03 April 2020

Life in the Time of COVID–19

It was inevitable: The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvnal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still-darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most-sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.

— Gabriel Garcia Marquez (trans. Grossman)

But what memories might torment those, like the new Administration spokesbacterium on the current pandemic, who have never displayed a hint of conscience to be tormented, in any context at all? Although one should certainly expect a private physician to be expected to make a house call… if only to keep things, well, private.

  • And meanwhile, religious assholes continue to put us all at risk. The obvious target is fundagelical xtians who have already demonstrated refusal to acknowledge that health care is not congruent with religious snits and bigotry. But this is an equal-opportunity pandemic, and it's not just fundagelical xtians. Dammit, "enabling spread of disease" so as to show respect to someone who can't acknowledge that respect because they're dead? The pride — the fundamental absence of humility — in these arrogant ignoramuses with their implicit claim that their personal beliefs outweigh my minimal personal safety bears some careful consideration under lots of core religious authority — both New Testament and Old. And the less said about gun nuts who think they need firepower to protect their hoarded toilet paper, the better.
  • The world of sport has had dubious amusement galore, both related to the pandemic and otherwise. The Olympic Committee (sorry, guys, you do not get to escape your past so easily with a PR-stunt name change) is whingeing that it needs a bailout too. Frankly, Ms Jenkins is far too restrained in her criticism of the failure to support actual athletes, although a more appropriate response might just be too long for the wordcount she was allotted. Olympic committees worldwide — and the USOC is among the worst — have been populated by and dedicated to upper-class dominion with the occasional condescending nod toward middle-class sensitivities since the modern Olympic movement got its start in the 1890s. "Support of the athletes" has always been behind the gold medal of "support of the Committee," the silver medal of "support of the Committee's patrons," and the bronze medal of "support of the Committee's overpaid permanent staff" — going back to not later than the 1904 St. Louis Games. Supporting the actual athletes doesn't even get on the podium.
  • And meanwhile, the attorneys for US Soccer in the ongoing equal-pay dispute with the four-times-in-three-decades-world-champion US Women's National Team have moved to withdraw. Without accusing particular attorneys — or at least not too much — of failing in their ethical duties, one must ask a preliminary question: What does it say about the hierarchy at US Soccer that it hired a law firm known for union-busting to deal with a pay dispute of this nature? And just what did they expect would happen as they built and hoarded their reserves without paying the players who made those reserves possible anything close to fair compensation, let alone "equal"?
  • The pandemic also leads to other foolishness. The so-called "Internet Archive" is sponsoring massive internet piracy. The hypocrisy is just astounding: If it really was about "information wants to be free," the Internet Archive would just have its many denizens create summaries of material for educational and informative purposes, not copy the exact expression. Instead, this reflects the meme "it's easier to ask forgiveness than get permission," which meme presumes that either would be forthcoming in the first place for more than sufficient reason.

    Needless to say, Mr Butler's inbox is going to be getting full very shortly. The DMCA, at 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(2), does not treat FormMail (or more contemporary recoded equivalents, whether masquerading as "database entry systems" or whatever) as sufficient or necessary, but read together with (3) requires a "service provider" to both accept notices by direct e-mail and read the bloody notices that are not in the exact form that the FormMail-equivalent system would provide… especially when those notices provide more information than the FormMail-equivalent system requests, such as the specific basis for rejecting claims of fair use. There must then be a timely written response within the scope of the statute… and not within the aspirations of "governing" memes. (Sadly, the Internet Archive isn't alone in this — the notoriously difficult to use YouTube notification system is just one other example.)

25 March 2020

Salem, O

Salem, Oregon is currently at home (which, given the mischief state governments can engage in at the best of times, is possibly a good thing regardless of the pandemic). But it's the source of the title of this piece of literature and social criticism that itself acts as a direct response to The Orange One's call to reopen "the economy" before the consensus of medical experts thinks it's appropriate to even think about doing so, primarily so that nobody in his own class suffers — that is, landlords and real-property developers.

Let's consider a corollary, and disturbing, question regarding the "$1200 emergency check" — who actually gets the check for debtors in current bankruptcy proceedings, especially those in Chapter 13 payment plans? So far as I've been able to determine, none of the national media has even asked that question, let alone stated an answer. And thanks to the sloppy drafting of those portions of the enabling legislation that are online, I can't find it there. If there isn't a provision excluding these payments from pending bankruptcy estates, this is going to represent a windfall for an industry that needs no windfalls: The collection industry.

