19 September 2017

Not Making a Fool of Yourself

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

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

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

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

15 September 2017

Cassini, 1997–2017

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

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

03 September 2017

CoverFail 6.07

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

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

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

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

    Be Inspired! Create Your Own!

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

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

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

28 August 2017

Uninspected Link Sausages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 August 2017

Fingers in My Ears

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

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

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

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

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

16 August 2017

The Alt-Center's Share of the Blame

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

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

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

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

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

11 August 2017

Bad Shampoo

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

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

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

29 July 2017

A Stoned-Reince Plowboy?

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

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

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

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

26 July 2017

Unfit to Serve

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

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

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

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

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

25 July 2017

Simulated Feeding Frenzy

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

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

16 July 2017

Unreliable Narrators Making Sausages in The Jungle

This platter of uneven link sausages is about unreliable narrators — or, more likely, just the wrong narrators.

  • First up, there's yet another instance of an arrogant entitled asshole speaking primarily for interests that are not — and can never be — registered voters. Parts of his griping make sense on the surface, but one must look carefully at the undisclosed premise:

    "The United States of America has to start to focus on policy which is good for all Americans, and that is infrastructure, regulation, taxation, education," Dimon said. "Why you guys don’t write about it every day is completely beyond me. And, like, who cares about fixed-income trading in the last two weeks of June? I mean, seriously."

    Hugh Son, "Dimon Says Being an American Abroad Is 'Almost an Embarrassment'," Bloomberg (14 Jul 2017/0641EDT).

    Consider for a moment that at least according to public biographical sketches that don't appear to have been refuted anywhere, neither Dimon nor his immediate ancestors (nor, for that matter, any member of his immediate family) has ever stepped outside the world of investment banking in his lifetime. That is, his experience is entirely as a next-quarterly-report-oriented "steward" of other peoples' money. And this reveals at least part of that undisclosed premise: That the further passive accumulation of wealth and capital by and on behalf of those who've previously accumulated it — disproportionately, and perhaps primarily when considering who actually gives it voice, by inheritance founded on whose family got "there" first, lawfully or otherwise — leads inexorably to all that "is good for all Americans."

    Bullshit.

    Perhaps looking at the history of his own bank (and other banks at which he's worked) regarding the nineteenth-century slave trade, arms dealing, and so on might have been relevant to helping determine what "is good for all Americans." His list, though, displays an inherent bias in favor of capital accumulation without regard to the source of that capital, the methods of accumulation, or the later deployment of that capital. It's not that this is never a valid position (at least in consideration and the abstract), but that it's never the only valid position. It simply cannot be stated as fact.

    Some day, someone who has even a basic, nonmathematical understanding of thermodynamics is going to rise to a position to comment on Society from a perch endowed with the patina of economic success. And then maybe he or she will be able to understand — even if dimly and incompletely — an even moderately mathematically based (as in "basic undergraduate chemical engineering/physical chemistry/molecular biology") explanation of how the universe has long ago disproven that premise. Not this time, though: Apparently, rising to the top at a major bank, getting fired, and then rising to the top at another one is adequate understanding of things that banks "never get involved in" but that make post-Napoleonic banks possible in the first place. (And we'll leave the history of benefitting from unlawful monopolies in both chains of banks for this particular speaker for another time…)

  • And then there's the intersection between Dimon's drivel and the purported "tax reform" movement endorsed by the Drumpf administration (for whatever value the current proposal(s) on the table have). Dimon's speech — and so, so many speeches, papers, and other pontifications coming from both the Drumpf Administration and the Heffalumps in general — claims that the US tax burden on corporations is excessive. Consider for a moment that places where the "tax burden" is less all too often increases total "government costs" by
    (a) not providing realistic government services necessary to a corporation, such as a working law-enforcement-and-courts system that ends up requiring a corporation with significant assets to either pay through the nose for insurance or hire a private army (or at least battalion) for internal security and/or
    (b) increased bribes to government officials to make up for their lower salaries.

