File under awesome

June 10, 2011

I was just walking down South Capitol Street, and I saw a guy wearing a #37 Strasburg jersey.

An Expos jersey. Read more »

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More on the anti-empire amendment

June 10, 2011

In my previous post, I suggested that one way of putting the breaks our tendency toward global empire would be to institutional dis-incentivize both the President and Congress from deploying and using the military except when absolutely necessary. Read more »

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A proposal for a 28th amendment: the anti-empire clauses

June 6, 2011

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to adjust the Constitution to de-incentivize the 20th and 21st century American tendency toward global military empire. And I came up with three broad goals:

1) Create institutional incentives that dissuade the President from deploying troops without congressional consent;

2) Create institutional incentives that dissuade Congress from granting that consent;

3) Create institutional incentives that dissuade the average citizen from supporting wars of choice.

Now, that’s the easy part. The hard part is coming up with such institutional incentives, and creating them in such a way as to not make a mockery of the whole thing or give rise to silly unintended consequences. Read more »

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Bipartisanship

May 31, 2011

Last week, the Senate took four votes on four separate budget resolutions: the House-passed Ryan budget (failed, 40-57); the Toomey GOP alternative (failed, 42-55); the Rand Paul alternative (failed, 7-90); and the president’s budget proposal (failed, 0-97). What do we make of this? Read more »

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On capitalism and the ethics of the endtimes

May 19, 2011

If the world is going to end on Saturday as some folks are predicting, we’ve got a few things to discuss. Most importantly, rapture insurance is evidently being price gouged. Whoa.

Let’s unpack this from a libertarian perspective, one step at a time. Read more »

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On the history of political phrases

May 17, 2011

“Waste, fraud, and abuse.”

You won’t find a policy more despised in capital cities than this. The Obama White House hates it. Congressional committees  hate it. State governors hate it.  Watchdog groups hate it. Executive orders try to stop it. Bills in Congress try to prevent it. President Clinton battled it. Ronald Regan addressed the nation on it. Bloggers all roll their eyes when they hear about it.

Everyone hates waste, fraud, and abuse. But when, exactly, did we start talking about it? Read more »

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Harvard in the 315

May 13, 2011

Imagine a highly-selective liberal arts college. Say it’s in the Top 25 in the U.S. News and World Report Rankings for Liberal Arts Colleges, but not in the Top 10. Like Hamilton. Or Colgate. Or Washington and Lee. The kinds of schools that have a few thousand students, endowments in the $500 million range, solid campus facilities, and first-rate liberal arts faculties. Good enough to be top-flight liberal arts colleges, but also clearly not as well-regarded as the top liberal arts colleges (Williams, Amherst, etc.), or even close to the reputation and resources of the top undergraduate universities (Yale, Harvard, Princeton, etc.).

Now imagine a single alum was going to give this liberal arts college $5 billion, no strings attached.

Three questions:

1) What would be the most effective use of the money, if the goal is to improve the school (“improve” being used in the traditional sense — some combination of getting better students to choose the school, increasing the economic value of a degree from the school after graduation, and some amorphous academic quality, like making better people and/or improving the world)? That is, if you were going to devise a master plan for its long-term expenditure, what would the broad outline look like? Or, to put it another way, if you were the alum making the donation and wanted to put some general guidelines/restrictions on its use, what would you say?

2) Could that kind of money, properly maximized in its use, easily take a #18 ranked liberal arts college and catapult it to #1? How long would it take?

3) If the answer to question #2 is yes, would it also be possible to make said liberal arts college nationally competitive wit the elite universities? In effect, could you buy your way to being Princeton for $5 billion?

Read more »

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On the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act

May 9, 2011

Currently reading Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

The consequences of Prohibition are more or less common knowledge: enforcement was either difficult or impossible, and at any rate expensive; continued demand for alcohol gave rise to massive criminal syndicates; unregulated booze was a greater health hazard;  and the flouting of the law bled into a general disrespect for all law. And so on and so on. In retrospect, the whole ordeal seemed predestined to fail. And we don’t need a new history of the policy to tell us that.

