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Being here

[ 29 ] April 28, 2016 |

being there

A couple of days ago the Wall Street Journal published what almost seemed like a parody of an op-ed, arguing for a third way party — “the Innovation Party,” naturally — that would allow Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to Lean In on partisan politics, and create a non-ideological hack for civic republicanism, etc.

This text created a target-rich environment for satire, which led Esquire to publish a piece featuring insights such as:

The Innovation Party will be phablet-first, and communicate only via push notifications to smartphones. The only deals it cuts will be with Apple and Google, not with special interests. We will integrate natively with iOS and Android, and spread the message using emojis and GIFs, rather than the earth-killing longform print mailers of yesteryear. This will give us direct access to netizens, so we can be more responsive than any political party in history.

Now that’s pretty funny — IMO LOL — although admittedly the WSJ piece already read like satire, so this exercise seemed a bit redundant, like satirizing Goldfinger or Donald Trump. But whatever.

The problem was the Esquire piece was run under this byline:

Prof Jeff Jarvis is a Hyperglocal thinkfluencer and a Journalism 3.0 advocate. He is the cofounder @ Mogadishu:REinvent unconference and CEO Mogadishu Capital Partners LLC. Not @JeffJarvis.

That turned out to be a problem because there’s an actual Prof. Jeff Jarvis, who is apparently well-known in certain circles, or at least well known enough to have inspired a parody twitter account, run by somebody supposedly named Rurik Bradbury, who turns out to have been the “real” — assuming that word means anything any more in this postmodern hypertext cyberworld — author of the Esquire item:

“Prof. Jeff Jarvis” isn’t former Entertainment Weekly editor and well-known future-of-media pontificator Jeff Jarvis. Rather, it’s a character developed in a parody Twitter account run by Bradbury. Well-known in certain media circles, @ProfJeffJarvis initially satirized the thoughts of Jarvis himself before growing into a more general and very funny riff on the pie-in-the-sky gambits of new media.

The piece has now disappeared from Esquire’s website, apparently because the real Jeff Jarvis, also a journalism professor, “emailed […] Hearst executives” who “brought in other editors,” setting up a chain of events that seem to have resulted in the piece being removed entirely.

But of course nothing can be removed entirely from the Internet (see for example the sad story of the now ex-chancellor of UC-Davis), plus there’s the Streisand Effect, of which this incident is a nice example I suppose.

Anyway this all seems like tricky territory. How famous do you have to be to legitimize someone satirizing you in a national magazine via a fake Twitter account? Is it OK that Jeff Jarvis used his friends in high places to pressure Esquire to throw the article down the memory hole? How do we balance the fact that people spend 15 seconds or whatever looking at satirical pieces that aren’t obviously satire with the fact that it takes 15 seconds to confirm whether something is satire if you bother to check which of course no one does because short attention spans 3.0? Surely there’s an app for questions such as these in development even now, or at least I hope so.

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This is what happens when you ignore the Constitution and allow foreigners to run for president

[ 130 ] April 27, 2016 |

hoosiers

Look, I’ve got nothing against Canadians. They’re good fine people, most of them anyway, living in the great white north and cracking open a cool 16oz. Molson while listening to the Guess Who or maybe Celine Dion, and lingering over a Tim Horton’s donut (a jelly).

But what if I decided to run for president of Canada, or king, or whatever their Head Man is called? Would it be OK if I talked about what a huge hockey fan I was, even though I referred to the vulcanized disc with which Mike Howe and Steve Gretzky and Johnny Orr performed their respective brands of magic as the “hockeyball?” I think not:

Ted Cruz has repeatedly stated his devotion to the classic movie “Hoosiers.” In fact, he even held a rally Tuesday night in the gym where the iconic movie was filmed. Yet he stumbled a bit when it came to basic basketball terminology.

“The amazing thing is, that basketball ring in Indiana, it’s the same height as it is New York City and every other place in this country,” Cruz said during the rally, according to video from the scene.

Traditionally, we call that a “hoop” here in Indiana.

The new math

[ 47 ] April 23, 2016 |

Deuteronomy

For a couple of years now I’ve been engaged in an occasional correspondence with a Well Known Professor at a Well Known Law School. WKP, who has a background in finance, made the mistake of starting to inquire into WKLS’s balance sheet. Aware of my interest in the general subject, he passed on various numbers to me, as part of his attempt to get a handle on what was going on.

