21 September 2021

Virtual Hot Links

not spiced with plutonium dug up on the surface of Mars.

  • Dear Chicago City Council (and Cook County Council):

    Just say no. No to any future "business dealings" with or facilitated by that family. That's not a bill of attainder, because it's an individual-instance exercise of discretion… especially if any "judicial trial" could ever be concluded in the elected Illinois judiciary. OK, perhaps not so much; and given "Blue slipping" for federal judges, perhaps not so much in Illinois federal courts, either.

    Or, I suppose, you could just continue business as usual and burnish — even revel in — your reputation as the most-corrupt major city in the country. That family gives a bad name to "machine politics" (whether through nurture or nature). Just continue to maintain disorder, ok?

  • Well, the Royal Albert Hall has (again!) convinced me to look elsewhere for superlative musicianship. This is the real irony of classical-music snobbery: The musicians who actually play the material — and especially the very best; Jacqueline DuPre, to name one, was notorious for pop-music jam sessions during rehearsals (depicted in one throwaway scene in the flawed-but-interesting Hilary and Jackie, and I dare most musicians to actually perform "Take Five" or "All Along the Watchtower" so well as those particular popular musicians) — just love engaging with great material, regardless of whether it's material that's acceptable to the snobbiest of the staff. Or, more to the point, the stupidest of the marketing department. Of course, that also reflects backward into the quality of the composition… and that's not something that some of those snobby fans of, say, the lesser works of Elgar (which is most of them, especially compared to some ouevres in "popular music"!) want to hear. I'm not afraid to admit my snobbery for musicianship; I'm ardently not listenin' to you, 1970s-90s California-based AOR/stadium rock. Bow down and worship J. Marshall Hendrix, for you shall have no guitar god before him.
  • Mark Whatney will be partially wrong. Commander Lewis's music files will include something from this century… but it'll still be disco. Plus, technically, Mamma Mia as a show has been produced this century; it's highly probable that Commander Lewis had it as an extended-release video file, but whatever. I will not turn the beat around, either.

17 September 2021

The Petri Principle

Many are familiar with the Peter Principle (which has been vociferously opposed by many academics purporting to study "business" who, almost uniformly, turn out to have either undisclosed conflicts of interest or a different definition of "business success" than ordinarily accepted, and all too often both). In one popular — sarcastic — version, the Peter Principle states that managers rise to the level of their incompetence. The slightly more nuanced version is that during an initial period after promotion, the demands of the new position inhibit a manager from utilizing those competencies developed in earlier positions, leaving an impression of incompetence (and all too often actual incompetent results).

The conduct of… various groups and individuals… regarding COVID–19 leads me to posit the more-damaging Petri Principle:

Politicians rise to their level of ignorance of basic science, especially biology.

This is dangerous because so many of them — including, at time, Supreme Court justices — not only rise to the level of their biological ignorance, but never improve it (or make any effort to do so, however important to their current position… let alone any higher position aspired to). In the spirit of the original 1968 expression, they couldn't recognize a Petri dish, let alone explain what it's for, how it works, or its limitations.

The ignorant/theocratic/greed-driven cryptolibertarian segment of the population is also simultaneously fond of the aphorism that "Your rights end at the tip of my nose." By willingly acting as Petri dishes for variants of COVID–19 (through resistance to vaccines and/or masks and/or minimal self-isolation far below the level of a quarantine), your evolved exhalations are not stopping at the tip of my immunocompromised nose — they are travelling right up inside it. All because it would be inconvenient, and perhaps somewhat more costly than you are willing to bear, to acknowledge my rights. Let alone Grandma in the nursing home, or Salim recovering from a bout of chemotherapy, or Reginald ExcessivelyLong-HyphenatedSurname IV who was born with severe immune deficiencies to The Right Kind of People and deserves nothing but sympathy and support.

Unlike some of the critics of the Peter Principle, I do not consider this "satire." It's merely nonscientific because it's based in anecdotal evidence that, however persuasive and consistent it is in its individual instances, has not been subjected to analysis of either data integrity or statistical validity. And that, too, is a corollary of the Petri Principle: I'm not willing to make policy on the basis of unvalidated data, which obviously makes me unfit to be a politician in the current environment.

15 September 2021

Eyeless Link Sausage Platter

…because every link sausage on this platter is seriously marred by blind spots.

  • We'll start with this bit of inexcusable ignorance from The Atlantic. It's a promising topic, but the writer is so far off base that almost none of the analysis is worthwhile. For now, I'll just focus on… what he overfocused on.

    Did you notice the missing element of his screed? Device choice. The entire piece is premised on all readers using single-purpose electronic reading devices, and that — in turn — refers back to walled-garden acquisition systems. Not once in that article does the writer consider those of us who use general-purpose devices; or reader applications on phones; or must read in multiple formats, and therefore cannot use dedicated e-reading devices that through either intent or ineptness cripple their non-native-format capabilities (the real downfall of the KindleDX was that its ability to read PDFs was, umm, problematic at best; for example, one could not read wide-margin documents that also had footnotes without either accepting the margin width or readjusting every page). That's before getting to philosophical or economic rejection of walled-garden acquisition of passive content (as distinct from programs or interactive content), for which there is only a non-Ricardian rent — that is, an inherently inefficient transactional basis not resulting from either scarcity or distinctiveness of the actual resource, but only of its transactional channel.

    For the first paper of the semester, this isn't too bad, but it definitely gets a "needs improvement" with lots of marginal annotations and an imperative to ensure that the stated context reflects reality.

