10 December 2017

Ask a Stupid Question...

One of the big controversies going on in law right now concerns American Bar Association "ratings" of candidates for the federal judiciary. (n.b. State and local bar associations do the same thing for judicial elections with even less effect on anyone.) It's somewhat annoying to see that one party — the Heffalumps — has historically shown substantial disdain for the right-centrist leanings of the professional trade association of lawyers' determinations of what matters in judicial candidates. (Anybody who says that the ABA leans left should look at the ABA's various ethics rules and opinions and ask themselves how much those rules benefit the insurance industry, large-firm corporate practice, and obstructionist tactics depending upon superior resources.) But, as annoying and distressing as this is at the outset — because over time, an intelligent "conservative" judge who actually pays attention to the facts in front of him (it's almost always him historically; there aren't enough examples of intelligent "conservative" female judges in the same timeframes with full track records to support full analysis) will do a Blackmun, if not perhaps as extreme — even the ABA's ratings are woefully inept and fail to encourage diversity in the judiciary that actually matters to individual case results.

The ABA has recently, if unintentionally, provided another example of why lawyer specialization needs to be acknowledged: Formal Opinion 478, Independent Factual Research by Judges Via the Internet (PDF). This opinion doesn't entirely decry factual research, but it does implicate one obvious problem with how judges are selected, and how lawyers are allowed to press factual theories without understanding their basis, in one of the offered hypotheticals:

Hypothetical #2: The judicial district in which the judge is assigned has many environmental contamination cases involving allegations that toxic chemicals have been released and have contaminated soil and groundwater. The judge is unfamiliar with this area of environmental law. Before a case is assigned to the judge, the judge reads online background information including articles. Does this action violate Rule 2.9(C) of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct?

Analysis #2: Judges may educate themselves by independent research about general topics of interest, even on topics that may come before the judge. General background learning on the Internet may be analogized to attending judicial seminars or reading books, so long as there is reason to believe the source is reliable. Even general subject-area research is not permissible, however, if the judge is acquiring information to make an adjudicative decision of material fact.

Form. Op. 478 at 7 (footnote omitted). Which, of course, is an arrogantly antiintellectual and improper statement of the relevant inquiry: It never asks whether the judge has the initial scientific background to understand the reasoning of and basis for the articles, as opposed to taking them as accurate descriptions on faith.

The probability is exceedingly high that it is not "this area of environmental law" with which the judge is unfamiliar, and for which he or she is motivated to do research on the internet… and will probably wait until there's a brief in hand (written/submitted, in all probability, by an equally-science-deficient lawyer, however eminent a partner at a large law firm he/she may be) and use that as a starting point. After all, if it's merely the law, he or she will much more probably run to a legal treatise or law journal, whether electronically or on paper. "Online background information including articles" is not how lawyers characterize Westlaw/Lexis and other "for lawyers" legal research systems that predated teh Interwebs; indeed, most sitting judges' first experience with Westlaw/Lexis was probably via a dialup modem to dedicated servers, not a 'net-based connection… mine was at a top-25 law school (and on active duty before that).

Instead, the problem is almost certainly a deficit in knowledge of environmental science, which is only exacerbated by the selection mechanisms for judges: Elections and partisan appointment systems, combined with the outright hostility of both law schools and the profession for even so much science background as a decades-out-of-date bachelor's degree in physics (let alone geology or biology!). Let's translate this hypothetical into a university setting — and the unstated consequences — so that you can see how ridiculous it is.

Hypothetical 2' Dean Wormser, a classical historian, knows that he is going to have to make tenure decisions for the science faculty and allocate resources among science and nonscience faculty (not to mention the football team and homecoming parade). He is unfamiliar with the science faculty's work and budgetary concerns. Before the first budget meeting and/or tenure decision, the Dean reads online background information including articles, including a number of very popular websites and social media sources that do not originate with academics in the respective fields — perhaps some not-academically-curated wikis and commercial equivalents of WebMD. Does this violate any obvious duty of care toward the faculty members in question?

Well, if reading articles online will suffice as a substitute for a bachelor's degree (or better) in the discipline, and laboratory experience is irrelevant (in which case, we can do away with those expensive new buildings! good!), I suppose that might work.

It's not realistic to expect every judge to have sufficient factual/doctrinal knowledge to handle every case arising from every set of facts. However, the profession's structure virtually ensures that no other person inside the courthouse can even assist in determining the credibility and currency of general information sought for self-education. Curiosity is a good thing; curiosity without rigor or context, even by the highly intelligent, leads to believing anti-vaccination hysteria, flat-earth pronouncements, incrutableintelligent design, trickle-down economics, characterization of electronic communications as a series of tubes, and that "parody" inherently has more free-speech value than "satire." Opinion 478 would discourage reference to this article once a judge has actually been assigned a case, let alone the underlying resource, and by itself that exposes a substantial intellectual deficit in the opinion.

There's a variation on Hypothetical 2 that further demonstrates the failure of Formal Opinion 478 to grapple with the real problem.