What I did not realize about Prohibition is that, once you read the fact pattern of what happened in 1919, the whole business  seems obviously destined to fail even in the moment of its greatest triumph. And ground zero for that failure is the relationship between the 18th amendment and the Volstead Act. Read more »

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On watching battles unfold

May 3, 2011

Most of the media coverage of OBL’s demise has been, frankly, pretty boring. But I thought this picture was amazing: Read more »

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On Searches and Seizures

April 25, 2011

I think most libertarians, if queried as to which amendment to the Constitution is most important, would answer “the 1st.” But a close second would be the 4th:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I bring this up because driving home from vacation last night, I’m pretty sure my family and I ran into a 4th amendment violation. Here’s the fact pattern: Read more »

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Get your ya-yas out!

April 7, 2011

Music question: name a band or recording artist whose most acclaimed or best selling or most defining work is a live album. I can only think of two…

Read more »

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On Through the Looking Glass

March 21, 2011

It’s officially complete.

Somehow, it is now possible to intellectually marry war in the name neo-conservatism with war in the name of liberal humanaitarianism. I’m just going to call it neo-humanitarianism.

Now, I’m not a fan of neo-conservatism or humanitarian interventionism (although I’m not this negative on the latter). But I understand them as philosophical orientations to geo-political problems. And I suppose the backers of each ideology have always had some a few things in common, perhaps more than they were willing to admit: a sense of self-righteousness, an ignorance of the theory of unintended consequences, and a pair of rose-colored glasses.

But any attempt to describe an individual war of choice as somehow fulfilling the desires of both theories, that’s insane. Or the definitions have just become so vague as to be meaningless. Newspeak.

More interesting to me is the idea of public desensitization to war. Not to harp on Orwell, but the first thing I thought of on Friday was  how little of the public discussion space all of this was taking up. Think back to the Gulf War buildup, fall 1990 and winter 1991. Make that the origin point, with time going forward on the X axis and public discourse on the Y. This function not only has a negative slope, but the second derivative is negative, too, right?

Seriously, how much longer can it be until we are at war with Eastasia?

Once upon a time, I used to be mildly embarrassed to admit that my foreign policy ideology most closely resembled Quaker Pacifism, and consequently manifested itself as isolationism. But not anymore.  And I guess there’s a silver lining that more people must have woken up today than yesterday and fancied themselves foreign policy realists (a positive second derivative!). I’ll take that over this eight days a week.

But it’s cold comfort indeed.

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Madness, ctd.

March 17, 2011

I just switched over from C-SPAN to CBS to watch the first game of the tourney, and I swear this was the first line of audio after the broadcast started, courtesy of Ian Eagle:

“Welcome everyone, to Tampa, Florida,  for the second-round matchup of Temple and Clemson.”

They’re really going to go with it. Just kill me. I predict the 2012 tourney does not feature this nomenclature nonsense.

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Broken Windows

March 15, 2011

I’ve now had three different people, all quite intelligent by most standards, try to tell me that the earthquake in Japan may end up having a net positive economic effect on Japan’s economy, because of the stimulative effect of all the rebuilding.

This is completely insane.

It is almost, by definition, an example of the broken window fallacy. You cannot create wealth by destroying things. That is not an opinion, or a political argument. It’s not even a case-closed “theory” like evolution or gravity. It’s just true.

Destruction can proportionally re-allocate the total remaining wealth, post-destruction, which can produce relative and localized wealth booms (i.e. the U.S. after WW2, when the rest of the world lay in ruins and we were largely unscathed), but it cannot increase the aggregate size of the pie; the total amount of wealth in the world inherently goes down when things are destroyed. If this were not true, we could just pay people to build houses in the morning, and then pay other people to knock them down at night.  Voila, boom time!

Yes, production in Japan is probably going to go up soon, but it will be production that replaces lost wealth at the expense of the things that would have been created new, absent the earthquake. Maddeningly, the GDP statistic in Japan will also go up, because it does not capture the negative value of capital destruction.

As David Bernstein said in response to a Wall Street Journal piece that said the earthquake may lift the economy in Japan, “Sure, and instead of sending American aid, let’s follow up the earthquake with a few bombing runs over Tokyo. That will really ‘lift the economy.’ Geez.”

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Madness

March 14, 2011

For years, I’ve been bothered by NCAA’s insistence on formal language in regard to the tournament. For example, it drives me nuts that Greg Gumbel continually says things  like  “stayed tuned for more of CBS’s continuing coverage of the 2011 NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament.” Just call it “the NCAA tournament,” dude. Or “the tournament.” Or at the post-game press-conferences, when the moderator continually says “student-athletes” instead of “players.” I’d like to remind everyone to please direct your questions to a specific student-athlete. And it’s not like he does it once, it’s every time. Does anyone have any more questions for any of our student-athletes?