What was going on was that applications to WKLS had fallen sharply over the past few years, which in turn had led to significantly lower enrollment combined with significantly lower effective tuition (Effective tuition = sticker tuition minus discounts. WKLS raises its sticker tuition every year, as is commanded by Deuteronomy 28, but it has also massively increased its discounting, so actual per capita tuition is now quite a bit lower than it was).

After running the numbers through a Cray supercomputer, WKP concluded that getting less money per student while having fewer students added up to a lot less money overall. He then enriched his analysis by taking into account that WKLS had gone on a hiring spree over this same time, and thus its full-time faculty was now about 15% larger, while the school’s administrative staff had increased by an even greater percentage. He also analyzed changes in the school’s other source of significant income, gift income (expendable endowment income plus annual giving).

He observed that teaching loads at the school had declined dramatically, as the faculty-student ratio decreased, and lots of faculty members started operating “centers” for this and that, which required course relief (and also lots of new administrators, to help administrate the centers).

WKP: Doesn’t this all mean that we must be losing a lot of money?

Me: Yeah.

WKP: How much would you say, roughly?

Me: Approximately a metric fuckton.

WKP: How long will the central administration let us keep doing this?

Me: Your guess is better than mine.

In the midst of these pleasantries, WKLS hired a new dean. The new dean came in promising to undertake various transformative changes, which would help transform WKLS from its perpetual Semi-Prestigious Status to a new Very Prestigious Status. Such changes included, principally, hiring even more faculty and opening even more centers.

Then one fine day, a year or so into his transformative regime, the dean discovered that the school was going broke. He informed the faculty of this, while at the same time expressing considerable pique that nobody had informed him before he took the job that the law school’s finances were in such bad shape. (This guy’s professional background is in — wait for it — corporate finance).

Me: Didn’t he ask to look at the books before he took the job?

WKP: No.

Me: How about before he promised the faculty that he was going spend a whole lot more money to effectuate synergistic institutional transformations?

WKP: No.

So now the faculty have the sads, and they’re also very mad at the dean for not telling them that if you bring in a lot less money but spend a lot more something bad could happen some day.

This is far from a unique tale. In fact one of legal academia’s charms is that it’s completely routine to put somebody who knows literally nothing about law school finances in charge of a law school’s finances. This in turn is based on the theory that Smart People don’t actually have to anything about something before being put in charge of it, because really how complicated could it be? (And a lot of central university administrators now get chosen in a similar way. As well as the CEOs of lots of big companies of course).

This is all going to end badly.

Reasonable moderate John Kasich has a reasonable, moderate view on whether Washington DC residents should have any political representation in the nation’s government

[ 115 ] April 22, 2016 |

kasich

His reasonable moderate view is that no, they shouldn’t, because that would give too many votes to black people Democrats.

When asked his position on D.C. voting rights, Republican presidential contender John Kasich didn’t pretend to draw on any constitutional clause or existing law to explain his stance against it.

Instead, the Ohio governor stated the political reason that many already perceive as the biggest obstacle standing between D.C. and congressional voting representation: Giving D.C. voting representatives in Congress would mean more Democrats in Congress.

“What it really gets down to if you want to be honest is because they know that’s just more votes in the Democratic Party,” Kasich said Wednesday during an interview with The Washington Post editorial board.

Under the circumstances, maybe Kasich ought to consider a little dishonesty. I mean these guys aren’t even trying any more.

I half-expect Zombie David Broder to claw his way out of his unquiet grave to praise Kasich as the moderate choice that America is tragically overlooking.

Trump’s inevitability

[ 154 ] April 20, 2016 |

trump clinton

In theory the GOP process still has three possible outcomes: Trump, Cruz, and somebody who didn’t run.

In practice it has only one.

Trump is going to finish with somewhere between 1100 and 1250 pledged delegates. If he’s at the top of that range he wins on the first ballot without needing to secure any unbound delegates (of which there will be between 150 and 200 at the time of the convention.) If he’s anywhere else in that range he’s going to get the nomination, because he’ll have a big plurality over Cruz, and very close to an actual majority.

The whining of the NeverTrump# types notwithstanding, denying Trump the nomination in the latter scenario just isn’t politically feasible. Doing so would require disregarding the entire primary process, and that can’t be done at this point in American political history.

