A beautiful essay by Roger Ebert, written in 2009. There are so many quotable bits. Here’s one:
I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how? I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer.
Last month, Ebert wrote a similar piece titled “How I am a Roman Catholic,” which is equally lovely. If you skim through the comments section, you’ll see that he responded thoughtfully to many of them. I love that.
I’ll really miss Roger Ebert. Even now that he’s gone, it’s hard to imagine his absence. I’d taken for granted all these years that for nearly any movie, I could read what Ebert thought of it, laid out in the most exquisite prose. And for nearly every movie, I did. He was everyone’s favorite movie companion. An essential part of the movie-going experience. I’ve always admired his insight, his professionalism, not to mention the sheer volume of his output. (Over 200 movies reviews per year!) He was not just a movie critic, but a writer, a public figure, an emissary for the world of movies unmatched by anyone except perhaps his friend Martin Scorsese.
Most of all, he was an inspiration. He showed that no matter the circumstances, no matter your profession, if you work hard, love what you do, and do it insanely well, you can change the world. Think about it: a movie critic being eulogized by the president. Wow.
Because my inner constitution obliges me to link to any news about upcoming or rumored Charlie Kaufman projects…
FX announced at its upfronts today that Charlie Kaufman is developing a half-hour comedy for the network titled How and Why.
Just now during a CNN segment on today’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court, legal analyst Jeffery Toobin made a very interesting point, in response to this question by Anderson Cooper (I’m paraphrasing): If something is unconstitutional, isn’t it unconstitutional in all 50 states?
Toobin’s response was that even the liberal justices, all of whom ostensibly favor marriage equality on a personal level, appeared hesitant to issue a broad ruling on a contentious social issue, and that this reluctance is likely amplified by rapidly changing public opinion. A majority of Americans now support legalization of same-sex marriage. Among those under 30, support is over 70%. Absent a ruling by the Supreme Court, legalization by either referendum or legislation is virtually inevitable. Why not leave the issue to be worked out by the political system?
Cases like this show how the Supreme Court, in practice if not in theory, is itself a political institution. Justices are human beings, appointed by politicians and keenly aware of public opinion. This is a common theme in Toobin’s body of work. The unusual ruling crafted by Chief Justice Roberts upholding the Affordable Care Act last year is a prime example of this dynamic. (That ruling is covered extensively in Toobin’s last book, The Oath, which I highly recommend.)
I’m not good at Oscar predictions, nor do I find them terribly interesting. I’m more interested in discussing who deserves an Oscar, rather than who’s most likely to emerge victorious. As of yesterday, I’ve actually managed to watch most of the movies up for major awards tonight, so I feel more qualified this year to offer my opinions.
It’s difficult comparing movies with different tones, subjects, and genres to determine which is “best.” I’m not entirely sure what “best” means, anyway. The methodology varies from person to person, though I suppose in most cases the “best” movie/performance/nominee is the one that’s most impressive — that is, the one that makes the greatest impression. But there are other factors to be wary of, such as sympathy votes (“They’ve been nominated so many times!”), novelty votes (“They’re so young!”), Very Serious Film votes (“It’s about slavery!”), and, for lack of a more clever term, sex-appeal votes (“They’re so fantastic! Give them all the awards forever!!!”).
I try to have a realistic perspective toward the Oscars. These awards are not principally about art. They are about awarding prestige in a town that runs on it. That creates a dilemma for those of us who care about the art of cinema. Would giving Meryl Streep an award every time she’s nominated really be good for the industry? Probably not, though there haven’t been many awards Streep didn’t deserve to win. Likewise, what does it mean that we’re preparing to give Daniel Day-Lewis a third Oscar for Best Leading Actor (and the second in five years) while Joaquin Phoenix has yet to receive one?