But the real kicker has to be “national semi-finals.” No one in the entire country calls it anything else but the “Final Four.” The NCAA uses the term “Final Four” all over its website. CBS’s pregame program before every single tournament game is called “The Road to the Final Four.” But anytime they discuss the games that occur on the Saturday just prior to the Monday night championship game, the say “national semi-finals.” Just a reminder folks, that Duke will play Memphis St. in our first national semi-final game, a 7:06 tip, next Saturday. Butler will meet Siena in the other national semi-final game, 20 minutes after the conclusion of the first game. Just kill me. And it’s not like this formality is universal or anything. They all call the first round of the regionals “the sweet sixteen.”

Still, they may have taken it to a whole new level this year, with the 3rd round nonsense.

Backfill: now that they have three play-in games instead of one, they’ve changed the name of that round from “opening round” to “1st round.” The old 1st round  is now the “2nd round,” and the old 2nd round is now the “3rd round.” 3rd round winners will make the sweet sixteen. The problem here is that there has not been a fundamental change to the tournament. This isn’t like when they went from 48 to 64 teams; this is like when they went from 64 to 65. You aren’t adding games anyone cares about, you’re adding more buildup. You might as well start calling the small-conference championship games “1st round” too. Same difference.

I guarantee you that no one — NO ONE — who does not work for the NCAA or CBS will be using this terminology. But we’re going to suffer through it on TV for at least a year, until someone turns their brain back on at CBS. I mean, it’s not like the office pools are suddenly going to start using “1st round” games. That would not only require people to care about what happens on Tuesday and Wednesday in the first round, but it would also mean organizing an entire office pool in less than 36 hours.

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Huck Farvard

March 9, 2011

Ivy League basketball.

You probably know that the Ivy League is the only league left that has no conference tournament, and thus the regular-season champ gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. And since the Ivy League rarely has two teams worthy of an at-large bid (remember, there’s no conference tournament so there are no upset champs), it is almost invariably the case that the regular-season champ — and only the regular season champ — makes the tourney.*

This makes Ivy League hoops pretty unique, and pretty awesome. Like a throwback to the 70′s — when each conference was only allowed 1 tourney bid and most conferences didn’t have end of year tournaments — every game counts. It’s super refreshing. Every night plays out like a do-or-die playoff game; fall two games back in the standings and it starts to look really dire.

On top of this, following the Ivy League is a lot like following the NFL; because of league rules, almost all games occur on Friday and Saturday nights. There are eight teams, you play the other seven two times each, for a 14-game conference season. In effect, it’s six weekends of Friday/Saturday games, plus two random games against the team you are “paired” with. For example, Yale is paired with Brown. So each weekend, Yale and Brown either have home games against another two paired teams (like Harvard and Dartmouth) on Friday and Saturday night, or travel to play the same two teams on Friday or Saturday night. (Yale also has to play it’s pair team — Brown — twice. Those two games are split, usually one early in the season, one late).

The effect of this is that the standings “sync” the way they do in the NFL — nothing happens all week, and then over the weekend everyone plays the same number of games, and the standings adjust. It’s great. Unless, of course, it’s your team’s turn for the dreaded trip to Penn and Princeton.

Of course, this all leads to what happens last night. Princeton beat Penn in the season-finale “pair” game, creating a first-place tie between  Princeton and Harvard. Which means the Ivy league has to have a playoff game, for all the marbles. There is so much to talk about here.  Four observations: Read more »

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If you like it so much, you defend it

February 24, 2011

And so it comes to pass yesterday that the Obama administration will not defend DOMA against legal challenges in the federal courts, because the administration does not believe the law to be Constitutional.  The dual politics of gay marriage and federalism aside, what should we make of a President’s decision not to defend a properly-enacted congressional statute in the courts? Read more »

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Fugitive Filibusters

February 17, 2011

One of the more radical moves you can make as the minority party in certain state legislatures is to absent all your members from the chamber to deny the majority a quorum. This happened in Wisconsin today, where the Senate Democrats failed to show up to prevent a vote on removing collective bargaining rights from state employees. It happened in Texas several years ago. In both cases, the majority party sent state troopers out to round up the legislators and demand their appearance (which is a perfectly legal procedural option in both states). In both cases, the fugitive legislators simply left the state. Read more »

