15 September 2020

Interrogative Link Sausage Platter

Really long question set-ups to keep you distracted during pre-election lockdown. Which is something that I suggest every four years notwithstanding pandemics and wildfire-caused dirty air anyway; there's always some scientific reason to stay away from the hysteria… even if this time it's worse than usual. The bottom line is that we simply can't trust politicians, economists, and "businessmen" on science… and there's two millenia of history in the West (and longer than that in China) to back that up.

  • My fashion prediction for this year is that the most popular H'ween costume this year will be the Mask of the Red Death. Oops. Masque of the Red Death (source chosen with malice aforethought), which is only marginally related to N95 masks… but closely related to the consequences of failure to socially distance, to the irresistable urge of those with too much money and privilege to party, and to the shifting English language that makes things so much fun. Edgar Allan Poe: Anti-Textualist. (For those who don't know: "Masque" = "formal ball at which the participants, or sometimes just the female participants, wear a mask for 'anonymity,' allowing them to dance with non-partners without causing a Scene.")

    Maybe we should stop pretending and just call it the Masque of the Orange Death. That mostly requires just bad hair and bad makeup, not a mask, though…

  • It really shouldn't surprise me that this story is coming from the land of "public" schools: Someone is actually trying desperately to inquire into nepotism in the arts… and fails utterly by looking at only the most obvious. The piece entirely ignores music (both "popular" and otherwise), sport (Bradley Wright-Phillips is an example of nepotism somewhat working, but the number of "children of greats" who disgraced their potential while simultaneously blocking others that I could name even before the caffeine soaks in greatly exceeds the number of verifiable voter fraud cases), the visual/fine arts — especially photography — and perhaps most egregiously the money connected to the arts. I'll give the article about a C+: It raises an initial issue and then buries it in easy answers (and not even the easiest ones).

    There actually are serious questions to consider about "nature versus nurture" and "what does 'nurture' really mean, depending upon what 'success' means" buried in here. Consider Mr Wright-Phillips for a moment — there's little doubt that at least some genetic component inherited from his father provided a baseline upon which to build. But he wasn't coached by his father, limiting any "nurture" component; and his style of play is quite different from his father's. (Aside: They've both been seriously underrated by the English football establishment… no doubt not helped by their skin color.) That last, however, shouldn't surprise anyone who is paying attention, as the characteristics that made striker in the 1980s and 1990s successful are rather different today. Similarly at the other end of the pitch, comparing Kasper Schmeichel to his father Peter: Both goalkeepers, but neither could have stepped into the other's Premiership team(s).

    The less said about nepotism in politics, though, the better. Over There has more than a few examples of that; Pitt the Elder made the American Revolution inevitable, and Pitt the Younger made the French Revolution not just inevitable but relatively successful at first. Over Here, a fleeting sideways glance at any one of Chicago, Kansas City, or Baltimore more than suffices.

    Maybe the question that should be being asked is whether children should be barred from their parents' trade, craft, or profession. That, however, would require treating children as individuals — a meme inhibited by two millenia of codified Western inheritance laws, to name the most-obvious barrier. More subtly, how does one uniformly (or at least "by default") convince parents that a divergent path taken by children is a "good" or "appropriate" one — especially dynastic families, at either the small or great level?

  • What, how, and why should literature professors teach? The obvious difficulty is that it presumes a certain open-mindedness that is historically inconsistent with the demographics of the Academy. Consider, for a moment, the misbegotten chimera called "American Literature" — which, as placed in curricula, is at least as much about political consistency with American Exceptionalism as it is about literature. Prior to Mark Twain, there is very little in the works themselves that makes them distinct from European contemporaries… except, at times, language and setting, and seldom both at once. And things get more complex once one starts imposing scientific blindness elements on reading, but that's a very long paper indeed. I'd have trouble teaching a survey course not because of what I love, but because of what I despise… and at that, I think I'm being more honest than most of those who specify and teach such courses. I suspect my department head would get very, very angry at my proposed syllabus containing no works of fiction from prior to the Second War of American Secession!

    The fundamental problem with Edmundson's thesis is that it will inevitably reify the gatekeepers of fifteen to twenty-five years before. Those gatekeepers — the ones who determined for young graduate students what constitute acceptable dissertation topics, thereby restricting the first two to five years of actual independent research by young scholars to topics sufficiently serious to "merit" a dissertation in the first place — definitely don't love anything that upsets their hegemony. There are individual exceptions, but just try getting something truly radical past a committee, especially the farther up the food chain one gets. I can see someone getting a dissertation topic on, say, feminine aspects of Afrofuturism in graphic novels, approved and taken seriously at USC or Rutgers, but those aren't true feeder programs into literature-department academia (which is much more about the "provenánce" problem in academia than anything else), and certainly not into top-rated literature-department academia. That makes it a self-perpetuation problem, especially if those writing the dissertations aren't… skilled… at suitably ambiguous titles and summaries produced prior to tenure.

12 September 2020

Wildfire-Smoked Link Sausage Platter

Didn't post yesterday for Reasons. Here's to hoping that New York's Bravest learn to treat every New Yorker with respect and dignity, regardless of skin color — and notwithstanding a sordid history of doing otherwise.

