Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PTN Book Club: The Betrothed

Karl: "[T]he aspect of the book that irritated me (at least at first) was Manzoni's failure to give the reader a little more "backstory" of their romance at the outset."

dgm: "It is a bit like one of my friends who, especially after imbibing some spirits, will begin to tell a story but then wander onto a variety of tangentially related topics, touching on each in hideous detail, and often this detail will, surprisingly to the narrator, spawn a new tale--where was I?--but always things would be tied together nicely in the end. Okay, maybe that's what my friends say about me. Maybe that's why I like the book."

Amber: "A book that can make you laugh out loud dozens of times nearly two hundred years after it was written is a true classic."

Zubon: "If you only read one book in your life translated from the Tuscan dialect, try some Dante, but this is a classic in Italian schools the way To Kill a Mockingbird is in the United States (or at least this part of the US). This is easier reading than La Comedia at any rate."

I think the length of this month's selection discouraged participation, but unless people are still interested, maybe this should be the end of the book club. Thoughts?

PTN Book Club: Amber on The Betrothed

I knew from the first few pages that I would enjoy The Betrothed. It has all of the things I most enjoy in literature: historical substance, direct appeals to the reader by the author, books within books, multitudes of footnotes, digressions into the lives of minor characters, digressions within digressions, "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles" -- well, almost. There aren't any giants, as I recall, and only human monsters.

The story purports to be about the trials and travails of a pious peasant girl, Lucia, and her more hot-blooded fiance, Renzo. The pair are engaged, but a powerful local lord makes a bet with his cousin that he will bed Lucia and sends some bravoes to intimidate the local priest into not marrying them. Their attempts to get around the lord and wed lead to their separation. Renzo ends up in the middle of a riot and is nearly hanged for treason, Lucia is entrusted to the care of a wealthy nun who sells her out to keep her many sins concealed, and eventually the pair are caught in the middle of a devastating wave of bubonic plague. Will Renzo and Lucia reunite? By the time this question is answered, it's hardly the point; this is a clear case in which the journey is what's important, not the destination.

Bruce Penman's translation is readable and modern without being anachronistic; it compares favorably with Edith Grossman's recent version of Don Quixote. Manzoni himself is a little too heavy on the religion, but despite the rather obvious moralizing and convenient conversions to the one true faith by a couple of characters, the novel is still more engaging than plodding. Manzoni himself highlights the passages that can be skimmed by readers with a low tolerance for digression (a lengthy biography of a famous archbishop, for example), but the descriptions of 17th century Italy are like nothing I'd seen and so I read the whole thing. While Manzoni does set the historical stage and show what large-scale political maneuverings are at work, he concentrates his gaze on the effect of these machinations on the individual characters, and thus brings history to life. Some of the best digressions are authorial discourses on the economic ignorance of 17th century Italians. Having the laws of supply and demand explained as an aside before the author describes a bread shortage was endlessly amusing to this econ major. You can almost hear Manzoni's eyes roll when he documents the wacky beliefs of his forefathers.

This is a fabulous book -- probably the best thing I read since Don Quixote. A book that can make you laugh out loud dozens of times nearly two hundred years after it was written is a true classic. It beats the pants off this beautifully written trifle, for example. Long after most of these are forgotten, Manzoni will continue to inform and delight. Highly recommended.

(The only thing I didn't understand (and this is a reflection of my own ignorance, not a shortcoming of the book) is why Father Cristoforo could not conduct the wedding. I assume this is not a privilege belonging to Capuchin friars. Is this right?)

Moo Mooooooo . . .

I was surprised that this article in the NY Times about Blue Bell ice cream didn't mention the famous singing cow commercials. The author is correct that Buttered Pecan is the best flavor.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Life is pain, highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.

I finally ended up going to the doctor about my headaches. The good news is I don't have to live a life of pain. The bad news is that the cure appears to resemble conversion to Mormonism.

- No chocolate
- No Diet Coke (caffeine and aspartame are bad)
- No alcohol
- Tithing to your local headache clinic (almost)

The experience of going to the doctor gave me a headache. How sick is that?

UPDATE: I love it when drugs go off-patent. In three years, Glaxo won't be able to charge $10-20 per pill for their flagship migraine drug, so they plan to lump it together with naproxen sodium, an over-the-counter painkiller, and continue to bring in the big bucks.

