Friday, February 17, 2012

Fragmentation within the right re: mommy wars?

Controversy has recently erupted over remarks of Rick Santorum's that have recently come to light regarding stay-at-home mothers. Although I have occasionally recently read other conservatives expressing similar views, such views do seem to be getting less common. (For the link-averse, the hyperlinks in the prior sentence go to a National Review writer's discussion of the problems with day care and then to a piece by one of her co-bloggers vociferously expressing disagreement .)

Perhaps interestingly, I feel like I see more cultural commentary by conservatives arguing that today's kids need less intensive parental supervision than they are currently getting. I wouldn't necesarily cast Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids, as either especially liberal or conservative, yet her writing urging parents to be more hands-off in the raising of their children seems to get plenty of favorable attention from conservative blogs. The work of Archer-Pnin family friend Bryan Caplan urging people to be more relaxed about parenting, who is admittedly a libertarian rather than a conservative, also seems to get mostly positive attention from those who are socially conservative. All of this would seem to suggest that it is generally okay for women to have busy lives outside the home without having to worry that their children will wind up worse off in the long term. There would seem to be some natural tension between this view of the problems of contemporary parenting and Santorum's.

 To my knowledge, neither Skenazy nor Caplan has played up the feminist implications of their arguments. It is perhaps odd that the same feminists who are quick to decry Santorum for being crazy haven't responded more favorably to Skenazy and Caplan's arguments. In Caplan's case, I suspect it is because most feminists are liberals who are uncomfortable with claims that genetics play a significant role in shaping human behavior. In Skenazy's, it's less clear.

It'll be interesting to see which viewpoint comes to prevail in conservative writing. I suspect it's more likely to be the genetic determinist/anti-molly-coddling school; at least in the fragment of the conservative media world I read, the latter school already seems more popular. I suppose this school's success may be a hallmark of the success of the feminist movement. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fashion notes for the short and vexingly long-waisted

Maybe colorful cropped pants are coming into fashion this year. This is good because I have discovered that I can wear what are supposed to be cropped jeans as regular pants without anyone in fact noticing or looking askance. In fact, several people complimented me on the hyperlinked pants in red. They are expensive-ish, but at least unlike many types of regular pants, at least these won't need to be hemmed. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Golden Conformation Olympics

So the Westminster Dog Show marks an occasion in which a number of really beautiful golden retrievers and 184 mostly irrelevant other breeds get together in New York City to show off their stuff. I did not bother with watching any of the rest of the non-golden retriever portions of the competition for this reason. That it fell on Valentine Day's was especially nice; Pnin and I got to sip champagne while watching the above twenty-five glorious minutes of beautiful animals running around together in a circle.

"This is sort of like watching the Olympics must be like," I told Pnin, "if I understood what was going on in the Olympics, which I don't usually." Relatedly, I am not fans of any actual human athletes on Facebook, but I am fans of some conformation goldens. Hm.

Even better news: this year's Best of Breed winner for the goldens is GCh Sweetlea's Follow Me ("Jacques")! Particularly exciting because his great-grandfather, Wyncall's Rootin' Tootin' (R.T.) was my first golden retriever Sasha's father. Looking back at K9data, R.T. was pointed, which means he did well in the conformation ring, but he wasn't necessarily a superstar or a famous stud that shows up in lots of lines. So it's all the more remarkable that a descendant of his would wind up winning Westminster. Well, I always knew that Sasha had something special. There's a connection between Jacques and little Willow, too: R.T.'s father/Sasha's grandfather Cowboy is also seven generations back in Willow's pedigree. So, yay for Jacques!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Notes on fusionism

The Athens and Jerusalem blog expresses frustration at libertarians who urge the GOP in strong terms not to nominate Rick Santorum. I am a bit baffled by the claim that encouraging people who share your core convictions to stay home on Election Day, rather than voting for the GOP,  is somehow remotely equivalent in shrillness or thuggishness to encouraging people to send themselves to the gas chambers.
Nonetheless, in the spirit of the Welch/Golberg show I wrote about a few days ago,  let me do my best to slap a few Band-Aids on the fusionist alliance.

