Monday, May 31, 2010

Sometimes, something is a bad idea and you should feel bad.

Since when is it anyone's responsibility, when confronted with stupid, wrongheaded, destructive, or actively evil ideas, to refrain from calling out their proponents, keep mum, and come up with an alternative to sell? You don't have to be capable of brainstorming all-new policy proposals to see  weaknesses in existing ones, just as we don't expect critics in a variety of fields to also be creatives. And regardless of the origin of the bad ideas, challenging bad ideas is always and everywhere to be encouraged. The manner in which one does so may determine whether the proponents continue to socialize with you or not, but there are only so many ways to tell someone gently that s/he is making the world a worse place.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Friends are a luxury that journalists can't always afford.

As a peripheral observer of the sort of incestuous journalism circles Conor Friedersdorf decries in his piece on the tyranny of DC, I note one gap in his critics' rebuttals. It may indeed be the case that vociferous criticism of a friend's writing and ideas is all in the game, yo, but that sort of camaraderie is derived from the existing social relationships. Even if you could absorb a takedown from a friend and fellow journalist with a weak grin because you know your pal will be buying you a beer that evening, you probably wouldn't take the same criticism from an outsider as lightly. The existence of these circles---and their importance for networking---creates entry bias and a disincentive for aspirants to unleash brutal honesty. Anyone not already ensconced has strong motivation to self-censor and muzzle himself, just as Conor argued. And once you've ingratiated yourself, you could write withering critiques of your friends' work, but isn't your motivation to do so lessened by the now-extant relationship? Even (especially?) if your buddy deserves the full force of "the tone Matt Yglesias reserves for Jonah Goldberg"?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Also, no Christina Hendricks in BSG

Ta-Nehesi Coates on the limitations of self-consciously gritty TV:
Looking back on it, I think I didn't enjoy BSG because I felt like it was never as deep as it thought it was. Every second I felt like I could hear the show's creators saying things like "this is sci-fi naturalism," or "this show is really dark," or "this ain't no punk-ass Star Trek."
Hearing about the finales of shows like Lost and BSG makes me glad that I never got into them in the first place.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mini Book Review: The Poisoner's Handbook

So this book?* Pretty good! Too short, in the way some nonfiction books are, but intriguingly broken down by poison and chronology. Upshot: Most poisons are really awful ways to die! Anyone know of some similar pop-science books?

* Not to be confused with the darkly hilarious Young Poisoner's Handbook, which was also based on a true story. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Big Damn Heroes

MeFites literally save two Russian students from falling into hands of sex traffickers. In realtime.

Original AskMe plea from American friend of the Russian women.

Subsequently posted MetaTalk discussion thread with additional context.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Me Generation(s)

The modern author's mistake:
assuming that readers will be interested in a bunch of spoiled, self-absorbed twits, who natter on endlessly about their desires and resentments and body parts.
Isn't that what blogs are for?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Are those gametes kosher?

Proposed Israeli fertility-treatment bill is racist and gross:
Under current law, only women already undergoing fertility treatments can donate their eggs, but a new bill expected to pass the Knesset would allow many more young Israeli women to donate. In an effort to win support from the Knesset's ultra-Orthodox factions, the bill also has a provision requiring a woman undergoing fertility treatments in Israel to do so only with eggs from a woman of the same faith.
Sadly, this bill is positioned as a reform, and motivated by recent rabbinical rulings "that refer to the birth mother as an 'incubator' or to her womb as an 'external tool.'" Children born of mere incubators from non-Jewish eggs are, by those rulings, not Jews.

I'm not sure how the egg access works in this scheme for people who aren't Jewish by Orthodox law---whose eggs would the Buddhist daughter of a Jewish father and Christian mother get? How fine are faiths diced? Isn't this effectively condemning many infertile members of religious minorities to childlessness (unless they are willing to go overseas for eggs)?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Amen, brother.