This leads to a problem that might well be captioned "On the Meaning of 'Person' Regarding an Economic Crisis" in Enlightenment-era style. The key problem here is the intersection among moral/ethical rightness, the state of the law, and administrative practicality. Whether or not the law is morally/ethically correct (and it's a difficult argument, especially when dealing with arselochs like Hobby Lobby as exemplars of "corporate persons"), the law is that business entities are juridical persons and taxpayers. Particularly since many small businesses are themselves entities — which may, for regulatory and financial reasons based upon the line of business, be required even if the proprietor(s) would rather be "sole" as well as "solo" — shouldn't they also be treated as taxpayers deserving of stimulus payments? And now administrative practicality butts in. Given the goofiness of accounting standards for business entities versus those that apply to natural persons, determining the correct amount of a stimulus payment due a business entity would be… fascinating, futile, and FUBAR.

But that's not going to be much comfort as small businesses start getting evicted for falling behind on their lease payments. Then another F will raise its ugly head: Franchise. Who is really responsible if the local {insert fast-food franchise name of your choice here} in a relatively small community closes down permanently because the franchisor corporation had put all risk of loss of lease upon the franchisee, and meanwhile the absentee landlord was more interested in paying returns to its hedgefund investors than anything else? And sadly, that's far from "worst case."

I don't claim to have answers to these questions. But it took me under two minutes to see that both are issues that need to be resolved, and the deafening silence surrounding them indicates that our present leadership is engaged in nothing more coherent than moral panic. Of course, if there were adequate and universally available healthcare, a significant barrier (not the only one, unfortunately) to response to public health crises would be nonexistent… and things might be tamped down from "panic" to "extreme caution."

And meanwhile, one must wonder how the porn industry is going to engage with social distancing, especially if the machine stops (as was envisioned more than a century ago). "Engage with" might be a bit much for the porn industry, though.

23 March 2020

Prince Prospero's Internet Link Sausage Platter

I do not have a thousand hale and light-hearted friends with whom to engage in endless revels through the night in splendid luxury away from the hoi polloi, and I have no optimism that [t]he external world could take care of itself in the face of that self-imposed isolation (with those thousand hale and light-hearted friends, or more likely sycophants and other notables deserving of more dire consequences). Just revving up for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest…

  • Speaking of sycophants and notables, here's some further snark and disdain for the National Association of Theatre Owners and their bigshot spokesbacterium. Sure, maybe "exhibitors will not forget" that Universal — confronted with a national health emergency, and the prospect of massive scheduling conflicts down the road as the interlocking schedules of performers (and others) conflict, has chosen to go ahead with direct-to-home "event programming" that will be frantically welcomed in two and a half weeks by parents across the nation (notwithstanding their despair at the products being advertised as part of the event) — didn't bow down to the real-estate-speculating industry of theatre owners.

    The indie cinemas that will be put forth as "endangered" by the "reckless" acceptance that they're closed, there's inventory to be released, and customers want that inventory, largely do not depend upon those exclusivity dates that the big chain owners demand. Indeed, within 25km of me there are three cinema options… and two of them are indies, neither of which does first run (indeed, one of them specializes in revivals and the other largely in an eclectic mix including documentaries). (I'm not counting the run-down chain megaplex at the mall with a 60%-and-growing vacancy rate, particularly given the continuous rumors that the owners are trying to get out of their lease at that mall.)

    So fuck you and the horse you rode in on, Mr Fithian. I bet that if you do have children at home, you've still got a nanny (or utterly subservient stay-at-home spouse) to care for them… and that, in turn, you don't care about the easy-to-predict shrieks of boredom that just might be relieved via a streaming "event" in a little over two weeks. Because you're an "essential worker" in an "essential industry" who is getting out of the house.

    I have no contempt for the theatre owner group and its buggy-whip-manufacturer mentality (which, one might add, combines the two worst segments of the American economy: historical monopolists who got divested and real-estate speculators). At least no more contempt for them than they have for me and my demand for humane seating and reasonable scheduling and clear presentation and acceptable food and beverage choices. So I guess I'm really saying that they're beneath contempt.

  • Three recent pieces at Scientific American all deserve a little bit of thought. Avi Loeb advises young scientists not to overspecialize (advice that I wish the Army would take regarding its young officers, but that's for another time). Shilo Brooks ponders the Wright Brothers' success compared to their contemporaries' failures, but slightly misses the most-critical aspect — that the Wright Brothers acted like scientists and not dilletantes, particularly regarding the wind-and-lift data they found unreliable (so they gathered more data). Most importantly in this environment, Jonathan Shea considers the difficulties of becoming a target because one actually knows something… and it's not ideologically popular knowledge. I'm not quite old enough to remember the vitriol that was directed at Rachel Carson, but I've read some of it; one could practically do a search-and-replace for names and specific technical terms and script Faux Noos's response to the current pandemic.

