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Henry

Dwarf Fortress: A Marxist Analysis

by Henry on January 7, 2014

It is telling in this regard that previous versions of the game used to have an internal monetary economy, with dwarves receiving payment for labor and buying commodities collectively produced in turn. But contradictions occurred between the dwarves’ collective possession of the means of production and the commodified basis for such an economy, and it became unworkable within the game. The game’s designers have abandoned it, and its only remnant is the ability to produce coinage, fulfilling no real purpose. (Indeed, this right of monarchs only achieves true significance beyond questions of prestige in the mercantilist period of absolutism, arguably.) Trade exists, of course, as it does in all feudal societies. This takes the classically feudal form of long distance trade undertaken in dedicated seasons with definite trading partners, the trades themselves taking place at the equivalents of the yearly fair-sites of high medieval France and Italy.

With additional Durkheim and Bloch too! (via David Auerbach on Twitter)

Update: It’s catching

Why TPP Counts

by Henry on December 13, 2013

Paul Krugman yesterday:

I’ve been getting a fair bit of correspondence wondering why I haven’t written about the negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership, which many of my correspondents and commenters regard as something both immense and sinister. The answer is that I’ve been having a hard time figuring out why this deal is especially important. … The big talk about TPP isn’t that silly. But my starting point for things like this is that most conventional barriers to trade — tariffs, import quotas, and so on — are already quite low, so that it’s hard to get big effects out of lowering them still further. The deal currently being negotiated involves only 12 countries, several of which already have free trade agreements with each other. It’s roughly, though not exactly, the TPP11 scenario analyzed by Petri et al (pdf). They’re pro-TPP, and in general pro-liberalization, yet even so they can’t get big estimates of gains from that scenario — only around 0.1 percent of GDP. And that’s with a model that includes a lot of non-standard effects.

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Dead to Rights

by Henry on December 11, 2013

Jillian York has a piece in the new Democracy which starts by criticizing my earlier article on tech intellectuals, before going on to say many good things of her own. As she notes:

If all you had to go by was Farrell’s piece, your image of the tech intellectual would be of a mid-to-late-career male, likely occupying the world of academia, with one foot deep in Silicon Valley. Farrell’s essay is conspicuously missing tech intellectuals of a certain stripe—namely, women. Apart from Rebecca MacKinnon, whose work is revered but whose profile was already prominent due to her prior career in journalism, Farrell fails to recognize the valuable and often-dissenting contributions made by women technology intellectuals.

… Even in areas where both men and women have something to say, men somehow crowd out the women in the popular discourse. In his piece, Farrell looks beyond pop-culture tech intellectualism and into the spaces where the dark side of technology is being debated. Evgeny Morozov is surely the best-known voice on the subject (and Farrell spends a lot of time on him). Meanwhile, only a fraction of the publicity goes to prominent women like MacKinnon (whom he mentions but doesn’t discuss) as well as emerging voices such as lawyers Marcia Hofmann and Jennifer Granick, academic Biella Coleman, and journalist Quinn Norton who offer a look at the digital threats facing the world today. When it comes to the intersection of technology and policy—the space inhabited by Larry Lessig—women like Pamela Samuelson, Susan Crawford, Latanya Sweeney, and Kate Crawford provide valuable insights through their public speaking and writing. And in the mainstream media, women like The New York Times’s Jenna Wortham, The Wall Street Journal’s Julia Angwin, and Forbes’s Kashmir Hill assume the role of public intellectual when, for example, they dissect the surveillance state or the ways in which large tech corporations track their customers. And yet when one thinks of a tech intellectual, a white male is invariably the image that comes to mind.

