October 13, 2003
I agree with Will that "The trouble with rape law isn't that it's too hard for men to figure out when a woman is consenting. The trouble is that it's too hard for the parties to prove what was said."
But I do disagree with Will, in his second posting: here.
If somebody I subjectively consider dangerous proposes an activity in which I don't wish to engage, a sound legal rule should simply require me to make my non-consent verbally clear. Even if this person hasn't physically threatened me, once he physically does something to me that I've non-consented to, that should be that. I shouldn't have to start a fight.
Taken perfectly literally, how would a mute person make non-consent perfectly clear?
Words do have the advantage in clarity over non-verbal communication, but I don't think a verbal "no" is required to make a lack of consent apparent. If the more passive party has not communicated either a "yes" or a "no" (and by 'yes' I don't mean only that word, or even only verbalizations found in the OED), then it's the burden of the more aggressive party to not push any further without obtaining definate permission (henceforth "woman" and "man").
A while back (perhaps a year?), there was a discussion of campus sex codes. Some college wanted its students to obtain verbal permission for each step: may I kiss you? may I remove your right shoe and then your sock? This, we agreed, was fairly ridiculous: permission is commonly granted or denied by body language, by a turn of the head to advance or retreat. Without any words being exchanged, women daily either consent or deny consent, in ways that are perfectly understandable (and if a hesitant man thinks she said "no" when she meant "yes," that's a mistake easily rectified).
But a lack of a 'No" does not prevent it from being rape. To continue Dahlia's example, I don't have to say "no" to keep you from taking my car (although once I do, you shouldn't take it); until I, in some explicit means, say yes, it's presumed you don't have my consent. Why should I be required to be more pro-active in the more heinous crime? Why should a woman have to say "no", a response that she could reasonably believe might antagonize her attacker? If he shows sufficient disergard for her person and thoughts to rape her, then a fear that he'd hit her is quite reasonable (for hitting is generally considered a lesser crime than rape, perhaps it's more frequent or requires less provocation). This is a continuation of Will's rationale: "I shouldn't have to pick a fight."
Yes, this is hard to prove in court: instead of claims "I said no" being argued against "she never said no," it becomes "My body language made my lack of consent clear, but I was afraid to actually say no" against "She never said no, so I thought she meant yes." But rape cases are always a he-said/she-said with the bar for "beyond reasonable doubt" set high (as it should be); I'm not sure if this is anymore or less obtuse than the standards of proof currently out there.
This is, anyway, my conception of what the law should be, more closely approximated by Wisconsin and Washington than by Texas, as the Curmudgeonly Clerk's research reveals.
[Then again, these are the thoughts of someone who, if she's having a bad day and is asked for the cause, would really rather have the person guess, on the basis of facial expressions and other clues, what the cause might be; it's a laborious process that's prone to getting causations wrong, but that something's wrong is clear without me speaking. I realize it's infuriating, but it does a good job of signaling out the people to whom I figure I might reveal the the troubles (if you can't figure out a minimal amount on the basis of what I'm not saying, then, quite frankly, I don't want to say anything at all). Don't make me speak.]
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Grocery shopping here in Santa Barbara has become quite an adventure since clerks at the three main grocery chains went on strike, and shoppers have flooded the remaining independent stores. But what caught my eye about the story is this (from a USA Today article):
Clerks at Kroger's Ralphs, Safeway's Vons and Albertsons grocery stores went on strike late Saturday after negotiations between union representatives and store officials broke off, with health care coverage a key sticking point.
The companies operate about 900 stores from San Diego to Santa Barbara and control 60% of the Southern California market.
Officials with the United Food and Commercial Workers union initially said strikers would only target Vons stores and urged the companies not to lock out workers from the others.
The supermarkets, however, said a strike against one company would be considered a strike against all three. In a joint statement, they said Albertsons and Ralphs would lock out employees during the dispute.
So why are stores allowed to do this? Doesn't this violate some sort of antitrust rule? Perhaps someone who knows more about labor law than I do (which wouldn't be very dificult) could explain this to me.
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In our never-ending role as footnotes to the Volokh Conspiracy...
