Sunday, December 31, 2006


Jacob Levy weighs in on the Althouse/federalism flap:
I just read some more of Althouse's own posts on all this-- which are a really bizarre mix of extreme defensiveness, extreme personal vitriol, and a dramatic interest in herself and her own sense of righteousness. And I then remembered the tone, and remembered where I'd heard of Ann Althouse before. (I know she's become a big-deal blogger, but she's never been on my to-read list.) She was the one who found Feministing blogger Jessica guilty of having breasts while standing in the same room as Bill Clinton. The arguments that followed spiralled nastily quickly-- I think due to that same combination of traits. I don't know Professor Althouse-- never met her-- and I have no idea whether the persona of her blog corresponds to her character. (Blogging's not for everybody, and it can be very tricky to keep control of the tone of one's blogging.) But the blog persona seems to be consistent across the two cases, and to be... something less than admirable.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Two blog wars in juxtaposition

One of the more interesting aspects of following the blog wars mentioned below in parallel is that the characterizations do not differ all that much in substance. Trans people are crazy, libertarians are crazy; trans people are like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, libertarians are like the 9/11 hijackers. But the feminist blog war is all about how it's wrong to use "hate speech" and the Althouse/LibertyFund fracas is not. For better or worse, nobody has thus far made much of the fact that someone arguing for greater sensitivity in public discourse essentially calls her opponents mass-murdering mental patients. This strikes me as odd.

UPDATE: And there's something else tying these blog wars together! Ann Althouse agrees with the transphobes about MTFs in the restroom.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mothra Attacks

Three different people sent me links to Ann Althouse's spectacular flameout today, so I feel like I have to post about it. Althouse, who previously distinguished herself in the left half of the blogosphere by bashing a young woman for the sin of having breasts, has, among other things, criticized a young female Reason editor for smiling too much and Ron Bailey for not smiling enough. (Damned if you smile, damned if you don't! Women can't win.)

Althouse's substantive contention, such as it is, seems to be that people who advocate federalism and limited government should have to prove that they aren't racists because federalism has been used for racist ends in the past. Because you can't just advocate for abstract ideas without some connection to how they play out in the real world, you see. Libertarians who point out that expanded concepts of national government power have led to a lot of bad consequences in the real world, too (witness the Raich decision, or, for that matter, the Fugitive Slave Act) are apparently invisible to Althouse.

Fortunately, they need not be invisible to you. Ron Bailey, Radley Balko, and Virginia Postrel all do an excellent job of addressing Althouse's bizarre meltdown. (Of course, Althouse turned it into a "diva battle.")

Incidentally, this whole spectacle is very amusing in light of Althouse's recent attempts to butter up the right half of the blogosphere by campaigning for "conservative diva" status and the like. She asserts that she has little in common with social conservatives and finds libertarians scary, but somehow expects her hawkishness to carry her through. I think she's finding out that an anti-feminist social liberal who believes in nigh-unlimited government power and the war in Iraq is going to have problems finding a comfortable ideological home.

I also am very curious to hear what Glenn Reynolds thinks of her characterization of libertarians as mentally and morally defective nutjobs. But that's because I love blog wars.

Special Bonus: there's a feminist blog war going on right now, too.

The Emperor's Children

This book sounds like I would hate it so much.
  • Set in present-day NYC
  • Populated by entitled twits
  • Allegedly witty observations of modernity
Gag. What is the antimatter version of this book? A tightly-plotted historical fiction novel about untouchables in India? I would probably read that.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Afghan Tribal Law

You know, when the imposition of sharia might count as liberalization, there's something very messed up going on:
To settle disputes, Mr Kuchi has two main options. He can order a guilty party to compensate its victim with cash, a practice known as wich pur, “dry debt”, or he can order the two parties to exchange women, or lund pur, “wet debt”. By binding the antagonists together—just as in medieval European diplomacy—lund pur is considered more effective. Typically it involves exchanging a 15-year-old, a ten-year-old and a five-year-old girl, to be married into three succeeding generations of the enemy clan. Thereby, and though human-rights groups understandably revile the practice, Pushtuns have peace and happy grandfathers.
Happy granddaughters, not so much.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Ignatius J. Reilly lives. (easily digestible version here)

Bomb throwing continues

Interesting post on interracial dating.

How to get into Harvard (Law)

Commenter "Wohlfordcmc" muses, in the course of insulting me:
I wonder how you managed to fool harvard into letting you in.
Well, for those of us like me, and, if the name is accurate, Wohlfordcmc, who screwed around in high school such that we were only able to gain admission to a former men's college with bunker-like facilities and an institutional inferiority complex, the only way to fool Harvard into letting you in is by applying to a graduate program. I applied to the law school. The law school is where Harvard undergrads who aren't smart enough to hack it in the elite PhD programs go (ask any Harvard grad, even—especially—the ones at HLS), so already the competition slackens! Just follow these easy steps, and you too can have the privilege of attending one of America's most prestigious lawyer factories!

