Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hyde Park 3: Monk Parakeets

One thing that definitely surprised me about Hyde Park was the presence of bright green parakeets, completely wild and thriving despite the harsh winters. You don't see them every day, but if you pay attention, you can catch glimpses of them, especially along the Midway. A few days ago I saw one in a tree right next to me, but unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me. Tonight I saw some and decided to get some pictures. It took me a while to track them down, but it helps that they often emit a distinctive shriek as they launch into flight. It sounds a bit like a high-pitched Chewbacca. Following the sound, I found them in a tree along the Midway. I did get a couple of pictures, but they were among a bunch of branches and in the shadows. I'll refrain from posting a picture until I get a decent one. Until then I'll be carrying my camera around whenever I leave the dorm.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What is a Gunner?

One of the first things I heard at law school was the term "gunner." No one explained what it meant; I gathered that it had to do with ambition, and that it was a negative thing. Since then I've thought about it a bit, and often wondered if people see me as a gunner. I don't know the answer to that question, but I have detected two different uses of the term.

Sometimes it merely means someone who makes good grades, which usually implies a certain level of ambition. Other times it means someone who raises his hand a lot in class (this is the definition that would apply to me). This, I think, is the essence of being a gunner: thinking that your opinion is so valuable that you have to share it at every opportunity. A gunner sees every hypothetical as a chance to impress everyone with his razor-sharp mind.

The funny thing is that being a gunner in this sense is probably not much correlated with intelligence or good grades. The unfortunate part, perhaps, is that mere confidence is enough to go a long way in a world like ours. My hatred of over-confident people is extreme, though in fact I am among them.

So I guess it's clear which definition of gunner I find more apt. It is a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to work hard and make good grades. Being a gunner, on the other hand...

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Rationality in Exile

There's a piece called "The Unregulated Offensive" in the New York Times Magazine. I would provide a link, but it wouldn't last very long. It's definitely worth a read.

The basic premise is that conservatives are trying to use the courts to strike down most of the regulatory state, which they see as unconstitutional. Throughout the piece, conservatives talk openly about their desire to achieve this goal. Professor Epstein, who taught me torts, is prominently featured. Professor Sunstein, who taught me elements of the law, provides a few comments on the effort. I should say at this point that both men are very smart, intellectually honest, and personally kind. I feel a sense of loyalty to both of them.

What's bizarre is the reaction on the internets. In the piece, Sunstein describes himself as a moderate. This sends Andrew Sullivan into a tizzy. He claims that Sunstein is "a big liberal (which is his right), an anyone-but-Bush partisan Democrat, and, in Tom Palmer's words, 'about as radical an advocate of unlimited government as you could find in America.'"

Anyone who knows Sunstein knows that this is beyond absurd. I was recently at a talk by Sunstein during which he attacked the minimum wage as counterproductive. I think it's safe to say that not many partisan Democrats take that stance. Sunstein regularly praises Hayek as one of the best critics of socialism. People like Sullivan fall into the trap of assuming that any cogent attack on conservative ideas must come from a "big liberal." In fact, Sunstein is perceptive, evenhanded, and, dare I say, moderate.

Insufficient unto the post is the evil thereof. Sullivan links to what he calls
an "actual critique of the substance of the piece." The only problem is that he links to this post by Orin Kerr. The topic of the post? Whether Sunstein misuses the term "Constitution in exile." We begin to see what Sullivan considers "substance." Kerr's point seems to be that "Constitution in exile," which does sound a bit ominous, is actually a liberal concoction. Unfortunately, the phrase was authored by Douglas Ginsburg, a judicial conservative. Kerr is reduced to arguing: "If the phrase is not actually used by conservatives, but rather is a characterization by their critics, I think that makes a notable difference." Not only is Sullivan's "substance" an argument about terminology, it's a bad argument about terminology.

What's striking about all of this is that I doubt Sunstein and Epstein even disagree about the existence of a movement to restore an older understanding of the Constitution. They probably disagree as to the merits of that movement, but they could sit down and have a rational discussion about the matter. Which is to say, they could do a lot better than Sullivan and Kerr.


Those of you who missed Steven Levitt's ACS-sponsored talk at the law school missed one of the best events of the year. He is freaking awesome.

So is his new book, Freakonomics. I could go on about how smart and unconventional it is, but do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. I will say that I wish it were a bit longer and heavier on economics. Still, especially if you haven't encountered his ideas before, it's definitely worth a read.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hyde Park 2: BP of Death

There's a BP station a few blocks west of the law school. Some students refer to it as the "BP of Death," presumably because it doesn't feel like the safest place in the world. The other day I filled up Hitesh's car there, and used my credit card. The next day I got a fraud-prevention alert from my credit card company. I had to confirm that I had made a purchase at the station before they would let me use my card again.