Randy Barnett has a smart post today about John Lott. He also discusses the comparative merits of peer reviewed journals and student-run ones:
Second, while many academics claim the superiority of peer-reviewed journals over student-edited law reviews, this incident should give us pause. Lott's initial figures were originally published in a peer-reviewed journal. So was Michael Bellesiles' original probate survey that was subsequently debunked only when it was included in his high-profile book.
In my experience, both types of journals have their advantages and disadvantages. The peer review process tends to eliminate articles not within the mainstream of the profession or articles that lack sufficient originality. This bias tends to suppress rather than encourage diversity of views. And while this screening serves to eliminate some articles containing errors, I doubt most reviewers "run the numbers" or check citations for themselves, unless they happen to run against their own preconceptions. Nor do the editors of peer reviewed journals.
This is a reminder that the Volokh Conspiracy has covered this issue before (before Professor Barnett joines the Conspiracy). See these posts, by Juan Non-Volokh, Sasha Volokh, Orin Kerr, and Juan Non-Volokh again. In case you're interested.
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If you're in Chicago and into that sort of thing, eminent poet Mark Strand will be giving a poetry reading on Thursday October 16, at 5:30 P.M. On Friday October 17 at 1:00 P.M., he will be delivering a lecture on "A Case from the Annals of Translation." Both of these will be in the Classics Building, Room 10.
Mark Strand's a smart guy, and he has great taste in poetry (even if I haven't cared for most of his verse myself), so this could be quite worthwhile.
Oh yeah, and he was one of George HW Bush's Poets Laureate, and has a Pulitzer Prize.
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Ox-blogger, Rhodes Scholar, and neo-con-at-large, Josh Chafetz is this week's 20 Questions subject. Please read on as he holds forth on liberal democracy, the history of Oxblog, fiction, and Matthew Yglesias's girlfriend.
1: What made you decide to start blogging?
The summer before I came to Oxford, I'd interned at The New Republic, where a substantial part of my day was devoted to reading as many news sources as I could. And that habit carried over when I got here -- I'd spend several hours a day reading news (I got here less than 20 days after 9/11, so there was a lot of news to read), and I would frequently email links to interesting articles to friends and family. I've always loved writing, and at some point it occurred to me that I could spare my friends' email boxes if I started a blog. I really wasn't sure if anyone would read it, or how long it would last. But it's been a lot of fun, so I've kept at it.
2: OxBlog originally consisted of the triumvirate of you, David Adesnik, and Daniel Urman. Now Mr. Urman almost never posts, and his email address is gone from the site, but Patrick Belton has arrived as a reliable contributor. How did you find Mr. Belton and what happened to Mr. Urman?
Actually, OxBlog was originally Dan Urman (a friend from Oxford who's now at Harvard Law), Anand Giridharadas (who interned with me at TNR and then spent his junior year at Oxford; he now works for McKinsey in Bombay), and me. For a brief while, Arielle Simon (who was spending part of her junior year in Oxford and was, at the time, the girlfriend of a well-known blogger) wrote for us, as well. Anand and Arielle stopped writing for OxBlog when they left Oxford at the end of their junior year, and Dan gradually tapered off in his contributions.
I'd known David for a while, but he'd never read OxBlog. And then in early September 2002, we were both in New Haven for the wedding of two kids named Patrick Belton and Rachel Kleinfeld, and we started talking about it. After the wedding, David checked out OxBlog, decided he liked it, asked if he could join, and I said sure. So that's how he came on board.
I'd met Patrick at a dinner party the summer before I came to Oxford (which was the summer after his first year at Oxford). We'd been good friends for quite a while when he mentioned that he'd be interested in writing for OxBlog, so he joined in March.
3: Are group blogs "the wave of the future?" What is the ideal size for a group blog?
I don't think group blogging is the wave of the future in the sense that it will crowd out individual blogging. Some people clearly have the time, interest, and inclination to write enough on a daily basis that they can develop an audience. But group blogging certainly offers a lot of benefits. For one thing, you can debate amongst yourselves, which is fun and interesting if done occasionally (but can cross the line into self-obsessed naval-gazing if done too frequently). For another, it brings a diversity of interests to the blog, which is very nice. And, of course, it takes the pressure off any one blogger to post frequently enough to keep the readers coming back. From the beginning, I wanted partners, because I didn't want to have to wake up and think, "Okay, what am I going to blog about today?" Instead, I wake up, have my coffee, read the news, and, if something strikes me as blog-worthy, I write about it. If not, I don't. Between the three of us, we always seem to put enough stuff up that we don't lose our audience.