Step 1: Assemble a suitable transcript. Many people with more intellectual firepower than me allowed their college careers to be derailed by booze, women, or MMORPGs. But with judicious course selection and a little focus, you too can get the necessary A/A- average!

Step 2: Ace the LSAT. This is not that hard.

Step 3: Write a killer essay. This is especially important if you're a generic white male with a burgeoning beer gut from a populous state. Ideally, you should have some extracurricular activities you can write about, like how you went to the Middle East for a year to work for a charity that helps Israeli and Palestinian teens become friends, or how you spent the last decade in internal medicine. I wrote about how growing up surrounded by religious fundamentalists who passed out nails to small children to remind them of the crucifixion and violated the constitution left and right made me care about religious freedom. Admissions committees apparently like this stuff.

Step 4: Be a self-obsessed loser. If you were a self-obsessed winner, you'd be applying to Harvard Business School.

So: don't give up, Wohlfordcmc! If I can do it, so can you! And if you're just interested in "harvard undergrads," next time go directly to the source.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cheesy Poofs Bleg

One of the best things about Little Rock was this Brazilian restaurant, and one of the best things about it was the cheese bread (pão de queijo). I've been trying to reverse-engineer the cheese bread for a while now with mixed results. Maybe throwing this open for suggestions will help.

  • The rolls should be light and airy and taste of cheese.
  • They must be made with manioc flour.
  • Many recipes on the internet suggest that it is hard to get them to rise. I have been using a modified version of the recipe on the flour sack, which includes baking powder, but mine do not rise either.
  • Attempt one: 1 cup flour, 8 oz. shredded "white cheese" from the Latino section of the dairy case, 1 egg, 1 tsp baking powder, enough water to form sticky balls. Produced mostly flat biscuits that had visible cheese throughout and on the exterior (this is not right). The texture was close to the chewiness that's desirable with the yuca flour. I think this was too much cheese.
  • Attempt two: same, but with 2 cups finely shredded romano. Produced small, pale hockey puck biscuits with a bread-like interior concealed within 1/4 inch of rigid crust. I think this was too much flour.
So: any advice? The recipe on the bag actually calls for 1 pound of shredded cheese, but that's just absurd. Should I use milk? Allow more rising time (currently 15-20 minutes)? Move to Brazil? I don't really care for churrascarias, but any recommendations for a D.C. place where I can get pão de queijo and dishes with Catupiry sauce is welcome.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Actual Review: A Confederacy of Dunces

Steve recommended this book to me, and I probably would not have made it past the first chapter had I not known that he would take my abandonment as justification to ignore my recommendation of Cryptonomicon. Every single character in this book is contemptible, pitiful, disgusting, despicable, or all of the above. The passages describing Ignatius made me physically ill. Chapters that were supposed to make the reader laugh provoked only despair and revulsion. The entire book is an immense joke at the expense of a mentally ill person and his intellectually deficient neighbors.

But it is so well written, I could not put it aside. The dialogue is perfectly imperfect in its dialect. The characters' mad obsessions are realized with acute perception. The setting evokes the past without being dated. This is one of the best books I have ever hated reading. I may even read it again.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Quasi-Review: Winter's Tale

I bought this book because I'd heard internet rumblings about it that characterized it as a good fantasy/historical fiction hybrid. After 218 pages, though, I resented even the dollar or so Half Price Books had charged. Then I found this on its Wikipedia page:
The overall feel of the novel is that of magic realism.
I could have saved my dollar! Bleargh.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Bonus points if you can identify the implement.

So. Glad. I live in an Arlington condo.


Tyler Cowen is right; Hanukkah giving is more neuroefficient. Of course, it presupposes sustained contact between the giver and receiver. Christmas is more efficient in another way, since the entire exchange can be completed in a shorter time and your job can expect you to return to work more rapidly.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Snohomish High School traditionally fired a ceremonial cannon at football games. The cannon, which had been made by students in the metal shop in the Eighties, was fired by JROTC members. In October, the cannon exploded, nearly taking off the leg of one of the cadets. The JROTC instructor says all procedures were followed properly; x-rays revealed that the cannon had a stress fracture in the metal.

Instead of rallying around the victim of the tragic accident, the town has ostracized him and issued anonymous threats to break or blow off his other leg. (They apparently wish to discourage him from taking legal action or jeopardizing the future of the cannon tradition.)

Sue them, kid. Sue them a lot.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Feeding people glass is so funny.

I was going to post about what a gigantic ass Sam Brownback has been, but he got knocked off the charts by Spencer Ackerman, formerly of TNR, now of Tapped.