Conor Friedersdorf on the tyranny of New York:
New York City's role on the American scene isn't unhealthy merely because it attracts creative, ambitious people with its dynamism, or because its residents have a healthy ego about the relative merits of their city. The problem is that along with those inevitable traits of great cities, Manhattan and certain of its surrounding boroughs happen to dominate American media, finance, and letters so thoroughly that even the most impressive achievements of other cities are routinely ignored while New Yorkers talk about local matters of comparatively smaller consequence, either tempting or forcing the whole nation to eavesdrop on their chatter depending on the day.

In Houston, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, and San Antonio, all among the top ten most populous cities in the United States, the smallest with well over a million residents, the average person has watched countless hours of television set in various New York City apartments, and perhaps never seen their own city portrayed in a sitcom. The executives read The Wall Street Journal far more carefully than the local newspaper, the aspiring writers dream of getting a short story published in The New Yorker, the local Starbucks sells The New York Times, the romantics watch Breakfast at Tiffany's on AMC at six month intervals, and every New Years Eve people gather around to watch a tape-delayed broadcast of a ball that dropped on Times Square hours earlier.

New York is a great city, but in America today, someone who seeks out the best television or novels or magazine writing or art or newspaper reporting is confronted with an even greater degree of NYC centric stuff than is justified. The city is a legitimate giant, yet its shadow somehow reaches much farther than it should. It thereby deprives other cities of the light they need to grow half as tall.
If sitcoms want to give their marginally employed characters huge showpiece apartments, why not set the show someplace where that's not a jarring annoyance to the viewer?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

2010 : Taylor Swift :: 2000 : _____?

Caitlin Flanagan does it again. It's hard to even isolate all the absurd assumptions and generalizations in this piece.

Note in particular the set of "assumptions" that Flanagan cites as the grounds for second-waver's promotion of sexual liberation, including "that a girl is capable of great sexual desire." Flanagan's skepticism of this underlies her entire essay.

She also apparently feels we should accept a novel by a sexagenarian about a largely apocryphal phenomenon as accurate evidence of contemporary "values of girls’ desire for committed relationships [and] the realities of the sexual era in which we live."

The entire piece is confused; Flanagan doesn't clearly differentiate between when she's talking about the teens of today and the teens of five to ten years before. The upshot: Today's teens are supposedly adapting 1950s "Boyfriend Story" norms and practice in reaction to the aimless whorishness of their elder sisters. That previous generation of girls, cautionary tales that they were, provoked a backlash against "acts and experiences that are frightening, embarrassing, uncomfortable at best, painful at worst." And these girls only were conned into such acts because they were "taught by [] peer culture that hookups are what stolen, spin-the-bottle kisses were to girls a quarter century ago." 

But though Flanagan intones that in her day,  girls "looked forward to sex, not as a physical pleasure (although it would—eventually—become that for most of us [EDITOR: Oh, honey.]), but as a way of becoming ever closer to our boyfriends," these modern girls had sex ... for reasons that Flanagan cannot or does not explain. If it's true that the most modern girls could expect was a hookup, and said hookups were not fun or pleasurable, then what was the draw? What story is the "Boyfriend Story" replacing?

Then we reach the crux of the issue: There never was a time where the "Boyfriend Story" was not ascendant. Music and books marketed at teenage girls may vary in their degree of explicitness, but the mainstream media thrust has always been romantic fantasy. I'm reaching for examples from the Bad Old Days (which span what, exactly? 2000-2005? 1995-2005?) for narratives targeted at teen girls that promote clinical and unemotional sex and coming up dry. Even raunchy teen movies of the period typically succumbed to romantic sweetness at the end.

And romantic fantasy is not the exclusive province of girls, any more than lust is solely male. There are indeed girls pining for emotional intimacy with boyfriends who are more interested in merely physical gratification. But there are also teen boys mooning over vivacious, bodacious girls.

Flanagan is, as usual, simultaneously soporific and alarmist, waxing eloquent on the perils of modern feminism and then lulling the reader with the idea that all that unnatural liberation stuff will ultimately not prevail. I'm not sure what the Atlantic gains from having a professional anti-feminist troll/mole writing these columns, but I hope the traffic spike does their revenues enough good to justify the presence of this artfully written dreck.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Boring at the time, funnier in retrospect

I wanted to listen to the webcast of this speech to check the content of Spitzer's remarks about his past acquaintance with Elena Kagan, but unfortunately the file won't play. I had forgotten the topic of Spitzer's talk.
New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer told an HLS Class Day audience today that self-regulation by corporations and financial institutions has been an “abject failure” and he warned graduating 3Ls not to succumb to hubris or the delusion that they are “Masters of the Universe.”...

