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January 30, 2006

Shine the "lamp of experience" on Sept. 11

As George W. Bush prepares his State of the Union address, in which he is certain to try to frighten us into capitulating to his grab for unchecked power by recalling September 11, Joseph Ellis is aking the right questions:

My first question: where does Sept. 11 rank in the grand sweep of American history as a threat to national security? By my calculations it does not make the top tier of the list, which requires the threat to pose a serious challenge to the survival of the American republic.

Here is my version of the top tier: the War for Independence, where defeat meant no United States of America; the War of 1812, when the national capital was burned to the ground; the Civil War, which threatened the survival of the Union; World War II, which represented a totalitarian threat to democracy and capitalism; the cold war, most specifically the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, which made nuclear annihilation a distinct possibility.

Sept. 11 does not rise to that level of threat because, while it places lives and lifestyles at risk, it does not threaten the survival of the American republic, even though the terrorists would like us to believe so.

One of the most serious failures of our political leaders after 9-11 has been the failure to debate, honestly, the actual scope of the threat posed by terrorists. George W. Bush's apocalyptically insists that AlQaeda poses an existential threat. The Democrats either agree with him, or refuse to talk about terrorists at all.

The choice for most citizens becomes: vote for Bush and risk dictatorship, or vote for the Democrats and hope they remember that terrorists do exist. Someone in Washington should have been making Joseph Ellis' arguments a long time ago. Will Tim Kaine do it tomorrow in the Democratic response to the SOTU? Let's hope that he does.

Colorado: epicenter of espionage

William Arkin reports in the Washington Post that the Denver suburb of Aurora is becoming a hotbed for national espionage:

NSA is aligning its growing domestic eavesdropping operations -- what the administration calls "terrorist warning" in its current PR campaign -- with military homeland defense organizations, as well as the CIA's new domestic operations [in] Colorado.

Translation: Hey Congress, Colorado is now the American epicenter for national domestic spying.

One of the comments on Arkin's post suggests that Colorado Springs (the city where I grew up) is getting a piece of the action, too. Yippee.

January 29, 2006

School problems

This article from the LA Times points out that almost half of the students entering Birmingham High School in Van Nuys don't graduate. The article goes on to ask: "What happened to the class of 2005? It is a question, not just for Birmingham, but for all American schools."

Whoa, wait a minute.

Before we assume that this is a "school problem" -- and open up the tired debates over parents failing to send their kids to school "ready to learn," teachers failing to motivate the laggards, kids watching too much TV instead of doing homework, and the state failing to provide enough money -- we ought to ask if this abysmal graduation rate is more than just a school problem.

We're fond of pointing out the miserable fate that awaits high-school dropouts, and the lesson we take away from these facts is that kids shouldn't drop out. That's fine, as far as it goes, but isn't there another lesson?

Consider: what does it say about our economy that even though half the kids in high school drop out without graduating, the good jobs that require a high-school education and much more are being filled nicely, thanks. There's no shortage of well-educated workers corresponding to the excess of kids who drop out of high school. Our economy is humming along, getting more efficient all the time. From an economic productivity standpoint, there's no problem at all.

Conclusion? Well, if I didn't know better, I'd have to say that we're suffering from an efficiency problem. The information economy doesn't actually need very many people, so we're going to have to think of something else to do with all these kids. Hmm, thinking, thinking.... Aha! I've heard the army is stretched a bit thin right now.

January 28, 2006

Headed to Kansas City?

And do you like Chinese food? Then this review of Kansas City Chinese restaurants is for you, thanks to the ulterior epicure. This isn't just a namby-pamby review, either:

I must defend New China King against Charles Ferruzza, who’s underwhelming review in the pitch (July, 2005) made him (with all due respect Mr. Ferruzza) sound like a bumbling idiot.

Good stuff! But mostly, it's about the food.

Spineless democrats?