Hypothetical 2'' The judicial district in which the judge is assigned has many environmental contamination cases involving allegations that toxic chemicals have been released and have contaminated soil and groundwater. Before a case is assigned to the judge, the judge reads online background information including articles and professional journals, and begins free online prerequisites for and junior-level courses in vertebrate development and ground-water geology offered by a single university. At some point during this self-education process, the judge is assigned one of these cases. Would it violate Rule 2.9(C) of the Model Code of Judicial Conduct for the judge to complete the courses?

I am afraid that under the reasoning implicit in the remainder of Formal Opinion 478, the judge has probably crossed the line here.

If the profession, and especially the judiciary, had a broader basis of general knowledge that specifically included a reasonable proportion of members with science and engineering degrees, we'd all be less worried about the results of judges doing background research; they'd understand why perpetual-motion devices may not be patented instead of resorting to Chevron deference and taking it as administrative fiat on faith (and that's just an example that I observed a few years back while waiting my turn for oral argument on a different, copyright-related case later in the morning). Instead, the profession's emphasis on "high undergraduate grades" (more-readily achieved in small seminars that do not have a grading curve than in even relatively small lecture courses) as a screening device for better, or at least more-prestigious, law schools — and hence better original positions in the profession itself and among instructors for the profession — operates to discourage such candidates… and funnel them away from paths leading to judicial appointment/election when they are allowed in, because they are archly sidetracked as specialists in the one area that the law allows is a specialty: The patent bar.

The unstated premise of Formal Opinion 478 is that research in secondary and tertiary sources — without more, and specifically without context in scientific method, surrounding scientific principles, and understanding of data-gathering methodology and flaws — is sufficient not just for policy arguments, but for accurate and rapid decisions concerning specific matters turning on science, both factually and conceptually. Eppur si muove, you self-satisfied jerks… and you don't know why. Your failure to know why, your failure to accept that the facts must always determine the legal rule of decision and not the other way around, and your intellectual dishonesty in believing that alone among all fields of knowledge the law need never defer to another field's fundamental precepts for gathering and evaluating those facts in the first place, dwarf the Heffalumps' mere partisan failures. I don't demand that every judge randomly assigned to environmental law cases have an A.B. or M.S. in a related field — just that enough do so that there's inside-the-courthouse guidance available for colleagues, and a decent chance that the more-qualified will at least occasionally get those cases. But the egos in the profession are too bloody immense* to admit at an institutional level how much they don't know… whereas in most fields of study, that admission of how much one doesn't know is precisely what qualifies one for leadership. In short, Formal Opinion 478 is a subtle demand that judges must close their ears… not exactly what I ever want to see happen.

I give Formal Opinion 478 a C+. It answers the specific question stated, but fails to acknowledge its own context and thus represents an improper inquiry: The question presumes that the judiciary is competent in the first place to evaluate all factual material, even that to which the profession of law is hostile ab initio. It silently rejects the fundamental scientific principle that the framing of the hypothesis largely determines the outcome of the inquiry — a dizzying bit of Möbius-strip reasoning that by fiat elevates centuries of mistaken pronouncements by privileged white men of no scientific background over present knowledge.


* They are not battle stations — they are small moons. I do not claim any lack of ego, but do claim familiarity with (and respect for) enough different star systems to spot the difference.

04 December 2017

Least-Bad Link Sausage Platter

Carefully avoiding the worst of things…

  • Over at the Grauniad, there's a fascinating series of short pieces on children's books and inequality. Sunday's initial entry leads off with an entry that intelligently discusses implicit ordering, and most especially the "looks OK to me" problem, which in turn the last entry of the day really cuts into.

    These essays are valuable in themselves, and may provide some ideas for commercial exploitation of the holiday season against the exploiting class (my own objection to "holiday music" is the pretty uniformly poor standard of musicianship even more than it is the pseudoreligious class warfare inherent in the lyrics). Unfortunately, they don't shine all that much light on the history of inequality in publishing itself, which made the more problematic memes not just acceptable, but required… and continues to do so today.

  • A nicely restrained piece on the piles of crap masquerading as repositories of scientific articles also sheds light on the package-of-unwanted-crap meme endemic in the entertainment industry. The one that you've most probably contacted is cable-TV packages, but there are also issues like film distribution (especially after-release recorded copies), so-called "cooperative displays" at bookstores and those few physical outlets still selling non-holiday-themed music, and so on in which multi-item packaging dominates over actual end-user desires. Even cell phones are prone to the same problems — just try to find a cell phone without a crappy geolocation-based mapping system that doesn't work well outside of urban areas, even if you already have a better standalone device that does. The mathematical/economic foundations — and, in particular, their relationship to original position and the impetus to maintain or enhance one that is of advantage — are fascinating in themselves. To a certain kind of nerd, anyway, who is also considering the following aspects:

