November 20, 2009


Hey everyone, my blog is moving!

It's the same blog, except now it's in a great new place with a lot more space, and fewer cobwebs under the stairs. Head over to and check it out.

Be sure to update your bookmarks and your feeds. 'Cause I aint posting here no mo'.

November 17, 2009

Trying to be a better person

Ok, so I thought I was going to have the new wordpress blog up today or tomorrow, but... I was wrong.

The details are boring -- they involve my dissatisfaction with the one-click wordpress installation my hosting service offers. It really shouldn't bother me. The installation is actually fantastic, and if I prioritized blogging above futzing around with mysql databases and css stylesheets, I'd have a beautiful new blog already. But it does bother me. I want more control over the files than I have under the one-click installation.

So now, I'll have to take time to learn how to do a manual installation, and probably do it wrong a few times, before you'll see my new wordpress blog. But I'll be a better human being for having figured out how to install everything myself. And in the meantime, this blog here is perfectly adequate.

November 14, 2009

Missed me?

Start the celebration, because I'm blogging again.

And oh, I have such big plans! This blog is going to be the best blog there ever was. Fame and fortune will be mine. I will demonstrate the awesome power of the internet to transform my solitary musings into brain candy for people from all walks of life who have the good fortune to read my posts.

Will you be one of these lucky people? All you have to lose is your time, perhaps five minutes a couple of times each week. It'll be worth it, though. Nothing in life is free.

Here's a few things that you can look forward to:

  • a new visual format, as I try to find out for myself why everyone seems to be using WordPress these days
  • more focused series of posts that surround a few obvious themes. I'd like to use this blog to support some other things I'm doing, and that means you'll get more sustained posting on a few issues that matter to me.
  • a commitment (admittedly sarcastic) to adhere to some of the popular blogging fads du jour, for example, including a bullet-pointed or numbered list in every post.
  • Friday catblogging, which is an honorable tradition and not a fad.

So why am I blogging again? One, I miss it. Two, I'm starting to feel constrained by the limited amount of text I can put up at one time on Facebook. Three, I'm very suspicious of Twitter as a low-yield time-sucking black hole of Internet dependency. And four, I want to write something every day, even if it's inane and unhelpful to anyone else (but posting this writing online magically makes it significantly helpful for someone).

So subscribe to my blog with your Google Reader, or whatever service you use, and let's see what happens.

October 06, 2008

Wendell Berry a socialist? Yes, it's libertarianism vs agrarianism again

An argument has broken out in an obscure part of the blogosphere between libertarians, paleoconservatives, and agrarians. You may think you don't care, but I'd like to suggest that arguments like these tend to be more substantive than the typical democrat vs republican swill we're treated to on blogs like Kos and Instapundit.

Libertarian David Gordon wrote a piece critical of Rod Dreher and the "crunchy cons", which provoked responses from Jerry Salyer in the paleocon magazine Chronicles, and from Daniel Larison at Eunomia.

I've talked, briefly, about libertarianism before, and dismissed it as a one-size-fits-all ideology that ignores local realities. I should probably admit that I'm not the best critic of libertarianism because I dismiss it as childish -- an overly simple and simplistic ideology. But this disagreement between Gordon and his critics gives me the chance to bring up one point that I didn't before.

Agrarianism's chief conviction, it seems to me, is that we must take responsibility for what we do. Its arguments for localism are toothless without this conviction behind them. As Wendell Berry points out in many of his essays, the modern, industrial, global economy prevents us from adequately taking responsibilty for our actions because we can't even see what the consequences of our actions are. As I wrote in a previous post:

Our non-agrarian society makes it very difficult to take full responsibility for what we do. According to the agrarian writer Wendell Berry, "When there is no reliable accounting and therefore no competent knowledge of the economic and ecological effects of our lives, we cannot live lives that are economically and ecologically responsible." [Berry, "The Whole Horse"]

Berry thinks that in modern society there is in fact "no reliable accounting," and "no competent knowledge" of what we are doing. "We are thus involved in a kind of lostness in which most people are participating more or less unconsciously in the destruction of the natural world, which is to say, the sources of their own lives. They are doing this unconsciously because they see or do very little of the actual destruction themselves, and they don't know, because they have no way to learn, how they are involved." [Berry, "Two Minds"]

Localism is desirable for agrarians because it helps us to learn what the consequences of our actions are, and limits our destructiveness when we make mistakes.

Given, however, a global society like ours, we need some other ways of learning "how [we] are involved." And this is just where libertarianism fails, and why it ought to be rejected.

