03 December 2021

An Article on [of?]…

You gave us a king. He was very bad. The theocrat who followed was worse.1

Worse yet was the pretense earlier this week that theocracy had nothing to do with what was at issue. Not in the precincts. Not among the rightly disgraced. Not in the legislatures and governors' mansions. Not in ignoring part of the Constitution we are all expounding… and that that is precisely what we are doing is pretty definitively demonstrated by the diversity of arguments not just that are made, but that are taken seriously by enough people to be taken seriously as arguments.

The fundamental logic problem with the debate, at least in terms of the "viability is not a Constitutional measure" prong being proposed by theocrats (and their allies), is this: If "viability" is too much a moving target for law and its limited competence to accurately reflect reality, then what is the basis? I think there's little doubt that "upon live birth" is an acceptable outer limit of the conversation; but how far prior to that point can we go without playing unacceptable hidden-agenda games?

Not nearly as far as the existence of the current argument implies. Not nearly as far as any tunnel-visioned reference to "advances in medical care" that fail to, well, acknowledge advances in medical understanding at the core of those advances in medical care implies. I will, however, refrain from puns about "bad faith" after this closing bit of snark.

  1. Interview notes, name and circumstances redacted (translated).

25 November 2021

The 2021 Turkey Awards

An annual tradition for over two decades! This is my list of ridiculous people from 2021 (so far). Pass me one of those rolls, please:

Two notes regarding missing guests this year:

First, consider the stereotypical guest-nobody-wants-but-has-to-be-invited-anyway at holiday family gatherings — the self-aggrandizing, bigoted, drunk, lecherous moron with endless opinions on things he/she/they has neither any analytic nor factual basis to even begin understanding. I'm through with that. Since I don't use antisocial media (see above!), I merely ensured that this year's "invitations" were coded so they wouldn't be visible there… and kept a relatively recent immigrant to Florida away who has "invited himself" for the past four years.

Second, as I've done for many years, there's an extra place-setting at my table. This year, it's for someone else we — as a nation — failed… after he didn't fail us, and protected and defended the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And that uninvited guest in the preceding paragraph is especially responsible.

21 November 2021

Pre-Holiday Platter

Turkey Awards coming up later this week…

  • It looks like the US isn't the only nation with a hypocritical immigration-policy problem. Actually, just about all nations these days (by which I mean "since the dawn of time") have/have had hypocritical immigration policies. The biggest "pull factor" for the US is supposed to be that statue in NY harbor, and the values implicit in it… but a prospective immigrant cannot see that statue any longer from any routine port of entry. And that says more than it perhaps should.

    Maybe someone should just whisper "Windrush" to the UK immigration policy-makers and bureaucrats before their next "study" commences? Of course, it could be worse: Explicit exclusion clauses could still be the order of the day. Wait a minute…

  • But at least immigrants aren't (usually) consigned to, umm, "permanent housing" in a landfill. If this turns out to be true, though, the New York (Jersey?) Giants will have overcounted attendance for years without their season-ticket holder with end-zone seats. OK, "seats" isn't exactly the right description.
  • This brings a new — and entirely unsurprising, especially for those of us who knew/know some, like certain political appointees it was my displeasure to encounter back in my misspent youth — flavor to "legacy admits" at Harvard (and elsewhere). It also casts some disturbing light on other practices, like a certain law school in Chicago (no, almost certainly not the one you're thinking of) with multigenerational members in Illinois and Chicago government; and on admission practices for "legacy admits" at non-elite institutions of all kinds…

    As usual with these sorts of things, it's the unexamined second-order effects that are most disturbing. Especially when combined with the preceding sausage on this platter. But we're just not going to talk about English public-school boys, ok? Don't kid yourselves, though — every nation has its own preselection schools; a certain segment of British society just revels in it while criticizing it.

  • Over Here, though, we tend not to talk about these ugly little things, especially when related to purported guardians of culture. A little trip to a bookstore recently — now that they're (sort of) reopening — convinced me that nothing has changed in the last decade. I strolled by a number of endcaps, in a chain store located in a highly diverse part of town; there were 27 faces staring out from 20 books on the Romance endcap, and the only black one was a labrador retriever. (One particularly annoying corollary: A character that is explicitly black was depicted with only a fully-clothed torso and gloved hands.) I blame both the publishers — in particular the art directors, who are even less diverse than either editorial or the actual power structures at the major publishers — and the "buyers" for this.

