24 February 2020

The Six-Inch Rabbit

So Harvey Weinstein is now a convicted rapist. At last.

Over a quarter of a century too late. <SARCASM> Selfishly, I'm pissed off that the combination of the damage Weinstein did to Annabella Sciorra directly, and via blacklisting, robbed me of several unknown-and-unknowable pieces of bloody art. And she's just one among dozens of victims, making this suitable for a multipart series on Lifetime. If, that is, actresses are available who weren't themselves victims. </SARCASM> If there is a "message" in this verdict, it is that the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard can work… for a white man with experienced, expensive defense counsel. Otherwise, not so much. PDF

What really pisses me off the most about this is that so many people knew… and did nothing. Or worse. And sadly, Weinstein's abuse of power was far from limited to sex… but now we're venturing near confidential settlements. Suffice it to say that some of Miramax's "triumphs" weren't really Miramax's.

Application of the foregoing — all of it — to the packaging problem is left as an exercise for those not paying attention to its implications for this year's presidential campaign.

18 February 2020

Hair Today, Commuted Tomorrow

Today's link sausages are guaranteed to have hair counts exceeding USDA standards. Which sort of makes one wish that "shaved ham" at the deli counter had instead had a Brazilian wax job.

  • In news that should shock absolutely no one, the thing on Drumpf's head has commuted the sentence of the thing on Blago's head (and, incidentally, Blago himself) for attempting to sell a seat in the US Senate to the highest bidder. Bugger off to all four of them: The things on the respective heads, and the owners of the heads. That it was Obama's US Senate seat just made it inevitable, given Drumpf's continued attempts to smear anything connected to Obama… and Obama's refusal to completely submerge himself to the then-Party leadership, which included Blago. It's "f*cking gold" indeed.

    Other exercises of the Presidential clemency and pardon power are equally disturbing. The thing to remember about many of these miscreants is that they pleaded guilty while still retaining high-powered, expensive private defense counsel. That's ordinarily a sign of one, or perhaps both, of two things: That they really are substantively guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and know it; and/or that a few years at Club Fed is likely to be less harmful than what is expected to happen when they turn on others who are part of their social circle/scheme. That goes especially for Milken (who continues to think he did nothing wrong, distinguishing that from unlawful… without a law degree, or even an undergraduate education that would have supported that fine degree of distinction in highly technical matters), Blago, and deBartolo.

  • Which leads to a very disturbing potential for nine months from now:

    • On one line of the ballot, we could have a socialist democrat, who is actually somewhat, but not excessively, to the right of how that term is understood in Europe by those who actually developed the term, and who is not actually a member of the Democratic Party (being formally an "independent" who caususes with the Democrats);
    • And on another line of the ballot, we will have a sociopath Republican — which, on the evidence of elected officials' voting patterns, is their default — who spent much of his adult life as anything but a member in good standing of the Republican Party.
  • Both of the preceding link sausages are less disturbing than Mark I of Facebookia functionally declaring that he has sovereign immunity from EU regulation. It's not much of a surprise after revelations concerning FAANG and his prior attempt to develop the ultimate mark of sovereignty — his own currency.
  • Decades too late, the AmerikanischerhitlerjugendBoy Scouts of America declares bankruptcy. Or maybe I should just call them Всесою́зная пионе́рская организа́ция и́мени Дж. Бёрч, because that's exactly the role that misbegotten antisemitic-and-variously-else-bigoted organization played during the depths of the Cold War… and has barely moved away from since. Needless to say, the organization's (literally) holier-than-thou leadership is virtually all voting for the second ballot option described a couple links earlier on this platter. Good riddance. (We'll leave aside for the nonce the defective, and sometimes downright dangerous, "wilderness survival" skills purportedly taught there — which curiously omitted desert environments despite the deserts of the American West, and for that matter of Alaska.)
  • More good riddance to the parasitism of American real estate agents, who continue to be the largest unconscious element reinforcing old-school redlining. (Insurers do it consciously; that's a screed for another time and a few hundred footnotes.) This will be a while coming… and there will certainly be problems and issues with the replacements, such as estimated rentals that are almost always between 25% and 35% over both the actual neighborhood market for noncommercial rentals, and their own forms of discrimination. But there might be less of a problem with Renting-or-Buying-While-Black/Asian/Hispanic/Nonchristian… which I've observed many times over the years, including less than two years ago with an oligopolist in a college town.

    Which matches up all too well with a cultural variant on "location, location, location" as essential. It isn't really even a nice place to visit… at least, not unless you know someone there who can steer you away from certain mistakes (like believing that MOMA is actually a representative collection of great works).

  • But at least some men know their place behind women in the meritocracy of sport. The last time that the U.S. Men's National Team made the semifinals at the World Cup or Olympic Games was before any member of the first U.S. Women's World Cup champions had been born… and almost certainly before any of the parents of the current U.S. Women's World Cup champions had been born. That says just a little bit about the order of merit, since pay is supposed to be equal for equal work, doesn't it?