Look, I can't claim to speak for every libertarian everywhere generally. I'm sure that somewhere, there is some libertarian who would reject every single viable-ish candidate as being too impure. I don't read Nate Nelson regularly and can't entirely speak for him.  But, speaking  as someone who is married to a libertarian more prominent than she and who hangs out regularly with other Beltway libertarians, there are plenty of viable-looking options whom many of us would consider a reasonable compromise pick, especially in contrast to Santorum. In fact, I think for all of us, every other candidate whom the GOP has put up so far would be better. Mitch Daniels and Paul Ryan's names both get thrown out a lot in this vein, although both are more socially conservative than many of us and in Ryan's case also probably more hawkish. I also occasionally hear Tim Pawlenty's name being floated in this vein. I know less about him because he didn't stay in the race that long, but I'd have been willing to consider it.  I have much the same impression of Chris Christie. At least some libertarians held out hope for Rick Perry; it was his persistent debate fumbles, more so than his ideas, that did him in for many of us. And yes, even Romney or Gingrich would be a better pick than Santorum.

Yes, I'm aware that Santorum has made some effort to move to the right on fiscal issues. But I view this in much the same way that many social conservatives view Mitt Romney's movement right on abortion; i.e. more opportunistic than sincere. Yes, Santorum might be willing to follow his party on economic issues. Yes, he might be willing to do what his advisors say he must to placate the Tea Party. But I doubt that entitlement and tax reform will ever be the issues that get Rick Santorum out of bed in the morning. The content of his book suggests that Santorum's heart lies elsewhere, whereas economic issues appear to be much higher priorities for  Daniels  or Ryan. Is it really all that unreasonable for libertarians to urge the GOP to nominate a candidate like that -- especially given that both Daniels and Ryan seem to be fairly conservative on social issues?

Karl Rove once said (I believe I read this in David Frum's book a few years ago) that winning elections was like trying to pick up as many magnets as possible from a big pile.  Trying to grab some means that inevitably, you repel others. You have to think strategically about which ones you want to attract, repel, and why. Trying to attract populist voters who support special measures to protect manufacturing means that one will repel libertarians. Nothing odd or strange about that; such is the political process.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tech question

So no need to respond to this if you've also responded to my very similar query at Facebook, but Pnin was considering getting me an iPad 2 for Valentine's Day. It now appears that the iPad 3 will come out shortly. Should we go ahead with our original plan or wait? Note that alternative cravings include the new iPhone 4 with Siri (I still have the 3Gs) or these flats in fresh mango*, if that matters for your answer.

*J. Crew appears to practice some kind of crazy price discrimination model according to which the entire website goes on sale every few weeks. So I have been sitting on my hands waiting for same, which may also counsel for asking for something else as a Valentine's Day present. 

The Goldberg/Welch show

Arnold Kling has a a good post up summarizing a "Are Libertarians Part of the Conservative Movement?" debate that took place at AEI on Wednesday night. I thought about going, but was busy paying someone to teach me how to lift weights, and so I figured I'd catch it on the Internet later. "Later" meant around 10:00 p.m. Thursday night on the couch. A worn-out Willow wandered over, briefly sniffed Matt Welch's on-screen image, and then concluded that there was nothing to see here. She toddled over to the doormat and promptly fell asleep. Does this mean that my golden retriever is shaping up to be a libertarian, conservative, or neither? Inquiring minds want to know.

While I like much of what Goldberg had to say and found it heartening, I would note that Goldberg's probably in the most libertarian quarter or so of conservatives. Yay for him and all. But I do think that conservative support for big government to advance socially conservative policies is more common that Goldberg makes it out to be here. Take, for example, the popularity of the federal marriage amendment. That makes alliances somewhat harder than it appears here.

Finally, the moderator quoted Russell Kirk as insultingly calling libertarians "ossified Benthamites." Let me note only that this would be a splendid title for a libertarian-ish blog, and I am deeply disappointed that I did not think to start one under that title. I suppose I always could, but, like, I'd have to make all three of my readers change their feeds and all. Aspiring libertarian bloggers, note that has not yet been grabbed up, should any of you want it! 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Vote on the issues

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry has a contrarian post up at the American Scene arguing that voters should vote on "character" rather than "the issues." I am not really averse to arguing that elites should weigh character slightly more heavily than they do now. Indeed, in some places in the post, Gobry seems to be limiting himself to that more modest claim, although not in others. And it is the broader formulation of the claim with which I take issue.