  • Immigrants get the job done in Germany, too. Especially refugees (large PDF).
  • So the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued new diversity guidelines for Oscar eligibility for best picture (effective for 2024!). These guidelines raise far more questions than answers. Unfortunately, the H'wood press isn't even discussing them… which is a damned good indication that they're roadblocks to actual diversity. In no particular order:

    • There is no requirement whatsoever for the producer(s) or financier(s) or management at the studios/distributors. In other words, the glass ceiling remains firmly in place, and has arguably been reinforced.
    • It's entirely possible to meet these two-out-of-four standards with drones, not people empowered to either create or make policy/decisions. Again, glass ceiling.
    • As the NYT piece implies, the standards for acting are still tokenistic and do not require actual weight in those roles — only billing. Consider, for example, Deadpool 2: A qualifying high-billed actress was fridged before the opening titles. That film had plenty of other diversity efforts, but that's an example of "how to do it" that is certainly not telling H'wood back offices anything they don't already know (and implement on a daily basis).
    • Scriptwriters and other story developers are entirely left out. This is a particular problem when studios demand "polishes" of… dubious merit… to bring in more control. Right, Sony Pictures? Right, Miramax? And the less said about the music, the less the audience will understand the games involved (hint: name a non-white sole-credit film composer who is consistently getting work on medium-and-larger-budget pictures today).
    • Let's think about horrifying, evasive means of qualification for a moment. A film starring Kevin Spacey and directed by Bryan Singer would meet the diversity standards. Somehow, I think Ms Winslet might be on to something.
  • When even The New Yorker starts wondering about how creators get paid, you know it's a subject that's overripe for real consideration. (Of course, it seldom gets that at the House That Tina Fed to the Termites.) At least this time it points out part of the problem: That the thought of "investing" in the arts implies "…and earning an above-average rate of return while doing so." Where's the Duke of Milan when you need him?

    The article (and underlying book) fail a simple reflexiveness test, though: They never ask whether their respective creators are merely self-deluded cogs in the same machine that they criticize. Or, more to the point, whether they actually rely upon creative output to eat and pay rent. (Hint: Read between the bio lines.)

07 September 2020

Two Notes on Labor Day

Of course, actually recognizing "labor" on one day hardly balances 364 days (365 days some years) of putting "capital" first. Dead Presidents don't breathe, but they speak — and count most — and vote.

1. Just remember that the Sport of Kings is the result of a society built on kings. Or, over here, plantations. So don't be too surprised when the heavily moneyed ownership (which mostly relies on inherited wealth) looks and acts more like Bob McNair and the rest of the NFL's control group than showing any awareness of the present — or that the first winning jockey was Black.

And in that sense, horseracing is very much like other pro sports: Lots of diversity on the field, and increasingly less the farther one gets from the field but closer to the power and money. Indeed, publishing and the rest of the entertainment industry are the same way, and not just here — there is not one English-born owner "of color" of a Premier League team, and never has been; the empire even has to import its diversity, from among the royalty and near-royalty of nations that a century and a half ago it would have disdained as mere colonial territory.

The color of money isn't green — it's white. Without any capital letter, primarily because it's just assumed. What that says about "locker-room culture" is for others to discuss (I haven't been in one in decades and barely tolerated it then). Just don't ask the owner of the "New York" Giants.

2. I think I'll allow the Orange One to build a certain amount of wall. Let's see, now:

Total US COVID-19 deaths as of 07 Sep 2020

188,513  

Total US deaths recognized and memorialized at the Vietnam Memorial

58,318

Length of Vietnam Memorial (meters)

150.5

Therefore, I shall magnanimously allow The Orange One to build (188,513/58,318) * 150.5m = 486.5m of the Wall he wants to build. With every name inscribed on it. <SARCASM> Or maybe, to fill all of those great factory jobs that can no longer be filled by those who died of COVID–19, we can allow an additional 188,513 refugees in, who will no doubt be glad for those great jobs. </SARCASM>

Of course, a much better use would be to build that wall around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with That Individual on the inside of it; we could built 25% of the engineering requirement! But then, until January of next year that would mean nobody could see the Resolution Desk… admittedly, that's probably a good thing given the misuses it has been put to since January 2017 (and, for that matter, prior to that).

04 September 2020

On Being a Loser

There's going to be continuing controversy over an item in The Atlantic claiming that The Orange One's real reason for not attending a memorial ceremony at a military cemetary in France is that everyone buried there is a "loser." Giving benefit of the doubt where it is undoubtedly undeserved (but nevertheless required by both common courtesy — a concept seemingly outside The Orange One's understanding or ability to mimic — and intellectual honesty combined with a slight distrust of anonymous statements by former government officials precisely because I'm… a former government officer (note the slight difference there)), and notwithstanding the noncredible denials emanating from the built-by-Black-slaves White House, that sentiment is entirely consistent with The Orange One's denigration of John McCain as a "loser." In a literal sense, John McCain was a loser in an election; in a figurative sense, some of his policies were losers, especially related to whom among his "constituents" to trust (later echoed, and with 20/20 hindsight predictably, in his selection of a running-mate); but no one who survives being a POW for five years under any circumstances and doesn't collapse into a quivering ball upon release is him/her/theirself a loser.

So, in no particular order, let's look at a few other losers in relatively recent American history.