Before tonight’s ceremony, here’s my Oscars wish list. I’ve only included those categories for which I have an opinion and/or feel qualified to give one. I’ve given an asterisk (*) to movies I’ve yet to see. In my analysis, I apply the statistically rigorous method of pretending those films don’t exist.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Django Unchained
- Les Misérables
- Life of Pi
- Silver Linings Playbook
- Zero Dark Thirty
While this category is full of strong contenders, two stand clearly above the rest: Silver Linings Playbook, followed closely by Zero Dark Thirty. I’m rooting for Silver Linings, though my opinion may be skewed by the fact that I watched it just yesterday in my pre-Oscar film binge. Argo is the presumptive favorite here, having cleaned up at the other award shows. It’s a fine film, not extraordinary. I prefer director Ben Affleck’s previous flick The Town.
(Note: Technically, I haven’t seen all of Les Mis. I’ve declined to give it an asterisk, as I feel I’ve seen enough of it to know that it shouldn’t win.)
- Ang Lee, Life of Pi
- Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
- David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
- Michael Haneke, Amour*
- Behn Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David O. Russell all the way. His virtuoso direction elevates Silver Linings Playbook from run-of-the-mill rom-com to modern classic. The other nominees are also great, though I remain horrified that Kathryn Bigelow was snubbed. The only director I really hope does not win is Spielberg for Lincoln, which, aside from its lead performance, is a mostly unremarkable flick from this seasoned director.
Best Lead Actor
- Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
- Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
- Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
- Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
- Denzel Washington, Flight*
Daniel Fucking Day-Lewis will win this Oscar — a record-breaking third in this category — and he will deserve it. Joaquin Phoenix is the only other person who deserves to win, though he won’t. All of the The Master’s acting nominees are hampered by that film’s underwhelming reception. Bradley Cooper was surprisingly great, and in another year he might have been the frontrunner. Unfortunately for him, Day-Lewis and Phoenix are so extraordinary, it’s as if they’re playing a different sport. You could almost say it’s unfair.
Best Lead Actress
- Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
- Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
- Emmanuelle Riva, Amour*
- Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
- Naomi Watts, The Impossible*
What a great year for women in cinema. I’ve seen three of the five performances in this category, and I was so thoroughly gobsmacked by each of them that I’d be totally fine if any of them won. Chastain, Lawrence, and Wallis are electrifying. It’s hard to imagine those films without them. I hear Emmanuelle Riva is fantastic as well. This may be the strongest category of the night.
Best Supporting Actor
- Alan Arkin, Argo
- Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
- Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
- Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Some great performances all around. However, I would not call most of these performances “acting” in the traditional sense. I’d call it “seasoned professionals charming us with their natural charisma.” The two biggest offenders are Arkin and Waltz. (In their defense, Arkin isn’t given much to work with, and Waltz faithfully portrays a character that was written specifically for him.) De Niro is great, and he deserves some Oscar gold after all these years, but I’m rooting for Philip Seymour Hoffman for his mesmerizing performance in The Master.
Best Supporting Actress
- Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
- Sally Field, Lincoln
- Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
- Helen Hunt, The Sessions*
- Amy Adams, The Master
Give it to Anne Hathaway. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” is about the only remarkable (positive) thing about Les Mis, and yes, it is truly remarkable. Amy Adams arguably deserves it more, and I’d be very happy to see her win, but like Joaquin Phoenix, The Master’s relative lack of acclaim puts her at a disadvantage.
Best Original Screeplay
- Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
- Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
- Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
- Michel Haneke, Amour*
- John Gatins, Flight*
My personal biases are a major factor in deciding this category. Django Unchained is not my favorite of Tarantino’s films. My appraisal of it has followed pretty much the same trajectory as that of Inglourious Basterds back in 2009 — its flaws become harder to ignore with time. Still, while my biases make it difficult for me to definitively conclude that Django is the best screenplay of the bunch, I really, really want Tarantino to win this award. His contributions to cinema, particularly screenwriting, over the last two decades are easy to downplay due to the pulpy subject matter of his films, but they are many. Give this man an Oscar.
If Tarantino does not win, give it to Anderson/Coppola for the delightful Moonrise Kingdom. Boal wrote a great script, but like Christoph Waltz, he won three years ago for a similar effort.
Best Adapted Screenplay
- Tony Kushner, Lincoln
- David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
- Chris Terrio, Argo
- David Magee, Life of Pi
- Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Once again, David O. Russell, for his whip-smart and heartfelt screenplay for Silver Linings Playbook. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I really loved this movie. I don’t think the writing for any of the other movies in this category compares. Magee did an admirable job translating Life of Pi from novel to screen, but I wish he’d have Kubrick’d the ending, as his script suffers from the same story problems as the book.
