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Archive for July, 2011

This may be out of date soon, but there is word of a compromise on the debt ceiling.

But bear in mind, no matter what this compromise looks like, it will almost certainly be bad for America in the short-term and long-term.

It will almost certainly be composed of some massive spending cuts in FY2012.

It will almost certainly include no revenue increases of any kind.

It will almost certainly not preclude another budget fight in September over funding the government.

It will almost certainly take government funding away from the poorest Americans.

It will do absolutely nothing to stimulate an increasingly stagnant economy.

It will set the precedent of turning the debt ceiling into a regular hostage situation.

It will do absolutely nothing to stop the long-term debt problem, most of which is tied up in health care costs.

Roosevelt gave us the New Deal.

Truman gave us the Fair Deal.

Johnson gave us the New Society.

Obama and the Republican House are about to give us Austerity Society.

Bruce Ackerman may not be depressed, but I sure am.

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After last night’s failed effort, Boehner’s bill passed the House this afternoon. Luckily for me, I’ll be out of contact between now and late Sunday, as I’m going on a camping/climbing trip to go do some bouldering in the Sierra Buttes region (as shown below). I won’t really miss seeing in real time the specific way in which the US will fuck itself.

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I’m not even linking to the stupid op-ed in WaPo by the Tea Party founder guy bashing the Boehner plan as not radical enough. Because fuck that guy.

But what irks me the most about it is the idea that if we don’t cut enough, we’re going to turn into Greece.

Hey, idiots, the only reason we are at any risk of turning into Greece is because YOU REFUSE TO RAISE THE GODDAMNED DEBT CEILING.

Unlike Greece and the UK and others, people are still willing to invest in U.S. Treasury Bonds because they are the safest investment on earth. That means we still get ridiculously low interest rates on our global credit line. The only way the debt crisis is going to become a crisis is if IDIOTS LIKE TEA PARTY DUDE CONVINCE AMERICA TO DEFAULT.

It’s like punching yourself in the face because you’re worried that someone else might punch you in the face sometime later and you just want to preempt them.

Or something.

See title.

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Not bad for "design by committee" (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As the debt ceiling hullabaloo is still ongoing and vastly depressing, I’m going to blog about a general idea that bugs me — that of the singular brilliant “auteur” — which has recently spread to this technology article in the NYTimes contrasting Apple and Google.

To summarize my previous argument about singular auteurs:

The recent revelations of Robert Johnson’s sped-up recordings show that even the most idealized and individualized romantic musical figure — the traveling bluesman who sold his soul to the devil — is just as co-dependent as everyone else. Homer was probably multiple people; Emily Dickinson needed the support and encouragement of Thomas Higginson; and Robert Johnson had a nosy producer. If anything, I find this reality much more assuring than the God-given myth of great artists, because it reminds us that prodigious talent is not the result of magic folks coming out of the clear blue sky (or another world), but products of an individual and community effort.

The Times story suggests that Google’s design team is hampered by “design by committee.” This is a long-standing joke, but frankly, “design by committee” can yield superb results. Consider Chartres Cathedral: there’s no greater “design by committee” example on earth. How many craftsmen over how many years put together that glorious building, and yet, no one would say that its design was the work of any one man. Is it a victim of the shortcomings of “design by committee”? Raymond Carver’s stories are as much a response to Gordon Lish, his editor, as they are a fully-grown one-man production.

And yet, we want so much to believe that some magical individual person is behind our products (or our music or our art, etc.). When people go to a restaurant with a celebrity chef moniker, they expect that the chef is back in the kitchen actually cooking the food. Instead, the chef has delegated the responsibilities for the menu and cooking to his executive chef at the restaurant. This sort of “design by committee” all works well, and no one complains that they are not eating the food of the “auteur” (until, of course, they discover that Emeril isn’t really back there!).

Google’s method of “design by committee” gave us a better browser than Apple, a better maps app than MapQuest, a better mail program than, well, anything really.

This is not to devalue the contributions of Steve Jobs, who undoubtedly turned around Apple’s fortunes. It is worth thinking that there are many paths to great art, and nowhere is this clearer than in another company that Jobs helped to turn around — Pixar. I can’t think of a better example of “design by committee” pursuing excellence and hitting it almost every time.

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-UPDATE 2- Obviously I hope my prediction is wrong. Greg Sargeant outlines a possible maneuver the Dems might use. It sounds pretty good to me. It’s certainly devious, but its the type of gamesmanship that was necessary to pass health care.

-UPDATE- After I posted this, some new evidence came out (warning: it’s a link to the awful Jennifer Rubin) that makes it look like my prediction below may well, sadly, be true.

-ORIGINAL POST- I just had my Leamus moment. The quote above comes from John le Carre’s spy novel masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Leamus goes through most of the novel with a particular set of assumptions, and by the end they are upended completely in an instant.

Likewise, I am now reasonably sure** I know how the debt ceiling crisis will end. And it just hit me like a ton of bricks. As recently as a couple days ago, I told Stendhal that I truly had no idea know how things would shake out. Default or not? Credit downrating or not? Long-term deal or short? Any new revenue or none?

