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.