Odds & ends
Adele must and will win for “Skyfall,” putting her just a Tony and an Emmy away from an EGOT. I was a bit perplexed that none of the original songs from Django were nominated. John Legend’s *Who Did That To You?” was fantastic.
Seth MacFarlane is hosting. I hope he delivers. The hosts in recent years have ranged from meh to disaster. If it were up to me, Tina and Amy would host everything for the rest of the year. They’ve earned it!
Recently I decided to tackle Git. I’ve never used a version-control system before — even when I was developing Plot Holes and it was somewhat insane of me not to — mostly because I find them very scary and tedious. But it’s rather unacceptable that I want to be a developer and I still rely on Ye Olde Copy-and-Paste to track changes. So I sucked it up and moved the source files of this site into a Git repository. It still feels ever-so-tedious, but I’ve already gotten a feel for the enormous benefits and peace of mind version control offers. (Ha, that last clause sounds like a voiceover in an insurance advertisement.)
As a bonus, I can now use a Git post-receive hook to deploy changes to the site. It took a while to get working. It wasn’t Git that gave me problems, or the post-receive hook; rather, it was damn rvm that kept giving me nightmares. Thanks to the awesome community at Stack Overflow I finally worked it out after days of stress. If true learning is the result of miserably failing over and over again, I’ve learned quite a bit these past few days.
Maybe. However, an encouraging tidbit found on the John Williams Fan Network suggests we may not need to know the answer for a few more years, as Williams appears keen to score the upcoming films.
“We’re about to play Star Wars [audience interrupts with cheers] and each time we play it, I’m reminded of the first time we played it decades ago. Neither I, nor George, nor anyone else involved thought this would go far or in a few years there would be a sequel and I’d have to revisit the themes… and years later another trilogy. Now we’re hearing of a new set of movies coming in 2015, 2016… so I need to make sure I’m still ready to go in a few years for what I hope would be continued work with George… [more cheers].”
Of course, he wouldn’t be working with George Lucas, he’d be working with J.J. Abrams, although if Williams wants to do it I can’t imagine any director turning him down. I sometimes wonder if Star Wars would have had the same lasting cultural and artistic impact had the music not been so thoroughly fantastic.
If I ever have kids, they will be named according to domain name and Twitter handle availability — or or their equivalents at that time — and I will be sure to reserve both as soon as their names are chosen.
My preferred web domain for this site has always been andrewclark.com. Given how generically Anglo-Saxon my name is, this is a dream I expect to remain unfulfilled. If namestatistics.com is to be believed, “Clark” is the 21st most common last name in the United States; “Andrew” is 35th most common first name. As of this writing, a Google search for “Andrew Clark” returns 58 million results.
Andrew Clark is a Professor of Population Genetics at Cornell University. Andrew Clark is a wedding photojournalist. Andrew Clark is Director of Choral Activities and Senior Lecturer on Music at Harvard. Andrew Clark writes for the Guardian. Andrew Clark is an economist at the Paris School of Economics. Andrew Clark is a London-based artist with a “self-confessed objective of subtlety.” Andrew Clark is a third-year resident at the University of Florida College of Dentistry. (This one particularly stings, as I could probably walk to this guy’s house for lunch.) A Google search for “Andy Clark” returns 74.5 million results, many of which likely overlap, though that hardly makes me feel better.
One of my best friends has a brother named Andrew Clark, which the kind of anecdata that probably shouldn’t matter, though I have to say, it’s weird being in another person’s room, surrounded by trophies and art projects and belongings adorned with your name.
Worse than the non-possession of andrewclark.com is the knowledge that it isn’t being put to good use by someone else. A visit to the address is met with the promise that “andrewclark.com will be back shortly.” How fantastic. I don’t know with certainty the name of the guy who currently owns andrewclark.com (I have a hunch), but he can go straight to hell.
