Adaptive Preferences and Ballet

D. Bruckner was not wrong when he stated, “[t]hese [adaptive] preferences belong to those who hold them.”[1] To begin with, Bruckner states that “adaptive preference change occurs when an agent’s preference changes as a result of a change in the agent’s feasible set.”[2] I have recently finished auditioning to professional ballet companies. It would obviously be ideal to get into a company with a fully-paid high-level position, and until now that would have been my preference. However, I have gotten rejections from most of the companies I have auditioned for, and only as of today got a traineeship offer from a company that has no money to pay any additional dancers on top of the dancers already re-contracting for this next season. In light of (a) the rejections I have received from the other companies (which is not uncommon, most people audition for many companies without getting in anywhere at all), and (b) the fact that any company gave me an offer at all, I realized over the course of the evening that my preference to dance with a company that only offered me a full company position changed and altered to a preference to dance anywhere that gave me the opportunity to be dancing full-time at all.

Another element of Bruckner’s paper that made me instantly think of Ballet culture was his discussion of social policy driving individual adaptive preferences.[3] In much of the ballet world, although thankfully this is changing, the ideal dancer is willow-thin as an aesthetic ideal. As such, many companies will only hire dancers with such a body type because of this social, cultural “policy”. Such an outlook by companies, which are the forces behind whether or not dancers get jobs and are employable, tends to push dancers to diet and exercise and, in some cases, develop unhealthy eating disorders simply to fit the mold. This is an excellent example of social policy driving what can become a generally unhealthy lifestyle. Fortunately, many companies are realizing that they are driving forces in dancers’ adaptive preferences for degrees of thinness and are changing to become more inclusive of other body types. Luckily, the dance world is discovering for itself its ability to socially inform adaptive preferences.

It’s interesting to look at theoretical frameworks as such frameworks overlay with real-life examples. It’s even more interesting when the opportunity to see a theoretical framework in action arises right at the moments of big, important events and decisions in your life.

[1] Donald W. Bruckner, In Defense of Adaptive Preferences, 142 Philosophical Studies 307, 317 (2009).

[2] Id. at 308.

[3] Id. at 311.

The Deep-Sea Reasons for the Accession of the United States to the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea

My recent blog post for the Georgetown Environmental Law Review.

Georgetown Environmental Law Review

By Katherine Liljestrand, Staff Contributor 

The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea is the world’s foremost international treaty with respect to the legal order for the global seas and oceans.[1] While most environmental issues covered by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) have already been accepted by the United States as customary international law[2], there are two main environmental reasons why the United States should and needs to accede to the Convention with proper haste. Both of these environmental issues deal with the seabed and mineral resources in the deep sea. And while the Convention has already been signed by and transmitted to Congress by President Bill Clinton as of July of 1994[3], Congress has yet to vote on accession to the treaty.[4] The current Congress should strongly support the ascendance of the United States to UNCLOS…

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28. Evolve

The scientific definition of evolution is a change in the gene pool over time. Yet, when we think of evolution in more of a practical sense, we picture giraffes who eventually gained long necks, increasingly flamboyant birds of paradise and their seemingly excessive mating dances, or two species of frogs that used to be one species but just ended up on different continents. Evolution is the process by which species of animals over time gain or increase traits that help them survive and produce greater numbers of offspring – Darwin’s survival of the fittest theory – which of course then leads to a gene pool with a larger amount of those specific traits that helped those individuals reproduce in the first place. Over time, species become more greatly adapted for the lifestyles they live and habitats they live in while at the same time losing traits that are no longer beneficial to the survival of the species as a whole.

I think our lives as humans can be looked at in the same way. Of course, here I am using the term “evolution” in a very different sense than the scientific definition. But I think evolution is still an apt term to describe what happens to us as humans as we go through our lives and grow and evolve as individuals. We retain some specific traits our entire lives and we refuse to give them up. Sometimes, those traits are core values; at other times, those traits are our love for certain subjects that we can’t imagine our lives without. Generally, I think these traits are what make the core essence of “I”, or of the individual to whom those traits belong.

However, there are many other traits that come and go over time simply because we reach a point in our lives were those traits stop becoming useful or even wanted for us. These traits seem to resemble more the vestigial leg bones in snakes or the human appendix: they are traits or characteristics that have no use anymore at this current point in time, but at some point surely did help with survival.

After all, we as beings are simply trying to survive our lives, are we not? Many of us aren’t struggling for food, water, and shelter on a day-to-day basis, but I think many of us are struggling to maintain our lives through the day-to-day process of living. By this, I mean that we get so caught up in the minutiae of the tasks, chores, projects, classes, work, food, errands, you name it that life and its demands simply swallows us whole every day if we aren’t careful.

