27 May 2015

No Rest for Wicked Link Sausages

Of course, link sausages taste better after some rest... which explains a lot. Or at least a little.

  • RIP Tanith Lee and John Nash.
  • The First Amendment rules. It's one thing that Europe needs to accept that the former colonies Over Here do vastly better than they do. Of course, it makes it much harder to suppress criticism... and the privilege to suppress criticism is something that European elites seem to assume, like the sun rising in the east.
  • Professor Rhode's observations on the legal profession's problem with diversity are unlikely to result in any real change as long as "pedigree" continues to be a gatekeeper for early employment opportunities... because "pedigree" is a self-selecting discriminatory mechanism. Too, that leaves aside the "had a life before the law" problem, and the self-selection for assholes problem with the kind of undergraduate backgrounds funneled into leading lawschools.
  • But I suppose that beats p-hacking as a way of life. That has a definite resonance in law, which I blame on the stupid "zealous advocate" imprecation of the older attorney disciplinary rules (which never, ever were imposed on the bar's leadership or tobacco lawyers, all general historical evidence regarding failures of leadership to the contrary). I still see lawyers following that directive — often explicitly — despite the fact that in most jurisdictions, "zealous advocacy" has not been in the rules of professional conduct for a quarter of a century or more, and too frequently devolves to being an asshole. Perhaps this says something really subversive and unfavorable about how much actual learning of law goes on after law school, when law school purports to be about learning to learn the law.
  • PowerPoint must die. For that matter, so must the traditional format of the military staff briefing. Of course, there will have to be a replacement... like coherently written, adequately researched, clearly documented briefing papers. Yeah, that's going to happen. At least it won't be judicial opinions — or legal briefs!

20 May 2015

Two Quick Indigestible Sausages

Still dealing with Life, the Bay Area, and not much else.

11 May 2015

Inspired, I Think Not

Just haven't been inspired of late... between busyness and Life.

  • Trader Joe's has totally destroyed reality. Not only is a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck now $2.50, but the marketing dorks are really trying too hard to be cute. "Low-fat shrimp" (umm, that's inherent; any significant amount of fat in a shrimp dish is added to it in cooking); "Henry Hotspur's Cider" (Henry Percy or Harry Hotspur — read your bloody Shakespeare, guys); I won't go on. At least it's cleaner, better stocked, better quality, and lower priced than Unsafeatanyspeedway...
  • It's been fascinating watching the post-election attempts to explain everything both predictable and unpredictable/unpredicted about the recent UK elections. The one thing that it really reveals, more than anything else, is that modern representative democracy isn't about the merits of individual candidates — it's about the merits of the friends and associates of individual candidates. And this is true regardless of selection method (proportional representation, first-past-the-post, limited-plurality-in-multiseat-constituencies, whatever): If a Gandhi (or choose your own idea of an effective, ethical politician) doesn't have enough frieeeeeends to be in the majority — or, at minimum, force actual or de facto coalition governance — he or she will be submerged in a toxic sea of bad press, frustration, and effective impotence.

    It's also been more than a bit unsettling to see the entire area around my first station in the UK turn solidly Tory, considering that it was so Red/Labour when I lived there that Tories weren't just shy — they were endangered.

  • The purported "battle" over songwriter payment under changing delivery systems isn't exactly a new problem. Leaving aside last week's Second Circuit decision in the Pandora-ASCAP dispute (pdf) — which was ultimately about antitrust law, not copyright law (let alone anything approaching fairness) — the real problem is that virtually all of the commercial entities involved are demanding that there be a single, uniform system. Of course, each entity or entity group has its own idea of what that system will be... and not one of the proposals is fair to anyone except those who would administer the system.

    I don't claim that there's an easy solution. I claim the opposite: That there is neither an easy nor a single solution. Administrative convenience plays far too large a role in the distribution-of-copies end of copyright, let alone in fair use, as it is. Any single, binding solution is guaranteed to (a) become rapidly outdated as technology and business models change, (b) be utterly unfair to significant segments of the songwriter, the performer, the distributor, and the audience segments, and (c) encourage evasion as some outside investor group sees an opportunity á la iTunes to engage in some kind of tying practice (whether lawful or, as I suspect, unlawful).

