Monday, July 2, 2012

Thoughts on law school reform and the tension between specialization and elitism

Here are two long and interesting posts on law school reform. Some quick thoughts:

1. I may be repeating things that I have already said buried deep in the archives, but in the unlikely event that I have picked up readers in the last couple of years: the law school reform movement has two goals that are in direct tension with one another. One, the reformers usually seem to want a legal profession that cares less about academic pedigree and hierarchy (see the first of my two links.) Two, they seem to want curricular reform that will lead to de-emphasis on legal theory and policy and that will give students more practical skills that they can use shortly after graduation. Not enough seems to have been written on how these goals are in almost direct tension with each other.

That is, my law school (historically ranked around #25 in U.S. News) used to send most of the quarter/one-third or so of the class with the best grades to Biglaw, while everyone else scattered among jobs in prosecution, indigent defense, and smaller firms in private practice. I suspect it would be very difficult and expensive for it to re-fashion its curriculum so as to offer a multiplicity of vocational "tracks" to students based on first-year grades. Instead, I imagine a more efficient system emerging in which some schools specialized in preparing Biglaw associates, and others specialized in preparing students for less traditionally elite forms of practice. I see nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Indeed, while this is only anecdata, the non-lawyer members of my family, dental hygienists, etc. with whom I had to make small talk as a 1L all seemed surprised that I wasn't taking a specialized curriculum (or, as it was sometimes put, a "major") in a particular field of law. But such a system would inevitably involve sorting aspiring lawyers into the more and less elite segments of the profession much earlier than occurs now. LSATs and undergrad grades would seal one's professional fate much more so than occurs now. I'm not convinced that that's terrible; the current system actually seems to slightly undervalue low grades at competitive undergrads relative to high grades from less well-known ones, which actually might tend to penalize applicants from high SES backgrounds. But for those who care about elitism, pedigree, and hierarchy, this issue is perhaps grappling with more than it has been.

I am also intrigued by the discussion about greater local specialization. It is probably worthwhile, and I think law schools already do this to some extent (I have been occasionally puzzled when friends at Western law schools told me that they took courses in water law, and ditto when the Texans remember having taken classes in Oil & Gas.) That said, I am not sure how much variation there is across the country. Aren't small firms' needs pretty similar across the country, subject perhaps to a couple variations like the following?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Power of the powerless

We've had no power for the last not quite 24 hours. Fortunately, all of us are fine. I wasn't expecting the storm and was sufficiently foolish as to have an almond zucchini cake in the oven when the lights went out. The heat is rough on poor Willow. She's gone up to Pennsylvania to visit her grand-humans a day early; she would be leaving there tomorrow once her other humans leave for Russia anyway. Now, I am enjoying the functional air conditioning in Pnin's office while he does some work.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some reading on the PPACA decision

I've been struggling to get through some, uh, other writing and thus haven't had much time to come up with original analysis regarding the individual mandate decision. But as I'm formulating my thoughts, let me recommend Ross Douthat's "John Roberts's Political Decision." I disagree with Douthat's bottom line that Roberts's decision was "defensible," but I do wholeheartedly concur with his conclusion: "Nonetheless, liberals who waxed hysterical about a politicized court need to reckon with the fact that the most “political” of all the opinions on the health care law was the one that ultimately upheld it."

Also, let me just say it for the 2, 547th time, Richard Epstein is right.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


1. Although I've been an atheist since I was about thirteen, the instinct that makes me want to cut deals with God is still alive and well. (Okay, fine, so You don't have to make sure that I get an A on the math test! Just make sure that my grandfather is okay.) Golden retriever Willow didn't pass on her first attempt at the Canine Good Citizen test. Unfortunately, she jumped on the evaluator when she was supposed to be sitting politely for petting, and she also ran over to greet another dog during Exercise Number 6. She did all of the other exercises nicely. The evaluator even said that she was one of the best dogs of the night on CGC #9, the enforced separation, which means that...her great academic strength in life is that she doesn't like me.* We can always give the test a try again, although it's not as though passing it really gives us anything practical except bragging rights. She certainly did get a lot of good reinforcement on her obedience skills from taking the prep class. We'll probably keep going with her private trainer throughout August and maybe sign her up for Intermediate Obedience with Rally in September, when a class starts at the same facility.

But, given my utterly absurd history of deity bargaining, there's part of me that wants to trade Willow's misfortune for a favorable outcome in the PPACA litigation tomorrow. Which is ridiculous, but still...

2. In the course of working on an article about hate crimes, I've noticed that white supremacist sites often come up freakishly high on Google when I'm looking up details about specific incidents. And once one wanders on by accident, there's the odd rubbernecking instinct to look deeper into the lunacy. Like, what kind of race traitor am I? White supremacists are apparently fond of pseudo-erudite Latin names, so the question arises of whether I am a Gracchite (an aloof aristocrat who is merely indifferent to the plight of my race) or a proditor (someone who more actively agitates for race suicide) One wonders if there could be a Cosmo quiz for this: if your favorite cocktail is a gin and tonic and your favorite shoes are snakeskin pumps, then you might be a Gracchite, and your future husband is a preppy lawyer who likes tennis. Conversely, if your ideal pet is a golden retriever and your favorite thing to do at the gym is yoga, you might be a proditor, and your perfect guy is a pro-open-borders libertarian economist who likes ethnic restaurants.

*I'm joking. She's just a happy friendly dog who loves EVERYBODY and who wants EVERYONE to be her NEW BEST FRIEND OH PLEASE PLEASE BE MY FRIEND (tail wag.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Things I like (yes, this happens)

1. In the course of not writing an article, I am suddenly beset my fantasies of getting a male golden retriever whose call name would be Arrow and who would be registered with the AKC as "(Kennel's Name) Impawsibility Theorem." This would clearly be the most awesome name ever.

2. Pnin and I are going to Russia in a week, and I have had to get various booster shots. In the interest of not having to explain all the bandages on my triceps to well-meaning colleagues, I apparently must wear shirts with sleeves for the next couple of days. Good thing that the temperature is low, at least! I have discovered approximately the most wonderful white three-quarter sleeve shirt ever (yes, I know that the sleeves look longer on me on me than on the model.) It is actually non-floppy in the shoulders without being too tight across the chest. I feel especially French when wearing it with red pants (no, don't ask.) I now want to buy approximately eleven of them while they are still in stores, but I know that that would be silly.

3. It is a well-known fact of life that I must needs always have interesting lunch plans whenever Gilt has one of their good sales. Today was a happy exception. Although that does lead to the temptation to spend money....

4. To end on a somewhat more serious and less frivolous note, Matt Yglesias has a great column up in Slate today making the case for low-skilled immigration.  I can't see much to comment on, so let me just say, "Well done."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Annoying minor problems

Because I have read the Arizona opinion several times and can't figure out what I think of pre-emption doctrine, below will follow a discussion of not very important problems that I face in life.  One, yes, I am totally one of those people who is bitten more by mosquitoes than others. Read: during a highly unpleasant summer camp experience in sixth grade, I was somehow in the "good" tent and still managed to get more than 50 different bites. That my bunkmates were annoyingly anti-intellectual who refused to leave me alone to write did not help matters, but that tale is probably best not told here.  Anyhow, I was certainly not drinking beer then or at other points during my childhood when I drew a dispropotionate share of mosquitoes. Even now, I will occasionally, but generally much prefer wine or interesting cocktails when either is a reasonable alternative. So I doubt that's it. That I am a heavy breather or hot-blooded seems more plausible, although the latter would seem at odds with accounts that I am actually part Vulcan.

Also, yes, this.  I have now on occasion started to fudge actually remembering people, even when I'm confident of where and how I know them. This is in part a conscious effort to prevent some semblance of status.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

In search of other Americas: or, forays into Isabel's Netflix queue

Because I have occasionally indicated general agreement here with various critiques of American art doesn't do enough to look at the lives of the not-spectacularly privileged, I feel honor bound to point to examples of pretty good art that doesn't fall into this trap. This weekend, Willow and I watched Winter's Bone,* a gritty independent film that looks at the adventures of a desperately poor teenager named Ree in the Ozarks. She's trying to find her father, who has skipped out on a hearing; he put up the family's house as bond, and they are in danger of losing it unless she can produce either her father or proof of his death. Ree's search leads her through the meth manufacturing underworld of her small Missouri town. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic as Ree. For those of you who saw the Hunger Games movie, I note that Lawrence is basically playing Katniss Everdeen again here -- a tough mama bear who steps into her absentee parents' shoes in caring for her younger siblings -- except in a more or less real-world setting instead of a dystopian science fiction universe.