    There. I said it. Prince Prospero indeed.

  • The Supreme Court released opinions today. On the one hand, two of the opinions smacked down the Fifth Circuit for making things up as they go along (largely for ideological reasons, although this Court didn't say that) and, instead, demand a Joe Fridayesque approach. In Davis (pdf) an unsigned opinion rejected the Fifth Circuit's doctrine that "[q]uestions of fact capable of resolution by the district court upon proper objection at sentencing can never constitute plain error" as having no support in Fed. R. Crim. Proc. 52(b)… despite its frequent use to throw defendants whose overworked counsel didn't raise a "factual" issue right out of court. In Guerrero-Lasprilla (pdf), the Court (7–2 this time) was equally skeptical of the Fifth Circuit's efforts to evade facts, albeit at much greater length. "Just the facts, ma'am" seems to have evaded the Fifth Circuit for too long; instead, it has been "Just the courthouse door, ma'am."

    And then, on the other hand, there's the error-ridden analysis in Allen v. Cooper (pdf), which essentially gives states (and instruments of states, such as university presses) free reign to infringe copyrights… and implies a "nonjusticiable therefore no available relief" holding will be forthcoming in the Georgia State University coursepack case. Bluntly, the Florida Prepaid matters were wrong when decided and even more wrong now; but that's for a few hundred footnotes in another venue.

    There was more, but it also is for another venue. Suffice it to say that the narrow perspective in their adult lives of this Court's membership is undermining the Court's own authority.

16 March 2020

Collaterally Damaged Link Sausage Platter

I note the following collateral damage from the US public-health crisis that is already inevitable albeit unmeasured. I make no guarantees that anything is entirely sober or serious (although it all has a serious element).

  • The Taxman still cometh. There are two federal deadlines coming up on 15 April: The annual return, and "quarterly" estimated taxes. For the annual personal return (sorry, businesses, you're screwed, the deadline is today), the quarter-page Form 4868 will AUTOMATICALLY extend your tax return due date to 15 October. (You can also do this online, but I don't recommend it at this time due to some internal problems with the filing system, the convoluted instructions, and the (mis)use of "private" vendors as a substitute for actual privacy. Yes, Intuit et al., you can go f*ck yourselves.) For the future, I suggest that the form be redesigned so that it does not suggest that a payment is required — especially to immigrants and the poorly educated in governmentese. It's too late for that this year.

    I can offer no suggestions for the "quarterly" estimated tax payment due 15 April. I seriously doubt anyone with any authority has even thought about it yet. And it's going to have consequences next year if you don't get it right now.

    <SARCASM> I predict an uptick in COVID-19 positives during the last half of April, as the dammit-I'm-breaking-isolation-because-my-fear-of-the-IRS-outweighs-"minor"-public-health-consequences attitude of those who need to see tax advisors in person gets them — and their advisors — needlessly infected. </SARCASM> Or the IRS could just give everyone the automatic six-month extension they're entitled to by law using Form 4868, waive the "must file the form to get the extension" requirement for this year, and treat all filings and payments made from 15 April until the all-government-levels public health restrictions are lifted plus ten business days as if they were made on 15 April. But that would be a sensible, proactive thing that would make the IRS look like Good Guys, so it ain't gonna happen.

  • Sort of in anticipation of the "holiday" tomorrow, drink a well-crafted, flavorful beer that doesn't call for a lime in it to be moderately palatable. Perhaps even a mass-market American-made not-quite-a-stout whose name tries to evoke a famous Irish product (without terribly much success, especially when overchilled).

    It's not that actual sales of the lime-associated pale alcoholic product have actually suffered from name association with the common name of COVID-19 (notwithstanding several news reports making such claims); it's that, in a universe of people with actual taste, they should have. But that's veering into discussion of economic parasites and not biological viruses.

  • Awards shows are being delayed, such as the entirely unlamented Academy of Country Music awards. But what about next year? What about the stoooooooooooooopid eligibility requirements for, say, the Oscars, eligibility for which requires screenings that breach public-health precautions? At least for this year, online release bloody well should be enough.

    But that would require AMPAS to think ahead to avoid a train wreck. If the last forty years of AMPAS trainwrecks have demonstrated anything, it's that AMPAS would rather film avoidable-yet-spectacular trainwrecks than avoid them. Especially the publicity branch.

    And f*ck you, National Association of Theatre Operators. I think I've made my disdain for your disdain for me pretty f*cking obvious; nice to see some just desserts to go along with the unjust popcorn prices.