13 February 2020

Oversmoked Internet Link Sausage Platter

The smoke coming out of my ears seems to work well for preservation. How's the flavor?

  • Here's a useful — if somewhat longwinded and somewhat credulous — guide to invoking the new CCPA protections for your online privacy, even if you're not a California resident. I find the broader, better-updated list at GitHub more useful, but YMMV and Mr Fowler's piece is a good starting point. There is, however, one particularly egregious (and self-defeating) error in Fowler's article, that appears to arise from either a misunderstanding or failure to understand consequences. At one point, he grouses:

    Some companies will try to shift work onto you. Airbnb and PayPal, among others, make you email them requests, rather than using web forms.

    This is, umm, wrong and self-defeating… presuming, of course, that it's "more" work to send an e-mail using one's own, presumably self-customized, e-mail client rather than someone else's pathetic web form (with the almost-inevitable Captcha). Let's neglect, for a moment, the sheer amount of additional privacy-impairing information collected by modern web forms, let alone their security implications. The key problem is that a web form does not provide any realistic proof of what was sent, when, or to whom. Even taking a screen shot the moment before sending won't do… especially since most web forms have limited-space form windows that don't entirely display (for example, just try reporting a copyright infringement to FacePlant and seeing how much of the URL actually displays…). It's sort of like relying on an airbag as the only safety precaution in a car, assuming that it'll fully protect you… without a seatbelt… while you're hanging out the window half-drunk flipping off another driver in a road-rage incident. Insist on e-mail.

  • Meanwhile, on the fake diversity/white supremacy front:

  • And, for you mathematically-challenged advocates of the "long tail" theory of making a living in the arts, consider just how many streaming plays of a musical performance it takes to exceed one month at minimum wage. The initial, and obvious, mathematical problem with the long-tail theory is that it neglects the other tail… and that's before considering quantizing effects, fixed costs, or anything else. It's just dumb. Perhaps not as dumb as listening to economists who don't acknowledge that "efficiency" is normative and not value-neutral, but pretty dumb nonetheless.
  • Which leads into the latest newspaper bankruptcy. The stories so far have utterly failed to point out the principle thing that is going to happen: Pension liability will be wiped out. That sounds great for the company, and perhaps for the other investors; not so great, however, for retirees and especially for current employees. It is, perhaps, inevitable given the external rate-of-return pressures on newspapers that fail to consider the Ricardian (and non-Ricardian) rents related to the First Amendment. It is also class warfare, because what to the upper classes looks like "asset protection for workers" is actually "deferred compensation." Further, it is in effect nothing more and nothing less than union-busting under cover of Title 11.
  • It is perhaps just as well that military preparedness for a constitutional crisis is, at best, C–4. Dammit, the US military isn't supposed to be an actor in a constitutional crisis. That's the entire point of civilian control of the military — something that was pretty new-fangled in the eighteenth century. So new-fangled, in fact, that every European power thought it would make the US collapse within a decade; conversely, the US is the only Western entity with more than negligible military power both then and now that has not undergone a radical change in government since and adopted civilian control of the military.

    This is a point that Mr Harbaugh seems to have missed in large part, but then he's a squid and a pilot (he might have been too busy shooting his watch off to pay attention). After Iran-Contra, I'm bloody well entitled to be skeptical of the Department of the Navy on this sort of thing… because Harbaugh's complaint that "not once did I receive meaningful instruction on the document to which I had pledged my life" is incorrect for at least the US Air Force Academy, US Air Force ROTC, and US Army ROTC. I have personal knowledge of required-course syllabi and mandatory readings for those commissioning sources. Lt Col Vindman demonstrated that he has internalized that training. So maybe Harbaugh is just showing that the Navy really is the goat here. (Said with genuine concern, a smidgen of contempt, and a lot of traditional interservice rivalry — which is all too appropriate given that the Navy's unofficial guiding principle is "two hundred years of tradition unsullied by any hint of progress.")

12 February 2020

Enablers

So, yesterday, four career federal prosecutors resigned due to political interference with their sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone. Let's leave aside, for the moment, whether that interference itself implicates a breach by their lawyer-supervisors of the duty of professional independence (such as that in Rule 5.4, which on its face applies only to private practice) and indicates that those higher in the chain who attempted to overrule those prosecutors on political grounds should be subject to professional inquiry and possibly discipline. (Answer: Yes, even under the loophole-ridden rules, but not gonna happen… because the relevant state bar authorities have been thoroughly agency-captured and coopted.)