  • Which sure beats the flabbergastery of lawyers trying to do math. But it's actually even far worse than Professor Avraham makes it seem. His analysis runs into the quantum-mechanical divide (also reflected in the classical inductive fallacy): The assumption that individual-instance determinations and general policy determinations proceed in a mathematically identical fashion with no exceptions or boundary violations. This necessarily presumes that (among other things, none of which is beyond the scope of first-year algebra):

    • All quantities have the same units
    • At least one direction of additivity has no boundary
    • The result of each instance is simply and linearly additive to every other instance
    • All instances fall within the scope of the asserted function (mathematically, no "divide by zero" errors; in the real world, no variance in the actual net value of each life ended by a Ford Pinto gas tank, even before considering the accuracy of the value-setting function)
    • All variables that might affect the equation are actually internal to (and explicitly considered in) the equation… and that they are the same ones in individual instances as in policy determinations, with the same orders of magnitude

    Bluntly, law is application of spreadsheet models to reality assuming perfect first-order linearity… and never, never contemplating cotan(0) or tan(π/2) as possible issues (not to mention the units of π/2). That's… not good mathematical practice, and was inveigled against by at least two of the Founders in their various writing on subjects other than law and government. (And the hint that "spreadsheet models" are at best close approximations of calculus results hasn't made it into the awareness of darned near anyone, yet statistical functions are all special-case approximations of calculus themselves that create not just inaccurate, but invalid, results outside those special cases.)

  • One of my longstanding gripes with reviews in, across, around, and through the arts — even their neighbor, in academia — is that reviewers tend to be far too nice. I've been railing against this for decades; George Orwell wrote several essays taking the review system to task.

    At the content level, how can I tell if praise is merited if I don't know what that reviewer doesn't approve of? The dislikes are often far more revealing of unstated assumptions, of overt agendas, and of attention to detail than are the (cringing slightly at this antisocial-media corruption) likes. That's especially true when considering both "unfamiliar" and "celebrity" reviewers — to pick on someone who's safely dead, Pauline Kael's ardent disdain for the non-DAR view of 'murika needed to be kept very firmly in mind when evaluating her reviews of, say, Platoon and Apocalypse Now! (the theatrical release, not any of the vastly lesser undedited cuts), let alone Brazil. But without seeing the negative and lukewarm reviews, and their rationales, we can't know. Any reviewer/review source who is putting forth less than about one in three negative or lukewarm/damning-with-faint-praise reviews is not reliable…

    …but that's precisely what the "reviews as marketing and publicity mechanisms" meme that has dominated criticism since the late 1960s demands. "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" — an intellectually dishonest meme itself — has given way to "Find something nice to say even if you hate it, because if you don't our supply of freebies will be cut off and promotion potential will be eliminated."

  • Then there's "theology's invisible hand" (which all too often is only one finger, and you can guess which one). Where both this article and the extensions of Smith's work to "modern economics" go astray is that they neglect the word that comes in front of "self-interest." Contrary to many understandings, the "profit motive" is not merely a softening of "greed" from a sin to an — perhaps the — acceptable motivational tool for all governance of man. Without the word "enlightened" in front of "self-interest" (because, as the article notes without nearly enough emphasis, Smith's The Wealth of Nations is at its core a work of moral philosophy), one gets results in only one dimension and presuming "scarcity" of at least something as the relevant constraint.
  • The somewhat more-amusing blind spot considering tea-brewing is the unstated assumption of brewing method and time. Not to mention "bags versus loose." Or "black versus green versus white," without even considering tisanes ("herbal teas" and infusions).

    I think I may have just instigated another English Civil War.

05 September 2021

A Parsons Table

Rather a nasty clog of hair in the drain there…

  • From the Department of Unintended Irony, ponder whether there's something more than faintly wrong with a Black spokeswoman for a particularly dubious diamond merchant. And remember that any diamond merchant is up against some pretty stiff competition for being "particularly dubious"… and that, in turn, somewhat tarnishes the prestige of Rhodes Scholars. <SARCASM> Oops, that's a (nonparallel) metaphor regarding precious metals, not gemstones. Never mind. </SARCASM>
  • Really fun goings on in Texas. Now where have I heard about something like this before?…

    “Up with your hands!” yelled a savage voice.

    A handsome, tough-looking boy of nine had popped up from behind the table and was menacing him with a toy automatic pistol, while his small sister, about two years younger, made the same gesture with a fragment of wood. Both of them were dressed in the blue shorts, greyshirts, and red neckerchiefs which were the uniform of the Spies. Winston raised his hands above his head, but with an uneasy feeling, so vicious was the boy’s demeanour, that it was not altogether a game.

    “You’re a traitor!” yelled the boy. “You’re a thought-criminal! You’re a Eurasian spy! I’ll shoot you, I’ll vaporize you, I’ll send you to the salt mines!”

    Suddenly they were both leaping round him, shouting “Traitor!” and “Thought-criminal!” the little girl imitating her brother in every movement. It was somehow slightly frightening, like the gambolling of tiger cubs which will soon grow up into man-eaters. There was a sort of calculating ferocity in the boy’s eye, a quite evident desire to hit or kick Winston and a consciousness of being very nearly big enough to do so. It was a good job it was not a real pistol he was holding, Winston thought.

    Mrs. Parsons’ eyes flitted nervously from Winston to the children, and back again. In the better light of the living-room he noticed with interest that there actually was dust in the creases of her face.

    “They do get so noisy,” she said. “They’re disappointed because they couldn’t go to see the hanging, that’s what it is. I’m too busy to take them. and Tom won’t be back from work in time.”

    “Why can’t we go and see the hanging?” roared the boy in his huge voice.

    “Want to see the hanging! Want to see the hanging!” chanted the little girl, still capering round.

    George Orwell, 1984: A Novel (1949). Most Americans — especially those who haven't critically read the book, or at all — don't know what happened before, or what happens next, let alone why. Neither do they hear the echoes of Orwell's other writings before, in, and after that passage.