There is bascially zero racial diversity in this movie; if there were any non-white characters, they were featured so briefly that I missed them altogether. But it is a really compelling and deep dive into a world that is very different from the one that most viewers likely inhabit. I can't say how realistic it is, not having really ever inhabited this world myself, but I can say that it's an engrossing picture of its milieu and therefore highly recommended.

One tiny technical critique, though: the sound on the DVD is weirdly low. I found I had to turn my volume up all the way and still could barely hear some of the characters. I've noticed the same thing about other independent films, too. Why is this? Is there something about barely audible dialogue that is supposed to be uniquely profound or artistic?

Later in the weekend, Willow and I pulled out Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco, which is at this point the only movie in the Doomed Bourgeois in Love trilogy that I haven't seen. It is, once again, a deep dive into a particular milieu, and it is mostly a successful one. Honestly, it is probably my least favorite of all of the Stillman films I've seen so far.  Some of the signature witty and eccentric dialogue is there, and I found my share of lines to love. But Last Days of Disco is on balance preachier than the others. Of the two female characters at the center, Charlotte's(Kate Beckinsale)** more of a straight-up b*tch than an interesting and witty heroine. On the other hand, it's clear that we're meant to root for the sweet and virtuous Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny), but she is so quiet and passive that I found it hard to like her or much care about her destiny. (Also, Kate Beckinsale's hair in this movie is distractingly gorgeous.)  I really Thankfully, the reverse is true of the more recent Damsels in Distress, in which the eccentric Violet leaps off the screen, and the more conventional villainness Lily is by contrast far less interesting.  Recommended, but please do see Metropolitan or Barcelona first if you can.

*I tried to convince Willow that it was actually a movie about a golden retriever named Winter and her adventures losing her bone. Willow gave me a distinctly skeptical look that said that she wasn't buying it for a second.

**Having a wild child named Charlotte also feels so wrong post-Sex in the City. Anyone who was in college from 2000 to 2004 reflexively associates the phrase "I'm a Charlotte" with "I'm an innocent type."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reflections on Slaughter, Althouse, classroom participation

Like Ann Althouse, I found much of Ann-Marie Slaughter's recent Atlantic Monthly cover story frustrating.  One, as Althouse says, it feels like we've been over this ground too many times. To her credit, Slaughter avoids getting my libertarian hackles up much by suggesting the traditional governmental responses to this problem, such as more comparable worth legislation or federally funded day care. Among her more concrete recommendations is a call to change the school calendar to one that's less driven by 19th century agricultural needs. All well and good. (Is it too crankishly libertarian to note that this is exactly the kind of inefficiency that would probably long since have faded away if government schools faced more market competition?)

But I do find frustrating that the audience for this piece is so ill-defined. Slaughter tells us that her former life as a tenured professor at Princeton allowed her an extraordinary amount of flexibility, which seems like a fair claim, given what I've seen of my many academic friends' lives. But then she contrasts this lifestyle with the hectic pace of a senior-level job in a presidential administration, which she casts as more "typical." She at one point praises her immediate boss, Hillary Clinton, for protecting her aides' work-life balance by permitting them to arrive only at 8 and leave at 7. But most employers are, if less flexible than Princeton, much more so than the pressure cooker environment that Slaughter describes the highest levels of State to be. So yes, it might be true that it's really hard in the current world for women to "have it all" in the sense that it is hard to rise to the most elite jobs available within the State Department. But it is apparently nonetheless possible for a woman to "have it all" in the sense of getting a tenured job at Princeton -- no small feat, that -- or to become, say, a successful insurance defense lawyer in Omaha. And, in the hands of anti-feminists, I'm afraid that Slaughter's piece can become intellectual ammunition for "don't aspire to become an insurance defense lawyer in a small firm in Omaha," even though the latter is really quite do-able,* and I'm not so keen on that.

That said, I do find the Althouse critique to be too harsh. I don't think it's the case that inability to speak up for oneself in a classroom setting is necessarily a strong sign that any student shouldn't have been admitted. I can readily think of 1L classmates who seemed shy and reticent when cold called, but who nonetheless got really good grades at exam time, and also of examples in the reverse direction. Indeed, I'd be somewhat surprised if Althouse hasn't noticed the same phenomenon in her teaching career.

For what it's worth, I have been both kinds of student at different points in my educational career. Despite having had high grades in high school, I was at best an indifferent classroom participant. I was perfectly comfortable giving factual answers to concrete questions and shone in settings where the teacher demanded that. But so many of my classmates there thought that the height of sophistication meant throwing out the most extravagant metaphorical readings that could possibly be remotely tethered to the text (to take an example that is actually from one of my husband's friends' academic careers, imagine Shakespeare's Macbeth as a plea for vegetarianism.) Those exercises didn't interest me, not even to bother debunking them, and so I usually kept stone silent. In law school, by contrast, more of my classmates felt comfortable retreating behind their laptops.  I often felt sorry for the poor professor trying to tease answers out of them, and so I'd step up to help. I guess I also appreciated that the mode of thought encouraged felt more rational and linear. College was for me somewhere in between those two extremes.

So... yes... it is bad for a classroom participant to be at either extreme, as Slaughter's husband says. It is never easy to be in the middle, as I have learned by tending to overshoot the mark at different points in opposite directions at different times. The question is, I think, not to accept male behavior as the default or the ideal. It is to find a happy medium between the two extremes. Both men and women have something here to learn from one another.

*I have been told that I have a weird tendency to worry too much about the influence of figures who are really quite marginal. This may be a reflection of having grown up in a place that was more socially conservative than many of the people who have the same kind of job/similar educational background to me, and also, of being a libertarian who's spent a lot of time in wonky D.C. conservative circles. If I'm having an idiosyncratic reaction to Slaughter's piece for this reason, please accordingly ignore me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Sometimes, in the course of not writing articles, I look at clothes on the Internet. Today, while doing so, I found thisblack leather dress for $895. It suddenly occurred to me how splendid it would be to go around clad in all black leather, super-heroine style, to completely inappropriate places. Like, to Congress to tell them that they do not have the power to enact certain legislation under Section Two of the Thirteenth Amendment. Or to American Constitution Society conventions to speak truth to power. This mental image is so immensely satisfying that it is hard to regain focus. Perhaps this experience will serve as mental impetus to reform my procrastinating ways, but somehow I doubt it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

apologia pro vita mia

O’Rourke: She [the character Shoshana] gets to be this true eccentric.
Dunham: She is, and it’s so funny because she’s the strangest and most normal all at once.
O’Rourke: She’s the one who indulges most in certain stereotypes of “girl”-dom, with the girly bedroom and the pink clothes.
 Dunham: And I think she does it because she feels like such a weirdo. I think she’s forced herself to have the kind of taste she thinks is “America’s taste” because she internally feels like such a total freak. In a way, she can’t even deal with the idea of external quirkiness because she’s feeling so much turmoil about I’m not like the others. I’m a mutant.

The above are very good sentences. I have often felt this way -- that is, that I have gone out of my way to be outwardly as ostentatiously normal as possible so that nobody will notice exactly how weird I really am. Around junior high school, I was always puzzled by the Goth types who felt that they need torn fishnet stockings and eccentric black clothing to be weird. And, odder still, that they would look around at the Abercrombie-wearing masses and criticize me, as part of it, for non-conformity. As if any of them could have understood how truly weird I was,  I would think scornfully to myself. Indeed, even into my third decade of life, I haven't dropped the urge to try to be as surface conformist as possible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I am not a law professor, but I find myself saying the words "Right answer, wrong reasoning" several times a day anyway.