Jillian is absolutely right. I can make two pleas in mitigation – that the article did, acknowledge, in passing, the overwhelming white-maleness of the dominant tech intellectuals, and that I did apologize in a follow up blog post for not giving MacKinnon’s excellent book the central role it deserved. But they are at best pleas in mitigation. As an explanation – but certainly not as an excuse – I only realized after the piece had been published (and I started getting well deserved grief on Twitter) that my operating definition of a tech intellectual was one which took a certain self-referential status hierarchy (in which men have tended systematically to do better than women) as a given. As a first approximation, a proper discussion would have looked at how this definition of who ‘counts’ as a tech intellectual is itself part of a tacit power dynamic. It would then have gone on to look at how this and other definitions are being contested between different groups with different definitions, and used this as a springboard for a much broader discussion, which would have included many of the women that Jillian mentions, as well as many other people too. If I’d tried to do this (and obviously, I would surely still have gotten lots of things wrong, opened myself up to useful criticism and pushback etc) I think it would have been a better and more useful article. I’m sorry that I didn’t – but I’m very glad that someone else has started this broader conversation (and done a much better job of it than I ever could have).

Tiger, Tea, Political Economy

by Henry on November 28, 2013

tigertea

The BBC has a short article on the background to Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. It quotes another children’s author, who suggests that some of the imagery stems from Kerr’s experience as a little girl whose family fled from the Nazis (tigers, like Nazis, are dangerous). This seems to me improbable – the tiger is hungry, but genial, and little Sophie embraces him. But what I’ve always liked about the book when reading it to my children is the ordinary world into which the tiger irrupts. You can tell a lot about the political economy of 1950s or 1960s middle class life in a London flat from reading it. It’s a world where the milkman still comes around every day, and the grocer has a delivery boy. But it’s also a world where a moderately hungry tiger can quickly consume all the food in the flat (the pictures suggest that the cupboard shelves are rather bare) – the grocery’s delivery boy can carry everything that he needs to in the basket mounted on the front of his bicycle, because there isn’t much to carry. Perhaps most strange from the perspective of a modern American child, there’s a limited supply of water – the tiger has drunk so much from the tap that Sophie cannot have a bath.

This isn’t nearly as strange to me, or Irish people of my generation, as I suspect it is to most middle class Americans. I grew up in a professional family, but many of the things that Americans take for granted (and, as best as I can tell from TV, novels etc, took for granted back then too) would have seemed like the most sybaritic of luxuries. Britain was somewhat better off, obviously, but not by much. David Lodge’s comic novel, Changing Places plays up some of the differences between the material standards of living in the US and Britain for comic effect, but he really doesn’t have to exaggerate much (when I was a child, we lived for a year in a flat in Darlington – much of what he describes is familiar). The life I have today would have been unimaginable to me as a child, or even a teenager. Which is all a roundabout way of getting towards saying that ordinary life in the US today, for people who are middle class or higher is a life of extraordinary material abundance, even from the perspective of other Western nations in recent memory. If you’re one of the people enjoying this life, you likely have a great deal to be grateful for. So happy Thanksgiving.

William Weaver has died

by Henry on November 20, 2013

The Guardian has an obituary here ; good translators so rarely get the attention they deserve. I knew him mostly through his translations of Italo Calvino – my Italian is (or was) just about good enough that I could begin to appreciate what an extraordinary job he did. His translations are not only lovely in themselves, but perfectly capture Calvino’s mixture of gravity and sly humour. I’ve quoted Weaver’s lovely rendition of a couple of key passages from Citte Invisibili before:

Contemplating these essential landscapes, Kublai reflected on the invisible order that sustains cities, on the rules that decreed how they rise, take shape and prosper, adapting themselves to the seasons, and then how they sadden and fall in ruins. At times he thought he was on the verge of discovering a coherent, harmonious system underlying the infinite deformities and discords, but no model could stand up to comparison with the game of chess. … Now Kublai Khan no longer had to send Marco Polo on distant expeditions; he kept him playing endless games of chess. Knowledge of the empire was hidden in the pattern drawn by the angular shifts of the knight, by the diagonal passages opened by the bishop’s incursions, by the lumbering, cautious tread of the king and the humble pawn … By disembodying his conquests to reduce them to the essential, Kublai had arrived at the extreme operation: the definitive conquest, of which the empire’s multiform treasures were only illusory envelopes; it was reduced to a square of planed wood.

But Marco Polo, it turns out, understands the chessboard in a very different way.