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Strike the last word

February 17, 2011

Right now, the House of Representatives is considering legislation via a process it has not used in quite some time: an open rule on the floor. Read more »

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On political assassination

January 10, 2011

I knew the staffer, Gabe Zimmerman, who died Saturday in the Giffords assassination attempt. Not as a friend, just on a professional level. But it still made me look at the shooting and its aftermath in a different light. Like so many Hill staffers, he was smart, hard-working, earnest, and anonymous.

I actually felt consciously less safe walking around Capitol Hill today.  I really wasn’t expecting that.

One reason — aside from the obvious — that congressional political assassinations are so heart-wrenching (and so rare) is that they serve virtually no plausible political purpose. That is, to say, there’s simply no rational political explanation for the motives. You cannot change a legislature by assassinating a single legislator; heck, you cannot effect any substantial political change by assassinating ten percent of a legislature. That’s one of the often-overlooked geniuses of the institution, the political safety and stability of distributed power. And thus, the global history of assassination is littered with Kings and Dictators and Rulers and Presidents and Presidential candidates and  leaders of social movements. But not legislators.

And so it bothers me that we even need to have a debate over the political motivations of Giffords’ assassin. Of course he’s insane (in the non-clinical sense) if he’s a political assassin; his methods are utterly irrational if he is seeking political ends.

But that’s not what I find most strange in all of this. That title would go to the structure of the political debate currently going on over the role of political rhetoric in the assassination attempt. I’m going to make four statements, all of which I believe are unarguably true, but which I have not seen a single writer/blogger/pundit/commentator accept in aggregate. Read more »

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Your own wikileak cable

December 20, 2010

Diplomacy.

I played a good deal of this game between the ages of 17 (when I discovered it) and 24 (when I ceased to have enough friends who could clear out 10-15 consecutive hours to get together for a game). But make no mistake: this is the greatest board game of all time, and probably the greatest game of all time, period.

The key to its greatness is twofold. First, the strategy and tactics of the game have very little to do with what’s going on on the board. Sure, you have to understand how to move the armies and navies around to effectively conduct attacks and defenses, but that’s not too hard to pick up on. The real strategy and tactics come in negotiating with the other six players.

Second, the game has an uncanny way of reproducing a real diplomatic/war situation. You cannot win without alliances; you have to write military orders that will utterly fail if other nations betray you. You cannot win without breaking alliances; you have to plot to break others orders. You pretty much must engage in diplomacy with everyone; it’s almost impossible to fully trust anyone.

And so, very quickly, it really begins to feel like geo-political diplomacy. You start having utterly false conversations with people. You start telling people things in the hopes they will tell others. You look for intermediaries to carry conversations. You quit conversing with people to punish them. You think very carefully about every single word you say to people. You make up rumors. You pretend to have met or not met with people.

I bring this up because friends of mine just reignited our old Diplomacy crew for a new game. Only this time, we’re doing it online. And that is truly Diplomacy’s calling. Instead of each move being punctuated by a half-hour diplomatic period in someone’s basement, the moves are now set for two days. All diplomatic communication is done within a messaging system on the website. So instead of face-to-face meetings that third parties can observe having happened, it’s all diplomatic cables now. Which is masterful: at first, I was skeptical about putting stuff down in print. But it turns out it’s just as good, since any cable can be faked. You still don’t know who to trust, but you can (a) talk in pure secrecy, and (b) have extended diplomatic relations over a period of days between each move.

I cannot recommend this enough. The perfect game has been improved, dramatically.

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Music question. And you might not want to know the answer.

December 10, 2010

Question: What do the following songs all have in common?

Aerosmith, Dude (Looks Like a Lady); Clay Aiken, Run to Me; Michael Bolton, How Can We Be Lovers?; Bon Jovi, Livin’ on a Prayer; Cher, We All Sleep Alone; Alice Cooper, Poison;  Hanson, Weird; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, I hate myself for loving you; KISS, Let’s Put the X in Sex; Ricky Martin, Livin’ la Vida Loca; Katy Perry, Waking Up in Vegas; and LeAnn Rimes, Life Goes On.

