01 August 2013

Flowing Like a River to the Sea

Salvador Dali, 'The Persistence of Memory' (1931)Time is indeed the theme today... time like one gets from this illustration, I suspect.

  • Here's another look at something that gives lawyers a (well-earned) bad reputation: the internal incoherence of the billable hour. The key conclusion that one can draw from this piece is that the methods of the assembly line are not applicable to all aspects of the economy, and particularly not to those aspects of the economy that require judgment. This is contradicted by — ironically enough, considering the profession of the article's focal point — overdivision of task work into constituent parts for separate accounting.

    Quantity of useful work performed is often not separable from difficult- or impossible to measure qualitative and judgment inputs into that work... and trying to pretend otherwise isn't just dishonest, it's counterproductive. This is perhaps most obvious in the arts; consider the difference between Mary Doria Russell's first-novel masterwork The Sparrow and this piece of utter, "mass-produced" garbage from an author who professes to know better (incorrectly on the basis of both that essay in Atlantic Monthly and the book in question). These two contemporaneous works represent roughly the same amount of "work" (as measured by hourly input), with vastly different outcomes.

    Perhaps some of this problem — particularly in the arts — comes from parents' and commercial entities' desire to see that the "children" are being productive members of society. One would have thought that between respective masterworks from Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd that would not have any current value... and one would be utterly wrong. It has a value of just about $26 an hour — that is, what many insurance adjusters make.

  • Then, "parasite journalism" — a wider problem than mere plagiarism, because one cannot plagiarize ideas and one cannot copyright facts — also seems a bit hourly-rate driven.
  • The flip side of compensating based on hours expended is measuring sales achieved within specific periods. The obvious refutations of this meme are The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, The Recognitions, even Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and... that is, it makes no sense whatsoever. Leaving aside the probably "divide by zero" problem: It's measurable, therefore it must be significant, right? Can anybody who has taken even a basic course in statistics answer that? Anyone? Bueller?
  • Then there are even stranger aspects of time, like studio heads claiming that a movie "underachieved" because it was released on "a bad date" — instead of admitting that perhaps (just perhaps) it wasn't the date but the idea and the execution and the entire marketing campaign. Of course, it can't be any of those last three things because those are traceable to someone who has to take responsibility.