  • Lewis Albanese, acting on his own, killed at least eight enemy snipers who were armed with automatic weapons in a fortified position, the last two hand-to-hand. Had he not done so, his platoon would have suffered heavy casualties… opening a gaping hole in a line of advance allowing enemy soldiers to take the remainder of the battalion in the rear.
  • Richard Anderson continued driving back enemy soldiers while being treated for disabling wounds to his legs. Had he not done so, his platoon would have been wiped out.
  • Steven Bennett flew his light aircraft into heavy enemy fire, strafing enemy troops when there was no ground-attack air support available. His aircraft was hit on his fifth pass; he chose to ditch in the Gulf of Tonkin because his observer's parachute had been damaged when the aircraft was hit — even though that type of aircraft had never had a pilot survive a ditching. (The observer survived.)
  • Daniel Bruce caught a satchel (backpack) charge in midair and, rather than drop it where it could hurt others in the encampment, clutched it to his chest and ran.

These "losers" all have two things in common. First, they're all recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor — posthumously — in the same age cohort as The Orange One. Second, none of them had bone spurs that neither failed to inhibit their daily function nor enabled them to evade unprofitable military service. <SARCASM> It's that second one that really makes them "losers" in the eyes of The Orange One and his class. </SARCASM>.

I guess I'm a loser, too, or at least a sucker: I volunteered (technically, a lot more than once!) because supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, was much more important and much more urgent than the balance in my bank account. So is Lt Col Vindman; so is Sec'y Powell. The late David Koch, however — one of The Orange One's true peers, both in terms of age cohort and source of wealth (that is, inherited) — was not a loser or sucker. He was… something else

31 August 2020

Departmental Link Sausage Platter

But not quite departmentalist.

  • From the Department of Misleading Headlines, let's ponder Google fixes major Gmail bug seven hours after exploit details go public (and the internally linked article detailing the "exploit"). But Gmail isn't the problem — the problem is using a browser interface, and HTML-based e-mail. This is a classic instance of "using the wrong tool creates Problems," because the right tool is a dedicated e-mail program that can be set to display full headers in plain-text mode, and also fully display all link code. Like several free alternatives…

    …that also, by their nature, minimize (cannot eliminate) advertising and the ability of third parties to snoop. Which is the exact opposite of a "security issue" as claimed by Google whenever one tries to use a dedicated e-mail program over a VPN.

  • From the Department of Unintended Irony, the Drumpf Campaign has needlessly pissed off the estate of Leonard Cohen for music that is unintentionally revealing. Let me list a few of the ways:

    • Cohen was a Canadian. So, implicitly, there wasn't any red-blooded American music good enough for this Amerika Uber Alles campaign to misappropriate.
    • It's a song about a self-appointed hero planning on extramarital sex.
    • Then there's the discord of being refused permission and doing it anyway. That is, to these jerks "permission" is just a formality. Sort of like "consent."
    • It's yet another misuse of quasi-biblical justification for immoral conduct and attitudes by adapting both quasi-biblical personalities and quasi-biblical language. Cohen was at least trying to be ironic, or perhaps undermine the narrative by depicting the, umm, feet of clay; this campaign? Not so much; it's all about the gold and has nothing to do with iron.
    • Then there's the darker question of where have I seen this song used before in a political context — and what might be in the planning stages?
  • From the Department of Pretending to Unearned Sophistication, I suppose it could be worse: It could be Wagner. H'wood soundtracks grievously misuse the panoply of instruments and contexts. With very rare exceptions, the nineteenth-century-model upper/upper-middle-class orchestra is a poor fit for anything except, well, nineteenth-century upper/upper-middle-class subjects. Sense and Sensibility, fine; Jane Eyre, fine; Vanity Fair, maybe; Spartacus, no; Mulan, are you kidding me? Even the magnificent soundtrack to Aleksandr Nevsky is a bit of a mismatch in execution, although it at least imports Russian folk music for some of its leitmotif–like subthemes.

    The rare exceptions when instrumentation and meme are better fits for subject matter not comfortable in tenth-grade Language Arts (for all its flaws, Bladerunner) are notable as exceptions. Although sometimes there's an unintended callback in the music, like the Wagnerian overtones (and unacknowledged quotations) in the overblown score to a certain overblown "space fantasy" series now up in double figures… which is just about right with the seldom-acknowledged fascistic/rightful-birth subtext of the subject-matter. And all too consistent with much of that composer's ouevre in any event. If a composer/soundtrack-assembler isn't actually as talented as Prokofiev (as opposed to just thinking he/she/they is/are) without fully understanding the subject matter, there's a real risk of unintended side messages, or even undermining the main material (as in "just what is that orchestra doing accompanying a pre-orchestral lower-class sailor isolated on a tropical island?").

    Producers so seldom really know music outside the European orchestral and/or pop-music traditions that they don't look anywhere else. I suppose one could argue that they're just meeting audience expectations… which is just a little bit of a self-fulfilling-prophecy problem, isn't it?

