. Notice how he ducked it til now.

9:47: He didn't take on health care because it was good politics. Ilya: maybe he THOUGHT it was good politics, but he was wrong.

9:48: Michelle Obama is taking on the problem of childhood obesity. Ah, the nanny state.

9:49: How do you extend coverage and drive premiums down? Only if more healthy people come in, Ilya says. But if the people who don't have health insurance are disproportionately unhealthy are out of the pool, should not the opposite happen?

9:50: Americans will lose their health insurance during this speech. Briefly picture my commissioner firing me in a fit of displeasure, possibly incurred by having to listen to this speech; shiver at prospect. Take sip of drink to feel better.

9:51: If anyone has a better idea for how to reform health care... I want to be the Cato publicity coordinator right now. HELP PEOPLE BUY INSURANCE ACROSS STATE LINES. SEVER INSURANCE FROM EMPLOYMENT. Ilya points out McConnell is smirking. I can never remember which McConnell is the federal judge and which one is the Senator.

9:53: Did the wars drive up the deficit that much? Ilya points out, at least he mentioned the prescription drug benefit.

9:53: Obama: CRISIS! Thus... LEVIATHAN! (With apologies to Higgs.

9:54: Is freezing government spending, except for the huge entitlement programs that he isn't. This is kind of against self-interest to care.

9:56: Bipartisan commission to reform Social Security. Ilya: what was wrong with the one chaired by Daniel Patrick Moynihan a decade ago, except that it recommended privatization? Also, it is against interest for me to say too much about the words "bipartisan commission."

9:57: There are random women in the audience wearing bright yellow suits. Am thinking of Nicole Kidman in Kill Bill.

9:58: No, we didn't cut spending for eight years. We INCREASED IT, as you JUST SAID A FEW MINUTES AGO.

9:59: Common sense. You, sir, are no Thomas Paine.

10:00: I don't know what I think of stepped up lobbying disclosure laws. And people organized as lobbying organizations are people too for First Amendment purposes.

10:01: Ilya: so you, Mr. Obama, should not be influencing elections, since you're among America's most powerful entities.

10:02: Congress publish earmark requests online. A minor gimmick. Ilya: this is not bad, but it won't change anything.

"None of these things will happen if we don't reform how we work with one another." Ilya: then don't reform anything.

10:03: We disagree about the role of government in our lives. Well... yes.

10:04: Well... the parties are vicious because the stakes are so high. And the more powerful government, the higher the stakes.

10:06: Monthly meetings with both Democratic and Republican leadership. Ilya: it would be fun to be at one of those meetings. Yes.

10:07: Ilya: is not protecting our people one of our values?

I have always felt sort of bad for Janet Napolitano. Her remarks about the system may have been inartful, but I worry she was right. Optimal number of terrorist attacks may be higher than zero, hard truth though that is.

10:08: Nancy Pelosi looks a bit maternal as she's looking over his shoulder.

10:09: Combat troops out of Iraq by August. Are combat troops the same thing as troops? Ilya: they are not, in fact, the same thing.

The war is ending, and all the troops are coming home. Eventually. Note the lack of an end date.

10:10: Suddenly start wondering: what writers do I like are liveblogging this?

10:11: When she's not fighting childhood obesity, MO is helping military families. Because politicians opposed military families before this, as Ilya says.

10:12: I don't actually know anything about security policy, so this part of the speech is sort of tolerable.

10:14: Haiti. Who is dude the camera is zeroing in on? Ilya; maybe Haitian ambassador.

10:15: Ilya: exit rights! Let the Haitians vote with their feet! You know, we stand on the side of freedom and dignity, except when letting people come here.

The Constitution doesn't actually say anything about people being created equal. Just to be clear.

10:16: There were two sentences about civil rights. I screamed and writhed in physical pain and could not type because of said writhing. So there's no substantive commentary on them.

10:17: Or we could have an immigration policy that is actually logical and therefore enforceable, and then we could enforce it. That could work, too.

10:18: Democratic v. Republican values -- echoes of Washington's Farewell Address. Say what you will, he's a good rhetorician.

10:19: Sometimes, bankers take risks, and they get rich. And they invest their profits! Or spend them and funnel them into the economy! And that is wonderful.

10:20: Returning to broadly historical theme.

10:22: Ilya and I are getting distracted from all the high-minded rhetoric and are looking at Google Image photos of Scott Brown on my laptop.

Also, camera zeroing in on Harry Reid.

10:23: I want to be one of those people who is inspired by politicians. I envy supporters their euphoria. I haven't been since the mid-90s, when I defended Thornburgh against Wofford. Someday, I will get excited about an actual politician. Today is not that day.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Should the Senate Be Apportioned Based on Population?



I love maps, even (especially) those of fake places. So I encourage anyone to click through to James Fallows's blog for a larger version of what the United States would look like if the 50 states were redistributed into 50 entities of equal population (a bit over 5,000,000 people each.)More here and here.

Some scattered thoughts:

1)I am squinting and can't figure out if Allentown would be in Philadelphia or Susquehanna. If anyone is better at reading tiny maps than me, please comment and tell me.

2)I understand that, as someone whose friends mostly align with Team Red, I am supposed to hate this proposal. We are supposed to love the Electoral College, and liberals are supposed to hate it. As the Founders fretted, making NYC and the SF Bay separate cities would skew the political system in favor of city dwellers. We would thus disrupt the integrity of the yeoman farmer class or something.

Maybe; I am not so sure. It seems a bit arrogant -- and dare I say it, un-conservative -- to presume to know, for all time, the right way to balance the interests of different classes and different regions. Maybe city folk are more freedom-loving than they were in the 18th century. As my beloved Artist Formerly Known as Ilya has written in some ways the educated classes are most friendly to liberty. So, too, breaking up California so that the suburbs get more electoral votes might benefit Republicans. I'm also not really sure how reshuffling votes in the Rust Belt changes the electoral calculus. I defer to real experts here.

3)For traditional American federalism to work, there must be states. Duh. But can federalism work if the states are not the same states for all time? Like, if the boundaries of the states were redrawn every 25 years -- as one of Yglesias's commenters suggests -- would it matter? What the commenter sees as a bug in the scheme, I see as a virtue -- if state governments have to disband every few years, they can't screw nearly as much up. (No Johnstown flood tax in place for 100 years!) On the other hand, would the lack of stable states make the central government all the more powerful?

4)Or is the real problem that there would be interest groups fighting for control of the redrawing process every 25 years or so? And that the new districts would be gerrymandered to meet their interests?

5) If interest groups were constantly fighting about state boundaries, would this be a less harmful use of their time than what they are doing now?

6)Some of the names of the new fake states are cool. Coronado! Allegheny! Pamlico! Tombigbee! I completely support any public policy that involves coming up with new place names that are better than the older ones. (I spent a lot of my childhood sitting around coming up with better names for places in my town than the ones that existed. This, again, is why I grew up to be not a Burkean.) Also, if officials are sitting around debating the merits of Susquehanna v. Lancaster v. Pennsyltucky for a given swath of the country, that's probably good -- it means they have less time to do things that are actively harmful.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Notes on encounters with the wedding industrial complex

As I've said here before, I am not really good at optimism and non-misanthropy. Perhaps Exhibit A of these tendencies would be my attitudes toward the wedding industrial complex. So I'd been steeling myself with dread for a Saturday of looking at wedding dresses with old friend and maid-of-honor-at-arms Clarissa Dalloway. I'd been warned that I'd be too small to look non-ridiculous in samples.