First, I find it a bit odd to emphasize this argument at this particular moment in political history. Gobry concedes that it's useful to look at the issues in "broad strokes" situations, i.e. when choosing between a conservative vs. a moderate vs. a liberal. But Republican primary voters are choosing between quite different candidates at this point. Romney is a former moderate governor born again as a National Review-style fusionist. Gingrich is a more-or-less conservative prone to medical outbreaks of what a Dr. Hayek once diagnosed as the Fatal Conceit.  Ron Paul is a hard-core libertarian, but Rick Santorum is an anti-matter version of the Cato Institute made flesh. Nobody thinks any of these people are especially alike in terms of their policy preferences. Nor does anyone think that any of them have much in common policy-wise with a liberal Democrat like Obama.  Gobry's example of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is much more plausible an argument for him because they were much closer to each other on policy than are the remaining candidates in the GOP primaries. Thus my confusion about the usefulness of this particular example at this moment in politics.

Gobry also allows that it matters significantly what kind of coalition these people will put in charge of the executive branch. Yes, that's true. But that's why looking at a candidate's policy proposals matters tremendously. Does anyone really think that there would be much overlap between the likely appointees of a Romney vs. a Santorum vs. a Paul vs. an Obama administration?

Third, it might be instructive to look for buyer's remorse in people who have championed a candidate in the past on "character" rather than policy grounds. Take, for example, conservative pundit David Brooks, who supported Barack Obama the last time around. Yet one finds Brooks voicing discomfort with his choice years after his preferred candidate won.

Finally, Gobry suggests shortcuts that voters can use instead of policy proposals to evaluate candidates. See Part 3 of this Cato Analysis from Pnin for a detailed explanation of why most of those shortcuts don't work very well. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Holding together at the seams

So I've now read all of the review copy of Charles Murray's Coming Apart that arrived in the mail. A few thoughts:

One, I still agree with what I said in this old post about an essay that Murray wrote a couple of years ago foreshadowing the major themes of this book. It would be good to get more novels, television shows, and movies about a wider swath of America. This includes, but is not limited to, more sympathetic portrayals of Red America. So I am generally in agreement that there should be more television shows not set in New York and also more that are sympathetic generally toward small-town life (I can't fault Glee too much here, first because I have never seen an episode of it, and secondly because I kind of felt much the same way in high school.  I am not troubled that there is one particular TV show in the world representing such experience, but I am more concerned that there is a dearth of shows generally showing small-town life favorably.)

All that said, I can't move from there to the conclusion that more Red State friendly art will lead its viewers to more Red State politics. Ayn Rand was not a subtle writer. Yet I have seen her influence work on people in dozens of different ways. More often that not, Rand leads to libertarianism, but often to different flavors of it, and every once in a while, one comes across ex-Objectivist-ish progressives or social conservatives. It's rarely one step from politically inflected art to political ideology. It's more like twenty, and it's often not the same twenty steps for each person.

I'm a libertarian, but I work professionally on an issue where there generally isn't much daylight between us and conservatives.  My conservative young lawyer friends do not seem to have substantially different tastes and preferences than my progressive young lawyer friends. Some from each camp fit the Whole Foods shopping, latte-drinking stereotypes to a T; others not at all; and most have a combination of tastes that don't fit neatly into either camp. What's relevant is that, somewhere along the way, they became convinced that conservatives have the better side of the argument on policy questions. So if Murray wants more people from this class to become Republicans (or conservatives or libertarians), he is best off pitching straight policy arguments to them and encouraging others to do likewise. Wagging one's finger at these people about their sushi-eating habits might lead to some fun form of navel-gazing, but in my experience, it is unlikely to lead anyone politically in the direction that he wants them to go in.