PTN Book Club Reminder

I'll be posting the book club entries tomorrow, so send me whatever you've got. I know this month's selection was long, but if you haven't finished, just give us your thoughts on the book so far.


Brian Leiter is still a jerk, but his most recent paper on religious toleration is an interesting read. (h/t) It reminded me of the better discussions from my Church & State class with Noah Feldman, in which we discussed whether freedom of conscience is a product of bias toward Western religious development, since one can conceive of faiths which did not depend on their being freely chosen for their appeal to the deity.

Robots are the answer.

Every time people start freaking out about some coming labor crisis and cast aspersions on my decision not to reproduce, I just think about Japan. The increasing number of elderly Japanese will be assisted by robots. Of course, any SF fan knows that without proper programming and design, robots will destroy us all, but the Japanese are working on that too. (h/t)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monday Bake: Chocolate Bundt Cake

This is a modified version of the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Layer Cake from The New Best Recipe (modified in that I didn't have any instant coffee so I used extra cocoa instead). Using a bundt pan instead of two round pans essentially doubled the baking time.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease pan with Baker's Joy.

12 tbsp softened unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 large room-temperature eggs

Beat butter for 30 seconds, then gradually add sugar and beat 3-5 minutes. Add 1 egg and beat for 1 minute. Repeat for other egg.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 2 tsp cocoa (2 tsp should have been powdered coffee, but I didn't have any.)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Whisk these together and add 1/3 of the mixture to the batter with your mixer on its lowest setting. Then add 1/3 of a mixture of the following:

1 cup + 2 tbsp milk
2 tsp vanilla

and mix until almost blended. Repeat for other 2/3 of dry and wet ingredients. Mix for 15 seconds or until satiny. Schlop into bundt pan and bake for 50 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Dust with powdered sugar.

The only thing I did wrong (at least that I know of before tasting it) was that I failed to push the batter toward the sides of the pan. This meant that it puffed up in the center of the cake instead of reaching the ridges on the sides and inner ring as well as it might have. My next Bavaria cake will be prettier.


I have this overwhelming urge to start sewing again. Wouldn't a wrap top (something like one of these, but maybe with no collar) in a jaunty cotton be great for summer?

Book Review: A Conspiracy of Paper

I was reluctant to read any of David Liss's historical novels due to my adverse reaction to Dorothy Dunnett's fifteenth century Dutch series, but an airport bookstore and a too-quickly-finished I Promessi Sposi led me to make a begrudging purchase.

Imagine my delight, then, when A Conspiracy of Paper turned out to be more of a hard-boiled detective novel than a boring saga about a eighteenth century family of stock traders. Ben Weaver, a former prizefighter, became a thief-taker and returner of lost property after an injury forced him from the ring. Estranged from his Jewish family and name, Ben ekes out a respectable living catching robbers and taking other odd jobs. But after his father's death in a horse carriage hit-and-run, a young gentleman appears at his door. The death was no accident, he claims, and neither was the alleged suicide of his own father. The deaths are linked, but only after an investigation that takes him from the theatre to Exchange Alley will Ben determine how. We meet a beautiful lady, a whore without a heart of gold, wealthy businessmen who will stop at nothing to ensure the success of their big deal, and the world's first modern crime lord as we follow Ben's investigation of his father's machinations in that newly minted institution, the stock market.

Aside from a few rather gratuitous jabs at the corporation and a couple of villains who get a little monologuey, Liss's first novel is uniformly superb, with plenty of informative historical detail to flesh out the potboiler mystery plot. Ben is a detective in the best Sam Spade mold and his dissolute doctor friend echoes a more decadent version of Watson. I am excited about the book's two sequels.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

It's the only thing.

This is not my secret, but I know what it's like to destroy your happiness just so you can beat someone else.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

More fashion stupidity

Petite clothing sizes are for women under 5'4". They are the salvation of people like me, who are short but have developed enough roundness through the hip to make buying juniors' sizes a chancy proposition. They are also apparently becoming harder to find.

It's true that petite garments can tend toward the frumpy, but they need not do so. I find it odd that even as trendy retailers like Banana Republic expand their petite offerings, department stores are cutting them. Maybe they just need better buyers in the petite sections of those stores.

