12 October 2017

Not in Defense of Buggywhips

Too many mind-altering substances of late (and no, I do not mean ink on paper, even with the biggest fight in the current administration being over whether Cheeto is a "moron" or a "fucking moron")... but that's sort of what surgery does, since the pharmaceutical industry can't be bothered to do the same kind of research into pain control without adverse side effects that it does for erectile dysfunction.

  • Oh dear, yet again the Department of Overstatement is running rampant regarding book sales… yet again involving pseudoactivism by Douglas Preston in the face of facts that don't quite match up, largely because he continues to believe that all of publishing works exactly like he thinks commercial-publisher trade fiction works. (Nope. Not even close.) In an editorial in today's NYT, he raises the tired old "deceptive discounts" argument yet again.

    Without pretending to defend the practices of "wholesale price competition and margin splitting," especially given that those really paying the price for such "competition" are the captive labor forces and those reaping the benefits are not the consumers but the investors, one must wonder what Mr Preston thinks of shopping at Nordstrom Rack, or T.J. Maxx, or any of a variety of other discounters-of-new-clothing-and-fashion-accessories vendors who take advantage of the same thing in an industry with per-item margins significantly lower than in publishing. Without the benefit of the insane "returns" system, which is what is really driving the particular characteristics of publishing.

    This is another example of an argument from assumed authority: That Mr Preston is a bestselling author (not to my taste, but whatever) gives him a platform and presumed authority to pontificate on "the way publishing works," when it at most gives him some insight into part of one of the thirteen publishing industries. Not the largest one, either. It is possible that some of these "overdiscounted new books" are returns being resold on Amazon… but that's the case at Barnes & Noble and Half-Price Books and other brick-and-mortar stores, too. Not all returns are converted to remainders, especially in the textbook-publishing industry (which, by the way, has considerably higher profits at both the store and publisher levels than trade fiction); those copies of the current edition of Tipler's freshman-calculus-physics textbook (publisher's retail price: $229.49) are on sale at the college bookstore were almost certainly not all printed for this fall. His railing against Kirtsaeng (which he never has the good grace to note is a Supreme Court opinion that specifically refutes one of his points), continuing to assert that "Publishers sell books to international wholesalers at large discounts on a non-returnable basis. By contract these books must be sold abroad…" without acknowledging that for several years these contracts — themselves an unfair trade practice — have been unenforceable is, to say the least, intellectually dishonest.

    Another problem is that everything Mr. Preston says is couched in "could" and "may," but aimed at an entire subset of commercial practices. Admittedly, part of this is publishing's own damned fault: It operates on a culture of secrecy that would shame the intelligence community in its effectiveness. For example, the intelligence community (and those around it) know quite well how much intelligence value comes from open-source analysis, and can even quantify it. In publishing, not so much… because even publishing itself doesn't know. And that's the real flaw with Mr. Preston's argument: Only one of the examples of "unfair" sources he cites is actually an unfair source, and he poisons even that by equating "has previously been in a bookstore (even still cased up in the back)" with "shopworn." Further, nobody knows just how much of the lower margins are being absorbed by investors seeking to make up in volume what they don't earn in individual-item profit… which is exactly how wholesaling is supposed to work, regardless of the products at issue. The real "could" that Mr Preston doesn't note, though, is something like "These cut-price retailers using Amazon could be taking advantage of the lower operating costs of the Amazon system and consciously choosing to lower their prices while maintaining per-item margins that are, to them, satisfactory, whether using traditional wholesale acquisition or any of a myriad of other perfectly legal variants that have arisen off the profoundly broken returns system."

    The most-grievous problem, though, is that Mr Preston is fundamentally wrong about the "unfairness" issue. He implies — but never says — that these practices are harming payments to authors. Hogwash: Once the books have been "sold" into the wholesale-and-returns system, authors are wholly compensated under the terms of their own contracts. The retail price paid by Reader D507 does not change the compensation to the author for books in the wholesale-and-returns system except if those books were originally placed there through either returns or so-called "high-discount sales" — and neither of those unfair trade practices has a damned thing to do with Amazon, or third-party sellers using Amazon as a storefront. Not a damned thing. Mr Preston's real target is, and must be, the author-publisher contract: Not just because it's the only thing he remotely has "standing" to concern himself with, but because it's the only thing that he remotely displays enough knowledge to discuss. And, as evidenced by his improper eliding of "when the author's account gets credited for wholesale transactions," not all that much of that.