I shouldn’t need to explain the desire to own the domain for your name. Beyond the aesthetic and minimalist appeal, there is a practical component to controlling your personal brand. I’ve been thinking about this more since I read in the news that bobmenedez.com and robertmenedez.com belong to political opponents of Senator Robert Menendez, and are used to spread negative information about him. Why this so deeply concerns me I can only poorly explain: As a young person, I have yet to rid myself of the delusion that I will one day be truly important, important enough to have enemies determined to slander me. Perhaps I am also burdened by my complete irrelevance to anything and everything. It is possible that nothing in my life will ever be significant enough to rival “andrewclark.com will be back shortly.” I say this not to be modest or because I have especially low self-esteem, but because in all likelihood it’s true — and it’s probably true for you, too, dear reader, so deal with that. As long as I’m over-sharing, I’ll confess that I have a deep personal fear that a young Canadian named Andrew Clark will become an overnight pop star. I’ve always liked my name (hi Mom and Dad), but if this happens I will not hesitate to change it.
Until a few days ago, the domain for this website was contentioninvain.com, a tongue-in-cheek reference to a quotation few people are familiar with1 and too long to be a good URL. It was meant to be temporary until I could think of something better. I never could.
Resigned to the fact that I will never possess andrewclark.com or any of its variants (yes, I’ve checked andrewclark.net), I’ve done the next best thing and changed the primary domain of this site to andrewphilipclark.com. It’s actually longer than the previous domain by a letter, which is one of the reasons I didn’t make this change sooner. Anyway, it seems like a sensible thing to do.
Links to contentioninvain.com will automatically redirect to the appropriate page.
As always, I’ve been poking around the innards of this site recently. Specifically, I recently changed the primary domain name, so there’s been a lot of experimenting with
.htaccess. Until I iron out all the quirks, things might get weird around here.
I came across this post by Jeff Atwood from last October, discussing the future of Markdown.
Markdown is a popular markup language for composing HTML content, created by the one and only John Gruber. The original Markdown came in the form of a Perl script written by Gruber in 2004. Since then, it has been ported to many other languages, and its core syntax has been expanded to include new features. Popular variants include Michel Fortin’s Markdown Extra and Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown.
Markdown is great. The problem is that there isn’t a single Markdown anymore, nor has there been for quite some time. Markdown Extra and MultiMarkdown are not interchangeable with regular Markdown. GitHub has its own special flavor of Markdown. Stack Exchange, too. On this site, every post is written in a Ruby-based superset of Markdown called kramdown. The list goes on and on. Each of these Markdown variants has its own quirks and behaviors that must be considered when switching from one to another.
Atwood argues that this fragmentation imperils the future of Markdown. To solve this, we need an official Markdown specification, ideally with Gruber’s blessing:
I realize that the devil is in the details, but for the most part what I want to see in a Markdown Standard is this:
- A standardization of the existing core Markdown conventions, as documented by John Gruber, in a formal language specification.
- Make the three most common real world usage “gotchas” in Markdown choices with saner defaults: intra-word emphasis (off), auto-hyperlinking (on), automatic return-based linebreaks (on).
- A formal set of tests anyone can use to validate a Markdown implementation.
- Some cleanup and tweaks for ambiguous edge cases that exist in Markdown due to the lack of a formal specification.
- A registry of known flavor variants, with some possible future lobbying to potentially add only the most widely and strongly supported variants (I am thinking of the GitHub style code blocks which are quite nice) to future versions of Markdown.
[…] I’d really prefer not to fork the language; I’d much rather collectively help carry the banner of Markdown forward into the future, with the blessing of John Gruber and in collaboration with other popular sites that use Markdown.
These are all great ideas, and I agree that Gruber’s blessing here is key. If I remember correctly, Gruber once said on an old 5by5 episode of “The Talk Show” (I not sure exactly which one) that he believed the best thing he could do for Markdown’s future is not mess with it. There’s some truth to that idea; however, in my view, the best way to prevent Markdown from being “messed” with is to create a standardized Markdown spec.
A useful way of thinking about this is to compare it to W3C web standards. Web developers and designers can publish content on the web with the reasonable expectation that each browser will — for the most part — render that content in the same way. Markdown users should be able to expect the same of Markdown.
