12 January 2018

Link Sausages From Shithole Countries

There's this great honkin' statue in New York harbor that bears an inscription explicitly welcoming people from shithole countries. OK, it doesn't say "shithole countries," but is there any doubt that is what this means:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

unless, perhaps, you can't bloody read English?

  • Ben Yagoda offers some interesting thoughts on reviewers, properly citing the intent of Sturgeon's Law even if he somewhat mangles the "canonical" version of the quote… and comes nowhere near the fundamental differences among the entertainment industry's understanding and use of reviews, reviewers' understanding and use of reviews, and the various reading publics' understanding and use of reviews.

    "Reading publics" is plural. Although both they and I read speculative fiction, I'm not part of the "reading public" consisting of fans — whether those who focus on a particular series or those whose reading decision is guided by whether a work has been compared favorably to the purported "tradition" of Favorite Author X. This is an incredibly common distinction, but because it doesn't lead to easy, thoughtless application of unproven and unprovable marketing memes, it gets almost no attention from anyone.

    But more to the point is this: I cannot judge a reviewer's credibility without seeing what the reviewer disapproves of. Knowing that a reviewer likes some of the same things I do is not helpful if the reviewer's reasons are incoherent, or infected with a secondary agenda (e.g., "must be good because it's libertarian"… with no explanation of whether that means economically, civil-rights-style, or some other aspect of accepted libertarianism, let alone hidden one), or flat wrong. Knowing that a hypothetical reviewer always gives a substantially better evaluation of any mystery that includes a defense attorney as a major character — even when ineptly depicted or worse — is important to understanding reviews of, on the one hand, Reversal of Fortune and on the other of The Firm (the reviewer I'm thinking of — a well-known one — gave them the same rating when they were first shown).

  • From the Department of Multiple Wrongs Making Right(?): Apple has accused the PTO of succumbing to (Apple's words) "lobbying" by an opponent in an administrative-law trial. That's pretty bad (and probably a case of the pot calling the kettle black, given Apple's own history with the PTO). Reading between the lines of the story, however, raises my eyebrows regarding the definition of "lobbying": I'm not sure pointing out potential conflicts of interest is "lobbying". Indeed, it's arguable that Apple's own in-house counsel violated the duty of candor — which applies to administrative proceedings as much as it does to courts — by failing to itself immediately disclose that at least one of the three administrative-law judges assigned to the matter was its own former lawyer… especially in the particular context. Of course, things get worse farther down the road, and once the spin attempts are discounted, nobody emerges with much (if any) credit. The initial purported "lobbying letter" may well have had merit on the substance, but the method was entirely screwed up, and later communications don't appear to have had the same merit.
  • And from the same department, the House has voted to extend paranoid surveillance powers. The problem is not with those operating in good faith now; it's with what the gathered data can (and will) be (mis)used for by those who are not operating in good faith, both inside the government… and outside it when the inevitable Snowden-like leak and the inevitable data breach(es) and the inevitable political blackmail occur. And I didn't even have to raise the spectre of a free and investigative press!

    If you can't get a warrant, you don't know enough to make sense of the surveillance material anyway. If it's too administratively difficult to find a judge, pay for more judges… it's much cheaper than long-term data storage anyway. If you've never even thought about converting masses of documents/recordings from today's storage formats and hardware to something useful in five years, a decade, or more down the road — and that's what it takes to deal with these things — just consider the historical and present example of IRS computer systems, let alone the VA.

07 January 2018

Stable Genius(?)

There's really only one stable genius who is truly part of the American zeitgeist:

One wonders what he'll do with himself if he ever catches Hilary in the popular votethat bird…

05 January 2018

Intellectually Honest Link Sausage Platter

First, a short note for the entertainment industry and its various hangers-on and commentators:

If you review a work, and you've been provided with documentation that the purported "author" is one or more of a self-deluding narcissist unable to acknowledge third-party contributions, a selfish bastard claiming a third party's work as her/his own without attribution, or just an egotistical lying sack of sh*t regarding credit for co-creators, it would behoove you to mention this in your review… especially when said "author" has invited consideration of the issue with public statements regarding authorship and contributions (and even moreso when those public statements are themselves ghostwritten and internally inconsistent). You don't help the credibility of your review or the source it appears in by pretending that this type of context either doesn't exist or is irrelevant to the review.

This minirant has nothing to do with the Wolff/Drumpf "book"/gossip column. It's about works of avowed fiction… not works purportedly of "nonfiction" that are so inconceivable to a rational mind that they can't be accepted as coherent fiction or indeed coherent narrative of any kind. It was, instead, "inspired" by multiple reviews of multiple works (both printed and audiovisual) that have appeared in the last ten days or so. The general issue is called "intellectual honesty," you undereducated boors… and it matters.

