29 July 2012


... with Shana Alexander and James J. Kilpatrick.

This is just a collection of musings and bookmarks that have been too long in the comment queue, particularly as a result of the move (which isn't over yet, thus the still-sporadic batches of link sausages — and general ire).

  • Ursula K. Le Guin needs no defense from lesser beings like the staff at That Geekoid Periodical. IMNSHO, Stephen King needs all the defenders he can get, of any nature... but I'm sure others will disagree with me. The one thing from which Stephen King needs no defense is any accusation that he's not committed to his craft.
  • Digital rights and their limits — and lending rights and their limits — are much in the news of late. The key commonality that makes both of them difficult issues, though, is that it is seldom the actual creator who is/is not at issue; it is almost always a creature in the middle. For textual works, this is a publisher; for audio works, a record label; for audiovisual works, a studio and/or network. US law makes this problem much more difficult with its work-for-hire doctrine that (improperly, illogically, and quite possibly unconstitutionally) redefines "author" to mean "patron" for many of these works. It's a unique doctrine — nobody else in the world uses it, and yet there's a thriving recorded-music industry in Europe, and a thriving film industry in Europe, etc. — so perhaps we should just get rid of it. Besides, it's just not that hard to get a proper assignment of rights (PDF) that overcomes the problem, but leaves a paper trail behind so that "orphanage" is less likely.

    What I find most worrisome about this issue is the disjuncture between the business interests of (and in) publishing and the rhetoric being used regarding orphan works, lending rights, and digital rights. Examining this list of the world's 50-odd largest publishers (you'll need to page down) is quite disturbing in this context. For example, of the top ten in the list, four have no "trade" presence at all, and the "trade" presence of all but one of the other six is substantially less than half of their revenues, unit sales, and titles in print. Each decade down the list shows similar characteristics, or is even more heavily slanted against trade books. And that's "trade books" including trade nonfiction! Conversely, the rhetoric in the battle over "preservation," "digital libraries," and orphans would ignore books on chicken farming in favor of illogical fantasies where east and west are reversed and the main roads are paved with yellow bricks. So long as we've got "one size fits all" copyright, that's an inevitable source of failures to communicate. The problem with more-nuanced distinctions among copyrighted works is that it leaves lawyers making the nuanced distinctions...

  • Speaking of unnuanced, have you considered the ultimate aim of Super-PACs lately?
  • An ignorant git who should know better — he proclaims himself a professor of political science — opines that we shouldn't teach algebra in high school any more, because It's Too Hard. There is any number of rejoinders to this claim: That it's just plain wrong is only the most obvious. Perhaps we could aspire to Kennedy's challenge that we should

    [C]hoose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

    and want to learn algebra because it's hard. Or perhaps — just perhaps — the teaching of algebra sucks because we've got unprepared teachers, who themselves found algebra hard. We expect better of PE teachers; why not in math?

    Or maybe we could just accept that knowing what tools are in the basic-math toolbox is part of what is necessary to adapt to change of all kinds — not just in jobs, but in society as a whole. I would have expected better for someone with a background in political science... let alone someone who teaches "government," which today barely resembles what it did in eighty years ago before sick chickens became relevant, before governments were "supposed" to care about public health (aside: failure of governments to provide adequately for public health is one of the largest factors predisposing the populace to violent revolution; but then, I'm a military historian without a terminal degree in that area and not a political scientist, so my knowledge and insights probably don't matter to Mr Hacker and his ilk).

  • One might also argue, though, that things really haven't changed that much, or that rapidly: That in some ways, the politics of nations and nationalism are neomedieval. Ironically, battles over jurisdiction on/by/through the 'net — whether private or public, whether judicial or governmental — seem even more "regressive" than the problems with phantom states. There are a few great near-future science fiction novels in there somewhere... probably laced with weaponized chile extracts.