Also, I have been told that I am supposed to be fretting about my unhealthy pallor that would have been considered attractive were I actually an 1880s literary heroine, but is not given that I am just a 21st century lawyer who blogs under an 1880s literary heroine's name. That is, I am supposed to fake tan to look acceptable on the big day, except that fake tanning terrifies me because it makes me think simultaneously of loathsome topics like Stephen Reinhardt and vapid starlets. Secondly, I am supposed to be fretting about how my triceps will look if I bow to fashion and wear a sleeveless dress. Or perhaps it is my biceps, or maybe glutes or hamstrings, except I think the latter two may be in my legs. Or, well, that are in the legs of people who (unlike me) do not have marshmallows in the places in which their muscles are supposed to be. I wouldn't know; I recognize names of muscles primarily as unnecessary nouns that distract from the narrative thread of Tom Wolfe novels.

I am also supposed to be experimenting with fad diets so that I can look good in said dress. I have never, in fact, experimented with fad diets, and I don't intend to start. My youthful sins against good taste have heretofore instead been confined to Objectivism and cheap beer. But it seems almost a breach of good taste not to be: first, a sin against the polite norms of the sisterhood -- "I hate my abs too" is the right answer; "Mrph, I am actually more worried about this report at work instead" is not -- and second a wrong signal of lack of affection for a man whom I do love dearly.

Against this backdrop, Clarissa is comforting. She is like me on all of the above counts, except that she skipped the youthful flirtation with Objectivism. She complements me well; she is chatty with salespeople and saves me from the painful necessity of small talk. She understands why it is that I cannot bring myself to cry or shriek when I try on dresses that I like, as she has a long history of explaining to mutual friends that "It's not you; it's just that Isabel is actually from Vulcan and doesn't understand earthlings very well sometimes." If I do not like a dress, am asked why and mutter in reply "It's just sort of a gestalt thing," she does not sigh about how weird I am. If I start to twitch because I have been wrapped up in tulle too long and can't get to my i-phone to look for work e-mails, I know I can trust her to root around in my purse and check for me. I can sit in her car, reading wedding industrial complex pablum that a wedding gown is the ultimate expression of me at a crucial moment in my life, and remark, "In some ways, like, my SAT score was more of an ultimate expression of me at a crucial moment in my life." Clarissa nods and says, "I know exactly what you mean."

So it is that I'm down to six dresses, all of which I like. The advantage of my bizarre tendencies is that I am not overly beholden to a specific wedding dress style. Again, apparently ordinary people are supposed to have been planning out what exactly their dresses have looked like since the age of seven, whereas if I try to think that far back, I remember little except unhealthy obsessions with Nancy Drew and musical theater.

In some ways, wedding dress shopping is actually less painful than the ordinary kind. There are people around to help pin things to my figure, so there are few things that I have to reject out of hand just because they're cut to a different body type. Needing alterations is normal, thankfully. Also,though I did briefly regret the series of life choices that steered me away from investment banking while walking through Saks Jandel on Sat. morning, Pnin and I are not on that tight a budget either, thank heaven. And so salespeople feel obliged to be nice to me for self-interested reasons, which is comforting.

Before anyone asks: yes, there are photos of some of the remaining candidates on the Internet. But my groom reads this, and so I'd wind up violating the traditional rules about letting him see dresses before the wedding date, which I'd rather not. I suppose a solution is just to post the links to comments and tell him not to read them. If anyone's interested, comment in the below thread.

Oh, and one last wedding industrial complex related kvetch: I can't dance. At all. I could attempt to take lessons to learn to cure the problem, but I suspect it might be for naught. Elizabeth Blackwell used to blame the fact that I was a Republican, and thus inherently the sort of square that has no rhythm. But, post-43, I'm a much less loyal Republican than I used to be. Apparently the basis of my failures is more likely biological than political; my ring finger is about a centimeter or two longer than my index finger. N=2.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Obligatory Alumni Trustee Election Post

Joe Asch '79 is running as a a petition candidate for Dartmouth's board. He will be challenging John Repogle '88, current CEO of Burt's Bees. He will not challenge journalist Morton Kondracke '60. His campaign website is here; if you'd like to support him by signing a petition, you can download one there.

I'm generally inclined to be liberal about signing petitions like this. The more voices in an election, the better; I'd prefer to save agonizing about whether Asch really is the best candidate until the merits stage. But even if I were ordinarily inclined to apply more exacting standards of review, I'd perhaps be inclined to be nice to Asch anyway.

As he notes in his campaign statement, Asch moved back to the Hanover area as an adult and has audited a number of classes at Dartmouth in the last few years. Among them was Art History 40, The Art of the Early Italian Renaissance, in summer 2002. Out of thanks to Professor Randolph for a good summer, he invited the professor and the 5-6 students from the class who'd gotten the highest grades on the midterm and the paper over to his house for dinner. I was among them. The menu involved filet mignon, baguettes, and (if I recall correctly) chocolate mousse. It was an unusual gesture on Asch and his wife's part-- it wasn't exactly cool to be that openly meritocratic about honoring high grades at Dartmouth -- and a touching one. My signature for a petition can easily be plied with filet mignon and chocolate mousse.

(Aside: one of the other students at that dinner went on to found her own jewelry design line, Lulu Frost, which has been prominently featured in Vogue and other smart magazines. I was a little afraid of Lisa when we shared that class, and I'm not surprised she went on to do something more glamorous than average. But I digress... )

Back to Asch. Because he's been so active on campus, I imagine many recent alums have stories similar to my dinner party tale. That'll help him. Perhaps more interestingly, in contrast to the past four petition candidates, Asch has said and written almost nothing about national politics. He has a long paper trail of writings on Dartmouth issues, but I found nothing in that D archive about politics beyond Dartmouth. It's been a few years, but I can't remember Asch waxing right-wing crankish in that art history class. (I'd very likely remember if he had. I usually keep my ears open for right-wing cranks.) Bottom line, he comes across as a pragmatist who wants to do the right thing for a college that he loves. Again, I think that will help him.

There is also an AoA petition slate. I know several of the younger candidates. They're smart, qualified people who could fulfill these roles well. It's a slate that's heavy on conservative Christians, if memory serves, and light on libertarians. This is not to say, of course, that a slate which was imbalanced the other way would be better, given the realities of coalition politics.

And no, I haven't read the summary judgment order from the alumni lawsuit yet. Perhaps tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Should Libertarians Hate Government?

Will Wilkinson has a link to an interesting piece on libertarian self-defeating habits by William Eggers and John O'Leary, formerly of the Reason Foundation. I'm underwhelmed. Some scattered thoughts:

1)As some of Wilkinson's commenters point out, what he calls libertarian schizophrenia is actually quite common to other movements. I'd go further and say that schizophrenia between incrementalists and radicals is actually a positive good. I came of age among The Dartmouth Review crowd (although I never wrote for them). Dinesh de Souza once said that he thought that the Review was good for Dartmouth's more moderate right in that it helped moderates say, "Oh, yes, I'm a conservative, but I wouldn't go as far as those guys. Here's why you should listen to me." It helps to have some extremists dragging the spectrum of public opinion out to one side, and other, more practical-minded people bringing them back to earth.

Also, I suspect whether you're an incrementalist or a radical is largely a matter of personality. I have sat through my share of turgid seminars on MARKETING libertarian ideas and BRANDING them, and also maybe having a TWITTER or some FACEBOOKS, about them. Because, you see, libertarian ideas are totally not scary, and we could totally get our friends and other grandmothers excited about them, if we were just pragmatic enough! These seminars frankly make me want to spend the next eight years hiding in a closet re-reading Ayn Rand novels. I'm much more comfortable just shouting my crankish ideas into the wind and hoping I move the center of the debate libertarian-ward. Yet there are people who seem to like "pragmatic" seminars like these and think them valuable. We all serve, in our different ways.