I'm not a huge fan of blogs like the Daily Kos for the same reasons that I'm not a fan of Instapundit or Hugh Hewitt. All of these rabidly partisan blogs bury their occasional good points in so much poisonous invective that it isn't worth it.

That said, count me as firmly in the camp of the radical lefty blogs when it comes to berating the spineless Democrats who won't stand up to George W. Bush. The saddest thing about the last five years isn't Bush pushing so hard for one asinine and dangerous policy after the other, it's the lack of any firm opposition from elected "leaders" who have abdicated their responsibilities.

January 25, 2006


It's January in the northern hemisphere, so it's not surprising that I saw Orion tonight. The air was cold, the sky was clear, and as usual, Orion was the first thing I noticed when I looked up.

I remember seeing Orion almost every night in the fall of 1993 when I was on my three-month NOLS course in the wildernesses of the West. Although my life has changed in many ways since then, and although the scenery on the ground is very different, the constellation looks the same. Somehow, that's comforting.

Even though we tend to glorify change, and dynamic is almost always taken as high praise, I don't think human beings can thrive without a few permanent things in their lives. Most of us need some things that we can anchor ourselves to. Without some anchors, we'll probably be miserable at best; at worst we'll be lost, confused, misguided, and dangerous.

Richard Sennett wonders about the consequences for real people of a culture that most highly values a kind of person that doesn't exist (or at most is very rare).

"A self oriented to the short-term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience is - to put a kindly face on the matter - an unusual sort of human being. Most people are not like this; they need a sustaining life narrative, they take pride in being good at something specific, and they value the experiences they've lived through. The cultural ideal required in new institutions thus damages many of the people who inhabit them."

With all apologies to Jack Horkheimer, I hope you'll read the rest of Sennett's essay, and I hope you'll keep looking up.

January 24, 2006

Vulgar Libertarianism skewered

Provoked, I guess, by another "hard-nosed quasilibertarian policy analysis" that includes unsurprising language like this:

"Mr Saletan seems to be ignoring a very basic question, implied by his own statement that half of all terminated pregnancies occur in women who weren't using any protection: why are so many people engaging in behaviour that they have been repeatedly told will lead to an unwanted pregnancy? Especially when there are cheap and effective prophylactics at the nearest drugstore? Answer: because it's not very costly to do so."

Peter Northup serves up this gem.

New blog quiz

Via Prof. Bainbridge, here's a fun quiz:

You are the Golden Rule! You presume that the legislature would not want to apply the statute to achieve an unreasonable or absurd result inconsistent with its purpose. It's not what's on the surface that matters for you, and you try to do what's best in any given situation. You're a bit unpredictable, but you don't mind.

Which Canon of Statutory Construction are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Doctors need a political clue

Ask any physician if there's something about the health care system that's broken, and you're likely to get an earful. Malpractice law usually heads the list, followed closely by declining reimbursement and intrusion by insurers and regulators into the doctor/patient relationship. All of these issues are so irritating for doctors in part because they can't be solved by physicians alone. Solving any one of them will involve going up against non-physician interest groups -- insurers, regulators, and trial lawyers -- that have their own ideas of what's best for the public and for themselves. In other words, doctors are going to have to fight and win some political battles.

This, by itself, is why doctors should unilaterally stop accepting all gifts from drug companies and medical device manufacturers.

Forget about whether it's legal. Forget about whether there are some vaguely plausible arguments that consulting fees and free lunches are harmless. Doctors need to convince the public that they, and not the insurers, bureaucrats, and trial lawyers, are the "real" patient advocates. They can't go on assuming that the public will trust physicians more than they will anyone else. Those days, if they ever existed, are long gone.

Because doctors won't stop playing footsie with gift-giving corporations, the public can read about how Medtronic "paid" $400,000 to one surgeon for eight days of "consulting work." They can read about how medical students are "acculturated" to accept gifts from drug companies, and about how "80% [of medical students] said they were entitled to these gifts because of financial hardship." (Here's the JAMA link, for those with a subscription.) Regardless of the propriety of these gifts, doctors can't just assume that patients and the public are going to buy their long-winded defenses of these kinds of lucrative relationships. When physicians are quoted in the newspaper defending questionable practices along with the deeply-distrusted pharmaceutical industry, they're digging themselves a deep political hole. People start to think their doctors are greedily chasing the money like everyone else.

