Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ailing Willow

Alas, poor Willow. She'd made a safe trip with my husband up to see his family in Massachusetts for a few days. I'd come back to D.C. to hopefully get some work done (and avoid burning up scarce vacation days in anticipation of a trip to ancestral homelands of Ukraine and Russia this summer) and then join the Pnins over the weekend. She did well on her first day, even getting along better than expected with the Pnin family cocker spaniel (see above.) I was even hoping that she'd connect with some of the local academics regarding her recent paper, "Coase on Toast?: An Empirical Investigation into Asymmetric Bargaining at the Breakfast Table," possibly putting herself on tenure track in the econ department at MIT. But this has not transpired so far. She swallowed a sock around 11:30 this morning and had to be whisked off to the local animal hospital. The vet was able to get her to throw up Sock #1, but discovered a Sock #2 lurking in her gut. Now she has to stay overnight in the hopes that she'll pass Sock #2. If she doesn't, surgery awaits. Theists, please summon up thy superpowers on Miss Willow's behalf. Meanwhile, I'll just stare at the floor and remind myself over and over to try to be confident in modern medicine.

UPDATE: Young Willow has passed Sock #2 and returned home without needing surgery. She has more or less gotten back to her frisky and energetic ways. But all socks will now be under lock and key -- perhaps even the lockbox that Al Gore mentioned in his 2000 presidential campaign, as Pnin puts it...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shinto Willow

Each December, any blended family must inevitably confront the question, "In what religious tradition will we raise our golden retriever?" So first, we exposed Willow to her Jewish side by letting her watch us light the tiny $10 menorah from Target. She seemed intrigued enough that she avoided jumping up on the kitchen table to like it. This was followed by the eating of the Hanukkah gelt, which we'd actually purchased for the presidential candidate themed holiday party to serve as the Ron Paul appetizer (y'know, because of his love of the gold standard.) Associating paleo-ish Ron Paul with Jewish tradition perhaps felt not quite right, but Willow seemed more miffed that we couldn't share any of our chocolate with her.

Then she traveled north to visit her Archer grand-owners for a celebration of Christmas. This was all somehow so exciting -- tree! pine needles from tree to put into her mouth! terrifying plastic Santa Clau on neighbors' lawn to bark at! stacks of presents around it which can double as a homemade golden retriever agility course! -- that she managed to inflict diarrhea on herself. But she does approve of the numerous special dog cookies that she received from friends and relatives and the new Kong Wobble that she got as a present. If she were, like the heroine of a popular young adult novel, forced to try to pick one religion for herself, I don't know which one she would settle on.

Fortunately, however, Willow is nothing if not an outside-the-box thinker. (Though she hastens to add that she does sometimes like to stick her head into empty J. Crew boxes and sniff around in them. In fact, if you have some, feel free to send them her way.) And so she has apparently settled on... Shinto ancestor worship... which slights neither of us! Yes, she has discovered a pillow on my parents' couch with a picture of one of her distant ancestors, Am. Can. Bda. Ch. Cummings' Gold-Rush Charlie. She is quite content to stare at it for hours on end while she's relaxing on the sofa. And thus our clever girl splits the difference between her two divergent religious backgrounds and offends neither of her humans!

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Christmas gift to you is a link to the Wikipedia entry for "revealed preference."

Increasingly, I'm convinced that news articles recommending giving gifts that the recipient doesn't actually want are not actually about providing recommendations that are supposed to be useful, but instead a literary device that enables the author to mount her soapbox on behalf of a familiar cause without her plea sounding tired and shopworn. Ignoring the gimmick aspect of the genre would be akin to my husband's refusing pick up Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation because he is Jewish and it is rude to read letters addressed to other people. Or encouraging my sort-of boss to stop writing "Questions for the President" blog posts because the President never seems to answer his questions,  without realizing that the "question" device is a clever way of framing his commentary on Obama's policies.

Take, for example, the most extreme and outrageous entrant into the genre that I have yet discovered -- ""As a Christmas Gift, Tell Your Friends and Relatives That They Are Overweight." No sane person can possibly think that this is intended to be real gift-giving advice. Please, please, as my husband points out in a somewhat different context, while we can perhaps easily judge the health risks associated with a friend's being overweight, it's much harder for us to figure out how much pleasure the other person gets from indulging in her bad habits. This would counsel for leaving our friends to their own devices and not sticking our nose into others' private business. Fortunately, most of us do this already.

That said, the genre's feeling pretty tired to me already. I'm starting to prefer my "here's why you should support my pet cause" sermons straight up, rather than watered down with "here's how this is relevant to the Christmas season" gambit. I'm in luck then that it's December 23. But I hope that this particular form of gimmickry gets retired next year, seeing how not-fresh and not-original it feels. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Notes on fashion

How to explain the periodic appearance of long-sleeved sheer T-shirts in the world? Yes, they look fine when one buys a "layering piece" to put underneath it, e.g. a basic white tank top. But basic white tank tops are also useful when paired with articles of clothing other than the aforementioned sheer T-shirt. So, inevitably, there will be days when one is tempted to wear the sheer T-shirt by its lonesome but realizes that there are no suitable clean layering pieces in the drawer. Long-sleeved T-shirts of fabric of normal thickness notably don't have this drawback. Given that, why does anyone persist in buying the sheer kind? It's doubly annoying to number among the unsuspecting who think "Ah ha! Cute shirt on sale!" and then realize, no, that its sheerness makes it vastly limited for wear and un-buyable.  Gah.

Also: how am I to understand the tall boots worn over jeans or leggings trend? It seems aesthetically appealing enough. It conjures up nice images of people in equestrian dress. I can support that. But where should I be looking for boots that are suitable for this purpose? The good ones all run expensive, and I don't want to sink a lot of money into some I'm unlikely to wear regularly. And I fear cheap ones would just be uncomfortable in all the wrong ways. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yes and no to Alex Tabarrok's Atlantic essay on immigration

Alex Tabarrok has an interesting short essay up at The Atlantic in which he argues for increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants who get to stay. He calls it the "no brainer" of the year. He puts it the following way:

Behind Door #1 are people of extraordinary ability: scientists, artists, educators, business people and athletes. Behind Door #2 stand a random assortment of people. Which door should the United States open?

In 2010, the United States more often chose Door #2, setting aside about 40,000 visas for people of extraordinary ability and 55,000 for people randomly chosen by lottery.

To which I say: yes and no. Yes to increasing legal immigration for high-skilled immigrants, for all of the reasons that Tabarrok sets forth in the piece. But I'm less confident that the dichotomy set up in the first paragraph is the best way to frame the issue generally. It's not obvious to me that the national economy's best served by creating an immigration policy that focuses on getting the most intellectually talented people possible, for the reasons that Tabarrok's GMU colleague and fellow econ blogger sketches out rather colorfully in in part of a blog post that is on the whole about quite a different topic:

Suppose we have an isolated society in which everyone is a genius. Let's call them the Brains. Who takes out the garbage? A Brain, obviously. Who does the farming? Again, Brains.

Now what happens if the geniuses come into contact with a society where everyone is of average intelligence at best? Let's call them the Brawns. If the Brains allow the Brawns to join their society, the average genetic quality of the Brains' society plummets. But everyone is better off as a result! Now the Brains can specialize in jobs that require high intelligence, and the Brawns can take over the menial labor. Total production goes up.

This is an example of what economists call the Law of Comparative Advantage. Trade between two people or groups increases total production even if one person or group is worse at everything. Suppose, for example, that Brains can make 5 Computer Programs or 10 Bushels of Wheat per day, and Brawns can make .1 Computer Programs or 5 Bushels of Wheat per day.

Computer Programs Bushets of Wheat
Brains 5 10
Brawns .1 5
Brains and Brawns can still trade to mutual benefit: Just have one Brain switch from farming to programming (+5 Programs, -10 Bushels of Wheat), and three Brawns switch from programming to farming (-.3 Programs, +15 Bushels of Wheat), and total production rises by 4.7 Programs and 5 Bushels of Wheat.

So I'm not convinced that the United States wouldn't be made better off by letting in additional people who are more like Bryan's imaginary Brawns than his imaginary Brains. Nor am I sure that any government central planner could come up with the right formula to figure out the optimal number of Brains and Brawns to whom to grant visas. It's probably much better to just let as many Brainws and Brawns who think that they can find work to come (so long as neither Brawns nor Brains are terrorists, spies, or have other such problematic skeletons in their closets that would make them obviously poor candidates for eventual citizenship.)