    1. The decision to participate (usually exclusively!) in these distribution schemes is almost never made by the actual creators of the copyrighted (or even intellectual-inquiry-in-which-copyright-is-a-secondary-concern-if-that) works, or even by any individual who has directly touched any part of the creative or distributive process for the works. It is almost always made as part of a purely cost-reducing decision by intermediaries whose sole interest is a financial investment whose decisionmaking would be identical if we were talking about widgets and not works — that is, this is the reductio ad absurdum of the efficiency imperative in neoclassical economic theory, especially as implemented by the hypothetical "prudent investor".
    2. Which leads to the more-critical question: Efficiency of what, and to whom? As implied in the initial piece, it is not efficient for the end-user to plow through a pile of crap. This exposes the oft-neglected tradeoff of "efficiency": That what is efficient for one player in a system often creates negative externalities for another — and if the harmed user has no effective remedy for the externalities, they are not going to be accounted for by anyone (not a hypothetical "dispassionate observer," and sure as hell not the investor(s) benefiting from the purported "efficiency"/actual negative externality).
  • A piece across the Pond notes H'wood's problem with the class of its protagonists, but doesn't acknowledge that it's not just the origin of the heroes, but their very powers, even when those powers aren't "super" — nor that it's actually a more-prevalant (and less-excusable) matter here in the US of A than Over There. Not even with our myths of class mobility that neglect the reality of the Rawlsian original position (see preceding item), and that since we do not have a just society at present (a failing which is sort of a necessary precondition to ordinary tales of heroism), one aspect of heroism should involve overt rejection or at least acknowledgment of validating the original position against overt efforts to maintain it. But those stories are almost always historical at best… and seldom presented with the same budget as those that accept the original position as valid, which is itself an interesting comment on the original position.
  • One side effect of this administration is going unremarked-upon: The return of The Octopus thanks to a three-decade-long attempt to kill off antitrust law, crowned by electing as chief executive a man who has tasted failure in every competitive market he has ever been involved in and success only when he had an oligopolistic or monopolistic original position. Oops, wrong octopus. Dammit, still the wrong octopus on Monday morning before sufficient caffeination. <SARCASM> Yeah, that sort of combined vertical and horizontal integration is really going to produce efficiencies that benefit consumers, just like the 19th-century trusts did. Without, of course, reifying either any particular investor's original position or accretions of great gobs of cash as having all the rights and privileges of people. </SARCASM>

30 November 2017

Blinded With (or By?) Science

… and no, I do not mean the modern replacement of naturally occuring saltpeter in sausage-making with synthesized nitrates and nitrites.

  • If you ever partook of the fascinating just-because-you're-paranoid-doesn't-mean-they're-not-out-to-get-you zeitgeist of Person of Interest, you wouldn't be at all surprised that Apple's latest security carelessness involves failure to secure the root account. And you'd smile, and perhaps change your password (which would not keep Harold from reading your e-mails).
  • An interesting hypothesis on literacy, with substantial application to current politics, holds that literacy depends on knowing context, not just denotative decoding of linguistic elements. If you really need to see this in action, I commend you to Justice Scalia's lament about DNA replication and manipulation.
  • So a couple of law schools are waking up to the legal profession's hostility to STEM students (free registration required). About a century too bloody late. Here's one example from that piece that demonstrates that although perhaps marginally awake, even these deans need more coffee:

    One concern about the GRE is how it will affect the all-important law school rankings on U.S. News & World Report. Testy has said in the past that law schools using the GRE are hoping to manipulate their rankings, because they can accept GRE students but avoid the requirement to report those new students’ LSAT scores to U.S. News. However, U.S. News has already reacted to law schools accepting the GRE. The publication’s current law school rankings, released in March, were the first to consider both LSAT and GRE scores.

    “U.S. News will continue to factor both scores into the rankings in the future. Our methodology is designed to ensure that if a school admits and enrolls students with GREs, those scores, plus the LSAT scores, are both counted in the law school rankings,” according to a statement by Robert Morse, chief data strategist.

    (fake paragraphing corrected) Which, of course, fails to acknowledge that the grade distribution among STEM applicants is significantly lower than that for non-STEM… in part due to grading profiles, in part due to competition from medical schools for the same potential applicant pool. And it leaves aside the disdain inherent in the law school curriculum (and in practice) for the actual skills and knowledge STEM applicants bring to the law. To name just two first-year-law-school examples from a single required course, consider the sheer offensiveness as foundational reasoning to a chemist of Palsgraf, and to anyone who has taken multivariate calculus or linear algebra of Carroll Towing (let alone anyone who has taken chemical thermodynamics or second-year — "modern" — physics, each of which provide rather detailed refutations of the "Hand formula"). The math and science in those entrenched-doctrine decisions is wrong (and was wrong when they were issued), but just try even having a discussion about that with one's Torts professor, unless that professor happens to have a STEM background him/herself… and forget about it with a law-firm partner or a judge, two groups that select against scientific reasoning and knowledge because they ardently refuse to accept new data as requiring new theories instead of continued reliance on settled doctrine notwithstanding inconvenient facts and contexts. Eppur si muove.