2)Relatedly: I can't tell to what extent Eggers and O'Leary are talking about a mere communications strategy -- "Look! Libertarians don't have to be scary!" -- or about actual changing our policy ideas. They say "Our Founding Fathers, fondly quoted by limited-government advocates, didn’t view government as evil, but as a flawed institution with some important jobs to do." Yes, but... most libertarians think of government this way. I don't know many serious libertarians who don't.

3)I don't really disagree with any of their points about why market-based reforms aren't self-executing.

4)Regarding their #4 about government bashing alienating those whom you want to reach: yes, that's true up to a point. But the stupidity and inefficiency of government also resonates powerfully with the not particularly ideological. See, e.g., the pleasant and highly efficient process of hanging out at the DMV to get one's license renewed. And, yeah, many people might love police officers and teachers. But many people have also gotten pulled over by police officers who run speed traps, or fought absurd battles to remove a public school teacher who wasn't performing in her job. This message is more intuitively attractive than O'Leary and Eggers think.

5)The moon landing as an example of good government: This example may be more complicated than Eggers and O'Leary think. Yes, the moon landing was a visually stunning achievement and an unparalled demonstration of technical prowess. At the same time, we'll never know what benefits the millions (billions?) of dollars invested in the private sector might have yielded. True, private investment probably wouldn't have gotten us the moon landing in 1969. But all that cash freed up might well have gotten us different and interesting products instead. We'll just never know.

6)I was a Koch Summer Fellow in 2007. And I, uh, work for the federal government now. So we are out there.

Also, I worked for a public interest law firm my Koch summer, but there was at least one young woman in my class who worked for the Department of Commerce. There may have been one other. So maybe someone was listening to Will after all.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Martha Coakley, Ethics, and the Amiraults

On Friday, the WSJ published an excellent column questioning Martha Coakley's judgment regarding her handling of the Amirault child sex abuse prosecutions. As Rabinowitz writes, the evidence against the Amiraults was extremely flimsy, and public opinion eventually turned against the prosecutions. Coakley's continued zeal to press the case should therefore raise questions about her judgment, especially among left-wing types who are normally concerned about prosecutorial abuses of power.

Or... not. The ever-intelligent Radley Balko links to a post by a left-leaning feminist blogger M. LeBlanc who wrestles with these issues. Balko hits many nails squarely on their heads in his response to her.

One point that Balko and LeBlanc have overlooked: LeBlanc writes "So, what's the moral status of advocating that someone who is likely innocent remain in prison? It's a tough question. As far as I known, it's something that's routinely done by prosecutors everywhere.."

Actually, there already are canons on legal ethics that address this "tough question," including in Massachusetts. See Canon 3.8 (a), which provides that "The prosecutor in a criminal case shall refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause." That is to say, if Coakley knew that the charge against the Amiraults wasn't supported by probable cause and went ahead anyway, then she violated Massachusetts's Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. I'm not sure that I can say she did or didn't; I'd want to know more facts about what exactly she knew, and how strong the factual basis has to be for the "probable cause" requirement to be met in this context.

Not a criminal lawyer, but I always understood the "probable cause" standard in other contexts as not totally toothless/not requiring total deference to the government. If I'm wrong, I'd appreciate being schooled by real criminal lawyers.

Now, the canon is worded in a strange way; "prosecute" and "charge" both suggest that it might be meant only to apply to prosecutors' conduct in the trial court, rather than at the appellate level. Still, the public policy undergirding the rule seems to be something to the effect of "It's bad for prosecutors to send clients to jail based on flimsy charges." The canons of professional conduct are also meant to guide lawyers' conduct even in situations in which the rules aren't binding. So even if the text of the rule, narrowly constructed, isn't meant to apply to appellate proceedings, it's still strong guidance to Coakley as to what an ethical prosecutor ought to do.

Maybe M. LeBlanc disagrees with the current formulation of the relevant rule of professional conduct. That's perfectly understandable; there's plenty there that I disagree with too. I write this post to emphasize that Coakley wasn't trying to figure out her moral duties in this situation in a total vacuum. There are laws meant to cabin prosecutorial zealous advocacy. That there are non-trivial arguments that Coakley disregarded these binding ethical obligations makes the case against her judgment even slightly stronger than Balko claims.

Ayn Rand Anti-Defamation League

Despite my blog title, I regard myself as ex-Randian. I still have (mostly) warm memories of my Randian adolescence -- or, well, as nearly warm as are possible, given that I'm reminiscing about an unfortunate stage of life defined by acne, near-sightedness, and inability to talk to boys. So I was intrigued to read this attempt to denounce Rand for inculcating incuriosity in her followers.

With all due respect for Mr. DeBoer, I don't think his former college classmate's case is typical. I won't attempt to defend myself from allegations of incuriosity. I'm all too aware of the limitations of my own meager mind. But I would point to friends of mine, including Josh Blackman (who rejects Rand's dogmatic anti-religion views in the linked post) and David Bernstein, who in the linked post describes how Rand spurred his academic career and has served to inspire others to be their best. I know, I'm just offering anecdotes -- but so too is Mr. DeBoer, and I'm not aware of any more systematic attempt to study Rand's influence on her adherents' curiosity.

Second, Mr. DeBoer's paragraph on the substantive content of his friend's views is odd:

And, you know, if you peruse Mr. Cropper's videos for awhile you'll learn that he thinks poor people choose to be in poverty and deserve it, that we should not feed the starving, that the American Indians were a collection of idiots who were rightly colonized by a superior power, that war is often preferable to peace, that religion is a mental disease, that modern cosmology and particle theory are a scientific conspiracy, that we won the Vietnam war, that we are and should be at war with Islam (because Muslims are inherently irrational and hateful), that nuclear armed nations should enforce their advantage in the capacity for physical violence against other nations without conscience, that global warming is a myth, that child labor should be reinstated as it is a moral and rational edifice, that poetry always must rhyme or is not poetry, and his most cherished and frequently expressed idea, that the edifice of modern higher education is in total a conspiracy against the people, perpetrated by educators who knowingly disseminate nonsense, and that this is the reason for his failure to ascend to the pinnacle of intellectual achievement.

Let's break some of these down:

1)"That poor people choose to be in poverty and deserve it" -- Rand certainly thought that of some poor people, yes. But I suspect that even the most bleeding hearted libs concede that there are some poor people who are in their current situation due to their own shiftlessness and laziness. Rand did show plenty of characters in Atlas Shrugged who are poor because of failed government economic policies. Others are poor due to others' inability to recognize their talents -- the formerly successful Henry Cameron in The Fountainhead, and also the struggling Steven Mallory in the same novel. It's notable that hero Howard Roark gave Mallory financial aid while he was struggling to launch his sculpting career, and that Rand was perfectly fine with such aid given to a poor person.

2)"That we should not feed the starving" -- See above about Mallory. Rand was against charity that enables shiftlessness, as I think even many left of center types are. But she was okay with financial support given to the poor in circumstances where such wouldn't be counterproductive.

3)"That American Indians were a collection of idiots who were rightly colonized by a superior power" -- Again, I'd be careful. I can't recall anything that Rand ever wrote specifically about American colonization. But she was a firm believer in property rights and in non-initiation of the use of physical force. Adherence to the latter principles would indicate that Randians shouldn't see the American colonization as unambiguously good.

4)That war is often preferable to peace -- See above.

5)That religion is a mental disease -- Yes, it's true Rand was fervently anti-religion. She wouldn't have used the disease formulation, though. And many of her followers have also found ways of synthesizing pro-religious and objective views -- see Mr. Blackman's post above.