This is where evolution in the individualistic, humanistic sense comes in. Remember those traits that make up our core? Those traits are what carry us through every day. And the traits that are no longer important get cast aside. Oftentimes, these traits come in the form of stories we tell ourselves about who we are. For instance, I’ve characterized myself as a ballet dancer for my entire living memory, and that sense of being a ballet dancer has helped and is still helping me get through this crazy cliff wall I am trying to climb called law school. At the same time, there are other characteristics of Past Katherine that have fallen off the wayside and no longer are pertinent to me as Katherine in the year 2018.

This is how we evolve. Traits that carry us through – whether that be ballet dancing or sheer stubbornness – stick with us as we grow and adapt to new surroundings and new narratives in our lives. Traits that no longer are important to us eventually stop existing or at the least fade into the background of ourselves, such as those vestigial snake bones.

I don’t know if awareness of our chosen narratives helps us in the long run. However, I do think it is important to know how you came to be where you are today and what things in your past influenced your present self. That awareness is how we can know that we’ve evolved. We all change, that much is beyond doubt. But whether we change in ways we want to or in ways we don’t want to is up to us, to at least a certain extent. We can choose which characteristics we want to inform our evolution and choose which characteristics to leave by the wayside. I suppose it’s just up to us to figure out what those traits are in the first place.

27. Larger Than Life

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to perform with Adagio Ballet’s Nutcracker as Mrs. Stahlbaum and, as no surprise to many of you, the Sugarplum Fairy.

This is at least the sixth year that I’ve performed the sugarplum variation in some capacity. It’s always been one of my favorite variations and the role itself has become one of my all-time favorite roles. To me, the Sugarplum Fairy is always a mix of sweetness and regality; she’s a queen, but at the same time, her kingdom of sweets is a place of pure happiness made out of all sorts of delights.

This weekend, I received one of the best compliments I think I have ever received. The man who played Drosselmeyer has been a professional dancer for well over thirty years and has seen countless productions of Nutcracker over the years. He watched my solo during the Saturday evening show. On Sunday, when I saw him, he said he was extremely impressed with my variation. Sugarplum always a technically challenging variation, but he said that most of the time when he sees someone dancing the variation, the technique is the only part that comes through. He said he has never seen anyone dance the character of Sugarplum more than I did, that it was pure sweetness sprinkled everywhere.

Dancing the character is always what I’ve strived to do, especially with that variation. I couldn’t have asked for a better compliment.

With due deference, the years I’ve spent spending on thinking about this character was really inspired by one of the first Sugarplums I got to watch in my young dancer life. She was the second sugarplum that I got to watch up close when I started performing in The Nutcracker, and she was so flirty and so spicy about her Sugarplum performance that I’ve always said she was my favorite. I don’t remember if she had perfect technique or not, but it didn’t matter. If you fully live your character, and not just dance it, that character really comes to life.

Before the show on Sunday, I put on my tutu and tiara and went to a tea where all the little girls and boys and their moms were looking forward to meeting some of the Nutcracker characters before the show. My favorite moment was when this one little girl and her mom came up to me and the little girl asked me if I knew the Tooth Fairy. She had just lost her second tooth at the tea but had accidentally swallowed it, so she didn’t know if the Tooth Fairy would be okay with that. I told her that I have never met the Tooth Fairy personally, but I have written her letters before (which I really did, when I was young), and that if she wrote the Tooth Fairy a letter explaining what happened and put that under her pillow that night, the Tooth Fairy should be just fine with it.

Now, I never would have been able to tell you that my love of ballet would ever lead me to a moment where some little girl would ask me, as the Sugarplum Fairy, if I was friends with the Tooth Fairy. That’s a kind of magic you can never forget.

I realized, while studying for my International Trade Law final earlier today, that that magical moment had happened because I had stepped into a role, and in that role I was larger than life. People become larger than life all the time, actually. Just because we’re not always the Sugarplum Fairy doesn’t mean that we aren’t other roles that are still larger than ourselves at our most basic human level.

For instance, one of the attorneys at the EPA whom I interned with this past semester was a manager of a team of attorneys. That didn’t mean she wasn’t herself. She could be herself, but in that role as manager, she was larger than that and encompassed all these additional traits that she as a person didn’t necessarily have. I’m not going to speak much on politics, but political roles are no different. Once you’ve stepped into the shoes of, say, the President of a country, you are no longer just yourself; you know owe that role to everyone who relies on that role. (That connection is what made me think of all this while studying for international trade today.)

