Saturday, May 30, 2009
This is the best new semi-regular feature on Slate. Previous entries here and here. That is all.
This is the best new semi-regular feature on Slate. Previous entries here and here. That is all.
Empathy is a vital virtue to be exercised in private life — through charity, respect and loving kindness — and in the legislative life of a society where the consequences of any law matter greatly, which is why income taxes are progressive and safety nets are built for the poor and disadvantaged.
But all that stops at the courthouse door. Figuratively and literally, justice wears a blindfold. It cannot be a respecter of persons. Everyone must stand equally before the law, black or white, rich or poor, advantaged or not.
Obama and Sotomayor draw on the “richness of her experiences” and concern for judicial results to favor one American story, one disadvantaged background, over another. The refutation lies in the very oath Sotomayor must take when she ascends to the Supreme Court: “I do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich…. So help me God.”
And, in the same article, this is precisely my view on what conservatives should do about Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation:
Make the case for individual vs. group rights, for justice vs. empathy. Then vote to confirm Sotomayor solely on the grounds — consistently violated by the Democrats, including Sen. Obama — that a president is entitled to deference on his Supreme Court nominees, particularly one who so thoroughly reflects the mainstream views of the winning party. Elections have consequences.
Read the whole thing.
A few months ago I wrote an off-putting memo about people who move to DC and feel compelled to live “in the city.” Today I revisit my argument more thoughtfully.
When choosing where to live in a given metropolitan area, pretty much everyone thinks about the following factors in their cost-benefit analysis: quality of the particular deal (e.g. size, cleanliness, roommate situation), cost to rent/buy, additional costs (e.g. taxes, parking fees), crime/safety in the area, accessibility to public transit, and accessibility to useful stuff. This is not a comprehensive list of course, but I am highlighting these factors because in virtually every case one can find available housing in Maryland and Northern Virginia that beats out the comparable option in DC weighing these criteria absent other considerations.
Now, as there are other considerations, the analysis is not complete. I contend that, in addition to the above, the most common factors a prospective DC-area resident will consider include the following:
#1 is of course on everyone’s list of top considerations, and it alone may tip the scale back to DC depending on work location. But, as I argued in my previous post, this really only applies to people who live close enough to walk or within a 15-minute commute of their office. On this argument alone there is no special reason why someone who works on K Street would live in Tenleytown or Eastern Market over Rosslyn, and it goes without saying that people who live in DC and commute to a job in Arlington must have another reason for doing so.
#2 is a very important factor, I think. I’m sure plenty of people commit themselves to living on Capitol Hill or in Dupont because those areas mean something to them. And I know plenty of people who have moved to Eastern Market or U Street or Bloomingdale because something about the feel of those neighborhoods appealed to them. But I’m willing to bet that community feel isn’t the reason people are moving to Petworth, or 9th & Florida NE, or pretty much anywhere more than 6 stops from the city center and a 10+ minute walk from the metro. And I hate to break it to my Columbia Heights compadres, but right now that area “feels” pretty much like Clarendon. So there must be another reason; how about…
#3 is the intangible that I suspect most people will use to tip the scales if they haven’t come up with another defensible argument for living in DC by this point in the post. It’s perfectly legitimate, and completely immeasurable. Here’s the rub: there’s definitely a bright-line distinction between what feels urban and suburban. On one extreme, pretty much everyone who doesn’t care about #1 or #2 but cares about #3 should prefer somewhere like Dupont, which is about as urban as this city gets. On the other hand, absent #2 as a consideration the there’s probably nothing more urban about Van Ness or Eastern Market than Courthouse, much less Takoma or Deanwood (not that I know anyone who would argue with the latter). So if you’re living on the edge of what would be less urban than the nearest areas of Virginia or Maryland, think carefully about whether your choice of housing isn’t based on…
#4 is the rationale-that-shall-not-be-named. Much like Manhattan residents who buy 212 area codes to show their friends they’re true New Yorkers, some people don’t care about the tax rates or the community or the proximity and really just need to send their Christmas cards with “Washington, DC” on the return address. This argument is the uncouth cousin of the others, because most people definitely choose their location for one of the above reasons, but there are always a handful of people for whom the cost-benefit simply doesn’t tip the scales toward DC so they force the scales on these grounds but will never admit it. And I’m certainly not saying it’s wrong, because this is important to some people. What I am saying is if all the above reasons point to Virginia or Maryland and this is the one that does it for you, then I think it’s important to be comfortable with the fact that the decision is rooted in pretension.