Celebrity holoprosencephaly!

Tom Cruise's lawyers attack Metafilter for speculating about his genome?

UPDATE: Since fear of suit has inspired the MeFi mods to delete the discussion of the original deletion, get your thinly-veiled gossip here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Book Review: The Android's Dream & Absolute Sandman V.1

I am sort of afraid to review these books because there's a non-zero chance the authors will read what I say. But: whatever.

If you liked The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll like The Android's Dream. It's self-consciously wacky, but has a grounding undercurrent of surprising political savvy that keeps things from getting too madcap and zany. There was only one plot device that seemed odd (that a sheep from Earth, an ally world, would be used in the coronation ceremony of a deeply xenophobic, racist culture instead of a homegrown artifact or at least something from a Nidu colony). Of course, one can always chalk that up to the machinations of the Church of the Evolved Lamb. Your plot moves much more nicely when several of the characters are working behind the scenes to make it happen. Recommended.

Sandman I liked less well. As someone who feels about dreaming the way other people feel about watching TV, I was set to enjoy this. Unfortunately, making the lead character a functional immortal with few comprehensible motivations other than an intrinsic attachment to the status quo does not make for engaging reading. I kept going for the secondary narratives, but I found all of the Endless fairly dull. How multi-faceted a character, after all, can a personification be? Meh. I think I should really add Gaiman to Bujold and Le Guin on the list of authors that are usually not to my taste.

This is not a good post.

How fascinating do you think everything is? I think it's moderately so.

I put PTN in the Word Cloud manufacturer and it said my most common adjective was "good." Because I am just that lukewarm about the world, I guess.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ann Althouse on Libertarians

[T]hey are much more disturbing than I had previously thought. There is something incredibly obtuse about the libertarian view, something that misses the reality of human life and that is very wedded to a stark abstraction. In pure form, it is repellent.


Any recs for good winter moisturizer? I used to swear by The Body Shop's sesame body butter, but it's been discontinued. My back is so itchy I could swear I'm growing wings. My only requirements are that it be easily absorbed/non-greasy and have a neutral scent.

Unrelatedly, this post pleased me.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How I read

With reference to my reading habits, Karl observes:
you do read fiction other than science fiction and, iirc, generally avoid non-fiction. That always puzzled me a little, but even moreso now, as good science fiction is often the way authors address real-world issues without having the readers bringing real-world baggage to the forum. But maybe that is why you prefer sci-fi.
True re: baggage, but the recent blogosphere discussion on speed-reading has made me realize that one reason I avoid non-fiction in favor of fiction is that, like Ezra, I read non-fiction much more slowly than I do fiction. Given the choice between using my precious leisure time to consume an entire book or only part of one, I do the obvious thing.

Teacher, teacher

Ever wonder what your favorite high school teacher is up to? (h/t)

On fiction and science fiction

Not sure I agree with this entirely, but it does describe a fair amount of the fiction I don't read:
General fiction is pretty much about ways that people get into problems and screw their lives up. Science fiction is about everything else.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wish I was in India

I had it on good authority that I wouldn't enjoy India, but perhaps I was wrong not to go. The scenery is so nice. (h/t Karl)

UPDATE: Why I didn't go to India.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Daily Dose of Stupid II

The most ambitious attempt to catalog humanity's lineage has been stymied by religion. Where's the much vaunted reality-based community on this score?
To tribe members raised to believe the Grand Canyon is humanity’s birthplace, the suggestion that their own DNA says otherwise was deeply disturbing.
To add insult to injury, it sounds like the tribes Indian Health Service is preventing individual members who want to provide DNA from doing so. If this article were discussing Mormons who are disturbed by the idea that Native Americans are not descended from the lost tribe of Israel, would it have the same tone? I doubt it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Definitely maybes.

I spend way too much time thinking about might-have-beens. For example, I am moderately obsessed with the idea of infinite parallel universes. This usually comes up in the context of a near miss with serious injury. Every time I nearly get run over because I am crossing the street and reading a book at the same time, I think about the Amber1 who was hit by the truck and the Amber2 who was only glanced and so on.

Ditto absurd hypotheticals. Which documents from the library of Alexandria would you save? Which historical personages would you clone? Which altered event in Russian history would have maximum impact on the present? Etc.

Is this just me?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Stalky McStalker

Resolved: that anything you can find out in three Googles or less isn't stalking. Agree/disagree?

In related news, I have been within a dozen feet of Justice Scalia for extended periods twice this week.

