May 15, 2005
Some bloggers may be annoyed at the Levitt-idolatry of late (e.g. The Slithery D, Craig Newmark and several others) but I notice that Levitt is laughing all the way to the top of the best-seller list. (Actually, Freakonomics is ranked #2 in hardcover nonfiction; on Amazon it's #3 of all books, and #2 of those books that are actually published) (Also, I am sure Professor Levitt is not actually laughing-- he is far too nice to do that.) Furthermore, Levitt gets a rave review from Slate's Jim Holt in the Times book review.
The most substantive criticism floating around seems to be either that the book is too shallow, and tries too hard to make what Levitt does seem totally-different-than-any-other-economist-ever OR that the book fails to respond to one Steve Sailer's criticism of Levitt's abortion work. Levitt has a new post on his blog doing exactly that.
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I have just begun The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. I'm not quite sure what it's about yet, but the hero and I are going to get along. He has forgotten everything except for the books he has read; he is now talking to his wife:
"You'll have to forgive me. I can't seem to say anything that comes from the heart. I don't have feelings, I only have memorable sayings."
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Given my recent encomium to Michael McConnell's Brown article, I should note that Jack Balkin has a long blog post up pointing out some of the reasons that originalists should not be too confident about their ability to rest Brown on originalist foundations. The bulk of Balkin's post is directed at Whelan's National Review article, but there is some passing criticism of McConnell's piece.
In the end, Balkin argues that originalism is useful, but shouldn't always trump "text, post-enactment history, structure, prudential considerations, precedents (both judicial and non-judicial), traditions, and national ethos," which makes the criticism of McConnell's piece even stranger in context-- McConnell's piece relies heavily on post-enactment history, and McConnell has explicitly claimed other principles as co-equals to originalism. See Michael McConnell, Textualism And The Dead Hand of the Past, 66 Geo. Wash. L. Rev. 1127, 1140 (1998) ("[T]he only legitimate sources for constitutional judgment are ... originalism, traditionalism, and restraint."); see also id at 1137 ("Maybe the task of constitutional law, in hard cases, is figuring out the relative weight that should be given to the founding, the tradition, and the present")
UPDATE: Of course, Professor McConnell's use of post-enactment history is really just as a proxy to "get at" the hard-to-find original meaning of the 14th Amendment itself. (McConnell's use of post-enactment history in this way is one of the most common criticisms of the piece I have seen.) Professor Balkin presumably meant the other kind of post-enactment history, where changed circumstances (e.g., the existence of airplanes) require us to take the understandings at a higher level of generality, or where the practice of subsequent generations can put a new "gloss" on an old text. I quibble too much.
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There are currently 127 library books piled by the door to my apartment. No, those aren't all of the books that I am currently storing on behalf of the Yale library system (some are in my locker at the law school) but it is a very sizable portion of them. My girlfriend makes fun of me for this-- she feels rude recalling books from library users like me who prefer to have everything on hand, just in case they should need Hedda Gabbler or the diary of John Quincy Adams at 3:00 in the morning. [At least I am in good company-- Robert Nozick explains in Anarchy, State, Utopia that because he consults unexpected books at odd hours of the night, he would like to have Widener library open to him in his back yard. Indeed.]
She pointed out to me this evening that I haven't read most of these books-- true enough. By my count I have read, consulted, flipped through or used a substantial part of 70 of them. And obviously nobody has needed the other ones very badly because they have not been recalled in the intervening months.
On the other hand, for me library books are still very poor substitutes for the privately-owned stuff. Some day I hope to be like Jacob Levy, buying (and therefore owning) all of my own fiction reading. Instead I seem to have bought fewer books this semester than I have in a long time. This is partially because of the poor quality of New Haven bookstores (especially the shabby options for used/remaindered books) and partially because somehow, without my noticing it, I have become the kind of person who is more excited by the latest publication by David Currie than by Umberto Eco.
This does mean, though, that suddenly my favorite authors all have new books of fiction out-- something I was so oblivious to that I didn't even have time to savor the anticipation. I recently bought Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, (along with an mp3 player; I succumbed) but it is now within a month of my birthday, so there is a moratorium on buying luxuries, and I pretend that books are luxuries rather than necessities. That means I will have to wait weeks and weeks to be able to squander hard-earned savings on Arturo Perez-Reverte's Captain Altatriste (which I tried haltingly to read in Spanish a few years ago, but is finally being translated), Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down (a real book, not more his charity-sustaining drivel). Alas, David Currie's Constitution in Congress: Descent Into the Maelstrom will not be coming out until many months later. And much, much more.
[The title of this post comes from an essay by Umberto Eco by the same name. He was annoyed and perplexed by people who would see the books that dominated his house and say "What a lot of books! Have you read them all?" ("At first," he says, "I thought that the question characterized only people who had scant familiary with books, people accustomed to seeing a couple of shelves with five paperback mysteries and a children's encyclopedia bought in installments." He has finally developed a stock response-- "'No these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office,' a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure."]
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