    Then there's the issue that the concluding paragraph doesn't follow from the rest of it:

    Amazon does what it can to rein in bad actors but it is at the top of a slippery slope in turning over its main buy button for new books to third-party sellers. This policy is bad for books, bad for authors and bad for Amazon’s customers.

    Let's pretend that it's not too early in the bloody morning for yet another bloody slippery-slope argument put forth by someone with a hidden agenda and an investment in things not changing. It's early in the fall term, Mr Preston, but this is a D+ essay. Please improve by the end of the semester or your overall course grade — not to mention general credibility — will suffer.

  • Two interesting views on giants of midcentury British literature caught my eye. One shouldn't surprise anyone — that understanding the Eric Blair/George Orwell transition and biography sheds some light on both his writings and those around him. The other is a bit more salacious, concerning the pretensions and character flaws of John A.B. Wilson and its relationship to his writing and place in the world of British letters. That they caught my eye, though, doesn't mean I entirely agree with the articles, lo these many years after my own research…
  • Here's another misguided attempt to fix something fundamentally flawed: Preventing credit-reporting agencies from using social-security numbers. Which, of course, will have the unintended consequence that those with name or address (or perhaps other) similarities to people with bad credit "instances" (whether or not those "instances" are accurately reported) are going to have even more difficulty in correcting their credit reports. No, the problem here is that the very concepts behind the credit-reporting system are so deeply and fundamentally flawed that the system needs to be blown up and rebuilt from a zero base. But that would cost money… and require use of credit facilities by the credit-reporting agencies… which leaves aside the moral and economic depravity that's fairly uniform among the upper management and boards in the industry (which have never, for example, asked themselves how much of a "credit score" continues to bear statistically significant effects of redlining, let alone overt discrimination based not upon the individuals being reported upon but upon their parents' circumstances)…

26 September 2017

Chunky Link Sausages Kneeling on the Sideline

Definitely chunky this time.

  • In yet another example of ignorance about how publishing works elsewhere from one segment of the industry, a UK journalist in a respected UK publication opines, as the opening of her article on the purported "differences" between US and UK cover design:

    Covers sell books.

    Danuta Kean, "Cover Versions: Why are UK and US Book Jackets Often so Different?," Grauniad (26 Sep 2017). I have a succinct, one-word answer with a long explanation:

    Bullshit.

    First, one must note that every single example offered is from bordering-on-literary trade fiction (with the single exception of the "title piece," from popular-trade nonfiction). That is, Ms Kean is making a broad statement of both similarity and difference from self-selecting samples of only subsets of publishing in the first place. This is an all-too-common problem, and neglects the converse instance: In category fiction and preadult ("children's," "early reader," "middle grade," and "YA" being the most common US subcategorizations), for example, UK covers are superior to the US covers more often than the converse, being far less prone to active misrepresentation and appealing to the wrong audience than the corresponding UK covers. Consider a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful work with near-simultaneous UK and US releases, such as Philip Pullman's book due out in the next month (UK edition on the left).

    UK editionUS edition

    Even the proportions of the UK cover are slightly more appropriate… but the key is to notice that the UK cover can be read in poor light, and will be clear on a hasty cell-phone picture, and is a consistent meme with Pullman's other related UK books (the US cover… is not).

    The real problem with Ms Kean's statement, though, is that it neglects its implicit inquisitory object: "To whom?" And here, the UK practice is markedly superior, because UK books are designed to actually appeal to the book's audience, while US books are (still) designed to actually appeal to bookstore and distributor "buyers" to get books "onto the shelves" (or webpage). Let's just say that the demographics — let alone tastes — of those two audiences are not congruent and leave discussions of racial, ethnic, and economic discrimination and condescension for another time, ok? (We certainly could have the discussion, as any photograph of senior management at any major US distributor or chain store could easily demonstrate — especially when supplemented by short bios.)

    In some ways, the distinction is actually worse away from the so-called "prestige mainstream." In US practice, active misrepresentation and/or pure category identification is the norm. In speculative fiction, choosing at not-quite-random two NYT bestselling series, one has on the one hand the "Kewl Spaceship" meme permeating John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, which concerns infantrymen and political systems (although this scene on the cover admittedly represents one, potential, momentary depiction of an incident that is in focus for less than a paragraph and is far from central to the book itself); on the other, one has the "BFG" meme permeating covers for "Jack Campbell"'s Lost Fleet series, in which neither the protagonist nor all but one of the critical "supporting actor" characters ever picks up a personal weapon, let alone pulls on fanciful "combat armor" or even leaves the damned spaceship.