I have ambivalent feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I appreciate that Mastercard is looking out for me. On the other hand, I've made countless purchases in Chicago since moving here, and this is the first one that caused a problem. It feels a lot like statistical discrimination, and it probably has real consequences: it would be hard operating a business where people had to confirm their purchases before they could use their cards again (presumably it only happens once). Of course, I realize it's just some algorithm on a computer somewhere, and it probably saves people money. Also, who knows: maybe it really is the BP of Death...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Hyde Park 1

So it's about time that I mention some of my favorite parts of Hyde Park. I'll start with food, since... well, since that's mostly what I care about. Some people don't like Chicago-style pizza, but if you do, I highly recommend Edwardo's. The stuffed spinach pizza is amazing. It takes a while to bake, so plan ahead.

The Medici bakery is decent, I suppose. Its bread is quite good. Bonjour, though, is my favorite. It's in the same shopping center as the Co-0p, just off 55th and Lake Park. The morning rolls are excellent, as are the almond croissants. Closed Mondays.

For Mediterranean food, you can go to Cedars up on 53rd, but I prefer the Nile on 55th. The hummus is fabulous, and the falafel sandwich is tasty and cheap.

My big complaint about Hyde Park dining is that there isn't a good Indian place, unless you count Rajun Cajun. More later...

Quick Note

Gus asks: But James, what about poor, ugly, people who can't dance well?

Gus, if I knew the answer to that question, I would have better things to do than blogging.

Monday, April 11, 2005

But I Have DVDs!

I was talking to my friend, and I mentioned that I don't dance well. She pointed out that guys who can dance well are fun. True, I responded, but I have some really funny DVDs.

How good a response is this?

There's an old argument about the inheritance of wealth and its effect on equality. The idea is that you don't earn the money you inherit, but neither do you earn the genes you inherit. Money might make things less equal, but it might help to balance out the differences in genetic endowments, resulting in more equality.

The logic also applies to dancing. You can be born a good dancer, or you can work really hard, earn money, and make up for your deficiency. Wealth provides an alternative technology for attracting women. At least, I hope it does. Surely having funny DVDs isn't good enough, but the point is that there is a market in which you can convert hard work to money to things women like.

What this suggests is that the sentiment that women are too attracted to rich guys might not be true even if women do in fact prefer rich guys. It might be fairer than a system in which money doesn't matter at all. Then again, it might not; but it sure seems better to me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

DC Power

Check this out. Link from Irons.

Sex and Meteorology

I want to qualify this post and the ones that will follow by saying that these are my feelings, and I don't mean to attribute them to people in general. If you disagree, you're not wrong; you're just maximizing a different set of aesthetic functions in your crude, tasteless mind.

So anyway, what is sexy? Physical attributes have a lot to do with it, but I can't really provide much insight about them. Anyway, some people who are physically attractive don't merit a second glance, while others can't be ignored. What accounts for the difference?

Competence. Now, I know you don't often hear someone say, "Oh my god, that girl behind us in line was so attractive. Did you notice her high level of competence?" On the other hand, rarely is someone attractive who is incompetent, unless she can pull off the cute-helpless thing. Competence implies a core level of knowledge and self-valuation that makes someone independent and self-possessed. I think this is crucial to confidence, and in fact it's the sexiest kind of confidence.

As Borat would say, "But why?" I'm sure there's an evolutionary reason, but in a pedestrian way I think it comes down to respect. I just don't respect people who, like myself, depend too much on others for validation. An internal sense of worth allows someone to be more than a weathervane or a parrot. Maybe sexiness comes from a sense that someone will be interesting for more than a few days. The funny part is that the competence doesn't even have to be in an area you care about. I might find someone sexy who has a lot of ideas about meteorology, though I'm not that interesting in meteorology itself.

Speaking of meteorology, the sky is turning a beautiful shade of dull purple gray, and I can imagine it splashing down on the green grass and running down windowpanes, and it's time to finish up reading for class.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Springtime and Ich-Manifestation

Spring is here in Hyde Park, confirming my theory that the weather here is lovely for three-quarters of the year, or two-thirds of the academic year. With spring come thoughts of love, of course, and sex, and what better to write about? So I think I'll write my next few posts about what love is, and what is sexy. You might say, "But James, how can you be an expert on what is sexy?" The answer is simple - for all my faults, I am observant and very good at appreciating beauty around me. In fact, I think my greatest skill, if you can call it that, is my capacity for pleasure. In a world of producers and consumers, it's very clear where my comparative advantage lies. In all likelihood, this is grounds enough for government subsidy, but we don't live in a particularly just world.

Also, for those of you in Chicago, I highly recommend swinging by the fourth floor of Cobb Hall to see an exhibit called The Ich-Manifestation, sponsored by the Renaissance Society. It's free and, as far as I can tell, open to the public. It's around until April 17th. It doesn't take a lot of time to enjoy it, but you could probably spend some enjoyable time there with friends. It's definitely something to talk about.