Pur Autre Vie

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

Monday, September 26, 2005

Thou Shalt Make Shit Up if it Pleases Thou

Some people give a lot of weight to the ten commandments. Within that group, a subset support various policies involving killing people. This seemingly runs up against the commandment "thou shalt not kill." Believers then reply that the actual commandment is "thou shalt not murder." Their confidence in this version is matched only by their lack of curiosity as to what it means.

The problem is that murder isn't a defined term in the commandments. Murder is simply killing that isn't allowed. The purported commandment then becomes redundant. You are commanded not to do things that you are commanded not to do. Nothing of substance has been communicated. It's like a street sign that says "obey this sign." No one bothers to print up such signs, and it's unexplained why God would bother to chisel something like that into the purported fundamental law of the universe.

Now, if the commandment actually was "thou shalt not kill," there's no problem. That's a substantive command, though there are boundary questions about what counts as killing. The problem is that many Christians are uncomfortable thinking that their religion requires them to leave unfulfilled their desire to kill people. Apparently, that desire is strong enough to compel Christians to render their own moral code absurd.

I'm not sure whether we should be glad that Christians are... "flexible" about right and wrong. Lately prominent Christians seem to be much more flexible about violence and the distribution of wealth than they are about, say, being a homosexual. In general, though, it's probably for the best that Christians have put aside the inconvenient consistency that made them so intolerable to the Romans. Pragmatism serves human ends, and pure Christian values would make for a pretty miserable society wherever they dominated the polity.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Rights and Lefties

So Cutie pointed out some inconsistencies nuances in my post about Rawls. I should make my position clear, if only so that I can be pilloried even more effectively in the future.

In a rare bout of respect for my readers, I have taken the advice of a commenter and checked out The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, by Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein. It's good so far, and I'll write up a post once I'm done. Chapter six, which I haven't read yet, is entitled "How Rights Differ from Interests." Tentatively, I don't think rights do differ from interests much, at least in a philosophical sense. Clearly we have defined certain legal rights in this country, but I would argue that we have essentially set aside certain interests as more important than others and given them legal protection.

Anyway, as I said, all of this is tentative. What really matters is that I'm going to be using the language of rights a lot, simply because I want to deal with Rawls on his own terms. He reads his "veil of ignorance" hypothetical to yield certain rights orthogonal to (i.e., not subject to trade-offs with) mere interests. Even if you believe that's valid, I argue, almost all of the time those rights are subject to tradeoffs with each other by way of wealth. Expanding one right at the expense of wealth will often curtail the exercise of other rights.

So then the question is, do we care about people's ability to exercise their rights? I think so. I think rights are more or less meaningless if people can't exercise them. I'll have to read more Rawls before I can figure out his take on the question. In the meantime, the rights/interests dichotomy is not one that impresses me.

Friday, September 23, 2005

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things

So I'm feeling great, sort of on a rebound from feeling awful. I tend to become too enthusiastic in this situation, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

Or don't, because I want to share some things that are fabulous.

First, NPR. What can I say? Every time I get in the car, this is what I listen to. Best news source in the world, I think. The music is also good. One time I was driving in Peoria, blasting NPR while they were playing Beethoven. Two tough-looking bikers in the turning lane next to me actually waited several seconds after their light turned green to listen to it. I think they surprised themselves as much as they surprised me.

Second, Dannon Frusion. I can't emphasize enough how delicious this is. I'm particularly fond of the Wild Berry flavor, but the Banana Berry one is good too. I will definitely be purchasing lots of these for quick breakfasts before my 8:30 classes. Now, I know a lot of people were paid to blog about some dairy drink, but I don't think that was Dannon, and I haven't received anything in compensation for this post.

Finally, Scrubs. Hilarious. Don't miss it. NBC this fall.

Monday, September 19, 2005


One quick comment about my last post. I think a useful distinction can be drawn between positive rights (the right to be provided something) and negative rights (the right not to be deprived of something). This is a way of understanding the difference between a dictator who burns all the books in his country and a benevolent leader who simply doesn't have the resources to achieve 100% literacy. I think though, tentatively at least, that all rights are essentially positive rights behind the veil of ignorance. This is to say that in the design of the social structure itself, pretty much everything is provided by (hypothetical) individuals from behind the veil of ignorance. It's not an exact parallel, but I think it explains why I don't find the positive/negative distinction compelling when it comes to Rawls.

