Today's the day (presumably) that Mitt Romney will finally hoist himself over the magic delegate number that makes him this year's Republican presidential nominee. Some thoughts on why this guy can't win for winning, at DiA.

If you live in Texas, and haven't voted already, I would encourage you to do so, obviously. Of particular importance is the Senate primary, where David Dewhurst needs to win with 50% +1 of the vote if he wants to avoid a runoff with Ted Cruz. You can find your polling station here.
 
 
A couple of new things from last week. In the paper, a story on how the military is retooling its acquisitions process. And at DiA, a post on doctrinal unsoundness among the Democrats.
 
 
From Barton Gellman's (paywalled) story, at Time, about Mitt Romney's mother Lenore:

For the next 64 years, they had "truly one of the world's great love affairs," says Peter Fletcher, who entered Michigan politics as George's advance man. George serenaded Lenore with "Moonlight and Roses" and scattered love notes like petals under her pillow. A maid on Mackinac Island, where the couple spent summers, found a typical one: "Darling, have gone to the grocery store. I will love you eternally. George."

So typical. Previously: Ann Romney's Pinterest page
 
 
Is there a better sign of a flourishing food truck culture than a trailer devoted to vegan comfort food? Talk about a long tail. In any case, Austin's Counter Culture, which used to be a food truck on North Loop, has a new bricks-and-mortar location on Cesar Chavez. The soft opening is this weekend:
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Obviously in a tremendous rush to eat this sandwich
My friend, depicted above as a set of elbows, was mischiefing me. Two hours earlier I had been saying that I don't like vegan or raw food that seeks to disguise itself as a secular analogue. Yet here we see a garbanzo-based mock tuna sandwich, with cashew cheeze, ugh. The side is a classic Texas caviar, black-eyed peas with bell peppers and jalapenos.

In a pleasant surprise, it was all pretty good. And the space, with its shaded patio in eye-watering Miami aqua, is a nice addition to that stretch of east Austin. I can offer Counter Culture the highest praise available in such a context: would voluntarily eat there again. 
 
 
One of my recurring questions about the relative advantages of the private sector vs the public sector is whether executives have longer time horizons than politicians. On the one hand, it would seem like they clearly don't: politicians are supposed to aspire to statesmanship, and executives have to worry about quarterly earnings. In practice, however, pols are often responsive to election cycles, whereas if a CEO is really cavalier about the long-term they'll be ruing it for years to come.

So here's a trio of articles related to that question. Joe Klein, at Time, argues that Obama's critique of Romney's record at Bain is resonant because it points to the fact that presidents and CEOs have different priorities:

It seems to me that Obama’s immediate point is wrong: Romney wasn’t primarily about job destruction and corporate plundering. His larger point–that Romney was not so much about job-creation as he was about profit-creation–is correct, though. But the largest point of all is this: private equity capitalism was all about short-term profits–maximizing shareholder value–rather than long-term growth.

James Surowiecki, in The New Yorker, takes a look at why a number of tech companies (most recently Facebook) have opted for a dual-class share structure, wherein some shareholders have greater voting weight than others:

There’s reason to be concerned at the spread of the dual-class structure. One study that examined a large sample of dual-class firms from 1994 to 2001 found that they notably underperformed the market. And few people would say that the problem with corporate America is that C.E.O.s have too little authority; the recent travails of Rupert Murdoch are a testament to the problem of a monarchical executive. Yet when the right person is in charge the dual-class structure can help companies avoid one of the problems besetting modern business—the short-termism of big institutional investors.

And Ray Fisman, at Slate, looks at a new study about CEOs with military experience. Those who have served tend to have greater integrity (as measured by fewer instances of fraud), but slightly lower financial performance. Fisman argues:

Indoctrinating future business leaders to always follow the rules may ensure that laws don’t get broken but also prevent them from looking beyond the way things have always been done. And if creativity requires a bit of a roguish streak, it could mean that the occasional scam might be necessary collateral damage in an innovation-driven economy. After all, innovation and creativity can sometimes be hard to distinguish from the financial illusions created by persuasive conmen.
 
 
Look at this sweet boy, quietly eating a tortilla chip:
 
 
Baylen J. Linnekin in the Washington Times:

Federal agents watched the home closely for a year, gathering evidence. Then, in a pre-dawn raid, armed members from three agencies swooped in.

No, this is not a retelling of the lightning U.S. commando attack in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Rather, the target of the raid late last month by U.S. marshals, a state police trooper and inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was Amish farmer Dan Allgyer of Kinzers, Pa. His so-called “crime” involved nothing more than providing unpasteurized, or raw, dairy milk to eager consumers here in the Washington area.

Well, that seems like an overreaction. I wrote about raw milk in 2010, and was surprised by the depth of feeling on both sides. On balance, I think raw milk sales should be allowed. Pasteurization mitigates the risk of food-borne illness, but people can decide for themselves if they want to chance it. 

The other argument against raw milk, from Big Dairy, that an outbreak of illness related to raw milk could damage the industry more generally, but that risk is one we routinely accept with other forms of food, and the dairy lobby, of course, might have an ulterior motive. Allowing raw milk sales, that is, helps small farmers. It's a little bit hard to say how big the market is, as it's largely illicit, but if a farmer sells milk to a distributor, they get about $1.40 a gallon for it. If they sell it directly to the consumer as the premium product of raw milk, they can charge $5 or $6 a gallon. So even though running a raw milk operation has some extra costs--you have to pay for licensing and testing--it would be a boost to small operators. And they could use a boost:
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Source: Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
I don't put much stock in the hocus-pocus benefits that serious raw milk enthusiasts tout, but if you haven't tried it, you might as well, unless of course you're chicken. If you're in Austin, a nearby option is Dyer Dairy.
 