The only thing more certain than Trump’s eventual victory is that Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee. On both sides, the last seven weeks of the primary season will be an exercise in playing out the string, nothing more.

Some day a real rain will come

[ 120 ] April 19, 2016 |

taxi driver

The invaluable Rick Perlstein has a great piece on locating Donald Trump’s political ideas, to use the term loosely, within the cauldron of 1970s New York City politics, which themselves must be located within a much older tradition:

No history of modern conservatism I’m aware of finds much significance in the 22,000 Nazi sympathizers who rallied for Hitler at Madison Square Garden in February 1939, presided over by a giant banner of General George Washington that stretched almost all the way to the second deck, capped off by a menacing eagle insignia. Nor the now-infamous Ku Klux Klan march through the streets of Queens in 1927, when The New York Times reported “1,000 Klansmen and 100 policemen staged a free-for-all,” in which according to one contemporary news report all the individuals arrested were wearing Klan attire, and that one of those arrestees was Donald Trump’s own father.

In the specter of the son’s likely ascension as Republican nominee, however, such events gather significance. Consider the subsequent history of Fred Trump’s career as a developer of middle-class housing in the outer boroughs of New York City. We now know Fred Trump was notorious enough a racist to draw the attention of Woody Guthrie, who wrote a song about him in the 1950s: “I suppose/ Old Man Trump knows/ Just how much/ Racial Hate/ he stirred up/ In the bloodpot of human hearts/ When he drawed/ That color line/ Here at his/ Eighteen hundred family project.”

Twenty years later—by which time he had brought his son in as his apprentice—the hate Old Man Trump stirred in the bloodpot of human hearts became a matter of legal record, when the United States Justice Department sued Trump père et fils for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 in operating 39 buildings they owned. Testifying in his own defense, young Donald (who would soon be seen around town in a chauffeured limousine with a license plate reading “DJT”), testified that he was “unfamiliar” with the landmark law. As the evidence in the federal case against the Trump organization became close to incontrovertible, he told the press the suit was a conspiracy to force them “to rent to welfare recipients,” a form of “reverse discrimination.” This proud and open refusal to rent to welfare recipients—whom he said contribute to “the detriment of tenants who have, for many years, lived in these buildings, raised families in them, and who plan to live there”—was Donald Trump’s defense against racism.

It is in this saga that we locate the formation of Donald Trump’s mature political vision of the world, in continuity with America’s racist and nativist heyday of the 1920s, and within the context of a cultural world much more familiar to us: New York in the 1970s, that raging cauldron of skyrocketing violent crime, subway trains slathered with graffiti, and a fiscal crisis so dire that even police were laid off in mass—then the laid off cops blocked the Brooklyn Bridge, deflating car tires, and yanking keys from car ignitions.

That is the New York of Death Wish and Taxi Driver, vigilante fantasies (the latter is a complex and ambiguous film; the former is very much not) that were precursors of the white rage at the core of Trumpism.

A decade later Trump’s nascent political ambitions latched onto the Central Park Jogger rape:

Trump’s political debut, after all, came in response to a mugging. Following the infamous attack on a female jogger in Central Park, Trump purchased full pages in four New York newspapers demanding, “Bring Back the Death Penalty. Bring Back Our Police!” All the hallmarks of his present crusade against “political correctness” were in evidence, such as the harkening to that bygone day when men were men, cops were cops, and punks were punks. He concluded: “I miss the feeling of security New York’s finest once gave the citizens of this City.” As I previously reported, these same police straight-jacketed by liberal timorousness had already coerced the rape suspects into confessions later proven to be false.

That’s N.Y.C.’s avenging-angel conservatism in a nutshell. And now that Trump is gliding toward an expected landslide in the New York primary on Tuesday, April 19, we must begin the work of excavating its history.

Read the whole thing.

