The Moulin Rouge, San Francisco, a Fragment of Memoir

When I was 22, I lived at the Moulin Rouge, a French bar in North Beach, San Francisco, California. Not all the time, only when I was not hitch-hiking to and from the community college with almost a view on San Quentin Prison, and when I was not attending classes there, or working. The Moulin Rouge was run by a spiffy well-coiffed older French woman. I always thought she was a retired madam from Marseilles. I don’t say that to blacken her name for she was a real sweetheart. And anyhow, I don’t know this for a fact.

I was a good student who did his assignment efficiently and who drank too much every night at the Moulin Rouge. It was a good plan to meet new people, some who were interesting, some who could be useful. The regulars were a mixture of French immigrants and of American Francophiles. Some of the latter were single women of an uncertain age in the low light of the bar. I met a middle-aged French woman who owned an expensive hairdresser’s shop and who tried to make me her chauffeur/gigolo. She failed (we failed,I failed).

I had emigrated to the US with no skills and no money. That’s no money, not a cute way to say “little money.” Through the Moulin Rouge, I landed a succession of part-time jobs, not all as unimportant as you might imagine. One job was editing a small, largely local French language newspaper. I always wanted to make it more hifallutin. The publisher, a Frenchman who only lived in San Francisco part of the year, objected. We had a final falling out when he fired me with these exact words, “We don’t need intellectual shit in this paper. Fifty per cent of our readers are Basques; the Basques are stupid. I know because I am Basque.” ! At the time, I slept in a small room in a Basque hotel precisely, also in North Beach. The other tenants were Basque shepherds on vacation from their lonely jobs in the Sierras. They did not seem stupid to me although they were not what you would call real literati. Plus, they cooked great six-egg plus smoked ham breakfasts.

A middle-aged gay customer who was an interior decorator – I am not kidding – heard of my predicament. He introduced me to a rich old lady who would have me occupy her basement apartment on Pacific Hill and pay me a little stipend in return for “some work.” She called the lodgings: “the Chinaman’s flat.” (Again: Would I make this up?)

The old lady, a widow, drove a hard bargain. She thought she had a right to be demanding because she often brought down for me her surplus cooked vegetable. That was a misplaced concern, of course: Young men use beer for both fiber and vitamins. I did not enjoy the job of a houseboy much and bringing girls down into the basement was hellishly difficult because the old lady never slept. She did not even take naps in the afternoon, I know this for a fact. After a couple of months, she fired me. She told me to my face she would replace me with an Asian boy who would be “more docile.” It made a lot of sense since her main offer was the “Chinaman’s flat.”

I kept spending my long winter evenings at the Moulin Rouge. I kept meeting interesting characters there. One was a Frenchman in his forties who told me he was a pirate on leave. He said he owned an old Navy PT boat with a machine gun he used to prey on Chinese ships in the Celebes (Indonesia). “How come you are not in prison for 20 or 25 years? How about the police, the local coast guard, the navy?” I asked. “Nobody cares about the rich Chinese in Indonesia; besides, we never, never kill anyone. We wave big guns at them, my crew and I, and they always pay up. Sometimes, they bargain with me. I am not unreasonable,” he explained. He invited me to join him in a piracy campaign on my next summer vacation. I told him that I would like too but I would probably have to study in the summer too. I had my values down straight: junior college before piracy.

Evidently, the pirate had detected my criminal fiber before I had. “How about spring break – he said – I have a contact in Columbia. We could go quickly and smuggle back pre-Columbian artifacts. I know some collectors. Actually they come to his bar once in a while. I have heard you speak Spanish. Your Spanish is good. You could be very helpful and make enough money to support yourself for a whole year.”

Before I had time to really consider his tempting offer, he changed the subject. He told me that today was “El Dia de la Raza.” I did not know what that was then. Anyway, it’s not really about race. It’s just a day when Spanish speakers from all countries celebrate their “hispanidad,” whatever that is. He said there was a big dance at the Masonic auditorium. He added that it would be full of tarted-up Hispanic women on the make. (Here is a rule of thumb: Like a hunter who has lovingly cleaned and oiled his gun, a woman who has gone to great expenditure of time and money to make herself sexy for a special event hates to return empty-handed.)