Now, we all have our own roles, whether they are few or numerous, magical or mundane. But for the most part, I don’t think we actually think of those roles and the implications they can have. But just becoming even that much more aware of that role and what capacity that role has for playing a part in the world should never be undervalued. We can use those roles for evil or for good, but I like thinking that most of us would choose for good.

So go sprinkle some sweetness in the world and fully embody the character you admire the most.

26. Some Magic in the World

I found my favorite definition of a lawyer today. Lawyers are faeries because they can’t legally lie, but they trade in half-truths and misleading language, they’re obsessed with contracts, they’re required to follow the letter (but not the spirit) of the law, they’re really good at exploiting loopholes, they range range from semi-helpful to openly malevolent, and they do their main business at “courts”. I am ridiculously delighted to find out that I am a faerie-in-training.

One major thing I think the world is greatly missing out on is an element of magic. Children have such a way of seeing the world through different eyes, eyes that see magic everywhere they look. Once we grow into adulthood, I think most of us tend to lose this magical view. We don’t see magic around every corner, on every leaf of every tree, or in the skies. We generally don’t see magic in people’s daily jobs. Hence my absolute delight in finding out that lawyers are faeries.

I don’t think we necessarily have to lose our sense of magic completely. Many of us do, but personally I try to hang onto as much magic as I can. And I think there are definitely ways that we can incorporate a touch more magic in our daily lives.

I recently developed this theory that our personal forms of magic are those things that make us happy in our careers and our lives. In my theory, those things we pursue and are passionate about are the things we find magical, even if we don’t necessarily think about it in those terms. That magical quality is exactly why we pursue that passion.

Personally, I have two things in daily life that I find magical beyond belief. The first of these is getting to transform for a short time into some fairytale character while performing a ballet. The second thing in life I find beyond magical is the ocean: every swimming creature within its depths flies through the water, and the organisms at all levels are magical and alien and so incredibly different from any organisms in our terrestrial environment. When I started thinking about this theory, it didn’t surprise me at all to figure out that the two main prongs of my life consist of (1) ballet, and (2) law school in preparation for a career in ocean conservation. Those are the two things I find truly magical.

I’ve seen similar things happen with other people I know. My dad got his undergraduate degree in chemistry because he thought chemistry was like magic. He is definitely more of an alchemist. Ricardo loves philosophy because, to him, the questions of metaphysics – what is being, what is essence? – are magical. Generally, when I see passion in an individual for something, that passion is so inspiring and you can tell, at least to a small degree, how that individual views that thing. I think we can all learn from others’ passions and ways of seeing the world. By doing so, it adds little sparks of magic to our own world that maybe we didn’t get to see before.

I don’t want to devalue the magic of the little things in life, either. The first leaf to change color in autumn, the first sip of a particularly delicious tea, or the first page read of a new book are all equally magical in their own ways. Those little bits of magic should be given full credit for their places in our lives. And maybe if we start seeing those little bits of magic surrounding us and pair those with the bigger magics of our chosen passions, then maybe the world will be a little more magical.

25. Information Integration and the Ability to Change Our Habits

I’m coming to believe more and more that our choices each and every day are affected greatly by the availability of information and our ability to process it. At least for me personally, the more specific information I have on issues that are important to me, the more likely I am to act on that information.

I was just reading an article about seafood and this one man’s attempt to start a technology revolution that would actually track where your seafood comes from. Seafood sourcing and labelling is infamously terrible. Estimates show that potentially 1/3 – 33% – of the seafood we eat is mislabeled. Much of the time, this is no accident. Business flows to where the money is. If people are paying for fish, then importers will provide it. These importers might not include with the fish information about where that fish comes from, what species of fish it actually is (there is a lot of fish forgery), or the conditions of the fishermen who caught the fish (human trafficking is leading to fishermen essentially enslaved on their ships is a substantial and growing problem).

Now, would you eat quite so much seafood if you knew about this? Would you eat quite so much seafood if you knew how the oceans are increasingly depleted of fish and how many high-demand species are getting driven towards extinction? Or that fisheries are killing sea turtles, dolphins, and other well-loved marine species simply because those animals get caught in their fishing nets and then are simply disposed of and labelled as bycatch? I haven’t been able to. I love seafood as much as the next person, but the more information I attain about the current sate of the oceans, the less seafood I consciously consume. I have now mostly avoided seafood altogether. I say mostly because I will still order a seafood plate if it seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. (See: ordering lobster ravioli in Malta during one of my two nights there.)