The contrast with the reprehensible and vindictive mistreatment of the Lt Cols Vindman is fascinating and disturbing. On the one hand, these prosecutors jumped before they were pushed. That they did so loudly — via public filing in short order — indicates that this was more about not having to follow foreseeable orders later that they did not believe they would be able to than it was about self-preservation. Of course, the probability that any of them will ever be able to get a highly paid position doing white-collar-crime defense has gone down considerably; with very rare exceptions, BigLaw doesn't like demonstrations of actual independence.1

On the other hand, Lt Col Alexander Vindman's live testimony (and brotherly silence) provided an example of professionalism to follow. There's a further between-the-lines contrast with that bloody statue of MacArthur at West Point, and the US Military Academy's continued wrongful worship of an officer who violated basic principles of officership on more than one occasion… such as opening fire on a First-Amendment-protected gathering of veterans seeking to present their grievances, thereby violating Posse Comitatus and ensnaring a few other later-prominent officers in his misconduct. <SARCASM> That's exactly what we want cadets to be learning from so we can better replicate Iran-Contra through the Department of the Army instead of the Department of the Navy. Looks like the Air Force and Space Force will just have to wait their turns. </SARCASM>

So I call on the Secretary of the Army to promote the Lt Cols Vindman if appropriate based solely upon their military record as established by performance reports written by superior military officers… and strongly consider appointing one or both of them to Permanent Professor faculty positions at West Point. Their presence might begin to repair some of the wounds caused by and enshrined in that statue — especially since MacArthur's primary justification was not maintenance of public order, or protection of Congress from actual insurrection, but ideological "anti-communism" reminiscent of the Palmer Raids and probably worse. (We don't even need to get into MacArthur's repeated misconduct and poor military judgment in Korea that led to his removal/resignation.) The parallel to the Vindmans' treatment by this administration bears careful consideration if you give a rat's nether regions about the rule of law (let alone supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic).

This was less than seven days in February. But Jiggs is recently deceased.


  1. But for other confidentiality requirements, including attorney-client privilege, I'd be more specific.

10 February 2020

Tripping Over the One-Inch Barrier

At least H'wood managed to clear a one-inch barrier last night. The stark reality of its inability to clear a six-inch (eight-inch with special effects and wishful thinking) barrier is for another time. Maybe they'll take a run at it next year, only to trip and fall. In the best of all artistic worlds, they'll leave a cartoon-character-shaped hole in it that proves a perfect match for Greta Gerwig (not even nominated? when the violence-worshipping-misogynist-who-shall-not-be-named-here was, again, because the film was "about" H'wood?).

But that one-inch barrier remains. Consider the problems with literature in translation. More to the point, ask yourself how much of historical American policy in Southwest Asia has screwed up because some of the worst of "our bastards" spoke better Americanized English — or had top aides who spoke better Americanized English — than alternatives to them. Exhibit A: Iran, 1953. Exhibit B: The latest dead-on-arrival Heffalump "solution" in Palestine (which doesn't — quite — reach Final Solution proportions… on its face, although it provides all of the necessary predicates for later escalation) (and it's still France's fault for pushing matters toward the Balfour Declaration — linked only to demonstrate that it's much more complex than it looks, not as an endorsement of the particular analysis — and away from a secure European location for, well, Europeans). In both areas, the US usually trips over that one-inch barrier.

And will continue to do so as long as the following aphorism remains accurate:

If you speak three languages, you're trilingual. If you speak two languages, you're bilingual. And if you speak only one language, you're an American.

Which necessarily means for at least another thirty years given the DeVos (and others') devaluation of competent teaching of anything other than 'murikanenglish during the psychological/physiological period of greatest ability to learn in/about something else.

Application of the above to 52.5 violations of their oaths, to the next Jackass presidential "debate" and non-Heffalump equivalent, to US border crossings for its own citizens and residents, outright racism, and so on, is left for those with more patience than I have. Ever.

31 January 2020

Diggin' in the Dirt

These link sausages are so dirty that they're guaranteed not to pass a USDA inspection. Fortunately, there are no inspectors in this Wurstfabrik… and even if there were, they'd have been paid off, in the fine tradition of the US agribiz.

  • So Ms Thunberg needs to study economics before opining on something that isn't economic, Mr Mnuchin? Leaving aside that your own degree from early-1980s Yale probably doesn't qualify as "studying economics" itself, one must remember that the best way to get three opinions on where the economy is or is going is to ask two economists.

    Of course, that imprecation to Ms Thunberg is exactly parallel to what passed for "economic-sensitive reasoning" at Ford in the early 1970s, resulting in The Memo. Yeah, that's exactly what we want to hear from any government official.