So, we went to the ball and it was just as he had said. For some reason, women visibly outnumbered men. Now, a neutral, scientific note about Frenchmen: They may look like any northern Europeans but many can dance like Puerto-Rican pimps. The reasons why this is are interesting but too complex for this story. In this case, we both also spoke Spanish with ease which is not uncommon among French people. Quickly, the pirate and I did very well. I met a short but shapely brown, black-eyed Central American woman with hair down to her waist. She wore a bare-back dress and her skin under my right hand was the smoothest and the softest I had ever felt. She liked that I was twice her size and she raised herself on her toes to reach me. After a decent hour or so, she took me to her apartment in a taxi she called herself. Turned out she was twice my age. CUT! This may be read at a family gathering!

My friend the pirate had met a very sweet Mexican-American woman half his age at the dance and he had immediately fallen hard for her. She had the kind of sweetness that caused her to keep worrying about who was doing my ironing since I was a bachelor living alone. She thought that was not right. The pirate told me it was time for him to abandon his evil practices and to return to France where his old mother was still alive. He and his Mexican-American sweetheart began traveling West to East toward our shared native country. The girl had never been outside the Bay Area. Together, they hitched-hiked and worked their way on ships toward Singapore. That included a two-month stay in Australia where the pirate made good money killing rabbits. Then, he worked as a cook and she as a maid on a freighter that took a few passengers. They made it to France by various means in a little under a year.

“Why stop in Singapore?” I asked the pirate when I met him and Maria again briefly in Paris. “Why, it has the biggest and the most beautiful Catholic cathedral in Asia. That where I wanted to marry Maria. That’s where I married her,” he said simply. Real or not, the pirate had great style. I am sorry I don’t know what became of him or her. I imagine they lived in a nice farm in the beautiful French countryside and that they have had many children who look like pretty Maria.

Soon afterwards the Dia de la Raza, I moved to Sausalito where I had found a gardener’s job on the sole strength of my French name. After that, I only returned to the Moulin Rouge infrequently. In Sausalito, every night, I would attend the No Name Bar, right downtown. It was an intellectual sort of place. There was wallpaper in the restroom that showed scenes from the Trojan War. Someone had drawn a bubble coming out of a hoplite’s mouth with words in Greek letters. Another graffito said: “Schwartz is a neo-classic.” Schwartz must have been devastated! Soon, I found that the Moulin Rouge had played out its part in my destiny. I was steeped in American life and on my way to becoming a scholar, not a little thanks to the No Name Bar. Staying on the academic straight and narrow was not always easy though because of the pirate’s bad example.

Nightcap

  1. (De)centralized law-making and climate change Josephine van Zeben, SSRN
  2. A defense of maths in economics Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  3. The end of the world John Guzlowski, North American Review
  4. Small business in the urban riots of the 1960s (pdf) Jonathan Bean, TIR

Nightcap

  1. The local touch of Soviet modernism Aliide Naylor, Jacobin
  2. The bad Muslim discount Kristin Yee, Asian Review of Books
  3. Ireland, America, and…national parks Melissa Buckheit, FIVES
  4. Can Japan bring the US back into the TPP? Daisuke Akimoto, Diplomat

Nightcap

  1. On that radio signal from Proxima Centauri Paul Gilster, Centauri Dreams
  2. Wow! signal Wikipedia
  3. How far aggressive aliens? (Part 2) Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  4. Legal immigration into the United States Jacques Delacroix, NOL

Nightcap

  1. Parties become popular by taking unpopular stands Scott Sumner, EconLog
  2. A European who understands America Antonio Garcia-Martinez, Pull Request
  3. Legal immigration into the United States Jacques Delacroix, NOL
  4. Birthday parties in the Soviet Union (photos) Nikolay Shevchenko, Russia Beyond

Nightcap

  1. Goya Robin Simon, Literary Review
  2. Muslim guilt Mahvish Ahmad, Disorder of Things
  3. Postwar prosperity Jonathan Hopkin, Aeon
  4. Tripling America Kay Hymowitz, City Journal
  5. The tragedy of Donald Trump Ross Douthat, NY Times

