03 January 2006

Foul Jumps

I'm jumping on two seemingly unrelated items this morning. First, I have an even harsher follow-up to yesterday's rant on the plagiarized submission article at The Times. Then, we'll take a look at torture. Again.

It's pretty clear to me that intellectual honesty has now officially departed the editorial staff at The Times. My comments yesterday all focussed on the internal consistency of the "experiment"—that is, doing the "experiment" properly. Of course, that assumes that the experiment was worth doing in the first place; it isn't, for several reasons. In no particular order,

  • Unless rejections come with stated (and honest) rationales, a "rejection" is meaningless. I noted a couple of possibilities yesterday, such as "we already have something like this in the pipeline" and "we don't publish this kind of novel anyway." More to the point, given UK libel laws, what editor is going to accuse an "author" of plagiarizing a nonconforming, not especially good submission whose prose is redolent with whiffs of thirty-year-old ink? Only a very rare one, and probably one who hasn't heard of Pierre Menard.
  • The number of rejections one receives is irrelevant to publication. Getting published is very much like a job search: One needs only one "yes" to be successful. The corollary is also important: The number of acceptances reflects only the immediate perceived commercial needs of the group of publishers and agents contacted, not the quality of the underlying material.
  • Publishers (and agents) are commercial entities. One might consider performing the same experiment with hypercommercial contemporaries of the Naipaul and Middleton books; maybe—just maybe—if Harold Robbins's dreck does get significant offers (presuming an adequate experimental design) while acknowledged classics don't, it might be worth asking whether this was a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a comment on editorial taste. That is, editors and agents know that their job was not to select works for English 308 (Early Twenty-First-Century Novels) in 2040, but profit centers for 2007. There could be no clearer example of "market failure"; as I've mentioned elsewhere, though, the alternatives to a market-based system are worse.

Even asking "the question" was intellectually dishonest. I suppose that shouldn't surprise me, given the disreputable behavior of other parts of the Murdoch media empire. It's rather interesting that most right-wing critics of the so-called MSM seldom comment on the problems of their ideological ally.

Then there's the Bush Administration's astounding "acquiescence" to the McCain Amendment, which would ban torture. Ordinarily, I compare this sort of nonsense to Humpty-Dumpty's notorious redefinition of "glory" as "a good knock-down argument" (exact definition varies with different editions of Through the Looking Glass). This goes well beyond that, though. At the only-too-ironically-appropriately-titled blawg Balkinization, guest blawgger Marty Lederman notes:

Most importantly, as to the McCain Amendment, which would categorically prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees by all U.S. personnel, anywhere in the world, the President wrote:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

Translation: I reserve the constitutional right to waterboard when it will "assist" in protecting the American people from terrorist attacks.

This reminds me far more of something even more archly surreal. But then, I was one of those crazy literary majors (all puns intended):

Sirelli And what did the prefect have to say?
Agazzi Oh the prefect… well, the prefect… he was very much impressed, very much impressed, with what I had to say.
Sirelli I should hope so!
Agazzi You see, some of the talk had reached his ears already. And he agrees that it is better, as a matter of his own official prestige, for all this mystery in connection with one of his assistants to be cleared up, so that once and for all we shall know the truth.
Laudisi [bursts out laughing].
Amalia That is Lamberto's usual contribution. He laughs!
Agazzi And what is there to laugh about?
Signora Sirelli He says that no one can ever know the truth.

Luigi Pirandello, Right You Are (If You Think So) (trans. Arthur Livingston, 1922). Now consider that one of Pirandello's literary descendents was Ionescu, and we get right to pachyderms divorced from reality.