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February 25, 2006

Thresher shark: mmm, good!

Dinner tonight:

  • Thresher shark with sauteed shallots and lime juice
  • Microgreen salad with chopped apple, walnuts, and blue cheese crumbles

This was the first time I'd had thresher shark. It's a lot like the other big predatory fishies like tuna and swordfish -- very firm and steaklike.

February 23, 2006

Protectionism and national security

Via Prof. Bainbridge, Dan Oesterle distinguishes between national security and protectionism:

The argument against the Dubai acquisition is old fashioned protectionism in the guise of national security. National security is a legitimate concern and we should be able to block acquisitions in the name of national security but national security can also be a false front for raw protectionist sentiments. At issue here is, first, whether the national security concerns are legitimate and, second, the government's mechanism for deciding such cases [emphasis added].

When Prof. Oesterle asks whether the national security concerns are legitimate, he misses exactly half of the question. The other half, of course, is whether the protectionist concerns are legitimate. Oesterle seems to think that our national security is always consistent with global free trade, or at least that the two have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. But to assume that the sources of our goods and services and the way we distribute these goods and services among us is irrelevant to to national security is to define "national security" much too narrowly.

President Bush himself takes a larger view of national security when he acknowledges that our dependence on foreign oil should be resisted. His call for fighting our addiction to oil is a national security argument. But it's also, simultaneously, a "protectionist" argument. Unfettered global trade, unbalanced by any prudent "protectionism" whatsoever, threatens our national security by leaving us utterly dependent on others for necessary goods and services.

Wendell Berry asks the questions that Oesterle doesn't:

We thus are elaborating a direct and surely a dangerous contradiction between our militant nationalism and our espousal of the the international "free market" ideology. How are we going to defend our freedoms (this is a question both for militarists and for pacifists) when we must import our necessities form international suppliers who have no concern or respect for our freedoms? What would happen if in the course of a war of national defense we were to be cut off from our foreign sources of supply? What would happen if, in a war of national defense, military necessity required us to attack or blockade our foreign suppliers? We have already fought one enrgy war allegedly in national defense. If our present policies continue, we may face wars for other commodities: food or water or shoes or steel or textiles [The Failure of War (1999)].

Prime-time executions

An LA Times editorial calls for bringing executions out into the open:

Like the crimes for which it is a punishment, the death penalty is an affront to civilized society. It should not be reformed — it should be abolished. But if California is going to keep at it, let's try a reform that will remind us what we are doing while at the same time making sure, without help from a doctor, that the condemned prisoner is really dead. The state should convene a firing squad — and be certain to schedule the execution for prime time.

Regardless of whether you support or oppose the death penalty, I think this is a good idea. Watching executions won't change the minds of many diehard supporters or opponents of the death penalty. But it would challenge those of us who've ignored the issue to make a decision. It would force all of us to confront the reality of what the state is doing in our name.

The point is to encourage us to take responsibility for what we do. We can't do that until we know just what it is we're doing.

February 22, 2006

Economic incentives made me do it!

Back in the middle ages, we were fond of explaining every problem by attributing it to God's will. That era is over, but we haven't abandoned our love of universal knee-jerk explanations for everything.

The New York Times has an article about the medical "misdiagnosis crisis" that resorts to our era's equivalent of God made me do it. Of course, I'm talking about "economic incentives."

Under the current medical system, doctors, nurses, lab technicians and hospital executives are not actually paid to come up with the right diagnosis. They are paid to perform tests and to do surgery and to dispense drugs.

There is no bonus for curing someone and no penalty for failing, except when the mistakes rise to the level of malpractice. So even though doctors can have the best intentions, they have little economic incentive to spend time double-checking their instincts, and hospitals have little incentive to give them the tools to do so.

While there may be some truth here, let's not forget that doctors are motivated by things other than money (although they sometimes make it difficult to convince others of this).

A Very Big Day

Apart from Match Day itself, today is the biggest day in the whole residency match process.

Today is the deadline for submitting my rank order list for this year's residency match. After I submit my list, I'll be contractually committed to accepting a position at whatever program pops out of the Match Computer in March. And the identity of that program depends heavily on how I order my list. So, today is a Very Big Day.