14 November 2021

Link Sausages With Foul-Language Additives

Jumping right in after surviving yet another bad remembrance day (coincidentally timed, every bloody year, with Remembrance Day, something we don't actually do Over Here):

  • Let's see if we can spot some industry-wide intellectual (and actual) dishonesty in a piece at PW, shall we? It shouldn't be too hard, and it will have lots of company.

    If a vendor of Spanish olive oil was caught using Tunisian olives (even higher-quality olives, mind you), the outrage across foodiedom and various regulators would be astounding. T-shirts made in Guatemala with a "Made in USA" label aren't just disreputable, but potentially a criminal offense (only a misdemeanor, but still). Milli Vanilli, and ponder just how much of their "own" songs the typical pop sensation writes. The scandals in the art world when a non-forged piece is "reattributed." Purported "plagiarism" in political speeches. But…

    Don't disclose that a celebrity book is ghostwritten on the cover. Don't acknowledge the ghostwriter's copyright interest (try reading the definition of what is an allowable "work made for hire," and pondering how "book-length celebrity memoir" fits in there). Above all, don't question an industry practice/meme going back to the seventeenth century, because That Wouldn't Be Nice. (In case you hadn't figured it out yet, "nice" is a four-letter word in the dictionary between "nefarious" and "notorious" that is found nowhere in my job description.) Ms Deahl's piece is itself intellectually dishonest in its silence concerning the very legality of the practice — at best, an undisclosed ghostwritten book constitutes deceptive advertising — let alone its rationale or anything else. It's not that one cannot have assistance writing a long work — books are hard — but the failure to disclose that assistance, with the implicit claim that Celebrity X is now him/her/themself a best-selling writer as a solo act, is… inappropriate (in much the same way as "A Film By" is inappropriate when the hyphenate in question didn't participate in writing the script).

  • The non-contrast with the recorded-music business is educational in itself, because it also leads to questions about "what role(s) in producing the distributed arts actually benefit from 'exclusive rights to Authors for a limited time.'" Not to mention rather thoroughly refutes any neoclassical-economics invocation of the profit motive as the necessary and sufficient motivation for all activity.
  • Which sure beats being trampled at a concert. The dead, after all, can no longer buy the merch.
  • Last for the moment, consider the contrast between a stated allegiance to/preference for "democracy" and the actions of those charged with guarding it. Of course, any outrage concerning that clerk (who was certainly young and stupid… regardless of "native intellectual capacity" or "has grown up since then") is easily transposed to more-disturbing contexts. Consider a hypothetical one-word change in Ms Clanton's quoted e-mail:

    Like fuck them all… I hate theocrats. End of story.

    which seems fine. (And I own it.) The problem is that "theocrat" is not as easily, not as lazily-using-first-impressions, definable as is "black." These assholes are theocrats, and "fuck them all" is better than they deserve. <SARCASM> But at least they're not ayotollahs — that would be bad. </SARCASM>

05 November 2021

Bonfires and Fireworks

On 05 November 1605…

No, that's jumping without looking first. Let's try again.

Some time in mid-1776…

That's really not any better, is it? One more time:

One day just about ten months ago, it was about six degrees (on a rational thermometer) midday on the National Mall as a group of sore losers came far, far closer to success than Guy Fawkes ever did.

Emphasis on "losers."

02 November 2021

Hanging Chad Link Sausage Platter

Oh, wait a minute, we use incessant lieslethal injection now, don't we?

  • I voted. Get your butt to the polls, even if you think you already voted in Chicago.It's my privilege and civic duty to do… this. Despite my ire at some of the contests. If I still lived near Chicago, I'd be entitled to a dozen or so of these… but if you don't live near Chicago, and there's an election you're eligible to vote in today, Just Do It™.
  • Which leads, rather dubiously, to slightly deeper questions concerning who gets to be in charge. One obvious problem with Mr Mandelbaum's position is that he glosses over the internal and external validity of the mechanisms used to measure merit. Internally, are the measuring systems — especially "exams" — valid and replicable; that is, would the results be quite close from session to session? Externally, do the particular measuring systems used (both "grades" and "exams" matter here) bear a greater relationship to later performance than alternative means of sorting?