I always go to stand-alone retailers, not department stores, for petite clothing (Ann Taylor's petites are nicely proportioned) because even the smaller sizes of petite suits at department stores can often look like they were designed with the ladies who lunch in mind. The last time I broke that rule, I had a very disappointing Nordstrom experience in which the clerk could find exactly one conservative women's business suit that was made of wool. Tacky items bedecked with fabric bling were everywhere, though. It sounds like this is less a failure of demand than a failure of department stores to appeal to style-conscious short women.

Gay Paree

I uploaded a handful of my Paris photos to Flickr. If you want the whole online album, email me.

Friday, May 26, 2006

PTN Book Club Reminder

Don't forget that reviews of The Betrothed are due next Wednesday. I finished it up on the plane back from Paris and have only good things to say about the book. If you've fallen behind, Memorial Day weekend will give you a few days to catch up.

Don't trust anyone under twenty.

I am officially old.

The Brits have been using a high-pitched "mosquito" sound that only teenagers can hear to drive loitering adolescents away from businesses where they're not wanted. (Age-related hearing loss starts at age 20 or so; high-pitched sounds go first.)

The teens have struck back, copying the sound to mp3 format and using it as a ringtone. Now they can get calls and text messages without alerting teachers or other adults.

Can you hear the sound? Two versions of it can be found here and here. I cannot. (h/t)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lusty boos!

Looks like Sofia Coppola's latest is a dud. Snaggletooth Dunst freaks me out a little but being surrounded by posters for this movie in Paris got me excited about its release. Poor Jason Schwartzman.

Work it out

If the tech companies can make this, why can't they make my most desired fitness-related invention, namely a sensor for treadmills/stairclimbers/exercise bikes that turns off your TV if your activity stops? This is the only way that I'd exercise every day.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

HLS Prof Hissyfit

This old e-mail tiff between three HLS professors is hilarious. Disclosure: I had and liked both Warren and Nesson and harbor a grudge against Tree for his e-mail address usage (he never checks the one, even though that's the one available to students).

What dead horse?

Know how sometimes you're reading your favorite blog and you see that the blogger is going on about some totally uninteresting thing AGAIN and you just want to shake him and say, "Drop it already! I get it! Nobody cares!" Perhaps fortunately, physical assaults of this sort cannot be transmitted electronically, and so the experience just repeats itself over and over because very few readers have the cojones to tell people that they're boring.

This is your chance to make sure this stops for at least one blog. Tell me in the comments about the one recurring topic you are sick of that I blog about. Whatever subject the most people think is annoying/mind-alteringly dull/unnecessary will never be blogged here again.

(Special bonus points if you guess what inspired this fit of pique.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

C Student Gets College Dropout Admitted to HBS

Former CMCer Blake Gottesman (previously) has been admitted to Harvard Business School despite his lack of a college degree. The Economist and the Harvard Crimson are unimpressed.

During the short time I went to CMC with Blake, I thought he was a nice, intelligent guy, but the job he's had for the last several years does not seem equivalent to three years of education and the business-related work experience that HBS students typically have. This says HBS looks for leaders. I'm not sure what about petsitting and making PBJs indicates leadership. It sounds like followership to me.

An alum's reaction to the news: "Maybe they'll have him take some kind of special Waylon Smithers courses."

Fourth Amendment Doormat

A lot of people could use one of these. (h/t)

Credit Card Hades

(Warning: ranty.)

I've had a Capital One MasterCard for about eight years. I used to use it as my primary card, but last year I got an Amazon Visa that gave gift certificates for dollars spent and now use that for nearly everything. I kept the Capital One card because it is one of the only cards that charges only 1% for currency conversions and I do a fair amount of overseas travel. I've never notified the company before I went overseas before, just went over to Turkey/Spain/Iceland and started spending.

This time I tried to use my card in France and everywhere I went it was either declined because they only accepted Visa or declined for real because Capital One apparently thought the transactions were fraudulent. I returned home to find a phone message from Capital One's fraud department. This would have been nice to get had I actually been home when the charges are occurring, but the charges were for real and thus their call was useless.

I called customer service yesterday and asked them what was up with freezing my card. They said that the fraud detection is now more sensitive and I have to call them before I go anywhere with the card (what are they, my mom?). I rolled my eyes and said fine, but then asked them if I could switch to their 1-2% cash-back rewards Visa since the reason I never use this card is I get nothing for doing so. They then informed me that they couldn't do that, but I could cancel my current account and apply for the other kind of card.