As for the ideal size, well, you want it to be big enough to take advantage of the benefits above. And that depends, not just on numbers, but also on how much they write. Four bloggers (Dan, Anand, Arielle, and I) were sometimes too few, since there were weeks when the other three wrote little or nothing. But the three bloggers we have now are plenty, because we all write a fair amount. On the other end, you don't want to get so big that individual voices get lost or that you're putting up so much text that people give up on reading it all.
4: Which is more important for a re-developing nation (like Iraq): democracy or liberty? That is, should we support a democratic process even in nations that use that process to create a tyrannical theocracy or something similar (after all, even constitutional rights can be amended)?
What we should be supporting is liberal democracy. But it's not really an either/or choice -- liberalism and democracy stand in a mutually reinforcing dialectic. This isn't to say that you can't have one without the other -- of course, you can, and we can all think of examples. But those examples tend to be transient. If a society is liberal but not democratic, then people will use their free speech and their free press and their free association to criticize the government at some point. And at that point, the ruler will have a choice: he can either crack down on civil liberties, or he can surrender power. If he does neither, public pressure will keep growing until, at some point, the choice is forced. Similarly, a society that is democratic but not liberal is ripe for either a coup or a civil war, and there is almost always someone around willing to lead one.
Liberal democracy, on the other hand, is stable, because liberal norms of protecting minorities and settling issues through persuasion and open procedures reinforce the strength of the democratic institutions, and the democratic institutions underline the importance of accompanying liberal norms. This is why it's foolish to try and rush elections in Iraq -- unless the groundwork has been properly laid, unless Iraqis have had some time to get accustomed to arguing peacefully about politics, unless they've had time to understand that they can trust a free press in ways that they couldn't trust the Saddam-controlled press, etc., then elections will produce, at best, an unstable democracy.
I think it's important that the Iraqi Constitution be written in such a way that it would be hard to amend it so as to make it either illiberal or undemocratic. Requiring a supermajority for a constitutional amendment is a good idea. Assuming we don't rush the transition, I find it unlikely that a supermajority would vote for changes that turned Iraq -- or any country -- from a liberal democracy into a theocratic tyranny. (And, the truth is, if a supermajority somehow did want that, no mere "parchment barrier" (to borrow a line from Madison) would stand in their way.)
5: Along with one of your co-bloggers, you're a founder of OxDem, which was founded to "to publicize the importance of democracy". What made you decide to create OxDem and what exactly does it do?
We decided to create it because we didn't think that both sides of the debate over the Middle East were being heard on campus. Those who saw imperialist greed in every action that the US takes in the region were monopolizing public discussion. And we thought there were other questions that needed to be raised, but weren't.
We wanted to bring democracy promotion to the foreground, both because we think that people have a right to live in a liberal democracy, and also because liberal democracies don't produce terrorism, and they don't go to war with each other. Those are amazing facts, and they're worth bringing up.
Although the Middle East was our starting point, and remains a strong interest, we also wanted to make sure that we didn't limit ourselves to just that region. There are plenty of tyrannies out there, and, while there is no one-size-fits-all policy solution, they are all worth talking about, and it is worth thinking hard about what we can do to promote democracy in all of them.
Last year, before the war, we co-sponsored a panel discussion on Iraq with several other groups. The turnout was great -- we filled a pretty big lecture hall, and had people standing in the aisles -- and a lot of people came up to us afterwards and said that we'd raised issues they hadn't thought about before. That's what we're trying to do. Our goal is to do it through a combination of writing, bringing in speakers, and putting together panels. (And, if anyone else has good ideas, I'd love to hear them, too!)
6: What about living in the United Kingdom have you found the most difficult to adjust to?
The general foreignness of it. When I've gone to countries where I don't speak the language, I've always felt very foreign at first, but then come to feel more comfortable. It's the opposite here -- I stepped off the plane and things felt pretty much the same. But after a month or two, the little differences add up and I felt less and less at home. Of course, after a while, the process reversed itself and I began feeling more comfortable again, but I can still go to an American city that I've never been to before and feel more at home there than I do in Oxford.