30 April 2015

Minimal Visual Aids

Baltimore hasn't changed all that much in four decades...

  • In another blow against logic and "the State’s compelling interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary," slip op. at 8, the Supreme Court yesterday managed — through a startling bit of circular logic — to avoid ever confronting the issue actually before it. Here's the sole discussion of that actual issue:

    Our Founders vested authority to appoint federal judges in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and entrusted those judges to hold their offices during good behavior. The Constitution permits States to make a different choice, and most of them have done so. In 39 States, voters elect trial or appellate judges at the polls. In an effort to preserve public confidence in the integrity of their judiciaries, many of those States prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns. We must decide whether the First Amendment permits such restrictions on speech.

    Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, No. [20]13–1499 (29 Apr 2015), slip op. at 1 (PDF) (citations — or absence thereof — exactly as in original). The underlying dispute (whether a lawyer may be prohibited from soliciting judicial campaign contributions in her own name) is fundamentally over whether the angels dancing on the head of a pin may do the Can-Can, because the Court assumes a priori that both:

    • The individual states have the authority to elect judges and still maintain a "republican form of government," U.S. Const. Art. IV § 4. This issue has been evaded every time it has appeared before the Court, and is at least on its face inconsistent with the only "republican form of government" known at the time Article IV was drafted: The one being established, with an appointed-and-tenured judiciary that never stood for election. There might be a defensible, or even persuasive, rationale for the Court's position; passive-aggressive evasion, however, is not it.
    • The compelling interest in the integrity of the judiciary is constitutionally served by an underinclusive rule/means directed to a particular subset of purportedly suspect behavior in an inherently suspect context that, as noted above, has not been itself resolved. The Court has repeatedly interfered with state election procedures that harm other "compelling interests" by examining the nature of the compelling interest in considerable detail — unlike this matter.

    I do not accept that judicial elections are consistent with the republican-form-of-government mandate or with the compelling interest in public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary... or at least I'm not willing to accept either without more than a single-sentence assertion with no apparent authority. (Admittedly, that sentence appears in the introduction; however, the issue is nowhere revisited in any of the five opinions issued in this matter.) If you really want a data point or three, consider Illinois judicial elections during the time I lived there — not just the nasty Illinois State Supreme Court campaign and fallout concerning Justice Karmeier, but the intermediate appellate courts, too, with campaign slogans for judges proclaiming that "he'll be tough on crime" (and that judge is still on the bench, still deciding criminal appeals in a part of the state with a long and ugly history of racial disparity in law enforcement). I have no particular evidence that either Justice Karmeier or that unnamed appellate judge in the Fourth District is, in fact, "beholden" to other interests. Justice must be seen to be done as well, though, and the particular variety of "underinclusiveness" that is blithely dismissed by Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, slip op. at 12–16, using authority drawn from partisan matters, rather thoroughly undermines that compelling interest.

    Perhaps this is an instance in which institutional-authority considerations are perceived as making criticism of the states' neoanarchic/cryptolibertarian insanity by the Court politically unacceptable. That doesn't make the reasoning actually put forth by the Court any better — and recalls the shameful abrogation of duty by elected state judiciaries in Loving, in Marsh, in Gobitis/Barnette, in more voting rights cases (including a number in Florida) than I can conveniently list. Then there's the Maricopa County Sherriff. It's called "Balkanization," guys; and it's as internally inconsistent with a federal system as is allowing a religiously motivated bit of discrimination in one state to restrict the citizens of another state. Besides, all you have to do is admit that an icon of the Reagan Revolution is right; after all, retired Justice O'Connor has actually been an elected state-court judge, unlike any of the rest of you.

    Failure to act leads to crises of legitimacy at least as much as does inept or overreaching action. That's the real lesson of Brown — the preceding century of Dred Scott and refusal to abrogate it. It's the continuing lesson of Korematsu and Hirabayashi. And the common thread of all of these is that they deny the very existence of the countermajoritarian difficulty (PDF) in the name of making things, well, easy, which leads in the end only to a tyranny of the minority and the kind of neofeodality that the Founders were attempting to escape (well, at least until one looks at their actual behavior in places like Providence Plantation).