    Because, ultimately, whether it's "meritocracy" or anything else, what we're engaging in is a sorting exercise — sorting the larger number of aspirants for positions of authority (never mind whether it's "real power" or "academic role" or anything else) than positions available into some ordering that benefits society by placing those most suitable into those positions of authority. It's an entirely predictive exercise, so of course it's going to be imperfect; all it takes to throw things off is to choose a top candidate who later contracts a "loath[e]some disease" and can no longer fulfill the assigned role, or conversely who is suffering from an external circumstance that inaccurately suppresses the sorting system's results at the moment of sorting. And that's before things like "as a teenager, wasn't able to get a Congressional appointment to a military academy for race/religion/partisanship/whatever," and its converse "totally unsuitable but his/her father and grandfather were both cops/lawyers/officers/doctors so got a free pass in."

    The relationship of this item to the preceding one should be pondered before you actually engage in the preceding item.

  • Which becomes even more interesting when dealing with what might charitably be called "nonreplicable performance positions" like professorships in/related to the arts in a theocratic or authoritarian regime. Or, for that matter, any other kind of regime. Or, more to the point, operating in/around the arts without the safety net of either tenure or essentially unlimited inherited wealth.
  • Which sure beats being a loser. I got a whole four days for my first kid (while I was on G-series orders) and unilaterally took a whole week for the second one (while I was a law student, <SARCASM> but of course that had no effect at all on my grades or performance that were locked in to a preeestablished calendar… or anything else </SARCASM>).

26 October 2021

A Different Variety of Election Fraud

Why can't they both lose?

Here in Seattle right now, we're having one of the most unethical elections I've seen in the US in the past five decades (since I began paying attention). A week from today, we're going to elect a City Attorney — a position whose primary, and indeed sole, role is providing professional counsel and support to both elected (the Mayor, the City Council) and nonelected (the "bureaucrats") parts of the city government. (That's exactly what a blanket policy regarding misdemeanor prosecution is.) There is no excuse — none — for partisanizing/politicizing professional judgment of this nature, especially when one of the consequences of that partisanization/politicization is misrepresenting the nature of the job to the voting public.

Both candidates are due a single-finger gesture for their distortions and misrepresentations. Both candidates are due a simultaneous single-finger gesture from the other hand for putting their political ambitions ahead of their prospective professional judgment. The drafters of the various statutes and state constitution provisions that enabled the fundamental subversion of professional judgment inherent in direct election of positions whose role is professional judgment — not just city attorneys, but sheriffs, and public-health officers, and judges — deserve and get the same. The two campaigns, and their principals, have so thoroughly (if as of yet anticipatorily) breached Rules of Professional Conduct 1.11, 3.1, 3.4, 3.5, 4.1, 4.4, and especially 3.8 that if the profession were truly self-regulating, they'd both be preparing self-reports of misconduct under Rule 8.3. Umm, not so much.

Professional judgment is not and cannot be properly executed when beholden to direct election. A little over four decades ago, I got to see the results of that nonsense up close in St. Louis, observing school desegragation and busing issues that were ganz beschissen und wahnsinnig because the elected professionals, in those shortly-after-Watergate years when the canons of legal ethics were honored only in the breach, were fenced away from their professional responsibilities by those direct elections. More broadly, the violence associated with the civil-rights movement was perpetuated by elected judges, law-enforcement officials, educators, and even health officers — none of whom felt able to stand up against the tyranny of the majority (or, as is much more likely, the loud). Apparently, we haven't yet learned that military leadership isn't the only part of society for which "civilian and elected control of policy" doesn't require direct elections. Just what makes anyone think we're not in the midst of another civil-rights conflict now?

Despite my allegiance to the secret ballot, I'll be voting (by mail) like this, on the write-in line:


(because with my small handwriting I can fit that in). And the same for the judicial election on the other side of the ballot.