6)That modern cosmology and particle theory are a scientific conspiracy -- I will defer to others on this, but I can't recall anything in Rand that questioned the validity of modern cosmology or particle theory. Indeed, in general, Rand was all for scientific inquiry and technological advancement.

7)That we are and should be at war with Islam (because Muslims are inherently irrational and hateful), that nuclear armed nations should enforce their advantage in the capacity for physical violence against other nations without conscience -- See #3, above.

8)That global warming is a myth -- Yes, Rand was skeptical of much of 1960s and 1970s environmentalism. She didn't write on global warming specifically to my knowledge because it was simply less of a hot issue among environmentalists then.

9) That child labor should be reinstated as it is a moral and rational edifice -- Rand did favor abolishing bans on child labor. She claimed that, as post-Industrial Revolution societies grow richer, individual families were more likely to send their children to school instead of having them work in unpleasant conditions. All things being equal, Rand would have preferred to live in a wealth, modern society where few or no families found it economically exigent to make their children work.

To Mr. DeBoer's credit, he concedes that "Some of these [ideas] can be directly attributed to Rand's philosophy; many can't." Still, I do think it's worth highlighting how far astray some of these go from Rand's actual ideas. The discrepancies suggest that much of Brandon's approach to Rand may reflect his own idiosyncrasies, rather than anything inherent in Rand's work.

Hanover Anti-Defamation League

From the ages of about 22 to 24, right after I first moved to D.C., I tried to defend the proposition that Hanover, N.H. is cosmopolitan. "It's like Georgetown!" I would protest, "except it's just like a random five or six blocks of Georgetown thrown in the middle of New Hampshire! And how regularly do you, proud Georgetown dwellers, actually venture beyond a five-block radius of your townhouse to try different shops and restaurants in the vast metropolis in which you live? You eat at the same Thai restaurant over and over, I bet! So living in Georgetown and going to the same neighborhood Thai restaurant over and over is not actually different from living in Hanover and going to the same single Thai restaurant over and over!"

Some of my friends who are sticks in the mud had to concede this point. But others who are more adventurous did not. They in fact tended to look at me as though I suffered from lack of imagination and smallness of spirit -- two of the few vices of which I am rarely accused. So, after about two years as a one-woman Hanover Anti-Defamation League, I gave up trying to defend its cosmopolitanism.

Comes now news that we have inspired a chic designer handbag. Referring to the city's dream winters is perhaps optimistic, given that Hanover's population was around 10,000 the last time that I checked. But we are sporty and sophisticated, and I am glad to see that the designer noted that cider carried in it should be spiked. I wouldn't have anything Hanover-inspired any other way.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

S.E. Cupp is no Florence King, either...

I've said nice things about Conor Friedersdorf's work here before. But this piece on The Daily Caller's S.E. Cupp is too harsh. See also this at True/Slant, which makes the same argument in more detail.

Okay, so I am not a great fan of Cupp's piece either. The "real Americans" stuff is obnoxious and over the top. But posing as a misanthrope for entertainment value who hates liberal pieties can be quite entertaining. See, e.g., everything Florence King ever wrote. I love King half to death, to the point that I tend to give copies of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady to every single one of my female friends at some point.* For a shorter taste of why I love King, go read this essay of hers, which remains one of the best five 800-or-so-word essays that I've ever found online. I can't help but wonder if Cupp's trying to channel Florence King. If she is, I support that; would that there were more conservative and libertarian writers trying to do so.

What really distinguishes King from Cupp is that King was, above all, an unabashedly elitist conservative misanthrope. Florence doesn't let you forget that she's read more than you have; the rich array of literary and cultural references found in the anti-Ann Coulter broadside I found above are typical of her essays and books. Cupp is an unabashedly populist conservative misanthrope, who's all too eager to defend the common people over effete Manhattan snobs. It's interesting -- and sad -- to think that the differences between the two represent a decline in the intellectual aspirations of the conservative movement. Of course, maybe neither represents anything larger than herself -- Pnin is doubtless yelling sentences that have the word "non-systematic" in them at this point in reading my post, and I am yelling back sentences that have the word "Zeitgeist" in them. ** But maybe they both do, and I deeply regret the increasingly populist tone that dominates even lighter conservative discourse.


*To any female friends of mine reading this, to whom I might give a copy of Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady in the future: I apologize if this post ruins the surprise. However, I only give Florence King books to women I consider both strong and interesting and whom I really like. I meet all too few women like this, so consider it a honor...

**If our debates could be summarized in two words, I'd pick those two. This is what happens when someone who studied art history in undergrad takes a fiance who studied political science.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Brief dating advice round-up

1)Good advice on how to get girls.

2)Conversely, observe from idiot Dominic's example how NOT to get girls. I feel like I have had variations on the theme of this guy after me at various points in my life. I highly encourage learning from his negative example.

Educated class failure?

Noemie Emery has an interesting column this morning in The Washington Examiner, arguing that Obama's failures as president epitomize the failures of a certain kind of educated class. Emery is of course writing about the failures of people like me, which naturally gets my attention. (Some of my best friends write for magazines for a living.) Also, I have a German father and a Ukrainian mother, so I suppose I'm hard-wired for self-loathing and thus inclined to read articles about why I should hate myself sympathetically. (See also David Brooks's tea party movement column, which made a substantively similar point.

Except a problem jumps out at me when I read this paragraph:

It [the public] has also moved strongly against his [Obama's] -- and the educated classes' -- ideas. It is more pro-life, more anti-climate change, more free market, less statist, more inclined to favor "harsh" measures against terrorism suspects, more in favor of "waterboarding" the terrorist caught in the brief-bombing effort, more opposed to the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

Actually, I'm not so sure this is right. I do not study political ignorance, but I live with someone who does. My understanding is that, contra Emery, voters with more education are more pro-free-market than those who are not. Similarly, I'm not sure what set of public policies she's referring to when she says "less statist," but I do recall that more educated voters favor fewer restrictions on immigration and trade, which would make more educated voters less statist than less educated ones. Leave aside for a moment that I'm not sure what being anti-climate change means. Presumably everyone is against the idea of climate change; it's just that some people think that it is happening, and others are skeptical. Also, others disagree about whether the issue can best be addressed through market-based or top-down approaches.

None of this is to say that today's educated class is perfect or without real flaws. Nor is it to say that the public policies Obama has chosen to pursue in office are right on the merits. In fact, I do think my own class has plenty of flaws, and I also disagree with nearly all of Obama's policy agenda. I'm merely skeptical that conservative intellectuals' navel-gazing about what is wrong with our class is the best means of coming up with an effective opposition strategy, narcissitically satisfying though it may be.

Time is tight at the moment, but if anyone has a link to some nice and short piece covering correlations between education and political views, please comment. I looked around briefly on both Bryan Caplan's blog and Volokh, but couldn't find one.

ETA: My Artist Formerly Known as Ilya notes that he discusses these issues in a Volokh post. He adds that "Knowledge and education are not the same thing, but they are highly intercorrelated. In general, more educated people tend to be more pro-free market, and also more socially liberal." I suspect that the latter would also displease Emery, though elite social liberalism doesn't displease me.

But Obama's most ambitious -- and most problematic -- policy initiatives haven't invoked social issues like gay marriage or abortion. Rather, it's the stimulus package and proposed health care bill that have really gotten conservatives, libertarians, and tea partiers screaming. If his popularity has taken a hit, it's more likely because of his fiscal or regulatory stances.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Optometrists/opthamologists in the D.C. area?

There is probably a heavy overlap between the people who read this thing and the people who read my Facebook page, but I'll ask here again anyway.