A Questionable Distinction

So I've been reading some Rawls. You know how it is: you hear people prattling on about something long enough, and it seems implausible enough, that eventually you have to read it for yourself. Anyway, it's been pleasant so far, but Rawls keeps drawing a distinction between fundamental human rights and mere social interests. I'm having trouble thinking of a way of affecting overall wealth, or utility, or whatever, without also expanding or diminishing human rights.

My inspiration is a comment in Capitalism and Freedom, by Milton Friedman. At some point (I would tell you exactly where, but Amazon's "Search Inside" feature is crap), Friedman comments that an American doesn't really care whether his trip to England is barred by brute force or by an unfavorable exchange rate. For an extreme example, most of us would see it as a rights violation if the government banned books. Millions of people can't read, though, or can't afford written material. When incomes rise, some people are newly free to read books. This is true for all sorts of rights, trivial or crucial, all along the continuum of incomes.

So let's take a hypothetical example. Imagine we are designing a new country, and we have a choice between a society in which the per capita income is $3,100 and a society in which the per capita income is $40,100. For comparison I've used the purchasing power parity of India and the United States, respectively. Now imagine that in the poorer country, everyone has a right to be Mirandized once in police custody, but in the richer country judges consider a totality of the circumstances to detect police coersion.

In effect, in designing our hypothetical country we have to trade off Miranda rights against a lot of money. Rawls might say that, assuming Miranda rights to be fundamental, we should choose to make our country poor but just. Rights always trump social interests. I would say that choosing the lower income is condemning large segments of the population to illiteracy, effectively denying them, among many other things, the right to read books. It's not a rights vs. utility question, it's a rights vs. rights question, one that I would definitely decide in favor of wealth. Of course, none of this is to say that Miranda rights are worthless. A reasonable person might trade away some GDP for Miranda rights. On the other hand, a reasonable person would probably trade away Miranda rights for a sufficient improvement in utility without regard to rights, but that's a post for another day.

The point is that you can seldom trade away wealth (or social interests, or whatever) without also trading away rights. The way I see it, this renders a lot of the hand-wringing about rights vs. utility moot. I'd like to throw in a vivid example about a dictator who allows capacious freedoms but keeps his population poor enough that they can't afford to exercise any of them. Though his people are free on the books, they are deprived of liberty just as surely as if he kept them down with dogs and fire hoses. I won't bother throwing in the example, though, because I think you get the drift.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bad Hurricane Relief

So apparently if you want to help victims of Katrina, you can donate your Lexis Nexis rewards points. I was considering doing this, but I looked through the rewards section and there's some stuff I really want. I also thought about it, and I've come to the conclusion that it's a bad idea anyway. The victims of Katrina need things like shelter and food, and help rebuilding their lives, not reward points. I suppose some law students had to flee the storm, but it seems as though they would be among the least needy of the victims. Also, a number of them were admitted to upper-tier law schools, which I have to assume was a bump up in some respects.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure you need a Lexis Nexis ID to access the rewards section. As far as I know, Lexis Nexis isn't giving free access to its legal database to the hurricane victims. Even if it were, though, I'm a big believer in self-reliance. If the Katrina victims want access to the excellent rewards that Lexis offers, they should earn points the same way everyone else does: by logging in every day and doing legal research. Lexis even offers extra points if you take online tutorials, which would be doubly useful for hurricane victims since it's safe to say many of them are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Lexis online research.

Which brings me to my final point: we shouldn't think that Lexis is being entirely altruistic here. Clearly they want to give Lexis points to hurricane victims to lure them away from Westlaw. If we contribute to this effort, we might perversely make the hurricane victims worse off when they get jobs as summer associates at big firms and don't know how to use Westlaw. By all means do what you can to help the victims of Katrina, but don't participate in this misguided and ineffective effort.

Let's Keep It Consistent

I only recenty realized how young Matthew Yglesias is. We both graduated from high school in 1999. Our politics are quite similar. I also consider Yglesias's writing to be quite high-quality. When it isn't, though, when Yglesias departs from his usual high standards, I have to object.