Wat’s On My Mind: Immigration and Voting for Redistribution

When COVID first started spreading more widely in the US, I began worrying that this would lead to an upsurge of anti-immigrant sentiment. I worried that people would draw the wrong lesson from this experience and return to the isolationism of the 1920s, closing our borders on a more permanent basis to both people and goods. This would slow economic growth and lead to a poorer nation. It seems particularly ironic that just now Americans are becoming the unwelcome foreign visitors abroad, particularly from my home states of Texas and California.

Nowrasteh and Forrester at CATO discuss some papers by Giuliano and Tabellini on the question of if increased immigration moves the median voter to the left. They also add a few suggestive regressions of their own. Their summary is interesting and nuanced. First, they find that closing the borders to immigrants in the 1920s encouraged much greater government spending (as a percent of GDP) while allowing more immigrants in the 1960s has slowed the growth of government spending. This effect seems to work both ways: American voters are more willing to vote for welfare benefits, etc, when there are fewer immigrants getting them, and the larger the welfare state is, the more concerned voters are about allowing immigrants into the country. So it may not be so much that adding immigrants from more left-leaning countries shifts the median voter as much as it moves native voters further to the right? (See also Rosenthal and Eibner 2005, who also conclude that “a voter of a given income is less eager to redistribute given that redistribution has to be shared with the non-citizen poor.”)

This suggests an interesting line of argument, that these feedback effects can work in the opposite direction as well. I imagine a friend who is very concerned about the size of government and also would prefer to have fewer immigrants. To that friend, I would suggest that allowing more immigrants can help slow or even reverse the growth of government and the welfare state. Using their aversion to one issue could potentially reduce their aversion to the other. <epistemic status: highly speculative>

Nightcap

  1. Voice, Exit, and Liberty: The Effect of Emigration on Origin Country Institutions” Landgrave & Nowrasteh, CATO Institute
  2. Why immigrants are superior Jacques Delacroix, NOL
  3. Libertarian as ethnicity Michelangelo Landgrave, NOL
  4. There’s no such thing as a “national interest” Brandon Christensen, NOL

Nightcap

  1. The surprising lexical history of infectious disease Charles McNamara, Commonweal
  2. Immigration and virologic hysteria Michael Agovino, Not Even Past
  3. Against scarcity Marilynne Robinson, NYRB
  4. Can we escape from information overload? Tom Lamont, 1843

Nightcap

  1. Tea and capitalism and China too Andrew Liu, Aeon
  2. America’s immigration paradox David Nasaw, New York Times
  3. Covid-19 and the power transition from the US to China Meisel & Moyer, Duck of Minerva
  4. “The Jakarta Method” (American foreign policy) Branko Milanovic, globalinequality

Nightcap

  1. The making of an Oriental Yankee Ed Park, NYRB
  2. Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” Denny Roy, Diplomat
  3. Good piece on the coronavirus James Hamblin, Atlantic
  4. Did you kill anyone? Titus Techera, Law & Liberty

Nightcap

  1. More death: Croatian literature Angela Woodward, LARB
  2. Immigrants as scapegoats Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  3. On the number and size of nations Alesina & Spolaore, NBER
  4. Lots of respectable people embraced eugenics Alan Judd, Spectator

Nightcap

  1. Holocaust remembrance under communism (and after) Tim Judah, Financial Times
  2. Viruses and globalisation Johnathan Pearce, Samizdata
  3. Britain’s forgotten citizens Jorge Giovannetti-Torres, History Today
  4. On leaving Facebook alone John Samples, Cato Unbound

2019: Year in Review

It’s been a heck of a year. Thanks for plugging along with Notes On Liberty. Like the world around me, NOL keeps getting better and better. Traffic in 2019 came from all over the place, but the usual suspects didn’t disappoint: the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, India, and Australia (in that order) supplied the most readers, again.

As far as most popular posts, I’ll list the top 10 below, but such a list doesn’t do justice to NOL and the Notewriters’ contribution to the Great Conversation, nor will the list reflect the fact that some of NOL‘s classic pieces from years ago were also popular again.