The unregulated free market beloved of libertarians, far from educating us about the consequences of what we do, tends just as often to obscure them. It reduces all the complex history of an item to a single number, the price. But even mainstream economists acknowledge that the price frequently fails to reflect even quantitatively (much less qualitatively) much of the "costs" that we pay as a society for the goods we produce. This is, of course, the problem of externalities. The most common example is the price of a gallon of gas, which fails to account for the environmental damage caused by its extraction, refining, transportation, and consumption.

Short of moving towards a local economy, the best way to account for all of the externalities that the market price fails to reflect is... government regulation, in the form of strict penalties for destructive behavior, subsidies for less destructive behavior, mandatory disclosures, and the list goes on.

Libertarians reject all of this, and in so doing set themselves up as obstacles to achieving the kind of responsible society agrarians want.

But enough of that. Larison's and Salyer's answers to Gordon are interesting and I recommend them. Given the economic events of the past month, though, Dreher makes the wittiest riposte:

In the meantime, can I just say how much I hate that Wendell Berry and all the farmers for bringing the entire US economy and global financial system to the edge of the abyss with their financial recklessness. If only we'd had less regulation of the moneymen, like fundamentalist libertarians want, why, we wouldn't be in this fix. Right?

October 03, 2008

The right wing blogosphere

Crises like this are the best time to visit the far-right blogosphere.  It's fascinating to see what effect reality has on the opinions of true ideologues.

Apparently, no effect at all.  That's why they're called "ideologues."

Take the Biden-Palin debate, for instance.  Most of us think Palin's answers were incoherent, or at best, weak.  However, people like this guy say that "Sarah Palin drove another stake in the heart of those fuddy-duddy reactionaries that constitute our mainstream media. Going toe-to-toe with a senator with decades of experience, she more than held her own, giving lie to the media constructed narrative that she was an inexperienced hick from nowheresville Alaska."

My question to Mr. Simon is simply: how poorly would she have had to perform for you to say that she lost the debate?  What is your standard?  How about drooling?  Would you reluctantly admit she lost only if her responses had been limited to silent drooling?

I'd like to ask similar kinds of questions to people like Hugh Hewitt, who believes the solution to our economic crisis is to -- drum roll, please -- cut taxes!

[McCain's] simple, closing message ought to be that the world is threatened by terrorism, and the global economy is threatened by rising taxes, chains on productivity, pressure on trade, and corrupt, self-dealing political elites at home and abroad.

McCain needs to declare that he's been around a long time, and he's seen all the big mistakes made and all the costs paid, and that he isn't going to stand for it now.

McCain should pledge to be John McCut from day one in the White House:

He'll cut taxes on new businesses and construction to jump start a flat economy and invigorate employment;

He'll cut federal spending to make sure we have the resources for those that need it and not those who have gotten fat off of subsidies;

He'll cut the chains that government has put on productivity, allowing builders to build and energy companies to explore and producers to make;

He'll cut every trade barrier he can find and commit to an export economy that will surge the growth in American production of the goods and services demanded around the globe;

He'll cut the corrupt culture of self-dealing that allowed Freddie and Fannie to pump hundreds of billions of bad loans to over-their-head borrowers and into the economy and thereby infect our financial system to the point of collapse....

Question:  If our economy weren't threatened by a credit crisis, but instead by, say, big furry mice, would you still say it was threatened by rising taxes?  What kinds of economic threats do you think exist, other than taxes?

I'm sure the far left is just as nutty in their own way.  Question for them: How high would taxes have to be before you'd advocate for a smaller government?  100%?

The fact is, though, that ever since the Reagan Revolution, the political "moderates" have been much closer to the far-right nutjobs than to the far left nutjobs.  Communism is dead; no one seriously supports that ideology any more.  Liberalism has been a toxic political label for thirty years.  No one who supports "protectionism" or "pacifism" survives as a viable politician for very long.  The only influential wingnuts are the right wing ones.  So it's both amusing and scary to see how tightly they cling to their beliefs in the face of a reality that demands something different.

The good news is that most people aren't ideologues.  If they can be induced to pay enough attention to form their own opinions, they'll realize that most of today's problems spring from too much right-wing ideology and not too little.  While a little Reaganism might have been good for the nation at the end of the 1970s (debatable), it's certainly toxic now.  We're suffering from too much Reaganism, and we've been doing so for a long time.

That's why, if the people pay attention, it'll be fun to tour the right-wing blogs again after John McCain loses this election.  My question for the Hugh Hewitts then will be:  How massive a landslide would Barack Obama have had to win by before you'd admit that the reason McCain lost was that the voters just didn't want him to be president?