Here's Yglesias back in April of 2005 (emphasis in the original):

Incidentally, Rich Lowry quite rightly pointed out yesterday that the liberal proclivity for mocking DeLay for being a former exterminator reflects an unseemly snobbery. Exterminators are doing the Lord's work. Who wants to be overrun by bugs and rodents? Keep the focus on the opera fandom.

Here's Yglesias now:

DeLay and his allies, however, want to cut taxes even more. Usually they pretend this can be paid for painlessly through spending discipline, but as the Bugman is conceding, there's just no way to do it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Other Side of the Table

So as I've been interviewing with big law firms over the last few weeks, I've often contemplated how nice it would be to be on the other side of the table. I got that chance yesterday when the Kirkland interviewers sat on the wrong side of the table.

The first thing I noticed was that my view wasn't as good. Instead of looking out the GSB window, I was stuck looking at a wall. Of course, the clock on the wall was visible, but that's not entirely a good thing. I caught myself glancing at it nervously, which is bad body language.

Then I found myself envying the youth of the people across from me. They have so many opportunities in front of them - they can do whatever they want. They don't have to squander away their time as I have. They still have their youth. The world is theirs.

It was a relief to get back on the right side of the table today. The humiliation felt pure. I enjoyed my view and let them worry about the clock. I envy their poise and status, but it's a feeling I can deal with.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

One for the Courts

According to the New York Times, California has approved same sex marriage. This was done not under court order, but through the normal legislative process. This puts Schwarzenegger in an awkward position; if he wants, he can kill it with a veto.

Note that Republican typically portray the gay rights movement as one driven by elites in the media and on the bench. Confronted with normal legislative action, though, they are on the defensive. Let's see how Schwarzenegger responds:

"A spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger, Margita Thompson, said after the vote that the governor believed that the issue of same-sex marriage should be settled by the courts, not legislators..."

Normally Republicans claim to be for legislative sovereignty and against gay marriage. Schwarzenneger was thus in an untenable position, and he chose to attack perhaps the less crucial Republican orthodoxy. Still, it's a quotation that will probably come back to haunt him, which I imagine is the point of the legislation in the first place.

UPDATE: fixed awkward phrasing

UPDATE 2: fixed spelling error

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Tiffany is a β Whore

So Tiffany, Konica, and I had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Tiffany announced that she wanted α whore for dessert (note: depending on your fonts, this should show up as alpha whore). Konica and I were taken aback, but we decided it was safest to play along. Soon it became clear from observation that Tiffany herself is a β whore.

Some elaboration is required, though of course the whore part is self-explanatory. β whores are commonly found at elite universities. They are somewhat reclusive, but are capable of sending more than 40 e-mails a day. They are ridiculous, but act as though you are the ridiculous one if you point out their idiosyncracies. If you see one, don't make any sudden movements, and slowly back away. If she attacks, cover your head with your arms and kick at her shoes. Once her shoes are off she freaks out for fear of deadly disease, and you can make your way to safety.

β whores are quick to criticize others for not updating their blogs frequently enough, but they rarely have blogs of their own. Their memories are excellent, so much so that they have been accused of being robots. Really whorish robots.

β whores are not always easy to identify, but in Tiffany's case there is overwhelming evidence. As she said as we left dinner, "I'll hold open the back door."

UPDATE: clarified Greek alphabet

Friday, September 02, 2005

Muffin Secrets

So I have been emulating Andrew Brinkman, baking muffins and distributing them at the GSB. His were apparently cornless corn muffins with blueberries. Mine were apple oatmeal brown sugar. Now let me explain something about brown sugar.

When we're growing up, we're taught that brown sugar is a less refined version of white sugar. It certainly has more flavor, and it's suitable for things like oatmeal or cream of wheat. The dirty secret, though, is that most brown sugar is actually white sugar with added molasses. It's a bit like brown sugar from concentrate.

