30 March 2009

Random Bratwurst

This platter of sausages is particularly disorganized. It's Monday.

  • Once in a while, the NYT does manage to get something right on publishing, recognizing that HP's MagCloud system for printing short-run magazines might — if everything goes well — turn into "vanity publishing’s equivalent of YouTube."
  • Another kind of financial fraud: income-tax deniers. The real problem with the income-tax denial movement is that it is based upon "taxes for thee, but not for me." Income is merely one means of determining individual liability (the other obvious ones being per capita, consumption, and asset). There are many reasons that the American tax-denier movement is almost entirely melaninically deficient (as noted in that article). If, as Justices Holmes asserted, "taxes are the price we pay for civilization," one of them is pretty obvious: The leaders are those dissatisfied with current civilization... very much as Steve Buscemi's character (Gordon Pratt) in one very well-done arc on Homicide: Life on the Streets, they are those content to accept the benefits of civilization without themselves understanding them (in short, they're stupid, if sometimes all too clever). Which is not to say that I blindly support the income tax system as it stands (particularly not some of the exclusions for the ultrarich), but I'm not aware of a system as a whole that's better, and I'm not particularly fond of anarchy. "It can be improved" does not justify "therefore I'll bomb the whole thing."
  • News that will surprise absolutely no one who is experienced with interrogations: "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots; Waterboarding, Rough Interrogation of Abu Zubaida Produced False Leads, Officials Say" (WaPo, 29 Mar 2009). Well, duuuuuuh.
  • Here's an interesting, if ironic, twist on "freedom of speech." A group of health-care data miners want to use the First Amendment to shield themselves from state regulation of their business of extracting prescription data and using it for advertising (among other commercial purposes). I find it hard to imagine a use farther from the core of the First Amendment; even "obscene" publications are closer to the core, particularly if one knows the origin of the laws regulating obscenity. On the other hand, since the Court has denied Virginia's attempt to reinstate its antispam law, who knows?
  • When even the WSJ weighs in against a business-led class-action settlement as a bad deal, you know something's somewhat suspect. And that's exactly what happened Saturday, when a WSJ columnist actually read — and rejected — the Google Book Search settlement. Meanwhile, here's a thoughtful commentary on the decline of DRM and the rise of licensing restrictions that was entirely predictable from ProCD — but it's nice to see evenhanded (evententacled?) analysis.
  • My jaw really hit the floor when I saw this bit of ignorant "theory" of contemporary science fiction from someone who obviously doesn't know an awful lot about literary theory or history. On one tentacle, speculative fiction has always employed allegory and symbolism; not just the obvious (Frankenstein) or explicit (Plato's Republic and the "allegory of the care"), but fundamentally (Asimov's robots). Speculative fiction is merely a mirror about ourselves, and we live in a society of more-overt Christianity now than we did in the 1930s and 1940s (if not necessarily greater). On another tentacle, the scope of "speculative fiction" chosen by Mr Plotinsky creates a self-fulfilling prophecy; he's simply not looking at a wide enough range of material, and instead is choosing supporting material for his preordained conclusion. On a third tentacle, the Bible is such a foundational document in Western literature that it's hard to avoid references (or seeming references) in any form of literature, which points out the most-egregious failing of Mr Plotinsky's analysis: If his point has any validity, speculative fiction must employ the allegories he seemingly decries to a greater extent than does other categories, but this is hardly the case. He certainly doesn't demonstrate it, and I can throw up equivalent quote-mined support from any other literary category for the same proposition.