Then Marco Polo spoke: “Your chessboard, sire, is inlaid with two woods, ebony and maple. The square on which your enlightened gaze is fixed was cut from the ring of a trunk that grew in a year of drought: you see how its fibers are arranged? Here a barely hinted knot can be made out: a bud tried to burgeon on a premature spring day, but the night’s frost forced it to desist. … Here is a thicker pore: perhaps it was once a larvum’s nest; not a woodworm, because, once born, it would have begun to dig, but a caterpillar that gnawed the leaves and was the cause of the tree’s being chosen for chopping down … This edge was scored by the woodcarver with his gouge so that it would adhere to the next square, more protruding …

[viaThe Browser]

Two by Scott

by Henry on November 7, 2013

Since CTer Scott McLemee is not exactly what you would describe as an incessant self-promotor, two recent pieces by him that deserve attention.

First, on Colin McGinn, the Mind review that’s been doing the rounds, and the tradition of savage book reviews by philosophers:

The new issue of Harper’s magazine reprints, under the title “Out on a Limb,” a blog post by McGinn from June 2013 in which he explains: “I have in fact written a whole book about the hand, Prehension, in which its ubiquity is noted and celebrated… I have given a semester-long seminar discussing the hand and locutions related to it. I now tend to use ‘hand job’ in the capacious sense just outlined, sometimes with humorous intent…. Academics like riddles and word games.”

Some more than others, clearly. McGinn then considers the complexity of the speech-act of one professional glassblower asking another, “Will you do a blow job for me while I eat my sandwich?” The argument here is that nothing he did should be regarded as sexual harassment of a graduate student, and the real victim here is McGinn himself: “One has a duty to take all aspects of the speech situation into account and not indulge in rash paraphrases. And one should also not underestimate the sophistication of the speaker.”

Nor overestimate the usefulness of sophistication as a shovel, once one has dug oneself into a hole and needs to get back out. McGinn subsequently thought the better of this little essay and deleted it from his blog, but the Harper’s “Readings” section preserves it for posterity. Life would be much simpler if good judgment weren’t so tardy at times.

Second, from last week, on Lou Reed and Delmore Schwartz

Fifty years ago, Lou Reed himself was a senior at Syracuse University, where he studied with the poet Delmore Schwartz. Reed was 21 – roughly the same age Schwartz had been when he wrote the short story “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” In it, the narrator revisits the scene of his parents’ courtship in 1909 as if seeing it in a film of the era.

Simply told and strangely beautiful, it is both haunting and haunted. By its close, any hint of sentimentality dissolves in a moment of painful self-awareness. Its appearance in 1937 in the revived Partisan Review was the stuff of legends. The poetry and criticism Schwartz published after that were more than promising, and he won the Bollingen Prize in 1959 (five years after Auden had received it) for a volume of his selected poems.

Beginning in 1962, Schwartz held an appointment in the English department at Syracuse, despite having become, at some point over the previous decade or so, manifestly insane. The distinction between bohemianism and madness is sometimes a matter of context. With Schwartz the case for nuance was long since past. He had fallen into the habit of threatening friends and ex-wives with litigation for their parts in a conspiracy against him, led by the Rockefellers. While living in Greenwich Village he had smashed all the windows in his rented room and been taken to Bellevue in restraints. He died alone in New York City in 1966.

The following year, Reed dedicated a song on the first Velvet Underground album to Schwartz, and in another song from the early 1980s he imagined being able to communicate with the poet via Ouija board. Last year Reed published a tribute to him that has also appeared as the preface to In Dreams Begin Responsibilities, an edition of Schwartz’s selected short fiction.

Is the Paradox of Thrift Actually a Paradox?

by Henry on November 2, 2013

Paul Krugman mentions that Keynesian staple, the paradox of thrift in passing on a post on Germany. Which I read as giving me license to quote one of my favorite paragraphs from Albert Hirschman’s work (this from his piece, “How the Keynesian Revoution was Exported from the United States, and Other Comments,” in Peter Hall (ed.) The Political Power of Economic Ideas.

But while rehabilitating common sense, Keynes hardly presented his own theory in commonsensical terms. Rather, his message was delivered in a book whose text was uncommonly difficult. Moreover, he frequently presented his propositions as counterintuitive rather than as confirming common sense: for example, instead of telling his readers that converging individual decisions to cut consumption can set off an economic decline (common sense), he dwelt on the equivalent but counterintuitive proposition that a spurt of individual decisions to save more will fail to increase aggregate savings. In this manner, he managed to present common sense in paradox’s clothing and in fact made his theory doubly attractive: it satisfied at the same time the intellectuals’ craving for populism and their taste for difficulty and paradox.