It's hard to even put my finger on the differences, and a lot of them seem really petty when I put them into words -- differences in how stores treat their customers, differences in how people on the street react to strangers -- but they do add up. (I should add that some of the little things I find better than the US equivalent and others I find worse. But, in both cases, they take some adjusting -- which is not necessarily a bad thing, either.)
7: What, if any, difference do you perceive between Oxford and the other place?
To tell you the truth, I don't know Cambridge all that well. Certainly, Cambridge feels more like a college town, while Oxford feels more like a city -- Oxford used to have an industrial base, whereas I don't think Cambridge has ever had much besides the university. And obviously, the different universities have different strengths. But I'm not sure there's a whole lot of difference in how things are run or what the undergrad experience would be like. As I said, though, I'm really not very qualified to compare them.
8: If a Democrat manages to unseat President Bush in 2004, who would be his (or her) best choice for Secretary of State?
Wow, that's a tough one. I don't really know the foreign policy establishment all that well -- Patrick or David would be much better qualified to answer this one (as, of course, would Dan Drezner). Not that this is at all controversial, but it ought to be someone with a good understanding of the Middle East, preferably someone who speaks Arabic.
9: What do you want to be when you, well, grow up? That is, what sort of career path do you plan to follow?
I want to be a law professor, focusing on American constitutional law. I also want to keep writing for the popular press on the side.
10: You're the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship, a great honor. What advice do you have for the hundreds to thousands of college students trying to win one?
First, a general note: There are 32 American Rhodes Scholars per year, 40 Marshall Scholars, and 10 UK Fulbrights. There are hundreds of students across the US who are every bit as qualified as the 82 people who actually get those fellowships. If you're in that group of hundreds, a lot of it is luck from there. Some more specific advice:
(1) Don't think about them at all until late in your junior year. I've actually gotten emails from people who were just starting their freshman year asking what they could do to increase their odds. That's absurd. College is an amazing experience -- enjoy it and do what you love doing. As I said above, no matter how good you are, odds are that you're not going to win one of the major fellowships, so don't waste four years doing things just because you think they'll give you an edge.
(2) Before you apply, make sure you really do want to go to graduate school at Oxford (or, for the Marshall or Fulbright, in the UK generally). The fellowships are honors, sure, but they're also scholarships to go to graduate school, and if you don't want to be in grad school, you're not going to enjoy your time here.
(3) If you get an interview, enjoy it! You get the chance to talk to all these amazing people -- both your fellow applicants and the committee members. Treat it like a conversation with really smart people, rather than a high-pressure interview. It helps if you're pretty sure that you're not going to win. (My Marshall interviews went very, very badly, which convinced me that I didn't have a shot at winning the Rhodes, either, so I was much more relaxed in the interview, and it went much better.)
11: You chose Yale not only for your undergraduate education but also for Law School. Why Yale?
It's hard to say why I picked it as an undergrad. I didn't know all that much about it -- in fact, I never saw the campus until move-in day of my freshman year. But when I found out where I got in, it just seemed like the best fit. And, in retrospect, I think it was the best fit, not only of the places I got into, but of all the places I applied. I love the unabashed intellectualism and intellectual diversity of the campus; I love the focus on the arts; and I love New Haven. I really just enjoyed everything about my four years there.
And while I was there, I worked as a research assistant for Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional law expert at Yale Law. Working with him not only confirmed for me that I wanted to do constitutional scholarship, but it also gave me a chance to see the Yale Law community up close, and I really liked what I saw. Law school is, of course, a professional school, but Yale Law is uniquely focused on scholarship -- it's as close to a liberal arts education as you can get in professional school, and closer to it than you get in a lot of graduate programs. For someone who wants to be a law professor, it's really no contest. And the community at Yale Law seemed incredibly friendly and open.
I should note that, after Yale, my next choice for both undergrad and law school was the University of Chicago. From what I can tell, Chicago seems like an amazing place, and I would love to spend some time there at some point.
12: If you were put in charge of a diplomatic peace mission to Israel-Palestine, what would you do?
Beg to be put in charge of something else!