I think this same type of reasoning and information availability applies to just about any issue you can think of. At first, we aren’t aware of the effects we, as consumers, cause. We aren’t aware of the full range of implications of our choices. Then, maybe, at some point, we slowly start gathering information about that issue. If we choose to, we can then begin to assimilate that information into our stream of consciousness. This is the point where we can then begin to consciously analyze our decisions before we make them because we are finally aware that the true implications of our individual actions are far larger than we ever imagined they could be.

Of course, if we all thought this way about every issue of every moment of every day, it would be completely and fundamentally overwhelming. Instead, I think the trick is to incorporate small decisions over time. That conscious thinking about, say, not ordering fish starts getting built into neurological muscle memory. Give it enough thought and enough practice, and eventually you won’t even have to think about avoiding seafood, or whatever activity you are focused on. Eventually, you will consciously have to override what has become habit in your thinking if you want to go back to your old ways of thinking and doing.

Once that one conscious thing you have decided to focus on becomes habit, your brain and consciousness become open again to new sets of information and another opportunity for changing thinking habits. Give it enough time, and you can integrate all the information you choose to integrate into your life.

Yes, you have to to work at it. Yes, you are going to struggle at first. No matter if it’s adopting certain diets, walking or taking public transportation to work more often, buying less non-recyclable goods, or reading a little more on your given topic every day, it will become easier. I promise. Changing our habits with information little by little is not the easiest thing to do, but it will be worth it. If enough of us engage in this direct grappling with issues and topics near and dear to us, I believe this is how we can save the world.

24. The Malta Chronicles: Prologue, Traveling, and Initial Impressions

As many of you may have seen on my social media over the past couple of days, I just spent those past several days in Malta. It was an incredibly beautiful place. Why Malta, you may ask? And why only for two days in the middle of October during the middle of the week? I left so soon I really never even got a chance to sightsee other than walking around to find dinner both free evenings.

The answer is the ocean. Or, to be more precise, the Our Ocean conference.

To give a background to this story, back last October I found out through Georgetown that there was going to be an event at main campus called Our Oceans, One Future, an event where John Kerry, then Secretary of State, and Adrian Grenier, actor and co-founder of the Lonely Whale Foundation, would be speaking. So I, along with one of my classmates, missed Bargain (Contracts + Torts) that morning in order to go to main campus and attend this amazing event. It was so inspiring to sit there and listen to the head speakers talk about the current issues facing the oceans and the slow upwelling of commitment towards figuring out a way to save them. Heads of states, including ministers from Europe and South America, also talked at a panel at that time about their different states’ commitments and achievements over the past year.

Then, in March, I was a liaison between Georgetown Law’s Chapter of the UN Association and Georgetown main campus’ Sustainable Ocean Alliance, or the SOA. The SOA was started a few years ago by an undergraduate student at Georgetown to help bring youth voices into the ocean discussion. So in March, the SOA had their annual summit at main campus and I went and attended and tabled a table promoting Georgetown Law during the lunch break.

Fast-forward a couple of months and I get an email from the SOA announcing they were then taking applications for the Our Ocean Youth Leadership conference in Malta in October. I looked at the application, figured I would qualify since a) I was a “youth”, and b) I’m planning on going into ocean conservation and want to be involved in as many ocean-related things as possible. So I applied and got accepted. I booked my ticket for Malta. A few weeks later I booked a spot at a hostel that multiple other people attending the conference were staying at. And otherwise I tried to brush it out of my mind that somehow I would be going to Malta against all expectations in October.

Traveling & Initial Impressions
Monday night, I packed a small carryon suitcase of business professional clothes and books to take along in my book bag. I slept only 4 hours that night because of last-minute homework assignments and work early the next morning. I went to the morning portion of a hearing on dumping of solar cells and solar panels from other countries at the International Trade Commission, ran back to the EPA to tell my supervisor about it, and then ran home, showered, kissed Ricardo and Rumple goodbye, and drove to Dulles airport.

My plane left from D.C. at 6:00pm. I arrived in London Heathrow at around 6:00am. I ate at Pret, camped out for a few hours, and then flew to Malta. I arrived in Malta very motion sick around 3:00pm and proceeded to half-consciously ride a bus for an hour all the way to the hostel I was staying at. I’m still mad at myself for being so motion sick, because that hour-long bus ride was probably the best view of the city as a whole that I would get during the daytime, but I was so miserable I could barely keep my eyes open. I finally found Boho Hostel after taking two wrong turns and wheeling/carrying my little roller suitcase up a series of steep stairs and narrow sidewalks.