Second, there is a long section in which Murray encourages the elites to "preach what they practice." That is, Murray notices that people in his elite groups are more likely to stay married longer, less likely to bear children out of wedlock, and so on. Yet these same people are, according to him, overly shy about condemning illegitimacy and divorce as kind of bad. I'm with him, sort of. I do want elites (and everyone else) to preach why these behaviors are good. But I do want Murray to recognize that the gospel that he would like elites to preach looks very different from most contemporary varieties of social conservatism. It is common for members of Murray's Belmont class to enjoy not-particularly-risky varieties of premarital sex (e.g. within well-established relationships and with use of contraception.) It is also generally common within this class to treat gay relationships as on an equal footing with heterosexual ones. Yet both of these practices draw jeremiads from many contemporary socially conservative politicians. Because Murray doesn't acknowledge that his social conservatism is much more modest than what's out there on the market, I'm afraid that he'll too easily lose liberal and progressive readers who confuse Murray's conservatism with, say, Rick Santorum's or Michelle Bachmann's.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

On having Asperger's, briefly

Benjamin Nugent, author of the wonderfully titled American Nerd, has an essay at The New York Times up called "I Had Asperger's. Briefly." In it, he recounts having grown up as a nerd kid who was diagnosed by his psychology professor mother as having Asperger's. Yet by the time he was an adult and had found a more congenial group of friends, most of the symptoms of the disease had vanished. In the NYT essay, he grapples with what his experience implies for the new diagnostic standards that are likely to make Asperger's diagnoses rarer.

Nobody has ever slapped the clinical label of Asperger's on me. I've found a few online quizzes on which I test positive. But that depends on how much weight one should give to my Emotional Quotient ratings; I'm pretty happy to admit to liking maps or dinosaurs, but I get nervous when asked to confirm that all of my friends think I am awesome. Do they, really? Is it possible that I'm being socially inept and they're just too polite to tell me? Would that explain what was up with so-and-so  re: such-and-such weird gossip?

The bottom line is that I think I fall somewhere on the fuzzy border between merely eccentrically nerdy and clinical. And I'm not sure how much good it would have done me if somebody had swooped down from the sky when I was twelve and decided that I belonged on the clinical side on the line. It's possible that some course in how to read people might have helped me overcome these weaknesses earlier in life. On the other hand, maybe it just would have felt stigmatizing or become a self-fulfilling prophecy that I could never learn to socialize. Maybe, too, learning how to socialize through talk therapy would be like trying to learn how to bike by listening to lectures about biking. Maybe the best thing is to try bike riding, albeit on an easy course, like a beer-soaked nerd paradise in the woods.

(By the way, I never spoke like an E.M. Forster character.  That would have been, like, way too Edwardian. I was mostly channeling Thackeray or George Eliot as a teenager.)

I think I'm repeating things I've written on the blog before. But Nugent's take on all this is quite interesting, so I highly recommend checking it out. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Things that people in my social circle like that I don't get, #138

.... this op-ed. As many Constant Readers know, I have participated in several Koch-funded programs and really benefited personally and professionally from them. Naturally, I've therefore been disappointed by many of the sleazier and less fair allegations levied at them. See generally the "libertarianism" tag. At the same time, this particular column doesn't do a particularly good job detailing specifically problematic things that President Obama personally has done against the Kochs. Indeed, the only specific transgression by a politician mentioned comes at the end of the 2nd paragraph, where it's mentioned that Democrats in Congress want to drag Koch before Congress to respond to questions about the Keystone XL pipeline project. I agree that such would be stupid and vindictive, but it's hardly clear from this piece that this particular bad idea originated with Obama. I imagine that he and members of Congress don't always see eye to eye; just ask Nancy Pelosi sometime if you're inclined to disagree. The rest of this rhetoric about Nixon's Enemies List and so forth therefore hardly seems all that helpful or illuminating.

Indeed, it's not surprising that Obama should speak out vehemently against the Kochs from time to time. Obama and the Kochs disagree on important principles. A lot is at stake. That's bound to lead to some heated rhetoric and incivility. But unless it's clear that Obama is actually misusing executive office to go after the Kochs, all of this writing about bills of attainder and so forth seems more inflammatory than useful.