(Update: After I writing this post, I learned that FitVids.js utilizes essentially the exact same method that I describe below. The crucial difference is that FitVids.js is a client-side solution, whereas I prefer to do the calculations on the server at compile time. There are legitimate philosophical reasons to prefer either option.)
The principle behind responsive web design is that web designs should adapt to different environments, most often screen size. Yesterday, I investigated some ways to achieve responsive video embeds from sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Turns out it’s a bit of a pain, because those sites wrap their embeds in an
iframe element. Straightforward techniques we would use for responsive
image or HTML5
video elements — giving the element
For a pure CSS solution, Brett Terpstra pointed me in the right direction to a trick first described (to my knowledge) by the swell folks at A List Apart. Their idea is to use “intrinsic ratios” to scale video embeds fluidly:
The idea is to create a box with the proper ratio (4:3, 16:9, etc.), then make the video inside that box stretch to fit the dimensions of the box. It’s that simple.
The stretching part is done with absolute positioning, which is straightforward enough. The “intrinsic ratio” part is where it gets interesting. Here’s the CSS they prescribe:
.wrapper-with-intrinsic-ratio is the parent element of
.element-to-stretch. The important properties are the wrapper’s
height: 0 attributes. I didn’t care enough to look into why this works, but how it works is this: the
padding-bottom value is equal to the box’s height divided by its width — its “intrinsic ratio.” Then the video is positioned to fill the entire box. So in this example, the video would be given an aspect ratio of 5:1.
Let’s make it ratio-agnostic
To do this, rather than setting the wrapper’s
padding-bottom in my CSS file, I calculate the intrinsic ratio for each embed on the server side and include it as an inline style attribute in the element’s markup, like so:2
<div class="oembed video youtube" style="padding-bottom: 56.25%;">
<iframe width="480" height="270" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/EY0vMZl8vUY?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe>
I use a Jekyll plugin similar to the one Terpstra uses. It took about 30 seconds to adapt the plugin for this purpose, and it works great. Try resizing this page and watch how the video adapts.
So to sum up, using this method we have a ratio-agnostic, pure CSS method for resizing
iframe embeds in a responsive design. Even if you don’t use Jekyll, this same trick can be adapted to work with virtually any set up. I hope someone else out there will find this useful. Leave a comment if you have any questions or issues.
Here’s the Republican message on the sequester: We welcome its arrival and will do nothing to fix it… but it was totally Obama’s idea, and it’ll be his fault when it ruins all our lives.
How exactly is the party of “massive spending cuts now!” going to convince everyone that the impending massive spending cuts are Obama’s doing? If Republicans were truly okay with the sequester, they wouldn’t be trying desperately to blame Obama for it. They’re bluffing. Again.
Skip to around the 11 minute mark and witness the only part of Marco Rubio’s State of the Union response that Twitter seems to think matters. Ben White is right. State of the Union responses are a losing battle. No matter how eloquent or “attractive”1 you manage to appear, the press coverage will focus exclusively on the negative. It’s the president’s night.
Anyway, the most laughable part of Rubio’s response wasn’t the slightly awkward mid-speech hydration break. It was the recycled, anti-government platitudes that filled his speech — the same vapid nonsense the GOP peddled last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Rubio seems like a swell guy with a fine sense of humor. But I can’t take seriously anyone who supports a “Balanced Budget Amendment” to the Constitution. Sorry, Marco.
Citing the usual “people familiar with the company’s explorations,” Nick Bilton at the New York Times reports that Apple is “experimenting with wristwatch-like devices made of curved glass.” He doesn’t mention a prospective release date, or even claim that a product is close to completion, lending this Apple rumor an air of credibility. Truthfully, I’d be surprised (and concerned) if Apple weren’t working on this and other forms of wearable computing.
Now I’ll venture into pure speculation: I’m inclined to believe that we’ll see an Apple iWatch within in the next few years. To me, it makes all kinds of sense. As Bilton explains, the technology exists. Relative to Apple’s other iDevices, an iWatch would likely be inexpensive to produce. And as evidenced by consumer interest in things like the Pebble smartwatch, the Nike FuelBand, and third-party wristbands for Apple’s own last-gen iPod nano, the market for an iWatch already exists.