It feels like a big day even though my list has been set for a long time already, and even though I'm pretty excited about most of the programs on my list. Because I'm not in medical school or surrounded with medical students, though, I feel like today is my own private holiday -- with a visit from the mailman to boot!

I think I'll celebrate by doing the reading for my Federal Courts class tomorrow: state procedural foreclosure of federal habeus corpus review. Ok, and a cold beer to go with that.

[For people who aren't familiar with the medical residency match, here's what happens. Residency applications aren't handled like applications for law firm jobs or clerkships. Instead of each firm or judge making you an offer which you are free to accept or decline, each residency applicant submits a list of all the programs they'd like to be considered for to a central organization, the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP). Meanwhile, each residency program submits a list of all the candidates they would like to train. These lists are ordered from the most desired program/applicant at #1, to the least desired program/applicant that's still acceptable. A big Central Computer uses a mysterious algorithm to match applicants with residency programs given how highly each ranks the other. For example, if I rank a program #1, and that program ranks me #1, then the computer will match us up (and we'll both be happy). It's a little more complicated when I've ranked a program #4 and they've ranked me #33.]

February 19, 2006

Trails getting crowded?

If trail running makes the L.A. Times, does that mean that running in the hills is trendy?

Eating Roland Liccioni's food

This weekend Heidi and I went to Chicago and, among other things, ate at Le Francais restaurant in Wheeling. We were looking forward to it because of all the good press it's gotten from those in the know.

I'm not a restaurant critic, but I love to eat, and I loved this food. Well, almost all of it. We had the chef's tasting menu, and my favorite course was the fish: daurade with roasted endive, wild mushrooms and blanquette sauce. Don't ask me what the blanquette sauce was made with. All I remember was that it was delicious and went well with the fish. Daurade (go here and scroll down to see what this fish looks like) tasted a lot like red snapper, as our waiter had warned us. It had white flesh that held together well, was a little more flaky than sea bass but less flaky than cod, and had just an itty-bitty hint of "fishyness." In my opinion, it was fantastic. Best course of the night.

The sautéed scallop was also great, as was the duo of sautéed sweetbreads and dry aged ribeye. Several of the courses featured black truffles, which were as decadent as they sound. The portions were reasonable, and I didn't feel too full at the end of the meal. I liked everything, but I've decided I'm not a huge fan of foie gras. Liccioni served it two ways last night: cold, on toast with a super-cute tiny pickle, and sautéed, with abalone mushrooms and port wine sauce. Yummy, sure; but knowing what they have to do to make foie gras, I'd be perfectly happy if I never had the chance to eat it again. I suppose I'm on the Trotter side of the Tramonto/Trotter foie gras war.

One of the most spectacular parts of the meal was the wine. Since I was driving, Heidi ordered the wine pairing with her meal (and I snuck tastes). Each wine was stellar in itself and especially with the food it was paired with. But one of the wines counts as among the best I've ever had anywhere. It was a South African dessert wine, a riesling with a bit of noble rot, and it blew me away.

Our menu:

  • Liquid truffle ravioli and cold foie gras on toast with french caviar and cauliflower espuma [foam]

  • Sautéed scallops with mitonnée ~ Vietnamese style, tempura of squash and cilantro vinaigrette

  • Daurade with roasted endive, wild mushrooms and blanquette sauce

  • Sautéed foie gras with blood orange, abalone mushroom and port wine sauce

  • Duo of sauteed sweetbreads and dry aged ribeye

  • Cheese course

  • Assortment of desserts [chocolate soufflé, lemongrass creme brûlée, panna cotta, and hazlenut cake]

One of my favorite meals ever!

February 15, 2006

Moderation in all things -- including your diet

Last week, a major study demonstrated that eating a low-fat diet doesn't lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. Greg Critser describes the health and dietary age that he hopes this study has helped to end:

In a sense, "the era" was neo-Galenic, by which I refer to the 2nd century physician who believed that all bodily ailments could be righted by balancing bodily humors with the right foods, bleeding and herbs. Such is the function — if not the stated intent — of our focus on finding and popularizing perfect dietary content. Right food, right bodily reaction, right health.

What does Mr. Critser hope will replace this neo-Galenism?
Bring back an old era — the Renaissance. And forget the tights and floppy hats. Let's look at how elites in another period of abundance and change thought about eating.