  • Speaking of which: I'm not in the target patient grouping by any means, but here's a big "thank you" to essential health care providers. Given the demographics presented by my appearance, it's about all I can do now; walking in the front door of such a health clinic, at least Down There, would unduly alarm the staff — even just to give them flowers or say "thank you." And that, all by itself… irritates me.
  • Conversely, I have five fingers on my left hand. I need only one of them for Mr Hyde and his fellow monsters exercising unreasoned power and domination without a moral sense. I'd ask why these yobbos are disproportionately in favor of capital punishment (notwithstanding the error rate or the demographics… although come to think of it, that last bit explains things rather well, especially given the ironic undertones of the former name of that law school). It would be rather futile; I wouldn't get much of, if any, coherent answer, as that would require a certain level of introspection, of self-awareness, of admission to ancestral failures, that is almost entirely absent from American politics today.
  • Unfortunately, that same level of introspection, of self-awareness, of admission to ancestral failures, is also absent from places that one would expect to find it more often than in partisan politics — like writers' organizations. Sometimes it can be just a loudmouthed ignoramus who (in contemporary terms) deplatforms those holding different views. The irony that those rejected now by the commercially-successful "leaders" in arts organizations are all too often pathbreakers for the future (however "difficult, arrogant, sometimes insufferable" as people they may be, especially as inconsistent with the shabby-genteel vision of proper artistic Society embraced by those who seek and gain power in arts organizations) seems to have escaped nearly everyone.

30 August 2021

Silence Is Gold(en)(er)

All of our rain is in Nawlins. All at once, making the Mighty Mississippi run backwards. Best wishes (and lots of dread because my best wishes can't overcome nature).

  • Of all the 1L courses — quite possibly because of The Paper Chase and One L and the realities of buying a car or obtaining cell phone service — contracts are mysterious and scary. And especially in the entertainment industry, they're all too often blunt instruments of misogyny, racism, class warfare, and fraud. Thus, we end up considering whether Natasha Romanoff — whom we met, in the cinematic version of the MCU, as a paralegal in Iron Man II, having Tony Stark sign some contracts — has a legitimate contract claim against Disney.

    This is complicated. If I had my druthers, and everything was (even close to) equal, I tell the cinema owners to get stuffed. As I've remarked before, the purported "theatrical experience" is bloody miserable and/or unattainable and/or vastly overpriced for some of us… plus, in this era, it's an invitation to COVID spreading. Bluntly, "big-screen cinematic exhibition" is inherently discriminatory founded on a predatory business model, not to mention a free rider on already-overstressed transportation systems. But I don't have my druthers, and virtually nothing is in the same timeline as "equal."

    The fundamental problem — and it's one that Mr Faughnder and Ms Sakoui don't even come close to engaging with, but that's quite possibly due to editorial pressures as much as anything else — is the fraud at the heart of the contracts in the entertainment industry. A fair and appropriate compensation system would, indeed, be built on "net profits" and sharing of those net profits with the talent… for a reasonable understanding of "net," "profits," and "net profits." Umm, maybe not, when you let the fox build the henhouse in the first place. (And it's the same set of principles in commercial publishing and in recorded music, just hidden differently.) If Ms Johansson's contract called for sharing of net profits and those profits were calculated in a way that doesn't reward white male studio executives and white heirs of studio founders (and white male hedge-fund managers) to the exclusion of everyone else and the history of racism, misogyny, and nepotism in H'wood was somewhat less disreputable and well-known than, say, Chicago politics, maybe a major lawsuit wouldn't be both necessary and probably futile. It's necessary because this is part of a system of overt discrimination in both "employment" and "translation of a disfavored form of capital to financial capital." It's futile because the combination of the latter and the imprecation against "impairment of contracts" (combined with the invocation of "settled expectations of the parties" as a sufficient rejoinder, in most courts, to systematic fraud — if everyone knows the contracts are abusive, why did this plaintiff sign it?) mean that even if Ms Johansson "wins," it will be via a settlement that won't prevent the next iteration. Or the one after that. And that won't fix, or even acknowledge, the ones that came before.

    At one further and even more abstract remove, this is about the underlying meme that "only financial capital was at risk, so of course the holders of financial capital have earned the rewards." Unpacking that bullshit — the layers of assumptions, both economic and otherwise — is waaaaay too complex for Monday morning.

  • Then there's another "pay the talent" issue being glossed over, this time in an at-first-glance praiseworthy effort to digitize older magazines in the UK. It's the UK, so Tasini isn't even as obvious there as it is here, but: Who's paying the writers of the freelance material and the photographers and illustrators? Who's policing the "work for hire" contracts (regardless of whose law they purport to choose) for whether they're actually what they say they are? Well, it sure as hell isn't The Economist.
  • It's not just how much one gets paid, either. Consider whose hands are in the payment stream in the first place. One problem that this article glosses over entirely is the definition of "app" in the App Store: It also includes books, and more to the point magazine subscriptions. That's right: When you've purchased a subscription to a struggling arts magazine on your iThingy through the App Store, and it's time to renew, almost a third of the subscription fee ends up in Cupertino. (Well, stops in Cupertino on its way to absentee "landlords".) And so on.

    Apparently, nobody learned anything about corporate culture from this long-running drama, which involved not just the same company but many of the same managers (and investors, for that matter).

  • Then there's the joint creator problem and its resolution through the courts (which are inherently hostile to "collaboration" and "creation")… although in this instance, the "creation" is the image more than the content (I always preferred The Clash to The Sex Pistols, because the former wasn't only about image with not even an acknowledgement of musicianship) and one of those joint creators is long dead. Which, frankly, is just about right for undercaffeinated sniping on a Monday morning.
  • But in the end, meat matters. Now, before you vegetarians and vegans haughtily sniff that you don't have that problem, consider the "white farmer premium" for most meat alternatives, the environmental damage and water consumption of most present meat alternatives (and wheat alternatives are much, much worse), and that almost all aspects of the way you park your SUVs with the bike racks hanging off the back into my driveway (again, just like yesterday at brunch) undermine everything you're saying. Virtue-signalling isn't a good look any time, especially not on Monday morning when the coffee hasn't kicked in yet.

    There's a disturbing economic-justice silence in this, too. What's the "right" balance when there's still widespread malnutrition in the world? I don't pretend to have the answers; I just pretend to have some questions. Like whether there's any relationship to the preamble of this link sausage platter.