I am nearly out of contact lenses. As in, have one pair that I am wearing now. I've been getting them from my doctor in my hometown in Pennsylvania. But it is impractical to keep going to see doctors who are based there, especially since I intend to stay in D.C. unless Pnin gets some kind of lavish lateral offer.

I found an optometrist based in D.C. by internet search. Various factors -- my realizing I'd left my glasses case on my desk five minutes into my walk to the Metro, the slowest train ever being in front of mine, and the office not being easy to find -- conspired to make me about ten minutes late. I was raised by a German father and spent five years in a German Moravian high school, so I do understand well that yes, this is deeply obnoxious and perhaps even unforgivable.

When I got there, the doctor informed me rather curtly that he did not have time to see me. He informed me that he blocks out only 20 minutes per patient, and he would have to rush too much because of my lateness. The receptionist apologized rather profusely for this, which led me to think "abrasive." Perhaps I am being unfair, though -- it's hard to tell.

I now have to wait until a week from tomorrow to see him again. I would prefer to be able to order new contacts before then, if possible. Though first guy does have a policy that he can charge me $50 for the missed appointment. So perhaps I should just gut it out and deal with him.

The relevant questions:

1)Was this unduly obnoxious of him?
2)Can anyone recommend an optometrist/opthamologist who is easier to see?

Oh, and before anyone asks: no, I can't just order contacts online. I've tried this before. Under some sort of Pennsylvania consumer protection law, my doctor there can't or won't release the prescription unless I have seen someone in his office within the last 12 months. It's been about 13.5 since I've seen him, so that won't work.

Welcome to the Dark Side.

It's always sort of heartwarming when Matt Yglesias, left-leaning though he is, says something that shows that he understands economics and markets. See also his occupational licensing posts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another very good sentence

"The fact was, I was not nearly as distressed as the adults around me seemed to suppose."

-- Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans.

I am not quite halfway through this novel, so perhaps I should reserve judgment until I finish. But it is quite lovely and is perhaps the best metro book that I have picked up in a while. It is accessible enough for Metro reading, but not so lowbrow as to be stupid. It's about a young British gentleman whose parents disappear mysteriously while living in Shanghai. He grows up to become a detective to the British aristocracy, and one senses that his next battle is to resolve his parents' disappearance. It's the same mix of lush writing and gripping mystery that I loved about Remains Over The Day.

Why I need to learn to use e-mail labels

Facebook friends of mine may remember that I posted a sarcastic Facebook message the other week about a Virginia-bar sponsored CLE (Continuing Legal Education) titled "Taking Control of Your Inbox." Perhaps, however, the joke was on me.

I was doing a natural language search through G-mail for old messages containing a citation to a particular book. Let's say that's the author's name was Mr. Smith (which it isn't really). Instead, I draw up an e-mail message from a close friend, dating back to 2006, which contained the following sentence:

"Then Smith and Mary yelled about will and Kant and Augustine, and how this all translated into why he won't have sex with her."

It made me immediately nostalgic for undergrad.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Following up on the plastic bag tax post...

...Ilya's intrepid co-blogger Orin Kerr has his take up at the VC.

Short ribs recipe endorsement

If The Atlantic Monthly (or one of its bloggers) told me to jump off a bridge, I might do it. I'm... that susceptible to the influence of some of my favorite writers there.

Nonetheless, sometimes this weakness has let to good results in my life. See, e.g., this delicious recipe for braised short ribs, lemony mashed potatoes, and broccoli. It is one of the more delectable meals that the Archer-Pnin household has had in months. Even Pnin, who is not as prone to annoying gourmandness as I am, said several times that I had to make this dish more often.

One modification: my local Whole Foods was out of tamarind paste. My dear friend M. from undergrad, who has forgotten more about cooking than I'll ever know, advised me over my cell phone to use lime juice instead. It worked beautifully, as far as we two could tell.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tavern on the Green

I am as down with Schumpeterian creative destruction as the next person -- in fact, probably more so. Nevertheless, even us committed Schumpeterians sometimes feel a tinge of mourning for businesses that fall victim to creative destruction.

Thus my surprisingly reaction to reading about the shuttering of New York's iconic Tavern on the Green. I only went there once -- see the whole being in school until recently thing, and also, the whole being a public interest and then government lawyer thing. It was under odd circumstances, which I'm perhaps too happy to relate here.

It was Christmas break after 1L, between Christmas and New Year's. I'd made plans to take the bus from Allentown to NYC for a weekend to see some friends from college. I was supposed to stay with my friend James Joyce* and his parents in one of the NYC suburbs, and another friend of ours, Elizabeth Blackwell.* Elizabeth is from upstate New York. She was home from med school for break, and she and her parents were staying in a nice hotel in downtown NYC, visiting some relatives and doing some shopping and sightseeing.

James and Elizabeth had a brief relationship in college. They remained friends afterwards, though at various points, it appeared that at least one party harbored hopes of re-establishing the relationship. (Note that I am kind of sacrificing clarity here for discretion, and it is also kind of not going well. But please bear with me.)

On Christmas Eve, James called my cell when I was out shopping for presents. "Isabel, Isabel, I'm really sorry --" and here he sounded half-hysterical -- "but I can't come meet you when your bus gets in. This is really peculiar, but you shouldn't be surprised that things are peculiar, given the group of people that are involved... " He went on to explain that he'd double-booked himself, since he was getting dinner in Manhattan with his parents and the Blackwells at Tavern on the Green the evening that my bus was supposed to get into New York. I told him not to worry, that maybe I could do something with some of my other undergrad friends in the city.

After I hung up, my mom inquired, "So what's up with James?"

I told her and added, "It's not that I'm really upset or mad or anything, but is it me, or is it kinda odd that James wouldn't tell me I could join the Joyce/Blackwell crew for dinner? I mean, maybe I'd be messing with the family-to-family dynamic, but, like, I know both families really well from when they visited in college, and it's kinda... I don't know..."

She replied, "Maybe Elizabeth and James getting engaged."

This remark caused me to nearly have a heart attack.

She goes on to explain, "Well, you said once that James really liked Elizabeth for a long time, right?"

"That's true, but they're not dating or anything... and... Elizabeth's at med school in Chicago, James is a journalist in New York...:"

"But... if you think about it... both sets of parents, getting together, in Manhattan, at a festive time of year... at a nice restaurant... and you're getting the feeling they don't want you there... it just sounds like they could be planning an engagement. And maybe Elizabeth might have changed her mind about him."

I realized I hadn't talked to Elizabeth for about a week or so, but... still... If she were planning on getting engaged to James Joyce, I feel like she might have let me know pretty quickly...

We went back and forth in this vein for about ten minutes. I can't remember everything I said, but I do remember "Elizabeth is going to be a doctor, and I'm sure that would make her very attractive to James Joyce's Jewish parents" coming up.

James Joyce called again, not twenty minutes later.

"Hey, Isabel, so I was thinking... if you haven't firmed up your plans to do something else yet, I was thinking, you're definitely welcome to come to dinner with us at Tavern on the Green. "

Head, meet desk. So there would be no talk of match-making after all.

The actual dinner itself did not disappoint in terms of ridiculousness. First, my bus was about an hour late getting there, as there was a huge accident on I-78, and traffic was massively backed up. Second, I cracked the porcelain veneer on one tooth eating a piece of bread. Third, the Joyces were embracing the Atkins diet at that point (they may be still), and were indignant when Elizabeth offered James a bit of one of the more interesting rolls in the bread basket. I sampled a pineapple martini, which cost the ungodly sum of $12. But really, I needed that much alcohol to get over the ambient absurdity. Especially because Elizabeth Blackwell and I kept looking at each other and thinking of the engagement dinner that this wasn't, and cracking up laughing. Fourth, another of our friends frantically called Elizabeth's cell phone to inform us that she was having a panic attack. Fifth, James inadvertently convinced me that two of our undergrad friends were having a secret affair with each other, even though they were in fact were not, while we were standing around the gift shop. Grand times.