26 August 2020

On InCivility

I'm just waiting for when some speaker — likely more than one — at, or perhaps at one remove from, the Rethuglican National Convention invokes "civility" as an objection to Black Lives Matter in general, or to protests against whatever the latest police shooting of a minority happens to be by the time of the speech. I can guarantee three things about that speaker:

  • He or she1 is relatively financially successful, and if he or she ever had a past period of less-than-middle-class existence it will be blamed on religion, foreigners, or addiction.
  • He or she1 will not have a close family member involved on either side of a use-of-force incident; and this is perhaps especially damning if the speaker is a law-enforcement official.2
  • He or she will vehemently reject any protest other than civil speech to the Powers That Be as inappropriate, and imply that such a protest is a personal insult to him/her and/or the entire law enforcement community. And unchristian. And unamerican.3

All of which relies upon a damned big assumption that the history of this nation rejects (and for all our faults, we've got a better history than damned near anyone else):

Civil presentation of grievances through peacable assembly by have-nots to the Powers That Be is not just necessary for change, but sufficient.

The First War of American Secession (c. 1774–83) rather refutes that assumption. So do Shay's Rebellion, Aaron Burr's various adventures, the Alamo, the Trail of Tears, the Second War of American Secession (1861–65)… and we haven't even gotten to "minor" things like DReconstruction yet. Or out of the nineteenth century. Or beyond white christian male landowners' concerns… or off the plantation.

In America, we're very good indeed at reifying the peaceful orator, and even the peaceful resister. (Europe, Asia, and especially Southwest Asia and Africa are actually much worse about this.) But there's a figure in the background that the Establishment figures, especially a generation or so later, who entrench the narrative, don't just neglect, but bury. We learn about Frederick Douglass, but not John Brown; about Susan B. Anthony and (maybe) Emmeline Pankhurst, but not Edith Ainge; about Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, but only as much about Malcolm X as is necessary to paint him as unamerican at best.4

We're even better at divorcing grand principles from the flawed, often dubious, people behind them. We learn nothing at all about Roy Olmstead (or Charles Katz), Ernesto Miranda, or Clarence Gideon. Even in the face of tragedy — what do you know about Eric Garner's life before he was placed under arrest for the heinous alleged crime of selling single cigarettes from allegedly untaxed packs… and died in an already-prohibited chokehold?

Civil presentation of grievances works when there's a clear — incivil — alternative smacking the Establishment in the face, leaving it little choice but to negotiate in good faith. That is what Jefferson was referring to when he opined that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing. It's been too long since 1968 (or 1970); hell, it's been too long since 1991. And that's just about police brutality; the incivil alternative just has not been clear here in the kingdom of the (wilfully) blind.

Civil discourse needs to result in civil change. When it doesn't, that lack of civil change is not just asking for, but demanding, less-civil discourse. And that leads to the last unfunny irony of this so-far civil argument: That the Establishment figures who are purportedly "listening" refuse to understand the urgency of change for those who are trying to engage in that conversation, let alone actually change anything that is beyond their own (un)enlightened self-interest (≡ greed).5 They want to move with all deliberate speed… which means somewhat slower than a heavily tranquilized snail (trail of slime included).


  1. Or "they" if more than one. I find it difficult to believe that any approved speaker supporting this group of white-sheet-wearing activists would use the singular "they" with all of the current gender-fluidity issues it drags in.
  2. This is disturbingly akin to a problem with the pilot community in the Air Force, which has a strong tendency to discount the problems of "supervision of significantly junior subordinates" and "command authority" because significant supervisory and actual command authority aren't granted in that community until (ordinarily) O-4 (Maj) or O–5 (Lt Col) — at least a dozen years after commissioning — notwithstanding the grandiose and deceptive title "aircraft commander" ordinarily bestowed on pilots of multimember-crew aircraft. They simply don't get it, because they have no real exposure to it until it's actually on their plate. The good ones seek out advice from those with more experience; the good and humble ones seek out that advice from officers in other parts of the service who've been dealing directly with those issues since commissioning.

    Sadly, there isn't enough of that humility in the Air Force (or the US Navy's pilot community). There sure as hell isn't in law enforcement; in this county and three surrounding, virtually all of the candidates for Sheriff included "never used deadly force" in their campaign literature. So, one must ask, what is their basis for supervising — let alone disciplining — those who do? Which is not to say that it's impossible to do so without having already done it; it is to say that it requires a lot of attention of the kind disdained, as a cultural imperative, by county sheriffs (and deputies).

  3. … without ever acknowledging the echoes of the Army-McCarthy hearings in that word that resonate so strongly to those of us who thought about, and swore, to protect the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic — and meant it. And particularly to those of us who watched the coopting of significant parts of the officer corps by the mindless indoctrination (at times, brainwashing) practiced at the Cold War military academies — indoctrination that was a significant factor in Beirut, and Iran-Contra, and more other discreditable incidents than I care to remember.
  4. There's that word again. If one is a literal textualist, our first few Presidents and Vice Presidents (and Senators and Representatives and Justices of the Supreme Court) were "unamerican" because they weren't born as United States citizens — if you were born before 17 Sep 1787, there wasn't a United States of which to be a natural-born citizen.
  5. What this says about the so-called "prosperity gospel" movement is… unchristian. By its logic, if one does not have the full panoply of civil rights, one does not deserve them because one hasn't worked hard enough nor been faithful enough for them to be showered upon one. Nor ever come face to face with Maxwell's Demon — not even in a mirror. The extraordinary claim that "economics is unlike every other system known to us and can freely ignore the Second Law of Thermodynamics" requires extraordinary evidence, whether one accepts Carl Sagan or Pierre-Simon Laplace or David Hume or any of a dozen others as the source of that aphorism.