Perhaps Tabarrok thinks that increasing the number of high-skilled immigrants is a more politically feasible reform to current immigration policy than one that would increase legal immigration more generally. If so, fine. But his first two paragraph are still a less than helpful way of framing the issue.


I had a misadventure last night whereby a spammer got into the Gmail account I have under my maiden name (i.e. the non-pseudonym equvialent of isabel.archer@gmail, rather than the non-pseudonym equivalent of isabel.pnin@gmail, which is what I've been using for the better part of the last year anyway). It seemed that the spammer had also deleted To My Parents, Ayn Rand, and God (or perhaps Google did based on the spammer's Terms of Service violation.) But, miraculously, my three years' worth of rambling about baking, meritocracy, and libertarianism seems to live: o, atheist libertarian holiday miracle! Assuming this test works, expect more substantive blogging to resume shortly.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cards welcome

So I am looming on the verge of old age. Perhaps oddly, having read John Derbyshire's infamous musings on women ceasing to be attractive at the age of 20 and the PUA guys' oeuvre makes these last few days of my 20s seem less worth clinging to. Somewhere, there will be always be haters, as the kids say. Yet if I ever did wish to succumb to age-based self-loathing, I guess I can be drawn back from the brink based based on misadventures in being carded, which still occur frequently despite the whole tottering on the brink of third decade of life thing. Yes, I'm used to occasionally awkwardly rooting around in my purse before entering crowded bars in Adams-Morgan or having to produce ID on demand when buying wine at grocery stores. The Wegmans near my parents in Pennsylvania did once card 67-year-old Papa Archer, whom no reasonable person would mistake for a 20-year-old. But on the other hand, there are the places that don't routinely card that nonetheless ask me to fork over ID. Are there really lots of underage types ordering sangria at Jaleo,or Pinot Grigio with their organic pizza at Coppi's? Did they really need to ask me for ID?

But the upside of old age is that it presents a wonderful opportunity to throw a combined birthday/holiday party for oneself. This year, Pnin and I had a 2011-year-in-review theme, with dishes paying tribute to each of the major presidential candidates. More pictures and recipes will follow, but in the meantime, here is a recipe for Hermain Cain 9-9-9 cookies, courtesy of Cooks Illustrated:


Butter Cookie Dough

2 1/2cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
3/4cup superfine sugar (5 1/2 ounces) (see note)
1/4teaspoon table salt
16tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into sixteen 1/2-inch pieces, at cool room temperature (about 65 degrees)
2teaspoons vanilla extract
2tablespoons cream cheese , at room temperature


1tablespoon cream cheese , at room temperature
3tablespoons milk
1 1/2cups confectioners' sugar (6 ounces)


1. FOR THE COOKIES: In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.

2. Remove bowl from mixer; knead dough by hand in bowl for 2 to 3 turns to form large cohesive mass. Turn out dough onto countertop; divide in half, pat into two 4-inch disks, wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate until they begin to firm up, 20 to 30 minutes. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 2 weeks; defrost in refrigerator before using.)

3. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out 1 dough disk to even 1/8-inch thickness between 2 large sheets parchment paper; slide rolled dough on parchment onto baking sheet and chill until firm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, repeat with second disk.

4. Working with first portion of rolled dough, cut into desired shapes using cookie cutter(s) and place shapes on parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until light golden brown, about 10 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking time. Repeat with second portion of rolled dough. (Dough scraps can be patted together, chilled, and re-rolled once.) Cool cookies on wire rack to room temperature.

5. FOR THE GLAZE: Whisk cream cheese and 2 tablespoons milk in medium bowl until combined and no lumps remain. Whisk in confectioners' sugar until smooth, adding remaining milk as needed until glaze is thin enough to spread easily. Drizzle or spread scant teaspoon glaze with back of spoon onto each cooled cookie, as desired.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Eating and drinking in and about Washington, D.C.

1. No link because I don't think they have an actual website, but the empanadas* cart at the Downtown Holiday Fair thing at 9th and G is very meh. They're not awful, per se, but they're not good either. The dough is like weirdly too thick or something. Although I am admittedly spoiled by visits to Chile and Argentina, the empanadas I made based on a Cooks Illustrated recipe were better, and that without masa harina. So, hrumph.

2. On a better note: although apparently this was already amply written about elsewhere, Meatballs is actually pretty good. Or, at least, the polenta is nice and creamy, and the meatballs with marinara sauce are warm and lovely and filling on a cold day. It is apparently supposed to be a sort of Italian-influenced version of Chipotle, and both share the vice of serving only giant portions that are hopelessly more than a 5'0 woman should ever try to consume in one sitting. Also, don't naively ask for a bottle of water without thinking about it. That is, they offer only expensive Italian bottled water that can only be opened with a bottle opener. Luckily, there is a bottle opener in my office's kitchen, but I found it only after some annoying rummaging.

3. There is a newish libertarian non-profit in town called Keep Food Legal that had a fun fundraiser on Saturday night. The El Chilango tacos served are yummy; recommended.

4. This is an interesting and thoughtful post about culture, and I agree with the general point about the subtle ways in which cultures work. But I'm a little bit surprised by the meal example. That is, I think I've routinely observed plenty of upper-middle-class types eagerly downing everything on their plates at dinner. My biggest eater friend is a lawyer's son grown up to be a Jesuit priest. He's been running marathons regularly since he and I first met in college, and he apparently needs the thousands of extra calories to keep himself powered up. I've noticed other people who love upper-middle-class-ish sports eat with the same voracity, although perhaps not quite on the same scale.

There's also the phenomenon of the "Om om om, must devour as much free food at cocktail reception as possible!" instinct, which I confess I haven't fully grown out of myself. But in my view, that's an age and lifestyle thing -- a relic of being a young person from a relatively comfortable background growing up and with plenty of cultural capital, but temporarily in a stage of their lives where cash for groceries and dining out is relatively tight. Many of my friends who went through a similar law/grad student/intern stage of life seem to have the same instinct.

So, blog friends, is there a class signal here that I should be noticing? If I'm trying to impress bigwigs, should I be making a point of politely and delicately not finishing dinners?

* No tilde because I can't figure out how to do this on this computer; sorry, hispanophone friends!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

amen, brother

Clearly the point of the infamous Romney bet was that this wasn't supposed to be a trivial amount of money; c.f. the kids on the playground at the nearby elementary school who like to say things like "I'll bet you a million dollars that...." None of them have one million dollars; many of their parents probably don't even have a million dollars. (It's Arlington, so the number of their parents that do is probably non-trivial.) Still, the point is that they are so sure they're right that they're happy to frame the bet as one that cannot possibly be lost. Robin Hanson, however, harrumphs further (and convincingly) about what is really going on here:

The idea that a president candidate couldn't afford a $10,000 bet is crazy, as is the idea that ordinary folks don’t know this fact. They pay for TV commercials, which cost lots more than $10,000. They fly all around the nation in planes, which gets expensive.

So clearly we have moved high up into belief meta-levels here. “Yes, most people know Romney can afford $10,000, but some aren’t sure that most others know this, and so this shows that Romney doesn’t know about such folks.” Or “It is rude to point out that you are rich, even when everyone knows you are rich. Yes wearing nice suits shows he’s rich, but not wearing suits is socially unacceptable. Offering smaller bets is acceptable, however, so offering a big bet could be interpreted as bragging about wealth. Not that I’d interpret it that way, but someone might, and this shows Romney doesn’t realize that.”

Geez it must be a pain to be a presidential candidate. This all shows how much we care about social savvy and signaling in such folks. We don’t much care if they understand supply and demand, but they damn well better know who might try hard to be offended by what.

Yep, that's pretty much it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Septime Webre production of The Nutcracker

So I admit that there is part of me that shuddered when, after a Gilt City offer for cheap Nutcracker tickets landed in my inbox, I read that said production was very American. I am more than happy to claim the mantle of "libertarian, not conservative" when it comes to regulation of sex and speech. But when it comes to grammar and art, suddenly I start waxing traditionalist. There isn't really a right-wing tribe for aesthetes who happen to be hard-core free marketers, but if there were, I might prefer to fly their banner in lieu of "libertarian."

Anywho. All this is long prelude to way of saying that, despite the annoying advertisements about re-interpretation, the Septime Webre production of The Nutcracker is actually pretty likeable. First of all, at least the production has the good graces to stay in the right century; the children's costumes at the initial Christmas party scene are suitably Victorian. Mercifully, most of the rest of the Americanizing touches -- such as the rats cast as American soldiers rising up against King George, or the cherry blossoms scene -- manage not to feel too contrived.