Spitzer decried the “moral relativism” of corporate offenders who have tried to convince him not to prosecute them because their conduct was not as egregious as that of their competitors. “What they said to me was, ‘Eliot, you’re right, you’re right in what you allege, but we’re not as bad as our competitors.’ And that, they thought, was a defense!” he told the lunchtime assembly at Jarvis Field. “It was revealing to me because it was symbolic of where our ethical standards had gone. … Moral relativism was being used as an excuse to drop to the lowest common denominator time and time again. Nobody in any of these sectors ever said, ‘we have to stop.’ And that, to me, was very troublesome.”

“I think if you look at the CEOs and the others who have been involved in most of the corporate scandals … they began to think that somehow, the law didn’t reach them, the moral boundaries that every one of us understands didn’t apply to them. And this was captured in a brilliant t-shirt—and I don’t often end by quoting t-shirts, but it was given to me by an investment banker friend of mine, the last one I had—and on the front it said, ‘Hubris is terminal.’”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ripple Effects

The most recent round of Facebook privacy changes resulted in many people deleting or losing what was formerly visible profile information. As a result, the friends of every other Amber Taylor now cannot tell me from the Amber Taylors they know and keep trying to friend me. GO AWAY, friends of other Ambers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reader Fashion Poll

Nude pumps: Yay.

Toe cleavage: Not so much yay.

What do you think: Would the whole leg-lengthening effect of nude pumps be ruined by obvious toe cleavage? We're talking about a lot of toe cleavage here, like all five toes. (I have very long toes.)

Basically, I am going for this look. Note that Anne has no toe cleavage there.

Nude pumps with toe cleavage?
No way, toe cleavage is gross!
Yeah, toe cleavage is hot!
I don't care.
Nude pumps are fug, regardless of the toe issue. free polls

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ask versus Guess Culture

This is one of my favorite AskMe answers ever, and it's even been turned into a column.
In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it's OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won't even have to make the request directly; you'll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.
I'm a total Guesser.The agony of having to actually ask for something! And yet the few times I have acted more like an Asker and succeeded, it's been liberating.

Saturday, May 08, 2010


Snape is very cute, which is why I always drive him places and never fly.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Most expensive free parking ever

So I found a free parking space by my doctor's office yesterday morning and was able to call my other doc (who Doc 1 wanted me to follow up with) and get an appointment with him for the same morning, just slightly later. Score, right? Since there was no chance of parking for free at Doc 2's, I thought I'd just hang out in the car and read for 20 minutes or so and then drive over.

Unfortunately, I drive a Prius, so if you just sit in the car with the key it runs the battery down. Price to be reminded of this little lesson: $75 for a jump from the tow-truck driver who fortunately happened to be at an accident down the block. I got to Doc 2's on time, but with much gnashing of teeth.

Ideally I would have thought to negotiate this price with the driver and maybe get him to drop the price for an off-the-books jump, but this didn't occur to me until afterward.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Random Roundup

- Has Roger Ebert ever before simply refused to rate a movie (as opposed to giving it zero stars)?

- Questions don't get popped, they get gradually unveiled and negotiated.

- This post would be more obviously timely if the exemplar was not Baywatch. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Nobody's chasing you except DEATH.

Why is everyone I know running and doing marathons? Aren't marathons bad for you?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"Now it's WMD. It will mass-destruct your ass."

Demanders of black-market services are stymied by the difficulty of advertising said services. To the extent that the crimes in question are of the "victimless" variety, this is a not-insignificant brake on utility.

Would drug corners and their attendant violence be less prevalent if you could open up the phone book, find an ad, and place an order for drug delivery? What will all the sketchy guys do if Craigslist ever gets around to actually banning prostitution ads?