21 August 2020

Re-re-resectioned Link Sausage Platter

Sometimes one's medical past demands immediate attention, and that's not for the blawg (I sort of resent setting off metal detectors just walking by — and would even if wearing nothing but a Speedo, and that's a scary enough thought even without the metal detectors). This platter is an extensive use of… resectioned parts appropriate to sausages.

  • Curiosity rules, although this headline writer definitely doesn't.
  • "Exclusions from canon" are almost always extremely complex, and conversely almost never susceptible to single explanations. Consider, for example, the Criterion Collection's main criterion: That the films in question were fully shot, fully produced, and fully released to the public. That is, just what did the Criterion Collection have to work with in the first place? It's very much along the lines of "Why do we have virtually no recordings of Black American composers from before Scott Joplin?" Film — even more than music, and vastly more than text — depends upon multiple, capital-intensive stages between conception and later acclaim… and it takes only one of those stages being dominated by bigoted assholes to make everyone else later on look really bad.
  • Not to mention that it only takes one of those stages in "artistic development" being subject to technological limitations and availabilty that themselves have strong components of bigotry to create a nasty positive-feedback loop of poor analysis. With all due respect to Mr Orlando's effort to yank the conversation out of a rut, he yanks it in an ahistorical direction (notice, for example, the lack of sopranos?) that's in service of his own agenda…
  • Rather like this next set of assholes. I have two words for the executives in charge of the "Women's Prize for Fiction"/Bailey's effort to republish female-presenting-author works originally published under male pseudonyms: F*ck you. The sheer arrogance involved in projecting contemporary identity politics memes onto the complex identity politics of the past is bad enough. It also ignores other valid reasons for choosing a gender-swapping pseudonym, such as the early-stage gender dysphoric (there are arguably at least two on their list). More to the point, pseudonyms usually have multiple rationales behind them, and focusing on just this one as if it's the most shameful that needs to be exposed is dishonest. Consider, for a moment, the problem of a PhD psychologist inside the intelligence community who writes fiction on the side; I have four specific individuals in mind, two of which involved swapping authorial gender, and two of which (not the same two) produced work superior to most of those on the Bailey's list but don't appear there. (And two of which — yet again, not the same two! — are not nearly as publicly known as Dr Alice Sheldon or Dr Paul Linebarger.)

    No, this is a publicity-oriented exploitation of a current meme being imposed onto historical figures for current financial advantage. F*ck you. You could have included an extensive biographical essay explaining the full circumstances of each author's original publication (which for at least three of them would have made clear that gender-swapping was intended to help throw The Authorities off the trail even farther), instead of focusing on the bloody cover credit. But noooooooooo, you had to let some assholery in "brand identification" take priority… and then you didn't publish Complete Works of editions, even for the public-domain works.

    If this was an honest effort, it would include the works of Fran├žois-Marie Arouet (which are, after all, public domain!). It might include passing references to those of Eric Blair. It might explore the unsigned/semipseudonymous Federalist Papers. In short, it might acknowledge that there's more than one meme/consideration at work here, and "gender" usually isn't the primary one. To pick on one of the particular examples, damned near any member of Ms Evans' social class would have considered adopting a pseudonym due to the potential accusations of roman á clef and libel, not to mention "unsuitable" subject matter for "serious" writing in that relatively narrow window. The tilt of these selections toward "romance" further betrays the dishonesty behind it… not to mention its own gender stereotyping.

  • But I suppose it could be even worse: We could be pondering the iniquities of the National Book Critics' Circle. Yeah, that group of white guys of a certain social class could definitely use some diversity in its membership. Even moreso, though, it could use some diversity in its focus, and some self-awareness that what it is being presented with as "worthy of its consideration" is both socioeconomically and intellectually bigoted. Two of the most-acclaimed novelists of the last thirty years in the US — one of whom has been awarded more than one major "mainstream" award — write primarily speculative fiction; but they have had attention paid to them primarily because there are no rocket ships or dragons on the covers of their books. That's both a problem with the publishing industry itself… and with the publications that "employ" those critics. The NYTBR, for example, has a column for speculative fiction — that runs once each quarter, and is primarily from a single critic (who is more qualified than most of the other regular critics, but whose provenánce is not up to that standard). Meanwhile, spy/thrillers get reviewed at least every other week, presumably because William F. Buckley used to write them, and his provenánce is definitely up to Upper East Side standards.

    The NBCC needs to look at a whole bunch of its membership criteria, not just the racial-ethnic composition of its board of directors. For example, there's a higher proportion of "persons of color" in speculative fiction (both writing and reading) than there is in spy/thriller fiction… and that needs to be followed back to its sources (McLean, Virginia is, after all, in the former Confederacy, and parts of Ft Meade, Maryland were once upon a time tobacco plantations!).

Looks like a couple of weeks of distress didn't reduce my bile production very much… oh, wait, that's something else I have to look forward to: It's election season.

Register to vote. Then do it. And remember: You have a secret ballot. Do not feed the media monster by responding to exit polls. Come to think of it, that may be a highly positive side effect of the pandemic and voting by mail…

10 August 2020

Uncaffeinated Monday Morning Link Sausage Platter

It's Monday. All week.