So, Ms Davison and Ms Thomas-Kennedy: Bite me. You're both making problems worse while further undermining public trust and confidence in a profession I adopted as less confrontational than my first one (and neither of you served in that first one, so you have no [string of foul expletives deleted] clue what I'm talking about and have expressed even less interest in any perspective informed by it). And your little campaign staffs, too. Just be glad I'm keeping this objection entirely separate from each of your equally disreputable policy statements!

24 October 2021

Context-Challenged Link Sausage Platter

These link sausages have something in common: They all arise from, or in one instance acknowledge and discuss, ignorance of context.

  • If you actually need proof that a degree from a certain law school near Boston bears little relationship to "wisdom," consider this utterly moronic proposal to emblazon the Supreme Court's building with a person's name. Leaving aside that "legendary jurists" are just as likely to have feet of clay — not to mention investment portfolios of clay, genitals of clay, and personal peccadillos of pyrite — as any other political figure, naming that building after any individual runs entirely counter to the purpose of a court. In a court, everyone is to be judged under the law; yes, by fallible human beings, some more fallible than others, but the purpose is specifically to take disputes out of the ordinary hands of humanity. Naming a court building after someone who just by being human couldn't possibly meet the ultimate standard of the function of the building is stupid.

    And not to pick excessively on the choice of individual in the article, but there are distinct segments of society harmed by Justice Harlan's jurisprudence. Some of those I don't care about; others I don't know about, because I make no pretense to understand everything; others, however, like individual creators and political dissidents, I do. For all of the dissents he authored, some of the issues on which Harlan neither authored nor joined a dissent should get much greater scrutiny. Not to mention that I'm viscerally offended by the article's claim that "branding" should or does have a damned thing to do with proper functioning or reputation of any court. Indeed, one of the fundamental jurisprudential problems that has arisen in the last century is the dubious treatment of inference and implication in the context of the First Amendment. But that will have to wait for another time.

  • Even that foolishness, though, is closer to acknowledging context than a lot of other things. Consider, for example, the term "infrastructure," and the stoooooooooopid battles in Congress over the meaning of the term so as to either legitimize or delegitimize inclusion of some "human aspect" provisions in a bill to enhance American infrastructure. Yeah, sure, let's help deal with climate change by using electric cars! Who's gonna repair 'em? More to the point, who's gonna pay for the education (not just follow-the-repair-instructions training, which is also required) of the mechanics… especially as battery technology, and hence the repair processes, change even further? (Sure as hell not DeVos et al. with their focus on preparing high school students for only today's "good factory jobs"… which have all been exported to other nations anyway.)

    Not to beat a dead horse(less carriage) any further than I've been doing on this blawg for the last couple of decades, and its predecessor before that: The principle advantage American armed forces have had in combat since the last time this nation was actually invaded two centuries ago has been that American troops have had organic maintenance-and-adaptation/jury-rigging capability second to none. This has been because the American education system has always included elements of both book-larnin' and wrench-bendin' in it. Each element informs the other; tanks — and nukes — must be both invented and maintained…

  • And then there's the single widespread "sporting activity" that continues to revel in its history of bigotry, class-exclusion, and outright disdain for everyone who doesn't partake of it. No, not fox-hunting (which is close, but not a continued widespread "sporting activity"): the ruination of Sunday walks (and "Sunday walk" is, itself, an interestingly exclusionary phenomenon). This article doesn't even begin to touch other issues, such as fertilizer runoff and water consumption, or the inbredsane history of overt racism and sexism. Or the NIMBY aspects once a course has been constructed. Or, perhaps worst of all, the sheer number of polyesters that had to die to make golf attire — especially the contemporary "performance" varieties (although far be it for me to complain about mixing plaids and eyeshatteringly-bright tropical prints).

22 October 2021

Another Reason to Fear Cops

… is that if they've listened to their almost-uniformly white male protestant union leadership, they're probably not vaccinated. I find that disturbing on several axes. Even aside from the your-quasireligious-beliefs-do-not-justify-your-infected-breath-in-my-lungs issues.