25 August 2021

Bill of/for Appropriation

These link sausages are entitled to the highest-quality condiments. Just ask them.

  • So, then, what should students learn? Well, perhaps the first thing they should learn is not to blithely accept Mr Montás's description of what the "core curriculum" at Columbia, or at any of the other high-falutin' schools that has an enforced core curriculum, consists of… because understanding the weaknesses in that core curriculum is at least as much about what it excludes as anything else. The shortest, snarkiest response to this kind of tunnel vision is to point out a great book that appears nowhere in any listing of Great Books: Newton's Principia Mathematica, without which true understanding of things like "optics and perspective" and "musical scales" (in the West) is not just incomplete — it's wrong, whether from an abstract view or in the chronological development.

    Which leads to the rest of the core curriculum — the part not just neglected, but implicitly rejected, in that essay. "Western Civilization" (whether at Columbia or anywhere else) is just part of the core curriculum. And other parts — the ones taught by guys in stained lab coats or chalk-impregnated corduroy (occasionally tweed) jackets with leather patches at the elbow — matter just as much: The science and math courses that are necessary to understand, or at least assimilate, change into the next fifty years of one's life from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old freshman. This is reinforced by the parts usually taught by foreign grad students in their native tongues making a few bucks on the side — the mandatory "foreign language" components.

    There's a more fundamental flaw to Montás's essay, though. "Western Civilization" (again, whether at Columbia or elsewhere) is taught at a level consistent with early participation in several different majors. Many math and science courses taken along with it, however, are not; and foreign language courses are a hodgepodge, both in terms of what languages are offered and whether majors are offered in those languages/cultures/literatures. The existence of all of those jokes about "physics for poets" in the absence of jokes about "poetry for physicists" among the courses fulfilling a basic requirement (and not elective credits, implicitly grade-inflated) should give one a great deal of pause. What understanding of "Western Civilization" can ignore technological advancement — especially in comparison to other civilizations with which it came in contact — as an underlying theme? More to the point, how can one justify carefully studying the development of poetic meter as society moved from oral to written literature (Beowulf to Shakespeare to Tennyson to Eliot) without equally carefully studying the development of distinctions among chemical substances (Aristotle to Paracelsus to Boyle to Koch, let alone the Aristotle-Bohr-quantum intertwined parallel thread)?

    None of which is to say that a "Western Civilization" course can't be a fundamental component of a good education, or that controversies over what is covered in it are either meaningless or essential. It is only to say that — contrary to the assumptions, tone, and conclusions of this essay — that course is peering at western civilization through a keyhole, and the whole point of a university/liberal arts education is to open the whole bloody door.

  • If a "Western Civilization" course doesn't involve inappropriate(?) cultural appropriation, I'm not sure what would. Consider the "overachieving" child of refugee-immigrants from Somalia or Syria or Vietnam sitting at the far end of row eleven. Yeah, the shy one taking extensive notes and only grudgingly participating in class discussion because her accent would be too out of place in a Disney movie or Disney+ live-action-for-teens show. (And those are… interesting… locii of cultural appropriation in themselves.) Notwithstanding her skin color, or her religious garb, or the olfactory striking power of the homemade snacks in her backpack. And yet, she's being required to "assimilate 'murikanexceptionalist culture" (it's intellectually dishonest to call them "Western Civilization" when they essentially end consideration of Spain in 1648 and Italy in 1652, and the less said about parts never considered like pre-Luther organized opposition to the Catholic Church as anything other than political movements the better) in a way that sounds much more like "but this cultural appropriation is the good kind" than anything else.

    Cultural appropriation isn't just about English mugging other languages in dark alleys and going through their pockets for spare vocabulary (although that's certainly an example, he writes, while drinking his coffee sitting on a sofa with his feet on an ottoman and feeling no little schadenfreude whether in its native language or as modified in contemporary American English). It's also about who gets to decide not just what is acceptable, but what is true in the first instance. For, as that piece implicitly points out, some value of "true"… and some value of the context of that "true" — neither of which may be immediately apparent. The irony that analyzing either a personal story or a cultural artifact for "first instance" is itself a cultural appropriation is beginning a deep dive down the rabbit hole of reflexiveness, where all the rabbits are white. Or at least where all (or virtually all) of the authorities about "rabbitness" are. The further irony that sometimes appropriation out of context might be, well, appropriate (such as, say, a new artistic movement, exclusively reserved to Central Americans, that draws on Aztec artistic influences without including any cannibalism or slavery) is much too complex a consideration for a blawg in the first place.

  • A quick update on a culturally essential infrastructure project: The Wall should be, as of this morning, 1,64 kilometers long (compared to 150 meters for the Vietnam Wall) — a little over a mile. And the Orange One's check to retain the law firm necessary to obtain planning permissions bounced.

    Ooooooh, no. I think I just committed "cultural appropriation" by expressing that in scientifically accepted units instead of good 'murikan "English measurements" (that are seldom used in England any more — just look at any recipe in any periodical from Blighty!).

18 August 2021

Mandates

1. First, a personal statement that is less hypothetical than it seems.

Hi. My name is Mary, and I'd like to talk to you about the instrusive hand-washing mandate.

People just shouldn't be required to stop and wash their hands all the time. It takes time and attention away from other tasks. It's inconvenient. It requires use of extra towels. It uses extra water.

More importantly, requiring people to wash their hands while preparing food infringes on their liberties. I may be an immigrant, but I came here for Freedom. I deserve my Freedom, and that means no government mandates on my personal behavior. None. Especially when I can earn more money, and more media attention, as a cook than doing other jobs.