Once we realize that we've got some important political battles to fight, physicians might be more inclined to come down hard on any behaviors that even smell funny. What would help doctors politically more than anything else is if the public could read about how the AMA and their state medical society were enthusiastically supporting a ban on accepting gifts from industry. Sadly, one of the authors of this article is quoted as saying he thinks "it's not very likely" that doctors will endorse the proposal.

I'm sure most doctors agree the consulting fees and the trips to the strip club aren't worth the hassles of a malpractice system that doesn't compensate injured patients or punish negligent doctors. The problem is that physicians don't seem to realize that these two issues are connected. But we're in the realm of politics, baby, and that means that trust is everything. Perhaps more than anything else, doctors must fight to earn the public's trust. Doctors, here's some political advice: get a clue. Stop accepting drug company gifts; make even the suggestion of improper influence manifestly absurd. You might have a chance to recover your leadership role in healtcare debates.

January 23, 2006

Taking risks for $73 million

This article, apart from its interesting discussion of the windfall profits that the Iraq war has bestowed on some pretty sleazy people, contains the following gem of a paragraph:

"The American economic system rewards those who take great risks with commensurate benefits," Mr. Rubin said of Mr. Brooks's stock sales and compensation [$73.3 million in 2004]. "The compensation Mr. Brooks received is directly attributable to the risk he undertook in aiding the capitalization of DHB and achieving extraordinary results for the company."

This is certainly the knee-jerk thing to say, but let's actually ask ourselves: do successful entrepreneurs "deserve" the piles and piles of money that they make because they "take risks?" Is it right that our economic system should reward "risk" so handsomely?

These are question that'll get me branded as a socialist kook. But before I go ahead and ask anyway, let's get at least one thing straight. The absence of any moral entitlement to such huge amounts of wealth wouldn't, by itself, be a sufficient reason to abandon our current economic system. Even if our super-rich don't deserve what they get, we could easily decide that any alternatives to our current system are less desirable than the status quo. Maybe they're all too impractical, or too risky, or just too dull and boring.

But it does seem a little strange that investing your money in a business that becomes successful somehow entitles you to such huge financial rewards. For one thing, this investment activity isn't anywhere near as "risky" as many other risks people take but which don't offer equivalent financial rewards. A soldier risks his life to defend his country, but our economic system doesn't reward him. A worker on a crab fishing boat risks his fingers, and sometimes his life, to do his job, but he'll never make $73 million a year catching crabs. If a mother goes without health insurance so she can provide for her children, her risks won't ever be rewarded with a financial windfall.

The risks that many entrepreneurs take are valuable, but are they so much more valuable than these other kinds of risks? They're certainly not more altruistic. The entrepreneur risks his money because he wants to get rich (he's 'incentivized'). These other kinds of risk-takers do it for the sake of someone else, or they do it because they don't have too many other options. From a moral perspective, it seems weird that the entrepreneur among all these people should deserve to take home so much more bacon than everyone else.

So what does it say about our economic system when its biggest winners don't always seem to be the most worthy? One thing I think it says is that "dessert" "desert" in a moral sense is actually pretty irrelevant. Some rich CEOs are fine people; others are complete jerks. None of that matters, one way or the other, for economic success. A capitalist economy just doesn't care.

Maybe that's a good thing. Non-capitalist economic systems that have tried to explicitly reward the most moral people have had to wrestle with the tough question of who's the most deserving. In practice, that usually ended up being the guy who ran the army or controlled the most effective assassins. I don't think it's easy for human beings to consciously decide who 'deserves' to have the most money, and the downside risks of even trying it are huge.