Normal people no doubt have more sane memories of Tavern of the Green. The atmosphere is decidedly elegant, old New York, and perhaps unsuited to the kind of absurdity that our little party of Archers, Blackwells, and Joyces brought to it. Most of the other parties there were groups of grandparents, parents, and little kids in Eton suits and fancy velvety Christmas dresses. They could not understand why Elizabeth and I were gulping down martinis.

Still, perhaps it would have been nice to return to such an iconic institution at a calmer time. Like, after Elizabeth or James have gotten engaged (whether to each other or... not...); when my bus is not an hour late; and when my veneer is not chipped. We could have laughed, maybe, about how young we were then, and how absurd that night was. But now we will not, except, perhaps, in some other place, and in some other way.

*Yes, of course these are pseudonyms. James Joyce = because although this guy has never written a sentence that is 12, 931 words long, it sometimes feels like he might someday (and I mean that with the warmest possible affection.) Elizabeth Blackwell = because she's an aspiring doctor.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Not much of a libertarian litmus test

Megan McArdle ably bats back the notion that this hypothetical is supposed to be a hard question for libertarians. Yeah, incapacity to contract was recognized as a defense at deep common law -- i.e. when society was much more classically liberal than now.

Also, there's one more distinction between the very poor and the elderly wealthy victims in the hypothetical. Merchants are often reluctant to give credit to the former because the very poor are bad risks. To lower their downside risk, they charge higher interest rates and so forth -- the practices that are sometimes characterizes as exploitative. See generally. Without the ability to charge higher rates to protect themselves from risk, some merchants won't make risky loans at all. And the poor can wind up worse off. That's not the case in the example of the wealthy elderly person. In that regard, the two scenarios are actually quite different.

There's another post about why this scheme, as well as being immoral, would also be stupid.

Polyamory: love's new frontier?

The Boston Globe has a long article up about whether acceptance for the polyamorous will become the latest new social battle. I read it with interest, since my undergrad friends and I have had a few long, fascinating discussions on this question. Yes, I have some odd undergrad friends. Though part of it is that polyamory is a great debate topic because it's something on which liberals actually disagree with each other. Debating gay marriage, on the other hand, is no fun. The few Republicans in our circle are all sort of libertarian-ish, and we wind up stuck on devil's advocate making arguments like "I don't actually think this, but I'm the only one here who actually reads National Review, so let me tell you what an actual social conservative would say if one was here. Also, um, Edmund Burke!"

Before anyone wonders, I've never had any interest in polyamory myself. Not because I've any deep-seated moral aversion to it, but because I've never been in a happy relationship where I've thought, "You know, I'd really like to involve some extra people. How do I do that?" But maybe others work differently. Love as thou wilt and all?

Still, polyamory is logistically different in ways in which monogamy is not. As my friend A. once observed, "Like, it's hard enough for just two people to coordinate grad school and career plans. If you're polyamorous, that could mean that, like, throwing three or four extra people into the mix."

There was a small but vibrant, if disproportionately nerdy, poly community at my college. I told Pnin about this once, and he seemed confused by my assertion that the hyper-nerdy people had much more baroque personal lives than everyone else. But to wit, from this same polyamory article:

Information technology, academia, and biotech are well represented among the professions, but, though the group is somewhat skewed toward the sciences, plenty of Poly Boston people work in the humanities or the service industry, according to Sekora. The most obvious common feature beyond their lifestyle may be a love of intellectual ferment...

Both Alan and Michelle identified as non-monogamous when they met and hit it off 15 years ago at a science-fiction convention in Philadelphia. Authors such as Robert Heinlein, whose stories often feature nontraditional marriages, are frequently credited with the striking overlap of poly people and science-fiction fans. But there seems to be no causal relationship between discovering these ideas in books and putting them into practice. More likely the Internet, a longtime hangout for sci-fi fans and poly people, is the common denominator.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

In other news regarding fits of vexation and dyspepsia

D.C. has now enacted a tax requiring stores to charge customers five cents for every plastic bag they use. I was a sucker and paid the odious five cents today for the first time for the plastic bag in which my sandwich was wrapped.

Apparently D.C. encourages the use of cloth bags instead. I have free, allegedly environmentally friendly ones from both the libertarian fellowship program I did last year and my undergrad alma mater. The latter largely fell apart under the weight of Russian and Barbri books. It's been hanging in its current tattered state on the coatrack in my office, a shadow of its former self. Maybe that's a good thing: the linked post indicates the cloth bags are actually less environmentally friendly anyway.

What's odd about this tax is that generally if you're a policymaker trying to entrench a revenue-generating program, you want the relevant program to be as invisible as possible. Therein lies the genius of income tax withholding, Milton Friedman's infamous brainchild. The five cent plastic bag tax, on the other hand, is about as visible as possible -- there are little signs in many of the covered retail shops telling the customer that she has a choice to escape the five cents. It's almost as though the D.C. government has chosen this particular approach purely to needle anyone who isn't already a dyed in the wool environmentalist.

Unified field theory for annoying populists

State that the current "man-cession" (a coinage which does dishonor to portmanteaux everywhere) is a reason to replace free trade with "fair trade" to protect American men from "unfair competition." Okay, I am perhaps being overly harsh, since there were some other parts of this article that did not make me want to throw knives at people.* Wilcox does concede that it is okay for women to work outside the home, after all.

Pnin, who is nicer than I am, says that I should avoid the use of snark if I actually want to persuade people to think what I do. He may have a point. Rather than attempt to explain why free trade is good, man-cession or man crisis aside, I refer those who are curious to Alan Blinder's excellent essay on the topic.


*In high school, I was once told I could not quip in essays about some pet peeve making me want to throw knives at people because, post-Columbine, lots of serious people were very concerned about Violence In The Schools. Now that I am no longer near any schools on a regular basis, I plan to take delight in using it with abandon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Golden retrievers are excellent




Here is an example of a retriever doing something valiant.

In partial defense of bad sociologists

I should just let this alone and kick to it to Pnin, who has both the comparative and absolute advantage here, but I can't resist the urge to pick on Charles Rounds's "Bad Sociology, Not Law." The gist of it is not surprising: Rounds wants law schools to be more traditional. They should be less nterdisciplinarity and instead "get back to basics." While I agree that some of the courses he cites are probably unfortunately heavy on identity politics and light on anything else, I wouldn't go nearly so far. Some scattered observations:

1)In several places, Rounds singles out the downfall of traditional courses in Agency as particularly unfortunate. My law school covered agency law in a four-hour required course on Business Associations, which covered the law of agency, partnership, and corporations. Most schools do it this way; in fact, I was just talking to one of Pnin's friends at dinner on Saturday, a law professor in the Southeast, who's trying to move his school from the patchwork model and develop a five-hour class in Business Associations. While my school may have been somewhat unusual in requiring all students to take BA, my sense is that it's popular enough elsewhere that many students do anyway.

I suspect that may be why Rounds isn't seeing Agency as separately listed in the course catalogs. I believe that many of the schools that don't have a separate course in Agency combine it with Partnership - I'm not sure, honestly, if there's enough meat to justify a full three hour course (or even a two hour one) of just Agency. But I should defer to the judgment of people who actually work in an area where they use these concepts more than I do.

2)Aside from grade inflation and sensitivity concerns, there are plenty of good reasons not to employ Socratic. See, e.g.