 
 
 
So obviously I was pretty geeked out to see Robert Caro at the Bob Bullock Museum last night, for a conversation moderated by Texas Monthly's Bob Sweany. A few points of interest:

A casual observer could get the impression that Caro started writing his multi-volume biography, The Years of Lyndon Johnson, because he had some deep and abiding interest in LBJ. That's not just because he's devoted several decades and thousands of pages to the subject, but because he seems to be in the character-as-destiny camp. Power may corrupt, but it always reveals, as he says in the most recent volume, and what is revealed shapes the destiny of the character in question and the character's entire field of influence (which is, in the case of LBJ, the entire country).

Yet as Caro has said before, he was never drawn to LBJ because of any particular interest in LBJ, or in big names more generally. Rather, his interest is in political power: how it can be acquired, and how it can be used. As he described it tonight, the first four volumes of the LBJ biography are framed around aspects of this question: the power of rural politics, in The Path to Power; stealing elections as a way to get power, in The Means of Ascent; the wielding of legislative power, in Master of the Senate; and now, the transition to the power of the presidency during a moment of national crisis, in The Passage of Power.

The fact that this is why Caro took an interest in Johnson is, perhaps, one of the factors that puts him in a separate category from the other people who have written at length about LBJ, or for that matter, the Kennedys. The other biographers, that is, have often had some kind of emotional investment in the person. As an outlying example, here's Doris Kearns Goodwin, describing how Johnson used to come into her room before dawn to talk: "His voice on these occasions was soft, so soft, it was sometimes hard to understand but on this morning the pain and sadness in his tone was so striking that I forced myself to comprehend every word."

That level of intimacy is a little unusual in a political biography. But so too is Caro's more detached approach--unsurprisingly, on balance. How often does it happen that someone writes an epic biography of a major historical figure not because they have a strong opinion about the person in question, or about the consequences of his actions, but because they happen to be interested in an abstract concept that the figure in question experienced and projected in interesting ways? It's like writing 4000 pages about Genghis Khan because his life strikes you as a useful prism through which to examine the nature and limits of religious pluralism.

As for Caro, one thing he did seem to care about deeply was process. He had an understated affect when asked directly about it He doesn't have a computer in his office, he said, but if there is a need to Google something, his wife, luckily, is a computer genius. But at several points he elaborated on research and sourcing considerations in a way that suggested the subject was close to his heart. It was lucky that Johnson had two aides with him on the day that he first met Robert F Kennedy, because that interaction was so revealing, and really set the tone for what was to come; but he only uses a story if he has two sources for it, so it was the fact that he talked to both of the aides in question, and they both described the same instant animus between the two men, that allowed the story to be retold. Despite all the billion biographies of Kennedy, and the intense focus on that day in Dallas, nobody had ever looked at what Johnson was doing from the moment the motorcade heard the first crack of the rifle, so he, Caro, had a chance to do it; it wasn't a great research job on his part, he continued, because he didn't have to dig very far, he just went to the LBJ Library and asked them if they happened to have a copy of the incident report that the Secret Service Agent Rufus Youngblood, the one who threw Johnson to the backseat of the third car and covered him with his body, would have filed, and sure enough they did. It was in a grey binder. Knowing what he knows now, he was asked, is there anything he wishes he could change about the earlier volumes? No, he said.

 
 
Paula Marantz Cohen worries that her students are so concerned about curating their identity that they're losing sight of the lived experience:

Walker Percy addressed a similar phenomenon in his 1954 essay, “The Loss of the Creature.” He discussed how our anticipatory framing of an experience, especially a visit to a famous place, keeps us from relating to what we are seeing in an unmediated way.

What my student described is an exaggerated example of this sort of detached relationship to living. The experience is superseded by its representation on a Facebook page. The self is edited and framed in the manner that one might curate a museum exhibition.

There are actually two issues here: detachment, or the failure to experience life because you're too concerned about how you will have experienced it, and positioning, which is intentionally albeit perhaps semi-consciously representing (or misrepresenting) yourself to others. Neither is a new phenomenon, and both are more complicated than they initially appear.

Detachment, for example, is generally a bad thing, the opposite of engaging. In her forthcoming memoir, for example, the author Terry Tempest Williams describes how her mother bequeathed her her journals--years and years worth of blank books. Williams is understandably perplexed by that: on the one hand, it can be interpreted as the mother's gentle rebuke of the daughter's lifelong tendency to analyze what happened rather than experiencing it. (She also suggests that it can be interpreted as a critique of religion--her mother was Mormon, and Mormons are encouraged to keep a daily journal (?)--or perhaps as a bit of posthumous mischief). On the other hand, some capacity for critical reflection never hurt anyone, and particularly during moments of distress it is common advice to try to observe the events and feelings happening to you as though you were floating six inches above your own head.

As for the positioning--I suppose we all do it occasionally (job interviews, dates), but as with any other form of fibbing, the effort required to maintain a convincing facade over the long haul is so considerable that few people are genuinely capable of it. The better strategy would be to take cues from your own positioning about what kind of person you're trying to be, and then become that person, so those traits are just naturally manifested. And if you're going to be criticised you might as well be criticised for the flaws you actually have, in which case some measure of fairness is preserved.


The underappreciated upside to the fact that so much of this self-curation is now being done online is that it's become easier to see how other people position themselves, which is typically revealing, and often touching.

Relatedly: "The Art of the Impersonator," Sanford Schwartz on Cindy Sherman.