I’ve now read two issues of Tatler, the British fashion magazine, and I do hope to read a third some day, because it’s helping me practice my ability to differentiate between English drollery and end-stage nihilism (on a list of “deal breakers” in the current issue: “You find out she isn’t married.”) I was, however, underwhelmed by an article this month, pipped on the cover as “Why philosophers are hot (we think).”

Inside they have what purports to be a list of sexy philosophers. I'm suspicious of this claim because none of the men cited are sexy (sorry) and some of them aren’t even philosophers. Here is a representative list of phrases from the article, apparently offered as data points in support of the proposition: “luxuriantly bearded,” “‘linked’ to Lady Gaga,” “wears white shirts unbuttoned almost to the navel,” “a friend (and defender) of Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” “used to have a Tribeca pad with vulva-shaped protuberances—known as the Vaginas of Doom—on the walls,” “a keen croquet player.” See what I mean about the end-stage nihilism?

So before considering the question, "Why are philosophers hot?" I think we should back up and ask, "Are philosophers hot?" And having given this some thought I would have to say not particularly. This is an analytical claim based on my understanding of the concepts of “being a philosopher” and “sexiness.” Philosophers should be intellectually curious, which is attractive, but they often place a very high premium on a) logic b) precision c) clarity and d) in some cases, securing third-party acknowledgement of their own intelligence. None of that makes them good flirts. The empirical evidence supports this. In Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Derek Parfit, for example, she describes how he wooed his now-wife by renting her a computer.

If asked to pick the sexiest philosopher of all time, I would pause for an awkwardly long time before saying Marcus Aurelius, except that he has hair like Justin Timberlake in his NSYNC days. You do get some sexy people who are interested in philosophy and occasionally some philosophers who do alright for themselves but I think the connection is typically correlation, or “despite.”
Picture
Tearin' up my heart?
 
 
As a visitor, one of the noticeable things about Britain is its approach to explanatory signage. In America you can expect a a terse announcement of the rule and perhaps any relevant sub-rule; if any elaboration is deemed necessary, you might see a statement of the punishment you can expect if they catch you being disobedient. In Britain, by contrast, this is the equivalent of “NO PARKING”:
Picture
Now that you mention it...what do you mean by "unclear"?
What struck me at first were the efforts to reason with the future reader, rather than simply offering the argument on the basis of authority. On the city buses, for example, a placard warns riders not to disturb the driver “without good reason.” Tough but fair. Here’s another:
Picture
OK, I see your point.
At some points, however, I got the impression that the collective, faceless British authority takes a rather low view of the public’s judgment.
Picture
Douche.
And in some cases the signs are frankly passive-aggressive:
Picture
“I’m sorry you took offense at my comments about your new boyfriend. It's just that he really does look like a jacket potato, and I always say what I believe, even if it’s not popular.”
On balance, though, we can appreciate how they clearly want to communicate, even if it comes across a little supercilious or pedantic. It's an intention that should temper our impressions of their occasional excesses.
Picture
 
 
....with Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason. You can watch the whole talk at bloggingheads.tv, or an excerpt, about green jobs, at the New York Times.
 
 
David Frum and Matt Yglesias both take exception to a bit in the Washington Post's report about the growth of Tyson's Corner, an exurb of Washington, in which urbanologist Joel Garreau argues that new technology is leading to fast growth in pretty little parts of the country:

With broadband, employees no longer need to physically be transported to work. He sees Americans moving to scenic, ideal locations such as the mountains of Montana or the hills of Santa Fe...

“What you’re seeing now is what I call the Santa Fe-ing of the world, or the Santa Fe-ing of America,” he said. “The fastest growth you’re seeing is in small urban areas in beautiful places, because now you’ve got e-mail and Web and laptops and iPhones and all that jazz.”

Frum points out that the fastest-growing cities in America in the last decade were actually big, urban snarls like Houston (#1) and Dallas (#2). Yglesias argues that this is because online and offline interactions are complements rather than supplements, so it may be that new technology is actually increasing the value of urban density, not allowing us to escape from it.

They're both right to point out that what highly portable knowledge workers (such as writers) might do isn't the same thing as what the American workforce write large does. But Garreau has a half-point. I can recognize it because my working life is structured in the way he describes (although not for the reason he describes). That is, I'm a journalist writing about Texas and the southwest, so I'm based in Austin, even though Austin is rather far from The Economist's offices in DC, New York, or London. E-mail and the internet and so on have largely obviated the need for me to be in face-to-face contact with colleagues, although, in my experience, in-person interaction is highly worthwhile. (Also in my experience, it's somewhat difficult to write about things like "in-person interaction" without fa

When I need to be in a different city for an interview or an event, I can get there without too much trouble; Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are all within a few hours' drive.