Stairway to litigation

[ 122 ] April 17, 2016 |

lz

Some thoughts on the ongoing suit brought by the estate of Randy Wolfe against Led Zeppelin for purportedly copying too much of one of Wolfe’s songs in the process of writing “Stairway to Heaven:”

On one level, Plant and Page are hardly sympathetic defendants. Led Zeppelin was (in)famous for taking what could be charitably termed a particularly casual attitude toward musical borrowings of various kinds. This has led them to be sued on several occasions; for example, the songs “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Bring It On Home” all triggered legal actions of one kind or another that concluded with partial musical credit being given eventually to the folk singer Jake Holmes for the former, and blues legend Willie Dixon for the latter.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the band’s musical shoplifting: a particularly egregious example is how the band’s members listed themselves as the composers of “In My Time of Dying,” on their 1975 album “Physical Graffiti.” “In My Time of Dying” is a traditional gospel song, which Led Zeppelin had as much to do with writing as they did with composing “Amazing Grace.”

Still, the suit by Wolfe’s estate seems dubious. While there are definitely some striking similarities in the opening chord sequences of “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven,” it’s incredibly easy to find such similarities among enormous numbers of popular songs. Here are just a couple right off the top of my head: compare Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages” to Neil Young’s “Days that Used to Be,” or Nena’s “99 Luftballons” to the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.”

Copyright law in the U.S. says that if an artist copies another song, whether consciously or unconsciously, the artist is liable for violating the copyright in the other song if the copying is “substantially similar.” Now what does “substantially” mean? It means that the copying is egregious enough that it violates the copyright in the other song. And how egregious does that copying have to be to do that? Well, the answer to that is that the copying has to be substantial!

In other words, we just throw this inescapably fuzzy question into the black box of the jury room and ask a bunch of laypeople to sort it all out. Of course, the jury will first be helped out by the testimony of an expert witness for the plaintiff, who will tell them that the copying in question is clearly substantial, and an expert witness for the defense, who will tell them that it’s clearly not. So there’s that.

All of which is to say that the process of the creation of popular music doesn’t fit very neatly with our process of creating and protecting private property rights in that music.

A simple test

[ 186 ] April 12, 2016 |

carson

Here’s a guide for politicians on how to handle ethnic humor in the United States of America in 2016:

Question: Is it OK to tell a joke making fun of some purported characteristic of an ethnic group, or other suspect classification, if you are not a member of the group in question?

Answer: No.

(I seem to remember that Polish jokes were a regular feature of Johnny Carson’s monologue in the 1970s. That was before liberal fascism though).

It’s not over till it’s over

[ 261 ] April 5, 2016 |

yogi

For someone who has the nomination supposedly locked up, Hillary Clinton is sure losing a lot of primaries (seven of the last eight counting Democrats Overseas). According to FiveThirtyEight Sanders needs to win about 58% of the remaining vote to catch Clinton in pledged delegates, which sounds extremely unlikely, but . . .

As for the Republicans, Trump losing by 17 points might well mean something, although it’s just one state, and a state where right-wing talk radio went all out against him. FWIW the Iowa electronic markets now have it as 44% Trump, 27% Cruz, and 28% the field. Stock up on the popcorn.

O when may it suffice?

[ 41 ] March 31, 2016 |

versailles

Here’s a little glimpse into how an elite law school’s (Columbia) core revenue has changed over the past 40 years.

Core revenue: Effective tuition — sticker minus discounts — + expendable endowment income + unrestricted annual giving.

(This of course isn’t all of a school’s revenue, as it excludes research grants, auxiliary income, for example revenue from student housing that’s above cost, rentals etc.)

ALL FIGURES ARE STATED IN CONSTANT 2016 DOLLARS

1975:

Sticker tuition: $17,050 (2016$)

Effective tuition: $17.1 million (2016$)

Total students: 1,050

Endowment income: $7 million (2016$)

Annual giving: $1.5 million (2016$)

Total core revenue: $25.6 million (2016$)

Median US household income: $47,350 (2016$)

1995:

Sticker tuition: $32,720 (2016$)

Effective tuition: $40.5 million (2016$)

Total students: 1,350

Endowment income: $16.1 million (2016$)

Annual giving: $2.8 million (2016$)

Total core revenue: $59.4 million (2016$)

Median US household income: $52,730 (2016$)

2015:

Sticker tuition: $62,700

Effective tuition: $80.2 million

Total students: 1,460

Endowment income: $28.2 million

Annual giving: $5.9 million

Total core revenue: $114.3 million (2016$)

Median US household income: $53,347 (2014 figures)

Those of a statistically-minded bent can extrapolate out to when CLS’s bottom line is going to get to a billion. Just kidding. Maybe.