Read more »

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Research Note: 2011 House and Senate Calendars

December 8, 2010

After the jump. For the House, votes expected on days highlighted in brown; No votes expected on days highlighted in white. The Senate calendar has recess days in red. Read more »

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On Career Paths

November 23, 2010

An old joke around the south side of the Capitol involves a Representative winning election to the Senate (and thus moving northward). It varies in its telling, but the punch line is always  and now the average IQ of both chambers has increased.  It’s a joke that can be retold often: historically, about 30-40% of Senators in any given Congress had previously served in the House… Read more »

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On the consequences of landslides

November 6, 2010

How will the 2010 midterm election affect the ideology of the House Democrats? Without speculating or considering how it might have changed the ideologies of individual returning members, it probably is safe to say it will have a moderately large aggregate effect simply via replacement. As many commentators have pointed out  (for example here and here), the Democratic losses in the election were skewed toward the more conservative wing of the party’s House membership. After the jump, I use some rough-cut empirical data to shed further light on this point. Read more »

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Election Night Live-Occasional-Blog

November 2, 2010

Keep refreshing this page for election night commentary. Check here for my election night junkies guide.

1:36: Last post of the night. Murkowski’s write-in victory will be remarkable if it happens. I would assume the vast, vast majority of the write-ins are for Murkowski. But easily 10% of them could be for others; we’re talking about an odd state with the population of a congressional district. And that could be the difference between write-in and Miller. So the opening of the ballots could be hugely suspenseful.

1:35: I wonder if Reid’s miracle is going to save Titus?

1:05:  It is striking how much FoxNews and MSNBC have drifted ideologically in the last 3 years. Prior to the beginning of the 2008 election cycle, an honest debate could be had as to whether these networks were neutral news organizations or not. But now they are unabashedly partisan organs. And neither one seems the least bit conflicted about it. Not that I am, either. I don’t see terrible problems with openly partisan news sources. It sure beats partisan news sources pretending to be delivering non-editorialized content. Post-mortem thoughts tomorrow.

12:45: Paging Mickey Kaus! The redistricting initiative is up 2-1 in CA right now, with 18% reported. Pot still lags badly behind, 55-45.

12:41: Still two precincts outstanding in VA-11, both in Fairfax County. Connolly by 485 votes right now.

12:30: House Appropriations Committee body count: Dems lose Obey and Kennedy to retirement (2); Mollahan to primary (1); Rodriguez, Murphy, Bishop, Davis, Boyd, and Edwards to defeat (6); with Chandler too close to call. Total count: 9.

12:26: Fox is calling Nevada for Reid. That is a triumph. If they haven’t started already, the establishment GOP recriminations will be coming on strong soon. Delaware, Nevada, and Connecticut were all very plausibly within their grasp, and now all appear to be gone.

12:19: Very much looking forward to Obama’s presser  this afternoon. Boehner’s interviews aside, POTUS really is the first-mover here. I think he will be conciliatory but firm, highlighting the criticizing/governing divide and the GOP challenge to make that transition. Wings thinks he might be combative, but I don’t think he’ll burst out the gate with a “bring it on speech.” You can always get tougher, but once you go that route, it’s hard to back down. So  I assume he starts from the opposite tack. But who knows.

12:00: Ballot measure updates: The name change got crushed in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Pot is down 55-45 in California, but only 13% have reported. Abortion restrictions are far behind in CO (70-30) with 30% of the vote in. And the income tax is down 65-35 in WA, it’s not clear how much has been reported.

11:55: CNN calls the Senate for the Dems. I think 7 months ago, if you said “65 House seats and only 7 Senate seats,” you would have been judged nonsensical. But it may very well happen.

