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.