    This is yet another example of publishing's obsession with fallacious inductive reasoning, in particular the so-called "hasty generalization." It's bad enough when one misgeneralizes from merely too few samples; it's even worse when those samples are already, archly, outliers from a subset, and one is attempting to draw conclusions as to not the subset but the entire population.

  • If only this had been an Oscar Mayer controversy involving "failing to control a weiner": former Congresscritter Anthony Weiner sentenced to jail. In contrast to the preceding, umm, link sausage on this platter, this says less about any particular subset of the political classes than it does about the political classes themselves. Weiner (and those like him… which, in many respects, includes the entire Congress) believed that the object of power is power, and that having power requires flaunting it. And I'm not just referring to the cell-phone flaunting, either.
  • Speaking of which, a note to the current designated resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC: The election in November 2016 was not for King. A monarch gets to declare by fiat what is "right" and "moral" for his or her citizens to do, and then just have the fun of enforcing it… especially against the descendants of a bunch of unruly colonists who celebrate the date not of their forming a true nation (years later), not the date on which their military forces finally forced the then-monarch to capitulate (also years later but not quite so many), but the date on which they gave the monarch the finger (handwritten with quill pen on parchment in far-more-civil language than appears anywhere in contemporary public discourse). It's a pretty serious indictment when 1%er football players, and coaches, and owners go to the public sporting temple of that very same monarch's successor and stand respectfully for that successor's national anthem — after having kneeled respectfully, together (with those not kneeling locking arms in Solidarność), in protest at your interpretations of the meaning of this nation's national anthem.

    That is indeed my meaning, sirrah: The dumb jocks displayed more intelligence, class, self-motivation to success, awareness of their surroundings, and savoir faire than you do every time you let your fingers do the {expletive deleted} walking, whether on (anti)social media or in your bloody speeches. As a veteran, I put my ass on the line for the right of every person in the United States — not just citizens with the right kinds of parents and appropriately Judeo-Christian upbringings and substantial financial success — to exercise "the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And for you, you privileged draft-dodging jerk. Because that's why we're {string of foul and offensive expletives of the kind you, sirrah, use to describe those who disagree with you} HERE as an independent {different and even more offensive string of expletives deleted} NATION. I'll lock arms and kneel with those "sons of bitches" any time: By law, I had to show respect for and solidarność with the Reagan Administration on Iran-Contra, so I'll damned well do it for something I agree with! (Plus, I've actually bloody been to bloody Ferguson, Missouri… without a Secret Service escort to keep the hoi polloi away, either.)

19 September 2017

Not Making a Fool of Yourself

This is a general note for creators, fans, and everyone else connected to the arts and entertainment industry.

Don't make a fool of yourself by believing one side of the story's public statements without checking the other position(s) when there's a public ownership or rights dispute… especially when the other side(s) has/have opposed those statements in public (such as court filings). Even if your own financial interests are in one side being "right"; even if one side is being painted as utterly evil by pseudonymous sources, or even well-respected sources; even, and perhaps especially, if one side plays either the poverty card or the vulnerable elder card. You will discover that much of the time — most of the time is not far off — Things Are Not What They Seem, and there's a textbook case of Seller's Remorse buried in there somewhere that will quite probably change your mind somewhat (even if only to "everybody screwed up").

If you're going to nonetheless go ahead with supporting one side despite the murkiness of the situation, at least name the other side correctly in your publicity and fundraising campaigns. Which, of course, requires actually reading the documents in question, which is just too damned much effort for some people. No matter what, though, don't trust anyone in the arts and entertainment industry at their word when they make public claims of either untold riches or profound poverty — look at the documents. And if the party making an emotional appeal over money can't or won't cough up the documents to support its own claims, think again.

<SARCASM> This has nothing whatsoever to do with any of several matters pending and/or recently adjudged in California and New York courts and arbitrations that you may have seen in the news. Nope: There's no relationship to specific matters at all. And I'd certainly never make statements like this from a position of actually knowing much about the relevant facts in some or all of those matters, because that would imply I have no respect for some of the parties and/or their lawyers. </SARCASM>

15 September 2017

Cassini, 1997–2017

Beloved NASA spacecraft that lived on on the grand tradition of about two-thirds of NASA's missions: Greatly exceeded expectations and lifespan. (We try not to talk about the other third, like when we crash something on Mars because somebody didn't convert English to metric properly.) Survived by 67 moons, multiple rings, a polyhedral storm, and an awful lot of new dreams and knowledge. Here's a charming funeral announcement (if your browser will display insecure videos, that is).