11:32: Matt Zeller has lost NY-29. Hamilton Rugby will wait another cycle to become a special interest. Read more »

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Challenging

November 1, 2010

During last night’s game between the Saints and Steelers, there were two plays challenged in the first half that I think illustrate well the fundamental irrationality in both the decision-making process for challenging among coaches, and the evaluation of the decision to challenge by the announcers.  Read more »

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Posterior probabilities: A Bayesian update of the Miami Heat

October 27, 2010

What can we say about the Miami heat, one game into the season? Let’s do some Bayesian mathematical analysis… Read more »

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A Provisional Re-sequencing of the White Album

October 21, 2010

I call bullshit on anyone who says The Beatles is a well-sequenced album.  It isn’t. Oh, it has it’s moments, especially the synergy created by some of the transitions and sub-sequencing decisions: the sound of the jet landing at the end of Back in the U.S.S.R. just as the guitar begins on Dear Prudence; the pairing of Mother Nature’s Son with Everybody’s Got Something to Hide; the musical jolt produced by the acoustic guitar opening to Cry Baby Cry seconds after the distorted horn end of Savoy Truffle (and the entire Honey Pie – Savoy Truffle – Cry Baby Cry triple is a nice organizational choice). The beginning and ending songs for each side are also nice choices, particularly on side two, pairing Martha My Dear at the top with Julia at the bottom.

But anyone who isn’t frustrated by the ordering on this album is deluding themselves, probably because they’ve listened to it so many times that the original ordering has become imprinted on their brain. The entire balance of the record is completely off — side 1 was obviously well thought-out, but the rest of the album has the unmistakeable air of sequencing slap-dash. Side 3, in particular, lurches around like a drunken demo tape. There’s absolutely no excuse for putting Yer Blues, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide, Helter Skelter, and Long, Long, Long on the same side of a double record  — the whole side manages to never get started and yet still wander around aimlessly. A classic whole-is-less-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts moment. Those are all decent songs (well, all except Yer Blues), but they just kill each other so close together. I don’t think anyone has ever listened to side 3 and not had a fleeting moment of boredom. And that gave some of those songs a bad rap.

I’m not saying the White Album sequencing needs a little improvement. I’m saying that a random iTunes shuffle of the White Album is unlikely to detract from it’s listen-ability, and that a random shuffle with a few constraints would almost automatically improve the overall experience of a straight listen-through. I’ll have a full essay on this soon enough, but for now here is my provisional alternative sequence, with a few notes afterwards: Read more »

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Cold Fusion

October 15, 2010

This is an article about political fusion. But it won’t seem that way for several paragraphs.

From pretty much any perspective you want to look — drama, comedy, tragedy, intrigue, farce, oddity, chaos, what if, — it’s pretty hard, among political events,  to beat the 1860 Presidential election.

From a basic “what happened” standpoint, it’s easily the most unique election in American history. There were four candidates, representing three parties. One of the parties — the Democrats — had imploded at its convention in May and split into two factions. The second party — the Republicans — did not exist seven years prior. And the third party — the Constitutional Unionist — did not exist seven months prior.

The 1860 election also marked the collapse of the Presidential election system that had been devised by the Founders in 1787, and their attempt to build a system that required candidates who sought the Presidency to acquire a national following with strength in all areas of the country. None of the four candidates in 1860 were able to do this (and no single candidate for President would win a majority of the vote in both the North and South again until 1932): Read more »

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Social Network

October 12, 2010

People my exact age have a strange relationship with the Internet, for a very specific reason: we were college freshman in Fall 1996, the year the Internet exploded on college campuses. It was a strange time: none of the juniors or seniors really used email, but all of the freshmen did. Most freshmen used AIM or ICQ to communicate with each other on campus; if you got a phone call, it was probably an upperclassmen.  And so on.  So while most of the campus was effectively going to college in 1975, most the freshman were effectively going to college in 2002. I suspect the gap has never been as large, before or  since. It was truly a technological divide — between people born merely a few years apart.

It was also  a simpler time in regard to the internet itself. We were amazed by the trivial — chain email forwards were still cool, and could still produce mass hysteria — and spent much of time trying to find things, which meant going through  Webcrawler, Yahoo, Lycos, Altavista, and all the rest of the awful search enginges until you succeeded. But it wasn’t clear what we were looking for — without the blogs, the .MP3s, online poker, or facebook, there was nothing really to do online except look at pornography or play silly games or just generally marvel at the whole situation.

It was, perhaps, the perfect moment of the modern age to be a college freshman.

The other option, of course, was to get rich. None of us bothered, but it wasn’t for lack of being very, very close to some huge ideas.  Two that come to mind: Read more »

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On the idea that both parties might prefer not to control the House

October 6, 2010

This seems to be one of those pieces of counter-intuitive, chattering class conventional wisdom that bubble up every so often. I’m hearing it a lot from both directions. Heck, I’ve made the case myself.  A lot of people seem to think that the Democrats would be better off losing the House. And a growing number of people think the GOP would be better off not gaining control of the House. (Note that I’m not talking about Mickey Kaus’s theory that the GOP leadership would prefer a small majority to a large one. That is a different debate on a different dimension of issues).