I’m not sure if it’s entirely fair, but it is surely beautifully put. Unfortunately, this essay doesn’t appear in the new volume of The Essential Hirschman (Powells, Amazon). But there are many other wonderful essays that are there (including my favorite, “Rival Views of Market Society). A wonderful book, and a treat if you haven’t read Hirschman before.

Compliments Shall Pass

by Henry on October 30, 2013

I don’t usually link to the bits and pieces of media that I do – it’s for a different audience than the CT audience. But I’ll be doing the Warren Olney show tomorrow, and it promises to be … lively – the other guests are Stewart Baker, Josef Joffe and Joseph Wippl (a former CIA security professor, who I don’t know). Wish me luck.

Academics for hire

by Henry on October 29, 2013

The Nation ran a story about academics for hire a few days ago. Its opening paragraphs:

Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.” …

What isn’t contained in Zywicki’s university profile, CV, byline or congressional testimony is the law professor’s other job: he is a director of the Global Economics Group, a consulting business that boasts in a brochure that its experts have been hired by industry to influence the CFPB and other regulatory agencies. Nor does Zywicki advertise Global’s client list, which includes some of the biggest names in the financial industry, among them Visa, Bank of America and Citigroup.

Last summer, Zywicki’s firm was retained for $500 an hour on behalf of Morgan Drexen, a debt-relief company accused by the CFPB of deceiving consumers and charging illegal upfront fees. None of these potential conflicts of interest, however, have been disclosed during the course of Zywicki’s anti-CFPB advocacy in the media or in government. … While sponsored research groups are something of a mainstay of Beltway lobbying campaigns, Dodd-Frank has created unique incentives for companies to hire professors to represent their point of view.

Many CT readers will be familiar with Professor Zywicki’s blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy. Which leads to a question that I would be interested to see Professor Zywicki answer (perhaps in the context of a more general response to the Nation article, which I had expected him to have written already – hence my delay in putting up this post). Has Professor Zywicki ever billed any clients of the Global Economics Group, or anyone else with whom he has a financial relationship, for blogposts on the Volokh Conspiracy or for other and/or more general forms of blogging activity?

While it’s hardly dispositive, if one searches the VC on relevant terms, Zywicki blogs actively and enthusiastically on topics directly connected to the paid advocacy agenda that Fang discusses in his article. Very likely, this is simply because he has strong beliefs about these topics. Yet it would be good to know the one way or the other. As an occasional reader of the Volokh Conspiracy, I’d read his blogging differently if it were being directly underwritten by clients of the expertise-and-advocacy-for-hire group that he works with, and I imagine that other readers would too. If he hasn’t in fact billed anyone in this way, I’ll be happy to publish any statement as an addendum to this post.

As an aside, if one wants to read more on academia-for-hire, Zywicki’s bete-noire, Elizabeth Warren wrote a very good piece before she went into politics.

Update: At this stage, I think it’s reasonable to surmise that Professor Zywicki, for whatever reason, prefers to leave people draw their own conclusions than to clarify whether he has, or has not, blogged for hire without disclosing it. So it goes.

The Politics of Hypocrisy

by Henry on October 23, 2013

Two responses, following up on what other people have been saying about hypocrisy.

First, Dan Drezner on France’s decision to haul in the US ambassador to complain about US spying.