Pnin said to me afterwards that it felt less lavish than a version of the Nutcracker that he'd seen growing up. And, indeed, this is a ballet that's meant to be produced on a grand scale; trying to stage it on a shoestring feels deeply wrong. Perhaps it's because I'm used to much cheaper theater, but I didn't notice it. Ultimately, recommended.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"The real reason not to sleep with your professor"

History professor Hugo Schwyzer offers up one at Jezebel:

I don't have a problem with students asking out their former instructor, provided the grades have been turned in. But I try to warn them that the reality of an actual relationship is likely to be disappointing. Students fall in love with a fantasy; the professor who seems so cool and commanding in the lecture hall is rarely so charismatic over dinner — or as mind-blowing in bed as one might have fantasized. I've seen a number of student-teacher relationships unfold in which a woman ends up dumping her former instructor in near-disgust; the gap between what she thought he was and what he turned out to be was too much to bear. That can be shattering and disillusioning for everyone involved.

Two decades in the classroom have taught me that when it comes to students and teachers, we don't get crushes on people whom we want sexually as often as we get crushes on people whom we want to be like. Yes, some crushes are purely physical. But more are what I'd call aspirational: the objects of the crush represent something students want for themselves. College is an uncertain time; good teachers tend to embody passion and certainty, two things students desperately want. And when they're crushing on a prof, young people are usually confusing the messenger with the message. As I learned the hard way many years ago, rather than encourage the crush to feed our egos, our job as professors is to turn that intensity back on to our students, encouraging them to use their newfound enthusiasm and let it take them to all sorts of wonderful places. Places other, of course, than their professors' bedrooms.

This is all absolutely true, but the principle extends beyond the classroom, no? That is, I am hard-pressed to think of infatuations that I've felt that weren't aspirational, that weren't deeply about something other than the crush that I wanted for myself. And if one were to follow Schwyzer's advice literally, then one would probably wind up never dating anyone at all. I suppose that nuns have long life expectancies and all, but for the rest of us, it's often worth it to assume the risk. I suppose professors and students might be a special category where this sort of problem is particularly likely to be acute, but that's somewhat different from saying that actually dating all aspirational crushes should be avoided, which seems to be what Schwyzer's saying here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

From the archives

Back when I was still blogging at LiveJournal, I put up two posts offering cautious praise for Newt Gingrich, based on a long talk I heard him give at AEI in 2006. Looking back at the two posts, they are somewhat more cautiously laudatory than I remembered (or perhaps more cautiously laudatory than some things I might have said then in casual conversation with my then-boyfriend or other friends.) This is good, because otherwise, I might have to pen some sort of "Things I Used To Think That Turned Out To Be Wrong" after reading various critiques of Gingrich's rise in the 2012 Republican nomination polls that I have found persuasive. Of course, I could perhaps devote an entire blog devoted to apologizing for things about which I was wrong in 2006, but somehow I doubt that that would make for especially interesting reading. All to the better that I get to skip the self-abnegation routine...

Back to Newt. At a basically personal level, for the reasons that I spelled out in those old posts, I kind of like the guy. He passes the proverbial "Would you want to grab a drink with him?" test that pundits are so fond of mulling over. Peggy Noonan, I think, sees the same strengths that I saw back then. But she's also right to flag the same very real weaknesses that David Bernstein and George Will did in the critiques of Newt's rise linked above. So given all that, I can't really cheer on the recent Gingrich boomlet. There's part of me that's guardedly hoping that Jon Huntsman gets his turn soon at being Anti-Romney of the Month, for most of the same reasons that my husband spells out here. Nonetheless, emphasis on the "guardedly."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Examples of really splendid use of parentheses

"Does this mean that there is nothing that the state can do to help the poor? Two answers are possible. One (which is actually more attractive than is commonly supposed) is no."

-- Richard Epstein on forced pro bono.

Amish Willow

Young Willow has come through her spaying operation. Despite a rough night after first coming home from the surgery, she seems to be bouncing back (quite literally) and on her way to a full recovery. Unfortunately, she is required to wear a cone much of the time to prevent her from licking at her wounds. Pnin bought her a Comfy Cone from Petco, which seems to be much more comfortable for her than the more traditional rigid plastic Elizabeth collars given out by vets.*

This does, however, raise the question of what Willow's inner ethnicity is. For awhile, I thought she had to be an Ashekenazi Jew. She was an academic over-achiever at obedience class, she was so obsessed with a certain plant in our backyard that my parents took to calling her the family's other Ivy Leaguer, and then she became oddly attentive while watching a television performance of Fiddler on the Roof. But then there was her odd fit of barking at the neighbors across the street on Sunday morning because they were cutting branches off a holly bush. This newfound interest in landscape architecture caused Pnin to suggest that she might be British. But with the black Comfy Cone on, she now looks to me very much like a married Amish lady wearing her traditional bonnet.

While Willow was at Petco purchasing the Comfy Cone, some anonymous benefactor apparently purchased for her a special cookie, left it at the counter, and instructed the salesclerk to give it to Pnin. It looks so much like a beautiful piece of gingerbread that I was tempted to eat it (but did not after I saw the ingredient list.) I suppose this is another reminder that Willow is a beautiful and special girl.

*No, I am not paid to do Comfy Cone product placement here at To My Parents, Ayn Rand, and God -- although I might be interested in being a paid shill for dog products if anyone is interested....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Affirmative Action For Men?

Elsewhere in my exciting non-blog existence, my commissioner and I have an article in the Federalist Society's Engage magazine titled Affirmative Action for Men? Strange Silences and Strange Bedfellows in the Public Debate Over Discrimination Against Women in Admissions. For those who prefer it, HTML version here. Pnin also offers some thoughts.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Shakespeare production

Because I live in a city known for its relentlessly political climate, people often fail to guess that we actually have an excellent Shakespeare theater. Pnin and I were able to see a nice matinee performance of Much Ado About Nothing on Saturday. The director made the somewhat unusual choice to set the production in 1930s Havana, Cuba. But the costumes and stage are beautiful, and since both Havana and Messina are lushly green, warm places in which to set a steamy romantic comedy, it actually works pretty well. It is almost strange seeing a play with a lavish and beautiful set, in contrast to various Improving productions pulled off on a shoestring, but it is of course nonetheless lovely.

Friday, December 2, 2011

On helping me buy things

1. For high school graduation, my parents gave me a watch. After about four or five years, the clasp started to go and never quite worked right since, despite a few repairs. It finally snapped for good one day in 2009, and some enterprising stranger wandering down the stretch of 16th Street between Kalorama Road and V Street must have snapped it up for good. I hope only that said stranger had a small enough wrist. Anywho, rather than admit to my frugal-ish parents that this incident happened, I have been pretending that using my cell phone to tell time is really just so much easier. And most of the time, that is just as easy, but sometimes, there is part of me that misses having a nice timepiece on my wrist.

But aside from my lingering shame at losing something valuable issues, there is also the problem of my specifications regarding watches. One, there must be twelve numbers or twelve marks indicating numbers. I don't want to have to squint at the space between six and nine to figure out if it's seven or eight o'clock. Two, not digital. Three, no aesthetically ugly round mini-clocks clogging up the face of the watch ((see, e.g.) Four, none of what kids these days call bling. Five, not ridiculously overwhelming on a small-ish person. This looks gosh darn close to aesthetically y ideal, but unfortunately happens to be very much on the expensive side. So is there something suitable out there that I have missed?