A key question is how large that market truly is. Could an iWatch follow in the footsteps of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad? Could Apple sell 23 million of them in a quarter? I’m not sure, but I’m leaning toward ‘yes.’ I had a hard time at first figuring out how an iPad would be useful to me. Now I’m virtually glued to its screen.
In contrast, I can totally see how a smartwatch that interfaced with my phone would improve my life. (Aside from the fact that my conventional wristwatch broke last week, so I need new one, anyway.) Countless times throughout the day, I pull my phone from my pocket for a split second, just to check the time, or read a notification, or control the music — all tasks that could be outsourced to a smartwatch. Especially if Siri is involved. For the right price, Apple could sell gobs of these.1
On a related note, investors have been concerned lately that Apple’s ability to innovate and enter new markets has waned. After this news got out, its stock rebounded a bit from its post-earnings report doldrums. That raises the suspicion that this was a controlled leak.
Somehow I missed this tidbit from a Village Voice interview back in December:
[Quentin Tarantino] is famously an analog evangelist: He writes his scripts in longhand; he bans cellphones from his sets, and hasn’t had one of his own in years
“But I do have an iPad, and I have a lot of fun with it,” Tarantino tells me.
I suppose it’s not that surprising, and yet for some reason I have a hard time imagining Tarantino swiping away at his iPad. It almost doesn’t feel right. I get a similar feeling watching Kill Bill: Vol. 2 when Elle Driver recites something she found on the Internet. (Of course, she had transcribed it long-hand into a spiral-bound notebook.)
Hehe, I wonder if he ever uses it to watch movies.
The irony of breaching the debt limit is that it would give Barack Obama despotic power over appropriations. In addition to, you know, pushing the global economy into oblivion. How is that?
Let me explain. Imagine that it’s March and the debt limit has not been lifted.1 Regardless, the Treasury has bills to pay. This includes debt interest payments, entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, salaries for federal workers, military contracts, and payments to a whole host of other entities to which the government has promised money. The Treasury pays these bills with revenue collected via taxes. However, since the United States is currently running a deficit, taxes aren’t sufficient to finance the entirety of this spending — spending, lest we forget, that has been determined by Congress. Usually, the Treasury will issue debt (securities) to finance the rest.
But because the debt limit restricts the amount of debt that can be issued, there’s not enough money for the government to meet all its obligations. So… now what?
Good question. It’s not entirely clear what would happen. On the one hand, Congress has directed the government to spend a specific amount of money on specific things. On the other hand, it’s crippled the Treasury’s ability to finance it. This leaves the Treasury in an impossible legal situation with no good options. But essentially, the Treasury would have to prioritize certain payments and default on others.
Which payments? At whose discretion? In what amounts? There’s no legal guidance for any of these questions. In the absence of congressional action, it would effectively give Obama control of appropriations, at least within the confines of what Congress has already appropriated. What’s to stop the Obama administration from, for instance, skipping Social Security payments to beneficiaries in conservative states?
Fortunately, like #MintTheCoin and #InvokeThe14th, a scenario like this will never happen, as it won’t be necessary. I’m confident that after all the huffing and puffing, the debt limit will eventually be lifted. But I enjoy thinking about it, and I advise anybody out there who believes hitting the debt limit wouldn’t be such a bad idea to think about it, too.
Joe Wiesenthal, who has emerged as a leading proponent of the trillion dollar coin:
So make no mistake, the debt ceiling fight is about whether the US is going to pay legally obligated bills (even if a debt default wouldn’t necessarily come with it).
A rich nation debating whether it will pay all of its bills is far more absurd than the trillion dollar coin idea.