  • Speaking of Balkanization, consider the problem of copyright terms, even in the purportedly uniform EU. The contrast with the difficulty in actually getting Spanish publishers to pay royalties they owe is... disturbing.

... and Wolf Blitzer, with his claim that he's never seen anything like the recent not-quite-insurrection in Baltimore, has an awfully damned short memory. Leaving aside Ferguson for the moment, consider this. And ponder the elected state-court-judge context.

23 April 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Story Hour?

Carrie Vaughn expresses some real frustration (and wisdom) about franchise-centric art that indirectly shines some light on some of the cockroaches busy scuttling under the sink in post-Battle-of-New-York Hell's Kitchen. As many problems as there are with poor writing in franchise-centric art — and that's not just H'wood, and sure as hell not just Marvel/Disney; comics themselves are a problem, and other forms too if one looks — they are not the principle source of the problem. Writers, after all, frequently get overruled; it may be by editorial, but it's usually by Corporate. And that discloses the underlying narrative source of the problem:

Marketing personnel demand — impose — an easy, unambiguous hook as part of their sales strategies. This implicates a necessary third-person-omniscient viewpoint. To say the least, a third-person-omniscient viewpoint is inconsistent with an awful lot of serial art being produced today, and especially the best serial art of the last half-century or more in all forms and media.

This inherently rejects the fundamental marketing/branding approach itself, which inverts the entire intellectual property/trademark process. Instead of allowing a secondary meaning to develop over time in the perception of actual consumers, consistent with the Lanham Act (and corresponding European and Japanese trademark concepts), there's a Plan that must be followed slavishly in which the brand managers do everything they can to direct what that secondary meaning might be. On one tentacle, there's some reason to follow a top-down plan for certain goods; the horrible example of the Edsel still lingers in every marketing curriculum in the US, and there are equivalents overseas. The other waving tentacles, though, demonstrate that this doesn't work in the arts, as epitomized by Jar-Jar, unplanned spinoffs, and the general artistic and marketplace success of character-development-oriented serial art.

Contrary to received doctrine, brand identification in the arts is not a chicken-and-egg problem... and, more to the point, cannot be managed through any risk-avoidance strategy comfortable to quantitatively trained investors. What works for cars, at least in the short run, does not appear to work in the arts at all, or at least not in any term beyond immediate release. If it did, virtually every new and prominent recording artist would emerge via an American Idiot-type process, because that's the epitome of brand-before-substance development. If it did, there would be no Harry Potter (or, somewhat more sleazily, Twilight... or Fifty Shades). If it did, the most-popular precinematic X Man among the target audience would be just about any character except Kitty Pryde, and the subtext of race-, gender-, sexual-orientation-, and religious-minority acceptance would be absent from all serial forms of storytelling.

Explicitly including those last themes which have been hiding in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and keep getting suppressed every time there's a new main-sequence film. That's really what has been going on with both Skye and Deathlok: Coulson has accepted those with gifts/powers as not just potential allies or outside resources, but as potential team-members. The marketing department isn't all that comfortable with that kind of, umm, integration, and so is constantly imposing its version of "all deliberate speed" on change — on a form of storytelling that by its very nature is inherently about unpredictable longterm development. That's not just plot development; it is most especially character development. And that's what people really care about in serial form: Not the particular events at an ambitious ad agency, but how those events relate to Don and Peggy (and Sally...); not whether S.H.I.E.L.D. can defeat a particular threat (whether one calls it "supernatural" or "Clarke's Law magic" is irrelevant), but whether female Peggy Carter and mixed-race Daisy Johnson and black cyborg Mike Peters can be accepted and have their own stories on their own terms. That sort of ambiguity frightens marketing dorks who Have a Plan... and thus we're back to Ms Vaughn's ire, all the while wondering whether this thin veneer of integration is going to lead to Problems with story hour because it doesn't fit the nonnarrative exploitation plan.