2. Occasionally, fashion blogs tell me that I am supposed to like the concept of jewel-toned, printed, silky blouses to wear to work in winter. I can dig the general concept of bright color under a neutral-ish suit jacket or with dark pants. But then things get complicated. One, sleeveless examples of the genre seem to be extremely popular. Except that this largely defeats flexibility; one either has to keep a jacket or sweater on over them, even when it's slightly hot, or restrict wear to less formal days at the office (and yes, I'm well aware that in office environments sartorially more conservative than mine, sleevelessness might render them unwearable all together.) So cap sleeves or not overly long sleeves are ideal. Two, the print must not be hideous. Three, no low V-necks; this is not so much out of an abundance of conservatism as the very real problem that any given neckline will look much lower on me than on someone the same size who's 5'8 (or even on the 5'4 woman who's near the top of the normal petite height range.) All of this together seems to prevent me from buying any blouse in the category I want, although maybe I am missing some. Ideas?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Reassessing affirmative action on campus"

Posting this here perhaps dances too close to writing about Day Job in this space, which is something I'm normally loath to do. Nonetheless, many readers of this here space know that I'm a tremendous fan of George Will's and would not be surprised to learn that I'm elated to read him speaking well of people with whom I've worked closely. Really, if I were a golden retriever, I'd be running about in all-out "WAG TAIL! Swish boom bang CRASH (uh oh! coffee table!) but HAPPY! Swish boom TAIL JOY!" mode. But sadly, I'm not, so I'll have to content myself with more restrained and dignified nods of approbation here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Startup hopes to hack the immigration system with a floating incubator"

In which bad immigration policy breathes new life into the seasteading movement:

Some of the Silicon Valley's most important companies, including Intel, Google, and Yahoo, were cofounded by immigrants. Yet America's creaky immigration system makes it difficult for talented young people born outside of the United States to come to the Bay Area. There have been various proposals to make it easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to come to the United States, but they've made no progress in Congress.

So a new company called Blueseed is seeking to bypass the political process and solve the problem directly. Blueseed plans to buy a ship and turn it into a floating incubator anchored in international waters off the coast of California.

Ars talked to Blueseed founder Max Marty. He acknowledged that it would be better for America to reform immigration laws and thereby make his company unnecessary. But in the meantime, Marty and his team are hard at work tackling the practical obstacles to making their vision of a floating, year-round hack-a-thon a reality. Within the next year, they're hoping to raise a venture capital round large enough to lease or buy a ship with space for around a thousand passengers. If Blueseed's audacious hack of the immigration system is successful, it will not only open up Silicon Valley to a broader range of entrepreneurs, it will also shine a spotlight on the barriers American law places in the way of immigrants seeking to start businesses in the United States.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"...a deadpan understatement that demonstrates just how often (the right kind of) politics goes unnoted on shopping bags."

Popular high-end yoga equipment brand Lulemon has incorporated an Ayn Rand quote into its merchandising. Virginia Postrel is>right: plenty of Rand, taken out of context, can sound banal in an Oprah-esque way. I also love the line from the Postrel piece that forms the title of this blog post. Finally, despite my ambivalence about Rand as the semi-grown-up that I am (see tag at sidebar), this post does leave me with a hankering for expensive new yoga pants, if only to spite some of the sillier people quoted in both Postrel and the NYT.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The GOP and Immigration

Nate Silver offers analysis that dyspeptic libertarians might find comforting:

Newt Gingrich was having what seemed to be a pretty strong debate on Tuesday night before being asked a question about immigration policy. He suggested that illegal immigrants should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that some who have been in the United States for a long time should be allowed to stay, while others should be deported.

Following the exchange, Mr. Gingrich’s stock at Intrade, the political betting market that we frequently track, declined to about 14 percent from 16 percent, erasing gains he had made earlier in the day.

It was not the “flash crash” that proceeded Rick Perry’s “oops” moment during the Nov. 9 debate, but my view is that the markets probably overreacted in this case and that Mr. Gingrich’s answer will not be all that harmful to him.

One reason is simply that Mr. Gingrich’s views on immigration are not all that far out of step with those of Republican voters. Although I can’t find a survey that catalogs Republican responses to Mr. Gingrich’s proposal exactly, a New York Times/CBS News poll from May 2010 on a broad range of immigration-related issues provides some evidence about an analogous proposal.

In that survey, voters were given a choice of three options for handling illegal immigrants who currently hold jobs in the United States:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.? They should be allowed to stay in their jobs and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. OR, They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as guest workers, but not to apply for U.S. citizenship. OR, They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S.
Among Republican respondents to the survey, 42 percent said the immigrants should be required to leave. But 31 percent said they should be able to stay and apply for citizenship. An additional 23 percent picked the middle option: the immigrants should be allowed to stay, but as guest workers rather than citizens.

One lesson from this is that no stance on immigration will make everyone happy. The partisan divides on immigration policy are not as stark as they are on issues like the welfare state. But the intraparty disagreement can be pretty bad, as George W. Bush discovered when he tried to push a moderate bill on immigration.

Still, Mr. Gingrich’s position — which would allow some illegal immigrants to stay but not grant them citizenship — seems to come as close as anything to a middle ground. Yes, he might be a little further away from that middle ground in Iowa and South Carolina and candidates like Michele Bachmann are smart to search for any way to exploit that. But Republican views on immigration are not monolithic and should not be portrayed as such.

The rest of the piece is also good.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thoughts on law schools and practical training

Yes, I suppose I agree with the general thrust of this much discussed NYT article that it is probably good for law schools to teach people how to be lawyers. On the other hand, it's woefully vague about how schools are supposed to do this better. Consider:

For bar passage reasons, for the first year and a half or so, it's probably in the interest of most schools to have students spend most of their time in traditional doctrinal courses. Departing too much from the standard platter of Contracts, Torts, Property, etc. would send many schools' bar passage rates down significantly. Even at the highest-ranked schools, where vast majorities of students now have little trouble with the exam, Barbri would turn into (even more of?) a stressful nightmare if the ratio of new material vs. review of 1L plus Evidence and a couple other 2L/3L core courses. It's possible that the right answer is that the organized bar should get rid of the exam, which I wouldn't necessarily oppose. But if that's what Segal thinks, then he ought to discuss this possibility more openly.

Second, how much in common do very different kinds of law jobs really have? Is learning the practicalities of how to be a lawyer in solo or small firm practice really a lot like learning how to be an associate at a big firm like Drinker Biddle (the large firm profiled in Segal's article)? How much is either of those jobs really like being a prosecutor in state court? I've never been any of those things, but I suspect "not very." And if they're not very much alike, how should people sort themselves into tracks? Would you have a system where the top 25% of the class based on grades at my law school would've spent the next two years on pre-Biglaw vocational training, while people nearer the bottom spent their next two years regarding how to operate a solo practice.

I'm not sure how well it would work to run law schools with multiple "tracks" based on 1L grades. It's more likely that you'd get a few highly selective schools that really specialized in preparing people for Biglaw and a mass of less selective ones that really push training for the traditionally lower-prestige law jobs. But that would mean that the very top people at the lower schools might have a harder time cracking elite firms than they do now. So you'd wind up getting an (even more?) stratified legal profession. Is this really something that Segal et al. are comfortable with?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Common Ground

Here is a list of things on which I agree with Occupy Wall Street:

1) Open the borders to all immigrants, legal or illegal. Offer immediate, unconditional amnesty, to all undocumented residents of the US.

Not entirely; I'm okay with screening would-be immigrants for infectious disease, criminal history, links to terrorism, and a few other things like that. But if one adjusts this to read something like "Significant liberalization of current immigration law," that would be just splendid.

2)Institute a negative income tax, and tax the very rich at rates up to 90%.

I'm good with the first part of that. See also MIlton Friedman, though note that the headline of this piece calling him a conservative makes me want to throw things.

3)Strengthen separation of church and state.

I'm not entirely sure what specifically they're exercised about; the Supreme Court precedent in this area is actually pretty good. Occasionally social conservatives say silly things about wanting to use the government to promote religion, but fortunately Rick Santorum remains an even more marginal figure in American politics than Herman Cain or Newt Gingrich. Still, if they just mean strong separation of church and state, then fine.

4)End the 'War on Drugs'.

Please see relevant tag along the sidebar.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I think I am on record here saying that anyone who harms a golden retriever deserves the death penalty, and that no, this does not violate the Eighth Amendment. Yet another day, another police officer shoots a Golden Retriever. The positive side of this is that at least the retriever belonged to a lawyer who has been successful at convincing the relevant police department to adopt more humane practices toward animals. Also, Professor Bainbridge, please call your office.

Trivia: Willow's great-grandfather's name was also Boomer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Notes on fashion

Via Phoebe, an article on college fashion staples. This is wrong, however; the point of collegiate fashion is to immerse oneself in the fantasy that one is actually a WASP aristocrat. WASP aristocrat fashion has never actually been interesting: looking blandly sporty like everyone else from the country club has always been kind of the point. Also, Refinery29's proffered alternatives to the Longchamp bag are hideous, and in particular, what the h--- is up with that fringe?