The touchstone for hypocrisy in popular culture is this scene from Casablanca, in which Claude Rains’ character, Captain Reynaud, closes Rick’s bar on the flimsiest of pretenses. I bring this up because of Glenn Greenwald’s revelations in Le Monde that the NSA has been spying, like, a lot, on France. Here at FP, Shane Harris and John Hudson have noted that the French are shocked about these revelations. The question is whether they’re genuinely shocked… or Claude Rains shocked. In the New York Times, Alissa Rubin’s reportage suggest the latter

This seems to me to miss the important aspects of the story. What is interesting is not whether France (or Mexico, or Brazil, or Germany) is being hypocritical in pretending to be shocked at what the US is doing. It’s whether their response (hypocritical as it may be) has real political consequences. And it surely does. The decision of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to cancel a state visit to the US (and start to disentangle Brazil from what had been an increasingly cooperative relationship) is one example. I have few doubts that if Rousseff had had the option, she would have preferred to have ignored US spying, and gone on with the visit and the burgeoning relationship. But she didn’t have that choice (or at least, it would have been domestically very costly). Similarly, the EU Parliament’s decision on Monday to reinstate rules restricting personal data transfer to the US are a direct response to the Snowden revelations. It is going to be tough for European governments to push back on these rules, even though they would probably like to, because they’re going to face a public outcry if they do. France can’t summon the US ambassador to ream him out about NSA surveillance one day, and effectively accede to NSA surveillance the next. However hypocritical this behavior is, it has consequences.

Second, Joshua Foust interprets our piece as evidence that Snowden is indeed intent on damaging America, rather than securing civil liberties.

Seen this way, you could envision all of these disclosures from Snowden not to be a defense of civil liberties — the documents moved past that a while ago. And it is important to remember: the NSA is legally obligated to surveil foreign communications — that is its explicit purpose as constructed by U.S. law. Rather, they are an attack on the very existence and behavior of the U.S. intelligence community. That may be something some of the most ardent anti-NSA activists, such as Glenn Greenwald, are comfortable doing. But it should raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions among those who merely want reform. Putting the U.S. at a stark disadvantage compared to its most active rivals and competitors — neither Russia nor China face nearly as much scrutiny in their intelligence activities, for example — is difficult to see as anything other than an attack on the U.S., not a defense of anyone’s rights.

This seems to me to be basically mistaken. If Snowden, or Greenwald, were looking simply to ‘attack’ the US, they would be behaving in very different ways. It is pretty clear that they are (or, in Snowden’s case, were) sitting on a hoard of material, some of which is potentially far more damaging to US intelligence (by revealing methodologies etc) than anything they have revealed. What they have chosen to reveal is embarrassing, and revelatory of US hypocrisy, rather than striking at the heart of NSA methodologies. You may like this, or dislike this, depending on your political druthers. But it is far closer to the kinds of actions that human rights NGOs engage in than the kinds of action that spies do. NGOs are under few illusions about governments’ profound commitment to human rights, civil liberties and so on – most governments, much of the time, are prepared to water these commitments down where it is expedient, when they do not abandon them altogether. So what NGOs do is to play the politics of hypocrisy against states, strategically revealing hypocritical behavior so as to embarrass governments into behaving better. Snowden’s and Greenwald’s actions seem to fit very well into this framework. Arguing that China and Russia don’t face “nearly as much scrutiny” is belaboring the obvious fact that it’s tougher to use the politics of embarrassment and hypocrisy against non-democracies than democracies.

Hypocrisy (Is The Greatest Luxury)

by Henry on October 22, 2013

Martha Finnemore and I have a piece in the new Foreign Affairs (http://fam.ag/1eGsdT1 should get you past the paywall for the next few weeks) on Snowden, Manning, and how it’s suddenly more difficult for the US to rely on hypocrisy. Update – full article below fold.

The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.

Few U.S. officials think of their ability to act hypocritically as a key strategic resource. Indeed, one of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices—and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.

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Timothy Egan is at it again in the New York Times

Oscar Wilde still lounges, louche-like … a river crossed by bridges named for playwrights and patriots … the clamorous clans of Erin … a bittersweet anniversary. Fifty years ago the last king of Ireland, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, came to the land of his great-grandfather Patrick. … delighted a lyrical people with his wit and his one-liners … charmed old ladies, nuns and schoolgirls …750 years of British occupation enforced by hangman’s noose and cannon. … poor island of farmers, shopkeepers and laborers … Hipsters from Google and Facebook flooded pubs in Dublin’s Temple Bar area and danced to traditional music as mournful as it was infectious. … crucifixes are gone from many homes … What remains, in homes and shops and pubs, are pictures of President Kennedy. … But looking back is always productive. Memory is embedded in every square foot of Irish sod.