    If law schools want a more-diverse set of applicants that draws on STEM majors, the law schools should bloody well consider making their own faculty more diverse in that dimension, too. And allowing that faculty to actually apply some of those STEM skills not just to the mechanics, but the doctrine, of what they teach. The less said about implications for the profession's leadership in general and the bar exam in particular, the better.

23 November 2017

The 2017 Turkey Awards

An annual tradition (last year excepted) for two decades! This is my list of ridiculous people from 2017 (so far). If you're not named and disappointed, you're not a loser (wait a minute…), just not quite ridiculous enough in those categories. Pass me one of those rolls, please:

  • The Greasy Gravy Award for oily publicity that makes the main dish inedible goes to the current official resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the thing on his head, and his staff for turning the highest office in the land into a storm of poorly thought-out soundbites as not just media distortions, but as a method of governance. On a good day. And there haven't been many good days this year.
  • The Red-Tide Oyster Stuffing Award for carelessly poisoning an otherwise tasty dish goes to the entertainment industry. Not only did it substitute Rocky Mountain oysters for the actual main ingredient of this side dish — for decades — but it engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover it up. Admittedly, it was a much more successful cover-up than was Watergate, and an even lower proportion of the actually guilty is going to be punished or even publicly identified. And, as a bonus, we'll never know the works that could have been created including (just a couple examples under the letter "s") Annabella Sciorra, Léa Seydoux, and countless others (many still to be identified), and that's just one predator who has harmed the arts in one subfield so that he can substitute his personal aggrandizement for simple humanity or even doing his bloody job. And trust me: The truth is a helluva lot worse than even the appalling events being publicly displayed, and that's just as to the sex/power aspects.
  • The Broken Wishbone Award for shattering dreams goes to the Customs and Immigration Service of the Department of Homeland Security (Geheimstaatssicherheitsbüro), which thought it was a good idea to effectively repudiate and repeal DACA without even acknowledging a certain poem in New York harbor. (As the rest of the administration has demonstrated, acknowledging either simple humanity or the interest of the public not composed of one's existing campaign contributors would be just too much effort.) Next: All persons who are not protestant northwest Europeans, with long-form birth certificates so proving, will be invited to wear an appropriate yellow armband… probably manufactured at low cost in South/Southeast Asia (with numerous misspellings on the tag and a false "Made in USA" declaration)…
  • The Golden Gristle Award for assertions far too difficult to digest (and usually stuck in one's teeth) goes to Douglas Preston and the rest of the protect-publishing-as-they-think-it-was-in-the-fifties crowd (of course, it wasn't). Keep in mind that my previous screed was the polite version.
  • New Menu Item This Year! The Conspicuous Consumption Cranberry Relish Award for the most-outrageous example thereof goes to all of the assholes involved in the "Salvator Mundi" painting auction — the buyer, the seller, the losing bidders, the auction house, etc. Really. Four hundred and fifty million dollars. Which could have funded:

    And then there's the interesting question of which jurisdiction gets to benefit from the sales tax/VAT… oh, that's right, none of them. Nor a dime to da Vinci's heirs, whoever the hell they may be; or, for that matter, to da Vinci himself if he were alive and the painting remained in copyright.

  • The Crabapple Pie Award for marketing something sour as something sweet goes to the leadership of the greeting card industry. Since I commented earlier this year, I've had to go through several more rounds of the same futile search.
  • The Wilted Salad Award for the one part of the meal that's supposed to be "good for you," but is instead rather past its sell-by date, goes to Ajit Pai, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, for his position that the rate of return available to internet service providers is so low that they need more incentive to invest in the internet, which therefore requires abrogating net neutrality. But that rate of return is so low that none of the actors can afford to flout antitrust law by merging to even further consolidate internet access and power in a few historically untrustworthy hands, because that wouldn't be a good investment… Inconsistency with his own administration's incoherent, inhumane, and ahistorical support for making purported religious animus an exception to generally applicable civil rights and antidiscrimination laws (PDF) — and what that implies for the internet, especially any portion owned by a Hobby Lobby-type corporation — is just a moldy-tomato garnish.
  • The Brussels Sprout Award for stinky, slimy, overcooked, gentrified little cabbages goes to marketing dorks who think contempt for and lying to the customer base is the best way to succeed in business, or the arts for that matter. Come on, you've heard about even faker awards? If not, you need to read more (about) science fiction.
  • The Dried-Out Breastmeat Award for overcooking the books goes to the House Republican Caucus for its reinvigoration of trickle-down economic theory masquerading as a "tax reform" plan that would, instead, bankrupt the nation. Well, bankrupt it even more thoroughly than it already is. Of course, if you define your own constituency as "those who made big campaign contributions to me, and to hell with everyone else," this makes perfect sense as "constituent service"…
  • The Rancid Drumstick Award for something that should be edible, but isn't, goes to self-published cookbook authors who can't be bothered to proofread their recipes… and wind up leaving out half the directions (and two-thirds of the ingredients!) for a "basic pantry item substitute" for their has-some-scientific-support-but-is-culturally-faddish diet. More than once, compared to their own website's versions of the recipes, which long predated the book. Especially when that results in wasteage of expensive, hard-to-obtain special substitute ingredients by inexperienced cooks.