I think I would start by sitting down with the Israeli PM and saying something to the effect of, "Look, the United States is on your side. You're a democratic government; the PA is not. You don't sponsor or breed terrorism; the PA does. We're on your side because we're pro-democracy and anti-terrorism. We're on your side because you're on the right side, and because you're on the right side, it's unfair to ask you to make the first move. But life is unfair, so suck it up.
Institute a real freeze on settlement building. Dismantle settlements in the West Bank -- not settlements consisting of a couple of tents, but real settlements, with real buildings. Offer compensation to the uprooted settlers, but move them, by force if necessary." Then I would go to the Palestinian PM and say something to the effect of, "The United States is out of patience with you. You have a choice, and you have to make that choice now. You can choose to fight and win a civil war against Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et al., and thereby begin providing a real state and a real way of life for your people. If you do that, the United States will assist you in whatever way you would like us to -- we will fund you, we will train your security officers, and we will do it secretly so you don't lose face. And once you show us some results -- once you show us that you are capable of policing the territories and preventing attacks on Israel -- then we will pressure Israel to pull out of the territories and to start final negotiations on Palestinian statehood. We know you cannot end all terrorism, just as no government can end all crime. But you must make a serious, sustained, bona fide effort. That's one choice. The other choice is to do nothing, to go on as you are now. If you do that, then here is what you can expect from the United States: the PA will not receive a dime from us. The State Department will begin considering whether there is enough evidence to list the PA itself as a terrorist organization. The United States will do its best to covertly find, train, and fund democratic opposition to the PA within the territories. The United States will begin broadcasting Radio Free Palestine, which will report on corruption within the PA and on how the PA abuses the trust of the Palestinian people. Finally, I leave you with this warning: Many Americans visit Israel. Americans have died in terrorist attacks in Israel before. If you do not crack down on terrorist groups, and if another terrorist attack kills an American citizen, we reserve the right to consider that an act of war."
I would also tell the State Department that, for God's sake, please do not publicly say that the Palestinian PM is "someone we can work with." There seems to be no faster way of discrediting him in the eyes of the Palestinian population.
Do I think that would work? I have no earthly idea. (And as I write this, I see that yet another Palestinian PM has bitten the dust. That's not a good sign.)
13: OxBlog has been accused before of being written by Straussians. What does it mean to be a Straussian? Are you a Straussian?
Oy ve. I have to say, I find the surge of Strauss-based conspiracy theories fascinating. I should start by saying that my knowledge of Strauss is limited -- I've read Natural Right and History, Thoughts on Machiavelli, about half of the essays collected in An Introduction to Political Philosophy, and the introductory essay to Persecution and the Art of Writing, and that's it. So I'm by no means an expert. That said, neither are 95% of the people writing/spreading the Straussian conspiracy meme, so ... Look, Strauss is an interesting character. His attack on historicism in Natural Right and History is worth reading, although ultimately I think that Gadamer's attack on historicism in Truth and Method is fuller and more appealing. Strauss was a democrat, but a cautious one. He thought that the ideal was a democracy that was a "universal aristocracy" -- that is, one in which everyone had a liberal education which allowed them to think deeply about the important questions of self-governance (see his essay "What Is Liberal Education?" reprinted in An Introduction to Political Philosophy).
But mostly, his critics seem to go after him for his esotericism. Briefly, Strauss wrote that most people usually don't like hearing what philosophers have to say, and therefore, the philosopher, if he is to avoid Socrates' fate, must "write between the lines." The result, then, is that the most profound teachings of the philosophers are "addressed, not to all readers, but to trustworthy and intelligent readers only." (Those quotes are from Persecution and the Art of Writing.) This gets caricatured thus: "According to Strauss, texts have secret meanings that only he and his disciples can understand." That caricature is easy to mock, of course. And mock people do.
But an honest critic of Strauss (of which, let me rush to say, there are many) would look at how Strauss actually reads texts. His readings don't rest on an ipse dixit -- he does very close readings and gives very detailed reasons. Now, some of his readings are preposterous. Others strike me as quite plausible. But they're not based on what Strauss' secret decoder ring told him ...