2. The next time I see a law professor display his ignorance by misusing technical terms in a public policy debate, I'm going to puke. And then wash my hands, but…

Professor Zywicki doesn't have natural immunity. He might have acquired immunity — and there's the misuse of technical terms and concepts, in a field outside of this professor's expertise but related to a public policy debate. He has egregiously misinterpreted the WHO report (and other sources) he relies upon, because he appears to lack the basic scientific knowledge to recognize and understand the assumptions inherent in that material. The tl;dr version is that all acquired immunity diminishes over time and/or is limited to specific expressions of viral activity without protection against others (thus the need for the shingles vaccine in those who have had chickenpox). Natural immunity is genetic (and thus doesn't diminish over time)… and the fact that Zywicki contracted COVID–19 indicates he didn't/doesn't have it. Further, there is no data whatsoever on how much any acquired immunity from the initially widespread strain of COVID–19 protects against other variants, whether the currently raging delta variant or potentially scarier ones like these.

This is not difficult or obscure material. It can be understood by anyone who has taken a single-semester-intended-for-majors introductory cell biology class, and indeed among them it is probably thoroughly internalized (except, perhaps, against willful rejection based on unrelated agendas). It can be at least grasped by anyone who occasionally reads a general-circulation periodical like Scientific American. If this sounds like contempt for insertions of side-agenda-based shibboleths by the undereducated into policy discussions, without bothering to understand how those side agendas relate in even a superficial manner to their undereducation — well, yeah. It is.

Next, we'll consider the "natural immunity" to penetrating skull fractures inherent in certain experienced motorcycle riders…

3. <SARCASM> Of course, objection to any mask mandate isn't really about Freedom and (thoughtful) libertarianism. If it was, every libertarian who is paying attention to the world (instead of their own navels) would not just embrace the present mask mandate, but trumpet it as the best protection against widespread (mis)use of facial recognition technology (whether by Big Brother or Big Tech that sells its data to Big Brother doesn't really matter). </SARCASM> Wearing a mask substantially complicates facial recognition, and possibly (given the relatively low resolution of current general-surveillance systems) blocks its effectiveness entirely. So there's something else going on here…

16 August 2021

Alt-(Pussycats-and-Toast)

These link sausages are piping hot! (Pies aren't really part of 'murikan cuisine, and the drought driving the price of soft wheat flour up makes me reluctant to depend on pastry anyway.)

  • When this piece appeared last week, my immediate reaction was to start writing a long essay on how it's fundamentally wrong. Then, on consideration, a shorter piece on how it's wrong. My thoughts have gotten progressively shorter and sharper since (which should frighten you about the long form):

    The basic problem is that Mr Eisen and Ms Lydgate appear shockingly ill-informed on what "the rule of law" means. One of them is a former diplomat, and the article's focus on the conduct of litigation as the focus of "the rule of law" is just… inexplicably tunnel-visioned, and neglects two millenia of European history (as a start). Litigation of individual disputes — and conduct of that litigation — is a consequence of the rule of law, not its epitome. The rule of law fundamentally requires only that all individuals and entities, including the government, both prevent and resolve their disputes via the same nonviolent standards and rules (another example of English's unfortunate tendency toward operator overloading and shifting definitions, because this "rules" is not coordinate with "rule of law"). That is, literally, all there is to it. Litigation, the regulation of lawyers, and regulation of clients' out-of-court statements, are merely mechanistic sets of those standards and rules; none of them is the rule of law. The tl;dr version: Means shape ends, and ends determine acceptable means, but means and ends are not the same thing.

    That's not to say that the point they actually are making — that our particular set of standards and rules has been (and remains) under attack, but that some of those charged with individual-instance enforcement of those standards and rules are fighting back — is unimportant. (I think they're horribly overoptimistic and have been fooled by the magician's assistant, but that's part of the long version!) It is not, however, about the rule of law, and we can't even just blame a bad headline this time.

  • Self-appointed Emperor Mark I and his bureaucrats/minions/sycophants/mandarins are busy preventing researchers from probing disinformation mechanisms on Faceplant. Which is reprehensible… and entirely predictable. It's predictable not just because by saying "social media" one is rejecting the concept of "social responsibility," or because they're greedy sleazebuckets who've never contemplated that the work that established the profit motive and enlightened self-interest as foundations of a capitalist economy was a work of moral philosophy. Although those are both true! It's predictable because it's an obvious consequence of the intersection of liability-insurer mindset, offensive collateral estoppel, trade secret law.

    The liability-insurer mindset is "never acknowledge anything until forced to in discovery, and even then consider lying." This is at least in part because the purported "fiduciary duty to shareholders" of for-profit liability insurers has overwhelmed the legitimate risk-pooling function of insurance; the cause, however, is almost irrelevant to the consequence, and fixing that cause would require decades of adjustment to a radical structural change (and probably have its own unanticipated consequences). Offensive collateral estoppel is the ability of another claimant to use a bad result against the defendant to force a result — once there's a finalized finding that cigarettes do indeed cause cancer, that issue can't really be contested any more. The key here, though, is trade secret law. These researchers — if their research was successful — would garner substantial insight into the specific algorithms and information flows inside of Faceplant… and keeping those secret is at the core of Faceplant's business model, because that's where the rents are, and where the ability to actually impose advertising rates instead of (formally or informally) auction them at a substantially lower price comes from. Any revelation of those trade secrets makes them unenforceable against all others… particularly including against former employees laboring under restrictive NDAs.

    Paranoid? Naaah. I've crossed swords with some of the lawyers and law firms involved. It's not paranoia when they really are out to get you!

  • Then there's incipient racism in "entertainment" to consider, whether book reviews (and, by implication, any other kind of review) or doll sets commemorating the plaything of old white oligarchs. As to the latter: I was at the oral argument in Walking Mountain (the next argument that morning was Ellison), and that article/controversy reflects that the arrogance, entitlement, and attitude haven't changed in two decades. And sheds further light on the two preceding sausages on this platter.
  • Perhaps darker and less obvious, the news regarding various aspects of creator/entertainer compensation by transferees of late has been entirely consistent with accreted capital's war on labor. (Even I can't, and won't, make a link sausage out of products from that purveyor of Big Chicken.) Whether concerning musical performance, the actual creators of comics and graphic novels, actors, authors, artists, whomever, there's a multipronged problem with the entertainment industry's structure.