Nick’s “One weird old tax could slash wealth inequality (NIMBYs, don’t click!)” was in the top ten for most of this year, and his posts on John Rawls, The Joker film, Dominic Cummings, and the UK’s pornographer & puritan coalition are all worth reading again (and again). The Financial Times, RealClearPolicy, 3 Quarks Daily, and RealClearWorld all featured Nick’s stuff throughout 2019.

Joakim had a banner year at NOL, and four of his posts made the top 10. He got love from the left, right, and everything in between this year. “Elite Anxiety: Paul Collier’s ‘Future of Capitalism’” (#9), “In Defense of Not Having a Clue” (#8), and “You’re Not Worth My Time” (#7) all caused havoc on the internet and in coffee shops around the world. Joakim’s piece on Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (#2) broke – no shattered – NOL‘s records. Aside from shattering NOL‘s records, Joakim also had excellent stuff on financial history, Richard Davies, and Nassim Taleb. He is also beginning to bud as a cultural commentator, too, as you can probably tell from his sporadic notes on opinions. Joakim wants a more rational, more internationalist, and more skeptical world to live in. He’s doing everything he can to make that happen. And don’t forget this one: “Economists, Economic History, and Theory.”

Tridivesh had an excellent third year at NOL. His most popular piece was “Italy and the Belt and Road Initiative,” and most of his other notes have been featured on RealClearWorld‘s front page. Tridivesh has also been working with me behind the scenes to unveil a new feature at NOL in 2020, and I couldn’t be more humbled about working with him.

Bill had a slower year here at NOL, as he’s been working in the real world, but he still managed to put out some bangers. “Epistemological anarchism to anarchism” kicked off a Feyerabendian buzz at NOL, and he put together well-argued pieces on psychedelics, abortion, and the alt-right. His short 2017 note on left-libertarianism has quietly become a NOL classic.

Mary had a phenomenal year at NOL, which was capped off with some love from RealClearPolicy for her “Contempt for Capitalism” piece. She kicked off the year with a sharp piece on semiotics in national dialogue, before then producing a four-part essay on bourgeois culture. Mary also savaged privileged hypocrisy and took a cultural tour through the early 20th century. Oh, and she did all this while doing doctoral work at Oxford. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with in 2020.

Aris’ debut year at NOL was phenomenal. Reread “Rawls, Antigone and the tragic irony of norms” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. I am looking forward to Dr Trantidis’ first full year at NOL in 2020.

Rick continues to be my favorite blogger. His pieces on pollution taxes (here and here) stirred up the libertarian faithful, and he is at his Niskanenian best on bullshit jobs and property rights. His notes on Paul Feyerabend, which I hope he’ll continue throughout 2020, were the centerpiece of NOL‘s spontaneity this year.

Vincent only had two posts at NOL in 2019, but boy were they good: “Interwar US inequality data are deeply flawed” and “Not all GDP measurement errors are greater than zero!” Dr Geloso focused most of his time on publishing academic work.

Alexander instituted the “Sunday Poetry” series at NOL this year and I couldn’t be happier about it. I look forward to reading NOL every day, but especially on Sundays now thanks to his new series. Alex also put out the popular essay “Libertarianism and Neoliberalism – A difference that matters?” (#10), which I suspect will one day grow to be a classic. That wasn’t all. Alex was the author of a number of my personal faves at NOL this year, including pieces about the Austro-Hungarian Empire, constructivism in international relations (part 1 and part 2), and some of the more difficult challenges facing diplomacy today.

Edwin ground out a number of posts in 2019 and, true to character, they challenged orthodoxy and widely-held (by libertarians) opinions. He said “no” to military intervention in Venezuela, though not for the reasons you may think, and that free immigration cannot be classified as a right under classical liberalism. He also poured cold water on Hong Kong’s protests and recommended some good reads on various topics (namely, Robert Nozick and The Troubles). Edwin has several essays on liberalism at NOL that are now bona fide classics.