February 12, 2006

Christopher Paolini connects the dots

Eragon imageI read Eragon and Eldest over this past winter break, the first two novels in a planned fantasy trilogy by teenage author Christopher Paolini. These books have been a publishing sensation, and the movie version of Eragon is already in post-production with John Malkovich cast as the evil King Galbatorix. Fortunately, I didn't know any of this when I read the books. My review is untainted by preconceived notions.

Don't misunderstand me -- I'm not saying these books are the best thing to hit fantasy literature since The Deed of Paksenarrion, but they are solid. The narrative flows smoothly and the plot is compelling (more so in Eldest than in Eragon). Although the story gets off to a slow start, by the end of the second book you can see the outlines of what promises to be a really ass-kicking Big Battle in the third book.

eldest imageMost of the story concerns Eragon, a (what else?) teenage kid who finds an egg that hatches into a blue dragon named Saphira. Eragon and Saphira bond emotionally and telepathicially, are attacked by hideous monsters of evil, and flee their small farming village at the base of the mountains in the company of an old magician named Brom. Soon we learn that the oppressive King of the realm, Galbatorix, has reason to fear (and therefore to kill) Eragon and Saphira. The stage is set for adventure.

Eragon is a likeable kid, sure, but he's not particularly interesting. Then of course, neither is Harry Potter. Just like in JK Rowling's books, the most interesting characters are part of the supporting cast (think Hermione and Professor Snape). Saphira the dragon can be a snarky, narcissistic, fire-breathing little bitch, which is why she's so cute. Eragon's friend Roran's separate adventures are in many ways more compelling than Eragon's own.

One criticism of these books that I'm sure has been leveled before is that they're too derivative -- of JRR Tolkien, of Anne McCaffrey, of Raymond E. Feist. It's true that most of the elements of Paolini's story can be found, somewhere, in these authors' books. But then again, you can say that about almost all fantasy authors (China Miéville excepted). At least Paolini writes well, which is something many fantasy authors can't do.

One influential author whose influence is almost invisible in Paolini's story is JK Rowling. Paolini's debt to Rowling is not as much in the story itself as much as in the decision by Alfred E. Knopf to publish it. Think about it: before Harry Potter, how many publishers would have tried to market books this thick to young readers? Not many. Harry Potter made everyone realize that small people can love thick books, and Paolini is one of the beneficiaries. If you agree with me on the merits of the work, so are his readers.

February 10, 2006

Links to al-Qaeda

Everyone who reads Kevin Drum's blog knows that the former national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East, Paul Pillar, has opened up a can of whoop-ass on the Bush administration in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. In a discussion of the intelligence about Saddam Hussein's relationship to Osama Bin-Laden, Pillar writes:

In the shadowy world of international terrorism, almost anyone can be "linked" to almost anyone else if enough effort is made to find evidence of casual contacts, the mentioning of names in the same breath, or indications of common travels or experiences. Even the most minimal and circumstantial data can be adduced as evidence of a "relationship," ignoring the important question of whether a given regime actually supports a given terrorist group and the fact that relationships can be competitive or distrustful rather than cooperative.

Substitute the word "regime" in the last sentence for "citizen" and I think this paragraph explains exactly why Bush's secret wiretapping is so dangerous. If the government can almost always come up with some evidence of a link between a target and a terrorist, it's all the more important that the executive branch not have the sole authority to determine what constitutes a "link". Without some kind of institutional check on the president's discretion to eavesdrop on American citizens "linked" to terrorists, he is free to do whatever he wants. That can't be right legally, and it certainly isn't right politically if we value a government with limited powers.

If the meek performance this week of the senators confronting Alberto Gonzales is any indication of the political opposition these days to Bush's assertion of unlimited power, it might be a while before we demand effective checks on the executive branch. We might have to wait for the scandal that is as inevitable as the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning -- the government abuse of its wiretapping powers to spy on domestic political opponents. When that day comes, I hope the Congress will muster the courage to pass a statute that sets limits on the president's power. Something like FISA should do the trick.

February 08, 2006

From the things-are-getting-better department

Ezra Klein's got a good post about what he's calling "reverse-Dowdism": intelligent and highly-educated men choosing to date women who are their intellectual equals.