  • And makes just about as much sense as Apple's insistence on proprietary power connectors. It's sort of like insisting on the right of automobile manufacturers to have a smaller hexagonal nozzle opening that is only available at Shell stations. Well, no; it's exactly like that, as it's far from coincidental that in almost any given competitive circumstance, the Shell station has the highest price per gallon of equivalent-grade fuel. (And I'm really not interested in the supposed detergent advantages, which make little or no sense for the vast majority of drivers and vehicles even if replicably true and statistically significant, and I've not seen any double-blind, non-interested-party data so indicating.)
  • Some good news from publishing: The wicked witch is dead. Stephen Joyce personally held back scholarship of James Joyce's work, and his assholery — there really isn't another word for it — deterred a number of young scholars in the 1980s from even trying. He also epitomizes the "worst case" issues related to droit morale, droit d'auteur, extended copyright terms, and the ugly intersection of "family privacy" and "semiconfessional and/or family-inspired fiction." And has thereby made it that much more difficult for those with legitimate concerns to express or protect them.
  • But much more bad news from publishing. There's so much, in fact, that I'm just going to neglect most of it. There is one recent incident, though, that demonstrates all too well the problems with white (upper-middle-class-and-trust-fund) domination of commercial publishing. And it's a dirty, and inevitable, fight in which everyone ends up covered in mud. The author comes off as slumming and/or appropriating… to at least some extent. The critics come off as demanding that their own personal experiences are the only authentic ones… to at least some extent. The publisher comes off as utterly clueless about both the book it was publishing and its audience… to more than some extent.

    Failure modes like this are inevitable under commercial publishing's model: Those establishing sales and marketing and publicity plans have not read the book. At least the maroons pushing "high-performance cars" have at least seen them at auto shows or on the track. Hell, even marketing of firearms is dominated by actual gun-totin' 'murikans! But the practice of establishing sales/marketing/publicity plans and systems with no direct knowledge of the product being sold/marketed/publicized isn't just intellectually dishonest: It implicitly treats failures like this (which necessarily involve a lot of deceptive acts, conduct, and words) as a cost of doing business. Just like exploding gas tanks on cheap hatchbacks. Bloody free-riders.

26 January 2020

An Enemy of the People

One of the things that military personnel — and especially officers — have drummed into them from day one is to "respect and follow the chain of command." For officers (and senior enlisted), though, there's a subtle exception; that subtle exception calls on the highest standards of professionalism. "If there's a problem and the chain of command is compromised or unable to act, use the Inspector General system."

And so Lt Col Vindman did. He exercised his professional judgment after personal observation of unlawful command influence, determined that directly following the chain of command would be futile concerning those unlawful orders, and properly utilized the IG system that was available to him.

That obviously has not been cost-free to Lt Col Vindman. He'll be better than "just fine" in the long run, but the probability of ever getting promoted above O–5 under the strictures imposed by DOPMA has dropped below 20% no matter how outstanding his performance and no matter how great his potential. (Ordinarily, by statute, it is purportedly "50%," but that's a mischaracterization of the mechanics of DOPMA; it's actually just about 45% for line officers who make O–5 on time or "below the zone" (early promotion) in the first place.) And promotion to O–6 requires specific approval, by name, by the Senate. Yes, it's a list that is presented as part of a resolution… and every year, for every service, a few names get quietly removed from that list, usually for good cause but not-infrequently for less than good cause. Like political embarassment.

So congratulations, Senator Blackburn (R–TN): Your vendetta has and/or will deny the apparently appropriate services to the United States of a man who appears to be what we actually want in senior officers, at least after he reaches his 28th year of service. In this instance, he did precisely what military protocol demanded of him; but, with your nonmilitary background and constricted experience and educational baseline, you didn't understand that. And weren't interested in understanding that; you didn't understand any of the lessons of Iran-Contra, nor did you understand that a military officer just does not object to disagreed-with command actions via press conference or antisocial media frenzy. Like you do/did.

<SARCASM> I'm not going to stoop to your level, Ms Blackburn, and "suggest" that you are from a "hunting-happy" state that has no licenses for and no limits on self-aggrandizing politicians and that its citizens should consider that, because that's not a solution here. Machine politics would just throw in an equally ignorant replacement, and advocating violence isn't appropriate in the first place. Which didn't stop you. </SARCASM> You have brought shame and disrepute upon the United States Senate… although in this environment, you've had a lot of competition in doing so.

17 January 2020

Snowed-In Link Sausage Platter

Although these link sausages are semi-frozen, they're ardently not semi-Frozen II. Especially since the 'net was out for a day.

Most of these frozen link sausages, however, represent my past coming back to haunt me.