It makes you wonder why we didn't start more missions as soon as Cassini showed success. Oh, yeah... we were too busy in Southwest Asia to spare a dime.

03 September 2017

CoverFail 6.07

Just about everyone in the West has heard some variation on "don't judge a book by its cover." That's ordinarily sound advice: The marketing material comprising the "cover" seldom has diddly-squat to do with the contents; frequently, even the purportedly factual material is misleading or worse. Consider El Presidente's purported seminal work The Art of the Deal… which is not "by" him in any sense. (I've even seen some reviews that claim its content didn't then, and still doesn't now, reflect his actual business practices.) Consider overblown titles like "The Only ____ Book You'll Ever Need" — or most trade nonfiction titles beginning with a definite article (falsely implying that there is no possible contradiction or alternative to the rest of the title). Consider misleading cover illustrations, such as putting a picture of Supergolfer X on the cover of a book about golf courses that includes only one course on which X has ever even played, let alone had any actual affiliation with; or that shows Superchef Y smiling in a TVgenic kitchen that Y has never actually cooked in (let alone done any of the cleanup or prep work in, or actually shopped for equipment for, or food to cook in).

But all of that is typical marketing fluff, as misleading as it is (and as regulated out of existence as deceptive trade material it would be in, say, the packaged-dinners section of the grocery store, or an auto-parts store). Publishing is often worse than that. Indeed, by default publishing is worse than that.

  • Those annoying Chevrolet commercials claiming that Chevrolet is the "most awarded" (American) manufacturer just copy decades of publishing-industry examples of throwing "Award-Winning Author" on the cover of completely noncomparable works. Just in the last couple of years, for example, I've seen a long-ago-published (execrable and should have been disowned, because the author has grown a lot in the years since) novel remarketed with a "___-Award-Winning Author" fake medallion, because the author recently got an award for a work of short fiction.
  • There's also the "Bestselling Author" tag… in an industry that treats actual sales numbers as proprietary trade secrets, and won't even tell authors about them until 18 months later (presuming the accuracy and honesty of royalty reports in the first place). There is literally no wide-spectrum tracker of sales in publishing: Every single one neglects Amazon (and those who haven't had a college student in the house would be shocked at how many textbooks get ordered from Amazon, putting even nontrade books in play). The largest database — Nielsen Bookscan — is not only expensive, but horribly underinclusive.

    And then there are the survey-based bestseller lists, most prominently (but not exclusively) the NYT lists. Leaving aside the arrogance and almost-certain conflicts of interest involved in establishing such a list allegedly reflecting the nation as a whole from the city that purports to be the center of trade publishing, the attempts to "protect" the list by keeping the reporting stores "secret" frequently backfire. I offer this as an alternative:

    Be Inspired! Create Your Own!

  • Blurbs and endorsements. What more can I say? No matter what signed "proof" publishers have that the provider of a blurb has actually read the manuscript, a high proportion hasn't. (Or, as for certain Bay Area authors a few years back, couldn't… having died before the manuscript was with the publisher.) They're also startlingly unhelpful, virtually always extracted out of context… and, more often than not, based on the blurber's perception of the author as Deserving Marketing Help, aside from the merits of the work at issue. They're actually less meritorious than the typical celebrity endorsement, which must at least reveal whether the endorser actually uses the product or service.

Sadly, there's a common thread to these particular marketing efforts: They all display a certain contempt for the reader, depending as they do on uncritical acceptance for products that, by their very nature — even when marketed as "just entertaining stories," let alone anything else — require at least some semblance of the opposite. Indeed, they're not aimed at the actual purchaser of books at all (well, perhaps they're in part aimed at library-system buyers); they're aimed at 1980s-gestalt chain-bookstore Buyers, to get them onto the shelves in the first place. The last time I checked (about five minutes before posting this), it wasn't the 1980s any more… and the public has a helluva lot of alternatives to browsing at a mall-based Waldenbooks, especially that part of the public living more distant from Manhattan than Paramus.

It's not just deceptive. It's stupid. It's not even a case of "selling buggywhips," but one of "using only the buggywhip distribution system, and methods that seemed to work for buggywhips, three decades later for aftermarket-replacement ignition keys." And as the background information in that link on the YA-list gaming of the NYT list indicates, it's not just — or even primarily — publishing: It's underlying memes across the entertainment industry.

28 August 2017

Uninspected Link Sausages

… because America can't be great if we intrude on free enterprise by inspecting Wurstwerken.

  • At least this isn't coming from DC. But it's connected to DC.