April 17, 2007

Great agrarian blog

While I've been working and sleeping and procrastinating and watching Grindhouse at the theater (yay, me!), Rick Saenz has been putting together a string of great posts (which is another way of saying that he's been writing a great blog). Here's something that I wish I had said (blame Rose McGowan and her machine-gun leg for that):

It’s odd how when we come to understand the shortcomings of modern industrial culture we are quick to embrace someone’s speculative, totally untested antidote, whether it be engaging the culture or retreating into intentional community, while at the same time we are quick to reject any proposal that we would do well to return to an earlier way of living. We hope that doing things differently might make the symptoms go away, but aren’t much interested in tracking down our mistakes and undoing them.
Exactly! Just what I've been trying to say for years, but haven't really said as well.

February 26, 2007

Returning to my blog

Hey again, all of you out there in blogland...

I'm back from my dead-of-winter sojourn through internship. It's still cold and snowy here in Chicago, but somehow I feel like the coldest, darkest, and loneliest parts of the year are behind me. Maybe seeing an inch-tall bundle of new crocus leaves poking out of the ground along 57th street yesterday (!!) has something to do with it. Maybe the emergency medicine inservice exam that I'm taking on Wednesday has me thinking about how soon residency will be over with, and about how soon I'll have to take the specialty boards for real. Maybe it's just that the days really are longer, even if they're still cold. For whatever reason, I see a big light at the end of a tunnel that I'm almost all the way through.

I also want to start posting on my blog again. And I think I want to post about my job. Most of my readers (at least the ones I had before I stopped posting) are not in medicine, and I think it would be fun to tell them about what it's like to be a resident in the Queen of the Medical Specialties -- emergency medicine. After all, it can be fun as hell, and I see some of the strangest shit almost every day. It would be a shame not to blog about it.

The only thing is, I need to find a way to do it that ensures that my patients won't recognize themselves on my blog. As I've said before, I think it'd be pretty shitty for one of my patients to see me in the hospital, go home, google my name, and be able to recognize themselves in one of my blog posts. It's not a matter of the privacy of my patients-- it'd be easy to blog about them in a way that no one other than the patient in question could identify themselves. It's more a matter of my own privacy. If I think the guy with the gunshot wound to the left buttock was acting like a little shit, I don't want him to find out about it on my blog. I'd rather keep it to myself, or if I'm going to tell him, I'd want to do it in a professional way, face-to-face. If the old lady with the rapid heartbeat that I saw the other night had me convinced that she was about to die, she shouldn't find out about it after the fact on my blog. The same thing goes for my co-workers. I don't want them to recognize themselves in my blog posts, either.

In law school it was easy to blog about cases and issues without mentioning what was said in class by particular professors or students. I never really blogged much about law school anyway, because I never wanted to, and I always had so much free time that I could write about non-law subjects pretty easily. Residency is different. I don't have enough free time (damn!) to spend two or three hours a day reading random articles and blogs and responding to them. These days, I want to post about what I'm doing in the hospital. I'm still thinking about how to do it.

August 21, 2006

Blogging about patients

Here's another reason I haven't been posting much recently: I haven't quite gotten comfortable with blogging about patients.

It's not a HIPAA thing. I'm not tempted to post anything on my blog that would identify a specific patient, and that shouldn't be surprising. Plenty of great medical bloggers put up interesting posts all the time about the patients they see, and HIPAA's never an issue. See, for example, Dr. Bard-Parker's post about this stabbing victim. I'm hesitating not because of patient confidentiality, but because of my knowledge that the patient himself or herself might sometimes be able to identify themselves if they read my blog. And even though I'm fairly certain that they aren't reading my blog (famous last words, those), I'm still a bit wary of the whole thing. I ask myself: if I were a patient and I read about myself some evening on a doc's blog, what would I think? Well, I personally wouldn't feel upset if I wasn't being mocked in the post, and provided that no one else could tell it was me. But I can imagine that other patients might feel differently.

And that's why I'm not rushing to blog about my shifts in the pediatric ER, or my days and nights in the PICU (yes, my schedule has been peds-heavy so far this year).

Eventually, I'll find the approach that works for me -- the right level of detail, the right amount of historical separation between when I've seen a patient and when I've blogged about what I've seen. But for the time being, I'm not posting a lot about what I've spent most of my time doing. Draining abscesses, stiching up lacs, getting LPs (my first successful one two weeks ago!). I suppose I could blog about the single most time-consuming activity of my residency so far: filling out paperwork. But that'd be boring.