See, e.g. It is not so much that we should not be subsidizing destroying the planet, but even if the fossil fuel industry were not destroying the planet, it is far from clear that these private businesses should be receiving help from the taxpayers. I am entirely with President Obama in thinking that we should stop these things. On the other hand, I am also against investing this funds in clean energy technology. It is not so much that I am convinced that clean energy technologies aren't viable right now, but that it is exceptionally hard for governments to pick the right horse among competing technologies. Markets are much better at that. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Semi-amnesty, rule of law, and separation of powers

 Bryan Caplan and Arnold Kling have been having a very interesting discussion over at EconLog  about President Obama's recent announcement that he will stop deporting certain categories of immigrants. Like both Caplan and Kling, I support legislation that would more directly liberalize our immigration laws. As several commenters on the thread point out, the problem with the current approach is that it is quite easily reversed by the next President. I should point out also that I don't agree with Kling's separation of powers comment about the announcement, which I find to be precisely backwards. It's the job of the Executive Branch to enforce the law. As the head of it, the President is in a perfectly legal position to make decisions about enforcement priorities for the federal prosecutors serving as the executive branch's foot soldiers. Conversely, it's Congress's job to enact new legislation in this area. The President can certainly develop a plan and present it to Congress, but the job of passing it then falls to Congress.

I do want to highlight two very good sentences near the end of the post: " I would suggest having a broader discussion of how to address the problem of laws that many people neither want to repeal nor rigorously enforce. Having the executive nullify such laws one at a time may or may not be a good approach." I would second that, too. Like many libertarians, I have a deep-seated reverence for the rule of law; at the same time, I recognize that many laws currently on the books are unjust abridgments of freedom. Figuring out how to reconcile these impulses -- in either the immigration context or any other -- is not especially easy. More thoughtful discussion of these issues would certainly help me reconcile these questions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is this the little girl I carried? When did she get to be a beauty?

Happy (slightly belated) first birthday, Willow! You've gotten to be so tall and beautiful and magnificent-looking!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Libertarianism, chaos/order, and Muppets

So within the same week, I came across a blog post declaring that "Judge Kozinski doesn't have an ideology so much a Dungeons and Dragons alignment: Chaotic Neutral" and also Dahlia Lithwick's much-linked to "Chaos Theory: A Unified Theory of Muppet Types." Clearly it is time to offer up some deep thoughts on alignment, libertarianism, and Muppets. In no particular order:

1. I am most definitely a Chaos muppet. Caveat: if I am doing paid work, involved in a volunteer cause that I care deeply about, or a student, I can temporarily channel an inner Order muppet and keep things from falling apart. I therefore suspect that at least some of my friends from such settings will be tempted to (falsely) categorize me as an Order muppet, but they would be wrong. Second caveat: if I am in a large group dominated by Chaos muppets who cannot pick a restaurant, etc. for the life of them, I will step forward and announce that we are having Indian at 6:30 unless somebody has principled objections. This is not so much because I am an Order muppet as because I have the kind of metabolism/temperament that requires food at regular and rapid intervals so as not to go insane, and because I am about twenty-eight years too old to carry around a plastic bag of Cheerios to deal with this problem.  I do not usually find myself in large social groups of Order muppets because they drive me crazy. Curiously, this  makes me the opposite of Lithwick -- i.e. I have a core of Chaos muppet encased in a veneer of Order. This may or may not indicate something deep about our respective very different judicial philosophies.

2. If Lithwick's alignments were amended to reflect the D&D system so that Order/Chaos/Neutral were options, I might well be a Neutral muppet.

3.  I think most libertarians are also Chaos muppets. This is probably why Non Curat Lex sees such tendencies in Alex Kozinski, who is of course famously libertarian. I am not sure that I would say that Kozinski lacks an ideology so much as an alignment; I haven't read enough Koz opinions. I will say that I have met some social conservatives who are not so much guided by a cogent abstract system of principles as by a strong inner sense of Order muppetry. All of this may or may not portend something deep about the future of right-fusionism.

Liberals and progressives are a trickier case. I think Lithwick is right that there are probably more Chaos muppet liberals than Chaos muppet conservatives. But adherents of these ideologies' ease with government planning of the economy sits ill with the Chaos alignment. It is in large part because I'm allergic to central planning that I find modern liberalism and progressivism off-putting.

4. Hannah from HBO's Girls is a Chaos muppet. Marnie is an Order muppet. This can led to tension, as it did in last night's episode. Hanna Rosin is wrong, however, that these differences alone make their friendship unpersuasive. As Lithwick says, groups of friends need the yin and yang of rival strains of Muppet. It's therefore in my view inevitable that they will reconcile and the friendship will continue -- and not merely to keep Alison Williams (the actress who plays Marnie) on the air.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Women, fashion, and lawyers: why you are all doing it wrong, again

Another day, another blog post on how female attorneys are doing things wrong, fashion-wise. This edition is complete with the sentence "In male-dominated fields like law, skirts and dresses are particularly rewarded, as they are more appealing to men." I occasionally wonder if this entire genre is produced by George Soros-funded shills who are trying to convince me that sexism is rampant in the world so that I will start supporting comparable worth legislation or something. If it is not, perhaps Soros should consider hiring some of these people to do his bidding.

Why is it that "a little mascara" is always the default response to queries about how to wear a little makeup but not too much? Honestly, mascara is one of the first things that I'll drop from makeup routines if I'm feeling pressed for time. I guess it's... subtle, but that's because it's scarcely noticeable. Much better to do lips (mine tend toward thc chapped and dry), blush (I tend toward the freakishly pale and ghastly; this would have helped me in Victorian times, but accomplishes little now) or foundation (again, evens out skin tone and can help slightly with the ghastliness.) Is it that I'm supposed to be wearing more?  Or is it possible that I've been benefitting for many years from eyelash privilege of which I have been tragically unaware?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Depressively convincing

I don't have many bones to pick with this essay, so let me just say that I found it very interesting. Here are the first few paragraphs to give a taste of it:

The United States has been shaped by three far-reaching political revolutions: Thomas Jefferson’s “revolution of 1800,” the Civil War, and the New Deal. Each of these upheavals concluded with lasting institutional and cultural adjustments that set the stage for new phases of political and economic development. Are we on the verge of a new upheaval, a “fourth revolution” that will reshape U.S. politics for decades to come? There are signs to suggest that we are. In fact, we may already be in the early stages of this twenty-first-century revolution.

The great recession that began in 2008 caused many to suggest that the United States is entering a period of “decline” during which it will lose its status as the world’s most powerful and prosperous nation state. The metaphor of “decline” presumes that the American people will sit by passively as their standard of living and international status erode year by year. That is unlikely to occur: Americans will do everything in their power to reverse any such process of national decline. Thus, what the United States is now facing is not a gradual decline but a political upheaval that will reshape its politics, policies, and institutions for a generation or two to come. There is no guarantee that the nation will emerge from this crisis with its superpower status intact, just as there were no guarantees that it would emerge from the Civil War or the Great Depression in a position to extend its wealth and power. The most that we can say is that, in the decade ahead, Americans will struggle to forge a governing coalition that can guide the nation toward a path of renewed growth and dynamism.

The financial crisis and the long recession, with the strains they have placed upon national income and public budgets, are only the proximate causes of the political crisis now unfolding in the United States. The deeper causes lie in the exhaustion of the post-war system of political economy that took shape in the 1930s and 1940s. One pillar of that system emerged out of the New Deal with its emphasis upon national regulation of the economy, social insurance, expanding personal consumption, and public debt; the second emerged out of World War II with the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the U.S. military as the protector of the international trading system. The post-war system created the basis for unprecedented prosperity in the United States and the Western world. That system is now unwinding for several reasons, not least because the American economy can no longer underwrite the debt and public promises that have piled up over the decades. The urgent need to cancel or renegotiate these debts and public promises on short notice will ignite the upheaval referred to here as “the fourth revolution.” There will follow an extended period of conflict in the United States between the two political parties as they compete for support either to maintain the post-war system or to identify a successor to it.