19 April 2015

Canine Education

Gary Larson, 1985Perhaps the real problem with the Hugos this year is that they're being argued from ignorance. I suggest some education. Some tutoring. And if one thinks about it, the Anglocentric linguistic gender bias in there fits, too.

Ironically, the yapping curs have also exposed a serious conceptual problem with one subset of representative democracy. The foundation of representative democracy is that one expresses one's policy preferences not by a direct vote on the policies themselves, but by supporting a proxy-holder — an elected representative. In 1980, for example, one did not vote "give a raise to every military member" or "keep military compensation the same, but raise military spending by buying more and better hardware"; one chose between Presidental candidates who appeared to stand for those positions, among others. One had to trust that the greater access to information of the elected officials would allow them to make detailed decisions that would most closely match achievable policy preferences: If there aren't enough chickens in the nation to have one in every pot for every Sunday dinner, a chicken-breeding program is sort of implied, but the representatives have to figure out how to fund it, distribute it, etc.... and deal with the resulting chicken manure.

But there's one class of government official whom we absolutely, positively don't want to be mere proxies for preexisting popular policy choices — especially when those choices arise from ignorance: Those in law enforcement. Not just, but especially, judges. That's because unlike the chicken-breeding program, a judge's role (and a prosecutor's role, and a sherriff's role) inherently encompasses the fringe cases in a way that policy-preference-by-proxy does not. For the latter, we can't know in advance that in a few months' time, suspicion of some ghastly crime or tort or other legal wrong will fall on our friendly neighbors Annie or Marko, much less on ourselves, and they desperately need and fundamentally deserve not to be, umm, prejudged. We can't pretend that judges (and prosecutors and law enforcement officials in general) will have no policy preferences, as they're human. But that shouldn't be the basis of their selection; it should, at most, be a side effect of selecting their capabilities.

And lest you think this is all too speculative, consider that this issue has been a problem, and has been chewed over at length, for centuries... and for at least three centuries explicitly, since the time of Fran├žois-Marie Arouet. (Whose greatest works, one might add, would have been eligible for the Hugo had the awards then existed — at least once translated into English.) Conversely, anyone who tries to pretend that Hugo finalists and nominees don't form "precedent" — in the common-law sense, and perhaps even in the slightly perverse Blackstone/Coke received-wisdom variant on that sense — hasn't been paying attention. Or, perhaps, just wasn't at Philcon to hear booing from the audience when the winning novel was announced, as it wasn't considered sufficiently canonical by a particularly loud, yapping, rabid portion of tradition-bound fandom.

13 April 2015

Beware the Ides of April

Still in moving hell, and with lots of other deadlines.

06 April 2015

No Award

Still in the midst of moving hell for others... my turn before too long.

  • So, the Hugo ballot was announced over the weekend. I commented last year, and nothing much has changed (which is rather ironic for the literature of change). Same song, second verse; twice as loud, twice as worse.

    Well, I will say one additional thing, about the particular faction that has been most visible. It's not about "conservative thought" at all — that's merely a convenient rallying cry, a post hoc rationalization. This is, instead, about an attempt to change who is recognized as one of the "kewl kids," with all the subtle dynamics of elementary school recess, using certain overt thematic memes as a proxy. But then, I'm a Social Justice Warrior (literally — unlike virtually all of the militaristic yapping curs, I actually served in the military, and in a leadership role, and for more than a single "enlistment"), so my opinion obviously doesn't matter to those, umm, entitled few.

    Perhaps, on the internet, nobody knows if you're a dog. At award time, though, it appears that everyone knows if you're a yapping cur.

  • This item has some equal-treatment-of-women cooties, though: Thoughts by women about whether (and how) one should become a full-time writer from my more-than-mere-acquaintances Mary Robinette Kowal and Kristine Rusch.
  • Or you could just watch Orphan Black (which has exposed another award system — the Emmys — for the inside-baseball idiocy that it is).
  • And meanwhile, across the Pond, the European courts are steadily demonstrating that American hegemony in copyright is a fleeting thing indeed. I wonder what the yapping curs (one of whom is now based in Europe) think of this? Or maybe not...