I first noticed legitimate brown sugar in little packets of Sugar in the Raw. Unfortunately, baking with it is difficult because the grains are large and don't dissolve easily. These days, though, you can find a decent variety of authentic brown sugars. The one I've been using lately is Billington's. The one downside of Billington's is that sometimes the light brown sugar gets a bit dry and hardens up into a brick. As the package says, though, if you leave it in a bowl with a wet cloth draped over it, it soon returns to normal. Oh, one more downside: it's quite expensive relative to regular brown sugar. The flavor really is richer, though.

They even have fair trade sugars. Now, I don't know how I feel about fair trade, so that will have to be a post for another time. I will say this, though: truly fair trade would mean dismantling our sugar quotas and allowing free entry into the market. I suspect that this would result in a much wider variety of unrefined brown sugar, though of course the real point would be to increase incomes in poor sugar-producing countries.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

How Is James Like a Whore?

How am I like a whore? Aside from the obvious, I mean.

The answer is that I finally got a good night's sleep, and now I'm in a good mood. It was more like an afternoon's sleep, but the point is, a lot of stress and agony have simply dissipated. All my depression-soaked posts seem as though they were written by a different person. In a sense, they were: you can't step in the same river twice.

This is exactly what happened to Nately's whore in Catch-22. My life has started to imitate my favorite books. This could be very good or very bad, depending on which books, and which particular scenes, come to life.

Anyway, whoever is causing this to happen, are you listening? My new favorite book is Getting the Law Firm Job of your Dreams. It's about a law student who gets the law firm job of his dreams. He also wins a contest and gets free Rolling Rock for life, plus his hair starts coming back.

Impervious to Google

So, to all of my fellow law students facing the interview process: take caution. If I were a law firm, I would totally google you.

Why, then, am I so unconcerned? Why do I laugh at your misfortune while sipping a vodka gimlet and sashaying around my apartment? A great man has spared me the threat of Google, a man whose vision and intelligence paved the way for American dominance in the 2oth century. I speak of James McDonnell, founder of McDonnell Douglas.

Coincidentally, the worthwhile James McDonnell also grew up in Little Rock, though of course he ended up in St. Louis. A building at Wash U in St. Louis is named after him, which is probably why they admitted me to their law school. Little did they realize that I have no connection to the man or his money.

Anyway, my point is, googling me is like trying to find a Muslim on a bus full of Indians: even when you think you've figured it out, you might accidentally have a Jew, because both religions circumcise. The confusion can only benefit me.

Good Girls with Bad Taste

So my life has not been one of wild romantic success. Nevertheless, a few girls along the way have unequivocally been attracted to me. Most of them were, needless to say, inebriated. I'd like to take a moment to express appreciation for those females who have for whatever reason taken a fancy to me. I'll list as many as I can, trying to leave out identifying information. If you feel that you've been erroneously left off the list, contact me immediately.

1. A very sweet girl at camp. There were dances each of the 3 weeks, I seem to remember. We danced for a long time, and I mentioned that we should stop, or people would make fun of us. She said she didn't care about being made fun of. I was very flattered.

However, I immediately stopped dancing with her and told everyone what she said. We all had a good laugh at her expense.

You might think that was cruel, but remember that she had just said that she didn't mind being laughed at.

2. Another girl at camp. This one was a bit wild, and I didn't know she liked me until she sat in my lap one day. Weird. I still regret never writing her back after she sent me a postcard.

3. A girl in college. The less said the better.

4. Another girl in college. Turns out she wasn't all that attracted to me, but what are you going to do.

5. Another girl in college. You get the drift. I always sensed that I was a bit of a safety school, you know? Never a reach. Now I know what it feels like to be Washington University in St. Louis. As a quick aside, I have nothing but affection for WUSTL, and you'd be surprised how good a safety school can be.

6. A bunch of Smithies. Northampton is a favorable place for a straight male. Not that I'm straight. But it still worked.

7. A girl who hung out with us in Tarun's room, but I was ill and couldn't really do anything. Plus she was drunk. Plus I was sleeping in a bed in the same room as Tarun. Well, I'm not kidding anyone. The truth is, even full of beer, I was petrified and blew it. My consolation is that the girl was so awesome that no doubt someone else is making her happy in a way I never could.

And that's about it. Pretty pathetic, huh? All I'm trying to say is, thanks, because every once in a while I feel down and then I reflect back and don't feel quite as bad.