Never again in your life will you be in a setting so enamored of WASP tradition so as to enshrine legacy preferences. (Somehow, the thought of a large law firm announcing a policy for favoritism of their attorneys' children just seems comical. Under the table and in borderline cases, maybe, but officially?) Never again in your life will you be surrounded by buildings with ridiculous names like the Ada Merriweather Pennypacker '15 Memorial Conservatory. Indeed, if I hadn't found a blond conservative WASP to fall wildly in love with by the end of senior year, I might well have had to invent one. In time, one will live in the real world. Even if one's day job frequently entails working with Republicans, bowties and seersucker on 25-year-olds will look far more ridiculous than they do in the shade of the Ada Merriweather Pennypacker '15 Memorial Conservatory.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Very good sentences

"The practice of witch-burning had, in its heyday, a much longer history in western politics than the home mortgage interest tax deduction and yet over time people’s minds changed."

-- Matthew Yglesias

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fed Soc in Review

Well, I'm back from the annual three day extravaganza that sometimes can feel entirely too much like a not-entirely-functional family reunion. Unpleasant altercations with ex-boyfriends were safely avoided! Only one friend told me that I'd inadvertently inspired her to commit a federal felony! Mike Mukasey avoided keeling over mid-speech! Good times all around...

More seriously, for those who weren't able to attend the panels, there are videos online. It's impossible for any one person to see everything, but I recommend in particular Showcase Panels II and IV (video not yet online, but should be in a few days' time at the link above.) Re: Panel II, Richard Epstein in particular is always worth the price of admission. In some ways, though, the individual parts are better than the whole. It might've worked better as two separate panels-- one on the Epstein book and one on co-panelist John Tomasi's book - since some of the panelists did seem to be talking past each other. But the individual speeches should nonetheless be of interest to people interested generally in classical liberalism.

The ideas presented on Panel IV were new to me, and I'm still not sure what I think of sunset laws generally. Nonetheless, the panelists were all exceptionally clear and coherent in presenting both the cases for and against them, and I felt like I came away with a good grasp of both pros and cons. Special bonus for any ex-Yalies out there: Bill Eskridge's Guido Calabresi imitation is hilarious.

I also recommend the bullying panel. I spent about four or five months in my day job thinking over these issues, and I might be too mentally and morally exhausted to ever write anything about them again. But if you're interested in these issues, that panel offers a solid overview.

I am meh about the Mukasey address. I'm well aware that libertarians are split on foreign policy generally. I feel nervous and tentative writing about issues about which my intellectual heroes disagree passionately. Plus, the more I read about them, the more I'm convinced I don't know. That's probably why I almost never write about them here. Nonetheless, caveats about my lack of real knowledge of these issues aside, parts of Mukasey's speech sat ill with me. I'm uncomfortable saying that non-Muslims ought to think that there is only one true Islam -- the ugly and radical kind. The point ought to be that there are many different manifestations of Islam, some more friendly to small-l Western liberalism and some not. Regardless of what's most consistent with original text, we ought to pick the more liberal-friendly varieties and encourage them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

books read lately

1. Amber's right: this is a good novel, and fans of George R.R. Martin are likely to enjoy it. Also, not sure if this is idiosyncratic, but Cithrin bel Sarcour reminds me slightly of Daggy Taggart. Maybe that's just because I have trouble thinking of many other novels that showcase a strong female character working in free enterprise.

2. Roy Jenkins's Gladstone. It's well-written, particularly if you enjoy a slightly over-the-top, self-consciously erudite British style. It's probably too pretentious by half if you don't. Also, while I can follow along *okay,* the book sorely lacks context on period history and the structure of British politics that most Americans would appreciate. Read: I knew Jenkins had to be British a few chapters in, even before I looked him up on the Internet and confirmed this to be true. Be forewarned.

3. Retriever Gun Dogs, published 1948 (sorry, it's out of print, so no link.) Facts learned: back in 1937, a black Labrador with call name "Nigger" won a field championship. Fortunately, retriever naming humor has evolved for the better. My personal favorite I've seen recently is [Kennel's Name] "Whale of a Tail," call name "Jonah."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Very good sentences

"Wanting to blame George Bush, or try Dick Cheney for war crimes, is a kind of individual responsibility, but in a very particular political context. "

-- Tyler Cowen in a very good post, about which I don't have much to say, other than nodding in agreement.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Disjointed thoughts from a hard-core systemizer on Asperger's

I found myself nodding when I read Phoebe's post commenting on this Nature article suggesting that parents with milder, autistic-like traits may be more likely to have children with full-blown autism. I scored something frighteningly high on systemizing quotient when I took an internet version of Baron-Cohen's systemizing/empathizing scale, and it wouldn't surprise me much if my husband's test results looked similar. Note also that people stopped comparing me to Daria only when I started wearing contact lenses and experimenting with blonde highlights.

The Nature article makes it clear that the science is very much up in the air, and I'm somewhat inclined to agree. When I took the empathizing/systemizing test, I was struck by how uncomfortable I felt being asked to agree or disagree with statements like "My friends all think that I am empathetic and a great listener." How many really socially skilled people are comfortable answering "Strongly agree" to a dozen questions like one? Aren't most genuinely empathetic people a little humbler than that? Of course there must be some correlation between being socially skilled and being socially self-confident, and too much nervousness about one's social skills can itself be socially disabling. On the other hand, I felt much more comfortable answering "Strongly agree" to systemizer questions like "I enjoy looking at subway maps." They felt much less value-laden.

For what little it's worth, as a kid, I knew plenty of geeky adults married to other ex-geeks and just one child with full-blown autism, whom I'll call C. C.'s father was an electrical engineer, yes, and I can't recall his mother's background. She'd gone to college and was apparently a member of Mensa, which at the time seemed vastly more impressive than it does now. C was not the kind of mild eccentric Asperger-y type described lovingly by Tyler Cowen. At age eight, I'd go over to knock on the door of C.'s house and begin a conversation along the lines of, "Hi, C. Is your mom or dad home? My mom wanted to give your mom back her plates from the picnic." C would then laugh, yell "Bus driver!", make some hand signals that indicated that he was pretending to drive a bus, and then run away shrieking with laughter... while I stood there holding his mother's brownie platter.

Eventually, C outgrew the fascination with the phrase "bus driver. " When he was a little older, at about 14 or so, a grad student from the local college would come over and help tutor him in social interaction. This mainly seemed to consist of watching Family Matters episodes and asking C. questions like, "What is Laura feeling right now?" I can assure readers who are not children of the late 80s/early 90s that the show was sufficiently non-nuanced that it is difficult to get such questions wrong. Yet C. struggled. Eventually, though, he did seem to catch on... and eventually graduated high school... and then college... and today still lives with his parents, but has been holding down a steady job as an accountant since shortly after graduation. Perhaps ironically, C's neurotypical younger brother and sister both took longer and had more difficulty finishing college degrees.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Things I Have Read Recently and Not Liked

This Above the Law column on a cert petition in a First Amendment case, in which plaintiff is a teenager who couldn't run for student council secretary because she referred to administrators at her school as "douchebags" on her LiveJournal blog. Your humble correspondent's initial knee-jerk reaction was, "Exhibit 2,114 of why I am a libertarian and not a conservative."

And then my immediate post knee jerk reaction was... it's interesting that a post at a law blog would hit the theme of professionalism so hard. You'll notice that plaintiff Ms. Doninger's sin, in this columnist's eye, was that this behavior would be inappropriate in many professional environments. Indeed it would be, and I doubt that anybody seriously disputes that the loss of the school secretary position is important in the greater scheme of things. But the actual doctrine regarding how schools may regulate off-campus speech in the Internet age is far from settled, and untangling the relevant precedent is actually quite interesting. Yet the ATL columnist opts to wave that inside instead for snark along the lines of "Bet she's going to grow up to be the kind of lawyer who wears ballet flats when pumps are really called for." It reminds me of much of what I disliked about law school: the near obsession with the mannes and mores of becoming a Professional coupled with low levels of interest in the law itself.

Things I Have Read Recently And Liked

Kenneth Anderson's post on OWS, fragmenting elites, and downward mobility. The rhetoric is a little grand in places for my taste, but I find the basic argument compelling. See also Megan McArdle.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meet Willow

So, is anyone out there still reading? If yes... I figured this ought to be a moment as good as any to introduce Willow, the now nearly five month old Golden Retriever whom I've been chasing around after work in the evenings during what was previously in part blogging time. She's actually in temporary exile to the north, in my Red State hometown, hanging out with my parents for the next week to come. This is because (another lame partial excuse for the lack of writing) the ceiling in the living room started to fall in, and there are a team of guys at the house trying to repair it for the next week. We've had to move Willow's crate and all of her toys, in addition to all of our furniture and two bookcases full of books, out of there, letting her stay here was not such an attractive option. Not to mention what all the banging would do to her daily nap schedule...

