End-of-Shutdown Reading List

By James Fallows

In honor of the destructive carnival that may be nearing its end, a number of links.

1) False equivalence: how far we have come. Even the Wall Street Journal has a bitter editorial on how a handful of GOP hardliners have put the whole nation's interests at risk.

None of [the recent compromise plans] was enough to please the small band of 20 or so House conservatives who have been all but running the House since this fiasco began. They refused to support House Speaker John Boehner and even Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. Another 30 or so Members were tired of getting kicked around by Heritage Action and Senator Ted Cruz and want the whole thing settled.

1a) How far, indeed: Greg Sargent highlights this Capital New York interview with Rep. Peter King of New York, about the damage Senator Ted Cruz has done -- to the country, and to King's own GOP.

“I think it’s important for people in the Republican Party around the country not to just come in at the end and say, ‘Congress was dysfunctional,’ or ‘Congress screwed up.’ That’s too easy to do,” King said. “Say who it was. Because it wasn’t Congress. it was one person who was able to steamroll Congress and unless we target him for what he is, he’s going to do it again. So I’m hoping other Republicans will join me and start going after this guy, and say we’re not going to let it happen again.”

The move away from bewailing some mysterious caused-by-no-one "gridlock" and "dysfunction," and toward a specific recognition of reality, is significant, to put it mildly.
 

2) False equivalence: the distance still to go. Michael Hirsh, in National Journal, points out the incoherence of the latest Nobel-type prize in economics:


3) Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln ... When I moved back from China a few years ago, I did a long Atlantic article arguing that in most ways that mattered, the United States was stronger, more adaptive, more innovative, etc., than ever before.

Except for the structural weakness of its national political system, whose rules allowed an obstructive minority to disrupt and ultimately destroy things for everyone else. All that kept the system going were the norms that prevented minorities from pushing too far and abusing the structural flaws of the system. 

Alas, such abuse of the rules is what we are seeing right now. Changing the structure and rules is virtually impossible, given that the supermajority requirements for amending the Constitution are far stiffer even than those recently being abused in the Senate via the filibuster and by the "Hastert rule" in the House. Reinforcing the norms is the only remedy our system affords us. Let's hope that comments like King's, while couched as self-protection tactics for his party, illustrate an effort to reinstate the concept of "acceptable" bounds of partisan behavior.


4) For something more encouraging, a software essay. In Technology Review, Paul Ford has a very interesting essay on recent software offerings in the writing-and-organizing realm. Related thoughts:

  • Anyone associated with the Atlantic will be gratified by this new article's title, "As We May Type." The allusion is all the nicer given TR's assumption that readers would recognize it without further spelling-out.
     
  • The article discusses, among other topics, two writing tools that differ in many ways but share a less-is-more, austere-elegance approach to features and UI. These are Dave (ThinkTank etc) Winer's new outliner Fargo, and Ev (Twitter etc) Williams's writing-and-reading environment Medium. For instance, from Williams:
    "Medium is a beautiful space for reading and writing — and little else. The words are central. They can be accompanied by images to help illustrate your point. But there are no gratuitous sidebars, plug-ins, or widgets. There is nothing to set up or customize." Both are worth checking out.
     
  • I've said this many times before, but there is no such thing as saying it too often: Scrivener, from a tiny software house in Cornwall, England, is by so wide a margin the best word-processing system ever invented that you're crazy if you don't give it a try. It was originally Mac-only but now has a Windows version. Scapple, from the same Literature and Latte company, is also worth a look.
     
  • The Ford article will also introduce some readers to the fascinating legacy of Ted Nelson, and it closes with this great quote from Stewart Brand nearly 30 years ago: “Software, when it is used at all intensely, comes to feel like an extension of your nervous system. Its habits become your habits. The reason the term ‘personal’ got stuck to these machines is, they become part of your person.”


5) While I'm at it, in a combo encouraging / cautionary mode, check out this item in Fast Company's "Leadership Now" series, on phrases you should never use in email—or in life. They range from "reach out" to "pick your brain."


Housekeeping note: I have now assembled all the Atlas Shrugged Guy correspondence—it wasn't easy!—including his business and personal update, and my next task now is to put them together into a post.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/10/end-of-shutdown-reading-list/280613/