Like Ezra, I'm not sure where this trend leads, and I'm not sure of all the effects. It would seem to open up a lot more dating options for intelligent women, though.

February 07, 2006

The cartoon controversy

There's so much to say about this piece that I'm going to say very little, at least for now. Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Much of what's said here is complete bullshit, but the closing lines are spot-on:

I would not have drawn nor published these cartoons, but when the lines are drawn, I stand with Western freedom against traditional authority. I write these lines over a Carlsberg and shall drink no other lager until the boycott of Danish product ends.

February 06, 2006

Good news

Canada to Shield 5 Million Forest Acres (NY Times)

Scientists say the agreement should preserve not only the few hundred spirit bears and other black bears, but also one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in North America as well as unique subspecies of goshawks, coastal wolves, Sitka blacktail deer and mountain goats.

"It's like a revolution," said Merran Smith, director of the British Columbia Coastal Program of Forest Ethics, an environmental group. "It's a new way of thinking about how you do forestry. It's about approaching business with a conservation motive up front, instead of an industrial approach to the forest. . . .

Because 15 feet of rain can fall in a year, the Great Bear has never suffered a major forest fire. That has allowed some of the tallest and oldest trees on earth to thrive, including cedars more than a thousand years old.

February 05, 2006

Agrarian blogging

Now that I'm getting close to wrapping up my time in law school and moving on to an emergency medicine residency, I've been thinking about my blog and what I want to do with it. For one thing, I'll be blogging a lot more about medicine and health policy. But that's not the only thing I'd like to change.

I started this blog in part because I wanted to make arguments for agrarianism. I agree with Wendell Berry that that the contest between agrarianism and industrialism "defines the most important human difference, for it divides not just two nearly opposite concepts of agriculture and land use, but also two nearly opposite ways of understanding ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our world."* Looking back on what I've done so far, I don't think I've done enough of that. And I have no excuses! There's so much to say from an agrarian perspective about current events, and few people are saying it. There's no agrarian equivalent of the Daily Kos or Instapundit to steal my thunder. And the whole liberal/conservative argument is missing the most important questions entirely.

Despite my slovenly neglect of agrarian blogging, a few weeks ago Daniel Larison at Eunomia graciously linked to me as an "agrarian blog." Let me just say that I'm flattered, and in return I'm adding his superb blog to my blogroll. I'm sure my agrarian and paleo readers will love his blog (yes, that means you, Nick R.). I don't always agree with Mr. Larison, and he doesn't always agree with me, but that's OK. His consistently intelligent commentary and thoughtful responses to comments are a pleasure to read.

As a way of achieving my agrarian-blogging goals, I ask a favor of my readers: if you see a post that's indistinguishable from a typical conservative or (more likely) liberal rant (because I'm just bashing George W. Bush, for example), please don't hesitate to call me on it. Ask me in the comments: "why should we read this crap? Where's the agrarian beef?"** Thank you all in advance.

* "The Whole Horse" (1996). This essay is available here.
** An unintended and bad agrarian pun. Sorry...

February 03, 2006

The big bang

I grew up listening to Rush, so naturally I was interested in this LA Times piece about the disappearance of the rock drum solo.


Marc Fisher doesn't mind "if insurers see records of everyone's personal behavior..." Huh? I don't mind if they see the records of Marc Fisher's behavior either, but keep them out of mine. My premiums might go up if they knew about my dry pasta habit...

Meanwhile, I'll throw up my random ten from iTunes (although the catblogging thing is really more interesting).

  1. Rush, Kid Gloves, Grace Under Pressure
  2. Rush, New World Man, Signals
  3. Duran Duran, The Reflex, Decade
  4. Primus, Bob's Party Time Lounge, Brown Album
  5. Miles Davis, The Meaning of the Blues, Miles Ahead
  6. Duke Ellington, It Don't Mean a Thing if it Aint Got that Swing, The Best of the Complete RCA Victor Mid-Forties Recordings (1944-1946)
  7. Charlie Parker, What Is This Thing Called Love?, Charlie Parker Plays Standards
  8. Charles Mingus, Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat, Three or Four Shades of Blues
  9. Angelo Badalamenti, Into the Night, Soundtrack to Twin Peaks
  10. INXS, Salvation Jane, The Best of INXS

February 02, 2006


Cass Sunstein has an interesting post about what happened in Boulder and Colorado Springs when citizens got together in each city to deliberate about three controversial issues: affirmative action, a treaty to control global warming, and same-sex civil unions.