My particular situation may be unusual, but I can see that variations on this approach are workable. Already, for example, it's relatively common for people to work in Austin and live in San Antonio or vice versa as a routine matter. That's a long commute, about 90 minutes door to door, but it's not that much crazier than driving 60 minutes in Houston traffic to get to work. These arrangements are more attractive when the long commutes can be cut from five days a week to four or even three. That will never happen in jobs in, for example, the service sector, but people are differentially focused on location when seeking those jobs anyway.

The problem with Garreau's comment here is that for some reason he's tipping Santa Fe as a cultural exemplar, which is silly; I suppose if you live in Santa Fe you could occasionally have meetings in Albuquerque or Las Vegas, but there isn't much so much overlap between the industries of those cities that you're going to see a critical mass of people doing that. If the point is just that technology can facilitate a more decentralized workforce and the development of urban nodes rather than concentric circles, he's on stronger ground. 
 
 
Apologies for going mostly quiet this week. The picture below is the view from the window of the office I was borrowing in London. As you can see, I was distracted by checking the time on the Big Ben. (A small point of pedantry pointed out by a couple of people: Big Ben is actually the bell rather than the clock. To which I can only say, I think that ship has rather sailed.)
Picture
In any case, some new stories. In the print edition, I have a piece about Texas job creation and particularly the issue of whether Texas has created mediocre jobs. I also have a story asking whether now is the time for America to rethink its approach to border security. At Democracy in America, I looked at how the Social Security shortfall is to some Democrats as climate change is to some Republicans. I also had a post about the art of compromise: why don't politicians make a virtue out of their tendency to flip-flop? And I wrote my first post for The Economist's language blog, Johnson (named for Samuel, of course): a user's guide to "y'all," the American South's great second-person plural.
 
 
Tom Junod's essay about his mother, who hated to cook, is an interesting exploration of the little lies we tell for love, or withhold from anger. I enjoyed the part about how his mother eventually broke her Mashed Potato Rule--that mashed potatoes can't be screwed up if they are actually potatoes--and started cooking the kind from the box. When Junod complained she told him that he couldn't tell the difference:

And with that my mother uttered the signal words of my culinary existence, which happened to be the signal words of my familial existence as well. I could tell the difference, and I spent the rest of my life proving that I could. My mother, for her part, spent the rest of her life trying to prove that I couldn't. I refused to eat the potato flakes that she served me, or the potato buds, or the potato powder, and my mother refused to admit that they were potato flakes and potato buds and potato powder. I mean, she would hide the box. She would peel a potato and put the peelings on top of the garbage, and the box of French's at the bottom. I used to think that she should have used her ingenuity just to mash the damned potatoes, while using my own ingenuity to find the box and to produce it, with prosecutorial flourish. "Come on," my father said, "enough's enough. Just eat the potatoes. You're breaking your mother's heart." But enough was never enough, because just as my mother had come to the conclusion that It's not worth it, I was coming to the conclusion that It is. The only thing left to be decided was the matter of what that mysterious "it" might be, and the only thing we both understood was that a lot more was at stake than the authenticity of my mother's "mashies."

My father's mother makes delicious mashed potatoes, involving lots of butter and cream, but also hours of labour. When I lived with my grandparents she would occasionally make an entire vat for a monthly meeting of the Full Gospel BusinessMen's fellowship, and I would be assigned the task of peeling about 60 or 80 potatoes. I remember feeling resentful and conflicted over the drudgery. Resentful because not only was I peeling all these potatoes, but then I had to go to a church meeting for several hours where a bunch of old men ate them all. Conflicted because my wonderful grandmother was doing all the cooking and of course she never complained (and on most nights she did all the chores).

My own mother, I think, sometimes makes potato-based mashed potatoes and sometimes the kind that come from flakes in a box. My brothers and I are happy to eat either. I'm aware of the dynamic Junod discusses, that the provision of food may be a proxy for the provision of love and care, but I feel lucky that growing up I never had the impression that the type or quality of food in question was significant. My mother sometimes jokes that my brothers's wives will be similarly lucky because their husband won't have any lofty expectations about what a good wife does. In the context of a school party, for example, I would have thought that the kids with cupcakes from a mix (as opposed to a box of Little Debbies or whatever) were lucky, but only in that they had ready access to a stream of cupcakes. I'm not sure if that perspective is becoming more common, as women increasingly work outside the home, or less, as people become more fussed about food sourcing and healthy eating. But if I had a kid I think I would pack them off with the store-bought stuff as a matter of principle--the principle being that mothers and fathers shouldn't be expected to conform to the faulty idea that largely pointless labor is the way to express their love.
Picture
One of my mom's specialties
 
 
Over at Free Exchange, I have a couple of new posts on job creation. In the first I consider the question of whether America should try to create good jobs or bad jobs--or whether it's simply a false choice. This post builds on the conversation I had with MIT economist Paul Osterman earlier in the week on NPR's On Point, which you can listen to here. I also have a post about the pros and cons of creating green jobs, in the wake of Barack Obama's headache with Solyndra.