No, Willow is not a rescue. She came from this breeder; here's her daddy (who is even handsomer in person), mommy, and sister who stayed with the breeder who might grow up to be a show dog. Willow not being a rescue dog hasn't been so much an issue when we walk her around the neighborhood or have taken her other places in the greater D.C. area, but yes, rescue sanctimony is alive and well, perhaps especially on the Internet. I've seen it mostly in places like unrelated Facebook threads and in a few randomly moralistic comments to my husband's blog post about a different dog-related topic. (Then again, there was the random moralizing comment about why we shouldn't get a golden retriever because Labs are totally better hunting companions, to which Ilya was all like, no thanks, actually we live in a suburb, so maybe the real lesson is that Volokh commenters are an unruly lot who like to ramble about their own preoccupations even when this is irrelevant or rude.)

Yes, of course rescuing animals is wonderful and lovely and noble. At the same time... subsidizing responsible breeders does help to diminish the supply of animals who end up in rescue. So many dogs wind up in rescue due to behavior or health problems that stem directly from an irresponsible breeder's bad choices. It's important to give the good guys financial incentives to keep trying to get things right.

Also... my parents and I had a wonderful golden retriever when I was growing up named Sasha. Sasha came from a small hobby breeder outside of Philadelphia. Sash had her mischievous moments, sure, but she was a sweet-tempered, easygoing girl who had almost no serious health problems until the day she died of hemangiosarcoma at ten years of age. Two or three years after Sasha died, I'd since finished school and moved out, and my parents felt that they were too old for another puppy. So they were applied to the local golden retriever rescue and (as a pair of retired schoolteachers with a fenced-in backyard and previous golden experience) they were apparently among the chosen few who were approved to rescue. China, a golden who was picked up off the streets of Philadelphia. China was... nothing like Sasha. Aggressive. Destructive. All manner of issues. They called the rescue association back, who recommended that they hire an expensive "animal behaviorist" who could deal with such aggression. The nearest one had offices in Philadelphia, more than an hour's drive away from them. They ultimately realized that the dog was too much for them and had to return her to the specialty breed rescue. This experience indicates that there are at least some dog owners capable of raising a pup from a good breeder who has no behavioral issues, but who might be overwhelmed by a rescue dog's needs.

Meantime, I promise I'll try to be around more often.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

E-mails I should never send

Dear Ivy Club of DC,

Thank you for sending me those last three e-mails about events for Ivy singles. I am, however, happily married to a partner of suitable wealth and I.Q. percentile. That said, I am still all in favor of finding suitably pretentious places in which to drink overpriced martinis at work at which I can pretend that I am "networking" for my "career." (Husband of Suitable I.Q. Percentile and I do not yet have offspring. Yes, we know we are disappointing Charles Murray.) Please, in the future, consider scheduling some events for the rest of us, too?

No love,

Isabel Archer

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on the politics and nerdiness of Harry Potter

This is a fun, light-hearted post on the politics of Harry Potter, but at the same time, sorry, I have to try to claim the series for Team Libertarian. Some of these points are obvious. Re #1, nobody actually thinks that torture is good, but there's disagreement along the political spectrum at what exactly constitutes torture. And re #5, nobody on any side is in favor of bad intelligence. What's hard is sorting out the good from the bad.

Re #2, it's entirely possible that the Longbottoms are wealthy and were able to pay for institutionalization out of private funds. I believe that they are described as an old wizarding family at various points. Neville also sounds a bit grand for a poor kid's name. Besides, it's also possible to have a small social welfare program for people who are long-term incapacitated, like the Longbottoms, without creating a true single payer system that also funds more routine care.

Re #3, Arthur Weasley seems underpaid and underapreciated. Despite his hard work for the Ministry of Magic, he's frequently shown struggling to make ends meet. Also, other wizards seem to undervalue the positive synergies that could come from combining the cool Muggle technology he studies with magic (e.g. flying cars). If the wizarding world had a more vibrant private sector, it's possible that his innovations would more readily reach a wide audience. Also, one must consider the possibility that Dolores Umbridge and Cornelius Fudge (whose problematic dithering is mentioned elsewhere in the piece, but not here) get on top not by accident, but because inherent flaws in the system encourage the worst to rise to the top.

And re #7, yes, inherited wealth can be corrupting. At the same time, Harry himself inherits substantial wealth from his parents and seems none the worse off for it. Draco is a twit, yes, but the counter-example of Harry as non-twit indicates that progressive taxation is hardly essential to save the world from privileged twits.

Elsewhere, I agree that Harry is actually more of a jock rather than a nerd.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Penelope Trunk comes out against travel

See here. Constant Readers may see overlap with something I posted here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Plus one

Like every other semi-tech-savvy-ish twenty-something in the country, I've secured an invite to Google Plus and started playing around with the Circle feature. It's a pretty cool solution to the eternal quandary of what to share with which of one's friends. The dog haters need not be bombarded with micro-updates about the latest developments regarding little puppy Willow's upcoming arrival, and my guy conservative friends need not be bothered by my fashion dilemmas.

Of course, this all works for politics. I can create a separate circle for libertarians and another for libertarians plus conservatives and easily share only thoughts that will likely be agreeable to each group with them. On the one hand, this is good; Facebook is not a great forum for political debates, and I don't want to annoy my non-libertarian friends (say, people from high school or childhood) with the kind of crankery that my D.C. based policy friends eat up. On the other, it means that I miss opportunities for conversion. Not that anyone's likely to undergo a radical conversion overnight thanks to a 400 character update; I get that. But maybe a slow and steady accumulation of exposure to alien views might slowly move an acquaintance in a new direction. It would be sort of sad -- not tragic, but a little bit unfortunate nonetheless -- if embrace of Google's new platform makes people less likely to encounter opposing ideas than they would be otherwise.

Monday, July 11, 2011

David Brooks discovers supply and demand, sort of

In some ways, I feel sorry for David Brooks. He has a gimlet eye for observing upper-middle-class people and making fun of them/us, which I suppose is how he first skyrocketed onto the national scene with Bobos in Paradise. Unfortunately, when he tries to write about actual public policy, things just fall apart, and suddenly lots of bloggers jumped on him for being a fake conservative. Take, for example, this:

Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.

Perhaps I am missing something, but is this not just normal supply and demand? The less you have of something, the more valuable it is to you, and the more you are willing to pay for it? Should I be troubled that none of Brooks's advisors or editors seem to have noticed this and made this point to him?

Would that he could just stick to his comparative advantage and keep making fun of latte drinkers.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

On lower court judges' interpretations of constitutional provisions

Orin Kerr has a post up at Volokh titled "What if Lower Court Judges Weren't Bound by Supreme Court Precedent? He makes the sensible point that reasonable people are sure to disagree on interpretative issues, and that if lower court judges were left free to decide constitutional cases according to their ideas of what the true Constitution says, that there would be more uncertainty in the law. I agree, of course, that uncertainty in the law is very bad. However, getting the substantive law wrong is an as or more important problem. All of the reasons why Orin points to as to why lower court judges are likely to disagree with each other also apply to Supreme Court judges. The choice is between lower courts' making judgment calls about what a confusing constitutional provision and some of them getting it wrong, meaning that some parts of the country live under the wrong rule, or one high court wrestling with a difficult constitutional provision and possibly imposing the wrong rule on the entire country. If some parts of the country live under the wrong interpretation and others under the right one, it's more likely in time that the parts of the country living under the wrong rule will see the superior reasoning of the better interpretation. Whereas if the entire country is living under a bad rule that only the Supreme Court can overturn, it will take much longer for the right rule to win out.

I should note also that I don't think there's much reason to think that the Supreme Court is more likely to get difficult interpretative questions right than the lower courts. The most talented jurists of a particular generation often don't make it onto the Court. Presidents don't want to take a chance on radicals or on gifted lower court judges who don't fit neatly into a particular ideological camp (see, e.g., Richard Posner). Or they want to appeal to particular demographic groups (see, e.g., the controversy over whether Sonia Sotomayor was really the best person Obama could have picked for that slot.)

Leaving that aside, wisdom of crowd effects might also be relevant here. A group of several hundred lower court judges trying to come to the right conclusion about difficult interpretative questions might be more likely to come to the right conclusion than a group of just nine Supreme Court judges.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bryan Caplan, call your office.