Double-you tee eff? Isn't your credit score partially a function of how long the accounts have been in existence? Why would I want to cancel my oldest account? The funny part is when I checked the mail there was a letter from Capital One informing me that they had changed my card to a points-reward version. However, the points convert to gift certificate at one-fourth the rate of my Amazon card, so no business is coming their way for that. What should I do?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Anonymous Lawyer Book Reviews

Advance copies of Jeremy Blachman's Anonymous Lawyer book have been sent out. Here's what looks to be the first review. Here's Ann Althouse explaining why she quit 20 pages in. I never found the blog particularly funny, but if people are willing to make this a Book Club selection I will keep an open mind and read it.

UPDATE: Ted Frank's negative review is here.

Orc in a top hat

Europe has an American-Idol type program called Eurovision. We watched the semifinal last week and found out that the final winner was the controversial Finnish band. I'm mad that the Lithuanian group didn't win.


What happens to a traveler deferred?

Does she dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or jog to a new gate--
And then run?
Does she find new friends to meet?
Or seethe at crying babies--
And stomp off to buy a sugary sweet?

Maybe she just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does she explode?

This is dedicated to American Airlines and O'Hare Airport.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Do I have to turn this blog around?

I am in Paris. Behave!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fashion Poll

Should I buy a Chanel suit? There are some consignment shops that have them for only moderately heart-stopping prices.

Monday, May 15, 2006

EC Campaign

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wants you to ask your doctor for a prescription for emergency contraception. Having a prescription (even an unfilled one) on hand can make it dramatically easier to take the drug in the timeframe in which it is most effective. Of course, you may already have birth control pills that can be used as emergency contraception.

Translations, por favor.

Am I the only person in the world who is seriously annoyed by books that have significant amounts of non-translated dialogue in them? In the wake of this poll, I decided to give McCarthy another try and picked up Blood Meridian. My high school Spanish is just not cutting it, though. Nabokov pulls this stunt too, but he gets a pass from me because he at least uses proper punctuation.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Designer babies

What if you could ensure that your children would not be plagued by the inheritable disease you suffer from? In Britain, now you can.

Predictably, there are some people who think that this sort of screening should be banned. I don't see any of them volunteering to adopt cancer-ridden "snowflake babies," though. Their objection can't possibly be to the destruction of embryos, as this occurs with many IVF procedures that don't involve genetic screening. My question is this: is gene therapy a form of eugenics? Are the same scaremongering ethicists who try to keep people from having healthy children via genetic screening also opposed to gene therapy?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

What, me, cynical?

I give the relationship four years, tops.

International currency markets, I hate you.

Just in time for my trip to France, the Euro edges up to 1.29. The forecast predicts clouds and rain. Whee!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lipstick feminism

people talk about my image
like i come in two dimensions
like lipstick is a sign of my declining mind
like what i happen to be wearing the day
that someone takes my picture
is my new statement for all of womankind

No children

Thirty percent of German women are intentionally childless. (h/t)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

So over this

Do you ever resample a youthful favorite and realize it's no longer to your taste? I Netflixed some Kids in the Hall episodes since I liked it when I was a teen (especially the movie, parts of which still make me giggle just thinking about them). The actual shows, though, were not as funny as I remembered. There was one segment with blackface. Blackface! What the hell? I know they're Canadians, but is that not offensive in Canada?

Blackberry vulnerability

Why to send letters via e-mail.

Sent by Amber Taylor via the free Email Scheduler service.
Register now at

The little prince

This post about abused domestic slaves reminds me of an incident my mother, a nurse, told me about some years back. A Saudi family brought their young son to the U.S. for medical treatment and she was taking care of him. She had to do something moderately uncomfortable to him; I think it was starting an IV. The little boy started to cry and the roomful of female relatives became agitated. Once she finished with the IV, one woman leaned over and slapped my mother in the face. This was, she explained, so the boy would know that my mother had been punished for hurting him. The hospital was not amused and it did not happen there again, but I'm sure that any home nurses who caused the sick boy discomfort were treated even worse.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Justice Thomas picks a GMU grad

GMU has garnered its first Supreme Court clerk, one Will Consovoy. However, it's not clear when Mr. Consovoy will be clerking for Justice Thomas, as he has been known to hire far in advance and at least two of the OT 2007 slots are already full.