It is not possible to outline in advance the precise lineaments of the fourth revolution. After all, few Americans living in 1798, 1858, or 1928 could have foreseen what was going to happen to their country in the years immediately ahead. The best that we can do is to look for some general patterns in these earlier events that might serve as guides for what is likely to happen in the United States in the next decade or two.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rome on the Potomac

This article (via) about the culture that is Washington has been popping up regularly in my Facebook feeds for much of the last week or so. Parts of it feel familiar, if occasionally exaggerated in the service of turning a literary phrase. I found the bit about car ownership particularly silly -- you don't have much real need for one if you live in an upper NW neighborhood or a close-in suburb, and finding parking and maneuvring around the #%**T&! circles are generally vastly more trouble than it is worth, unless one finds oneself often taking road trips outside the city. This, not so much an issue in less dense places like Youngstown. Still, such distortions aside, the disconnect between a wealthy government-fueled economy and other areas described therein is troubling.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

On sex-selective abortion bans

Ross Douthat is upset because Dana Milbank wrote a column containing the sentence "The problem with Franks’s proposal is that it’s not entirely clear there is a problem. Sex-selection abortion is a huge tragedy in parts of Asia, but to the extent it’s happening in this country, it’s mostly among Asian immigrants." I generally agree with Douthat that criminal laws should reflect universal norms of what are right and wrong, and that trying to take into account interest group electoral politics in fashioning the criminal code is bad. On the other hand, I am not convinced that Milbank's statement is so horrible. It should not be ridiculous to argue that Congress shouldn't criminalize behavior that is not really a problem on resources allocation grounds. If the problematic behavior is something that largely goes away as members of a particular immigrant group assimilate into broader society, that is probably information that Congress should take into account in making such resource allocation decisions. Also, I am a believer in moral pluralism: if members of different racial and ethnic groups disagree on whether a behavior is morally wrong, it is probably wise for members of Congress to acknowledge the existence of real disagreement and avoid criminalizing the behavior.

All that said, I'm not quire sure how sex selective abortion bans are supposed to work. "So, Madame Merle, are you planning to abort your child on the basis of sex? No? Okay, then we're good to go. Once it is widely known that such laws exist, who in the world will say yes to that question?  As in sex discrimination cases in employment or education, a prosecutor could look elsewhere for evidence that a woman decided to abort a fetus on the basis of sex. But that would entail rather intrusive investigations into the woman's private life -- e.g. prosecutorial or police interviews with the woman's close friends, romantic partner, or family members -- and all of this might start to seem weird and problematic on privacy grounds. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Technology, learning with me

Isabel to Siri: What's the phone number for [store] in Georgetown?

Siri (after some pondering):  Sorry.  I can't look up telephone numbers for Guyana.

Isabel (after suppressing laugh?): Siri, what's the phone number for [store] in  Georgetown, Washington, D.C.?

Siri then finds phone number.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On defunding Obama's medical marijuana raids

Some of you may have seen news stories to the effect that a bipartisan coalition tried to defund Obama's medical marijuana raids yesterday and failed. Because I had to hunt around on the internet for a while to find the list of House members voting aye and nay, I'm posting it here for everyone's easy reference. Occasionally libertarians wonder if there are any good fiscal conservatives out there worth financially supporting who are also good on more classically libertarian issues like the War on Drugs; well, here's one place to start. I note that Jeff Flake and Ron Paul are both on the list voting aye. Paul Ryan unfortunately is not. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Willow update

In addition to her Wednesday training at Intermediate Obedience, she's also started a Beginning Agility class on Mondays. Last week was mostly orientation, but this week, she finally got started on the equipment. Already she's tackled two of the tunnels, the A Frame, and a wobbly board that will help her get ready to go up on the teeter totter in time. She is also working on a game we call "Zen and the Art of Golden Retriever Maintenance" and a drill that teaches her how to run to a mat on command.

But she chose to tackle the first tunnel in spectacularly golden retriever fashion. The first time around, her teacher took the leash, and I stood at the opposite end of the tunnel with a treat in my hand. There was another treat in the tunnel to help entice her to go inside and make it through. The dogs ahead of her in line to try the tunnel were all shy, nervous types who very gingerly tiptoed into the tunnel and were reluctantly persuaded by the treat to venture all the way through and into their humans' arms.

Not Willow. She wasn't scared of the tunnel, and she was very excited by the treat. But she was really excited about the possibility of getting to socialize with the teacher. So she charged into the tunnel and grabbed the treat that was in the middle. But she figured, "Eh, well, I see Isabel every day. Not so exciting getting to socialize with her. But, well, here's a NEW PERSON! MY TEACHER! Much more fun to hang out with her!" So she... ran back out through the start end of the tunnel to socialize with the teacher. After more treats came out, she could be persuaded to run back through the tunnel and into my arms when she saw that I had a treat and that her teacher didn't. After that first time, it seems like finally my little social butterfly is getting the point of tunnels.

Monday, May 21, 2012

If rain on your wedding day is lucky, then friends' travel misadventures en route to your wedding have to be doubly lucky.

So Pnin and I were in San Francisco this weekend to attend a fellow blogger's wedding. Because I would need to leave for IAD from work downtown, I thought I'd order a taxi rather than lug my suitcase the usual fifteen to twenty minutes toward the metro. I ordered the taxi online the night before for 8:00 a.m., figuring that would give me plenty of time to get downtown for a meeting I needed to attend at 8:30. After three increasingly frantic calls, I concluded despairingly at 8:25 that there was no way that I could get to the meeting on time even if the taxi could fly and sent a deeply apolegetic e-mail to my boss. At 8:45, Pnin wandered downstairs and volunteered to drive me. Because of rush hour traffic, we concluded that I might have a better chance of getting downtown quickly if he just drove me to the metro station rather than all the way downtown. Indeed, the Orange line train came quickly. The train traveled exactly one stop, and then... a voice over the loudspeaker ordered everyone off the train due to some unspecified emergency. I glumly and clumsily hauled the bag off the train and waited around while the off-loaded crowds made their way onto several subsequent trains. I happened to make it downtown by about 9:40.

So, fast forward to time to leave for IAD -- about 2:30. I was able to hail a taxi relatively quickly, but when I did, I noticed that the elephant charm had become detached from my bracelet. I think I have mostly confined my musings about the joys of elephant jewelry to Facebook, rather than this blog. Still, suffice it to say that I am very attached to the  elephant bracelet. It is not a very valuable item -- I paid approximately half the price listed at the link on Gilt -- but it nonetheless holds great sentimental value.  I searched carefully through the cab seat, but to no avail. The elephant must have popped off at some earlier point. Grrr.

I'm not sure exactly what time I arrived at IAD, but I think it was comfortably more than an hour before my flight. The line to check bags was long, though, longer than many I've been in before. Once I got to the front of it, I found that I couldn't seem to scan my credit card or driver license to check in. After I finally got the attention of someone who could help me, she informed me, "You're too late to check in bags. Your flight leaves in less than an hour. Do you have any  liquids over three ounces?"


"Well, then you can't board your flight."

So I could neither check my bag nor not check my bag. Relatedly, Jesus is neither divine nor human. This must also be one of those ineffable mysteries of life comprehensible only to Anthony Kennedy. Well... maybe the more rational explanation was that I could switch to a later flight. But that would probably have to be the red eye, and I didn't want to show up half-exhausted to the wedding, especially since I should not realistically have that much trouble making the flight that I was actually supposed to be on. "I'll make something work," I mumbled. I'd seen plenty of accounts of TSA people missing liquids over the limit. My brother-in-law once accidentally got a Swiss army knife past them that he'd forgotten was in his backpack, after all. If they confiscate my things, they confiscate them. Better to take the risk than to delay my travel plans by a few hours.

I played the TSA lottery. And I lost. Unfortunately, they managed to confiscate a bottle of scandously expensive Kerastase shampoo and conditioner; I know I should not spend that much money on hair products, but really, my hair feels so much lovelier when I use them than when I've used anything else. Also a cheap bottle of hair spray and a modestly expensive bottle of papaya enzyme toner.  They let a bottle of contact lens solution slip through because there was clearly less than three ounces left because it was see-through. There was part of me that wanted to cry on the spot, but I resisted the urge. The screeners are not the right targets for my rage. It is not their fault that their political bosses have screwy notions regarding cost-benefit analysis.