3)Rounds is against lawyers being bad sociologists. Fine. But can we be bad economists instead? Antitrust lawyers, for example, generally need to be well-versed in economic concepts, even though most are not qualified to be professional economists. Is Rounds against all multi-disciplinarity, including law and economics? If not, why is training lawyers to be bad economists worse than training us to be bad sociologists?

4)He says, "As for Property, well, let’s just say, it is no longer your father’s Property course. It’s now more about politics than the fee simple." Is it really worse that baby lawyers spend their time on, say, contentious eminent domain battles rather than the traditional common law estates? Note specifically the opportunity costs of teaching the complex and frustrating Rule Against Perpetuities, which I understand is of limited use in actual practice.

5)Also somewhat strange: Rounds writes "Those who are less sociologically inclined are likely preoccupied with some ultra-technical aspect of the Constitution, some piece of legislation, or a regulation. Many professors manage to cobble together entire courses around their preoccupations." Because Rounds says he is in favor of practicality, and in training lawyers who can hit the ground running, this sentence is bizarre. There are lots of jobs for young lawyers who are well versed in particular statutes or regulations! See, e.g., ERISA! Title VII! The ADA! I'm sure there are plenty of others, and that my list reflects my own narrow interests. ( I'm told it can be useful to be well versed in the food and drug regulations, but I never bothered to become such, so I couldn't cite the key sections of the CFR to you.)

Obama and our post-modern race problem

Shelby Steele has an interesting column on "Obama and our post-modern race problem." A quote providing the meat of it:

...Mr. Obama always knew that his greatest appeal was not as a leader but as a cultural symbol. He always wore the bargainer's mask—winning the loyalty and gratitude of whites by flattering them with his racial trust: I will presume that you are not a racist if you will not hold my race against me. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and yes, Tiger Woods have all been superb bargainers, eliciting almost reverential support among whites for all that they were not—not angry or militant, not political, not using their moral authority as blacks to exact a wage from white guilt.

But this mask comes at a high price. When blacks become humanly visible, when their true beliefs are known, their mask shatters and their symbiotic bond with whites is broken.


The above reminds me of one of my favorite essays ever, Edith Efron's "Native Son" on Clarence Thomas. If you have not read it, then you should set aside what you are doing and go read it now. Period.

Going back to Steele, while his analysis on how Obama's "bargainer" approach has influenced his entire approach to politics, there is one paragraph with which I do have a serious quibble:

Our new race problem—the sophistication of seeing what isn't there rather than what is—has surprised us with a president who hides his lack of economic understanding behind a drama of scale. Hundreds of billions moving into trillions. Dramatic, history-making numbers. But where is the economic logic behind a stimulus package that doesn't fully click in for a number of years? How is every stimulus dollar spent actually going to stimulate? Why bailouts to institutions that only hoard the money? How is vast government spending simultaneously a kind of prudence that will not "add to the deficit?" How can such spending not trigger smothering levels of taxation?

I agree with Steele on the underlying merits of Obama's economic policies, of course. At the same time, the real issue here does not seem to be how Obama's racial background has uniquely influenced him, but rather that he is doing what nearly any other Democratic politician would do in his place. Tragically, nor do the Democrats have any real monopoly here on economic ignorance. Need I remind anyone that Mike Huckabee seems equally clueless about the pernicious effects of government spending, and that plenty of Repubilcans voted for the bailouts? Part of the problem is that Obama faces the same bad incentives that nearly all other politicians do. Steele's piece would be stronger if he teased this out more.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Very good sentences

I am not sure I would be this kind (See generally Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man (2008)):

"Hoover is one of the tragic figures of modern times. No one illustrated better Tacitus's verdict on Galba, omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset(by general consent fit to rule, had he not ruled).

- Paul Johnson, Modern Times

Sorry for the repeated Paul Johnson quotes. I am only on p. 241 out of 736 (there's more, but all index and footnotes), so they may continue for a while. Also, Pnin is grading, and it's too windy in D.C. for me to feel like going outside. So I'm resigned to prodigious Earl Grey consumption and reading a 700 page book that I've wanted to read for awhile, but would not have time to make a dent in were it not for the long weekend/my better half being resigned to his large piles of exams. Not, however, that any of the above is entirely bad.

Shooting an Elephant




I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man's dominion in the East. Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib.

-- George Orwell, "Shooting An Elephant," 1936

I found this lovely Orwell essay
in my RSS reader and was ashamed to admit that I had never read it before. So here it is, along with a picture of an elephant from the Seoul Zoo. (Constant Readers may be aware of my affection for elephants, and so they may understand why I find Orwell's conclusion sad if lovely.) I don't know whether I agree with the thrust of Orwell's argument myself, so whether the statement above is correct I leave as an exercise for the reader.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Very good sentences

"Of course underlying and reinforcing the paranoia was the belief that Weimar culture was inspired and controlled by Jews. Indeed, was not the entire regime a Judenrepublik? There was very little basis for this last doxology, resting as it did on the contradictory theories that Jews dominated both Bolshevism and the international capitalist network."

-- Paul Johnson, Modern Times

Latest round of kitchen adventures -- I have a giant bag of pears from Trader Joe's edition

1)Sort of made up (it's a loose riff on something Martha Stewart did years ago): lamb shoulder chops, which I made on New Year's Eve for the senior Pnins.

Mash up half a stick of butter; several tablespoonfuls of mustard; dried tarragon; dill; and a little thyme in the food processor. Mashing with a potato masher or fork will do if you don't have a food processor. Smear butter/mustard mixture on shoulder chops. Add salt, if desired. Roast in oven at 30 minutes (or however long your butcher tells you; obviously, things will vary according to size and thickness.)

Verdict: went over well with Pnin and the senior Pnins, who are visiting for a few days.

2)Cooks Illustrated pear salad. The original calls for walnuts, but Pnin doesn't eat them. It's fine without, in my view...

2 pears (red, preferably), ripe but firm, halved, cored and cut into 12 wedges
3 tablespoons lemon juice from 1 large lemon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 1/2 quarts arugula , stemmed, rinsed, and dried
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese , crumbled [I used Stilton -- it's quite good with it]

a. Toss pear wedges with 1 tablespoon lemon juice in medium bowl; set aside.

b. In small bowl, slowly whisk oils into 2 remaining tablespoons lemon juice to make vinaigrette; season to taste with salt and pepper.

c. Toss arugula with vinaigrette. Place a portion of dressed greens on each plate. Arrange pears over greens, sprinkle with cheese and a generous grind of pepper. Serve immediately.

Verdict: excellent! Both Pnin and senior Pnins appreciated.

3)Smitten Kitchen pear bread. I did not include any vanilla because I had already used a half bottle of vanilla in the cranberry cake mentioned a few posts ago. Probably a slight loss. But it was easy and came out well.

4)Bittersweet chocolate and pear cake. We haven't tasted yet -- it's for a friend of Pnin's who's visiting family in D.C. for the holiday -- but I'm guardedly optimistic. I was a bit weirded out by the instruction to beat non-separated eggs together for such a long time. I was also using a hand mixer, which may have thrown off the stirring time. And you kind of need a second person to stir the browning butter while another is whipping the eggs -- unless, of course, you have a stand mixer.

Friday, January 1, 2010

On not being able to understand Strauss

Many people choose their political views not rationally, but largely for tribalist reasons. Rather than identifying first principles and adopting coherent policy views that flow from them, they instead think "Of what political tribe would I like to be a member?"