So here’s how it will work. Apparently this weekend was a deadline of sorts. While it’s been pretty well publicized that Aug. 2 is the day the U.S. will cease to be able to pay its bills without raising the debt ceiling, slightly less known is that due to the procedural requirements of Congress, this weekend is when bills were going to need to be on their way to becoming laws in time for the law to take effect before the Aug. 2 default occurs.

The latest news is that as of late Sunday, there is still no deal. So what will happen? The House Republicans have enough votes to pass their own bill. Of course, they’ve already passed one: Cut, Cap, and Balance. The House GOP could stick with that, but they will more likely pass a new one within the next 24 hours. This will send to the Senate a short-term bill that raises the debt ceiling but also includes draconian cuts intended to shift wealth from the poor to the wealthy and – of course – there will be not a dime of new revenue.

Then, one of three things will happen:

(1) The Senate could modify it somehow, in which case it goes back to the House, but there doesn’t seem to be enough time for that happen and get back to the President in time. So we’d default.

(2) Alternatively, the bill the House sends might be so awful that it cannot pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. In which case the bill dies the every Republican and talking head will shout forever that the Democrats ruined everything. In this second case, we default.

(3) Or, the bill might actually be palatable enough that a coalition of every Republican senator and a few Blue Dog Democrats actually manage to pass it, in which case Obama is faced with the same dilemma that the Senate Dems faced in the second scenario. He can either sign an awful, awful bill into law and avoid defaulting, or he could veto, in which case we default.

So, in those three scenarios I just outlines, they result in (1) default, (2) default, or (3) default or not, depending on Obama’s signature. Because I still find it very difficult to imagine the U.S. defaulting, I think Obama will ultimately sign a terrible bill that the Republicans force through but the Dems decide they cannot oppose. Obama has promised to veto a bill that doesn’t settle the debt ceiling through 2013. The GOP will call Obama’s bluff. And it was the GOP strategy all along to wait until the clock runs out to force the bill through in a desperate climate in which it otherwise never would have had a chance.

**Of course I should point out that my predictions are as likely to be wrong as everyone else’s, and that I do not have a particularly good track record at these kind of things.

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In the New York Times “Room for Debate” about whether law schools need curriculum reform, many of the authors fundamentally misunderstand what they are defending. Almost all the law professors have a similar response to simply adapt or tweak the system somewhat.

What they ignore is the massive financial burden that law school imposes and the subsequent incentives that creates. Most of the professors defend the three-year law school curriculum as a part of learning to “think like a lawyer.” And yet, with a bar passage rate nationally of 74%, it’s hard to say that most law students are getting their money’s worth.

And although I strongly defend the liberal arts tradition when it comes to the costs of college, law school is different. As much as I agree with Prof. Maillard about the importance of strong lawyer-citizens, law school is at its origin a trade school. Other countries mostly include the law curriculum as an undergraduate major, rather than as a postbaccalaureate degree. The rising costs of law school have to do with the financial incentives for finishing law school, rather than any connection to the value it provides.

Without any scrutiny (other than from the ABA, which clearly doesn’t mind some subpar law schools with dismal graduation rates), law schools freely engage in what can generously be described as academic malpractice. The traditional law school lecture system and final exam system have none of the hallmarks of anything resembling pedagogical theory. Rather, they resemble what one would find at, well, a trade school.

The article are all intelligent, but they all ignore the elephant in the room — the colossal cost of law school. As the NYT itself notes, law school tuition is skyrocketing and the schools gleefully reap the benefits.

Instead of promoting the humanist lawyer-citizens that law professors would like to educate, the law school system pushes its graduates towards high-paying jobs at law firms or as trial lawyers, instead of crusading for “equal justice under the law.”

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We don’t have all the details yet, but the attacks in Norway today appear to be politically motivated.

They also do not appear to be connected to international terrorism, at this point. (This could change; there’s tons of speculation right now.)

I want to note, though, that attacks like these make the “war on terror” ideology rather incomprehensible. Regardless of ideological leanings, domestic politically motivated attacks and internationally-directed politically motivated attacks cause just as much damage and create just as much psychological impact. It doesn’t matter whether the perpetrators are Muslims, Christians, Hindus or otherwise.

And yet, when we discuss “the war on terror” in the West, we are almost always discussing a single type of terrorism:

One thing is certain, however and that is the perception in Norway’s security services that Islamist terrorism is a bigger threat than the almost unheard domestic terrorism, despite the existence of far right and anarchist groups who of late are alleged to have improved their international contacts.

Battling extremist groups will never be effective if we only focus on one type.

UPDATE: a photo of the arrested suspect:

In online debates marks Anders Behring Breivik as well read, and one with strong opinions about Norwegian politics. He promotes a very conservative opinions, which he also called nationalist. He expresses himself strongly opposed to multiculturalism – that cultural differences can live together in a community.

Breivik has had many posts on the site Document.no, an Islam-critical site that publishes news and commentary.

In one of the posts he states that politics today no longer revolves around socialism against capitalism, but that the fight is between nationalism and internationalism. He expressed clear support for the nationalist mindset.

Anders Breivik Behring has also commented on the Swedish news articles, where he makes it clear that he believes the media have failed by not being “NOK” Islam-critical.

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