Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In which I agree with Ann Althouse

... re: values.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oh, clementine

And giant boxes of said fruit are filling up the markets this time of year! Here's how I got through my box.

1. I think I've blogged this clementine cake before, but it is worth noting again just how marvelous it is. Note that because of the almond flour, it's gluten-free; good if you are entertaining people who adhere to this particular popular diet.

2. This clementine vanilla quick bread is yummy and easy enough, but the process of scraping out the vanilla bean freaked Willow out. Yes, that's right; our golden retriever erupted in one of her once-monthly fits of barking. "Don't worry, Willow," I had to explain. "See, vanilla beans cost $10.99 for two at Whole Foods, which alas means we don't have them all that frequently. Markets can be more effective at deterring certain kinds of conduct than using force via barking." I'm not sure she quite got the love-the-price-system sermon, but she's learning.

3. Chicken paillards with clementine salsa were also yummy and fresh-tasting. Only con is the giant amount of salsa. It probably serves more like six people rather than four. Also, ambivalent reaction of golden retriever to pounding chicken breasts thin with sherry bottle was noted.

4. Halibut with clementine gremolata was okay, although I wouldn't serve it with spinach again. The bitter with the sweet didn't quite work. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

On gay equality and capitalism

Andrew Sullivan is famous (infamous?) for moving all over the map politically; when I first started reading his blog, he was a Burkean conservative. Then he became a passionate defender of Obama whose Burkeanism became increasingly more theoretical and abstract and whose positions on contemporary meat-and-potatoes issues appeared fairly mainstream Democratic. Recently, he endorsed Ron Paul, and the compass needle seems to have hit "libertarian." In this vein, he's put up two good posts on how the private sector appears more receptive to the movement for gay equality, and why this means that advocates for this cause should focus on changing civil society rather than enacting more laws. For all of his bumping around the political compass, good for Sullivan for realizing this important point. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interesting paper on racial and other admissions preferences at Duke

I'm not sure if anyone actually reads or appreciates my occasional posts on this topic, but in case people do, this is an interesting  new empirical paper on preferences at Duke. Alex Tabarrok also has a nice summary of it up at Marginal Revolution. For earlier coverage of the science and engineering issue, see here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why didn't I think of doing this?

" In civil marriage, prenuptial agreements are permitted, so the man hardly shares all his worldly goods, and plenty of people marry with reservations, and without violating the law when they do so. People write their own vows too. Sometimes they say them in Vulcan! "

-- Conor Friedersdorf,  commenting on Rick Santorum's opposition to gay marriage. It's a good piece, although not one that has much that's unfamiliar to libertarians or liberals who have tried to make the case for gay marriage to social conservatives. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Petite blondes of the world unite

Stranger outside of Whole Foods, to Pnin and Willow: She's such a nice dog. Calm, sweet, obedient. I was thinking of getting a golden retriever, but they're too big. I want a dog like her, though -- like a golden retriever, but smaller.

Pnin: Actually, she is a golden retriever.

Stranger: Oh.

Pnin: She's a puppy, so she's still growing. And she's maybe a little small for her age. There are some females who are 60 pounds at six months. Willow was only in the high 30s or low 40s. So maybe she'll be only 55 or 60 pounds when she's full grown.

It's all too common for people to get my beloved's breed wrong. It's not too weird that people sometimes mistake her for a Labrador. Little goldens don't have the big fluffy coat that bigger ones do, and they do look more like Labs. But when Willow was a lot littler, someone asked me if she was a cocker spaniel. Lest I worry about her being small for her age too much, though, I've also been asked if she was part Great Dane. Uh, no. As a small human myself, though, I guess the two of us will just have to stick together. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rights gone wrong gone not quite right

I wanted to like Rights Gone Wrong by Richard Thompson Ford a lot more than I actually did. The sum of the parts is somehow greater than the whole. That is, Ford's pretty good at describing, chapter by chapter, problems with particular civil rights laws currently on the books.  I particularly appreciated his account of the flaws of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act -- he notes that older workers are more likely to face discrimination and irrational stereotypes before they're hired and employers have a chance to learn about their true abilities. But it's actually quite hard to figure out whether one has been discriminted against at the hiring stage, because it's hard to figure out if one wasn't hired due to the employer's leaning on irrational stereotypes or because there were simply better-qualified applicants whom one has never seen in the pool. Thus, the act winds up being in effect a rather large wealth transfer to older, already-comfortable workers. Similarly, Ford does a good job discussing how laws requiring accommodations for disabled students have given families an incentive to seek out attention deficit disorder diagnoses for their children. Because the line between clinical attention deficit disorder and garden-variety inability to focus on things that are hard or boring is inherently fuzzy, it's all too tempting for doctors to diagnose children ADHD who may not be really so that they can get the very rich benefit of extra time on tests.