Things got better from there. I made it safely to San Francisco, although I note that the plane was an hour late in taking off because they had issues calibrating the relevant weights.  It was altogether rather ironic given the desk agent's stubborn insistence that I was too late to check luggage. Pnin and I had fun renting a car and driving downtown to see the Golden Gate bridge and the cool buffaloes in the Golden Gate National Refuge Area. And the wedding itself was great! 1930s details! Meeting another reader of this blog -- especially since I estimate I have about three and a half readers, the half being a miniature poodle! Also, libertarian law nerds! And, finally, Pnin and I had a much less eventful journey back and were happily reunited with our Willow.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In which I reaffirm caring about the sanctity of contract rights for poor people

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog writes him re: a new Obama campaign ad about Mitt Romney's time at Bain:

A  note on the recent Obama campaign ad. As I see it, the real problem is not that Bain ultimately shut down GST. Absent those lucky duckies on the wingnut welfare circuit, no one’s guaranteed permanent employment.  The problem is that, in doing so, they reneged on a series of financial promises made to GST’s then-employees and retirees: their pensions and health care benefits.  These pensions and benefits were part of the employees’ compensation - earned over many years on the job.  Romney, in order to maximize Bain’s short-term profit on the deal, broke those promises.  That is a fundamental breach of the social contract between employer and worker.  Moreover, it is simply a loathsome way to do business.   
You know, it’s interesting, as an attorney, I spend a lot of time reading the libertarians over at the Volokh Conspiracy.  To a man, they purport to believe in the sanctity of contract rights.  During the auto bailout, they raged and gnashed their teeth when various bondholders were forced to take losses by the big unions and their lackeys in the administration.  Remarkably, they never have anything to say when a worker gets screwed out of earned pension benefits or health care coverage.  It’s as if the contract rights of labor are somehow illegitimate or second-class compared to the inviolate rights of the One Percent.
I can't purport to speak for all libertarians everywhere on this, or even all Volokh bloggers (I still have never actually met Dale Carpenter or Ken Anderson, even though the latter frequently likes the puppy pictures I post to Facebook.) But I, for one, do care about affirming the contract rights of blue-collar workers, and I suspect that at least some of the Volokh bloggers do as well. And I most emphatically don't think that the contract rights of labor are in any way illegitimate or second-class compared to the rights of the one percent. If anything, like many libertarians, I support small government in large part because it is altogether too easy for large corporations to use big government to trample on the contract rights of employees.

I don't know all of the facts about what happened when Romney shut down GST. I'm therefore not comfortable stating that anyone's contractual rights were violated or not. I imagine other libertarian bloggers are in the same boat simply because this particular story hasn't gotten much press, and that that may be why they have said less about this story than about the much more widely publicized auto bailouts.  But, if Bain breached contracts betweeen GST and its former employees, then I am all in favor of GST workers vindicating those legal rights in court. Period.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On asymmetrical hemlines

Are we doomed to live with them being in style? I really wanted to like this dress, but couldn't grok the hem in back being so much longer than the hem in front.  I've actually started to wonder if it is at least easily altered to look like a normal hemline.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Excuse for a gratuituous photograph of Willow

Good first night of Agility tonight. For our homework for this week, Willow will need to learn how to run toward a target (a towel, to make things easy for her.) Also, she'll need to keep practicing focusing her attention on me and not getting distracted. No exciting leaps over poles, running through tunnels, or running through complicated weaves just yet. That'll come later.

Elsewhere, it was our fourth annual Friedrich Hayek party on Saturday night! Exhausted members of the Archer-Pnin household are still finishing up the leftover Sachertorte. We've decided that we want to host a party in honor of Milton Friedman's 100th birthday this year in early August. The menu options are endless: there are Jewish-American dishes, anything Chicago-themed, possibly something Chilean like traditional empanadas in honor of his influence on their pension system.... Exciting details to follow!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Very deep thoughts on D.C. area food trucks

As there are more and more of them gathered around Metro Center around lunchtime, I've made an effort to try a bunch. Some notes:

D.C. Empanadas (sorry, no tilde on this keyboard) is unorthodox but reliably good. Their empanadas are fried and don't have the pie-crust like texture of the ones I ate in Argentina. The fillings also have cutesy names and are not especially traditional. But they're yummy. The sandwich cookies are good too.

Pepe, Jose Andres's entrant into the food truck world, is arguably trying to be D.C.'s fanciest food truck with its $22 iberico sandwich. Yes, the ham is really yummy. No, I wouldn't ever spend that much money again; the Spanish grilled cheese is $9 and is perhaps only 5% less delicious for half the price. The Buitarra burger is heavenly as well. Yes, the sandwiches are really small. But I'm barely over five feet tall, for heaven's sake. Large portions aren't appealing. They either subtly encourage me to eat more than I really should or lead me to wind up with a one-pound box of shrimp scampi lingering in the refrigerator for three days. Eating leftovers more than once is unappealing. I'm happier spending the same amount of money for a smaller portion with better quality ingredients. Relatedly, is there a button I can use on sites like Yelp to screen out all the people giving restaurants low stars because of small portion size?

I wanted to like Red Hook Lobster Pound more than I did. I love lobster rolls, but I think Luke's Lobster just does them better. I'll have to try their other style of lobster roll (I had CT rather than ME.) Maybe the problem is that I'm just doing it wrong.

Tyler Cowen says in his book that there are some people who are just doomed not to like Korean food, no matter how hard they try. I fear I might be one of them. I've attempted TaKorean and Far East Taco Grille. I get that their ingredients are fresh and delicious and that they're executing their concept right. But I'm just not falling head over heels somehow. Maybe this is the culinary equvialent of going out with the proverbial Nice Guy who shares so many of your interests on paper, but with whom things always lack a certain spark.

I like CapMac's MarcoBolo a lot. The Classic Mac and Cheese felt too decadent; I can't quite get behind the concept of cheez it curls tossed on top to give the crunch that panko does.

House of Falafel made me wait in line for twenty minutes for mediocre falafel. D.C. Ballers is better, with decadent fries to boot.

For sweets, Cupcake Joy is probably my favorite mobile purveyor. Try the sweet potato if you can. It's better and more unique than their red velvet.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mitt Romney, bully of gay kids

So in today's Washington Post appears a story about how Mitt Romney, among other things, bullied a misfit gay kid while a high school student. Yes, I cringed at reading parts of it. On the other hand, these incidents happened more than forty years ago, and it is therefore probably wrong to infer much from them about Romney's character or fitness to serve as president in 2012.

It is clever framing on the Post's part because the anti-gay-bullying cause has been so much in the media and has become so popular among political progressives and liberals. For the record, I'm all in favor of gay kids (and all kids) not being bullied but am deeply skeptical of  recent federal efforts to rein in the problem (see generally pp. 128-212.) So there is a not-so-subtle message running throughout the Post piece: Romney is just another one of those big bad bullies that the Obama Department of Education is working so hard to stop.

I am actually not so terribly surprised that Romney was one of the evil bullying popular kids in high school, despite his recent squeaky-clean demeanor. The skills and demeanor that make one a popular kid in high school also tend to be those that draw people toward politics as adults. As Paul Graham would note, popular kids are good at learning at how to please others and also how to scapegoat the unpopular when it serves their interests. All skills that would serve a politician well. Nerds, by contrast,  tend to be good at making things -- what Graham calls the "real game" of adulthood -- and to be less skilled at flattering and pandering.  The libertarian economist Frederic Bastiat might say that popular kids tend to grow up to be good at earning political profits, whereas nerds tend to grow up to be better at earning economic profits. C.f. also Bryan Caplan's jock/nerd theory of history. So I'm not so disappointed about what this article says about Romney. But it may well say something about the limitations of voters and why, so often in politics, the worst get on top.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pinterest and puppies

So I could perhaps try to write about something more serious, like President Obama's reversal on gay marriage or l'affaire Riley. But I might be too exhausted from the first session of Intermediate Obedience, which also serves as the prep course for the Canine Good Citizen test. So, like, Pnin had driven the car to an event at the law school, and I'd decided that I'd be okay walking Willow the twenty-five minutes to class in Ballston on foot. Except that Google Maps sent me to the wrong side of Pershing Drive and wandering around helplessly.  Except that it also started pouring rain. And.. so we wandered in, five minutes late,  all that glorious golden retriever coat and also Isabel's jeans soggy and sopping wet. But at least Miss Willow did a nice sit and down, and she's starting to get the hang of maneuvering herself into a figure eight position that's supposed to help with getting her to walk more nicely at heel.