  • Like, for example, textbooks reedited for the Texas market. And it's not just history textbooks, either; even PE textbooks and science textbooks have to be "adjusted" to accommodate the cultural sensitivity religious and ideological arrogance of some markets.
  • Then there's the fun of shell companies used to evade set-asides. I find this story slightly annoying because the LAT reporter rather wide-eyedly acts as if this is something new. It's been going on since approximately 45 seconds after the first "modern" set-aside program was established… in the 1940s, for veteran-owned companies. And there are criminal convictions to demonstrate it.
  • I've been bitching for about forty years that too few "reviews" were negative — that reviewers tend to be overly nice. Especially in the audio and audiovisual areas, reviews and reviewers are treated by everyone (including themselves) as adjuncts of the distributor's marketing department. My ire was set off by having seen the Oscar-winning film I shall not name, in its initial release, before reading any reviews of it… especially after having seen several other vastly superior films that "year" that were logrolled by AMPAS voter dumbness (and the misbegotten influence of the publicity whores, regardless of gender or preference). Now Phi Beta Kappa has noticed that this is a problem for books. Surprise!
  • Conversely, the ironic and somewhat misnamed The Critic misses the mark (by several years) and misidentifies the signifiers of the "death" of rock and roll (it was not later than, and perhaps epitomized by, the overblown nonsense and rejection of thought/development/reality sold as Frampton Comes Alive). Rock "died" in the sense that Mr Green suggests when love/lust ballads retook the center of discussion from broader awareness shortly after the fall of Saigon. And contrariwise, there were a lot of vastly superior musicians and songwriters after the Joisey Maroon's contribution cited in Mr Green's piece, all of whom continued to evolve matters in ways that Mr Green denies happened. To name four obvious examples in alphabetical order, Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel, Janis Ian, and Richard Thompson were all producing evolutionary work that "developed" rock both before and after Green's critical date.

That's enough for now. Time to get back to building Evil Snowgoons of Impeachment, which will be promptly ignored by Senator Turtle in violation of the oath he just took on national TV.

07 January 2020

Rage-Flavored Link Sausage Platter

This first internet link-sausage platter of the year may, or may not, contain holiday-meal leftovers. I'm not telling; and I'm not specifying species (or planet of origin), either. Nor paying for any intrusive USDA inspectors (even under the currently laissez faire inspection system).

  • RWA continues to demonstrate that it's just like other creators' trade groups in the arts. Or even academia. I've only seen this up close a dozen times or so… and it doesn't get any better as leftovers.

    Maybe the politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low. So low, that is, to those who define "stakes" as "further accretion of money and political power" and not "creative life, or cultural participation, or personal identity." The irony that this distinction in identification itself has strong race, ethnicity, gender, and related discriminatory components hasn't yet sunk in… nor has the problem of an industry oligopolist owned by Sauron that is probably now less discriminatory than it was before he bought it (which should really, really frighten you).

  • If you've got a grim sense of humor — and if you don't, what are you doing here? — that leads right into The Observer's 2019 awards for sexism, narcissism, and generally going to the dogs. Which restrict themselves to corporatism, so they're not as scary as they could be.
  • For example, they're not as scary as pondering war crimes and the racist and religious bigotry therein. Almost universally in the West, but that's a topic that tends to get obscured by overfocus on dynasticism and the nation-state. Do you know who else was hurt or killed in that drone strike, or what property was damaged? Have you even seen any reporting on it? Have you ever seen grainy, declassified post-strike damage-assessment photographs that might raise those questions? Dammit, that's one of the differences between "military operation" and "assassination": The former gives a rat's nether regions about "collateral damage." Sometimes that's all it gives, but it starts the conversation…
  • And in the meantime, an overprivileged white woman plays the civility card in general (barely acknowledging that word) without pondering why there is rage resulting in incivility. Maybe — just maybe — the historical refusal of the privileged to actually change anything, or even listen and engage, when the nonprivileged use civility as their only means of communicating their displeasure, has something to do with it. A call for "civility" is a call for "all interrogations use only the good cop." Sometimes "good cop only" interrogation works to get good information, sometimes it doesn't. But it almost never works for indoctrination…

    McArdle claims that "This might be a fair answer if rage-filled invective worked. But anger and shaming only promote change in people who view each other as part of the same moral community — which is exactly what the scream teams no longer do." This betrays a flagrant ignorance of just how rage-filled (in a contemporaneous sense) the rhetoric of the Founding Fathers was, although they were well-educated enough (in our conception, history being written by the victors) to speak in terms we're not offended by. If McArdle's fellow-traveler/ally DeVos gets her way, though, the "underclass" will be educated just well enough to take those (non-existent) "good manufacturing jobs" — but not well enough to express their rage, fifteen years down the line when the manufacturers are bought out by private equity firms and the jobs disappear, in "civil" language.

    Besides, "rage-filled invective" does work on all evidence, or at least is a necessary part of the conversation to discomfit the comfortable enough so they listen and act. Only after there was public "rage-filled invective" from the black community did the white, privileged community begin to actually take steps to implement Brown's precepts, or establish the Voting Rights Act of 1965 or Civil Rights Act of 1964; only after Stonewall was there a growing, eventually widespread (if not universal) acceptance that treatment of the gay community might require some reconsideration; #MeToo (and anyone who claims that one can talk about sexual assault in a "civil" fashion has never been responsible for any aspect of the aftermath); and so on. So, as is all too typical, McArdle couldn't even get her factual predicate correct without twisting it through her preconceived ideology. And that, more than anything else, is why her variety of civility is so thoroughly and (pun intended) rightly rejected by the unprivileged as insulting, condescending, meaningless blather.