I found the book far less satisfying when Ford attempts to tie these narratives about the very real problems with these disparate laws together into a common story of "rights gone wrong." One, the book is in some ways surprisingly fuzzy on what a right is. In some places, Ford appears to be equating "right" with "entitlement to some special benefit." I have never felt entirely comfortable within the philosophical natural rights tradition, but as I read this book, I found myself wondering if I'm more of a natural rights person than I used to think I was. That is, in my view, the list of "civil rights" is pretty much the same as what was enumerated in Corfield v. Coryell. I prefer to think of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights legislations as attempt to remedy violations of those rights -- though one can certainly debate whether some of these remedies are over-broad, still necessary today, etc. --  rather than creating new civil rights, as Ford in some places indicates it does. In other places, Ford laments "excess individualism" in our culture and the like for these reasons, which  just raises my ex-Objectivist hackles further.

Ford's preferred remedies for these problems entails more "pragmatism" and "nuance" in lieu of "absolute" rights. This would appear to entail giving judges more discretion. While this might avoid some of the more ridiculous extremes avoided with literal interpretation of a law to a situation to which it doesn't seem to fit, discretion can also be bad because it permits judges to skew the literal text of civil rights statutes to fit with their political or ideological views. Ford also seems to prefer administrative-based approaches to enforcing civil rights laws, an approach that would have the virtue of saving parties' litigation costs. On the other hand, there are real public choice problems with giving bureaucracies additional power to enforce civil rights laws. These issues are not really addressed in the book.

In summary: this book is better on diagnoses than it is on cures.

Friday, January 13, 2012

On my inner life

Should I be alarmed that I dreamed last night that I'd somehow been transported back to 1994, and that Rick Santorum was teaching my middle school math class? Instead of having us do math, though, he has us doing painful and difficult abs exercises on the floor underneath a special tent-like blanket. Never have I been so relieved to find myself waking up at 7 a.m. and scrambling to get off to a 9:30 meeting. Relatedly, I'm about ready to give up on rapid eye movement sleep. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On brushing up on one's medieval British history

Pnin, Willow and I recently finished listening to a Teaching Company course, The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest. It's been one of my favorite Teaching Company courses so far. The lectures are easy to follow and well-organized, and Paxton has a crisp, clear voice that works well for the medium. I'm a fan of Teaching Company courses primarily as gap fillers -- to pick up knowledge that I should've gotten somewhere along the way during the course of a decent liberal arts education, but didn't. So I've loaded up on classical music, for example, and on periods of history that I happened never to study. It's thus entirely possible that there are significant omissions or distortions that a real scholar of this stuff would notice that I'm not. But as far as I can tell, that's not been a problem for my purposes.

Relatedly, Pnin recently recommended Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels, which cover the same perid and place. I've made my way through the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy and am now delving into the recently released Lionheart. I'd recommend them readily to George R.R. Martin fans. Penman's novels obviously lack the magical elements of the Song of Ice and Fire series, but they do feature similarly sprawling casts of characters faced with complicated, morally ambiguous situations.  Penman's technique of shifting rapidly between the points of view of different characters is also somewhat similar, though her cast isn't nearly so large nor separated in time and space as Martin's. Overall, very enjoyable thus far. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Thoughts on athletic preferences

Dartblog has two posts up regarding an editorial questioning Dartmouth's athletic recruitment policies. The post at the second link, by way of defending the existing policy, reproduces in full an editorial from government professor Allan Stam describing his experiences as a student-athlete at Cornell. The post at the first link by recent grad Isaiah Berg defends reforming athletic policy by noting that, lyrical and well-written as Stam's op-ed is, it is hardly clear from it that large admissions preferences (as opposed to no preferences at all or very modest preferences) can give student-athletes the benefits that Stam identifies.  I agree with most of Berg's analysis, but I wanted to add a few thoughts of my own.

First, Berg doesn't cite any numbers in his post about the magnitude of the differences between recipients of athletic preferences at selective schools and those students who don't. Some such numbers are out there; this piece by Princeton professor Thomas Espenshade indicates that recruited athlete status is worth about 200 points on the SAT (on the 1600 scale.) To put that number into additional context, the same study found that being His panic is worth about 185 points and being African-American is worth about 230. There is a growing body of research showing that African-American and Hispanic students who receive racial preferences in admissions may actually learn less than their counterparts attending schools at which they are better matched on the basis of academic credentials; this amicus brief sums up the state of play in this field. Notably, due to the ill effects of mismatch, beneficiaries of race-based affirmative action appear less likely to receive degrees in science, technology, and engineering than their counterparts attending schools at which they are good matches or to pursue the Ph.Ds that would permit them to enter Stam's own profession (university teaching.)  Given that the credentials deficits Espenshade identifies between average recruited athletes and affirmative action beneficiaries are similar, it's entirely plausibe that the same mismatch effects apply, and university officials would be wise to be concerned about them.