Will Intermediate Obedience prove too much academically for us? Well... it has "intermediate" in the title, which usually precedes the names of non-scary disciplines like "French" or "Spanish." Nor does it have the word "tax" anywhere in the title, but it doesn't have "history" or "government" either.  And the presence of "obedience" makes it sounds like a nice right-wing-crank friendly discipline, almost as congenial as "economics." Despite the conflicting titular signals, I think we're going to be okay.

But... yes. Pinterest is glorious, and it is an excellent way to organize electronically one's "wanty" lists.  I am probably deeply guilty of being obnoxious by pinning pictures of items that happen to be inconveniently non-affordable, to the point that a total stranger (according to Google, she's a wedding photographer in Dallas?) felt compelled to scold me for this. Again, this is odd... the charm of the site is that organizing an imaginary closet of beautiful expensive clothes is a safer and cheaper alternative for trying to compile a closet of glorious real expensive clothes! -- but I am thick-skinned enough not to much care. I guess also there are the pictures of the colorful J. Crew ballet flats.

Also, there is my Golden Retriever Pinterest board, to which I need to add more entries.  Adding one of my fantasy goldens to my life would be almost as expensive as the Dior dress. Probably more so, once I added up the costs of toys, training, and vet bills for a second retriever.  But, speaking of which, let me close with another picture of my fortunately-not-a-fantasy-retriever (center);  two of her best golden pals, Pickles (left) and Scooter (right); and my fortunately-also-not-a-fantasy husband.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

To increase tolerance, decrease the size and scope of government

 I've made similar points in this space before, but it's worth quoting Matt Welch one more time on this one:

Thinking that you can pin 100 percent of the cost of coverage on insurance companies rather than the employers who pay for health plans requires an impressive suspension of disbelief, but it is Alter’s final assertion that is most relevantly wrong. Republicans may well be losing ground, but there is no chance in hell that “the culture wars are over.” As long as government keeps expanding in size, scope, and cost, the culture war will only intensify. The battlegrounds will change as societal attitudes shift, but conflict will be perennial...


The kerfuffles over mandatory ultrasounds and contraceptive mandates made brutally clear an axiom that partisans have a hard time understanding: Any power that government has to do something you like will invariably be used for something you abhor. Today’s decision interpreting the Commerce Clause to justify snatching home-grown medical marijuana from patients in California becomes the justification for tomorrow’s federal mandate to buy health insurance. Reduce the scope of government, and we reduce the culture war, while promoting true tolerance of divergent viewpoints.
As Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said in Michigan last February, “When you can tolerate people who are different, you know what happens? We come together.…The true belief in liberty brings all different kinds of people together.” As he put it in a GOP presidential debate on January 8, “People use freedom in different ways.…It invites variations in our religious beliefs, in economic beliefs.”
Want to promote tolerance? Cut government. Let different cultural claims fight it out in the appropriate venue, as far away from my tax dollars as possible.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Scandalously expensive raincoat = my destiny, Jennifer Roback Morse = ?

Hey, fellow libertarians: am I the only one of our number who gets told that I will stop being a libertarian once I have children? Does this happen to libertarian women more than it happens to libertarian men? And does it happen to people of other political ideologies? In my experience, this has usually been an argument that social conservatives raise around libertarians. But that may be only because most of my progressive and liberal friends are about my age. Most of them either don't have children yet or have had them only very recently.

Second question (paging Bryan Caplan,  who recently wrote a book entitled "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids"): is there any actual data showing that people's political beliefs change once they have children?

For what it's worth, I don't advise this as a rhetorical strategy to adherents of any political ideology. At any given moment,  many of the people whom you are trying to persuade do not have children or do not have them yet. Nor am I sure that the mechanism works well with parents of older children... do most mothers of 30-year-old lawyers really find "But your daughter could become a prostitute unless the government bans commercial sex!" to be especially devastating? Many people also often find this line of argument off-putting, to the point that it has occasionally made me wonder if I really do want children.

Though perhaps some people do find "transformative experiences" inherently more appealing than I do; in college, one of my acquaintances vehemently insisted that what was really exciting about falling in love was the whole experience of giving yourself so completely to the other person that it was like you weren't who you had been anymore but part of a whole new person. This sounded creepy as all hell then and still does. I have never particularly felt that my soul is in need of saving, whether from men or babies or anyone else. This has caused me problems with some men in the past, but it worked out all right in the end. Perhaps children are the same way.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Law Protestants and drug prohibition

A few weeks ago, Bryan Caplan put up an interesting blog post examining the differences between what he called Protestant and Catholic approaches to morality. To quote him directly and briefly on the differences between the two:  "The 'Catholic' approach has extremely high moral standards (e.g. Be celibate; give everything you have to the poor; love everyone), but enforces them loosely. The 'Protestant' approach has moderate moral standards (e.g. Don't commit adultery; prudently give to the deserving poor; don't hate people who've never done you wrong), but enforces them strictly."

It occurred to me recently that this is also perhaps a useful way for describing differences in the way that people think about law. "Law Protestants" tend to think that there should be relatively few laws, that they should be easy to understand, and that government should enforce them strictly . "Law Catholics" likewise are comfortable with a larger and more complex legal system and with looser enforcement of the rules.

I suspect that vast, vast majorities of libertarians are hard-line law Protestants.  The points that there should be few laws and that they should be easy to understand are pretty foundational to the major variants of libertarianism. Libertarians in my experience say and write less about the need for strict enforcement of the few laws that we do support.  But I suspect that most of us nonetheless want that. Liberals and progressives, on the other hand, tend to be more comfortable with taking a "law Catholic" approach to law. And conservatives seem to be a mixed bag -- the most libertarian-ish conservatives of my acquaintance seem to have strong law Protestant streaks, but not all do.

Take drug prohibition, for example. Sometime in mid-high school, I remember getting into a debate on the bus with two other girls about drug use. One, the most popular socialite in the bunch, was talking about how much fun she and the other popular girls had smoking marijuana at the cool crowd parties to which the other (almost equally nerdy) girl and I were generally not invited. The two of us acted appropriately scandalized. We told her that we thought that this was wrong, and finally the other girl said simply, "It's not legal. Doesn't that bother you? That you're doing something that's not legal? Whenever we have to go to those Just Say No and DARE programs, I'm always confused about why the instructors don't emphasize more that it's not legal." The socialite shrugged. Yes, it might not be legal, but it was safe, and she and her friends weren't very likely to get caught doing it, so why care?

I remembered feeling upset by that exchange because, as strongly as I disapproved  of drug use then (probably more strongly than I do now, actually) I realized that Socialite Girl was right about the odds of her getting caught. I realized that basically all the adults who had enacted national drug policy cared about sending a vague message to Socialite Girl and her friends that what they were doing was bad, but they seemed perfectly content with an enforcement policy that in effect let millions of teenagers like Socialite Girl and her friends go undetected in casual drug use. This was perhaps my first inkling that I was a hard-line Law Protestant. It was also my first inkling that federal drug policy was producing a nation of Law Catholics.  I didn't like it one bit. The Law Protestant in me wanted "It's not legal" to be words with the moral force to end the discussion.

This sort of thing doesn't seem to bother the pro-drug-prohibition conservatives of my acquaintance as much it should. Drugs are bad and harmful, and so if illegality deters anyone at the margin from using them, we should be fine with such laws. It doesn't matter if a few people like Socialite Girl and her friends get to flout the law with impunity, so long as someone, somewhere, is being deterred from harm. How very Law Catholic of them.  Yet conservatives seem much more (in my view appropriately) suspicious of Law Catholicism in other contexts, e.g. in opposing  hate crime laws. I'm not sure Law Catholicism, once loose in society, can be cabined off so easily. I fear that it's a force that's hard to contain.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Apologia pro vita Julia

The internet is abuzz with talk of the Obama "Life of Julia" ad. And... yes... it is frustrating. It reminds me all too well of Margaret Thatcher's line, "We should not expect the state to appear in the guise of an extravagant good fairy at every good christening, a loquacious companion at every stage of life's journey, and the unknown mourner at every funeral." I rather prefer Thatcher's formulation of her adversaries' philosophy than Obama's. I very much hope that somewhere on the Internet, there is a rendering of a Julia-style show with pictures of the state as Fairy Godmother at Julia's christening, the state as loquacious companion throughout Julia's life, and finally the state as unknown mourner at Julia's funeral. The slide show does conclude with Julia working in the community garden in her 70s as she receives her Social Security payments. A Thatcher-style unknown mourner funeral slide could perhaps add something...