It’s an interesting proposition, and usually goes something like this: if the Democrats lose Congress, the GOP will probably have a very small majority. They’ll be able to investigate the executive branch, but the prospects for them passing their program are almost nil – they will have a small majority and, beside, Obama will veto anything truly odorous that they pass. They will be unable to do anything, and the President will finally have a decent opponent to attack. Consequence: we win a big Democratic victory in 2012, which is more important anyway.

Or the GOP version: the economy is in the tank.  If we win control of the House, or the House and Senate, we’ll be saddled with owning the economy. And even if our policies could guarantee recovery, there’s an excellent chance we won’t be able to pass them over an Obama veto. So we’d be better off just cutting into Pelosi and Reid’s majority, but leaving them in total theoretical control but, in practice, without much ability to pass things. They can own the economy for the next two years, and in 2013 we’ll have all three branches, and probably a natural economic recovery to ride.

Here are four thoughts on all of this: Read more »

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On the idea of a “taxpayer’s receipt”

October 1, 2010

There’s a new white paper out from Third Way, a progressive think tank, that is making a lot of headlines on various blogs for its proposal that all taxpayers receive an itemized “receipt” showing where their taxes go. As an example of what the receipt would entail, look at the graphic from Third Way.

Intuitively, this is a nice idea. It lets the average person see very clearly that the cost of some things (like war and social program entitlements) is enormous compared to the cost of other things (like the salaries of members of Congress). It lets the average person develop a more-informed opinion about how certain spending cuts would affect the budget. And, not unimportantly, it reminds people that the federal taxes pay for actual, you know, things. That cost actual money.

However, there are significant drawbacks to this idea, at least as currently proposed. Enough so that I don’t think I would endorse this as good policy, and I worry that fixing the concerns would destroy the gains achieved through teh simplicity of the Third Way example. Here are five concerns: Read more »

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Mother 93

September 13, 2010

There have been many surreal moments in popular music during my (and your) lifetime, moments in which you could consciously feel that something bigger than usual was happening. The most obvious (for me) was the release of the Smells Like Teen Spirit video, and then the ascendency of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Piolots, and Smashing Pumpkins, and then the floodgates opening after that. But there were other moments. Two that stand out in my mind are the MC Hammer release of “2 Legit 2 quit,” which basically buried party rap and it’s excesses of ridiculousness (bragging about how much a video cost to make is probably not a sustainable model), and the related moment of first seeing the “Nothin’ but a G Thang” video, and the onset of gangsta rap. Another one was the summer of ’94 and the meteoric rise of Green Day, culminating with them overshadowing everything at Woodstock ’94.

But perhaps my favorite single musical “event” of my lifetime is the incredible moment that was Danzig’s Mother 93 in late winter and early spring 1994… Read more »

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Fahrenheit 451

September 11, 2010

I give up. I thought for sure American politics had hits its local maxima for ridiculousness at several points this past year, but now we’re having a national debate over book burning. I know. The President has dispatched some shuttle diplomacy down to the Confederacy in order to negotiate a pre-emptive cease-burning with an itinerant preacher and his congregation of 50. Read that last sentence again.

Honestly, my feelings on book burning are similar to Carl Shurz’s thinking about slavery: this is a practice so obviously and utterly beneath a liberal democracy that trying to oppose it through logic or reason serves only to legitimate the ridiculous and make you a fool. Anyone participating in the practice is, almost by definition, not going to listen. So either gather the votes, or get the guns. If you don’t have the former and you can’t stomach the latter, then leave them to their pathetic selves until you do. But whatever the case, don’t engage these idiots.

Still — and not to go all Who IS IOZ? on you, but — there’s something surreal about President Obama lecturing everyone on how burning a Koran in Florida is going to ignite hostility in the Muslim world towards American and American troops while he himself is presiding over the dropping of explosives onto the heads of Muslims every day. If you don’t want Muslims to think America is at war with Islam, stop bombing, invading, and occupying their countries. I’m talking to you, Mr. President.

And yet, I have a few practical thoughts about book burning: Read more »

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