Basically, deliberation decreased diversity among the participants, and it increased their extremism. Citizens in Boulder became more liberal, and citizens in Colorado Springs became more conservative.

(Note: I read Sunstein's post to distract me from the paper I'm trying to write about Wendell Berry and liberalism, so I'm sure that's why the post made me think of . . . liberalism!)

These worrisome-at-first-glance results force us to interrogate our faith that deliberation is always a good thing. Are moderate positions at a deliberative disadvantage in comparison to extreme positions? Do people's pre-deliberation beliefs sometimes make deliberations more or less valuable? Is the "best" democratic political outcome more likely if we deliberate before voting, or if we're just polled without a lot of discussion amongst ourselves?

We still need a lot of clarification about just what the experiment measured (E.g., how was "extremism" defined?) Already though, it prods us to think about the "ought" and the "is" of liberal democratic theory. We sometimes talk about liberalism, in which autonomous agents deliberate with each other in freely-chosen associations, as both an idealized picture of the way society ought to be, and as a description of the way real democracies actually operate. We ought to act this way (some liberals say) because it's the best way we have of finding the most legitimate or the "truest" answers without violence and bloodshed, and we in fact operate this way (some other liberals say) because citizens actually do limit their deliberative appeals to "public reasons."

If the deliberation in this experiment were indeed of the liberal sort, does the fact that they promoted extremism count as an argument against the value of liberal deliberation? If these deliberations didn't conform to the liberal ideal, how anomalous are they? Does this experiment suggest that we simply don't deliberate reasonably as often as some liberals think we do?

(Ok; back to Wendell Berry...)

February 01, 2006

Ted Koppel, randomized

Ok, so Jack Shafer at Slate doesn't think Ted Koppel is a good columnist. Not having read Koppel myself, Shafer's article doesn't give me any reason to agree or disagree. Shafer disagrees with Koppel's substantive claims, but how does that make Koppel a bad columnist?

More to the point, Shafer says that Koppel is a bad writer. As proof, Shafer offers up random sentences from Koppel's book extracted with the help of Amazon's "Koppel Randomizer." From page 126:

Rosafina, now an elderly cat entering her eleventh summer, is making it difficult to work. She keeps trying to walk across the keyboard of my computer, clearly for no other reason than that I do not want her to do so.
I've had cats all my life and this pretty much hits the nail on the head. Not boring at all!

The problem is that the Randomizer can make almost anyone look bad. I'll pull out my own jerry-rigged Randomizer and show you what I mean:

I'm going to guess that these [on-campus law firm] interviews aren't actually very useful for learning much about students or about employers. That's probably not their purpose. In only twenty minutes, the only thing that a student can count on learning about a firm that goes beyond what they've learned already is that the firm isn't (or is) peopled entirely with troglodytes.
[Me, from a post on this blog, August 30, 2004.]

The shower was now over, and a rainbow above the eastern woods promised a fair evening; so I took my departure. When I had got without I asked for a dish, hoping to get a sight of the well bottom, to complete my survey of the premises; but there, alas! are shallows and quicksands, and rope broken withal, and bucket irrecoverable.
[Thoreau, Walden, p. 167. Give me Koppel's cat, please...]
The most common cause of personnel wounded in action recently are due to roadside bombs. These are land mines or booby traps made out of locally available materials or another piece of ordnance, such as a cannon shell. These were used as far back as the Vietnam War. The IED today are larger as they are intended to damage the armored vehicle as well as the personnel inside of it.
[From the blog Doctor. Highly recommended, but you'd never know why.]

Of course, there are exceptions to this random-is-often-banal rule:

Much later on, when Nourishing was old and grey around the muzzle, and smelled a bit strange, she dictated the story of the climb and how she heard Darktan muttering to himself. The Darktan she'd pulled out of the trap, she said, was a different rat. It was as if his thoughts had slowed down but got bigger.
[Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, p. 221.]

If Ted Koppel is such a bad writer, I'd hate to see what Amazon's Randomizer could do with Jonathan Franzen's latest novel. (Go ahead. Try it!)