First, there's the obvious racial contrast, vertically and horizontally. Chicago is far from the only exemplar here, but it's one of the most painfully obvious. We've got a white male police-union leader urging his members to defy authority. The majority of the people they police are not white or male. The majority of those eligible for membership in the Chicago FOP are not white males. And he's defying… a science-based order within the scope of authority… from an educated black woman. (We're just not going to get into sexual-orientation politics and rhetoric here, aside from this aside.) Worse yet, she's filling a role historically held by white men.

Then there's the gender-role contrast. Almost uniformly, the police-union leaders are manly men, doing manly things with other manly men (like compensating for their shortcomings with ever-bigger firearms that are ever-more-inappropriate for keeping the peace). Many of the city and county leaders they are defying — regardless of political/partisan allegiance — are women, almost none of whom have served in a uniformed force of any kind.1

More insidiously and subtly, the most strident of these FOP leaders are egregiously undereducated to be making policy… or to be evaluating science- or rights-based policies. They have valuable perspectives that should be considered in the policy-making process. However, this is a democratic republic, and that necessarily means that "having a valuable perspective" does not always mean "gets the final say." I've looked for it — maybe I've missed an exception — but I haven't seen one of these public-servant resisters-to-vaccination making any thoughtful, science-based argument against vaccination. Not even an accurate assessment of the risk of overconfidence from being vaccinated (which, by the way, is an at least theoretical problem with any vaccine).

No, instead this is about the naked exercise of power, "us versus them." Admittedly, police unions are often a legitimate reaction to a tradition — even a seeming mandate — of abusing cops by those in power, ranging from underpayment to other, even-less-savoury misconduct. In a game-theoretical sense, perhaps these vaccine resisters are flexing muscle, showing solidarity, in hopes of obtaining future concessions on other issues. Leaving aside for the moment that these are public servants (which should change the perspective entirely in the first place), this is edging ever close to mutually assured destruction as the sole bargaining theory. But then, I wouldn't expect undereducated gun-totin' real 'murikans to understand that MAD and its related posturing didn't win the Cold War — it extended it by at least two decades and made many other threats inevitable.

And if the solidarity of police unions in the face of obvious, pervasive misconduct by their members in Minneapolis and Florissant Valley2 and elsewhere is all they have to offer, they're no better than frat boys working for CREEP in 1972. In fact, they are frat boys working for CREEP in 1972; appropriate reactions to a history of abuse do not include being just as assholish a pledge chair when it's your turn as when you were a pledge (and ignoring the plight of the cleaning lady hired to keep the house slightly ahead of health inspectors). The whole point of escaping a history of abuse is to not become an abuser, to not subject anyone else to the same misconduct.

  1. This is a different problem, for a different time, too often related to historical restrictions keeping women from serving in the first place. And I don't diminish the hurt feelings of those who have served at being ordered around — often arbitrarily, too often corruptly — by those who haven't. But those hurt feelings call for changes in conduct far more than they do in structure, and change in structure is precisely what the FOP system strives to do.

    This also exposes the foolishness of calling every uniformed cop an "officer," because they're not. But that's also an argument for another time.

  2. Not news to anyone who read the Minneapolis and/or St. Louis newspapers in the 1980s.

18 October 2021

RIP The Chairman

Best wishes to The Chairman's family. That's one job that the later "blot" on his record — that he believed the intelligence briefings being presented to him by… umm… the nonprofessionals and the coopted, to his and the nation's and the world's detriment, and deployed his not-inconsiderable skills in furtherance of policy directives he privately distrusted (and, not to minimize things, enabled lots of needless casualties and destruction) — could not diminish his performance in his preferred job, for which he was immensely well-suited and at which he was immensely successful.

That son of immigrants had one characteristic that made him ill-suited for modern public life: He recognized his own errors (well, many of them, anyway), and did not hide from them… without blaming others. However much those others deserved blame, especially the even-narrower ideologues who wrested control of the intelligence system after the failures prior to 11 September — and who, to this day, can't begin to recognize their errors (let alone acknowledge them).

No man is perfect. No leader is perfect. Powell came far closer than most to, at minimum, the latter.

17 October 2021

Logistically Aware Link Sausage Platter

Trying to get this platter served before any supply-chain difficulties get in the way.