Federico produced a number of longform essays this year, including “Institutions, Machines, and Complex Orders” and “Three Lessons on Institutions and Incentives” (the latter went on to be featured in the Financial Times and led to at least one formal talk on the subject in Buenos Aires). He also contributed to NOL‘s longstanding position as a bulwark against libertarian dogma with “There is no such thing as a sunk cost fallacy.”

Jacques had a number of hits this year, including “Poverty Under Democratic Socialism” and “Mass shootings in perspective.” His notes on the problems with higher education, aka the university system, also garnered plenty of eyeballs.

Michelangelo, Lode, Zak, and Shree were all working on their PhDs this year, so we didn’t hear from them much, if at all. Hopefully, 2020 will give them a bit more freedom to expand their thoughts. Lucas was not able to contribute anything this year either, but I am confident that 2020 will be the year he reenters the public fray.

Mark spent the year promoting his new book (co-authored by Noel Johnson) Persecution & Toleration. Out of this work arose one of the more popular posts at NOL earlier in the year: “The Institutional Foundations of Antisemitism.” Hopefully Mark will have a little less on his plate in 2020, so he can hang out at NOL more often.

Derrill’s “Romance Econometrics” generated buzz in the left-wing econ blogosphere, and his “Watson my mind today” series began to take flight in 2019. Dr Watson is a true teacher, and I am hoping 2020 is the year he can start dedicating more time to the NOL project, first with his “Watson my mind today” series and second with more insights into thinking like an economist.

Kevin’s “Hyperinflation and trust in ancient Rome” (#6) took the internet by storm, and his 2017 posts on paradoxical geniuses and the deleted slavery clause in the US constitution both received renewed and much deserved interest. But it was his “The Myth of the Nazi War Machine” (#1) that catapulted NOL into its best year yet. I have no idea what Kevin will write about in 2020, but I do know that it’ll be great stuff.

Bruno, one of NOL’s most consistent bloggers and one of its two representatives from Brazil, did not disappoint. His “Liberalism in International Relations” did exceptionally well, as did his post on the differences between conservatives, liberals, and libertarians. Bruno also pitched in on Brazilian politics and Christianity as a global and political phenomenon. His postmodernism posts from years past continue to do well.

Andrei, after several years of gentle prodding, finally got on the board at NOL and his thoughts on Foucault and his libertarian temptation late in life (#5) did much better than predicted. I am hoping to get him more involved in 2020. You can do your part by engaging him in the ‘comments’ threads.

Chhay Lin kept us all abreast of the situation in Hong Kong this year. Ash honed in on housing economics, Barry chimed in on EU elections, and Adrián teased us all in January with his “Selective Moral Argumentation.” Hopefully these four can find a way to fire on all cylinders at NOL in 2020, because they have a lot of cool stuff on their minds (including, but not limited to, bitcoin, language, elections in dictatorships, literature, and YIMBYism).

Ethan crushed it this year, with most of his posts ending up on the front page of RealClearPolicy. More importantly, though, was his commitment to the Tocquevillian idea that lawyers are responsible for education in democratic societies. For that, I am grateful, and I hope he can continue the pace he set during the first half of the year. His most popular piece, by the way, was “Spaghetti Monsters and Free Exercise.” Read it again!

I had a good year here, too. My pieces on federation (#3) and American literature (#4) did waaaaaay better than expected, and my nightcaps continue to pick up readers and push the conversation. I launched the “Be Our Guest” feature here at NOL, too, and it has been a mild success.

Thank you, readers, for a great 2019 and I hope you stick around for what’s in store during 2020. It might be good, it might be bad, and it might be ugly, but isn’t that what spontaneous thoughts on a humble creed are all about? Keep leaving comments, too. The conversation can’t move (forward or backward) without your voice.

Nightcap

  1. If you want to be welcome, do not demand entry Natalie Solent, Samizdata
  2. US regionalism and nationalism: the case of the Midwest Halvorson & Reno, Fieldsites
  3. Heterogeneous drivers of heterogeneous populism Colantone & Stanig, VoxEU
  4. How talk of witches stirs emotions in Nigeria Adaobi Nwaubani, BBC