27 March 2012

The Tell-Tale Heart

Life continues — which beats the alternative, eh? Yesterday was taken up with relatively routine doggy surgery. But that leaves even more trimmings to go into the sausages, and more curing time to enhance the flavor!

  • All of you "early adopters" who downloaded badly-proofread pirated Harry Potter books from various websites can salve your consciences today by buying authorized e-book editions directly from the author's joint venture. Consider this a Jewish-grandmotherish guilt trip.
  • More proof that one should never let MBAs and other marketing dorks anywhere near legal concepts: Facebook is trying to assimilate "—book" as uniquely its own brand. I wonder what the purveyors of the PhoneBook and the iBook might have to say about that? The key point is that — contrary to what is taught in marketing courses, especially to MBAs but also infecting undergraduate-level business courses and even some guru seminars — the overlap between "brand identity" and "trademark" is a lot smaller than it might otherwise seem. Remember, trademark is about suppressing unfair competition, not suppressing all competition... even if trademark procedure sometimes makes it seem much broader. Then, too, there's the concept of the operator overloading to consider, but that would require marketing dorks to have studied high-level linguistics and/or math and/or computer science.
  • Speaking of marketing and brand identity, consider this piece concerning claims that book reviews should be "nicer". I can understand that point of view... for a writing group devoted to criticism of drafts with an eye to improving them prior to publication. If anything, they should be meaner than they are, particularly for fully edited works. Too often, book reviewers stay silent on bad books, meaning that the only bad reviews of bad books out there seem unduly shrill and exceptional. This results from the odd symbiosis between publishers and review publishers: Publishers provide books for review at no cost, and review sources fear that the supply will be restricted or cut off if they publish too many negative reviews. They've forgotten Sturgeon's Law: "Ninety percent of science fiction is crap. But then, ninety percent of everything is crap." And Ted Sturgeon was an optimist!
  • For the neofascist hypermilitarists out there, remember that democracy is not fire-and-forget. It has a long, long transitional period under the best of circumstances. When those circumstances are less than the best — like in Hong Kong, with the transition from one imperialist dominator to another, or in Egypt, where a popular uprising ran into entrenched holders of power (the general staff of the military, although not even all of the officer corps) that simultaneously were complicit in the previous regime, legitimately concerned for their personal safety in the aftermath, and reluctant to risk obscurity under a new regime, or in Iraq, about which less said the better — the transitional period is merely an extended opportunity for opportunistic would-be tyrants. Even in protodemocracies (and perhaps especially then), Cersei is right: When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. She forgot to mention all of the collateral damage and civilian casualties, though...
  • Here's an egregious example of HuffPo's tendency to tell only part of the story. An unsigned screed tries to raise outrage at the leisure-reading habits of American high school students by claiming that the reading level of the top 20 works is "only" that of grade 5.3. A little bit deeper into the article, it acknowledges that the ATOS readability score used concerns only numeric averages obtainable by counting without regard to either structure or content. The irony is that on the Flesch-Kincaid scale — an older competitor of the ATOS system that usually yields similar results for nontechnical works — the article itself grades out at 11.3 (this particular platter of link sausages is, as is my wont, at 12.3). However, after removing all quotations from other sources, the article criticizing teens for choosing to read at a grade level of 5.3 is, itself, only at 5.4. And it's dominated by one- and two-sentence fake journalistic paragraphs, most of which do not have a true "topic sentence" (or even logical topic). Hint to HuffPo editors: If you're going to decry the reading choices of American teenagers, your drivelling output should itself be an example of what you propose... unless, that is, you're far more skilled satirists than is otherwise apparent. Further, you just might consider the complexity of the underlying material; Orwell's essay "Shooting an Elephant," for example, grades out at 7.5, and Animal Farm grades out at 6.8!
  • On the censorship front, Bully will be released "unrated" after the prudes at the MPAA refuse to see reason. That's right, parents: Take your kids to see a film so disturbing that the MPAA panel betrayed that its members had never been on a playground during fifth-grade recess... or learned to think as logically as the average fifth-grader. Any resemblance to the preceding link sausage is less than coincidental.
  • At last, a court of true rationality: Beer brewers cannot strike because brewing is an essential service — and since it's in Lithuania, there's a decent chance that they're brewing a decent beer to start with.
  • Charlie Stross reminds us that the truth of American electoral politics is stranger than fiction... even when it has been foreshadowed in fiction. Meanwhile, the Tennessee legislature's historical obsession with monkeys has once again risen from the primordial slime of electoral politics. Oops — that's an illustration of evolution, which simply will not do...
  • Speaking of strangeness and American politics, I couldn't make this one up. A still-beating heart has been offered up to an evil Elder God more horrible than anything from Lovecraft, and then described as a mere heart "transplant" for Dick Cheney.