In conclusion, I want to acknowledge that preferences are most certainly not linear. For example, I might say that community feel is less important than proximity to work, but not to the extent that I’m going to live in a high-rise surrounded by concrete as opposed to a townhouse on a tree-lined street five minutes farther away. There are lots of good reasons to live in DC; I definitely consider it every time my circumstances change. But since few people are okay with coming across as pretentious, I consider it a public service if I can help anyone to better understand the reasons they’re using to decide where to live.
That’s right: a public service. Some people fight for their country; I blog about DC living considerations. Happy Memorial Day.
Robin Hanson discusses his theory as to why libertarians are often closer to conservatives than to
liberals leftists. In brief, he leans toward an explanation posited by Tyler Cowen, that “libertarian heroes are more like conservative than liberal heroes.”
I have a hypothesis. Very few people grow up with a strong knowledge (or any knowledge, really) of libertarianism; they start out some version of right or left because those are the most prominent political views, so in order to become libertarian they have to (a) discover it and (b) be persuaded to adopt it. In my view, regardless of the method an individual learns about libertarianism (e.g. books, friends/colleagues, influential figures), it is simply easier for a conservative than a leftist to truly digest the core of the philosophy. On this view, the libertarian is likely to find more and closer allies by modest persuasion of conservatives than by meeting leftists in the middle.
Example 1: Connie Conservative believes in free markets, limited government, a strong national defense (American exceptionalism?), and the importance of enduring moral/cultural traditions. Conceding national defense (which a libertarian can do, although an anarcho-capitalist almost certainly would not), Connie must be persuaded that morality is better preserved by preserving freedom of choice even when the outcome is personally distasteful, which I have seen done most commonly by appealing to Mill’s “Harm Principle” or Frank Meyer’s “Fusionism.” On this analysis, the only conservatives who don’t seem persuadable are religious crusaders who believe it is their moral duty to prevent people from committing sinful behavior by any means (admittedly a more influential faction in the past decade, which explains much about the recent libertarian-conservative rift).
Example 2: Lucy Leftist is deeply concerned about civil liberties, economic hardships, righting historical injustices, and establishing/ensuring universal rights to health and education. The libertarian finds common cause with Lucy against legislating morality, violating privacy, imprisoning people for nonviolent behaviors such as marijuana use, and doling out corporate welfare. The libertarian and Lucy might also arrive at compromises that improve on the status quo, such as revising the tax structure to tax “undesirable” rather than “unproductive” behaviors or making market-based improvements to the social welfare system. The problem is that all of these inroads are policy-specific rather than philosophical. To persuade Lucy to support any position that conflicts with the traditional leftist view, the libertarian has to persuade Lucy of either the moral or consequentialist case for libertarianism from scratch and where no foundation previously exists, deftly rebutting assertions about “crony capitalism” and navigating questions about the distinction between equality of outcome and equality of opportunity.
Now, if you’ve met many libertarians, you probably share my view that most of them are remarkably bad at “outreach” whether in print or in person. It follows, therefore, that for both Connie and Lucy issues such as the following are of extremely improbable use as successful outreach strategies:
It seems to me that the case for liberaltarianism rests on the belief that libertarians can make more progress by allying with leftists than with conservatives. Persuading Lucy is certainly possible, but in my view persuading Lucy simply cannot be as easy as persuading Connie, because Lucy does not have a prior understanding of how free markets generate wealth and prosperity. Liberaltarianism is therefore a short-term strategy at best, but more likely an unnecessary one — if leftists really are likely to ally with libertarians only on policies both already support, there is no advantage for libertarians to alienate persuadable conservatives to attempt to build a new alliance.
I don’t know whether these are actually the 25 best pizzas, but hey, I like lists! Check this out if you live in (or plan to visit) Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Phoenix, New Haven, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, or Boston.
What, no St. Louis-style pizza? (That was a joke.)
By the way, I checked to see if DC claims to have a unique pizza “style” and sure enough, Post dining guide guru Tom Sietsema interviews a local pizza parlor owner who thinks it does:
The restaurateur believes there’s a Washington-style of pizza parlor, the recipe for which involves a small scale, local ownership, artisanal ingredients and skillful technique….
No. No. No. I do not accept that the manner in which business operations are conducted constitutes a regional style. If several barbecue restaurants open in DC that are owned by Swiss families and have stained glass windows, they did not just invent a “DC-Style BBQ restaurant.” And claiming that employing expert chefs is unique to a particular region is probably insulting to pretty much every other pizza parlor in the world.