While I wouldn't defend that particular project, I do think govenrment efforts to create green jobs can be worthwhile. Where the projects involve green energy they may be pretty expensive, and yield few jobs: most energy projects, green or otherwise, are capital-intensive. However, some projects have the advantages of laying deep roots in places where jobs are otherwise thin on the ground: west Texas has a lot of wind farms now, and they can't be easily outsourced. 

On a related note, Matt Yglesias complains that the media has a double standard when it comes to green jobs--I may be misunderstanding him due to jet lag, but I believe his point, in the wake of the Solyndra failure, is that the media simply applies much more scrutiny to green jobs programmes than other kinds. Assuming I have that right, I don't see the same double standard. The media is putting an awful lot of eyes on Rick Perry's more general claims about job creation in the state of Texas. But maybe the issue is that when we're talking about "green jobs" the distance between economic growth or prosperity on the one hand and job creation on the other is especially clear: as the phrase suggests, the point of a "green jobs" programme
 
 
At Democracy in America, a new post on the ongoing controversy over Perry's 2007 executive order (quickly overturned) mandating that schoolgirls get the HPV vaccine.

Speaking of health, this is the healthiest lazy thing I've done lately:
Picture
Yes, that's a party platter. A platter intended for parties which I am hoarding for personal snacking. I'm not proud, but I've accepted it. I've been working more than cooking the past few weeks, and as a general rule, I try to focus on doing things that are known to be good rather than working with the less fun guideline of avoiding things that are bad. It often happens that good behavior reduces your capacity for and/or interest in mischief anyway. I suspect that if you eat a pint of tomatoes and a quart of milk and half a packet of smoked salmon and an apple and so on every day you'll be doing well by yourself in terms of nutrition. In any case: the personal party platter has contributed to a noticeable increase in household vegetable consumption. It seems absurd, because it's hardly difficult to put a bunch of vegetables on a tray yourself, but as convenient "health" food goes, it's a lot less gross than food bars.
 
 
This time I thought we could break it down by industry, to see if that would tell us anything about this claim that Texas job creation has been mostly about government work and minimum-wage jobettes. The most shocking thing: the greatest job losses between 2009 and 2011 were in the information industry, which includes journalists. I can't imagine why the candidates don't talk about that more often.

Also, I went on NPR's "On Point" this morning, along with economist Paul Osterman of MIT and Don Baylor, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities here in Austin, to talk about what types of jobs were created and whether we should be focused on creating any jobs we can, or holding out for the good ones (i.e., jobs that pay a living wage.) You can listen to that here.





 
 
I have some thoughts on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks at Democracy in America. I also agree with my colleague Roger McShane's assessment that, in the shock and distress immediately following the attacks, Americans acquit themselves with courage and goodness.

I think this points to a reasons why many people, myself included, were offended by Paul Krugman's comments on the subject:

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

The memory of the attacks, he concluded "has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame." It occurs to me that the extent to which you share that view might reflect your underlying views on who we, collectively, are. I think we are the people, not the politicians. So while I agree with him that some people displayed some unsavory behavior, I don't think the people, collectively, should be ashamed of themselves. I would imagine that our feelings on the anniversary were somewhat more nuanced. I would expect it to involve Some combination of sorrow for those who suffered, anger at those who perpetrated these attacks, disappointment with those who politicized it,  determination to avoid naivete or excess, and pride in the people who, facing a senseless and monstrous act, responded with dignity and decency.

And in fact, the vast majority of people who wrote or spoke about 9/11 yesterday did offer a more complex emotional/moral perspective than Mr Krugman was prescribing. In response to the criticism, he elaborates his thinking a bit today:

Now, I should have said that the American people behaved remarkably well in the weeks and months after 9/11: There was very little panic, and much more tolerance than one might have feared. Muslims weren’t lynched, and neither were dissenters, and that was something of which we can all be proud.

The soft bigotry of low expectations, American public morality edition. An absence of lynching Muslims and dissenters is not "something of which we can all be proud." It's actually something I expect as a matter of course. Why does Mr Krugman have such a low view of his fellow citizens?