In the meantime, I'll post a part of a poem relevant to hospitals and sickness by one of my favorite authors:

Let him escape hospital and doctor,
the manners and odors of strange places,
the dispassionate skills of experts.

Let him go free of tubes and needles,
public corridors, the surgical white
of life dwindled to poor pain.

Foreseeing the possibility of life without
possibility of joy, let him give it up.

Let him die in one of the old rooms
of his living, no stranger near him.

Let him go in peace out of the bodies
of his life--
flesh and marriage and household.

From the wide vision of his own windows
let him go out of sight; and the final

time and light of his life's place be
last seen before his eyes' slow
opening in the earth.

Let him go like one familiar with the way
into the wooded and tracked and
furrowed hill, his body.
. . . .

--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!)

August 30, 2005

Back to "normal"

You can comment on these posts again.

In the next few days the blog should slowly drift back to its normal appearance. More or less.

March 12, 2005

Dave Kopel needs a chill pill

Take a look at this language from one of the Volokh Conspiracy's "lesser co-bloggers" in his latest Ward Churchill rant in Denver's Rocky Mountain News:

Why did the University of Colorado Arts and Sciences administration continue to promote and laud Churchill after the late- 1990s publication of professor Thomas LaVelle's articles alleging extensive academic fraud and plagiarism on Churchill's part? Are there other academic frauds and plagiarists at CU whom the administration has protected? How did CU become such a racist institution that a patently unqualified man was pushed for tenure in three departments because he claimed to be an Indian? How many other poorly-qualified teachers have gotten jobs at CU, based on their ethnicity or their pretended ethnicity? To what extent does the extreme left dominate hiring at CU, so that highly qualified applicants for teaching positions are rejected, whereas politically correct hacks get the job? How often do other CU teachers act like Churchill allegedly did by punishing students for expressing opinions contrary to the teacher? Has CU protected other teachers who have been credibly accused of making violent threats and/or perpetrating on- and off-campus violent crimes against people who disagree with them?

Thank goodness Dave Kopel doesn't chair a Senate committee with subpoena powers.

Kopel's incessant screeching about Churchill does make two good points. Kopel is probably right to worry about a double-standard among some CU faculty members when it comes to preserving academic freedom. I also agree with Kopel that it would be a disaster if the University of Colorado were to buy out Ward Churchill. This kind of spineless decision would waste taxpayer money and damage the school's credibility; the Churchill case is too politically charged for the University's Board of Regents to weasel out the side door with a buyout offer.

However, these high-profile public demands that Ward Churchill be terminated are the very reason why the University's Board of Regents should do the exact opposite of what Dave Kopel suggests. The Regents should not fire Ward Churchill so long as politically-motivated bloggers like Kopel (and more importantly, the Governor of Colorado) continue to howl for his head on a pike. No matter what the investigation into Churchill's alleged "scholarly fraud" reveals, to fire Churchill after an investigation that was initiated solely in response to criticism of what he said and wrote would do serious damage to the valuable tradition of free and open speech on campus.

If the investigations confirm what are now merely "credible accusations" (in Kopel's words), then Ward Churchill will be revealed as a fraud before the whole world. There will then be other ways to discipline Churchill, as Dave Kopel recognizes:

One can imagine all sorts of sanctions which the CU Regents might impose short of firing. For example, Churchill could be barred from campus until he successfully completes a therapy program for his inability to control his anger. He could be ordered to write formal retractions of the various academic frauds he has perpetrated. He could be ordered to pay full compensation to the copyright holders for the various works he has plagiarized.

Unless Kopel wants to make some really wacky argument that all the universities are crammed with complete idiots as well as adherents of the far-left, Churchill will suffer for any fraud he may have committed--if in fact the accusations turn out to be true.

But if the Regents fire Churchill, then the lesson for ideologues on both the right and the left will be that witchhunts work. Don't like what Professor X wrote? You might not be able to get him fired for that, but if you dig hard enough into his past for varied and sundry transgressions, and call for his head loudly enough and often enough on the internet, you might eventually get him fired for something. Better yet, if the Governor thinks he can score some cheap political points by pandering to the current majority and publicly advocating his dismissal, your chances are even better.

I don't think it's an unreasonable worry that this kind of climate might chill the willingness of professors to speak unpopular opinions out loud. The CU Regents need to boldly and publicly defend the value of academic freedom, because majorities are sometimes wrong. Even overwhelming majorities are sometimes overwhelmingly wrong, and we need to protect the freedom of at least some part of our society to say so when it happens.