Nice try, DC… actually, no, not even a nice try really.
Remember this image from 2004?
It seemed at the time like everyone on the Left wanted to move to Canada… but little did they know the Right would be only four years behind them!
According to an economic comparison by Cato scholars, it turns out Canada is doing quite well relative to the U.S. in many key macroeconomic measures: their spending as a percentage of GDP is lower, their debt is lower, and their deficits are lower (they’ve actually had ten years of surpluses!), all while keeping tax rates equal or better than U.S. rates. Maybe before too long wealthy Americans will find themselves looking at property across the border — and certainly U.S. businesses already have to be giving this some thought.
Of course, moving is sort of an expensive strategy. At the rate we’re incurring debt, if citizens are concerned about the direction of our country it might be better to wait a couple of years until Canada can afford to buy the U.S.
P.W. Singer, writing in Thursday’s Slate, gives us the four necessary conditions for the robots to turn on humans as Skynet does in the plot of the Terminator series:
Although the author is skeptical these could all occur, read the article to see a few compelling counter-arguments.
By the way, sometimes I wonder how Slate comes up with their article topics, because they are frequently random yet awesome.
The article’s title references Adams’s influence on Nashville, which is also true, but this is just as much the story of how a couple of rich old Texans fought the establishment and won.
[Update 5/25/09: It occurred to me, after the fact, that although they were rich Texans they weren’t actually old at the time — Bud Adams was something like 33 when he co-founded the AFL.]
I think in the U.S. and in most of the world the public understanding of economics is abysmal. But it’s one thing not to understand something. I don’t understand brain surgery. It’s another to want to form policies on things on which you are ignorant. I hear the wonderful phrase “I want to make a difference” when it comes to policy. I would be horrified if I wanted to make a difference in brain surgery. The only difference is more people would die on the operating table.
In my job, when we counsel students on their career interests we often tell prospective journalists to major in something else lest they learn how to write without understanding anything they write about. Many education schools now require a second major, lest prospective teachers learn the practice of teaching without understanding anything they teach. Being a professional “difference-maker” is useless without acquiring a toolkit with which to understand the issues, intricacies, benefits, and costs of attempting to make said difference.
And no, watching lots of CNN does not count.
This morning I attended Wake Forest’s commencement ceremony, and the keynote speaker was Vice President Joe Biden. Unfortunately, Biden delivered the most incomprehensible speech I have ever heard in my life. The speech as written wasn’t overly political, it wasn’t overly self-aggrandizing, and it wasn’t delivered poorly… it was just utterly incomprehensible.
The text version of Biden’s speech isn’t available yet, but the audio version is here. Please let me know if anything in here makes sense to you.
Credit goes to the AP for at least finding a couple of sound bytes somewhere in the morass… I suppose.
Related: 25 Celebrity Commencement Speeches That Were Surprisingly Good. Definitely watch Conan O’Brien’s speech if you want to experience a “what could have been” moment about your own commencement speaker.
[Update 5/19/09: The text version is now available here.]
I read Obama’s Notre Dame commencement speech in its entirety, and I’m familiar with the issues and camps surrounding his speech, but what struck me (perhaps too flippantly) ended up being this brief news excerpt:
Some graduates attended the ceremony, but expressed their disapproval by donning mortarboards marked with a cross and the outline of an infant’s footprints. Others countered by wearing mortarboards adorned with an Obama campaign symbol.
Regardless of your position on abortion, if the debate has actually turned from pro-life vs. pro-choice to pro-life vs. “YES WE CAN!” then we’re all worse off for it.
Here’s the text of the commencement speech itself. It’s quite good.
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about how Wikipedia is governed, absolutely read this. Actually, it’s a weeklong series (related posts are linked at the bottom) that’s entirely worth reading, but I found the post on governance particularly informative. That is all.
Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article examines the role of the underdog in David vs. Goliath scenarios and, with heavy emphasis on basketball examples, wonders why more Davids don’t employ unconventional strategies to try and balance the odds against their uber-advantaged opponents.