Second, Stam conclucdes his piece by noting, "I often wonder if the loathsome dismissiveness with which America's intellectuals view athletes, soldiers, business people, and politicians lies in their own insecurities  rather than in any better sense of judgment they might have rather than the rest of us." I don't think that intellectuals generally have a better sense of judgment than most people, except perhaps in the limited domains that they have studied more closely than most people. Nor has it been my experience that most intellectuals are loathsomely dismissive of professional athletes, as opposed to benignly indifferent, and I find it hard to believe that any intellectual alive can be adequately loathsomely dismissive of most politicians for my taste (Richard Epstein perhaps excepted.)

That said, I do share Stam's concern that too many intellectuals are too dismissive of soldiers and of business people.  It is perhaps possible that immersion in intense athletic experience might make more such people less reflexively sympathetic to anti-military or anti-free market ideas. But one should not confuse sympathy to a political or economic idea with exposure to or engagement with a set of political ideas. It's been my experience that the children of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, for example, are pre-disposed to be more receptive to libertarian ideas than kids whose parents are from other racial and ethnic groups; it's easy to understand why. But having tea with Ukrainian grandparents once a week as a nine-year-old as an introduction to libertarianism is a poor substitute for real exposure to the great libertarian thinkers (Hayek, Mises, etc.) and sustained discussion and debate about their ideas. The situation with left-wing anti-military and anti-capitalist ideas at elite universities, I suspect, is similar. The goal ought not to be to provide students with life experiences that will make them more receptive to these ideas, but to ensure that these ideas are actually taught and engaged with in the classroom.

Finally, most of us, in this day and age, want an intellectual class that includes both men and women. There are perhaps a few exceptions in the most conservative sliver of the population, but even many of them have gone to rallies for female politicians like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin. I doubt that the military would've really welcomed 18-year-old five-foot-one-inch, ninety-two-pound  Isabel Archer as an enlistee. Perhaps they would have put her at a desk somewhere to analyze aerial photographs or maybe shipped her off to language school. And indeed, though there are a few women who will be strong enough to fight in combat and face the kind of physical rigors that Stam writes about, there are likely fewer women physically capable of doing so than there are men. While it's true that participating in varsity college athletics is less physically demanding than military work, Stam's entire vision of achieving personal excellence and leadership qualities through militaristic or quasi-militaristic physical discipline is one that seems more readily accessible to men than to women. How are those of us not capable of fighting in combat to achieve self-mastery and excellence? 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Whither the state of Asian America?

Charles Murray has an essay in The New Criterion titled "Belmont and Fishtown: On Diverging Classes in the United States." I believe it is an excerpt from his forthcoming book titled "The State of White America." In it, he posits the rise of an increasingly stratified society that is bifurcated into a  new upper class and a new lower class -- people who reside in the fictional neighborhoods that he calls Belmont and Fishtown, respectively. Arnold Kling has the reasonable response that if this were a problem in the way that Murray claims, one would expect to see a more bimodal distribution of I.Q. scores emerging among the children of these new classes. He doesn't cite any such I.Q. data one way or the other, but I am inclined to suspect that if such data existed confirming Murray's hypothesis, someone would've brought it to his attention.

 I have a different point than Kling to raise, though (and, to be fair, perhaps Murray addresses it in his book or in writings other than this short essay -- I've no way of knowing.) I've spent much of my adult life in and around Murray's Belmont-ish circles, and what's striking to me is how easily Murray glides over how over-represented recent Asian-American immigrants and their children are in these circles. When I took honors math and science classes in high school, my parents and friends used to joke that I brought diversity to the group because I was one of the few white women in the room. Most of my competitors were Asian guys. My dad used to tease me about the strange-sounding names of the guys who would call -- "Hey, Rabindranath wanted to check his answers for physics with you, and Srikanath wanted to know if you'd been able to get number 23" -- looking for help or commiseration with the homework from those classes. More recently,  I see the same dynamic with the students I interview for the selective college that I attended. I've interviewed five women this year and last. Three were born outside the United States.