The platinum coin option — wherein the Treasury, empowered by a provision originally intended to aid the issuance of commemorative coins, would avert the debt limit with a trillion dollar super-coin — has started receiving non-trivial amounts of attention. #MintTheCoin has set Twitter ablaze. A handful of prominent economists and commentators have endorsed the idea, and while one suspects much of their enthusiasm stems from its alluring novelty, it’s actually being treated as a serious course of action the Obama administration could take. That such a wacky, borderline insane policy proposal is the subject of such serious conversation is exciting. That an emerging consensus finds the economic and legal basis for the proposal sound is intriguing. Everything about it is hilarious.
As fun as it is to speculate and argue over a magical coin, it’s important to remember that #MintTheCoin is only not-ridiculous in light of the alternative, which is the United States defaulting on its payments. That shouldn’t obscure the real problems involved with national finance via loophole. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry noted on Twitter one of the more convincing (and ironic) legal arguments against #MintTheCoin: that it relies on textualism. John Carney argues that it would violate the non-delegation doctrine:
[Non-delegation doctrine] holds that the Constitution’s requirement that laws be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the government constrains the ability of Congress to delegate its lawmaking authority to other bodies. […]
So the question that is relevant for us here is whether or not the law that authorizes the creation of platinum coins by the U.S. Treasury lays down an “intelligible principle” to which the Treasury is directed to conform.
Legal arguments like this are probably moot, since it’s virtually inconceivable that the courts would intervene. (The Roberts court couldn’t even bring itself to overturn Obamacare. No way they’d be willing to single-handedly plunge the global economy into oblivion.) The best argument against #MintTheCoin is that there’s a better alternative, which is for Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment and unilaterally avert the debt limit. Like the platinum coin, this would be less than ideal — the ideal being Congress removing the debt limit themselves, permanently. Either option is only desirable as an alternative to default. I’m no constitutional law professor, but by my estimation, the legal basis for invoking the 14th is at least as sound, without all the cartoonish gimmickry.
Instead of #MintTheCoin, #InvokeThe14th.
Me, on the project page:
markdownAsides is a jQuery plugin that transforms Markdown-generated, Gruber-style footnotes into semantic, Tufte-style sidenotes.
I use sidenotes here on my blog.1 I prefer them to footnotes, which seem to be far more common on the web.
In the summer of 2011, when I wrote the first alpha version of markdownAsides, it was actually the first bit of real programming I’d ever attempted. Since then, the plugin has evolved quite a bit. It’s not a very complicated script, but I’ve gotten a lot of use out of it on my blog. Several people have contacted me asking how to implement sidenotes on their own blogs, so I thought it would be a good idea to officially release markdownAsides to anybody else who finds it useful.
Read more about markdownAsides and download it for your own use.
That’s not rhetorical. I’m truly wish to know what’s going on in Barack Obama’s head right now as he prepares to sign his name the fiscal cliff deal passed by the Senate last night / early this morning. As Paul Krugman and many others have explained, the policy implications of the deal are quite fine. About as good as could be expected: no cuts to entitlements, unemployment insurance extended, and a partial return to Clinton-era income tax rates on the wealthy.
The strategic implications of the deal, however, could be disastrous. The debt limit has been left untouched, setting up yet another high-stakes battle in a few weeks — to coincide with the just-delayed sequester. The White House has repeatedly insisted that they will not negotiate over the debt limit, but what reason do we have to take them seriously? The cold, hard truth is that Obama will never let default happen. Ever. Of a sizable chunk of the Republican House, the same is not true. Given this, what incentive do Republicans have to retreat from their hard-line stance? Krugman points out:
[Obama] kept drawing lines in the sand, then erasing them and retreating to a new position. And his evident desire to have a deal before hitting the essentially innocuous fiscal cliff bodes very badly for the confrontation looming in a few weeks over the debt ceiling.
If Obama stands his ground in that confrontation, this deal won’t look bad in retrospect. If he doesn’t, yesterday will be seen as the day he began throwing away his presidency and the hopes of everyone who supported him.
Everything comes down to the debt limit. The only reason the fiscal cliff exists in the first place is because two summers ago, Republicans threatened default. The only reason Democrats are getting such a good deal today is because Republicans are planning to do it again in a few weeks. Until the debt limit is permanently fixed, these yearly/monthly/weekly manufactured crises will be routine. Obama must keep his word and be sure that does not happen, through whatever means necessary.
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