    Stop reading your bloody publicity materials and proofread your guruistic prescriptions, please. And I say "prescription" advisedly, because the particular examples I've encountered this year both concern diet regimes that, umm, substitute for other medical intervention.

21 November 2017

Forcemeat

The Turkey Awards are being worked up now. But today, just more link sausages, seasoned post-anesthesia.

  • A piece from the UK discusses the collateral damage caused by low pay in charity and the arts, in somewhat more detail than I hinted at a while back concerning NYC live theatre. The fundamental problem is simple: Even the arts have logistical and infrastructure requirements, and there really isn't an option of "not paying for them at all." It's easy to see this with big transportation infrastructure projects, especially shiny new roads and bridges that start crumbling in five years because there was an inadequate budget for inspection and maintenance. It's less easy to see this in the arts (including publishing), because nobody can really tell what a "properly maintained" infrastructure would look like!
  • An interesting interview with a woman who should win a few prizes for her body of work (such as a Nobel).

    The place where the unbridled imagination worries me is when it becomes part of nonfiction — where you’re allowed to lie in a memoir. You’re encouraged to follow the “truth” instead of the facts. I’m not a curmudgeon, I’m just a scientist’s daughter. I really like facts. I have a huge respect for them. But there’s an indifference toward factuality that is encouraged in a lot of nonfiction. It worries me for instance when writers put living people into a novel, or even rather recently dead people. There’s a kind of insolence, a kind of colonialization of that person by the author. Is that right? Is that fair? And then, when we get these biographers where they are sort of making it up as they go along, I don’t want to read that. I find myself asking, what is it, a novel, a biography?

  • An otherwise fascinating piece about the incoherent concept of "smart cities" completely misses the point: A "smart city" can't be any smarter than the dumbest of either its designer or its surroundings. The designer has to anticipate all that will happen interior to the city in the next thirty to forty years (remember early versions of urban planning?). And the city's interface with its surroundings has to respect both its own ambitions and the existing surroundings, that last not being a strength of tech gurus… which the piece points out, but fails to acknowledge the cross-influences that can undermine both (e.g., the effect on existing educational systems of "white flight" into the new tech oasis).

18 November 2017

Preliminary One-Finger Salutes

In the pre-holiday-season rush for "new" — especially in the world of computing — a few comments on "new" stuff that isn't working. And not-so-new stuff that isn't working.

  • Microsoft, there's no reason whatsoever to demand copying of the desktop.ini file to data-only media, whether they are thumb drives or archival disks. And it's not even necessary for Windows machines… which are perfectly capable of reading pure data. Knock it off; it just takes up space and actually inhibits use on non-Windows devices and noncomputers. Not to mention that it's a privacy nightmare.
  • Any software vendor that demands installation of a separate, non-operating-system "update protocol" — and especially if it's impossible to update the software unless one allows that protocol to run at startup and embed itself in the operating system! — should be forced to spend a week in the middle of Alaska on a laptop with limited access to power and reasonable internet access. No, Oracle/Adobe/Google, your desire to push dubious "updates" (and ads and "freebies" like McAfee's crapware) to me on your schedule — notwithstanding anything time-, power-, and resource-critical that I might be doing — is not sufficient justification.
  • Firefox 57 is a complete disaster from an interface perspective. Whatever its functional improvements, its contempt for interface customization — precisely what attracted many of us to Firefox in the first place — and, more particularly, the moderately visually impaired, in favor of antisocial media and security-impairing bullshit, is keeping me in Version 56. In particular:

    • Inability to move the menu, the search bar, and the address bar (which should always, always be separate from the search function, unless you really do want people to end up at hijacked domains and encourage typosquatting) to a single top line, thereby taking away 10% of the vertical real estate
    • Inability, in the basic program, to choose what is "on top" in the window… and an almost purposeful breaking of every extension that allows that
    • Adoption of touchscreen menu memes as the default, and forcing them on those of us who do not have (and refuse to adopt!) touchscreens

    Thus, I haven't really tried Firefox 57, since the initial installation broke my ability to actually use it. And I won't be doing so for at least several weeks, until themes and systems get updated so I can continue to work in it. No guarantees even then. (And Chrome is not an option, since that there is literally no way to keep Google — an organization from which I am "across the v." — from tracking and storing certain information, nor to keep offensive and security-impairing ad-related material off my computer. Plus it's a bloody resource hog.)