Why I don't dream I'm Wonder Woman: She's deformed!

Here's an interesting post on comic book art that's been making the rounds. This related discussion, incidentally, reminds me of my Intellectual Property class's study of Barnhart. Our professor brought in foam shirt forms as examples and spent a non-trivial portion of the period waving a disembodied female torso around.

Luttigator No More

Judge Luttig resigns!

What will the resignation of the biggest Supreme Court feeder judge mean for the clerkship market?

And I trust you with my money?

Note to Clerksville Bank: when a customer comes in and asks what charges are imposed on foreign ATM transactions, the correct response is not "We don't know that," and a blank stare that invites the customer to leave.

I thought about asking for them to change some money now, but I'm not sure they wouldn't hand me deposit slips with "European Dollars" written on the back.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

As you may have noticed . . .

. . . I'm toying with the template again.

Everything's better with Photoshop.

You know what's fun? Making stencils out of your photos! Tutorial here. You can transfer them to a wall or other surface with ease. (h/t)

Why can't we be friends?

Relationship stuff around the internet:

Alito hires OT 2006 clerk

Via A3G, I see Justice Alito has hired his first OT 2006 clerk: Mike Lee, a BYU grad who clerked for him on the Third Circuit. The master list has been updated.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Every love story has two sides.

As preparation for my trip to Paris next week, I rented He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, which is sort of the anti-Amélie. Unlike that film and Audrey Tautou's more recent A Very Long Engagement, He Loves Me . . . is just the right length; its parallel structure prevents digressions. I won't tell you anything more about it, but I would recommend this movie highly. The less you know about the plot, the more surprising it will be. Take a chance and watch this! Do not, however, watch Tautou's latest film. (Any American tourist I see at the Louvre with a copy of that abominable book may get a surreptitious kick in the ankle.)

(Here be SPOILERS; highlight and read if you dare.)

The thing I found remarkable about this movie is how Tautou's gamine appearance muffles our reactions to her behavior. A similar plotline with the genders reversed, or even with a less girlish actress in the lead (say, Glenn Close) would have been far more disturbing. But even as revelations of Angélique's behavior spun across the screen, I barked with startled laughter but was not frightened. Would a man find this film more scary, even with Tautou as the lover?

Unlike the NY Times reviewer, I found the ending appropriate. Anything else would have played false. Are we to imagine a final confrontation between Rachel and Angélique? An unending search for the lost love, a la A Very Long Engagement? None of the above? It leaves us with delicious ambiguity.

My heroine

I really enjoy the Dress A Day blog, mostly because it inspires me to get back into sewing and to wear more dresses (which are the lazy woman's paradise, since you don't have to match a top and a bottom). Until today, though, I did not know that the blog's proprietress, Erin McKean, also has the coolest job ever.

The Algebraist

I've gradually become an Iain M. Banks fan, although my first experience with his SF was so underwhelming that I swapped the book for a reprint of Emma in a Prague bookshop just so I wouldn't have to lug it home. His Culture novels have grown on me, but it's the dark psychology (which also comes through in his lit-fic) that put his books a cut above the typical SF. For this reason, I checked out The Algebraist from the Clerksville library despite its not being another foray into the Culture universe.

Perhaps I was doomed to be mildly disappointed. Since Banks creates a new universe out of whole cloth, he has a lot of world building to do, but the book went beyond that and began to feel overstuffed in general. The characters are classed as Quick (a variety of species living roughly humanoid timespans, with some technological enhancement and relativity-based extension) and Slow (Dwellers, who can live for billions of years and experience time at a much slower rate). Without giving away too much of the mystery plot, I will say that certain things kept jerking me out of the story: Why are creatures with lives that potentially span billions of years not risk-averse as adults? Why are AIs anathema? What exactly does a Dweller look like? (Even after pages of descriptions, I could never get a good mental image, which was not helped by the decidedly contradictory cover art.)