    The ignoramuses at PW have yet again released their list of "the world's 50 biggest publishers." It is, yet again, woefully incomplete: The very biggest publisher is completely missing, and so are two others in the top ten (estimated). This is the DC connection, because the missing wooly mammoth in the room is the US Government Printing Office (and equivalents elsewhere, such as Her Majesty's Stationery Office). And they're bigger even considering that much of their work is "at cost" or non-revenue-producing — IRS Publication 17 would have been among the world's biggest publications last year if this list didn't have the silent "commercial" in front of it, and ", because we say those are the only things that matter" behind it.

    The less said about the actual sales and impact of electronic publication — particularly given the rather dubious accounting at commercial publishers related to e-books — the better. Congratulations, PW, your annual list is everything we've come to expect from years of pseudojournalistic training.

  • A despairing note regarding baby products: The designer of sound-enhanced "Baby Einstein" toys is, umm, no Einstein. Putting the only speaker on the back of a toy, aligned so that if the toy is set down on the kind of soft or forgiving surface appropriate to have around a baby the speaker is completely muffled, isn't the brightest design choice that could have been made. Especially when that toy is otherwise designed to be manipulated by the child and the controls are placed so that if the child has access to the controls, the speaker is covered… and is in the place where the batteries should have gone anyway (and vice versa).

    Resemblance of this issue to anything relating to single-control-point-only computers and other electronic devices, especially those that make text-based input or operation virtually impossible, is probably not a coincidence.

  • Unfortunately, one can't stay away from DC-based nonsense for long these days. El Presidente (and yes, I do mean a stereotypical leader of a banana republic in the 1970s… because that's how he's acting) pardoned one of his minions and objectively breached his oath of office. One does not "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" by pretermitting its operation: The pardon of the Sheriff of NottinghamMaricopa was made before there was a final judgment on the table. And I don't mean just the right to appeal; not even a penalty had been decided. Which, when one thinks about it, constitutes contempt of court. But that's no surprise: El Presidente has made clear for decades that he has nothing but contempt for the courts, and the Rule of Law. I guess America was great in the Wild Wild West when it was at its most lawless…

    Resemblance of this illustration of a head of government's contempt for legal process to that on display 43 years ago this month is not coincidental. Hmm, both pursued a "Southern Strategy" of encouraging racism, too… but Nixon was — at least on the definitions offered in contemporary American political discussion — a liberal in many respects.

22 August 2017

Fingers in My Ears

As difficult as it is to tear one's attention away from the hourly circus in DC in favor of tasty internet link sausages...

  • There's a dark side to the distributive arts that doesn't get enough attention. At the moment, one of the most obvious examples is determining the authorship of Chihuly glass sculptures — individual creations to a plan of some kind by highly skilled (but undisclosed and largely anonymous) craftsmen. This is just the shadow of H'wood and N'ville. There just aren't a lot of films that justify "A BigEgo Film" for someone who is a well-known producer or director — there are so many creative, highly skilled people also involved, beginning with the scriptwriters and going through the set/costume designers, sound/music creators, directors of cinematography, editors, and somewhere in there the actors, not to mention the army of technicians without whose skills none of the rest of them could be properly recorded for our appreciation. Similarly, Brittany Spears didn't play an instrument… or write the music or lyrics (or even have a clue about them before being handed a "potential new hit"), or do the show choreography or design or lighting, or do any of the technical things in the studio… and her brand is a middle-of-the-road offender in the world of N'ville. And the less said about "Gordon Lish," the better — and that's far from the only example I could name in publishing, even restricting myself just to "American literary lions of the mid-twentieth century."