In other words, Strauss is rather misunderstood, and I suspect the people who've called OxBlog Straussian were laboring under some of those misconceptions. The truth is, I don't know what it means to be called a Straussian. Does it mean that you think that a text's meaning is sometimes intentionally hidden? Then most literature scholars are Straussians. Does it mean that you're anti-historicist? Then, again, many of us are Straussians. Does it mean that you think democracy is flawed, but better than the available alternatives? Then, yet again, many of us are Straussians. Does it mean that you agree with all of his textual analysis? Then none of us are Straussians.
Given all that, my answer to the question of whether I'm a Straussian would have to be, "I don't think so. But can you be a little more specific, please?"
14: How would you describe your political leanings?
Neoconservative on foreign policy; somewhere between neoliberal and neoconservative on domestic policy.
15: You've written for both the Weekly Standard and The New Republic-- an interesting combination. Do those publications make strange bedfellows? Why the Weekly Standard but not the National Review?
Actually, you'd be surprised how incestuous a world it is. Fred Barnes was a senior editor and the White House correspondent for The New Republic for ten years. People like Charles Krauthammer and Peter Berkowitz routinely write for both. So it's not actually so surprising.
As for why the Standard but not National Review ... the Standard is definitely closer to my own political views. (While there are a number of issues on which I disagree with the Standard, I can't think of any issues on which I disagree with them but agree with National Review.) That said, I would consider writing for NR. I have, in fact, pitched them stuff in the past and been ignored, which doesn't exactly make me excited to pitch them stuff again in the future.
16: What suggestions do you have for other students who want to break into print media? How hard is it to start writing for a magazine like TNR?
Intern somewhere. I interned at TNR, which gave me the opportunity to publish my first piece there, plus the opportunity to get to know everyone who worked there. And the first time I pitched a piece to the Weekly Standard, I could tell them in my email, "I worked at and have been published in TNR ... ," which at least makes it more likely that they'll read your pitch. The hardest part is getting your foot in the door, and internships, although the pay is crummy, are a great way to do that.
I also should note that interning at TNR was an incredible, incredible amount of fun.
17: What is the doctrine of Parliamentary Privilege and why should we care about it?
As you know, I'm currently working on the 300-page answer, but I'll try to keep it brief.
Parliamentary privilege consists of those special rights and powers that individual Members or Houses of Parliament enjoy. Examples include the right of MPs to speak freely on the floor of Parliament without fear of being held legally to account for their words in any other place (as guaranteed in Article 9 of the 1689 Bill of Rights, and later incorporated into Article I of the US Constitution), and the right of each House to hold both Members and non-Members in contempt of Parliament.
Consequently, privilege plays a huge role in determining how the various institutions of British political life interact with one another. It is crucial in determining how courts and the House of Commons interact, and, in bygone days, in determining how the Crown and the House interact. Equally importantly, it affects the interaction between the House and the public.
A few of the interesting questions that privilege raises, then, are: If the House finds someone in contempt and throws him into the Tower of London, can a petition for writ of habeas corpus be brought in a common law court? Are an MP's communications with or on behalf of his constituents afforded any level of privilege? If the franchise is a common law right (which it was generally held to be) and if a right implies a remedy (which it is generally held to do) and if the House of Commons has exclusive jurisdiction over electoral disputes (which, until the late-nineteenth century, it did) and if the House cannot award monetary damages (which it can't), then what was to be done when someone was illegally deprived of his right to vote?
All of these questions get at something deeper, which is this: what is the nature of democracy in the British Constitution? Under an ancient view of constitutions, the constitution is balanced between the democratic, the aristocratic, and the monarchical elements. Under this view, the House of Commons is the repository of democracy in Britain, and therefore the function of privilege is to protect the House from any external attacks, whether those attacks are by other institutions or by British subjects. But a more modern view of democratic constitutionalism holds that the entire Constitution is characterized as democratic, and the various elements work together to reinforce the overall democratic character of the system. On this view, privilege protects the overall democratic character of the system, which sometimes means limiting the ways in which a self-dealing House of Commons can thwart the popular will.
My argument, then, is that privilege provides a window onto changing understandings of democracy in the British Constitution. (I'm also tracing these ideas as they were incorporated into the American Constitution, but I've only just started working on that part of my dissertation.)
18: You've guest-blogged several times on the Volokh Conspiracy. How did you come into this gig?