But let's cut the crap: next time some office-supply store owner starts feeding you the line about entrepreneurs "deserving" so much money because of the "risks" they've taken, think about the guys getting shot at in Iraq. We let the entrepreneurs keep their $73 million not because it's the most 'moral' thing to do, but because it'd be too dangerous to try to reallocate the money to the people who really deserve it.

Taxes are not, despite zealous protestations to the contrary, a reallocation. Only progressive taxation can even pretend to be, and none of that (in the U.S. at least) ever rearranges the hierarchy of financial winners and losers. Taxes simply allow for the state to pay for common expenses, and while we can argue about what these expenses should be, no one but a kook would say that they don't exist.

Southern baptist Jimmy Carter attacks the fundamentalists

My dad gave me the heads up about Jimmy Carter's new book a few months ago. Now, Garry Wills reviews Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis:

Carter is a patriot. He lists all the things that Americans have to be proud of. That is why he is so concerned that we are squandering our treasures, moral even more than economic. He has come to the defense of our national values, which he finds endangered. He proves that a devout Christian does not need to be a fundamentalist or fanatic, any more than a patriotic American has to be punitive, narrow, and self-righteous. He defends the separation of church and state because he sees with nuanced precision the interactions of faith, morality, politics, and pragmatism. That is a combination that once was not rare, but is becoming more so. We need a voice from the not-so-distant past, and this quiet voice strikes just the right notes.

(Via political theory daily review.)

January 21, 2006

Pennsylvania EMS recruiting video

Via Random Acts of Reality, watch this video.

"You've got to have badass in your blood."

Evangelical dissent?

Here's an interesting opinion piece from a self-described evangelical:

"The single common theme among the war sermons appeared to be this: our president is a real brother in Christ, and because he has discerned that God's will is for our nation to be at war against Iraq, we shall gloriously comply."
. . .

"What will it take for evangelicals in the United States to recognize our mistaken loyalty? We have increasingly isolated ourselves from the shared faith of the global Church, and there is no denying that our Faustian bargain for access and power has undermined the credibility of our moral and evangelistic witness in the world."


January 20, 2006

DOJ thuggery

Anthony Rickey has a nice post on the Justice Department's Google subpoena, its "thuggishness," and its "obsession with Project: No Child Sees A Behind."

I think this is the week that everyone should do a few Google searches for "Attorney General Gonzales is an asshat."*


* Mr. Rickey, of course, bears no responsibility whatsoever for my brilliant ideas.

January 19, 2006

How much is too much?

Perhaps meaning to reassure those of us who still believe that separation of powers is a good idea, Vice President Dick Cheney had this to say about the warrantless domestic wiretapping that his administration insists is lawful:

"The entire program undergoes a thorough review within the executive branch every 45 days. After each review, the president determines once again whether or not to reauthorize the program. He has done so more than 30 times since Sept. 11, and he has indicated his intent to do so as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related organizations."

According to Cheney, we don't need to worry about all this secret exercise of power because the President reviews his own decisions regularly.

Forgive me if I remain suspicious. Apart from the fact that this kind of unilateral declaration of unfettered authority by any president would be frightening, this isn't just any president -- it's George W. Bush. If he's anything, Bush is unreflective and unrepentant, two qualities that in many cases are fine ones for a leader to possess, but aren't exactly what you want in a leader with unchecked power.

It's also not very reassuring to know that the review of these secret wiretaps is being conducted by an administration that would compel a retired Army colonel with as much experience in government as Larry Wilkerson to say:

"This is really a very inept administration. As a teacher who's studied every administration since 1945, I think this is probably the worst ineptitude in governance, decision-making and leadership I've seen in 50-plus years. You've got to go back and think about that. That includes the Bay of Pigs, that includes -- oh my God, Vietnam. That includes Iran-contra, Watergate."