  • If I explicitly turn off automatic loading of a process or dll or file, the next update shouldn't automatically turn that back on. Especially when that process or dll works just fine when it is loaded only upon program start instead of upon initial booting. That means you, Microsoft, with your every-time-there's-a-security-update-to-Office attempts to make OneNote and Outlook (which, I should add, are disabled on my machine) run their crap at startup. And the same to a whole bunch of other vendors, like any update to any Adobe product automatically causing its (nonworking, security-evading) updaters to run automatically at boot and reset options to "automatically check for and install all updates."
  • The less said about proprietary data formats and forced obsolescence, the better. I'm looking at Cupertino (ok, admittedly with my welder's faceplate in place) and forced updates to its software for accessing data already in the possession of its customers. I know people with four-year-old versions of That Software who can't do necessary security-based updates for this reason alone; the security update is bound into a commercial-model update. I'm also carefully avoiding any invented word beginning with the ninth letter of the English alphabet and improperly claimed as a trademark in Cupertino in startling bits of overreaching and arrogance, especially relating to entertainment material without regard to more-senior users of the very marks in question.

    And it's not just Cupertino. One reason that my gaming has fallen off over the years is the adoption of a certain "default" to vapors from boiling water as required to make games work or even install at all, presuming that I necessarily want to play in an insecure mode with others online, have high-end WiFi all the time, and will tolerate mandatory installation (and constant operation) of a nasty old coal-fired boiler on my diesel-electric submarine. (Hey, my hardware isn't a super-up-to-date nuclear attack sub, either.) And everything I said about proprietary update systems goes triple (expansion) here, too.

The underlying problem isn't with basic concepts and basic security. "Security update" does not mean "marketing opportunity," assholes… especially when that specific "marketing opportunity" has previously been explicitly declined. Not everyone is sitting in a Silicon Valley office with a dedicated T3 line; some of us are sitting in airports and cheap hotel rooms desperately trying to access a court's docket or a tax-filing website or healthcare information on a hard deadline, and we really don't need anyone telling us to do something else Right Now (and reboot/restart a program afterward, thereby losing all of our current work). Just because there's no real damage to you assholes if your Faceplant status update is delayed a couple of minutes doesn't mean you can assume there will be no real damage to us for anything else.

And stop calling it "advertising" when it does anything more than actually advertise. If you're doing bloody traffic analysis (aka "data analytics"), it's not "advertising": It's data collection, usually without regard to privacy or security (or even bloody disclosure). Calling something "collateral damage" does not remove it from the realm of "war crimes," any more than saying "I was raised in the sixties" means one's conduct is immune from being treated as "sexual harassment."

17 November 2017

Blame the Lawyers

This time, I mean it. And I mean one specific subset of lawyers in particular: The Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Commission and those subject to its so-called "regulation."

When "That Judge" archly justified his violation of federal court orders regarding litigated subjects as a sitting judge subject to the Supremacy Clause, Article VI cl. 2 (which he had specifically sworn to uphold), he should have been subject to public discipline, and probably disbarment. Not just the first time, but the second time, too. This is not because he held a particular set of beliefs, or continued to advocate for a change in law; a vicious and even incivil dissenting opinion would have been in-bounds, however unjustified on the merits. It is because he demonstrated unfitness to practice law by explicitly rejecting valid and binding court orders concerning particular conduct not just of matters he was adjudicating, but of himself, in a way that so thoroughly undermines the rule of law that it simply cannot be tolerated from any officer of the court — let alone a judge.

It is uncertain whether the people of Alabama would have paid any attention at all. After all, this is a state in which I was accused over the phone of being a "[expletive deleted] christkiller" for having the temerity to ask the local Chamber of bloody Commerce for contact information for a local synagogue/temple on behalf of several fellow officers who wanted to attend Passover services... which explains full well why there was no entry in the local phone book (this was the late 1980s). But the Bar has to have higher standards than that. Not just higher bar-exam test results, because the bar exam does not and cannot test whether a prospective officer of the court is actually committed to the rule of law. A public record of bar discipline might have given at least some voters pause at primary time, and is a critical element of electoral information today.

And discipline imposed this century wouldn't have helped any woman being subjected to what they have credibly described as — to put it as mildly as possible, because after all I haven't reviewed evidence, only public statements — creepy stalking and sexual harassment years ago by an apparent predator overimpressed with his political power, even more than was Boss Hogg (and on all evidence, not much if any brighter).

As some modest compensation, members of the Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Commission, you've got company in a lot of other states. No discipline was imposed on Rod Blagojevich after his removal from office by the Illinois Senate following a full impeachment trial finding him guilty of outright corruption; no, there wasn't even a formal inquiry until years later, after a federal trial and appeal on broader charges. Discipline of various Watergate conspirators was largely minimal. (And meanwhile, solo and small-firm practitioners continue to bear the brunt of discipline for conduct laughed off in large firms, in-house counsel, procecutors' offices, and most other government roles not involving criminal defense and/or child welfare.) So this isn't unique to Alabama: It's a problem with the entire profession.