Some such of my friends and interviewees have come from wealthy families; some have come from poorer ones that were unusually obsessed with education and hard work. But I'd venture to guess that even the wealthiest such immigrant and child-of-immigrant kids are more attuned to the norms of social classes other than their own than is typical for children of native-born wealthy families. They seem to spend more time, on average, going to family, ethnic community or religious functions, where one meets people from a variety of different backgrounds. Their parents were less likely to express exquisite sensitivities along the lines of "I don't watch any TV except for Mad Men and The Wire," or disdain for people who like the Olive Garden. It's also quite common for my immigrant friends to travel back to their home countries and to spend substantial amounts of time visiting relatives who are far worse off than Murray's Fishtown dwellers.

So... while it might well be true that there are not a lot of students at Ivy League schools who are attuned to the feelings of truck drivers from Iowa, it is also true that there are many more students there who are exquisitely attuned to the problems of working-class Pakistani restaurant owners from suburban New Jersey. Indeed, there is abundant evidence that such students are actually discriminated against in the admissions process at such schools. It is not entirely clear to me why having one type of sensitivity is more important than the other. Assuming that there is not some reason for this that I have missed, then there would seem to be a few easy remedies for the situation that Murray describes. One would be to stop discriminating against Asian-Americans in elite admissions, a reform that might also be desirable for many other reasons.

Two, more broadly, Murray's concerns about insularity of elites argues for more liberal immigration policies. Let the most cognitively able students from countries around the world churn up into the Belmont class and shake up complacent attitudes there. As the winds of economic and political opportunity shift around the world, let America see fluxes of talented immigrants from different groups that leave their marks on the new upper class. While I've focused on Asian-Americans in this post, I understand that Eastern European Jews went through a similar process of becoming over-represented in the upper class and leaving a mark on new upper class behavior a generation before.  I've no idea what the next group or groups to do so will be -- that depends in large part on how the winds of political and economic opportunity abroad change -- but I've little doubt that there will be some.


Monday, January 9, 2012

GOP's Working Class Muddle, etc.

So apologies for the lack of blogging, but I've been coming out from under a bad cold. Through trial and error, I've learned recently that the CVS pills with pseudophedrine in them are just about the only things that help my congested nose. But under current federal law, you now have to display a state ID to get them from behind the counter and sign a statement that says that you are not making any material misstatements in connection with buying them, lest you be subject to a $25,000 fine. I am reminded of the periodic cries from some that voter ID laws are tantamount to Jim Crow because black voters disproportionately lack state IDs ; where is the NAACP to point out that ridiculous regulations on the sale of pseudophredine based drugs have a similar disparate impact? Heck, if they demanded hearings on this on Capitol Hill, I'd be strongly tempted to support them.

In the meantime, however, while I'm  dipping my toes back into blogging's waters, please go read this column by Kimberly Strassel in the WSJ on "The GOP's Working Class Muddle." It's excellent, and I wish I could say I'd written it myself. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I really need to incorporate the phrase "caucus virgin" into my everyday vocabulary.

So I am back to D.C. and environs after a nice Massachusetts trip, and little Willow appears to be recovering from her misadventures in sock theft. Perhaps a full post and pictures will follow, but I fear overwhelming you all with too much cuteness. Also, while I am sure that everyone has figured out by now that I am a  totally unserious person, I might as well at least try to maintain some pretense of non-frivolousness by writing about subjects other than my darling golden retriever.

As some of you may have noticed, there was an Iowa caucus last night. And Rick Santorum narrowly lost to Mitt Romney, generating plenty of buzz. Like many other libertarians, I am no Santorum fan, for reasons ably laid out by David Boaz in a recent Cato at Liberty post and Jonathan Rauch in a 2006 essay for Reason. Reading most of his conservative defenders has been depressing; Jennifer Rubin's stating that the blemishes on Santorum's record as a fiscal conservative are merely a  vote for No Child Left Behind and some earmarks rather glosses past the long list of non-fiscally conservative statements he made in his book and elsewhere as documented by Boaz and Rauch. David Brooks's column praising Santorum had its share of equally cringeworthy moments, though I suppose Brooks's big government conservative streak is well-documented enough that nobody should be surprised. But memo concerning the last line; as a UChicago grad, when you  write that "The country doesn't want an election that is Harvard Law vs. Harvard Law," the point you ought to be making is that Harvardians are unserious jocks, not that they are scary intellectual elitists, which was presumably what you meant based on context. 

 I suppose I can take some comfort in knowing that his particular brand of populist big government conservatism is unlikely to play as well outside of Iowa than it did within it and that his popularity is likely to fade once some of his more extreme remarks come under closer public scrutiny. Also, while I have decidedly mixed feelings about Ron Paul, it's nice to see that at least some polling data indicate that it is the small government elements of his message, and not the creepy paleo-libertarian ones, that resonate most with Iowa's younger voters. (I am also indebted to said blog for coming up with the charming "caucus virgin" locution that appears in the post title). Thus, onto N.H. as it is!