    The major "studies" being bandied about concerning comparative corporate tax burden at best minimize (a) and completely ignore (b)…

  • {written preannouncement} If any character in all of fiction is inherently gender- (and race-, and probably even species-!) fluid, it's Doctor Who. One cannot even argue that the character is inherently "dominated by the social mores of upbringing as a male," since "as a male" seems to have so little connection to "Timelord" in the first place… and is certainly attenuated by the thirteenth complete-body replacement (more realistically, if "male" has any relevance here despite being used by A Certain Bigoted Subset as a touchstone, at latest by the eighth complete-body replacement)! Those who are not gender-fluid, though, are management "responsible" for commercially exploiting the Doctor, virtually all of whom have a Y chromosome. And so… {written postannouncement} the male showrunners and male hierarchy approved as the new Doctor Who a female secondary-character actor brought over from the showrunner's prior (uneven) series. I predict internet shitstorms for a week, followed by occasional rumblings until the three weeks prior to the scheduled in-role unveiling at the end of the year. The shitstorms are going to come from all sides, because almost everyone involved thinks they own the whole thing, ranging from subsets of fandom to marketing dorks. And none of it will focus on gender or other measures of diversity in the writing rooms, or in production, or anywhere else offscreen… but we can safely ignore the man (it's almost always a man) behind the curtain.
  • Speaking of fictional characters, how 'bout those press briefings? Does anyone actually recognize any of the speakers (or even subjects) as being anything other than fictional characters? And would things be better otherwise?

10 July 2017

Unexpected Chunkiness

There's a piece of real meat in each link sausage on this platter. It's just not the piece (or often species) of meat that the respective wurstmeisters think is in there… which is one reason even the sausage-makers don't watch sausages being made.

  • I have to admire the rhetorical strategy of a piece at The Economist that manages to use a semiobscure literary referent in an attack on Labour's "bourgeois dream" but never confronts the fundamental economic failures of the English system (inherited wealth and real-property rights that depend upon factional conflicts in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries), let alone the elephant in the room: the Rawlsian original position/veil of ignorance analysis. This seems short-sighted, given that the underlying currents in Lanchester's novel are of injustice more than of personal status per se (instead of as a complex second-order consequence underlying injustice)… or, perhaps, it's just another instance of the question — and the questioner's preconceptions — shaping the answer. The piece is an interesting sub-explanation that sustains some small measure of credibility and further thought, but once one gets outside of Islington (whether by Tube or by living elsewhere) it rather falls apart.
  • Another piece at The Economist also misses the point by failing to get inside the motivation — and Rawlsian subversion — of progressive rock as having continuing value by failing to note who were the leading exponents of progressive rock: Almost entirely musically-inclined public-school boys whose musical ambition was thwarted by the internal politics of the classical-music establishment of the 1960s and 1970s. Prog rock is as much a meritocratic reaction to the facile hypocrisy of "we say we want merit in our orchestras, but really it's merit from the right sort of families spiced with the occasional bit of upward mobility backed by something off-kilter" that one can see around the edges in such too-often-dismissed works as Hilary and Jackie: The prog rock musicians came from a social class in which there was actual place and freedom to practice, which didn't happen in American small-towns or ghettoes and/or European public housing. And the classical music world had its own markers for privilege, in-clubs, factionalism, and so on; the boys at the Charterhouse School sure as hell knew that, including the son of a captain in the Royal Navy (and noted industrialist) and a descendant of the Lord Mayor of London who formed Genesis as much because the acceptable careers mapped out for them by their families did not fit their own ambitions as anything else. And the less said about representativeness in the arts, the better.
  • It's really sad when it takes a columnist who focuses on the fashion industry to excoriate nepotism and celebrity-worship in print publishing, and especially in art-related print publishing. It is not, however, unexpected: The portions of the press that cover "the press" are, to say the least, just slightly handicapped by conflicts of interest, special-snowflakism for the print-based parts of the entertainment industry, the emperor's new clothes, and not-invented-here syndrome.
  • Artists are dangerous. Just ask any immigration lawyer… and, if you can get an honest one into an off-site location over a tasty beverage of choice with no witnesses, ask an immigration official about how foreign artists (and writers and musicians and actors) unjustly take jobs away from locals. Sadly, it doesn't matter much what nation(s)!
  • Renaissance-era memoirists are even more dangerous. Then there's the problem of Samuel Pepys, and of Jonathan Swift, and into the Enlightenment of John Locke, and the distinction between "memoir" and "journal" (let alone the issues raised by satire and parody).