  • Brain-hack victims are so pathetic. It's just an echo in my ghost. And that still doesn't deal with the real barrier to communication — that much, and depending on the subject most, conscious thought and intentional memory retrieval is language-dependent and even explicitly constrained (or enabled) by language. So it's not even about brain-to-brain interfaces, but internal-to-brain interfaces. And the Puppet Master lurks…
  • But not "antifa" — which is about as well-organized as the Democratic Party. In 1972.

    Some would say that's rather the point: That it doesn't, and shouldn't, require a formal organization, or even a loose hierarchy, to oppose fascism and other forms of totalitarianism. Others would ignore it, looking for any excuse to turn the conversation from means to policy preferences. Still others would object that it's all about perceptions, rhetoric, and distraction in the first place. I would reach for another pint of ale.

  • Recommendation: Try to remember historical events within 30 miles of where one is trying to score electoral points with one's small-town white evangelical base against financially successful Black men. Especially when the only reason Oklahoma even has a professional basketball team is that the Seattle City Council refused to subsidize renovations that would have benefitted only the NBA franchise on 40–50 days a year, thus making it "financially attractive" for billionaires with nothing better to do to move the franchise to Oklahoma City (where the only professional sports were a few miles south in Norman).

    One wonders if this all took place on The Res, though; a large-scale map indicates that the region that Roberts represents is probably still treaty land…

  • Or you could just shed a crocodile tear for corrupt marketplaces for nonpersonalized collectibles enabling money-laundering and other corruption. Of course, it's not just the contemporary stereotypical Russian kleptocrat who benefits; sometimes it's an Ashkenazim immigrant whose legacy is museums, antitrust violations, and environmental disasters.

04 August 2020

Karen With the Multi-Colored Hair

Anyone who says the entire state of Washington is filled to the brim with tree-hugging lefties hasn't been shopping where I have, less than 120km from CHOP (and on the same side of the mountains). Such as when I went to BigBoxStore for BigBoxCommodities (like generic/store-brand multivitamins and such) today.

First, though, a preemptive aside. I shop in BigBoxStores on occasion. Many, perhaps even most, of the commodity items they carry simply are not made in the US any longer… and if they were, those making them would not be in "good factory jobs." For items in those stores, the "good factory jobs" simply ceased to exist around 1983; they became bad factory jobs with few safety precautions (located in depressed areas), and later minimum-wage factory jobs with no health benefits. Then, too, there's the hidden caste assumption behind "Buy Local": That the local merchant caste is populated entirely with, umm, better human beings than are the small investors in index funds that in turn own significant portions of the BigBoxStores. Certainly in Central Illinois and Oklahoma, that was ardently not true; in the Bay Area and around here, it's dubious.

In any event, there I was, at the front of the line waiting for the next self-check station. Karen with the Multi-Colored Hair (mostly grey, but Seahawk Rave Green and blue tips) was talking very loudly on her cell phone, pacing about, while her husband did all of the work at the check stand. KMCH was talking to some uncle or other about how it was a shame that their taxes were going to payments to blacks in Chicago who were just lazy and drug addicts.

No, I'm not joking. At all. I expected to see an NRA button or the stars-and-bars on her oversized denim purse. Well, not there… but wait for it.

A checkstand opened up, so I started to walk toward it. KMCH, paying no attention to her surroundings (and, naturally, with her mask hanging down so she can talk more clearly), almost backed into me while repeating her line about lazy black drug addicts in Chicago, not really louder but somehow shriller. Apparently, the only social distancing she understands is social distancing from social graces. Or from brains, but based on that phone conversation she "shared" with me, and everyone else in the checkout area — many of whom were either cringing or looking daggers — that would be antisocial distancing.

So I finished my small checkout task — I could both read the sign that says "Express Lane, 15 Items or Less" and count the number of items in my basket, unlike KMCH and her husband with their stuffed-full cart — and turned to walk away. And discovered that KMCH really is named "Karen" from that continuing phone conversation. I shook my head and started down the aisle toward the exit, only to be nearly run over by KMCH and her husband, now moving well above the posted speed limit with their very full shopping cart.

I continued out to the parking lot, and passed KMCH — still on the phone — and her husband — still doing all the "shoppin' work." They were unloading their cart into a white suburban uuuuhsault vehicle. And that's where the NRA badge and stars-and-bars were. (And the license-plate holder indicating they were from Lynden. Go ahead — figure out exactly where in Western Washington Drumpf managed to hold a campaign rally in 2016.) I was tempted to ask if they had just bought more white sheets and some rope, but that would have meant choosing to get less than two meters away. Besides, they might have seen the University of Illinois sticker on my car and thought I was from Chicago…

Remember this when you hear Fox (or the cretins currently occupying the Black-slave-built White House) bitching and whingeing and moaning about how liberal Washington is, especially as this state's primary election results start coming in in the next few hours.

30 July 2020

Lazy-Eyed Link Sausage Platter

As in "too lazy to look past subculturally determined first impressions."

  • The nonrecorded performance arts have been in crisis for decades, but at least now they're admitting it. Sort of, ranging from classical music to ballet to every other artform. Only "sort of" because so many forms, like "legitimate theatre," are busy pretending that it's just The Virus.

    The underlying problem is that the nonrecorded performance arts are a top-down structure, almost entirely dependent upon what the cohorts with money to be patrons want… or, at least, what the managers (and parasites) who actually interact with those whose lives are in the arts think those cohorts want (and those managers and parasites are, themselves, far too often scions of those cohorts). And in their tiny little brains, that means almost exclusively those who look like members of those cohorts. (Well, at least somewhat idealized.) And talk like them. And come from socioeconomic backgrounds not too unlike what those cohorts imagine to be "moderately successful."