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

[ 258 ] March 30, 2016 |

patton

You would cry too if it happened to you.

By far the likeliest scenario for the outcome of the GOP delegate race is that Trump gets a plurality but not a majority. Right now I’d put the odds as being about 70% Trump plurality, 25% Trump majority, 5% everything else, including bad accidents, which let’s face it are far from unknown in situations in which extremely powerful political institutions see genuine disaster looming.

A lot of what’s left of the Republican party is trying to game out what to do on the basis of the assumption that Trump gets a plurality that’s not merely formal (in other words what happens if he’s a significant number of delegates short, so that flipping a couple or three dozen doesn’t get him over the line).

By this point I’m guessing that a lot of these people are in triage mode, and are assuming that, absent some unforeseen developments, the 2016 presidential race is pretty much a lost cause, and the goal should be to avoid too much down ballot carnage. As Scott points out, either a Trump or Cruz candidacy is likely to be disastrous for the GOP in terms of winning the presidency, and perhaps in terms of other races.

Thus the fact that the only even vaguely democratic alternative to nominating a plurality-winning Trump is Cruz complicates things. Cruz, like Trump, is an almost-certain loser in the general, so why go through the trouble of denying Trump the nomination to pick a horrible candidate that everybody in the establishment hates with a white-hot passion? The answer I suppose is that there’s a good argument a Cruz candidacy would do less down ballot damage, and especially less long-term damage with Hispanic voters. But is that enough of an incentive to arm-wrestle the nomination away from Trump? I doubt it.

The third alternative is to pick somebody who basically didn’t win any votes, either because nobody voted for him or her, or because the white knight wasn’t a candidate at all. I just can’t see this happening. Yeah back in the 19th century some candidates who had a plurality of delegates going into the convention didn’t win the nomination, which ended up going to somebody coming out of right field. That’s about as relevant as as arguing that Zach Greinke should throw 60 complete games this season because Old Hoss Radbourn did it back in the day. A choice that ends up simply ignoring the entire primary process would probably do more down ballot damage than choosing either Trump or Cruz.

A fourth alternative is to let Trump get the nomination and then run an alternative third-party candidate. I think this is a little more likely than a white knight, but not much. It takes a lot of organizational energy to even put something like this together, and I question whether that will be available after the powers that were have finished slamming Jack Daniels and Xanex while watching Patton on repeat loop. (BTW what are the odds that Trump is consciously or unconsciously modeling his schtick on George C. Scott’s speech to the troops? Scott even looks like Mussolini).

TL;DR: It’s going to be Trump, and it’s going to be a full-on disaster for the GOP.

No billionaire left behind

[ 109 ] March 28, 2016 |

koch brothers

This piece is a little too reductive for my taste, but the author makes some good points:

The modern Republican Party has devolved into a tax avoidance scam for rich people. The scam is a masterpiece of psychological manipulation, in which the racial, cultural and economic anxieties of (mostly white) voters are exploited, in order to get those voters to support policies that transfer ever-greater percentages of wealth from themselves to the top 0.1 percent.

It really isn’t any more complicated than that. Everything else – the “culture wars,” the continual hysteria about terrorism, the non-stop rhetoric about how the mainstream media, the universities, the scientists, and basically the rest of the modern world are all biased against conservatives – it’s all just so much noise, designed to solve the tricky problem of how to get ordinary people to support economic policies that make them poorer and rich people richer. . .

Besides lying about the estate tax’s actual effects, Republicans rely on two other widespread fallacies to convince people who will never pay any estate taxes that they ought to favor lessening the tax “burden” on idle trust funders, living off piles of inherited wealth.

One is captured by the statement, attributed to John Steinbeck, that in America “the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” In other words, optimism bias leads people to wildly overestimate the odds that someday they, too, will be in a position to bequeath vast sums to their families.

The other fallacy is even more basic and pernicious: contemporary Republican ideology is built around the idea – rarely stated outright, but implied by so many GOP policies– that taxes in general are simply immoral, and indeed a form of theft. The estate tax is wrong, according to this line of reasoning, because it’s wrong to “penalize” people for being rich, even if they got rich by inheriting somebody else’s money.

This preposterous notion is at the very core of the modern Republican Party, and its centrality is a prime example of how the GOP has become nothing more than a cleverly disguised grifting operation, run for the benefit of the rich.

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