Another semi-related question re: the  frame mentioning the provision of the PPACA that insurance companies are mandated to cover children under their parents' plans until the age of 26: why does the line get drawn there? It just seems... odd. I would prefer that such a mandate didn't exist at all. But if it does have to exist, 26 seems an odd place to draw it. I could more readily see drawing it at 22 or 23, when most people have just graduated from college. Three years seems a bit long for a grace period. It also has the odd effect of potentially dropping a lot of people from parental plans mid-grad-school. This happened to me, pre-PPACA; my parents were able to help me with this, but they strongly urged me to attend law school right after undergrad for this reason, even though I wasn't sure I really wanted to be a lawyer.  Law's worked out better for me than it has for many people about my age, so I can't complain too much. But it seems a bit wrong for the federal government to give people a big incentive to go to law (or other grad school)  right away,  even though it often makes sense to work and wait for a couple of years. I've also heard anecdotes, mostly about friends-of-friends, who scheduled weddings because one partner in the couple was about to drop off a parental insurance plan. In many cases, this is perhaps a matter of moving up the inevitable, and the lovely couple may be delighted that they choose to do so. At the same time, there are plenty of cases in which rushing a wedding for insurance reasons may not really be the right option, and it's far from clear that the federal government should be encouraging this sort of behavior. I suspect that there is also some gender angle... it's more common for a female grad student to have an older boyfriend out in the workforce than vice versa... which makes things even more complicated.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

There totally was destiny involved in the purchase of my scandalously expensive raincoat two weeks ago.

There is part of me that thinks that I should never write another post taking issue with a social conservative's take on the sexual revolution, because I have said the same thing too many times before, and there is no sense in getting my blood boiling one more time. But I do feel compelled to respond to Ross Douthat's latest,  especially because it reminds me of an acquaintance's Facebook post that Sunday night's Mad Men was a nice, neat summary of what the sexual revolution has done for women.

First, this just seems like a... strange... reading of the episode. It didn't seem like Peggy had even considered the possibility that Abe might propose to her until Joan brought it up. Certainly Peggy hasn't mentioned hoping or wanting this to anyone in the series before this episode. Indeed, Peggy seemed mostly worried that Abe was on the verge of breaking up with her until Joan floated the proposal possibility. If Joan hadn't said anything, it's likely that Peggy wouldn't have even considered it. And Joan is also a dubious source of relationship advice given her recently shattered marriage. Yes, I suppose it is possible that the viewer is supposed to embrace Peggy's mother's characterization of Abe as just "using her for practice." But might it be possible that Peggy herself doesn't want much more than practice, especially given that Peggy seems so devoted to SCDP? Mrs. Olsen's anti-Semitism also makes her an especially unsympathetic mouthpiece for traditional views, which makes me doubt that the writers intended us to sympathize with her. The show has also famously cast a cold eye on more traditional sexual mores. The deeper message may be that we are all doomed to unhappiness, whatever the norms of the society we live in.

So, to our own day and Girls. I'm not especially eager to read too much into the relatively small n of sexual vignettes the show has shown us so far. Joss Whedon once observed that his most famous show worked best when Buffy was unhappy. So, too, Dunham doesn't want to pair off all four of her characters happily too quickly. That wouldn't leave us with much interesting to see.  That aside, I don't necessarily agree with Douthat's characterization of Shoshana as suffering from a kind of false consciousness.  Is it really implausible that she isn't curious about sex for its own sake, rather than that she's been manipulated into it by a depraved culture?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Notes on technology

1. I have an ipad! Yay for shiny objects. While I've posed this question on Facebook and thus gotten at least some responses from the same people who read this thing, can anyone recommend useful apps and the like? Particularly thoughts on uses for the i-pad as distinct from the i-phone would be helpful.

2. I learned recently that Facebook disabled the feature that let one message all guests invited to an event. Why, why, why? Normally, updating a website should not involve disabling things that were useful before, but should involve creating things that are potentially helpful. Pnin and I have a couple big parties/open houses every year, and it's useful to be able to message people a week or so before an event and remind them to RSVP. People totally intend to tell you that they're coming, but then forget. Also, if it's likely that there's going to be an issue with the weather, or if you need to send out messages about some other useful party detail, it's extremely helpful to be able to message everyone at once.

Instead, you can apparently write on the wall for the party. But this only reaches the people who have already agreed to come. It doesn't reach the f stragglers who have been forgetting to RSVP in the first place. I guess there might be people deluged with messages about events to which they were invited, but it seems like letting people mark those messages as spam or the like would be a more reasonable solution. Growl.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On deciding whether I am a Shoshana or a Marnie or a Hannah, Jessa being obviously not an option

So I have watched the first two episodes of much-talked about HBO's Girls, which looks at the lives of four twenty-something women in Brooklyn. As I said in another recent post, apparently it must be compared to Sex in the City because everything must be, although Lena Dunham's decision to center the story around the lives of four female characters rather than, say, three or five is probably not helping matters on that front. It is not perhaps the deepest thing ever; I hesitate to say just yet that Lena Dunham is the voice of her generation or even a voice of a generation.

But it is well-written and enjoyable, and the characters are often neurotic in very familiar ways. Enough so that I plan to watch the next couple episodes once they land on the internet. I once had a conversation with an undergrad roommate about how our parents were really lucky that,  despite our shared nutty interests in writing and literature Ph.Ds and piles of clothes on the floor, at least we weren't drug addicts or pregnant. This was uncannily similar to Hannah's conversation with her parents in the pilot episode. I also fear that there is a faint physical resemblance between Lena Dunham and me, particularly to a couple of particularly bad Facebook photos that make me wish it were technologically possible to char pixels to ashes, though maybe I flatter myself. At the same time, Hannah is an anti-heroine... we are clearly meant to cringe at the scene near the end of the pilot in which she picks up both the envelope of cash addressed to her and the one addressed to the maid. But although I know I am not supposed to like her world or my world, I find myself doing so anyway, because hating the familiar seems both too complicated and too cruel.

The show's perhaps gotten the most press for its lack of racial and ethnic minority characters, spawning an entire eight entry Room for Debate series in The New York Times. As several of my Facebook friends sardonically pointed out, the Room for Debate contributors are themselves not as diverse as the country. In some ways, the rush to judgment based on just two half-hour episodes is oddly perplexing; the viewer's barely had time to get a feel for the contours of Hannah's character and those of a couple of her friends. We've barely scratched the surface of Hannah's world; most people have more than three close friends and more than one co-worker.  I suspect that it is precisely because there's so much in the show to appeal to the politically progressive... the four major characters are all some stripe of pro-choice who are in general agreement with Jessa's choice to abort her baby, all appear fairly comfortable with frank discussions about sex and so forth.... that the lack of racial diversity rubs one the wrong way more than it would on a campy latter-day Full-House-like sitcom with no voice-of-a-generation pretensions. About the most sensitive and intelligent pieces I've read on the topic come from Alyssa Rosenberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates. For my thoughts on this topic, see generally also the second paragraph of this old post.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Lamb Sliders with Neal's Yard Colston Bassett Stilton

 A close friend of mine from undergrad recently sent me a cookbook based on the menu at Caseus New Haven, one of her favorite restaurants in the town in Euphemistic Connecticut where her fiance is working on his Ph.D. A few look too complicated by half, but this one is quite do-able. N.b. that the pea shoots are in season right now and are available pretty cheaply at Trader Joe's in my neighborhood.

The book recommends adding cured lemons to these. It apparently takes three weeks to make the cured lemons. Maybe I'll tackle curing lemons the next time that I'm looking for a weekend project; maybe some of you will, too. Still, these are delicious without them.