  • Then contrast McArdle's blather with a field guide to tyranny — presented in a civil forum, in civil language, that gets nowhere near (like not even on the same continent as) Rwanda and the Congo and Egypt and Libya. OK, I take that back a little bit: That "book review" by a white male author of a book by a white male author does deign to mention Mengistu in Ethiopia. Once. But not Ian Smith or the RSA. Or the "subcontinent." Or nineteenth-century Europe. Or the pre-eighteenth-century Vatican…
  • I've held off commenting on this for as long as I can, primarily because Reasons. Overdrive, the leading source of electronic materials in US libraries, has a long history of dubious, privacy-infringing, copyright-and-creators'-rights-disdaining activities (just for fun, turn on your packet sniffer and watch its "friendly" Libby app in action). And it's being sold to an even worse new owner. The history of KKR acquisitions doesn't make me optimistic at all… because all the data Overdrive has gathered/does gather is going to end up in someone else's database within 36-42 months. And it's someone even less well vetted for privacy (and, for that matter, intellectual property) policies than KKR — because that's KKR's business model.
  • Which really isn't any better than Silcon Valley entrepreneurship epitomized by Uber, whose founder's, umm, incivility has led to his jump-before-being-pushed permanent departure. Or, as the sausage preceding that one implies, governmental tyranny.
  • But you can't dance to it at the best of times, especially if you're utterly ignorant of the arts as a process and not a thing. Sadly, that last is a shot at Mr Caramanica, but much less so than at the legal community as a whole… let alone the private equity and venture capitalist types — in medieval/Renaissance terms, "patrons" — who control and disproportionately benefit from the commercial exploitation of that process.

03 January 2020

Bad Character

I think perhaps — just perhaps — the best rejoinder to the RWA foofery of late is some good writing and rhetoric from half a century ago. Beginning in Medea res (all puns intended… and, sadly, relevant; one of the benefits of a classical education):

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny, and they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating for whites only. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

*  *  *  *

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream (post-speech transcript, 28 Aug 1963) (audience interjections omitted, some typography corrected). Ms Tisdale et al., this is historically authentic use of, and source material for, now-disfavored language and concepts — not unguided "research" into tertiary-at-best, undocumented, noncontemporaneous source material (that may not even be in the target language).

Application to each of the following is left as an exercise for the student… or the writer:

  • The struggle of other ethnic groups than that referred to by a member thereof as "Negroes" fifty-odd years ago for recognition and appropriate treatment in contemporary rhetoric, not limited to category fiction
  • The struggle of disfavored groups other than those defined purely by ethnicity, such as LGBTQ and Jews and Muslims, for recognition and appropriate treatment in contemporary rhetoric, not limited to category fiction
  • The struggle of not-currently-recognized/defined but nonetheless disfavored groups, such as "real science nerds" and "social justice warriors," for recognition and appropriate treatment in contemporary rhetoric, not limited to category fiction
  • Outliers within disfavored groups and individuals at the intersection of multiple disfavored groups, such as mixed-race Chinese-American female lawyers who no longer practice law because they were disenchanted by a hostile work environment
  • The struggle of category romance qua a category against New York commercial-publishing-and-distribution preconceptions (established almost entirely by trust-fund and upper- and upper-middle-class white folk… in the 1960s)
  • The struggle of other disfavored forms/categories of writing against those same preconceptions
  • #MeToo

Dr King's point was that eliminating one form of bullying isn't enough if it's replaced by other bullying; that judgment is about individuals and not lazily/easily defined groups that perhaps share a characteristic (voluntary or otherwise) but are inherently diverse within themselves. In a more-abstract sense, having been a victim of bigotry on axis x does not excuse acting as a bigot (or even just a jerk advancing one's own commercial self-interest) on axis y, no matter what those axes are. And that Dr King was himself fallible and imperfect provides no excuse either.

Or, I suppose, the purported "leadership" in the romance community (not limited to RWA staff and board members!) could just continue to prove that writing and/or publishing romance fiction — overwhelmingly, at present, read by women — doesn't keep one from acting like a dick.

26 December 2019

Another Heidi Game

I was a young football fan, living in a city with no football team of its own, in November 1968. My excuse for watching the end of the only available game (including the closest team to Seattle at the time) was that there was family content scheduled to follow it: A new production of a so-called classic. But Heidi used old values to suppress football, in large part because existing ad structures favored the old-school family TV presence. That darkened my day; twenty minutes later, the screen crawl told me what had happened in those last few seconds.