UPDATE: The title is was supposed to be a joke. I am not actually stalking anyone, especially Justice Scalia. I just happened to go to two events this week (the Breyer/Scalia panel and a dinner at AEI) where I ended up pretty close to him. I thought it was weird, since my normal number of weekly famous person encounters is zero (although I did see Wesley Clark on my way to work the other day. He was driving a PT Cruiser. heh!). Please, don't disappear me or anyone else.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Appointed Forever

This went around the blogosphere three years ago, but there's a whole new crop of law students and such to hear it now.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Nine ethicists or nine historians?

Quotable quotes from the Nino-Breyer Smackdown (I'm sure you can figure out who said what):

"The ideal rule for an honest judge is 'garbage in, garbage out.'"

"France is a country with 300 cheeses and 2 religions. America is a country with 2 cheeses and 300 religions."

"The 17th century was just terrible!"

"I never took a logic class."

Also: neutrality between religion and irreligion is an "excrescence," dissents are written for their "educational value," and death threats against the living constitution.

Throughout, Breyer was only slightly more revelatory than another liberal justice I've heard speak about the court's inner workings. He also claimed that he couldn't think of a single case in which his principles led him to decide in a way he found personally objectionable; Scalia gave what sounded like this case as an example, which was odd. Breyer's cell phone went off, to many guffaws. It was a huge crowd, and I was lucky enough to get a front-row seat thanks to a run-in with my old boss. Fun, even if the moderator did ask one (1!) audience-submitted question and tossed softballs for the rest of the time.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Daily Dose of Stupid

Never being born ≠ Starving to death after a short and miserable existence!

The author of that book I wanted and the idiot Reynolds linked should duel.


Commerce Bank charges no ATM fees and refunds the fees that other banks' ATMs charge. It is open seven days a week. And the guy who opened my account at the Dupont office was super nice! Other banks are evil. Change to my bank.

Also, I tried Quorn. Made into tacos, it's not bad.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Book Review: Excession

The other night I finished an Iain M. Banks book that I've been reading on the Metro. This was, in hindsight, perhaps the worst way to read this particular book; by breaking my encounters with an already-fragmented narrative up into twenty-minute chunks, I lost some of the nuances. But it was nevertheless a pleasurable, if flawed, read, and I'd recommend it over Banks' more recent release.

I found myself wondering whether, in a novel that focuses like no other on the role of the artificially intelligent Minds of Banks' Culture universe, the author deliberately chose to make the human characters flat, unsympathetic, and uninteresting in an effort to accentuate our identification with the Minds as protagonists. The best passages of all deal with a doomed drone who dies in the first few chapters. I was especially bored by the story about two humans, one promiscuous and one determinedly monogamous, who had a unsuccessful romance and are brought together again by a fit of conscience by the Mind who facilitated their liaison. To sum up (spoilers): Byr had sex with everyone but couldn't have Dajeil without commitment; after deciding to start a family together, Byr slept with someone else; Dajeil attacked Byr with a knife, killing the fetus. Byr left town and Dajeil spent forty years dwelling on Byr's betrayal.

Perhaps commenter Still Closing was right to recommend Bloom on love to me: I could not align myself with Dajeil, who understood Othello's jealousy a bit too well. But neither am I aligned with Bloom's straw-students who are perfectly content to end an affair with a handshake and regard sexual infidelity as a manifestation of another's feeling that must be respected. (These students are, incidentally, unlike almost every young person I have ever met; I wonder whether Bloom had an odd sample or if he just wasn't the sort of person you'd open up to about homicidal feelings you had about an unfaithful former lover.) When confronted with a lover's betrayal, isn't there some middle ground to be trod between murderous rage and studied apathy? Is it impossible to recognize that one has been injured, and deeply, by the abrupt end of a romance without lapsing into rights-violating behavior?

Perhaps the real taming that has taken place is not our ability to love but our ability to refrain from hurting others. Surely a grand and intense perspective on love is not always incompatible with an otherwise modern view on sex and relationships. I'm sure many of us are living proof that what separates the young people Bloom didn't see from the more dramatic characters of literature is, more or less, self-control.

In any case, Banks' story peters out without really shedding much light on these issues; perhaps it's easier to forgive such things in a society where medicine can heal nearly any wound. Then again, I'd be a lot angrier about dying prematurely if I had thrice the lifespan to look forward to, so maybe that's a wash. Why Dajeil feels the way she does (which appears abnormal for her society), why Byr would forgive her revenge, why we care about either of them: it's all left blank. My advice to readers of this book is to focus on the clever machines and skim over the parts about the uninteresting humanoids.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Veronica Mars

Wasn't the rape finale just a ripoff of Scream? And why didn't she take Piz or Mac with her to the room? Grrr.

Contrast and compare

While Craigslist is taking elaborate measures to prevent people advertising for roommates from noting their preference for another kosher-keeping Jew or kidless single (h/t), the creator of The Wire is screening scripts based on race:
I tell agents in Hollywood, don't send me scripts unless they're by African-American writers.
Isn't this illegal?