02 April 2015


One of today's online local papers here in the Bay Area has a wretchedly ill-programmed slide show on "20 things you miss when you move from the Bay Area." Since I'm leaving the Bay Area shortly, here's a bit of counterpoint — 20 things, plus bonus points, I hate about the Bay Area that are driving me away. Some of them are idiosyncratic, admittedly; some of them, I think, less so.

  • Traffic/driving/transportation is among the worst in the developed urban world. The BART system itself is pretty good, but it doesn't extend to where it needs to go and has suffered from years of "no more taxes!" neglect. Even when it gets extended, it still won't go where it needs to go!

    What makes it worse is that Californians are so arrogantly convinced that they're good drivers to go along with it. Umm, no: There are safety and traffic-flow reasons for the "two-second rule," you dweebs, and people can get through red lights and stop signs and drive-throughs if you pull up to one-third-carlength-or-less of the car in front of you. Then, when you finally get somewhere, you can't park legally — there isn't a legal parking space, and even if there is it will be partially blocked by an incompetent parking job or needless orange cones for some self-righteous renovation work.

  • NIMBY forever. In particular, the arrogance of those who are "natives" and who have become "old money" through ownership of real property is absolutely astounding. "Old money" need not be "big money" for this, either; just try changing the purported "charm" of a facade on Russian Hill — perhaps so that it's wheelchair-accessible — and see what happens.
  • The weather sucks. More to the point, locals' whingeing about how "cold" it gets in San Francisco is constantly annoying to anyone who has ever spent a winter damned near anywhere else (except SoCal). Combine the lack of precipitation with salt air and it's no wonder that everybody is always getting a new car.
  • Restaurant accessibility and pricing sucks. Once one gets away from a few designated neighborhoods and the downtown area, dining out (even from a taco truck... and they're a lot better in Portland) is simultaneously anti-family and anti-unplanned. And expensive. And generally bland. One can't make up for it at home easily, either — whether the (unearned) reputation for restaurants or the crappy kitchens and kitchenware availability came first is open to debate.
  • Jeans everywhere is a bit excessive... largely because jeans pockets are almost useless and one cannot run in them. I don't object to casual so much as the way it's implemented — more cowbell, more Hawaiian-print shirts (with pockets, in cotton).
  • Fast food is, as noted above, marginal at best. And particularly once one gets south of the Mission District or across the Bay, McZorgle's is ridiculously dominant. (There's nothing that anyone can do to make me defend shoestring fries under any circumstances.) Then throw in the limited hours; perhaps I was spoiled by the default 0500-0100 schedules in a college town, but...
  • Rolling up the sidewalks at 2100 — except if there's booze involved — is pretty annoying, especially when almost nothing opens until 1000 the next morning. Even local restaurants away from downtown Berzerkeley do this; I recently had an instance in which it took five tries to find a reasonably convenient, non-fast-food/chain-diner restaurant for a casual business meal within five miles of the bloody airport at 9pm on a weeknight.
  • Obsession with bad agricultural practices in the face of drought — drought which has been predictable, in at least some sense, for two decades — at the expense of taste, of preparation, of affordability. It's all organic GMO food, guys... and the subtle "our food was not handled by migrant workers" vibe does you no credit. That said, I will miss supermarket-sized-and-priced Asian food stores after I move. Many of them are cleaner, better-stocked, and much less expensive than their 'murikan-style counterparts — and all of them have friendlier, more competent, more helpful staffs (even with broken English).
  • Doughnuts are not the only worthwhile baked good, and most areas of the country have many good alternatives to Dunkin' Donuts. Forget about Krispy Kreme or local doughnut shops for the moment; go to a decent supermarket and get some of the offerings from local bakeries. Oh, I forgot: San Francisco, in particular, dosn't have decent supermarkets.
  • I will be overjoyed to get away from the stupidity of lane-splitting, especially when I may be forced to swerve inside my lane to avoid one of the numerous potholes, or bicyclists... or another lane-splitter.
  • So much stuff to do, huh? Almost no bookstores, no art, no non-alcohol-soaked-club music of dubious quality and no acoustics (presuming, that is, that one can get close enough to park if one doesn't live in walking distance, especially since public transportation essentially closes down at about the time the clubs do) — and the less said about the overt hostility of the audiences and classical music venues/organizations themselves to newcomers who aren't writing five- and six-figure donations, the better — and what there is is so overpriced that no kids will ever see it.
  • Every city in America has its own purported "special" sweet treat. Get over it's it.
  • I'll take the Cascades and the Olympics over the Sierras in a heartbeat. If nothing else, there's less litter.
  • Nobody can afford a backyard in San Francisco (or the rest of the Bay Area), so having the outdoors in it is beside the point. And if you mean "nearby that you can drive to," there's that traffic issue again.
  • Avocados are nice, but not by themselves; a nice, fresh, crisp apple is a helluva lot more portable (and healthy, if it's not one of the so-called "delicious" varieties). And you won't find such an apple at the local farmer's markets.
  • Politics? Really? San Francisco's politics are nowhere near as amusing as Chicago's. Or DC's. Or St. Louis's. Or Seattle's. They're not even overtly corrupt enough to compete...
  • Local wines that don't suck are easily available in, for example, the Pacific Northwest... and given that wine is one of the earliest packaged foods, emphasizing "local" is more than a bit arrogant and self-contradictory in itself. Then there's the mismatch between "drought" and "local wine."
  • Dungeness crabs are nice, but they're mishandled and miscooked by just about everyone after they come off the boat... and, frankly, not as good as colder-water crabs from farther up the coast.
  • Acceptance of diversity extends only to race and to social/sexual orientation. The Bay Area is relentlessly conformist in its politics and demographics, being built around mind-numbingly uniform neighborhoods. Just try being the "different" one in one of those neighborhoods unless you're with a date who fits the expected demographic! And the less said about the archly, almost violently, antiintellectual/antiscience bias of this area, the better — it's rather telling that, for a city with no workshop space available to renters, everything celebrated as culture requires a workshop and fulltime-job orientation.
  • The bike lanes everywhere were designed for clowns on bicycles... and are not kept clear enough to be used by bicyclists who are moving at speed, so they're forced out into traffic to everyone's peril and annoyance. This is a particular problem outside of San Francisco and Palo Alto proper.
  • Fog with no rain, no snow, no rainbows, no mountain sunrises or sunsets... and no street layout or signage or driving skills accommodating the realities of the fog.