This time, though, the shoe is on the other foot, although it's once again a case of marketing expediency (denied by everyone involved) lurking behind the old guard resisting change and, therefore, another foot-in-mouth problem. This time, it's an authors' group with some historical problems, focusing on a marketing category with even more problems. Bluntly, "romance" has historically been gender-, race-, religious-, ethnicity-, and class-insensitive on its good days.1 And virtually every day, that category is actively hostile to intellectual achievement, let alone intellectual immersion. Even, and perhaps especially, in its progenitors (off-site video).2

I think I've now sufficiently buried the lede. My ambition is, as with any law journal article, to have approximately half of the verbiage in the footnotes…

This is about RWA's mistreatment3 of "Courtney Milan."4 Milan has a significant history of calling out racist and other discriminatory language in written works. So far as I've been able to determine (see note 3), that's what she did this time… but the writers of those words — who claim that they had been written years ago, and were "historically accurate" as to the environment depicted in the works themselves — were unable to distinguish between the works and themselves. They filed complaints with RWA's Ethics Committee, claiming that Milan had violated RWA's purported ethics rules.5 The Ethics Committee, and ultimately RWA Board, agreed that Milan's conduct violated RWA's purported ethics rules. Of note here:

  • The publicly disclosed complainants are commercial competitors of Milan, but neither the RWA Board nor the Ethics Committee has acknowledged that at all.
  • Writers are not professionals and can't make themselves professionals. One can drum a writer out of a particular writer's group and its sponsored events, and then engage in whatever (probably unlawful) boycott or commercial pressure against that writer one can imagine, especially hyped up in antisocial media. But getting kicked out of that group does not prevent a writer from writing and publishing; it's not like yanking a doctor's license or dismissing a military officer from the service, where there is no alternative to being a "licensed" professional if one wants to engage in those activities. (Not even Blackwater et al.)
  • Virtually all public discussion has assumed a high intersection — virtually a union — between "words in an already-completed work of fiction" and "authorial bigotry." The irony that if, as the authors of the works Milan criticized contend, those works were in fact expressing historically authentic attitudes, those authors missed a chance to undermine those attitudes, has gone unremarked upon. In particular, this failure as endemic in the romance category has gone unremarked upon (see note 2).
  • Where, oh where, is there any bloody acknowledgement that "this is an example of something unsatisfactory" should lead to "then we must do better"? As a commissioned officer, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. One must acknowledge that sometimes the Constitution is its own enemy; the need for the Nineteenth Amendment is an obvious one, as are "three-fifths of all other persons" and the Jim Crow laws that resulted because that clause was merely struck and not actively repudiated. <SARCASM> But no organization in the arts, or individual practitioner in the arts, really needs to acknowledge any portion of that problem. That would be too intellectual for artistes to contemplate.</SARCASM>

Everything that has appeared in public indicates a failure of both substance and process.

Sadly, this is not just an occasional flaw, but the default outcome, for organizations in the arts; not just, but especially, when there's an allegation of misconduct. There is no correlation whatsoever among outstanding accomplishment in the arts, leadership and managerial skills that apply in the arts… and the ability (and willingness) of those actively participating in the arts to recognize that when they're selecting leaders, only the latter matters. Not just the titular leader, <SARCASM> but the entire Board of the Upper Lower Middle East Side Ladies' Gardening Club </SARCASM>.6 It is perhaps even worse in the performing arts and related fields, as witness leadership failures in H'wood and music and live theatre; but it is bad enough among writers and photographers and… It is perhaps inevitable, given how difficult the concept of "critical distance" is to explain.7 Of course, that also requires the ability to recognize a conflict of interest — something also missing here.

What a great bloody holiday gift.