    To ensure that it's even more thoroughly screwed up, we're going to have judges — lawyers — guide the decisionmaking. Members of a profession that regards true creativity as at best a vaguely insulting patch on a small hole in the grand scheme; that disdains facts, and more particularly the difficulty of gathering them accurately; that does its damndest to ensure that there are no exceptional circumstances, and those that are truly exceptional are treated as "outside the law" requiring extralegal response (like "clemency" or "pardon" or "prosecutorial discretion"). Yeah, that's going to give an appropriate result that will adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Meanwhile, there's the problem of what is really growing in education. There are lots of similar references out there, from preschool on up. These complaints, however, represent pendular motion, making up for decades — centuries, even — of administrative neglect and incompetence in academia. That's not to defend overhiring and overemphasis on administrative positions now; it's to understand the source. The number of administrative screwups that I observed from the 1970s on in educational contexts that required only a bit of competent administrative attention early on (instead of boatloads of paper thrown at them later, as was required by the objective bad faith in desegregation and other equality-of-opportunity matters) exceeds my capacity to count conveniently, even with the assistance of a calculator. So, to make up for the past and prevent the past from recurring in the future, the beancounters have essentially mandated a different kind of screwup in the present: Self-justifying drones.
  • Let's hear it for being a bit too friendly to be a friend of the court. There's actually a quite simple solution, but it's one that the legal profession has steadfastly refused to even contemplate for decades. In my first profession, the rule of thumb was "If there's an appearance of a conflict of interest or undue influence, there is a conflict of interest or undue influence." That decisional rule might make it difficult for some of the bigger law firms (or small-and-medium firms in small-and-medium markets and contexts) to continue with current practices… unless the profession were also smart enough to do away with the artificial trade-protectionist barriers of "state registration and regulation of lawyers," which would reopen matters in a way that the profession has also refused to even contemplate for decades.

    I have no love lost for any of the law firms mentioned in that article, or the so-called US Chamber of Commerce (which thinks of itself more like the local Chamber of Commerce in Pleasantville than it's prepared to admit). In fact, I've had direct adverse encounters with the Chamber and with two of the law firms (and lawyers) mentioned… and one of them has since largely cleaned up its act and is still on the wrong side of the ethical wall, under the standards of my first profession…. Then there's the historical meaning of "commerce," which is almost always thoroughly undermined by the US Chamber of Commerce and its quasioligopolist policies and membership (which, frankly, would probably be much happier if Letters Patent were issued — and required — for each of its members' lines of business!).

16 August 2017

The Alt-Center's Share of the Blame

So President Cheeto is now counterfactually blaming the "alt-left" (whatever that is) for violence by fascists. Leaving aside for the moment that that's blaming Heather Heyer for putting dents in her murderer's car bumper, where's the blame for the alt-center — the chickenshit attitude shared by so many that, flying a purported flag of compromise, refuses to condemn extremist views (usually with hidden agendas) for fear of being seen to condemn any individual… or for fear of upsetting advertisers or media-magnate owners or inhibiting access to self-interested "insiders" for future stories? Who think that allowing all sides in an argument to speak also means granting all sides in an argument credibility and refusing to make any decision that is not some finely balanced "compromise"?

This is where "the media" — and especially the "post-mainsteam" media — has to accept some share of the blame. Until something outrageous happens, we're stuck with false journalistic evenhandedness: The refusal to say "This is an accurate report of the reprehensible and wrongful views stated by X," and really meaning it and defending the basis for declaring those views "wrong," at the obvious risk of being wrong oneself. Every newspaper story in the Nazi-Zeitung or Sinclair Broadcasting editorial (broadcast on the only commercial VHF station in town, one might add) surrounding the 2010 census that adopted a veneer of pride over East Central Illinois being projected to remain considerably "whiter" than the rest of the state, or the rest of the country, through 2030. Every newspaper and local-media (and even Big Media) story about global warming that states the views of denialists without noting that none of the "science" put forth by denialists has stood up to a single mathematical analysis. Every report on the successes of recasting American high schools as job-training centers for today's low-skill manufacturing systems that fails to acknowledge the need to retrain in a decade and a half when those manufacturing jobs become obsolete and these well-trained workers don't have sufficient education (or, because the companies that exploited them underpaid them due to union-busting among other things, resources) to shift to new careers without going through a couple of years of poverty. More to the point, every monument and monograph and monologue that celebrates the "heroism" and "skill" and "leadership" of some foolish ancestor or hero — whether Chiang Kai-Shek or Mao Tse-Tung is irrelevant — in complete isolation from what he or she or they fought over, and their unenlightened immediate personal interests in that struggle, or sheer stupidity in just showing solidarity with the tribe when the tribe was wrong.

History teaches that it's an almost fatal error to equate "opponent" with "stupid"; to refuse to accept that the Germans might be smart enough to spot your Maginot Line fortifications and rebuild their forces and tactics to negate them. History also teaches that it's an almost fatal error to equate "skilled" or "brave" with "right," because behind the Wehrmacht (which, admittedly, was fighting a pretty stupid — however individually brave — opponent whose equipment and tactics were mired in those that provided advantages to the ossified ruling structure) came the SS, and everybody who was actually looking knew it by 1940. That we've learned that we have to be careful about condemning different views and perspectives as "wrong" doesn't mean that, after careful consideration, we can no longer do so: It means that we have to engage in that careful consideration, and both act on the careful consideration once it's been performed and reconsider when new evidence comes in that we ourselves might have been wrong. For example, we should have learned that "but he's our bastard, and he's anticommunist" is not a sufficient or workable rationale for propping up a tyrant long before the 1960s and 1970s. And 1980s and 1990s. And stopped doing it.