I tag Bryan Caplan to write something about Lori Gottlieb's latest anti-helicopter parenting diatribe. Given Gottlieb's very public neurotic personal history, reading her take on how to lead a sane life briefly inspired me to pen a pitch to The Atlantic titled "Meditations on Becoming A Giantess."

It feels weird to be contrarian, since in some ways, I agree with a lot of what Gottlieb says here. A lot of the parent behavior that she is describing really does sound over-the-top and kind of crazy, and I agree with Gottlieb that the people doing this stuff should stop.

As someone who's followed recent coverage of Bryan Caplan's Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, I'm interested also in the tensions between Caplan's arguments and Gottlieb's. They both seem to agree that a lot of modern helicopter parenting is crazy over the top. But they are disagreeing on how much harm helicopter parenting can do in the long run. If I'm reading Caplan correctly, he predicts that the kids of the typical helicopter parent will grow up to be about as successful and well-adjusted as they would be if raised under a different parenting regime. Gottlieb, on the other hand, seems to think that helicopter parented children will be more neurotic than others over the long run because of how they were raised.

I note also that Caplan's thesis equally well predicts why more children of helicopter parents end up in therapy than others; helicopter parents are the kind of hyper-conscientious people who want to squeeze every last ounce of Good out of their kids. Their kids inherit this hyper-conscientiousness and thus turn to therapists to squeeze every last ounce of Meaning out of life. Maybe they'd have done the same even if they'd been raised by cavemen.

It is a little odd that Gottlieb views ending up in therapy as a badge of personal failure. Most of the psychologists that I've known are more positive about their profession. They say things like, "Oh, everyone needs some help from a professional sometimes to work through difficult times." The Dartmouth student counseling office used to proudly advertise that 50% of the student body saw a therapist at some point during their four years there. I'm a little skeptical of their confidence in therapy myself, but my views are somewhat uncommon in left-leaning upper-middle-class circles.

If more parents accept Gottlieb's thesis, when in fact Caplan's thesis more accurately explains helicopter kids' behavior, then some families could end up worse off. It was hard for parents to learn how to be adequately emotionally involved under the old parenting models. Now Gottlieb tells them that they have to worry about mastering a whole new set of ideas about parenting. This can be exhausting! But it might be unnecessary, if genetics really are more likely than parenting to determine a whole range of adult outcomes anyway.

It is true that some helicopter parenting behaviors make parents' life more difficult in the short run, and Caplan thus urges parents to avoid them for that reason. But Gottlieb really seems more concerned with adult outcomes here, rather than short-term utility to parents. Finally, Gottlieb encourages parents to keep doing some of the things that Caplan urges them to drop -- e.g. the throwaway line about letting kids drop guitar lessons if they decide they're not interested in them. As Caplan argues, though, the long-term payoff of taking guitar lessons are probably pretty low anyway.

Side note: Gottlieb's diatribe also kind of lacks focus. She describes a cluster of modern parenting behaviors that are all stereotypical of a certain kind of upper-middle-class family, but doesn't quite pull apart which she thinks are most harmful. Are parents supposed to introduce their kids to more competitive activities, i.e. avoid the soccer leagues where everyone gets a trophy and put them in tougher ones? Or are they supposed to quit taking them to soccer practices altogether and let them run around the neighborhood inventing their own games? But what if the neighborhood pick-up games are none too competitive? Are parents supposed to hire math tutors? Gottlieb hints at no. But if the math tutor can help a kid get better in math via dozens of drills, isn't that a lesson that hard work and persistence pays off, which is something of which Amy Chua (whom Gottlieb cites approvingly) would approve? One can be left with the impression that one is sure to land one's kid in therapy no matter what.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

No to Caylee's Law

I'm nodding at everything my friend Josh Blackman says in this post about why a "Caylee's Law," or federal law making it a felony for parents not to notify law enforcement within 24 hours after a child goes missing, is a horrible idea. I am especially in favor of this because I was horrible at using cell phones for long periods of my life. This is mainly because I am a writer, not a phone talker, and would often forget to charge my phone or have it with me because I could happily go for weeks or days at a time without using it. I am better at this now that I have an i-phone that has text and e-mail capability, although really, if I could get a phone that had no voice plan, I totally would. Anyway, at various stages of my young adulthood, my parents would panic due to my poor cell phone maintenance habits. Once, they actually did call the police on me because I went for twelve hours without returning their calls when I was an IJ summer clerk; another time, they came close because I left my cell phone in a drawer in my desk at the social science research firm where I was an RA for two days over the weekend without noticing it. Actually, I wasn't a minor on either of those occasions, so the law might not have applied. But if cell phones had been more widespread when I was actually a minor, I can see these sorts of things going much more awry. In my case, this just let to considerable egg-faced embarrassment over my absent-mindedness. But if lots of conscientious parents do the same thing, then police departments will get overwhelmed with a lot of not-very-meritorious calls that potentially siphon resources away from more meritorious complaints, potentially leaving everyone worse off and less safe.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Pro-Commerce Constitutional Tradition

I'm often sort of meh about Ramesh Ponnuru's columns, but "The Supreme Court Isn't Pro-Business, But It Ought To Be" is an exception:

The problem with the conservative defense of the Roberts court is that it’s too defensive. The court ought to be pro- business. It shouldn’t twist the law to serve the interests of corporations. But there’s no getting around the fact that the promotion of commerce -- and particularly its protection from politicians in the states who would exploit or block it -- was a major reason we replaced the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution in the first place.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mark Bittman on home cooking

Mark Bittman argues that the way to make food choices simple is to cook. This is sort of...yes and no. Yes in the sense that I like to cook and enjoy trying out new endeavors, some of which readers might see documented in posts here. Yes in that I think some beginning cooks overestimate how hard it is to learn the basics. No in that I think he's overstating the financial savings to cooking, especially if one has a small family. It is much cheaper to buy a salad that has five or six different kinds of vegetables in it at a Cosi or Chop't than it is to buy ingredients to make same at home, unless one wants to be caught eating the same salad over and over for several days. Ditto, say, the ingredients for a sandwich that has fresh mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and pesto on it.

Also, I'm not sure if it is so much easier to be health conscious at home than it is out. I have a good sense of what the not-gut-busting lunch options are close to my office, and I imagine most working people have same. And iconic American comfort food -- think meatloaf, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, seven layer salad with jello and marshmallows in it - can be quite high in calories and fat. Isn't it more accurate to say that one can be equally conscientious in either venue?

Another nit: what is with the bit about serving one's guests a cake full of sugar and artificial ingredients? Most cakes that I have made contain some combination of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla, baking powder and/or baking soda, and sometimes chocolate or fruit depending on the type of cake. Which of those ingredients is artificial? I suppose I have put red food coloring in red velvet cake, but that is a pretty narrow (if delicious) subset of the genre of cake.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I've seen those English dramas, too; they're cruel.

A report that Oxford University had changed its comma rule left some punctuation obsessives alarmed, annoyed, and distraught. Passions subsided as the university said the news was imprecise, incomplete and misleading.

-- The Christian Science Monitor

Thursday, June 30, 2011

On partisanship

As speaker, Gingrich discovered that Republicans are too good for their own — um, good. “The difference between the well-thought-out, unending and no-holds-barred hostility of the left,” he wrote, “and the acquiescent, friendship-seeking nature of many of my Republican colleagues never ceases to amaze me.” Democrats flatter themselves with the mirror image of this fantasy, of course, pretending to be envious of the robotic efficiency of Republicans and the freedom of action allowed them by their utter lack of conscience or shame. Self-awareness is not listed in the catalog of traits required for faithful partisanship. About the true nature of their enemies, however, if about nothing else, professional Republicans and Democrats are both exactly right.

-- From Andy Ferguson's look at Newt Gingrich's literary output, interesting throughout.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On animals

Some readers may be aware of my love of darling bears.Here is an interesting essay by Holden Caulfield about a prominent Polish bear. Okay, the essay is not actually by Holden Caulfield, but the author's narrative style is kind of alarmingly similar to the fictional Mr. Caulfield.

See also this, which is fascinating. I wonder if I'd have wanted to go to it when I was in Argentina last year if I'd known about it. On the one hand, it would be fascinating, and I do love gorgeous animals. On the other, there is the threat of being eaten by a lion, and I do wonder if the animals are being drugged, sedated, or otherwise harmed to keep them from rising up against people. Current plan: maybe try this when I am like 90, so that it's not as though I'll be that long for this world in any case?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Gary Johnson v. Ron Paul As Communicators?