    What almost nobody is asking, though, is what the arts might look like if talent and preference were the only gatekeepers; that there was no presumption that family money will help lowly apprentices (a disturbing concept in itself with no baggage, just a trailer parked out back), and find alternative lives for the inevitable not-quite-good-enoughs or career-ended-by-tragic-accidents or became-ill-and-had-to-quits or just-plain-lost-interests. That's the real problem, and it's one that a "New Deal for the Arts" cannot reach for the simple reason that the problems are beyond the conception of those with the means to address them — not a matter of insufficient facts, but of weltanschauung, of ability to assimilate those facts. Or, perhaps, of willingness to assimilate those facts; because artists tend to breed both revolutionaries and revolutions, and that's not something that the cohorts with the resources to expend on patronage of the arts really want (some individuals proclaim that they do, and perhaps a few are serious; as a whole, not so much).

  • But, I suppose, it could be worse. As bad as the class politics (and other caste systems in the nonrecorded performance arts, and even sport) tend to be, they're seldom as overtly about power as Harvey Weinstein and… no, it wasn't just sexual harassment and mistreatment, it was rape.

    This was a settlement that involved attorneys at some of the biggest law firms in America, plus sophisticated insurers, plus the top law enforcement official in New York, and it couldn't even get past the preliminary stage of a judge's review. In short, an army of lawyers got together in an effort to achieve resolution, and after dozens of in-person mediation sessions and hundreds of phone calls, they ended up at a place that was completely off track.

    Eriq Gardner, How an Army of Lawyers Messed Up a Deal to Compensate Weinstein Victims, Hollywood Reporter (17 Jul. 2020) (italics in original, boldface added).

    I must respectfully disagree with Mr Gardner on one aspect, though: Failure to fully resolve even this subset of Weinstein's decades of misconduct was inevitable once the insurers were at the negotiating table. The for-profit insurance industry's interests are not aligned with actually resolving disputes; the biggest hint, as stated elsewhere in the same article, was that Weinstein would not be admitting any fault or liability whatsoever. That's not just his ego, although his ego (and narcissism) would probably have been sufficient; that's the insurance meme, to cut off any future similar claim against that or any similarly situated defendant by forcing that claim to start from zero. Even a meritorious — even an indisputable — claim. Sure, it's profitable for the insurer, and for the lawyers; it does not, however, resolve the dispute, as the Ninth Circuit implied today (PDF).

  • Invisibility, too, is a problem. Unrecognized symptoms and unrecognized conditions have consequences.
  • Meanwhile, Portland. Inconsistent with the law of armed conflict… and remember, that's primarily about civilized treatment of the declared enemy, and last time I checked Portland was still part of the Union (unlike, say, Mississippi in the early 1860s — and perhaps today). What Would John Lewis Say?
  • One thing I can be pretty sure John Lewis wouldn't say: That alien reptilians are running parts of our government (he knew that all of the snakes are, sadly, fully human and filled only with earth-origin DNA, not one bit of dream-demon sperm involved). One wonders why medical licensing authorities don't pay attention when doctors go antiscience… almost as much as one wonders why legal licensing authorities don't pay attention to "lawyers" spouting authoritarian bullshit that is fundamentally inconsistent with the rule of law.

25 July 2020

Incentives

One of the primary problems with getting Congress to agree on further pandemic mitigation efforts — I hesitate to call it "relief" because that implies "we don't really have to do this, but we're magnanimously going to show our noblesse oblige for once" — has been a focus on free-market incentives as not just necessary, not just sufficient, but a moral obligation. Here's a taste:

“I’m not in favor of any premium extension for unemployment,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. “What I’d prefer is if you want to give a few bucks to people, put it in a direct payment. But right now, we have provided an incentive not to go back to work, which is what that’s been.”

Jennifer Shutt, Bridget Bowman, & Mary Ellen McIntire, Senate Republicans, White House near agreement on coronavirus relief package, Roll Call (22 Jul 2020, no corrections noted). So let's break this startling bullshit down, shall we?

If "incentives" are so important, we need to entirely discount military and other government service as appropriate in the modern economy. There is no financial incentive to take less money as a second lieutenant for the privilege of being shot at or losing a couple of legs. Nor, for that matter, is there any financial incentive for staying on as a four-star general whose pay is capped at $189,600 when many of them make far more than that after retirement sitting on corporate boards and such. (Not all of them, by any means.) Hell, that's just about what a top-10-law-school, top-half-of-the-class graduate could have expected to make right out of law school last year… without being shot at or blown up. <SARCASM> That obviously means that Sen Perdue et al. don't trust military officers because military officers aren't properly incentivized, but are instead something other than rational economic actors. </SARCASM> That also explains more about education and health policy — and the treatment of teachers and nurses — in this country over, say, the last century, than I want to contemplate. (Oh, wait, that might be "traditional female jobs"… which is right on point, because "rational" can't be gender-based.)