Eugene emailed and asked. It seemed like a fun opportunity, both to interact more directly with the excellent people at the Volokh Conspiracy and to reach a larger audience. And we had a lot of fun doing it the first time, so when he asked again, we said sure. And I'm sure we'd do the same were he to ask again.
19: What sort of future do you see for OxBlog? How long do you intend to maintain it? Could you see yourself abandoning it for a major-media-blog, as Matthew Yglesias and Julian Sanchez have done?
I certainly have no intention of shutting OxBlog down anytime soon. As long as we're enjoying writing it, we'll keep at it. It's funny, people keep asking me if we'll keep it going after next year, when none of us will be in Oxford anymore. I see no reason why we shouldn't. If it gets to the point where it's not fun anymore, then I'll rethink it. But for now, it's still a lot of fun.
As for abandoning OxBlog for a major-media blog, yeah, I'd consider it.
(Note to Jonathan Last: if you're considering starting a Weekly Standard blog, give me a call. ;-) )
20: Do you read fiction? If so, what sort of fiction do you read?
Of course I read fiction! What kind of person doesn't? My tastes are fairly varied -- I hardly know where to begin. At the beginning, I suppose: I think the Odyssey is probably the greatest story ever told, and Paradise Lost is probably the greatest ever telling of a story. I enjoy Dante and Cervantes, and, as I mentioned a little while ago on OxBlog, I'm in the process of reading/re-reading all of Shakespeare.
As for more modern stuff, among novelists, I enjoy Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated was fantastic, and I can't wait for his second novel. I like Faulkner, but I have to be in the right mood.
I love Douglas Adams -- he is to writing what the Simpsons is to television: there's a Hitchhiker's Guide reference for any situation. For modern poetry, I most enjoy Seamus Heaney and Philip Larkin, although some of Wallace Stevens' work is amazing, and I suppose I can't leave out Eliot. I enjoy what Yehuda Amichai I've read, although that's not nearly enough. For drama, my absolute favorite modern is Stoppard, but I also love Wilde and Shaw and Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neill.
And I'm leaving out so many ... Ah, well. Most of them are dead, and I suspect the rest won't be offended, anyway. I try to alternate my pleasure reading between fiction and non-fiction. It never ceases to amaze me that some people claim to be too busy for fiction -- as if only non-fiction can teach you things, and fiction is a frivolous diversion that can be dispensed with at any time without serious loss.
That's bunk. Ricoeur has a fantastic essay, "Imagination in Discourse and in Action" (it's in his From Text to Action), in which he talks about the crucial importance of imagination for both making sense of the world ("what certain fictions redescribe is, precisely, human action itself. Or, to say the same thing the other way around, the first way human beings attempt to understand and to master the 'manifold' of the practical field is to give themselves a fictive representation of it.") and for acting in it ("imagination is involved in the very process of motivation. It is imagination that provides the milieu, the luminous clearing, in which we can compare and evaluate motives as diverse as desires and ethical obligations, themselves as disparate as professional rules, social customs, or intensely personal values.")
Okay, I'll stop quoting hermeneutic theory now (you really should read the essay, though), but you get the point: imagination, and therefore fiction, is essential to who and what we are. As far as we know, we're the only species for which the idea of a text exists. A text (as Ricoeur understands it -- and I don't think someone like Gadamer would fundamentally disagree, although he would phrase it very differently) projects a world -- it allows us to imagine things as they are not, but could be. Idealism, utopianism, and therefore fiction, is intimately bound up with motivation for human action. But the capacity to present things as they are not is also bound up with human understanding -- from the banal (for those of us who could never get our brains around the concept of dimensions other than the four to which we have intuitive access (or, at least, access via the forms of intuition, to borrow Kantian language), Edwin Abbott's Flatland is invaluable, because it provides us with a metaphor by which extra dimensions become at least partly conceivable) to the sublime (Shakespeare, more than anyone else, has shaped how we think and feel about love -- this is part of what Harold Bloom means by his assertion that Shakespeare invented the human, and it's part of what Allan Bloom meant when he wrote that you can't have great sex without great books). Not having time for fiction means not having time to be fully human, and that's unfortunate, to say the least.
Probably didn't think I'd give that long an answer to a question asking what fiction I read, didja?
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