Hugh Hewitt says a lot in favor of Presidential authority to disregard FISA and make stuff up in the name of national security. It seems to me that the problem with Hewitt's position (and all of Bush's apologists) is that he a) mischaracterizes the threat to the United States from Al Qaeda as an imminently existential one that puts our very existence as a nation in jeopardy (which is just hogwash), and b) fails to see that the kind of power Bush is claiming for himself is incompatible with a separation of powers and a system of checks and balances. Nothing and no one can ever check the President when national security is offered up as an excuse.

If I misunderstand Hewitt, would someone please let me know where he thinks the limits on Presidential power lie? Surely he'd be in favor of some limits--just in case the mob should go crazy and actually elect President Hillary Clinton.

The argument that the NSA wireless wiretapping is illegal is much more persuasive. The Bush administration has fired back with a 42-page "white paper" defending itself. Should be a good source of blog fodder for weeks.

Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden is rattling the sabers again. We should of course protect ourselves. Of course, we should destroy Al Qaeda. Also, of course, we shouldn't let these terrorists frighten us into giving up our system of government checks and balances that helps to protect us from domestic tyranny. Sadly, we are well on our way to letting them do just this.

January 18, 2006

Technology superstitions

David Ignatius quotes Elizabeth Kolbert from her New Yorker piece: "It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing."

The fact (and I think it is a fact) that most people believe technological sophistication somehow leads us to make wise decisions ought to make us wonder: why do people think that?

What connection is there between technological know-how and wisdom, or even basic prudence? Answer: none at all.

January 16, 2006

Cities meme

There's a cities meme going around, in which you post all the cities where you've spent at least one night in 2005. Since my list is particularly good this year, I'll put it up (in no particular order):

Ann Arbor, MI
Grand Rapids, MI
Denver, CO
Colorado Springs, CO
Portland, OR
New York City
New Haven, CT
Washington, DC
San Jose, Costa Rica
Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Reggie Rivers lays it down

Colorado Luis links to this opinion piece by former Denver Bronco Reggie Rivers, and suggests that Rivers ought to have a wider audience. Based on this piece, I agree.

I remember hearing Rivers on KOA a couple of times, which is weird considering that I never listen to talk radio. I probably remember Rivers because he seemed bizarrely intelligent for AM radio.

Writing about Wendell Berry

One of the best things about writing a paper on Wendell Berry, which I'm doing now, is having to read Berry closely. It's really a joy.

Perhaps the biggest rhetorical strength of Berry's essays are also their biggest rhetorical weakness: they're very poetic (or impressionistic,or allegorical). They're not particularly analytical or explicit. On the one hand, this makes them very inspiring for someone like me who reads Berry sympathetically. On the other hand, someone who isn't inclined to give Berry the benefit of the doubt is likely to dismiss his work as devoid of solid argument and evidence.

What I'm finding, as I work on my paper about Berry's relationship to the political philosophy called liberalism, is that a close, analytical reading makes his essays really sparkle. There is really a lot of solid argument in them, but those arguments are delivered poetically, which means the reader has to contribute a lot of himself if he's going to see what the argument is.

For example, I think Berry makes a powerful argument that the modern way of seeing the world makes it very difficult to take responsibility for our actions, and because of this it's dangerous. Of course, what exactly this "modern worldview" is takes some teasing out. Think of the uncritical enthusiasm for technology, the myth that pursuit of self-interest benefits the community, and the belief that the future will be better than the past. The modern worldview has historically led us to denegrate the merely local. It has encouraged hyperspecialization over generalization. And these two things -- globalization and hyperspecialization -- prevent us from even knowing the effects of what we do, let alone taking responsibility for them.

It's a profound critique of the way we aspire to live, that I think is largely correct. Puzzling through all of this is really, really fun.

January 15, 2006

A football post

Oy! Da Bears!

As the Nac Mac Feegle might say, "Those Bears are hurtin me heid!"

Brian Urlacher, by himself, can't win a playoff game, but at least he's trying.

January 14, 2006

Americans get what they said they wanted

This article from the New York Times talks a lot about the disappointment among Democrats that Samuel Alito will probably be confirmed. It quotes a bunch of Democratic leaders who question the strategies that failed to block Alito, and who bemoan the difficulty of building opposition to this far-right nominee.