This is the failure of the alt-center: Rather than engage in that consideration, it substitutes providing a platform and walking away to wallow in its own self-satisfied isolationism. The alt-center considers its role complete once it allows everyone to have their say… but doesn't actually listen. It especially doesn't listen when someone points out that Islam's treatment of women is wrong — and parallel to the West's treatment of women less than two centuries ago. Really: You think that, after removing linguistic tics and localism and bringing the wider context back in, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre represent something that doesn't play out in Jiddah (or Jakarta) today, including the mistreatment? Or refugees in the Levant (it's not just Syrian, and it's not just now). Or anything else. Refusing to decide is a decision. Being in the "center" because one is interested in compromise is different from the alt-center, which remains undecided because it doesn't want to do the hard work of research and self-examination and consideration, avoids all conflict however appropriate, and would rather just enhance the power and money it already has, and think it can avoid the risk of being wrong by not taking the risk of being right.

And so: This blawg can be safely added to the list of anti-Cheeto websites; I encourage you to visit it using a VPN to protect yourselves from either the Cheeto forces or any other set of extremists — most especially, data brokers. More damningly in the current environment, it can hopefully be added to the list of the anti-stupid websites that the financial basis of the modern media (both "commercial" and "alt-") disdains.

11 August 2017

Bad Shampoo

Of late, it has been mostly "lather, rinse, repeat" from a couple of weeks ago.

  • But meanwhile, the organized bar remains afraid of reform while relying on a bar exam that doesn't even try to probe the ability to acquire or assimilate facts as its sole competence standard. Not even in Blighty (PDF) (not because there was no discipline, but because it was nowhere near sufficient based upon the statement of facts). But it has nothing whatsoever to do with the racial, religious, gender, and class makeup of the leadership of the bar, either Over Here or Over There (do I really need to tag that as sarcasm?).
  • Color me shocked that the same old pre-harvest sour grapes award bullshit is popping up for the so-called "Dragon Awards" as has for the Hugos. If this fiasco isn't a pretty public demonstration that relying solely on popular voting in the arts at both the nomination and selection stages of a time-limited award is insane and self-defeating, I don't know what is… especially when one looks at the nominee list with some minimal measure of sophistication, such as actually having taken and passed a university literature class — any university literature class. Even if such education is no panacaea. (Disclosure: Due to my IP-and-corporate-governance-related representation over a decade ago of an individual peripherally involved, I am persona non grata at that convention and not all that surprised just on the basis of what I learned about various personalities and their advisors.)
  • Both of which are reflected in current acknowledgements of problems with peer review… and it's even worse in trade publishing. With the exception of a single journal of which I'm aware — there might be more, I'm not omniscient, but I don't think it's widespread, and certainly not at top-tier journals — at least in academic journals the sales-and-marketing dorks (who uniformly have not read the works at issue… either those under consideration or those already published) aren't determining publishing decisions.

At this rate, though, I'm going to start checking shampoo for its efficacy regarding fallout before buying any more.

29 July 2017

A Stoned-Reince Plowboy?

Really, now. I suppose it could have been worse, given the close-to-unprintable nickname the roughly contemporary Marine "John Kelly" I knew had… but comparison of the service histories indicates it wasn't. (Oh, my, if it was, the personality match with the designated occupant would have been frighteningly close, and might have exceeded critical mass.) At least he'll be no Alexander Haig: New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is not an academy grad, having obtained something approaching a real education as an undergrad.

But let's ignore politics for a moment. Several disturbing data points on trends in the distributive arts indirectly reinforce that We Have A Problem.