    • The transferees treat entire entertainment units as their exclusive "property," often through misuse of the American work-for-hire doctrine (and its de facto equivalents elsewhere). In the US, there's a simple question to ask: Is the work being created actually eligible for treatment as work made for hire under the law at the time of creation? That is, was it by (a) a statutory employee (with all of the rights and protections afforded an employee, minimal as they are) within the scope of his/her/their duties, or (b) specifically commissioned in advance, in writing with mutual acknowledgement of WFH intent, and falling within one of the nine categories of eligible works? When courts have even inquired into this, they've generally gotten it wrong… and always failed to impose the consequences. (Hint: The closest that "comic book or graphic novel" comes is "contribution to a serial or collective work"… and that is, indeed, a question of fact that can only be measured at the time of creation and not through 20/200 hindsight by Bleistein-impaired observers.)
    • The judgment of noncreator managers at the transferees is treated as definitive as to both the artistic and commercial merit of the creations. This is perhaps most obvious in recorded music, but it's entangled in every performance-based art and even in those less performance-based (right, Ms Rowling?).
    • The transferees misuse their outsourcing of critical business elements (whether voluntary or forced by other generally applicable law, such as antitrust) to hide their actual financial interests, as the Johanssen/Disney+ dispute epitomizes. But that's far from an exclusive example — just consider the way that different formats and artificially-defined markets for book-length textual works are treated in author compensation (and we'll gently tug at the sleeves of the judges on the Second Circuit who've consistently gotten this wrong… for nearly a century… and ask them if they understand that merely "having a representative" does not change the nature of a "contract of adhesion," even under pre-Restatement contract law).
    • Perhaps most obviously, there's the translation-cost problem between forms of capital. Remember: "Capital" is not just "money in the bank account"; it includes all property interests. Mineral rights are capital. So are computer chips used to build SUVs. Most to the point here, intellectual property contributed to a venture intended for mutual profit is a capital contribution at least as much as it is a mere "product of labor." The difficulty is that post-mercantilist economics has a rich consideration of, and vocabulary to express, transaction costs (especially to the disadvantage of labor)… but tends to sweep the costs of translating one form of capital to another inside that rubric and rapidly under the rug, where it is now a two-meter-tall lump labelled "labor." This rubric is particularly inapt in a creative context like comic books and graphic novels that are expected to maintain continuity (or to overtly establish different continuities) — and in light of the first of these prongs, the treatment of the entire sub-ouevre as a single unit of "property." It does, however, rhetorically denigrate the claims of those who created the individual subunits… which, I suppose, is the entire point of the meme (at least from the standpoint of the preexisting accretions of financial capital).

06 August 2021

Slightly-Dampened Link Sausage Platter

Fifty-one days without measurable rainfall. In Seattle. Nope, global warming and climate change are obviously just The Squad's rhetorical attention-getting device with no relationship to reality.

  • A piece in the local paper on barriers to non-road public transit in the US is interesting, but so fundamentally incomplete that it remains a questionable source of information. Not once does Mr Lindblom question either NIMBYism or the darker aspects of historical property ownership and misuse as relevant issues in nonroad transit (at present, "light rail") construction. This is, by itself, a sufficient explanation for the complete absence of light-rail planning in the fastest-growing-but-still-not-entirely-developed areas in the region, such as the corridor from Redmond to Renton on the east side of Lake Washington (let alone slightly farther east of Lake Sammamish). There are certain families with interconnected property interests there stretching back to the 1930s and earlier who block all transit solutions that (there's no nice way to put this, especially after their "performances" at school board meetings in Bellevue, Issaquah, and Renton in the 1970s) reflect racial, ethnic, and religious animus. (Reading between the lines of campaign literature last fall, nothing has changed. And if they had any humility to substitute for that self-righteousness, they'd recognize it in themselves… and then promptly dismiss it as either entirely justified or somewhat irrelevant. These are not nice people.)
  • If you need proof that Illinois governors — even, and perhaps especially, those who are convicted felons (of whom there are more than a few) — as a group are incapable of learning from their failures, consider Blago. I doubt that it was Trump who commuted Blago's sentence; I think it was the thing on Trump's head commuting the sentence of the thing on Blago's head. And for both of them, there's very little of substance underneath.
  • Last, in a little-noticed dissent, a federal judge demonstrates both that some judges understand what "litigation" and "judicial decisionmaking" concern… and that, precisely because it was a dissent, far too few do, especially when inundated with policy arguments from amici of dubious interest, and/or parties putting forth partisan and ideological tautologies.

    I concur in full in Judge Moore’s dissent. I write separately and briefly only to emphasize the determinative reason for my dissent.

    Facts matter. That premise applies in abortion cases, just as it does in other contexts. Judge Moore’s opinion ably sets forth the pertinent factual findings of the district court, which are well-supported by the record and which distinguish this case from Casey. The majority opinion treats these findings only at a high level of generality, an approach that obscures both the specificity and strength of the evidence presented by plaintiffs and the absence of meaningful response by the state. Ultimately, the majority’s inattention to the record enables a generic result that fits this waiting period within Casey and ignores the undue burden on Tennessee’s low-income women and women who experience intimate partner violence. For this reason, I dissent.

    Bristol Reg. Health Ctr. v. Slatery, No. 20–6267 (05 Aug 2021), slip op. at 57 (PDF logical) (Julia Smith Gibbons, J., dissenting; internal citation omitted, otherwise in full).

    Would that more judges would recognize that — even, and perhaps especially, on appeal; even, and perhaps especially, concerning challenges to the constitutional basis for statutes — the facts matter. One of the main problems with the Langdellian "case method" is that it deemphasizes facts, and in particular deemphasizes contested facts and the accuracy of judicial recounting of "facts," as mattering to high-minded explications of legal doctrine. Bluntly, judges (and, disturbingly often, the "greatest jurists") get the facts wrong far too often; and that, to this chemist and sometime "information scientist," is unacceptable. Eppur si muove is the least of the difficulties… because often, it doesn't move, but for an entirely different reason that undermines the stated rationale. There are sound reasons that the "Bohr atom" was a leading explanation in chemistry for only about three decades: The facts, and especially new facts discovered with new methods and instrumentation, didn't support the model. Law… not so much.

