29 May 2009

Grouchy, Chunky Sausages

Oscar the Grouch ain't got nothin' on me.

  • Professor Tushnet points out something important about the new Star Trek movie: it ignores the difference between individuals and institutions. And, not incidentally, ignores science... but that's another story entirely; or, perhaps, just a story — or at least back story — that should have been in the movie.
  • PEOPLE (cover), 01 Jun 2009This sausage may cause indigestion. People, that paragon of journalistic excellence (do I really need to use the <SARCASM> </SARCASM> tags?), put the American right's favorite unwed teen mother on the cover for the issue now on newsstands (and supermarkets, where it stared me in the face this evening while I was replenishing our supply of Purinatm Student Chow With Real Pizza Bits). Of course, the student in question was busy making snide — and accurate — remarks about "family values" and wingnuts.1 Even reading the first couple of sentences of the article on the People website invokes all the fascination of watching a slow-motion train wreck... narrated breathlessly by Daffy Duck.
  • LIFE & STYLE (cover, reduced size), 01 Jun 2009In any event, sitting across the checkout aisle I saw the item on the left. Which, in the end, is merely another segue into a continuation of my diatribe against Tina "She's Not Really Evil, Just Horribly Misguided" Brown and her latest rant and rave on what she thinks is wrong with publishing.

    On one tentacle, Ms Brown isn't exactly the most credible source one could have, as she presided over/caused the twin quality and circulation "crises" at The New Yorker a decade ago and presided over/caused the failure of Talk... and those are both in periodicals anyway, not books, so whether anything she (didn't) learn while "managing" those periodicals applies to books — let alone e-books — is at best open to question. On a second tentacle, her target is an apt one, but not for the reason(s) she thinks: Resale price agreements — functionally what Amazon is doing — are at least questionable under antitrust law.2 On a third tentacle, she never actually states what the real conflict is: The continuing struggle over discount rates and how that alters existing publishing contracts... and, in turn, how that alteration relates to the quantity and quality of material provided under those contracts (and, indeed, their very nature).

    Which, in a sad way, leads back to those two magazine covers, which reflect the true difference between mass-market periodicals — at least those making money these days — and e-books for the Kindle: Nobody is going to read the former for their content, but the only reason for the latter to exist is their content. That similar antiquated distribution systems and a legacy of appearing on paper are shared between periodicals and e-books has little to do with their real similarities, just as Barack Obama and Felix Frankfurter aren't all that similar despite their shared presidency of the Harvard Law Review. I continue to be befuddled by "businesspeople"'s efforts to make everything similar...

  • All of which leads into an astounding confluence of idiocy: A claim that "evangelical rationalists" are just another religious movement, leading into more illogical blather from Nicholas Kristof alleging that liberals and conservatives have inherently different means of moral reasoning, not just results (even though ignorant reporters who don't understand scientific reasoning might claim that mammals are "hardwired for morality"). To end this astounding display of inept forced similarities and analogies, there's an attempt to model the irrational (in this instance, "love affairs") with differential equations, when even a mathematician should think to invoke Heisenberg's dilemma. Umm, guys — and, in particular, Mr Love Math — have any of you ever heard of a "field boundary condition"? Or, more to the point, "Fourier transform near an asymptote"?
  • The Teach for America popularity/controversy actually masks a much more serious question, parallel to the reliance on "Wall Street wizards" over the last couple of decades: Are the purported experts really experts? I strongly question whether the teacher unions, education hierarchy, etc. know a damned thing about dealing with either gifted students or students who are simultaneously gifted and disabled... partially because almost no members of the teaching profession were, themselves, gifted and/or disabled, but primarily because almost none of the leadership in the teaching profession has an education at the college level and beyond that is worth a damn.

    I'd argue that anyone teaching high-school-level subjects to students who might potentially go on to get a bachelor's degree in that subject should, him or herself, have a bachelor's degree in that subject... not a watered-down education degree backed up by little, if any, rigor in the subject area. Those teaching literature need to understand what will be expected of their students in college, and one doesn't get that with a B.A.Ed., and so on down the line. In short, the vast majority of our high school teachers are underqualified for the subjects that they're teaching... which leads to disrespect for academic accomplishment, diminished academic accomplishment, lower horizons for everyone, cats and dogs marrying each other, and just generally chaos. Bluntly, too many teachers were themselves marginal students, at least at the college level, and therefore can't even recognize academic gifts, let alone nurture them.

    Of course, my definition of "marginal student" is probably a bit different than Joe Sixpack (or Joe the Plumber) would acknowledge as having any validity. My hope is that American students can succeed in pushing the boundaries of knowledge and technology because of their educational preparation in public schools — not in spite of it. In short, I'm a nerd; I value nerds; and the jocks, stoners, etc. can have their places... but not at the expense of the nerds.

  1. Of course, it's really quite difficult to follow Bristol Palin's career path, as not all that many of us have failed major-party candidates for Vice President of the United States for parents. That should be food for thought, especially in conjunction with the last sausage on today's platter.
  2. And, but for a recent misguided Supreme Court opinion that engaged in excessive rhetorical flights of fancy and conclusion-jumping in extending a possible exception to the entire field, per se antitrust violations...