  • On the "free speech" front, Germany has implemented some restrictions on online speech that don't pass First Amendment scrutiny… but then, there's no such thing as a hardcore, bright-line rule that does. The First Amendment is a standard, not a rule — that's what makes dealing with it so difficult, especially to advocates of alles in ordnung. Like radicals of all types. Like computer systems. Like advertising aggregators. Like management gurus and stock-pickers. All of which explains a great deal of the problem with online speech: Suppressing the "bad bits" requires both human judgment and trust in (and backing for) the humans exercising that judgment by organizations answering to the mythical gods of "Economic Efficiency." Nothing less than clones of top management will do for that purpose, and more is probably required; of course, top management doesn't want that because the clones will want top management's jobs…
  • Then there's the issue of museums. Whom to charge for admission, and whether whatever (admittedly difficult) decision is made in the face of general governmental disdain is appropriate. And whether to have them at all. Or what belongs in a "museum" in the first place.
  • An interesting piece on medical/health quackery leaves one wondering — as a good scientist might — whether there are boundary conditions beyond which having all the best soundbites and buzzwords is no longer a marker for self-defeating lack of humility. If there are, I haven't encountered them yet. Historically, the problem has come when those pushing back against questioning from nontraditional sources have allowed their own self-interest in power and economics to get in the way of the inquiry. Too often, that's what is happening now, even — perhaps especially — when the scientific inquiry has adverse financial/entitlement implications for entrenched interests. "Climate change denial" is just one obvious current example; there are lots of others, such as the handgun industry's historical (if often subtle) suppression of research on ranged nonlethal force, the opioid crisis, the Laffer curve

31 December 2017

Arbitrary Endpoint

Just to sort of close the year out on an appropriately pained note somewhere near C#"…

  • Why doesn't it really surprise anyone that Roy Moore is not only unfit for office (as discussed here several times), but is a sore loser who can't accept that Manifest Destiny doesn't include him as a US Senator? It's almost as if a horse's ass is allowed to vote with fewer barriers — and a better ID — than many melaninically-enhanced residents of Alabama. If anything, DennisRoy Moore's history argues that the only "religious test" that should be imposed on temporal office and power in the US is that proclamation of intent to impose religious values — no matter whose they are or what they are — in office should be disqualifying.
  • The first substantive rule of attorney ethics (except in California) reads:

    A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.

    Model R. Prof. Cond. 1.1. (California buries a less-clear equivalent in Rule 3-110.) This means — at minimum — that before filing suit asserting a particular statutory cause of action, the lawyer filing the suit should read the damned statute to make sure it provides the remedy what the client wants.

  • Congratulations, Wormyfruit: You've validated my demand for user-replaceable batteries. And, in a more general sense, for open systems not controlled by the original vendor. Lexmark, you're next. Then, this was supposed to have been resolved with 1960s and 1970s antitrust doctrine concerning "tying" — the reason that you do not, in fact, have to buy Xerox-brand paper for your Xerox-brand photocopier — but enforcing such doctrine has gone out of style.
  • In the next few months, the Supreme Court will issue a decision in Carpenter v. US on whether cell phone location records are protected by the Fourth Amendment. Professor Kerr offers a typically thoughtful description of the issue. I don't agree with his preferred outcome (IMNSHO, location data concerning a particular citizen — or noncitizen! — gathered by law enforcement authorities without a warrant impairs the Fourth Amendment right of the People to be secure in their persons), but both the column linked to and internal links in that column provide some necessary education.

    And, for you fans of TV crime dramas: A decision that this data is private only requires law enforcement authorities to get a warrant — show a judicial officer that there is probable cause that this particular data will result in admissible evidence relating to criminal activity. That is not a very difficult standard.

23 December 2017

Dreaming of a Whiiiiiiite Christmas

<SARCASM> A dream that has come true for the current official resident of the Whiiiiiiiiite House (who is also a privileged, entitled male, but that's for another time — if only because there's so much else to consider). He can't even claim that some of his best advisors are "colored folk" because, well, there basically aren't any among his advisors… "The content of our characters" my resectioned colon. Now all we need is a successor to Dred Scott to make the holiday season complete. </SARCASM>

10 December 2017

Ask a Stupid Question...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

04 December 2017

Least-Bad Link Sausage Platter

Carefully avoiding the worst of things…

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

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

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

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

30 November 2017

Blinded With (or By?) Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 November 2017

The 2017 Turkey Awards

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

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

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

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

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

21 November 2017

Forcemeat

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

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

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

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

18 November 2017

Preliminary One-Finger Salutes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 November 2017

Blame the Lawyers

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

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

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

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

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

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