It’s as if Thomas Friedman had himself decided to follow the leapin’ leprechaun, hopping swiftly from one cliche to another. Only worse. I don’t know why it is that NYT editors’ critical faculties desert them every time they see a piece singing of the sweetness and the sorrows of the Auld Sod. But I do wish that they’d stop it.

Snark versus Trains

by Henry on October 16, 2013

shark-vs-train-cover

Notorious technophobe Luddite Ethan Zuckerman

“I don’t want a Google car,” I tell her. “I want a train.” … There’s something very odd about a world in which it’s easier to imagine a futuristic technology that doesn’t exist outside of lab tests than to envision expansion of a technology that’s in wide use around the world. How did we reach a state in America where highly speculative technologies, backed by private companies, are seen as a plausible future while routine, ordinary technologies backed by governments are seen as unrealistic and impossible?

… My student Rodrigo Davies has been writing about civic crowdfunding, looking at cases where people join together online and raise money for projects we’d expect a government to otherwise provide. On the one hand, this is an exciting development, allowing neighbors to raise money and turn a vacant lot into a community garden quickly and efficiently. But we’re also starting to see cases where civic crowdfunding challenges services we expect governments to provide, like security. Three comparatively wealthy neighborhoods in Oakland have used crowdfunding to raise money for private security patrols to respond to concerns about crime in their communities. …

… On the one hand, I appreciate the innovation of crowdfunding, and think it’s done remarkable things for some artists and designers. On the other hand, looking towards crowdfunding to solve civic problems seems like a woefully unimaginative solution to an interesting set of problems. It’s the sort of solution we’d expect at a moment where we’ve given up on the ability to influence our government and demand creative, large-scale solutions to pressing problems, where we look to new technologies for solutions or pool our funds to hire someone to do the work we once expected our governments to do.

Neo-Liberalism as Feudalism

by Henry on October 15, 2013

There’s a lot of good stuff in Colin Crouch’s new book, Making Capitalism Fit for Society (Powells, Amazon), but one point seems particularly relevant today. As umpteen people have pointed out, the rollout of the federal enrollment system for Obamacare has been a disaster. The polymathic David Auerbach has been particularly excellent on this.

The number of players is considerably larger than just front-end architects Development Seed and back-end developers CGI Federal, although the government is saying very little about who’s responsible. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which issued the contracts, is keeping mum, referring reporters to the labyrinthine USASpending.gov for information about contractors. … By digging through GAO reports, however, I’ve picked out a handful of key players. One is Booz Allen … Despite getting $6 million for “Exchange IT integration support,” they now claim that they “did no IT work themselves.” Then there’s CGI Federal, of course, who got the largest set of contracts, worth $88 million, for “FFE information technology and healthcare.gov,” as well as doing nine state exchanges. Their spokesperson’s statement is a model of buck-passing … Quality Software Solutions Inc …[have] been doing health care IT since 1997, and got $55 million for healthcare.gov’s data hub in contracts finalized in January 2012. But then UnitedHealth Group purchased QSSI in September 2012, raising eyebrows about conflicts of interest.

… Development Seed President Eric Gundersen oversaw the part of healthcare.gov that did survive last week: the static front-end Web pages that had nothing to do with the hub. Development Seed was only able to do the work after being hired by contractor Aquilent, who navigated the bureaucracy of government procurement. “If I were to bid on the whole project,” Gundersen told me, “I would need more lawyers and more proposal writers than actual engineers to build the project. Why would I make a company like that?” These convolutions are exactly what prevented the brilliant techies of Obama’s re-election campaign from being involved with the development of healthcare.gov. To get the opportunity to work on arguably the most pivotal website launch in American history, a smart young programmer would have to work for a company mired in bureaucracy and procurement regulations, with a website that looks like it’s from 10 years ago. So much for the efficiency of privatization.


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If a devoted choir of lemmings were to go head-to-head against a squadron of rabid, venom-unleashing command-lambs, which would win? The command-lambs might look at first like the obvious choice, but I can’t help feeling that the mysteriously compelling harmonies of the lemming-choir’s deadly siren song would give the crafty rodents a decisive strategic advantage.