As David Velleman explains, the decentralized system of publishing papers and awarding tenure occasionally results in mediocrities getting tenure. Ward Churchill may be one of these; he may even be a fraud. Were people like Kopel and Governor Bill Owens to keep silent, firing Churchill for fraud and plagiarism might not be the worst decision a University ever made. But, as David Kopel so regularly reminds us with his overheated and McCarthyesque rhetoric about the dangers of the far-left's influence over the CU campus, firing him in this situation would be a de-facto capitulation to a politically-motivated witchhunt. That would be far worse for this country than allowing a questionable professor to remain at his post. The more David Kopel complains, the stronger the argument for not firing Ward Churchill.

March 01, 2005

"Blog People" give ALA president Gorman the smackdown

Apparently, some of the criticism that bloggers have leveled at Michael Gorman has gotten under his skin.

Gorman is the president-elect of the American Library Association. He wrote an op-ed piece for the LA Times on December 17, 2004 suggesting that Google's plans to digitize the collections of several large libraries (including the U of M's) was, among other things, an "expensive exercise[] in futility." Kevin Drum, in true blogger style, responded to this poorly-argued piece by calling Mr. Gorman "an embarrassment to [the librarians'] profession."

While Drum's comments might have been a bit hyperbolic at the time, they seem less so now. Gorman's response to his critics in the blogosphere suggests that he may in fact be an embarrassment to librarians everywhere:

It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.
To which the author, blogger, and friend of the ALA Neil Gaiman responds:
On the other hand, I feel the love diminishing a tad when I read an article by the president-elect of the ALA, and find myself unable to decide whether it's mostly that a) he's simply a very, very bad writer, or b) he lacks any skills of a diplomatic nature, or it's just c) he really believes that statements like "Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts" are somehow going to disabuse people who keep blogs, journals and such from believing or repeating the calumny that "Michael Gorman is an idiot" (someone apparently said this on a blog, he tells us, expecting us to feel an outrage on his behalf I somehow wasn't able to muster). (Surely, if you're upset that someone called you an idiot, the wisest course of action would be not to write an odd screed that will itself convince many people who haven't heard of you before reading it that this is in fact the case.)
Whatever the Blog People's faults might be, they have some things to teach Michael Gorman about the values of a thick skin and the avoidance of overbroad generalizations.

February 18, 2005


Prof. Bainbridge has announced that he'll be deleting trackbacks to other bloggers' posts that don't link to his post in return, on the grounds that it's rude. I agree.

Sending trackback pings without including a link to the same blog in your post violates the mutual-backscratching rule of blogging etiquette. The trackback pings send readers of Bainbridge's post to the pinging post, but the pinging post sends no readers to Bainbridge. That's not polite, especially when Bainbridge might never choose to link to the pinging post in the first place.

It's nice when a blog with heavy readership like Bainbridge's sends a few of its readers your way (if only through a trackback link), even when linking to Bainbridge in your post might not be able to send an equal number of readers back to Bainbridge in return (due to a smaller readership).

I say, don't take advantage of a system that inherently benefits smaller blogs. If you ping, then link.

January 16, 2005


When it comes to literary criticism I never know whether to sneer or cheer. One part of me laughs at how silly it is to argue about the "merits" of art. (Esthetic taste is not the sort of thing that's influenced by arguments, right?) The other part of me is amazed at how writing about art can make our experience of it so much richer.

For example, critics can talk to me all day about Tolkien's supposedly "wooden" characters, but in one sense, I couldn't care less what they think--his characters don't seem wooden to me. They can argue that LoTR glorifies heirarchies and the status quo, or that Tolkien is really just proselytizing his Catholicism in his books. If they've read the story closely they might convince me that a reasonable reader could draw those conclusions, but I'm not (just) a reasonable reader. I've already read the book, and my own idiosyncratic reactions to it (namely, love) don't have anything to do with whether anyone else likes it or not.

Which is to say, literary criticism seems irrelevant to the most important question we ask of a literary work: do you like it?

On the other hand, I'm amazed at what a perceptive critic can say about a work of fiction. Good criticism can seem like revelation when it isn't trying to argue that your esthetic reaction to a story is "wrong." When it tries to just describe what the critic has noticed about the story, criticism is enormously fun to read--even if I don't myself agree with the critic's descriptions or explanations.

In light of my conflicted reaction to literary criticism, then, I'll give the posts over at Crooked Timber about China Miville's work (and a lot about Tolkien, too) a solid thumbs-sideways. With some wiggles.

[the same goes for Helen Bainbridge's scornful review of a movie I liked, Sideways.]