27 April 2009

Monday Pain (and I don't mean "bread")

So I got a late start today. I'm still recovering from all the muscles I sprained on last Friday's item.

  • RIP J.G. Ballard, who never stopped writing speculative fiction even when commercial considerations demanded that he deny that he wrote speculative fiction. Or maybe he just didn't like the pointy ears... or idiot assumptions that all speculative fiction involves pointy ears?
  • Congratulations to all of the Nebula winners (and other SFWA honorees). Now that there have been rule changes, maybe they'll become easier to decipher. Let's not forget the Tiptree winners and honorable mentions, either, nor the LA Times book awards (even if they can't be bothered to have an award for the category that spawned the novel).
  • Congratulations, Sir Cliff Richard: your inept pathetic warblings are now protected for seventy years, not fifty, under EU copyright. Should we call this the "Squeaky Mouse Copyright Extension Act", so that it parallels the US "Mickey Mouse Copyright Term Extension Act" that was put forth in Sonny Bono's name in 1998? It's probably going to just act like bamboo shoots under the Pirate Bay founders' fingernails.
  • Speaking of torture, consider the flawed adoption of SERE techniques as eminently predictable.
  • Nicholas Clee comments on celebrity titles killing the book trade in the UK. On one tentacle, it is Clee, so one must take his pontificating with a ten-pound bag of salt. On another tentacle, he's right, for fundamental economic reasons. On yet another tentacle, it's not going to change behavior due to scaling effects... and that's predictable from basic macroeconomic principles. On a fourth tentacle, nobody is asking the real question: Why was the "celebrity book" adopted as a benchmark in the first place? And on a fifth tentacle, the fact that Nicholas Clee himself rose to prominence within what passes for publishing journalism by turning S&M dorks inside of publishing into quasicelebrities adds an interesting twist... or just indicates that he thinks we're all suckers.
  • As a sideways follow-on, some maroons are trying to blame Hollywood for Wall Street's ethics problems; their claim is that without Hollywood's depiction of Gordon Gekko, he wouldn't exist. Umm, right; "life imitates art"? Actually, there's a simultaneously more-complex and simpler explanation: Measuring success by short-term numbers that may, or may not, have any real significance... but, since they're numbers, they're easy to compare, and even easier to whinge about for archly political purposes (in, as Orwell suggests, the broadest possible meaning of "political").
  • UVa professor Mark Edmundson suggests giving up literary readings for reading the books in question. On one tentacle, this is a "well, duhhhh" suggestion: Of course one should look at the primary source materials in order to form an opinion! On another tentacle, though, it reflects a serious reasoning error; secondary sources should be viewed as a supplement, not a substitute, for the primary sources. Perhaps it's as much the tyranny of the three-credit-hour course as much as anything else, with contemporary student expectations of homework loads (which is to say "none"!) driving down the amount of reading that can be assigned. For example, I compared the expected reading load for the required Shakespeare class here at the U of I with the one I took mumblemumble years ago at Wash U and was shocked; not only did we read more plays and poems, but we also had some significant secondary reading in the syllabus... all for a three-credit class. And yes, as a matter of fact I did walk uphill to school both ways (there was a significant valley between my house and the school, 15m at the school end and 40m at the residence end).