03 August 2021

Entitlement Program Link Sausages

It's election day around here. So that means it's appropriate — perhaps much too late — to comment on some of the more dubious entitlement programs. But these are entitlement programs that don't make the news very often…

  • This is a fun neighborhood in most respects, but there's one aspect that just about everyone will agree completely sucks: The parking. It's not just that these are old streets, laid out in the days of street cars (and redlining, but that's for another time). The mixed-residential-and-commercial, mixed-density nature makes for some interesting problems of its own — especially with entitled drivers.

    Entitled out of town (as in Oregon plate ___ LHR) drivers.

    Entitled out-of-town drivers in Volvo SUVs with multiple bicycles on a rack hanging off the back, incompetently parked, resulting in taking up about one and a half parking spots on the all-residential side of the street. No doubt while visiting the most-self-righteous-of-the-three vegan restaurants on/across the block for Sunday brunch, all sweaty after a great bicycle ride… and neglecting that that half spot was blocking access to my driveway. I ended up driving up over the curb with my load of groceries and painting supplies to get into my own driveway while these entitled jerks enjoyed their $25 "ham" and "eggs." (And I get to further sully their memories by putting this comment on a "sausage platter"… and I can guarantee you that whatever these sausages are, they aren't vegan.)

  • But at least they weren't complete dickheads — they left after a marginally-reasonable time. I can't say the same about the governor of New York, who is not just oblivious but entitled because he inherited the right to be prominent in politics. Perhaps he should review U.S. Const. Art. I § 9 cl. 8:

    No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

    and ponder the implications for "nepotism as a foundation of American politics." He won't be the first to fail to do so; if you really want to see "entitlement" in action, just be related to someone prominent in Chicago politics… including on the Heffalump side of the aisle (however limited in number that is). Or get a job at the White House during the previous administration without any apparent experience or qualifications not related to… well, not "related" will do.

    Governor Cuomo should have resigned as soon as he got the undoubted-if-repeatedly-denied back-channel message that General James' investigation was going to find significant culpable conduct. That's what "office of public trust" means (my other computer just decided to comment editorially on this betrayal with a "random" selection). It's one thing to make a mistake, own up to it, and ask forgiveness. It's another thing entirely to engage in a years-long pattern of conduct, deny that the pattern has anything wrong with it, and act like a Daley. Or a Pendergast. Or a governor of the state of Illinois (half of them since 1945 are convicted felons, and half of the remainder raise eyebrows).

    Meanwhile, California is doing its best to demonstrate that its political system is optimized for dysfunction and abuse.

  • And policy differences are by no means a determinant of dickheadishness. On the one hand, here in the purportedly "most liberal" city in the country, we've got city and county council members whose stated policy preferences I agree with, but who can't seem to stop being awful people with egos sufficient to support the dictatorship of a banana republic. (I'm choosing that comparison with full awareness of the political and ethnic undertones.) On the other hand, we've got defense contractors (specifically including one that used to be headquartered here, until its headquarters were attracted by local tax breaks elsewhere) who've clearly forgotten part of "profit motive driven by enlightened self-interest". Leaving aside that the aircraft in question was a piece of crap when first acquired, admittedly under prior ownership, and a logistical nightmare complained about by every USN and USMC supply and maintenance officer ever forced to work with it (at least in the O-club bar ashore and at joint-service social occasions)…

    Which gets into a different aspect of entitlement: That having some "correct" opinions, or engaging in some "heroic" actions, entitles one to be oblivious and/or an uncriticizable dickhead on everything else (sort of like the faaaaabulous charitable giving of certain tobacco heirs/families, which in many ways is rather worse than the Sacklers who at least didn't directly profit from slave labor and displacement of native populations). This is disturbingly analogous to ancestor worship of "Confederate heroes" standing up for "states' rights" while suppressing the rights of those of different racial/ethnic/religious backgrounds (not to mention the treason). Elections in a representative democracy are only secondarily about policies; they are primarily about the individuals, because the very nature of electing governing officials is that we're selecting who will lead in a future crisis, expected (global warming) or not (pandemic).

30 July 2021

Tarnished Medal Link Sausage Platter

There's been more than one day of late that I didn't know up from down. But then, I've been following American politics for half a century…

  • Well, in the last few minutes, the US women's football team has proven its mental strength by winning a penalty-kick shootout against the Netherlands to proceed to the semifinals. The Orange One will be disappointed that That Woman whom he suggested needed to "win something" before she spoke out on anything put away the decisive kick… and will entirely miss that Rapinoe's kick was decisive because her teammate Angela Naeher saved three Dutch penalties today.
  • This, a few days after Simone Biles showed her mental strength by not placing herself (and potentially others) in jeopardy for the benefit of the sponsors. <SARCASM> I'd offer her a virtual hug, but the last thing that she needs as a survivor of US Gymnastics' inbred old-white-guy arrogance (and Dr Nasser — and his defenders — in particular) is unsolicited physical, even virtual, contact from an old white guy. </SARCASM>

    The scheduling of damned near everything at the Olympics is for the benefit of the sponsors, and in particular the advertisers (world wide). It's certainly not for the integrity of competition; if it was integrity of competition, the individual events in gymnastics would precede the all-around, and the team competition would always follow the individual events. The team sports — especially those, like football, that require considerable recovery time for repeated elite-level performance — would be more spread out, regardless of the so-called "pageantry." And so on.

    And if the sponsors weren't in control, the Olympic Games would not be occurring in the midst of a pandemic near lockdown of the host nation.