But let's not forget that things are working just as they're supposed to in a democracy. The American people may not have elected George W. Bush the first time, but they certainly chose to re-elect him. Now, they're getting what they asked for.

Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill) gives us the bottom-line: "If you don't like it, you better win elections." The Democrats haven't won the important elections. The people are responsible for putting Republicans in charge of all three branches of the federal government. Now, it's time for the people to live with the consequences of their choice.

Lost decade?

In the coffee shop this morning I overheard a group of doctors talking about the past. One of them lamented all the years of training he'd had: four years of medical school and five years of residency. "I can't even remember what it was like to be in my twenties," he said. "I lost that whole decade of my life."

How sad! I'm not unsympathetic to this guy -- when you keep your nose to the grindstone for so many years, you can lose track of everything else, and when you finally look up, you wonder where all the time has gone. But I don't think there's anything inherent about medical training, or even hard continuous work, that necessarily results in "lost" time. It's only when you lose track of why you're working so hard, and of what you're working for, that the time spent working becomes a black hole in your life.

Here's why I think I'm lucky: I'm excited about starting my residency because I know why I want to do it. I know where I want to go, and I know how the hard work of residency fits in to that plan. I didn't always know this. Right out of medical school it felt like I was on a treadmill, just connecting the dots that someone else said that I should connect. I hated that feeling. I suppose that's the reason I decided to go to law school when I did. I understood why I wanted to go and what I wanted to get out of it. Now, I feel the same way about a residency in emergency medicine. I'll get much more out my residency now than I would have had I started right out of medical school. The unorthodox sequence of med school/law school/residency was right for me.

I've been lucky in so many ways. I don't have any lost decades. I've always been able to do things for good reasons and at the right time. May everyone be so fortunate.

January 13, 2006

Legislative mugging? Not by a long shot.

When a state or city government decides to give a big corporation a tax break in order to persuade it to relocate, everyone yawns. When the Maryland legislature votes to require Wal-Mart to spend more on health care for its workers, it's immediately accused of "legislative mugging" by none other than the Washington Post. Something's wrong with this picture.

If it's OK for a government to hand out goodies to a specific corporation, then why isn't it OK for the government to impose burdens on a specific corporation? If one is acceptable, than the other should be also. Even better: if one is bad, than the other is too.

As an aside, the Maryland legislature in this case hasn't even singled out Wal-Mart. It voted today to override Gov. Ehrlich's veto of legislation that would require all employers with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland to spend 8% of its payroll on health benefits for its workers or compensate the State. As it happens, of the four employers that are subject to the requirements, only Wal-Mart does not currently meet them. So, yes, only Wal-Mart will have to scramble to comply with the new law, but it's not "unfair and overbearing," and it's certainly not specific to Wal-Mart. As critics of the bill have pointed out, Wal-Mart is free to avoid the requirements by reducing their workforce in Maryland to fewer than 10,000 people. That's the difference between this bill and one that says "Wal-Mart shall. . . ."

But -- to get back to my main point -- even if the bill had targeted Wal-Mart, I fail to see the difference between this and a decision by the state of Michigan to give company-specific tax breaks to Delphi and Visteon. Both measures are corporation-specific. Both, say the politicians, are for the benefit of their respective states. The only difference is that in one case, a specific corporation is subject to special burdens, while in the other it's given special exemptions from burdens. Either both are OK, or they're both not.

Any legislative action that singles out a specific company is a bad idea. It blatantly violates the ideal of equal treatment under the law, and it invites corruption when the legislature gets into the business of handing out special goodies or dispensing special punishments. So I'd prefer not to see any company-specific legislation. But it's even worse when corporations take their yummy tax breaks and then complain about special requirements.

I'd like to say that the corporations can't have it both ways, but in this country, they often do.