  • On one tentacle, as anyone who has ever tried to get past distributive gatekeepers (who, one might add, are seldom themselves practitioners in the distributive arts — book editors and publishing oligarchs are seldom novelists; theatre impresarios are seldom playwrights or actors or directors; "label" A&R reps are seldom musicians or composers; and so on — let alone perceptive, qualified critics, but that's an argument for another time indeed) could tell you, the distributive arts directly reflect "history is written by the winners" in a rather disturbing way, and usually a blunt-instrument way. Instead of looking at and thinking about the implications of the pox scars on the faces of those few Renaissance-era portraits that were not consciously idealized (or thinking about the idealization itself), we're thinking only about gross-form issues like melanin content and gender. However deserving these gross-form issues are of more attention, they are not deserving of sole attention: Cultural myopia is not cured by changing which small thing is in one's focal plane to the exclusion of all else.
  • On a second tentacle, funding trends in the distributive arts bloody well epitomize The Problem. Keep in mind, too, that this blog piece concerns itself only with a subset of the distributive arts: Collaborative live scripted performance in a formal setting. Things are actually much, much worse elsewhere. Not for every individual, obviously… but making general, non-ethics-based policy that ignores virtually everyone below +2σ on a separate curve (financial success) that is mostly orthogonal to anything related to "merit" seems just a bit shortsighted, does it not?
  • And then there's the another aspect of special-snowflakism relating to the distributive arts: The place of education. It's a complex interplay of competing interests — much more complex than this otherwise reasonably balanced explanation of a current issue in Canada implies, or even acknowledges. As just one example, consider the obvious precatory question: Might York University (in this instance) — a government-financed entity — be more amenable to paying requested/appropriate permission fees if the government provided a reasonable budget specifically for doing so? More to the point, how much of those permission fees ever make their way back to the creators of the works? Thirty percent would be an astoundingly high outlier for permissions from printed works, after deducting all of the other parties' shares and expenses; it's much worse in photography and other parts of the arts, let alone film and music.

But how is any of this actually distinct from politics, you ask? Indeed, there are political undercurrents, ranging from "what level and mechanism of support should society provide to practitioners in the arts — not just the headliners, but the support staff — between blockbusters?" to "what level and mechanism of support should practitioners in the arts reasonably expect at any time?" <SARCASM> Perhaps going to the doctor to treat even "inexpensive" chronic conditions — like, say, moderate myopia — isn't too much to ask for those expected to see for others. </SARCASM>

26 July 2017

Unfit to Serve

As if we needed more proof after his experience with privileged-class draft-dodging, the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue demonstrated that he has not just all the best words, but all the best bigotry, by summarily declaring that transgender people may no longer serve in "his" military. The actual announcement displays both bigotry and substantive ignorance:

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow {break} [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming {break} victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you

Which leads to a number of interesting questions, in the order raised by a word-by-word attempt to understand this:

  • Which generals? Are these only generals who you've personally selected for promotion or their positions, or all generals? And did you ask any admirals? How about judge advocate generals and surgeon generals? In short, who are "my" generals… and who are the generals who aren't?
  • Who are these "military experts," and what is the source of their expertise? More to the point, how many of them have ever had command authority, or given a death notification, or even sent an individual into harm's way to achieve "decisive and overwhelming victory"?
  • Speaking of which, define "victory" of any kind — let alone "decisive" and/or "overwhelming" — given that military officers swear to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic," and not any particular policy or moral creed other than the Constitution itself.
  • Does "in any capacity in the U.S. Military" include civilian capacities? If so, did you consult any service secretaries, or civil service leaders, or labor lawyers? And were they "yours"?
  • Please be more specific on how those "tremendous medical costs" are unique compared to any other definable condition in the military — for example, the cost of protein and vitamin supplements for vegan members of the military, let alone the obvious question of, umm, softness on a clear determinant of victory. Or fluoridation, Mandrake. Well, at least I can identify one of "his" generals…
  • Disruption. I think there was disruption forty-nine years (to the day) before that tweet. I just wonder what General Powell thinks of that. Or immigrants like General Shalikashvili.

I'm not a member of your targetted group for exclusion… this time. At least I was adjudged fit to serve and confirmed by the Senate. You, sirrah, are unfit to serve. Really: You said so yourself in evading the draft.

25 July 2017

Simulated Feeding Frenzy

Life — and actually following the rules, both in letter and in spirit, on inappropriate publicity concerning pending matters and other live disputes (unlike the other side) — has gotten in the way of blawgging of late. So, too, has the careful gift-wrapping of smoking guns for those who are supposed to deal with them (but usually don't).

But that's not as bad as offering a celebrity-laden feature for Family Home Movie Week and then just simulating it. Once upon a time, that channel and its relatives had some fun items… but for the last couple of years, Lawyer Week hasn't been one of them. Perhaps it's just proof that not all publicity is good, which is something that the unethical, unprofessional, unfit-to-practice disgraces to cartilaginous ichthyoids referred to in the preceding paragraph should have considered first. Perhaps it's just too much fear of sharks among the sharks. (Although it's just the leaders of the profession who've been at the top of the food chain since before the dinosaurs.)