  • If you need proof that the entitled-old-white-guy attitude is tarnishing all competition — not just the Olympics — consider this startlingly counterfactual piece of argument-from-authority on the purportedly flawed case against noncompetes. The fundamental problem is that the piece looks at the data from entirely one perspective, and with entirely one objective: Existing capital accretions own the workers, their ideas, and their skills, and only the existing capital accretions are entitled to benefit from the workers, their ideas, and their skills. It's more than just "labor is subordinate to capital," an underlying meme of post-Expansion America. The law-journal article cited in the "opinion piece" to which I linked here fails most tests of experimental-design validity. For example, the article focuses only on high-team-implementation-IP noncompete agreements as its source; I am left to wonder just how much a franchised sandwich stop really needs to keep its minimum-wage workers from going to work for a competitor, because those minimum-wage workers don't know the recipe for the "secret sauce" in the first place. Then there's the question of applying noncompetes to independent contractors, like authors and screenwriters and so on (seen a default publishing contract lately? in particular, a publishing contract from a certain NYC-based conglomerate controlled in Germany… or its competitor controlled by a Franco-Swiss arms dealer?). Then there's the never-stated definition of "innovation" at the core of the article. And all of that is before getting into the dubious, cherry-picked data and "statistical" methods.

    If anyone needs a further reason to distrust the law-and-economics movement and its misapplication of laboratory-based-and-confined numerical methods to the "real world," this opinion piece (and the law-journal article) provide that reason. At most (and even that depends upon measures of data integrity that I'm not in a position to evaluate either way) the criticisms raised in the article suggest that "perhaps, for some narrow and highly specialized circumstances, noncompetes of broad scope and extremely limited duration might be an appropriate bargained-for consideration." But that also presumes that noncompetes are subject to bargaining in the first place, doesn't it? Instead, though, through the magic wand of "we're economically sophisticated tools of capital accretion and we know both what we're talking about and what's good for General Motors'murika," the authors of the articles cheapen their analysis by Olympic-caliber conclusion jumping.

    Both pieces implicate — don't quite cross whatever line there is — academic integrity matters. The editors who accepted the underlying law-journal piece should be hauled off to a graduate-level, team-taught course with a title like Statistical Methods and Designs for Epidemiological Inquiry and Analysis in the Social Sciences before ever being allowed to evaluate pieces of this nature again. Whether for overall acceptability or during the editorial process. The editors who accepted the opinion piece need at least a basic course in statistical reasoning (taught with calculus, not The Students'-T Test for Dummies). The authors… that's for another time, because it's a complex situation touching on academic integrity, academic freedom, conflicts of interest (recognized and otherwise), and the necessity of the "sniping process" in academia. That said, their decision to "go general public" was certainly ill-considered.

23 July 2021

Adjacency

This isn't precisely a politics-free platter; it's certainly politics-adjacent. But only adjacent, sort of side-eyeing more overtly political things…

  • Lab leaks aren't just for Wuhan any more, if they ever were. Dangerous, even viral, contaminations can escape from (what passes for) political science laboratories. This has been a problem since, oh, not later than nine centuries ago or so; probably as far back as Roman slave revolts that had no clue what to do next. And that's for simple ideas like getting a new boss; complex ideas don't need "think tank" escapes to fail.
  • In a piece that is simultaneously insightful and profoundly ignorant, Jordan Weissmann asserts that master's degrees are a scam. Examining the kinds of master's degrees he cites, though, reveals that his horizons are just a bit limited. Leaving aside fields in which a master's degree is a fundamental qualification to proceed above the entry level (education, social work, public health, and so on), and the truly mixed history of the MBA, Weissmann's attack is on terminal master's degrees in the humanities. Not the MSc in ChemE used to focus on a specialty area, but the MFA; not the stepping-stone to a PhD awarded for those who must interrupt that journey for Reasons, but the online, "low-residency" degree usually focused on extraordinarily narrow areas with lots of "experiential learning" and very little core curriculum; not coordinate study to enrich another field (an MA in history to enrich a PhD in comparative literature, an MA in economics to enrich a JD for teaching purposes), but a "pure credential" to get one's foot in the door in a field that has, umm, indistinct entry criteria.
  • I'm a crotchety old grouch. I don't rely upon streaming services (in fact, I actively avoid them because they don't pay the artists or composers outside the top five or ten in each category, and as you've no doubt figured out by now that's seldom an accurate description of what I like in the first place). My collection isn't always on physical media, but it is all offline… so I'm not dependent upon a high-bandwidth internet connection (and device power-drain), either. I thus sneered a bit at Joe Pinsker's very-late-to-the-party sudden awareness that future access to streaming "collections" is far from guaranteed. And we don't even need the specter of "what if the business goes under?" — although that's a far from trivial possibility (three letters: MCA) — but a change in copyright law that requires fair payment to musicians and composers would probably turn the streaming system into a much more expensive one… which will work really, really well as Generation X and later approaches retirement on fixed incomes.
  • Which is sort of the precise opposite of the problem cinemas have with Black Widow's release strategy. Looking at the difference in "experience," though, helps distinguish this link sausage from the preceding one. The compressed files on streaming services are discernably inferior to even mass-market CDs, let alone audiophile-quality CDs. Conversely, the complete range of experiences in cinemas is not necessarily superior to even a lower-end home-theater viewing… especially without the crappy seating, badly-tuned audio, and kids running up and down the aisles. The financial issues are a smokescreen.
  • Those financial issues for cinemas distract from other problems. Let's leave aside for a moment the demographics of cinema ownership, shall we? Let's look instead at the demographics of those who make films, which is a serious problem. When even the Governor of the Bank of England (the equivalent of the Chair of the Federal Reserve) recognizes that diversity all the way up and down the "ranks" makes for a better organization, it exposes the failure of imagination in H'wood.

    The less said about publishing (and book distribution), the less reason you'll have to replace your screen after the acid eats through it from the inside.

  • Which, I suppose, beats "required preclearance". This is especially problematic when the potential clearance issues arise as much to prevent embarassment to the high and mighty as to protect dangerous information (and avoid those idea-escapes from the first sausage on the platter).