January 10, 2006

Sign up for junk mail: get a student loan

The worst thing about having a lot of student loans is the debt. Coming in a close second is student loan-related junk mail.

Important Notice to Carey Cuprisin

Notice: Student Loan Information Inclosed
Reference # 2331 - 134592255
Carey Cuprisin
Address line 1
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

Dear Carey,





I have no reason to believe that calling the "opt-out" number will do any good at all. They'll probably just be glad to get my phone number so they can spam that, too. The only equally effective way I've found to sign up for as much junk mail is to take out a subscription to Smithsonian magazine. . . .

January 08, 2006

Yay, Bayh-Dole!

Ever since the Bayh-Dole Act was passed, universities have scrambled to patent everything they could in the hopes of reaping rich rewards from the licensing revenues that are occasionally possible when you hold a lot of patents.

This article from JAMA ($) suggests that that revenue is not in fact very significant for the vast majority of universities, and that in many cases the costs of maintaining a technology transfer office to handle the patent applications and the licensing eats up any revenues that flow from technology licenses.

Only a few universities reap large net revenues from licensing. Surprisingly, these aren't always the universities that spend the most on research. Harvard? Stanford? Neither make a ton of money from licensing, at least relative to their research expenses. The universities that score big usually score big because they get lucky. For example, Florida State pulls in big cash because they have the patent on the anti-cancer drug Taxol. The University of Florida cashes in on the Gatorade trademark (wtf??).

The authors argue persuasively that, as a tool for motivating productive research, technology licensing hasn't had a huge effect in the U.S. They point out that other countries considering this model ought to worry that if they don't have a robust system of publicly-funded research, relying on technology licensing is more likely to slant research toward the benefit of the rich, who can pay large licensing fees. That this hasn't happened in the U.S. is probably because we still have a healthy amount of public research funding available.

Back from the dead

At last! I'm back from my self-imposed exile from the blogosphere. Although I had to fight constant low-level feelings of guilt for not posting on my blog, I've been having a great time.

I'm applying for a residency position in the queen of the medical specialties -- emergency medicine -- and that means that November and December have been spent traveling to interviews. I've been traveling from one coast to the other, spending money on plane tickets and hotels like a drunken sailor (although I don't think drunken sailors could spend money as fast as a residency applicant). Let's just say that, so long as I don't think about how much this is costing me, it's been really fun.

One of the things you learn very quickly on the interview trail is that all emergency departments look the same. Sure, some of them are more spacious; some of them have skylights; some of them use a whiteboard to keep track of patients and some of them use computers for everything. But really, when you've seen one emergency room, you've seen them all. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the tours that every program provides, but the reason I like the tour is that you get to listen to the tour guide talk about the program. I can't wait 'til I'm the one leading the tour -- it'll be nice to be the only one who's not wearing The Suit.

To borrow a phrase from my brother, residency interviews are exactly like law firm interviews, only they're completely different. The interviews themselves are very similar -- four or five 20-minute interviews that are mostly getting-to-know-you affairs. What's totally different is the relative lack of any bling-bling on the residency interview trail. If med students knew how much money law firms spend to interview law students, they'd never tolerate any whining from a law student ever. Big law firms pay for the applicant's airfare; they pay for hotel and cab fare; they pay for all meals, and they usually take the applicants to lunch at a swanky place on interview day. Think Topolobampo or the Blackbird, for those of you who know Chicago. Residency program applicants are usually provided with a good solid lunch on interview day, but they're usually on their own for all the other expenses. Before I went to law school, I used to think that was Normal. Now I'm sure of it. Biglaw is a whole different world.

The other big difference is that Biglaw interviews happen during the summer, and residency interviews happen (as you may have guessed) in the dead of winter. This can make a big difference if your flight is delayed because of a blizzard or if you have to drive somewhere in the snow, but I was lucky: all my traveling went down without a hitch (that is, if you don't count the fiascos at JFK airport in New York, but they had nothing to do with the weather).

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my last semester of law school. It's hard to believe there's only four months left!