This post by economist Steve Horwitz about a blogger conference call with Gary Johnson is a few weeks old, but I thought I'd flag it anyway as of interest since it's not as though the information in it is time sensitive. I think I've said before on here that while I like Johnson a lot, I agree with Horwitz that he has a near zero chance of winning the Republican nomination, and so I'm reluctant to get too attached to his candidacy. The comparisons with Ron Paul are also especially interesting. Like my husband, I think that Johnson comes off as less kooky than Paul and that this lack of kookiness could be a real boon for libertarianism. Horwitz's claim that Paul is better at popularizing economic ideas is an interesting one, though, and suggests a real weakness for Johnson's campaign going forward. While I hope that isn't true, and is not something I've noticed personally, I can see how it could be a point of real liability. I would just be disappointed if that's indeed the case.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

House of Stark Theme Song

I was listening to Sunset Tree for the first time in a while walking to work yesterday, and it occurred to me that the below is an excellent candidate for the Official House of Stark Theme Song. I occasionally picture the Starks and direwolves dancing around to it or singing it together. This keeps coming up at inappropriate times and is an unfortunate distraction from being a lawyer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A mental room of one's own

Via Phoebe, a Slate article by a young writer who undertakes an expensive and difficult new exercise and dieting regimen in order to lose weight for her wedding. At the end of the piece, she tries to cast this project as feminist, basically arguing that this is not really about vanity but in fact about health.

As Phoebe says, there's nothing wrong, per se, with paying someone to show you how to lift weights and doing so regularly yourself (I've done it and so has my husband, although not in anticipation of the wedding). Nor, perhaps, is there with setting a still-healthy but lower-than-necessary body weight. But -- again as Phoebe says in that post -- it's a bit silly to claim that this is somehow less objectionable than the more traditional and usually classified as not very feminist beauty rituals.

What I find particularly pernicious about exhortations to difficult weight loss regimens is that they demand so much more time than the traditional beauty rituals. I had a friend in high school who once observed to me that every night when she sat down to do her homework, she heard a little voice in her head saying "You ought to be burning calories! You ought to be burning calories!" And, like, she knew she more or less had to do her homework; failing out of high school or not attending college were not especially viable options for her. Nonetheless, constantly, there was this distracting voice.

The more conventional kinds of beauty rituals don't demand that much of you, time-wise. The skin care gurus ask for fifteen minutes a night and maybe a facial every few weeks. Conventional wisdom has it that maintaining the right hairstyle takes a few minutes of styling in the morning and a Saturday afternoon at a nice salon every six to eight weeks. Even my wedding makeup took less than half an hour to apply, and the gurus usually say that you're set for the day following fifteen minutes of application in the morning.

The health mavens ask much more. There is the daily or near-daily workout of the variety that Grose describes in the article. There was the specialized diet that she had to follow, and all the explanations it entails -- no to the co-worker offering you a slice of birthday cake, no to the friend offering you a glass of champagne to celebrate her engagement, or no to the study group members just agreeing to take a break and get Papa Johns for dinner. It's true that Grose's restrictions were short term, and that many people break down and say yes in some of these situations, figuring that good habits the rest of the time can buy them such indulgences. Still, the health mavens often do extract guilt from those who say yes to such occasional temptations.

I don't think it's an accident that the most over-the-top men's rights type websites focus so much of their ire on heavy women. Surely the PUA gurus don't find blotchy skin, chapped lips, or acne attractive. Such tarnishes on female beauty are readily apparent any workday riding the Metro or walking around my city and I imagine most others. Yet the ratio of angry PUA posts inveighing about why more women should diet or work out more frequently vs. those about the need for more lip gloss or expensive facials is steep indeed. It's almost as if what they want -- consciously or not -- is for women to feel guilty every waking second that they don't spend on pursuits designed to please men. They show relatively little interest in telling women to fix what they can at the margin -- five seconds putting on a gloss that will make the lips look a little bit bigger and fuller -- and instead leap to "must spending your every waking hour on a treadmill."

The orthodox feminist response to pieces like Grose's is usually to say that women ought to strive for "self-acceptance" at whatever weight they are at. This is sort of true, but also sort of wrong. What ought to be feminists' goal should be something like a mental mini-version of Virginia Woolf's Room of One's Own. I've struggled with how to put this as this post languishes in Save as Draft form, but the broad idea is that there ought to be mental space away from the need to please men. The self-acceptance people remind me too much of the dreadful middle school workshops on body image where we had to stand around and recite affirmations like "I love the body the way I am." It sounded craven, ridiculous, and redolent of fundamentalist religious cults that sensible adults were generally urging me not to join. No, what I want for young girls like my high school friend is something like the ability to shut off the repeated voice saying "You ought to be burning calories!" in favor of a voice saying "Yes, but one has to do work now." By the grace of work, by the knowledge that work is important, the burning calories voice then yields to the work voice. And only in doing so does one ever attain the kind of incandescence that Woolf prized. There's no self-acceptance in her vision of incandescence; one becomes a vessel of something else in Woolf's vision, and the self sort of fades away entirely. Modern feminists would do better to cast their arguments about body image anxieties in terms of "These worries are a distraction from the pursuit of incandescence," rather than to focus on the goofy cult rituals about "self-acceptance."

Econ. consequences of GA immigration law

Via one of Megan McArdle's guest bloggers; very interesting.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


i'm not understanding why many pundits seem to think that Pawlenty's decision not to more vigorously defend his coinage of "Obama-omney care" in Monday night's Republican debate. OK, so he didn't defend this particular portmanteau. But he stuck by the broader point that he was trying to convey, which was that Romney's MA health care plan is a lot like the Obama policy that many conservatives and libertarians dislike. This is the point that matters, not a slogan that is really awkward to say or spell. Besides, Pawlenty's approach had the effect of making him seem like a nice guy who doesn't want to insult his rivals on stage. That should be a feature, not a bug.

On Merzi

Delicious mango fantango and good somosas. The tandoori chicken was nice and tender. On the other hand, the naan was uninspiring -- I've made better at home -- and the side vegetables were sort of blah. Maybe I should order just two somosas and a drink if I go again and call it a light lunch. Or else opt for a rice bowl or something else as the base for my lunch.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Richard Epstein Trivia in the New York Times

From a New York Times article about summer jobs of the rich and famous:

Perhaps Another Career

Richard A. Epstein, a law professor at New York University and a libertarian scholar, worked at a gas station as a mechanics’ assistant in the summer of 1957. The garage job was the idea of his father, a prominent physician. Expecting his son to follow in his footsteps, Dr. Epstein wanted him to develop more than mental dexterity — as Professor Epstein put it, he was “to learn how to use my hands.”

How did it go? “I did watch, and occasionally unscrewed a spark plug,” he recalled, but the expertise he developed most robustly was "ferrying in cherry Cokes from the nearby restaurant."

He added: “I learned about cars, but what I mainly learned was I didn’t want to work on them.”

Treating Epstein here as a celebrity is maybe a little weird, but I'm not going to protest too much.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Buenos Aires bans salt shakers

((via) I wonder if this will just lead cooks to try to salt food to taste before it comes to the table? For people who suffer from an almost clinical tendency to over-salt their food (like me), we'll be less inclined to sprinkle our food heavily with the salt shaker. But those who like very little salt (like Pnin) and almost never touch the salt shaker might well wind up eating more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Back from a really dear friend's graduation party in Rochester, New York this weekend. It was a wonderful time, but I'm feeling a bit scatter-brained and exhausted after seven hours' drive. Perhaps more substantive posting to follow. In the meantime...

1. A very good sentence, from Robin Hanson: "We often give and consume advice more to affirm our ideals than to usefully improve decisions."

2. Actually, I prefer reading Hayek on the beach. Indeed, reading this reminded me of nothing so much that somewhere in the world there is a photo of me with two other Koch interns in swimsuits, posing with copies of The Constitution of Liberty. This is because we had a day off from work and decided to hang out together at the Volta Park Outdoor Pool while bringing along one of our reading assignments. While I suspected at the time that this thing was sufficient to render me non-confirmable as a Supreme Court justice, I figured my LSAT score and ideologically lunatic views were bigger obstacles.

3. Dear people who were referred to this blog from Google searching for "Richard Epstein god": yes, he is pretty amazing and awesome. Still, much as I love him, I'm not sure that anyone should be referring to him as a deity just yet.