And a few more that don't correspond to that slide show:

  • The libraries and museums suck on their good days. When they're open, that is. And when there's any parking near them, because none of them are convenient to public transportation.
  • Bookstore availability is almost zero, except if you think a B&N with even-less-diverse-than-normal stock is a "bookstore."
  • Pricing — largely driven by the arrogance of real-estate investment and "my family was here first" inheritance — is utterly insane. And this is a relatively new big-city area that is (or at least should) be better laid out for earthquake tolerance... which would also keep prices down.
  • One-party dominance drives local politics to the right, with the narrow exceptions of a subset of environmental policy and a subset of social-grouping tolerance. Need proof? Even local malls will be closed all day this coming Sunday for Easter... it wasn't that severe even in Bible-belt Oklahoma City in the mid-1980s. If one removes the label and name from elected local officials and looks just at their voting behavior, every single one who is prominent is center to center-right; there are some voices elsewhere, but they're so mired in hyperlocal "constituent services" (and corruption) that they have no real power. And in that way, it's just like Chicago and DC, which have similarly unmerited reputations for being "liberal."
  • Beer and pizza. There's one word that uniformly describes them: Weak. Even national-chain pizza is weaker out here!
  • Cured meats. When decent — not great, let alone "artisanal" — sausages cost more then sirloin steak per pound, something is seriously wrong. And the less said about what passes for "bacon" and "ham" around here, the better.

I came here for work. I'm leaving in the next few months due to work. I'm not sorry... and I felt more welcome in East Central Redneckistan, despite my disdain for its local "culture" (which seldom exceeded the culture in a 6-ounce tub of commercial yogurt), because it wasn't so relentlessly "there isn't anywhere else that matters." And if you know anything about small- to mid-sized-town America, that should give you substantial pause — and remind you of the worst aspects of New York.