There were a few bright spots: a language of patterned knucklings and strokes that two lovers use to communicate secretly; the aside that it's often necessary for AIs in hiding to pretend to be conjoined twins since a solitary, secret AI would be likely to go mad; the over-the-top, Caligula-like villain who tries to conquer a system to get a valuable secret. But sifting through this epic tome to get to these bits may be a chore that only the most enthusiastic Banks fans are up for.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Anthropologist Wanted

Emailed to me by two different people: The American Scene boys have a party.
“Over here is like the conversation party, and over here is like the dance party,” pronounced Mr. Salam. He danced vigorously, and alone, in the living room to Ghostface Killah, the Libertines, the Clash, the New Pornographers.
These two lines in juxtaposition amused me:

"So far, no one had established any reverse traffic up to the bedrooms."

"Mr. Douthat proudly declared in the dining room that the corkscrew had been broken from use."

Friday, May 05, 2006

Public sex at the Volokh Conspiracy

Alas, I have been remiss in responding to the continuing debate on public sex and nudity, but Ilya Somin and Eugene Volokh have taken over.

In other news, I am in Washington D.C. for the weekend, so if any friends of Amber would like to get together for board games or lunch, email.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Can anyone beat the two ladies in this Jane blog poor-off?

Teasing out theories of sexual ethics

PG weighs in on the sexual morality issue and contends that we each have many theories. Take note of the difference between her first and second examples.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More regulation of public sex

The discussion on regulating public sex continues apace. Some of the more interesting threads:

  • Public sex as it relates to public nudity: Most people assume that no ban on public sex would mean no ban on public nudity, although you can have one without the other. Some think seeing naked people is qualitatively different than seeing sexual acts. There's disagreement over whether we can make principled distinctions as to what body parts can be banned from public view.
  • Health concerns: Many seem convinced that allowing public sex would result in increased transmission of STIs or that there might be health risks to other users of public spaces. Does the risk of increasing STI rates or of making public spaces less sanitary justify the regulation? (With respect to the latter, it might apply equally to public nudity, at least the below-the-waist variety.)
  • Public sex and sexual harassment: While some have attacked the analogy of sex to speech as invalid because people are rarely attempting to communicate to others when they perform sex acts in public, on the occasions when they do, it may be an attempt to harass others (the popular example is the dirty old guy on the subway). Does allowing public sex mean allowing this? It looks to me like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't: if you're intentionally trying to make someone watch you have sex, it might be harassment and thus bannable, but if you're totally oblivious to the people around then it's not communicative and thus bannable.
  • Public sex and minors: While some think seeing sex in public traumatizes kids, this doesn't hold cross-culturally. Public sex might mean more minors would be sexually active, but if it coincided with a switch to a liberal (read: European) view of sexuality it might be accompanied by more responsible behavior.
  • Public sex and offensiveness: At least one person claims that public acts can be regulated if they are offensive to the community without this being oppressive. Others have disagreed. Whether or not offensiveness is a legitimate ground in general for exercising the police power has come under fire, especially with respect to speech.
I'm glad that this has provoked so many different kinds of responses. I'm not glad that I have apparently caused at least one person to reconsider the merits of a flag-burning amendment. Carry on!

UPDATE: I will be moderating the comments section. If you are not substantively contributing to our discussion of the harm principle's application to regulation of public sex or nudity, you will be deleted. Please read the main comment thread before weighing in. Many of your ideas have already been discussed in some detail.


Opinionista should just be glad she's not a hyena. (h/t )

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The regulation of public sex

Instead of derailing the general discussion of sexual morality in this Feministe comments thread, I thought I'd take my hobby-horse back to PTN. To summarize: the discussion is on the appropriate extent of legal regulation of sexual behavior. One commenter, in the course of arguing for minimal restrictions based on the harm principle, tossed off this line:
Public sex, where it would be clearly offensive and/or disruptive to others, is probably within the harm principle and should be (and is) illegal as well.
I have been puzzling over this particular extension of the harm principle for years. I asked Randy Barnett about it once and didn't get a satisfying answer (apparently all will become clear to me once I breed, which means I'll never get it!). I asked the Feministe folks what they thought. One person made what I thought were some rather off-topic remarks about schools and businesses and confused content neutral regulations like decibel limits with content based regulations like limits on public sexual expression. The original commenter replied:
I agree that there’s a fine line there, that we need to be careful with. It’s one we’ve got to draw though, as we draw it with free speech. In a general sense, I don’t think it’s repressive: expecting some degree of cultural and contextual sensitivity of people living in any society seems reasonable. The question is what degree? In London, or Mumbai, I could walk down a crowded street holding hands with my boyfriend and be reasonably sure I’m not doing anything context-inappropriate: making out with him would probably cross the border in Mumbai, and standing too close to him would cross it in some village in the Punjab. A policeman coming up and advising me not to do it wouldn’t be “repression”, I don’t think. Being attacked by the policeman, on the other hand, would.
Now expecting people to be sensitive to others is nice, and should be encouraged by civil society, but I'm more interested in the appropriateness of state regulation. A police officer who tells you not to engage in some kind of sexual behavior presumably has more authority than the average citizen; you might be fined or punished in some other way, or you might be arrested and taken into custody. This part of the argument seems unpersuasive.