  • It's TV show renewal season and pilot season. The latter largely ain't happening. This is going to have two collateral consequences. First, some otherwise-marginal shows (marginal, that is, under whatever definition the networks/streamers are choosing to apply, which usually relate to financials entirely hidden from everyone's view) are going to get renewed just to fill schedule slots — or avoid taking risks on things for which the decisionmakers have access only to a precís or couple of scripts and a cast list. Second, the new shows picked up for next fall are going to be both rougher and less risky than in most years, for some indefinable value of both. Well, not entirely indefinable: I predict that there will be a much higher proportion of "seasoned" showrunners for new shows actually picked up than usual. Which largely means white men.
  • If the call for increased social distancing goes on past about Tax Day, there will be a slow ramp-up in people doing inexpensive online learning rather than binge-watching yet another season of a semiforgotten TV series. "Peak TV" is not capable of filling 16 hours a day for those whose jobs are entirely at a standstill!

    • That mean's y'all better get your online continuing education done. CLE, CME, whatever.
    • Learn something about economics beyond simplistic marketing-oriented microeconomics. However much of a mess macroeconomics may be, it's still necessary to understanding that "problems of scale" also relate to the very means of analysis — not just interim profitability of a specific enterprise.
    • Learn some science and math.
    • Learn something about a foreign language and culture that does not require you to immediately travel there, meet interesting people, and then… (I'm afraid you have to have been politically aware during/of the 60s to finish that thought).
    • Just bloody learn something, under the wild-ass assumption that maybe — just maybe — you don't have a "natural ability" to understand all complex things.
  • Postal and delivery services are going to have a major crisis starting in early April (compare to that first link sausage!) as their employees start getting disproportionately in/affected. Unless they're working in clean-room gear — and they can't, the machinery won't allow for it — even the back-room sorters and handlers are going to be exposed to more crap than can be imagined. A lot of that crap will have been just placed on packages, too… especially lick-to-seal envelopes (like the ones the IRS encloses with all of its demands for payment) and lickable stamps (which are fortunately much less common than they used to be, but some hoarders and philatelists…). Even more of that crap will have been spread across counters from sneezing and in/through dropboxes and on truck floors and… you get the idea.

    And the less said about pharmacy workers, the less panic you'll suffer. Especially pharmacies in strip malls and inside Big Box stores.

14 March 2020

Antisocially-Distanced Link Sausage Platter

We're all incels now! Or at least those of us in Washington are.

  • Those of us who've been home-office warriors for, say, a couple of decades will have less difficulty adapting to semiquarantining and semiisolation than will, say, cubicle drones. Not none — just less. But at least we know a lot of things not to try because they don't work for us! In my case, that includes video games… but then, I've been a nerd outside of nerd stereotyping my entire life.
  • Twenty-three years wasn't enough in one very critical sense: A twenty-three-year prison sentence (even if it is fully served), plus "probation" and registration as a sex offender, can't get back what he took from his victims. <SARCASM> Nor can it bring back what he took from the rest of us, like at least a decade of film output from each of Annabella Sciorra, Chloe Sevigny, and Mira Sorvino, whom he blacklisted to varying degrees following (at least attempts to) brutalize them — and that's just three prominent examples from the letter S. </SARCASM>

    Unfortunately, one of the other bits of collateral damage from his reign of terror is going to be continued refusal to acknowledge (let alone confront) his other abusive, bullying business tactics. The general mistreatment of others. The misappropriation of intellectual property. The financial chicanery. Sorry, Harvey, you'll never eat lunch in that town again, but how's the Riker's Island meatloaf?

  • Here's some food for thought for the bar examiners, hiding a little bit deeper under the headlines: The first phase of medical-school-testing-based physician licensing is going pass/fail. It's the secondary implications that really matter, though.

    First, and perhaps most obvious, this is a basic-knowledge exam given during medical school with coverage pretty damned close to that of the bar exam (at least by analogy). That says a lot about when the bar exam — if there is one, that is — should be offered and taken… and whether it should be a purely uniform national examination.

