27 April 2010

Heavily Overinsured Link Sausages

It's still Monday, isn't it? You mean it's not, even though it's acting like Monday?

  • The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the state of California's appeal in Governator v. Violent Video Games (ok, the actual case is Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, No. 08–1448 (cert. granted 26 Apr 2010)). This presents an interesting opportunity for the Court to make the First Amendment inconsistent yet again: It just ruled that the First Amendment prohibits broad, criminal prohibitions of depictions of animal cruelty, so it's now considering whether the First Amendment might allow broad regulation of depictions of "extreme violence" marketed to minors. Gee, ya think they'll consider whether that means the news can't show live footage of American soldiers from the Fertile Crescent? After all, if you look at the actual commercials being broadcast during the local-buy block on the national news, you'll almost always spot commercials for "family entertainment" (like that goofy pizza place with the video games) two or three times a week...
  • Cory Doctorow praises (part of) SFWA and demonstrates why you must read publishing contracts before you sign them. Of course, if the UK (and Certain Other Jurisdictions) would get around to revising their libel laws to approach rationality, this would present less of a problem... for the particular contract that he was faced with... under these particular circumstances. But it wouldn't change the general advice: An author must always be prepared to say "no" and actually walk away. It's really hard to do when that's the money you were counting on to get those squealing brakes fixed, or to pay part of the overdue utility bills, but it's necessary to at least be prepared to do so nonetheless.

    And, as a hint to publishers: That list of awful things in the indemnity clause? That's what you've got media perils insurance for... or are you letting your insurer opt out of what you're paying them to insure you against and letting your insurer write your contracts? <SARCASM> Gee, that never happens in the commercial world. Insurance companies are always honest and always there for everyone. Even when one of the two leading providers of media perils insurance traces its ownership back to AIG. Or perhaps this means that you're throwing insurance premium dollars away for illusory coverage... I wonder what your shareholders will think of that? </SARCASM>

  • PowerPoint is evil. I've known that for a long time: PowerPoint is merely a descendant of the slide system used in military briefings back in the day (the ones that usually resulted in somebody missing something important). But now even civilians are catching on. The more things change from the 1970s, the more they stay the same: We're still hypnotizing chickens instead of educating them. (The citation for one of my medals alludes to my prowess at hypnotizing civilian chickens... albeit not so explicitly.)

    Slides (and PowerPoint) are too often used as substitutes for actual, clear exposition on a topic, including such things as actually prioritizing what one's point is, and virtually always as means of preventing engagement with audience questions. The reflexive "that's covered on the next slide" response actually inhibits information retention and learning because it tells the audience that only the speaker's own analysis matters... and that had better not be the case in a military situation! (Or, for that matter, in a graduate-level course, given the increasing popularity of PowerPoint presentations in some law classes.) These problems are actually worse than the oversimplification and denigration of interconnection that comes from reducing speeches to expansion on a series of bullet points.

  • A misleading and unfortunate title masks the value of an article exploring what academia offers to the popular arts that also deserves scrutiny by authors of print works... because, too often, what passes for reviews and criticism of popular-form literary works falls prey to the same problems as implied in the article (embarassingly often in the NYT and its Sunday Book Review itself!).

    As a case in point, consider this "review" of Orwell's Animal Farm by Christopher Hitchens... which successfully ignores a battle that was raging in the smaller, more-specialized literary criticism journals in the 1970s and 1980s (and in which I played a small part myself). There's an actual point to the "absence of a Lenin" in Animal Farm: Orwell was writing a fairy story (look at the bloody subtitle that he insisted upon), not an allegory. That is, the book is taking on a wider set of targets than the 1917 Russian Revolution; actually reading the book makes that fairly clear, and it's excrutiatingly obvious that it also invokes the French Revolution (and even, to an extent, the rise of Hitler) if one takes the time to think about it without having one's view of mid-twentieth-century history limited to "evil commies v virtuous capitalists"... and remembers that Orwell remained a committed socialist to the end. Of course, Hitchens's piece betrays not one iota of awareness of this context, whether from his own reading or from even glancing at the indices for Modern Fiction Studies, or Genre Studies, or even PMLA and ELH.

    All of which links right back into Ms Dargis's article. Hitchens would, of course, have been free to disagree with that interpretive chain (although I don't think he would); part of the point of interpretation is applying judgment. He's not, however, free to ignore evidence — discount after considering, perhaps, but not ignore. And what that, in turn, says about film criticism (particularly wrongheaded stuff like, to stay with the NYT, Janet Maslin's inattentive blathering).

  • Today's sign of the apocalypse: Gay Boys at Riverdale High. I'm actually a bit surprised by this; I heard about it last week, but there hasn't been a lot of fulminating from the usual suspects yet. Maybe they've all been too busy doin' the "Minnesota Boogie" (MP3, authorized by artist). At least Salon has chimed in with a typical bit of windy pontification on the meaning of it all.
  • From the department of smug, self-fulfilling prophecies: bad training for managers in arts organizations leads to bad management of arts organizations. This one goes wrong at the very beginning, though: It assumes that there is, in fact, an alternative... that is both reasonably available to managers (and potential managers) of arts organizations and will not drive away the people who need the training and works... or at least works better than the "training" we have been giving to financial/insurance-industry managers over the last quarter of a century. It's that last one that I find noncredible.