Other people are unwilling spectators to our offensive expression and conduct all the time. I can stand on the steps of the Supreme Court and wave gory, graphic photos of dismembered fetuses at passing schoolchildren. I can wear a jacket that says “Fuck the draft” in a courthouse. I can put cartoons of Mohammed on t-shirts and wear them on the street. Lots of people would find these things offensive, but we don’t allow their religious fervor, patriotic sentiment, or just plain weak stomachs to be grounds for censoring the public sphere. Why is sex special? To use legalistic language: unlike decibel limits, this is not a content-neutral restriction. (Or is it? Is a dimension of expression, not content of expression? Can I really express myself sexually if I am not permitted to act on my feelings? In the same way that no other words really convey the sentiment "Fuck the draft," does any other mode of expression really get across what a physical gesture like a kiss does?)

Even if you don't buy the sex-as-expression argument, even though it's clearly communicating something between the parties engaged in it, why is preventing offense a legitimate state interest in this case and not in other cases? If you have a right to have sex in your home, we can't regulate it, even if your community knows what you're doing and finds it totally offensive. Why does the public actually seeing it, as opposed to knowing about it, make a difference?

It just seems odd to say that we can burn flags in public (something many people find so offensive that it provokes violence) but we can’t have sex in the bushes at the park because someone might get the vapors.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention my other objection to Annie's response. Does anyone else have a problem with saying that our right to engage in public sexually-charged behavior is entirely dependent on community norms? If that sort of relativism is the standard, then we're one reactionary religious movement away from sexual segregation.

UPDATE II: Welcome, Instapundit readers. This old post suddenly has become relevant again.

I will be moderating the comments section. If you are not substantively contributing to our discussion of the harm principle's application to regulation of public sex or nudity, you will be deleted. Please read the main comment thread before weighing in. Many of your ideas have already been discussed in some detail.

Good for the gander

I'm slowly getting back on the makeup wagon after nearly two years of blotchy-faced, low maintenance living. The experience of shopping for the stuff is pretty intimidating. I wasn't aware that SOP for makeup these days included "primer." My face is not a car! I ended up getting this foundation and powder and calling it a day.

Now can someone drag this guy down to Sephora? You'd think he could afford to not look like someone's attacked him with a sandblaster.

PTN Book Club Lives

Some people are still interested in doing the book club thing, so we're soldiering on. New members are welcome! Discussion on future book club selections is taking place here. May's selection will be the Volokh-Conspiracy-approved I Promessi Sposi.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Unwise in the presence of so many writers to publish such dreck.

Sometimes reading bad books is like starring in your very own episode of MST3K. And sometimes it makes you want to scoop out your eyes with a melon baller.

I saw this book in the Clerksville public library and immediately recognized it as being the one that gained infamy at a convention last year for its unintentionally hilarious prose and dialogue. A sticker on the spine proudly proclaimed it a "Bond Book." Somehow I don't think the voters realized that their tax dollars were going to be used in quite this way. But some said (link fixed) that it was an unfairly criticized work of feminist SF, so I gave it a shot.

I think this review pretty much sums up how I felt after reading it. One thing that's not emphasized there, though, is how astonishingly stupid the characters are. Why not use men's urine to cure the plants? How dumb do you have to be not to notice that your mother and sister have green and brown skin?

I hope that books two and three are never published. UPDATE: Book Two comes out this summer. Augh!

Future of the PTN Book Club?

Thanks to those of you who participated in the book club. Is there any interest in picking new books and continuing with it? I felt like we got off to a bad start by choosing books the first two months which most of us didn't like.