But there's something even more insidious lurking. Consider the way that — at least below the college level, and even for many colleges — instructors at religious schools are ordinarily paid less than the constantly-derided (unionized!) public school teachers. That must mean that religious-school education is inherently less worthwhile than public-school education, because only less-incentivized rational-actor instructors would deign to work for less. Similarly, every single lawyer who works for Legal Aid must be a lesser person — and lesser lawyer! — than those fresh-out-of-law-school kids pulling down $200k during their first years. So, for that matter, was Solicitor Gen. Don Varilli during his government service, which cut his pay by… ok, I don't know the percentage, but based on what I know of partner compensation at the firm he had been at, at least 70%.

Then let's consider the "rationality" of our top government officials, whose pay is also capped. Senator Perdue, to take one example, is getting paid a helluva lot less now as a United States Senator than he was at Reebok. So: What is his incentive? Is it rational? If it's not rational, that explains a lot about government dysfunction, because he's got a lot of company in the Senate who took "pay cuts" and therefore are not rational economic actors.

Which leads to my modest proposal: An 85% tax on inherited wealth (whether liquidated or otherwise) over an appropriate threshold of, say, $5 million. Because if there's one thing that we shouldn't be doing, it's incentivizing the sons and daughters of multimillionaires to idleness because they have no need to ever work for a living! (At a modest 3% after-tax return, that $5 million throws off $150k a year.)

I can hear the screams already.

But what this really points out is that the entire "incentives" argument is about incentivizing the right people. And those who are talking up incentives have a clear idea of who those right people are:

They look like the advocates-of-incentives do.

The right people are not those with learning disabilities (or immigrants!) who have topped out as janitors and retail workers and meat-processing-plant future-carpal-tunnel workers. Neither are they those who fail to emphasize "What's in it for me?" at every decision point. Nor are they career military, police, health-care, or education workers. Instead, the "right people" are those who don't actually need those "extra" incentives in order to put food on the table and a roof over the head.

Ain't post-Millsian capitalism grand? Or, closer to home — a couple hundred miles to the south — outright tribalism and backlash thereto. As epitomized by Sen Perdue's cousin being that Perdue, which sort of gets us back to "properly incentivizing" dead-end jobs so that the workers just accept their sorry lots in life and never complain.

17 July 2020

Bloody Link Sausage Platter

Not to be confused with blood sausages; black pudding doesn't matter (Black lives do). No, this platter is a bit bloody-minded. In a good way.

  • I'm bloody-minded about the "music industry," particularly its Nashville-based components. We'll leave aside the antiintellectualism inherent in that town, and in music emanating from that town, for the nonce. That's a problem all too often masked under "but what we're really objecting to is lazy citydwellers who don't value hard work" — a problem also common in other forms and loci of popular music (e.g., punk and waaaay too much rock) — but it's not my primary objection.

    No, my objection is to the bloody tunnel vision. The sense of entitlement built into both country and "western" that the performers, the industry, and the audience are all much smarter than anyone else, and deserve much more of the good stuff. That attitude is far from unique to country, of course; classical music in general and specific composers (and even performers) are not exempt from an overweening sense of entitlement, all too often weaponized — both for and against them.

    Then, too, there's the economic sense of entitlement on the "industrial" side; again, Nashville is not unique, but it is also the worst about it. The only segment of the arts in which a higher proportion of the "rewards" are reserved to those other than the creatives is possibly big-production Hollywood. Possibly. Compare that to the 15% accorded writers of book-length works… and, conversely, to the "labor cost" in coal, pickup trucks, moonshine, and agricultural commodities. Now throw in Nashville's despair at the Copyright Act of 1976's evisceration of some of its favorite abusive contract terms imposed on performers and songwriters… and the fact that Nashville hasn't changed its contracting practices one little bit in a half a century; the same abuses are just buried elsewhere. And so are the same abuses in payment systems. Conversely, there's also the same sense of entitlement and ignorance of artistic endeavor in there (ponder, for a moment, exactly who the copyright holder was and how it became the copyright holder).

  • It's business as usual in Chicago politics, too. The more the calendar changes, the less the substance changes. Y'all may recall I've expressed my disdain for family-based power structures just a few times, explicitly naming this jerk… and his daughter (who, so far as I can tell, is not implicated in this particular scheme, but became Attorney General of Illinois on the basis of good Family connections).
  • General business hardly gets a free pass here (registrationwall), which — given that two of the modern basic microeconomics texts no longer even mention that the profit motive is about enlightened self-interest – should surprise exactly no one. (One of the authors of those texts was a major economic adviser to the second Bush administration — and in twenty years' time when all of the memoirs from mid-level operatives come out, it's going to look a lot worse than it does now. If that's possible.)
  • Returning to the entertainment world for a moment, ponder the problem of H'wood performers demanding more behind-the-camera diversity. On one hand, it's a worthy goal; the systemic racism and other bigotry is a serious impediment. Can I just point out that Harvey Weinstein is one of them and leave it there? But this particular protest entirely misses the point: The show is about the publishing industry, where racism, bigotry, entitlement, and worker abuse are even more rampant than in H'wood (if only because an even higher proportion of those with power in publishing Come From Money). If Ms Dee wants to effect change, she should also consider just how unusual her own in-front-of-the-camera role is in the "real" publishing industry — let alone in the profitable parts of publishing, like nontrade nonfiction, instructional/academic, and professional/technical. My suspicion is that she hasn't been exposed to that… if only because the most obvious affiliated publisher is among the least diverse publishers in its segment, which is not any of those.