The thing about Malta roads is the sidewalks are barely wide enough for one person for the most part and there are very rarely crosswalks anywhere. So you just have to run across the street and hope you don’t get hit. I could never be a driver in Malta; I would be far too terrified to run into people or cars parked on the sides of the roads or the sides of buildings, since the streets are so narrow. However, I will admit I love the architectural style. For the most part, most of the buildings are made out of this yellow stone that I assume is abundant all across the island. The buildings are all square – almost cubical – with their chief adornments and character created by the railings, balconies, and windows that are attached to these cubical structures. It’s very economical and efficient, I think. The cubical structures mean all the buildings use the most amount of space possible in a very space-limited region; after all, Malta is an island surrounded by the Mediterranean on all sides.

Back to Boho. I’ve never stayed at a hostel before, so I didn’t really know what to expect, other than the fact that I knew several other youth delegates were also staying there. The whole hostel is a hippy little world tucked right in the middle of a neighborhood, with hammocks and palm trees and little Buddha statutes in the yard and walls painted with maps of the world and inspirational boho-style quotes about traveling making one rich. The staircase leading up to the bedrooms (3 bunk beds to a room) was decorated entirely by shoes hanging all over the railing. There was a little female cat there that had similar colorings to Rumple but definitely had an island-y look about her.

I checked in and right as I was doing so, a group of younger people all dressed professionally were assembling. I assumed they were about to head out to pick up their badges for the conference and from there go straight to the reception. (It was 5:30pm by then and the badge office supposedly closed by 7:00pm, which is also when the reception for us youth delegates started.) I was right, and they were all kind enough to wait for me to change really fast so I could head out with them. We walked for a good 20 minutes and during that time found our way to the coast of Malta. Saint Julian’s was this magnificent church we passed that was right on the bay and the waves crashed upon its base in a glorious display. We snaked our way around the marina, where picturesque boats all floated tied up in the water. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a picturesque place in my life as that marina. The boats were all brightly painted, the buildings around the marina were beautiful pastels, and the clouds and the ocean were all this glorious harmonization of greys and purples and blues.

We met up with some other youth conference members at the inside edge of the marina and everyone took some time meeting one another and taking photos. While walking to the marina, I met two friends from Paris, France, a girl from Germany, and a girl from Spain. (I’m not going to put names here for privacy’s sake.) Very early on into the evening, it became impossible to learn any new names or remember where everyone you met had come from or how exactly they were working on or wanted to work on ocean issues. Regardless, all 100 of us selected were passionate about the oceans; the oceans were what brought us all together. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to be surrounded on all sides by fellow ocean lovers from such diverse backgrounds and places of origin who all came together for a common cause. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

The original Boho group ran up to the Hilton and got our badges after going through security. We then joined outside to take photos in front of the #OurOcean sign in the fountain and the Our Ocean illustrations everywhere. We then made our way across the hotel to a bar that was more reminiscent of the inside of a ship than a bar for the opening reception for the conference. The room was round and had the zodiac illustrated as if a night sky on the ceiling. On the walls were mirrors and inlays of ship motifs, while the floor was a giant marble compass rose.

We all got a drink, ate hors d’oeuvres (which there were not nearly enough of), and just spent the evening mingling and getting to know people. It was fantastic. People were from all different countries. There were a lot of Europeans, which makes sense because it was much easier for them to get a plane ticket to Malta: see Spanish, French, German, Danish, Serbian, Italian, British, Scottish, etc. There were a few Americans, mainly from D.C., California, and Duke University, to be specific. And there were also people from Thailand, Peru, and Brazil, among others. It was an incredibly diverse group of people.

Some individuals were still finishing their undergraduate degrees. Many had masters or were currently in the middle of pursuing masters in oceanography, marine biology, marine law and governance, and policy work. There was an economist, a few budding and full attorneys, and some engineers. Overall, the amount of diversity was one of the most inspiring things about the entire trip for me. Also, there was a freedom to follow one’s dreams, whether that meant moving to another country or learning another language or pursuing a completely different type of degree.

I realized that night at the reception that Americans tend to be close-minded about living in other places. I don’t know if close-minded is the right term, but Americans just don’t think about actually moving abroad and staying there for a number of years. It seems to me that many other countries, especially in the European Union (to be fair though, it is easier since their citizenship automatically enables them to work or go to school in any other EU country outside of their own), have a bigger sense of freedom about exploration. During this conference, I’ve met more people than I can count who have actually lived in more than two countries. To be fair, the individuals who attend an ocean conference in Malta are probably some of the most exploratory and open-minded individuals, so the conference definitely did have a demographic bias. Nonetheless, I have been so inspired.

The Boho group left back to our hostel shortly after 9:00pm. We were all exhausted and had to be up at 5:45 the next morning in order to make it to the conference in time. And thus, we walked back to the hostel, said goodnight, and fell immediately asleep.