    If, that is, the actual purpose of the bar exam is to ensure an adequate basis of knowledge and not to perpetuate preexisting social/familial traditions. One of the obvious corollaries of Rangarajan's musings on the cost of medical-school education, and its relationship to students' original position (without ever using that term… which is implicated, at least indirectly, in the author's name!) is the frantic search for summer internships — especially high-paying ones. Which, I might add from personal experience, is rather discriminatory against parents and against "nontraditional" students (and, for that matter, against those with military reserve obligations), most of whom are still under 40 and therefore such discrimination is not unlawful per se. But who am I to argue against the-greatest-good-for-the-greatest-number-of-our-children nobility-and-medieval-guild-like transmission of privilege? Wait a minute…

    Most important of all, though, is what Rangarajan does not quite reach in this article, primarily because that's not the purpose of this opinion piece rather than through any actual neglect (or scholarly malpractice…). Being a physician — or lawyer, or any other kind of professional — is not just about the ability to regurgitate by rote "facts" one learned in class/from a book. (If it was, there wouldn't be any need for annual casebook and statutory supplements, would there?) It is about integrating information and skills learned across a curriculum into evaluation of a patient's/client's needs, formation of an appropriate plan of action, and implementing that plan of action. And that often takes more time to do than within a single course, or year. Whether "initial presentation" is in an ER, urgent care clinic, or routine physical exam; jail cell, corporate board room, or office consultation; however any other licensed professional first encounters the client — pukin' back book larnin' is not a sufficient response. (If it was, that-wiki-thingy would be enough legal research, and some medical-information sites would have their own licenses!) It's about lab technique, stupid. But then, the bar examiners — and organized bar in general — couldn't spell "critical student laboratory experience" if spotted the first thirty letters or so, because they never had any themselves as either undergraduates or law students (unlike medical boards and doctors!).

07 March 2020

Unnatural Ability

The Orange One's statement that "Maybe I have a natural ability" to assimilate the scientific issues on the surface of COVID–19 exposes, sadly, the other reason that Professor Warren dropped out of the race. Professor Warren came up with detailed plans for turning lofty rhetoric into actual policy. Then she put those plans out there for examination. In short, she demonstrated that actual governance is hard work. The contrast with her opponents in both parties could not be starker.

So it wasn't just that she's a woman. It's that she's a smart woman, unafraid to demonstrate to some not-quite-as-smart men that platitudes will not make America great "again." That's been true for the entire history of this nation; it has also been discounted for the entire history of this nation. Thus far, the only "natural ability" I'm seeing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — from any member of that family — is insulting the intelligence of anyone who actually knows anything. (And if Drumpf had any natural ability of any kind in the life sciences, he'd know that he can't inherit a learned skill from his uncle…)

I didn't have to agree with everything Professor Warren proposed (and didn't) to respect that — unlike everyone else, and in particular unlike Drumpf on the one hand and Biden and Sanders on the other.

02 March 2020

In Like a Liar

… because it's election season.

Duck season.

Wabbit season.

Election season. No license, no limits, no truthiness.

  • The next contemporary-setting film or book that I'm associated with that includes computers, cellphones, or portable music players will breach a manufacturer's "requirements": It will show a supervillain using Wormyfruit products. <SARCASM> If, that is, said supervillain is stupid enough to believe that battery life will hold up throughout both the scheme for world domination and the day's filming. Which is the real reason that supervillains don't use Wormyfruit products. </SARCASM>
  • Speaking of villainy, consider one cost of playing one. Especially one who is in the film industry; or you could just ask Margaret Hamilton.
  • Continuing with villainy, Lightning Source is introducing content integrity guidelines that blindly accept longstanding commercial publishing as a sufficient indicator of "reliability."

    Asked whether, under criteria #1, study guides such as Cliff Notes may be removed from the catalog, Gallagher said: "Long standing publishers with a reputation for quality and commercial success will certainly be in a position to succeed through the catalog."

    (typography corrected) If that's the example of "quality and commercial success" sufficient for reliability among "Summaries, workbooks, abbreviations, insights, or similar types of content without permission from the original author," there are some serious problems. As anyone who both has a degree in literature and has read the entire underlying works knows, Cliff Notes are… not a bastion of quality. Commercial success I'll grant (especially if you've ever seen the contracts imposed on "authors" of "notes," which are inconsistent with multiple requirements in the Copyright Act).

    Misleading books with "inaccurate descriptions and cover art" (criteria #4)? I know at least half-a-dozen bestselling authors who would point to the marketing-dork pressures from those "commercially successful" commercial publishers as causing the inaccurate and misleading covers. Like, say, Justine Larbalestier. Or maybe we should just call for some Smart Bitch Cover Snark. Or, more to the point, we could inquire into other all-too-common cover problems, like permissions (and that's just one that has become public… and doesn't consider the derivative work problem). But nobody is going to even think about misleading superlatives and blurbs.

24 February 2020

The Six-Inch Rabbit

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

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

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

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

18 February 2020

Hair Today, Commuted Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 February 2020

Oversmoked Internet Link Sausage Platter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 February 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

10 February 2020

Tripping Over the One-Inch Barrier

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

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

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

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

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

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