26 March 2015

Contenxt ⇌ Contexnt

"Past performance does not necessarily predict future results."

—United States Securities Exchange Commission

So why does the entertainment industry in general — and the publishing industries and their distributors in particular — act as if it not only necessarily does predict future results, but that it is the only way to predict future results? I suppose I could be cynical <SARCASM> (what? me cynical?) </SARCASM> and blame it on greed and deception, and in one sense I wouldn't be far off. I suppose I could also blame it on a revolt against securities law by other management memes... but then, recalling the purpose of the SEC's mandatory-disclosure model of securities regulation, we'd just be back to greed and deception.

No, the best explanation is a particular kind of magic — one closely related to counting angels on the head (or point) of a pin. Which, with its origin in Western medieval theology, is in the end all too apt...

Believe it or not, what actually set me off on this particular path was the recent announcement that Heinz and Kraft Foods intend to merge. More than anything else, this proposed merger represents a desperate attempt by existing entrenched capital to avoid the consequences of changing market characteristics by getting bigger, and therefore being able to take more advantage of economies of scale (usually by unfairly squeezing compensation offered to suppliers and its own workforce, thereby justifying increased executive compensation). As should be obvious from reading this blawg going back a number of years, I'm no fan of conglomeration or consolidation for the sake of purported advantages in efficiency, and not just on an ideological basis. There's a very specific reason for that skepticism: I have seen even less evidence that markets — especially markets in or related to the arts — will be constant (or even predictable) than I have for chorus lines of angels in my sewing kit.

Exhibit A: Sixty years ago, what music there was in popular awareness was largely instrumental, jazz/big-band (don't get me started on that corruption, we'll be here for hours) with possibly appended vocals, static-location, and passive. Thirty years ago, what music there was in popular awareness had shattered into a mixture of vocal and instrumental works in multiple purported "genres" (which, in reality, do not have the coherence demanded of a genre; they are better termed "performance and marketing styles" than anything else, and even that conceals more than it reveals), moderately mobile but on dedicated devices, and with an increasing sense of user participation (not limited to dancing!). Now... it's impossible to tell, except that the dedicated playback device is a steadily (and rapidly) decreasing means for people to "consume" music.

Exhibit B: Sixty years ago, there was still effective censorship of literary works in many markets, requiring a trip to an out-of-state bookstore for many residents to get a copy of Ullyses. Admittedly, this was no longer directly governmental censorship... but writers like Joyce and Roth and even Orwell were not kept where impressionable kids could find them without a diligent search. Thirty years ago, the raging idiocy of subject-matter censorship had moved down in age groups, primarily focusing on teen-and-younger-market works — not by encouraging parental involvement in what kids were reading, but by trying to restrict what was available for kids to read in the first place. Now... manga on every internet-connected device, not excluding tentacle porn.

Exhibit C: Sixty years ago, a diligent fiction writer publishing four pieces a year in the top periodical markets would be middle class. Thirty years ago, that same writer would be around the poverty line. Now... I'm not sure that there are as many as four top periodical markets for fiction, regardless of genre or style or even language.

I think I've made my point here: Just as past performance does not necessarily predict future results in finance, past context (content) in the arts does not necessarily predict future content (context) in the arts. It's long past time for industrial actors to stop pretending that:

  • The branding applied after the work of art is made complete has anything whatsoever to do with its success, commercially or artistically (this is a hint to, among others, publishers who try to proclaim that there is such a thing among a discernable segment of its end-users as affiliation with anything except the author... with one huge exception in romance fiction that got that way through a combination of unfair trade/commercial practices and focusing on specific aspects of the content)
  • The past bombing of an author's work under a given authorial name accurately predicts future sales of that author's works if the future works are of comparable (or better) quality and are given the same marketplace opportunity
  • There is such a thing as "the same marketplace opportunity" for distributed copies of works in the arts in the first place, let alone one with any predictability
  • That — just as in medieval protomercantilism and in medieval theocracies — the lion's share of the compensation rightly belongs to the intermediaries
  • That ketchup belongs in the same package (or accounting statement) as macaroni and cheese

OK, that last one may be a bit, umm, outside the box...