13 June 2004

Snort. It looks like my estimate that the news would be light resulted in light news… which, in turn, allowed various news sources to run all of their interesting non-time-sensitive stories.

Where to begin? In a project that would shake Wyatt Gwyon to the core of his being—and his nothingness—researchers at the University of Maastricht are developing a computer that will help discern the authenticity of paintings and drawings. Leaving aside the distrust of some Luddite art historians for any technological aids, let alone something that looks like a machine making a decision, these techniques are unlikely to gain substantial acceptance in the foreseeable future; as one scientist noted, "auction houses would be unlikely to embrace a new technique that 'sharpens the consciousness of how many fakes they may have sold'"… At least the scientists appear to understand that the computer can only analyze data to support (or refute) an expert's opinion. Given that interpretation is even harder than establishing authenticity—and even more poorly understood—HAL isn't going to be teaching art history to undergraduates any time soon (hopes by certain wacko literary researchers for literature notwithstanding).

Obliquely related to the authenticity of paintings, we can find the preservation of ancient cave paintings. Leaving their authenticity aside, the whole controversy reeks of hidden agendas. Like that's a surprise in anything involving art. Or historic preservation. Or environmental protection. Or energy policy.

If you really want to see egos at play, try high-stakes litigation. It's not just the celebrity clients who think they're Mick Jagger. It's their lawyers—even when the lawyers are trying to downplay their personalities for the press. Notice that the newspapers never state the ability of these "superlawyers" to defend that "wonderful" results they get at trial? Hint: There's a "superlawyer" named in the cited article who loses over half of the appeals taken against his favorable results—when statistically one would expect said "superlawyer" to win three-quarters of them.

And then there's the war on drugs. Not satisfied with a chain of custody standard that could get a lawyer presenting it in a criminal trial investigated for lying to the court, the US Anti-Doping Agency now wants to lower the standard of proof required to find an athlete "guilty" of doping. Two words: Andreea Raducan (see chapter 28). If nothing else, the USADA's stance, and its particular rationale, make clear that the appearance of "punishing the guilty bastards" is much more important to it than is actually controlling unauthorized use of PESs. Hmm. Where have I heard this before in the war on drugs?