As a military officer, I was ashamed of the respect offered to William Calley and Ernest Medina among a certain cohort of my fellow officers (despite my conclusion based on review of documents that they had more probably than not been ordered to engage in at least some of those activities, they still had an obligation to disobey clearly unlawful orders). Unfortunately, that cohort was in midlevel and even senior leadership positions during the Reagan Administration, including "luminaries" like the Iran-Contra miscreants (who shall not be named here). Had there been a significant conflict at the time, I think things would have, umm, devolved discreditably under their "leadership." Fortunately, by the time the first Iraq-related conflict in the Arabian Gulf rolled around, their influence had been diminished by retirements, disgust at Iran-Contra itself, and a better class of officers resulting from higher standards imposed during the Ford and Carter years, who had attained enough seniority to credibly say "No, sir, I cannot follow that unlawful order" with at least some expectation of vindication. (Of course, that's what "That Judge" will claim he was doing… but the order in question did not require him to do something unlawful, it rejected his position that what he was doing was lawful, and that distinction really does make all the difference.) The public deserves better than this. I deserve better than this. I'm pissed off that I have to be ashamed at another profession that proclaims that it can only be self-regulating, and nonetheless refusing to do so to the detriment of the public… but not the political ambitions of its members, never that.

14 November 2017

First of the Pre-Thanksgiving Link Sausages

A general note on recent controversies: Neither gonads nor wallets have grey matter, so allowing either one to do one's thinking is necessarily brainless.

  • This should open some eyes in the general quasiconsumerish world, the world of those who look at the lifestyle of Taylor Swift and think it represents that of composers: The general/default poverty of the "unaffiliated": composer. Drawing the connection between the rhetoric of encouraging entrepreneurship in the wider economy and the actual barriers thrown up to entrepreneuers — ranging from unfair taxation until they incorporate to the tyranny of calendar-based payments and repayments expected of non-calendar-tied businesses (and people!) — by the cold, hard numbers-based economy. Getting to long-run success requires the ability to eat through the short run…
  • "Unfair taxation until they incorporate"? What the hell? Just stop and consider two things that the current tax system does:

    • Every penny of "the place to live" is deductible to a corporation or other business entity. Not just "mortgage interest," but rent, utilities, repairs, real-estate taxes, leases for office furniture, broker's fees … every damned penny. Try that trick on any US personal tax return; better yet, compare what an entrepreneur can claim as a "home-office deduction" to a business entity in otherwise identical circumstances. All by itself, this radically reduces the effective tax rate on comparable revenue for corporations, at least as compared to individuals.
    • Every penny spent on uniforms/attire, training, and education by a business entity is deductible. For individuals… not so much. The craziest distinction with individuals is that it's deductible if, and only if, it relates to either (a) one's current sources of income, or (b) a formal, degree-granting program. An individual-entrepreneur hairdresser cannot deduct the educational expenses (especially non-"tuition") of a wilderness-guide training program that is not affiliated with a recognized educational institution — or vice versa. A corporatized hairdresser, however, can. More to the point of the preceding item, an out-of-work individual-entrepreneur author cannot deduct the educational expenses (especially non-"tuition") of an automotive-mechanic training program that is not affiliated with a recognized educational institution — or vice versa.

    What this really comes down to is inept — even corrupt — interpretations of a fundamental principle of tax law: "Living expenses" (and "personal improvement") aren't deductible against income taxes, because they don't go toward generating income in one's existing line of business. Only expenses purportedly directly related to generating income in one's existing line of business (plus some "socially beneficial" expenses added to encourage certain kinds of business spending) are to be deducted from income before taxation. In short, business get taxed on their net; individuals get taxed on their net; and the two definitions of "net" are completely incomparable. So much for "tax reform" that ignores the difference. And thus, the megarich (who don't actually need these deductions) can continue to restrict the opportunities available to their social and inherited-wealth inferiors via decisions made and resources available years, or decades, in the past.

    Thus, the simplest true "tax reform": Rationalize the business-entity and personal rates; just make the concept of "expenses" deductible from income identical to both, independent of "form." If it's a "research and development" expense, deduct it; if it's a "necessary place of business (and thinking about business after business hours)" expense, deduct it. Without regard to whether the taxpayer is a natural or unnatural person. And for my next trick, I will demonstrate how to ensure that the children of Ireland are useful to their parents, or at least admit that the method for doing so needs to be discussed instead of dismissed as irrelevant.

  • It wouldn't hurt, either, to acknowledge something that this otherwise-praiseworthy piece at WaPo ignores: That its titular exemplar for rejecting homo economicus was a member of the inherited-wealth aristocracy, and wrote almost exclusively about members of the inherited-wealth aristocracy.

07 November 2017

Do Your Duty

If you're a US citizen, there's a very high probability that today is election day for you. (A few states and localities hold their off-Congressional-cycle elections on days other than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.) Do your duty and vote.

It does matter whom (and what, in the instance of referenda and initiatives and such) you vote for. It matters even more that you vote at all: That is, ultimately, why every American veteran is a veteran. As shameful as some of the particular policies and interventions over the years have been, it's all ultimately in protection of the US Constitution and the right to vote — none of the rest of it happens without it.