The debate continues and expands in an outstanding three-part exchange between Gladwell and Bill Simmons on ESPN.com this week. From it, I draw on this extended excerpt of sports economics awesomeness:
The consistent failure of underdogs in professional sports to even try something new suggests, to me, that there is something fundamentally wrong with the incentive structure of the leagues. I think, for example, that the idea of ranking draft picks in reverse order of finish — as much as it sounds “fair” — does untold damage to the game. You simply cannot have a system that rewards anyone, ever, for losing. Economists worry about this all the time, when they talk about “moral hazard.” Moral hazard is the idea that if you insure someone against risk, you will make risky behavior more likely. So if you always bail out the banks when they take absurd risks and do stupid things, they are going to keep on taking absurd risks and doing stupid things. Bailouts create moral hazard. Moral hazard is also why your health insurance has a co-pay. If your insurer paid for everything, the theory goes, it would encourage you to go to the doctor when you really don’t need to. No economist in his right mind would ever endorse the football and basketball drafts the way they are structured now. They are a moral hazard in spades. If you give me a lottery pick for being an atrocious GM, where’s my incentive not to be an atrocious GM?
I think the only way around the problem is to put every team in the lottery. Every team’s name gets put in a hat, and you get assigned your draft position by chance. Does that, theoretically, make it harder for weaker teams to improve their chances against stronger teams? I don’t think so. First of all, the principal engine of parity in the modern era is the salary cap, not the draft. And in any case, if the reverse-order draft is such a great leveler, then why are the same teams at the bottom of both the NFL and NBA year after year? The current system perpetuates the myth that access to top picks is the primary determinant of competitiveness in pro sports, and that’s simply not true. Success is a function of the quality of the organization.
Another more radical idea is that you do a full lottery only every second year, or three out of four years, and in the off year make draft position in order of finish. Best teams pick first. How fun would that be? Every meaningless end-of-season game now becomes instantly meaningful. If you were the Minnesota Timberwolves, you would realize that unless you did something really drastic — like hire some random sports writer as your GM, or bring in Pitino to design a special-press squad — you would never climb out of the cellar again. And in a year with a can’t-miss No. 1 pick, having the best record in the regular season becomes hugely important.
And later, after an extended back-and-forth:
Or how about eliminating the draft altogether? I’m at least half-serious here. Think about it. Suppose we let every college player apply for and receive job offers in the same way that, oh, every other human being on the planet does. That doesn’t mean that everyone goes to L.A. and New York, because you still have the constraints of the cap. It does mean, though, that both players and teams would have to make an affirmative case for each other’s services. So you trade for Steve Nash or Jason Kidd, because they make you instantly attractive to every mobile big man coming out of college. Instead of asking the boring question — which team is going to be lucky enough to draft Derrick Rose? — we ask the far more interesting question: Which team, out of every team in the league, should Derrick Rose play for? Or suppose you’re the T-Wolves, and you’ve been a doormat for years. You could say, “From now on we’re a clean-living, Christian organization. We have prayer meetings before every game. We are home by 11. We never do drugs.” Then you’d have the inside track on every clean-living college basketball player in the country. Are there enough quality religious players out there to win a championship? There must be! (By the way, why has no one ever put together the all-time clean-living starting five? And how great a name for a franchise is the “Minnesota Christians?”)
The bigger point here is that what consistently drives me crazy about big-time sports is the assumption that sports occupy their own special universe, in which the normal rules of the marketplace and human psychology don’t apply. That’s how you get the idea of a reverse-order draft, which violates every known rule of human behavior.
Even Matt Yglesias agrees, snarkily, to a freer market for sports:
I think our sports would be a lot more interesting with more free movement of teams, more freedom to negotiate salary arrangements, more freedom to sign whichever young players you can persuade to join you, promotion and relegation of teams that can’t cut the mustard, etc. The free market, just like they have in Europe.
Which means I side with a New Yorker writer, a Boston sports columnist, and a progressive blogger against parity and corporate welfare. I guess sports makes strange bedfellows.
My good friends Pete and Jason, along with their traveling companion Adam, were arrested yesterday in Jones County, MS, on what appear to be completely trumped-up charges. Their account of the entire incident is posted on their blog here.
These guys are spending the year traveling the country in an RV connecting with liberty-minded folks and telling their stories via blog and video, on a project called the Motorhome Diaries. The style they’ve chosen for highlighting government excess isn’t well suited for me, but these are principled and peaceful men, and if people disagree with their views the way to do so is via their right of free expression and not by throwing around the weight of government-sanctioned force as seems to have occurred in this case.
Pete has a master’s degree in criminal justice and all three are well aware of their rights. Note, as you read through the incident, how they politely decline searches because they know full well the police need just cause to act against them. Just because most people do whatever an officer says doesn’t mean they’re required to. These men are also well connected with media, so I suspect the Jones County Sheriff’s Department picked the wrong men to detain without cause. If you are in a position to shine light on this violation of their rights, I hope you will do so.