I am somewhat unusual in that, while most people pretend they are arriving at their views rationally, I acknowledge my irrationality and tribalist tendencies. Which brings me to the point that I often think that I want to be in the Straussians' tribe. First, I don't want to be part of a tribe full of people who are too distastefully stupid or embracing of stupidity. That requirement excludes most of the populist strains of conservatism. Second, I do not want to belong a tribe that is too large. There's a line in Ibsen somewhere about how it's always safer and in better taste to be a minority (I think in Enemy of the People, but I am a failure at the Internet). So, given where I live and my educational background, that excludes most moderate liberal tribes.

True, that still leaves a few far left tribes -- the people whom I called Montagnards --but I realized early on in university that I can't get along with Montagnards. True, their detachment from and frustration with everyday life often expresses itself as a kind of charming naivete. But it also can be insuffferable. Sometimes it really is the better part of valor to stop fretting about patriarchy and just blend in by wearing lipstick.

So that leaves me essentially with a tiny handful of intellectual right of center tribes to choose from. Despite my title, the Randians no longer work for me. And I confess I have always felt a certain attraction to the Straussians. I have always perceived them as oh so smart, condescending, distant, and aloof. I suffer from all these flaws, of course, yet the Straussians view these qualities as positives, which is fantastic. I have decidedly mixed feelings about modernity*, also, and generally support any intellectual movements which valorize ancient cultures.

Still, the biggest stumbling block to becoming an actual Straussian is that I find everything he has written impenetrable. This may be because life circumstances compel me to do much of my reading on the Metro, and Natural Right and History is just poorly suited for the Metro. I understood individual words, of course, and even how to put them together into sentences. But try to figure out what argument the sentences added up to, and I would be lost. So I read with interest reports about a new book on Strauss's life. Maybe, with the help of secondary sources, I can actually figure out Strauss. Of course, I suspect I'll still opt to stay in my tribe of plain vanilla Hayekians with some Tocquevillian impulses. We are a nice tribe in some ways: we are friendlier and more welcoming, and I feel less stupid within my current tribe than I would if I tried to surround myself with Straussians.

*My ideal society would have modern medical and computer technology, but 1930s fashion sensibilities and also intense education in the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. Phones would exist but be largely unnecessary, having been superseded by e-mail and other text-formed forms of communication. Indeed, text-based communication would largely have eclipsed the need for actual speech of any kind. N.b. that that would mean that there would be no need for small talk, ever, but people would have very real and warm friendships cemented by sending each other long, witty, literate multi-paragraph letters.

How much doom and gloom should lawyers feel about our profession?

Can someone, somewhere attempt to write a balanced essay on the job situation of new law school graduates and the extent of the alleged employment crisis? Yes, there is an entire cottage industry of disenchanted non-elite law grads blogging about how cruelly they were misled and how unhappily indebted they are. I read them and then scroll down to the comments, which are a mix of "Amen, brother!" and "Actually, I went to a similar school and found relative financial stability doing family law/real estate closing/working at the DA's office." Also, while rants like the ones linked to on ATL can be bitterly funny, I'm skeptical about taking them as gospel truth.

I do have a vested interest in trying to figure out this all out. After all, I'm about to marry a law professor, I work for another one, and so I'm surrounded by their kin whenever I attempt to socialize. (I'm also not really competent at socializing with most normal people, but that's another story.) So I sometimes find myself wondering if the entire American legal education market is really on the verge of going belly-up each time I shell out $4 for a whole wheat boule at Whole Foods. These thoughts rarely stop me, however...

Some scattered thoughts and some questions:

1)I may be wrong, but I don't think young lawyers from non-top -schools fretted about these problems to nearly the same extent in, say, 1975. Sometimes the angry bloggers make it sound like parents are pushing law school debt on their kids out of some kind of misguided prestige-uber-alles false consciousness narrative. I doubt that; I suspect that what's really going on was that law school simply was a much better financial bet when they were young than it is now. After all, parents have every incentive to want their children to do what's financially good for them in the long run. But I haven't seen many people attempting to explain why there's such a gap between parental perceptions and reality. In fairness, both Bill Henderson and Larry Ribstein have made some admirable attempts to date, but I suspect there's still a wide field open for occupation on this one.

2)Relatedly: do things ever improve for these people? If you gut out the miserable 40K job and actually pick up some skills, do things eventually get better? Do you actually make more money?

3)Is the problem worst in a few markets? Constant readers know that I grew up in a small red state city. I went to its fanciest private high school, which was full of local legal eagles' kids. I applied to a few of those firms 1L summer. When I went through lawyer bios, there were a very small number of Penn grads and the like, but most went to Temple, Villanova, Widener, or what have you. I'm sure that most of the V100 firms that interviewed at my school would also scoff at the types of cases they worked on. But the lawyers' kids I knew growing up generally had nice houses, cars, etc. So is the trick just to consider more small markets?

Relatedly, does that mean that the law schools which are most vulnerable are the low-ranked schools in very large cities?

4)How far up is the problem? My law school typically ranked around 20 in U.S. News; we weren't in the vaunted magic circle of the T14, but we were far up enough in the rankings that comparing our situation with fourth-tier grads doesn't make much sense either. The conventional wisdom was that the top 1/3 could get Biglaw offers fairly easily, and plenty of people who were slightly under that cut-off but had something else nice going for them still could do pretty well. Yet I had a few classmates with low-ish grades who spent the last two years of law school in a cold sweat, wondering if they'd ever find permanent, paying legal jobs that would let them pay off their loans. The "You must have known what you were getting into when you accepted a fourth-tier school" reasoning perhaps shouldn't apply to these people. But, again, how many of them will figure out in five or ten years that they were worried for naught?

Sometimes, the ATL commenters say things that all schools below 14 should be shut down. I suspect that's absurd. But even if it is, how far up are schools vulnerable?

5)I'm not sure how much better many prospective lawyers would do in some other fields. I saw this study on Tax Prof Blog a few months ago and found the numbers looked way off. When I was hunting for work in mid-2004 right after I graduated from college, there were lots of D.C. non-profits and magazines eager to hire people with roughly my background into jobs with titles like "research assistant" or "editorial assistant." Most of these opportunities paid in the low to mid 30s. Hill, entry-level gallery jobs, publishing, and fancy prep school teaching all pay worse than that. The big firms that wanted paralegals with credentials similar to mine all paid $37,500, with perhaps another $20,000 or $30,000 in overtime on top of that. Of course, those jobs generally dead-ended at... law school... after two years. I should note that several Wachtell attorneys told me that their paralegals typically raked in around 90K, but again, same problem with the job dead ending in law or other grad school after two years.

I know, I majored in something useless. While I forget if my undergrad institution is 9th or 11th in U.S. News (it's usually either one or the other), classifying myself as an also-ran in collegiate academic competition feels a tad harsh.

I had one close friend from college who graduated with honors in computer science who went onto a top graduate program. He made $57,000 in his first job out of college. That's still short of even "Solid Performer" according to Schlunk.

Yes, there is investment banking. These people do commonly get in the 80 to 90 range. But investment banking can be quite hard to get even from very good schools, especially depending on the economy. People who are shy/not particularly good at exuding a certain kind of charm in interviews, even if they had econ degrees and good grades in them, sometimes struggled.

6)Will night programs emerge as the way to go for most students outside the very top schools? You can keep your job while you're in law school, so you have some positive cash flow. Your opportunity costs are $0. (Unless you would have worked a night job instead of going to law school, of course, but most people who have college degrees don't take on second part-time jobs.) And if you have poor grades after a semester or two of putting forth your best efforts, so that it looks like you can't recoup your investment, you can still walk away with much smaller debts than otherwise. And if you finish but can't find paying legal work right away, you still have other paying work to tide you over until you do. Part of me hopes they are, since that leaves Pnin's school especially safe...