  • The fundamental problem with antisocial media is that it measures success by engagement. The quality of information, of interactions, of safety don't matter; similarly, the actual results to its real customers — the advertisers — don't matter. If this sounds very much like a major industry in the 1940s through 1960s, it should (not just Faceplant, but other providers of tables for middle-school lunchroom cliques… all too often used to plan the humiliation of the nerds and the geeks in the locker room, but that's for another time).

    Bluntly, it's a business model built upon social irresponsibility — that so long as one is making a buck, one has no responsibility whatsoever for the collateral damage caused by making a buck. (And that certainly goes for the advertising/marketing money sources, and even more for less savory customers of all the data gathered.) What? That's "just capitalism," I hear from the back of the room, followed by people nodding their heads? Just ask yourselves a question: If that actually is "just capitalism," why are there any antifraud laws associated with capitalism at all — and why are those antifraud laws more-frequently enforced in capitalist systems than otherwise?

  • Which leads to the interesting question of the masking behavior of the Entitled regarding defamation, publicity, and invasions of privacy. The Entitled misuse their advantageous original positions in a way that undermines the system for the rest of us, and distorts the values of the system.
  • Very much like immediate profit's monomaniacal focus on just in time supply and logistics, which presume that nothing will ever go wrong. Like Brexit. Or a pandemic. Or an unrelated breakdown elsewhere.

    Amateurs think about weapons and kewl hardware. Dilletantes think about small-unit tactics. Politicians think about strategy. Statesmen think about grand strategy. And professionals… think about logistics. The maroons who decided that a "just in time" system was appropriate for everyone, regarding everything, were somewhere below amateurs on that scale, because they're not even thinking about what they're doing.

  • Scientific literature has a problem. Fixing that problem, however, can't be allowed to eliminate the benefits of the system: That the publishing system, for all its flaws, promotes the exchange of ideas, without which there wouldn't be "science."
  • A different kind of "replicability" (or nonreplicability) is in danger in the arts, and most visibly in recorded music. This is one of the few areas in which print publishing has been ahead of recorded music — the genre-like issues related to the breakout of the then-new "young adult" category in the 1990s presaged this problem.
  • Last for now, one of the reasons that I despise golf and golf courses. (We'll just pretend that excessive water consumption of golf courses isn't an issue.) It's the kind of people who all too frequently are their patrons, and I don't mean just the players. Consider the assholes who prefer to honor traitors once even assholish governments shy away.

    Just because I say that your great-great-grandfather was a bigoted pro-slavery asshole doesn't mean that I'm saying you are, Mr Beasley. Unless, of course, you imply that I'm wrong in not visiting the sins of your ancestors upon you. "Fabulous piece of art" my previously-removed toenail; one wonders if the art would be so "fabulous" if it instead depicted Col Charles McGee… or had been created by a Hispanic sculptor.

12 October 2021

Free Exercise

Just a very short note to those seeking "religious exemptions" from vaccinations (not just COVID–19, either):

Your steadily-evolving colonies of microorganisms do not have "free exercise of religion" rights in my moderately-immunocompromised lungs. Whatever rights they have end at the tip of my nose, and common courtesy indicates that you should keep them to yourself. Even — perhaps especially — if they're evangelical microorganisms.

That goes especially for ignorant assholes like the highest-paid public employee in this state. To make things much worse, he is affiliated in some indefinable — or, at least, questionably justifiable — fashion with a state-supported university that includes both a College of Nursing and a College of Medicine. He is insisting upon a purportedly god-given right that one cannot find directly anywhere in That Horrible Book, or even indirectly in the "new" part of that book. And he's doing so when his daily job includes a vulnerable class — fatigued athletes after practice. And if he's from a religion not based in That Horrible Book, there's even less connection.

The same for cops and firefighters and other first responders, not to mention health-care workers, who are all trained/educated enough to know better… and who encounter potential victimspeople in the course of their jobs in more-vulnerable-than-usual states and circumstances. Not to mention each other, given the effect of fatigue on viral uptake resistance.

<SARCASM> Career politicians and theocrats, though — y'all just go right on ahead. There's too gosh-darned many of y'all, bless your hearts. Your faith will, no doubt, overcome — overcome the bills for your own lavish funerals. </SARCASM>