You need:

1 shallot, chopped fine
1 lb. ground lamb
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
A little butter for the pan
Mayonnaise (whatever brand you like; I went cheapskate because that's what I had in the fridge)
Neal's Yard Dairy Colston Bassett Stilton (available at Whole Foods, in our neighborhood at least. If you can't get it, another Stilton or a Roquefort would also probably be OK. )
Pea shoots

1. Preheat the oven to 350.

2. Combine the lamb, chopped garlic,  shallot, and salt in a bowl. Combine into patties with your hands. Drop them into a pan with butter and cook until they're brown on each side on medium-high heat.  This will vary according to your stove and the thickness of your patties, but five minutes-ish on each side is a reasonable guesstimate of how long it'll take.

3. Slice and butter the rolls and put them in the oven to toast, along with the burgers. How long this will take will vary a bit, but I estimate about two minutes. At that point, take the burgers out and put a small slice of the Stilton on each. Toast for another minute.

4. Spread the mayonnaise on the bottom half of the rolls. Add the burgers on top. Top burgers with pea shoots.

I served these with a simple spinach salad because it's light enough to contrast well with such a rich dish. Lightly sauteed mushrooms might also be really good, though.

Unfortunately, Willow also had a bout of excessive enthusiasm about these. While Ilya was trying to get another helping, she... uh... jumped up on the counter and stole one from under his nose. Apparently dogs love rare and expensive Stilton! Good to know. Well, we'll work more on the counter-surfing this week. And we'll look forward to possibly picking up useful tips about it in exciting Intermediate Obedience. 

Libertarianism and merit: once more, with feeling

Cato's Trevor Burrus has written a good essay titled "Bad Arguments for Libertarianism: Merit." I couldn't agree more. See also this and this.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Very deep thoughts about shoes

Phoebe is right; it is silly to equate having an interest in shoes with an interest in very high heels that are nearly impossible to walk in. I suspect this is one more example of the lingering imprint of Carrie Bradshaw on pop culture. It's bad enough that every National Review column about the kids these days must reference a television show that's been off the air for nearly a decade. Must it also poison lighter-hearted writing about shoes, too? So yes;  it is most emphatically possible to like shoes without being particularly driven to teetering around on stilettos. My own personal weakness runs to very colorful ballet flats, most recently these (which are also quite comfortable for walking), although I have other variations on the theme on my shoe rack that are no longer featured on the internet.

That said, as a naturally short person who occasionally likes passing herself as a not-naturally-somewhat-less-short person, I've had the good comfortable to come across some beautiful shoes that give height but without rendering the kind of pain Hadley Freeman describes in her piece. These pumps in adobe are the most comfortable heels that I've owned in a long time. They are not six inch stilettos, it's true, but three and a quarter extra inches of height is not so shabby either.  I will never attempt a marathon in them -- or, let's be real, a lame quarter-mile interval on the treadmill before going back to weights or abs. But,  like, in contrast to various cheap pumps I had as a summer law intern, I don't feel like I have to slip on flipflops to walk three blocks from my office to the corner deli for a sandwich. For Caucasian women at least, they will also match just about anything and thus are likely to work out well for many on a cost-per-wear basis; recommended.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On why modernity is awesome

Reading this New Yorker article titled "Narcissism in Pink and Blue," I feel like I must have been born without some critical gene that might help me grok the author's point. Ostensibly, the author's argument is that there is supposed to be something horrifying about parents throwing "reveal" parties, in which they announce the sex of their soon-to-be-born child by either whisking out pink and blue balloons as appropriate or color-coded cupcakes. What exactly is so horrifying about this is never quite made clear, although perhaps that is the sunny Whig techno-optimist genetic disability kicking in again. It doesn't seem specifically to be about the amount of cash spent. The costs of cupcakes and balloons seem decidedly modest anyway. There are repeated references to "narcissism," but that doesn't quite clarify things either. Isn't it normal for parents-to-be to be excited about a baby that's on the way? And isn't finding out the sex of the approaching newborn supposed to be one of the more exciting milestones of the pregnancy? Like, is the appropriate response to just refuse to tell people what is the sex of your child? Are you just supposed to stare at your shoes when asked and say, "Gosh gee whiz, but I didn't think you care about it?" And isn't wanting your friends to share in your excitement about your upcoming baby by inviting them over for a cupcake and balloon fete friendly rather than narcissistic?

Yes, there are some references made to the importance of the author's work in re-integrating felons with society. I completely agree that it is deeply unfortunate that many paternalistic licensing regimes keep willing employers from hiring ex-felons, even if they want to. It's absurd that in any state in the Union, an ex-felon cannot get a manicure license. I probably do differ with the author of this piece regarding the wisdom of laws that try to prevent employers from looking at potential employees' arrest and conviction records; I fear that such laws only make it harder for employers to get information that may be genuinely job-related and may even increase unemployment among racial and ethnic minorities. These differences of opinion on policy issues aside, though, surely people devoted to important social causes can be expected to set aside their labors for a few hours for parties every once in a while? Perhaps it is, dare I say it, narcissistic to look down on one friends' relatively harmless fun because it prevents them from being devoted 24/7 to one's pet social causes?

So, too, I am puzzled by the claims about the search for meaning. Is it odd that I have never felt at a loss for meaning, despite having been a skeptic about organized religion since about the age of 12? It is true that I have invented social rituals, such as Pnin's and my annual Hayek Party, in which we gather a group of mostly libertarian friends together to eat traditional Austrian foods. I have not done this out of a search for meaning or anomie or rootlessnes. My thought process was more like, "I will do this because it seems like fun and is a good excuse to make Sachertorte! If it sticks and becomes a tradition of sorts, then so much the better!" This points also to the oddity of looking down on "contrived" or "invented" events: weren't traditional rituals once also contrived or invented ones a long time ago? How would any traditional events ever come into existence if not contrived or invented by someone at some historical point?

It is also hard to say for certain, but I tend to doubt that the fall of religion or tradition explains the credulous reaction of people to extremist political movements or to anti-vaccination crazes. Suspension of science and credulity have been problems in many different societies, including some much  more religious than ours. See, e.g. (I am not sure when disenchantment with modernity is supposed to begin in the eyes of this article -- are we talking "modern" in the sense of "Now there is Facebook," e.g. circa 2004, or are we talking "modern" in the sense of "not medieval," as historians might use it, e.g. circa 1400?) I am confused.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I am 54 pounds of AWESOME, flying at you with a tennis ball in my mouth

Because of my recent hiatus from blogging, I realize that it may have been some months since readers have seen a recent photo of Willow. In case anyone cares, I have sought to remedy this defect by supplying the above recent shot of young Miss Willow, age ten months.

Of course, Willow's also been very concerned about certain developments in the news. Specifically, Puppygate. Some of her Republican friends have even gone so far as to tell her, "You know, Willow, if you had a son, he would look a lot like the dog Obama ate." To which she has replied, "No, because that dog was just some kind of stupid Indonesian mutt, and I am a golden retriever." She then proceeds to stare back as if to say, "Yes, Prada and K-Mart both sell things called 'handbags,' but to pretend the two products are the same in any sense beyond the semantic is to miss the point. So, too, is calling a golden retriever just a dog." Her interlocutors have then usually backed down.

Yes, Puppygate marks yet another low in the silly season of American politics. For one thing, the scandal ought to have been old news: Dreams from My Father was in print well before the last election cycle. I suppose the dog story is supposed to support the narrative that Obama is somehow deeply foreign, a creature far more alien and weird than your average liberal Democrat politician. One of the stranger things that I've read in this vein is this Pajamas Media piece, which picks out a quote about the rhythms of the Indonesian marketplace in contrast with the Chicago housing projects to illustrate Obama's deeply anti-American sympathies. This is... odd... because while full context is missing from the PJ media piece, the Obama quote presented there is perhaps fairly read as lamenting the lack of a rich, vibrant civil society in the Chicago housing project . Indeed, the welfare state's displacement of such networks of thriving small businesses and custom has long been a major conservative and libertarian criticism of social welfare projects. It's unfortunate that Obama didn't connect the dots better and take this typical criticism of the welfare state to heart better. It is also especially odd that the PJ media writer Spengler here views a Chicago housing project as a stand-in for the rough and tumble of American capitalism.

But... meh. At least all of this will be displaced next week by some equally ridiculous non-news story.