  1. In this, it is really not much different from other commercial fiction categories. The malign, bigoted influence of John Campbell on science fiction is a really obvious example. So, too, is the dearth until quite recently of women and non-Europeans (or at least non-Eurasians) in literary fiction, especially the "great novels of academia." And so on. There have, of course, always been exceptions; but that is precisely what they were, and they came from an even smaller subset of authors, usually with some significant amount of liberal guilt attached (e.g., Toni Morrison… at Princeton of all places).
  2. The racial diversity in this video satire (no, Justice Souter and clerks, this is not a "parody," but that particular tangent is for another time and a few hundred footnotes of its own) is an important subtext that withstands far more scrutiny than, say, the history of the RITAs. But the antiintellectualism is definitely prominent! Jane Austen's oeuvre is a part of the history of the novel, and of romance. But for these and many other reasons, her novels need to remain part of the historical record that merits study but not continued emulation. That is such an overtly intellectual argument, though, that both practitioners and fandom refuse to engage with it.
  3. I am explicitly not linking to anything from any of the parties because — as a simple websearch will demonstrate — the result is based at least in part on secret deliberations arising from secret evidence by an "Ethics Committee" of no apparent qualifications to judge the ethics of anything… except that the elected leadership of RWA approved the membership of that committee and initially approved its results. Linking to particular "documents" and "commentary" elevates their credibility in a fallacious way. Bad writers' group, no retcon or egoboo.
  4. I'm just going to acknowledge that this is a pseudonym; it's no secret who is behind it, and neither are her prior encounters with harassment, entitlement, and discrimination. I'm dropping the quotation marks hereafter because if Eric Blair wants to be George Orwell, or Mary Ann Evans wants to be George Eliot, it's not my place to object… especially given the pressures on my own authorial identity from my professional past (including previously published works of fiction and nonfiction that are at least indirectly relevant). Ironically, there will be commercial pressure from publishers who don't want this particular foofery interfering with their "genius-level" marketing plans to force Milan to adopt yet another pseudonym — and it's pressure that is even greater in romance than in most categories for some very historically suspicious reasons indeed. Irony: It's just like goldy and bronzy, but made out of iron. Or in this instance an alloy of antimony.
  5. I refuse to even link to that piece of insufficient, unenforceable garbage, which bears a disturbing resemblance to older legal discipline codes that also (without adequate labelling or distinction) mixed purportedly "mandatory" and purportedly "aspirational" elements. If you really want to encourage misuse of discretion (and unacknowledged reliance on unstated personal connections and entitlement), you can't do much better than that. Hint that should have been learned from the US experience in Korea and Vietnam, and the corresponding changes half a century ago in military ethics: "Aspirations" and "directives" don't mix, don't belong together, can't be enforced based on facts, and when enforced otherwise lead to self-destructive tribalism and loss of respect for individuals both internally and externally.
  6. See The Manchurian Candidate (1962).
  7. See, e.g., Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (2d ed. 1982); see generally Martha J. Reineke, Developing Critical Thinking (undated); cf., e.g., Matthew Feldman, Ezra Pound's Fascist Propaganda 1933–45 (2013). And yes, this is a quite unsubtle criticism of authors' organizations' typical, and frequently overt, rejection of literary scholarship as meaning a bloody thing. Application of that criticism to the problem of organizations in the arts rejecting scholarly work on effective organizational structure and operations (let alone following specific advice) is left as an exercise for the student.

24 December 2019

Coal

I make no representation regarding the greenhouse gas consequences of these coal-oven-baked internet link sausages.

  • As part of my own Quixotic quest against everything that is Dickens, I agree that — if one celebrates Winter Solstice holidays of any kind — James Joyce's story "The Dead" is the piece for the season, if only because it can't be reduced to a greeting card or put on as a high-school play.
  • The Grinch was truly a great guy, with the right attitude toward giving flooflunkers and electro whocarnio flooks as gifts without accompanying lessons. At least until his fatal-off-camera episode of hypercardia (no doubt brought on by a common virus against which his parents rejected vaccination).
  • Let's hear it for marketing using the Delos Corporation's ethics (or lack thereof) and objectives. There are exactly two times that my phone should ever allow my exact location to be retrieved by any third party: When I'm making an emergency call, and when I'm purposefully asking for directions because I can't spot landmarks or location well enough to use a bloody map. And that's just location; neverneverneverNEVER "storage contents," "calendar," "camera," or "contacts," and almost never "microphone." Especially for any appprogram that doesn't necessarily use one of those functions for its intended operation; an e-book or PDF reader, for example, has no rational basis for accessing either the microphone or contacts.
  • Speaking of which, Google has clearly changed its employee directive to "Don'tPlease Be Evil." A recent mandatory security update to my Android phone has resulted in the text-messaging application (the default for my phone and carrier) demanding access to my calendar and all body sensors. OK, "body sensors" and "text messaging" is just ridiculous. But the calendar application? That's… a problem. On one hand, text messaging involves invisible/silent push-and-pull-of-data access; it's built into the protocols. On the other hand, I have clients who are survivors of domestic abuse, and there is no [expletive deleted] way that I'm allowing any third party to know about an appointment at which one of those clients may be present. Combine that with the preceding item and you've got a recipe for stalkers sitting in the telephone of every lawyer, visiting social worker, and so on. (And yes, there's already an exploit available on the dark web, marketed to "private investigators and process servers." It's been a little over a week.) What makes it worse is that there is now a constant nag, every time I wake the phone, to turn on unlimited and uncontrolled permission to access those items. <SARCASM> But then, given the dudebro demographic among programmers, Google employees, and Google management, I shouldn't be surprised by the utter blindness to this obvious-to-anyone-who-thought-about-it problem. </SARCASM>
  • Those who've been reading this blawg for very long know full well that I sometimes tilt at windmills (but then, I've actually read Don Quixote, at least in a good scholarly translation). So perhaps it's a bit too on point to raise my eyebrows at these two doing so:

    James Holden of The Expanse, actually fighting windmills himself Donald J. Drumpf of the White House, actually blowing wind

    Especially the one on the right, after his all-too-revealing temper tantrum calling a teenaged girl names because she was named "Person of the Year" by a has-been magazine… instead of him.

    On balance, I think that teenaged girl has demonstrated more suitability for a career in diplomacy than has a recent US Ambassador to the UN.

Anyone coming down the chimney tonight is going to have to deal with the dog in a non-xtian household. Even if only delivering coal. You have been warned.