And for international readers, and US readers whose elections are on a different date: Do your duty when it's your turn. As Archie Tuttle says, we're all in this together. Even when we can stand each others' views.

31 October 2017

Spooky Inaction at a Distance

The quiet for the month reflects postsurgery stuff (not significant complications, more discomfort and loss of energy) and Life. Just because if I went to the beach now, Frankenstein's monster would point and say "Gnarly scars, dude!" — and all of the children would run screaming, even on Halloween, as if they wouldn't have before — doesn't mean I should "walk" around internet Hyde Park/Times Square in a virtual Speedo in virtual subzero weather… as antisocial as I can be on my best days.

But let's have a witch hunt anyway. So, if His Cheetoness weighs more than a duck, he won't float, and we might get better after all having been turned into newts… but probably not that much better, and probably not enough to avoid a lifelong fondness for insects and worms.

  • Quasiopinion pieces at the NYT and in WaPo each rather inelegantly attempt to grapple with the problems of reforming (anti)social media without archly grasping with the real problem:

    There are downsides to ascribing/allowing motivation of social institutions solely by shareholder wealth maximization, and there's a quasilegal barrier to doing anything else.

    None of which is to say that there aren't some pretty dark social-engineering, quasipartisan, and even scary monsters of abuse lurking in Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., 204 Mich. 459 (1919), concerning corporate purposes other than wealth maxmization. (Note: That's "wealth maximization" in the long term, not immediate magic-of-accounting profit, you arrogant hedge-fund/corporate-raider shitheads.)

    In short, the law of organizations has not kept up with the fact that economic theory (except for a few cranks) abandoned the "rational economic actor" as a complete, necessary, and sufficient explanation of human behavior half a century ago (Exhibit A: for all of its faults — and they are many indeed — the American Red Cross, a corporation (PDF, see page 2)). One of the comments at the NYT sort of hints at this by suggesting that social media needs to be run as benefit corporations (which would by no means restrict the founders from paying themselves outrageous salaries and benefits!), but fails to note that the divide between "benefit" and "for-profit" is still too strictly and formalistically established… and requires an expensive, time-consuming formal reorganization with concomittant vulnerability to regulation-by-lawsuit and/or -by-government that destroys flexibility to meet changing needs, objectives, opportunities, and responsibilities. And if you limit someone's identify to being only "White" or "Black," you miss not only all of the shades of grey in between, but all of the Hispanics and Native Americans, and even questions of whether a particular origin counts as "White" or "Black" (let alone the distinction between descendants of slaves and Nigerian princes… even real ones…). And it matters, because when we preestablish the criteria for "success" we necessarily discount other aspects of "success" that have failed to win the preexisting, usually-decades-old-among-different-people-entirely argument.

  • And then there's the flip side of oversharing on (anti)social media and in the classroom: Trigger warnings and accusations of snowflakism frequently coming from the entitled from privileged and protected backgrounds, which entirely ignore that the purpose of a trigger warning is to facilitate engagement with difficult issues by foreshadowing, and enabling those who might be triggered to be prepared so that any visceral reaction (however valid and sincere) does not eliminate the chance to communicate. That some of the outrage about trigger warnings is coming from the same sources who are equally outraged by spoilers for their favorite TV series bears some consideration, in the comfort of a classroom or seminar or even public panel devoted to careful consideration of not just the subject, but the tools; in more craftsmanlike terms, not just the beautiful grain and texture of the rosewood desk, but the quality and construction of the joinery and finish. Since the joinery and finish are inherently (and inextricably) intertwined with the characteristics of the materials — one would use different joinery and finish on MDO laminates, for example — just maybe that matters.
  • Liz Bourke is much too nice about the illusion of linear measurements of "quality" in the arts — perhaps even self-underminingly so. I refuse to get drawn into a hypothetical debate over whether Da Vinci or Michelangelo produced work of higher quality, whether considering specific works or broader subsets or their entire output. That hypothetical purposely chose two canonical dead white guys without considering, say, Georgia O'Keefe; or considering their subject matter as part of the "quality" debate; or… you get the idea.

    Here's why Ms Bourke's presentation is slightly self-undermining: It fails to acknowledge the limits of pluralist interpretation and evaluation. To an extent, the comment "[Books'] success as a work of art is entirely subjective" is correct — but there are limits. It is not possible to linearly rank-order all books for merit, definitively. It is, however, possible to sort groups of otherwise comparable books out into "kewl and worth further discussion," "meh," and "save trees (and electrons) from these ones"… and then just not discuss that third category. However, the claim that reactions are "entirely subjective" does not acknowledge that some "subjective" belief is not reasonable, is not supported by the text, and may not even be supported by the personal experience of the person forming the belief. <SARCASM> I would never suggest that some "evaluations" of works of art are offered in bad faith for reasons independent of the merits — objective or subjective — of the works in question. And Pat Boone never existed, either. </SARCASM>. In short, the short piece presumes good faith in the absence of any real evidence that "good faith" is the default, let alone universal.

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) that are in stock and 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.)