13 September 2013

All Deliberate Delay

Disasters, crises, pain, agony, woe is me. Well, not that bad: Would you believe timesink annoyances? In any event, no guarantees on the freshness of these internet link sausages...

  • "Free speech" is a delicate and difficult concept. On one hand, as a well-known feminist gamma rabbit knows well, "free speech" on the 'net all too frequently devolves into abuse and worse — frequently much worse. Conversely, attempts to suppress speech often go overboard, too, as in a recent case involving a default Canadian libel judgment that was properly denied enforcement in US courts. As the opinion itself notes:

    As a threshold matter, the plain language of the SPEECH Act suggests that the purported “factual findings” of the Nova Scotia Court are irrelevant to the enforceability inquiry. The critical question is not whether the Nova Scotia Court found falsity, but rather whether a state or federal court in Mississippi faced with the allegations in the First Amended Statement of Claim would have done so. Moreover, the Nova Scotia Court issued its factual findings at a damages hearing that occurred after it had already granted default judgment in favor of Trout Point.

    But even assuming, arguendo, that the Nova Scotia Court’s factual findings have some bearing on the enforceability inquiry, they are insufficient to demonstrate falsity. As the district court summarized, the Nova Scotia Court’s oral decision “does not contain specific findings of fact with respect to the falsity of Handshoe’s statements.” Indeed, despite repeated entreaties at oral argument, Trout Point could not identify a single specific allegation in the Statement of Claim that the Nova Scotia Court found was actually false. Rather, the Nova Scotia Court noted generically that some statements were “erroneous,” but remained silent as to the truth of others. The only statement with arguably global reach is that Handshoe’s conduct was “outrageous” in the “face of true facts” about Trout Point. This simply is not direct enough to constitute a meaningful factual finding that all of Handshoe’s statements were false.

    In analyzing the Nova Scotia Court’s oral opinion and purported factual findings, it is important to note that the court based its damages award on allegations and evidence that a Mississippi court would not have credited. For one, the Nova Scotia Court considered numerous statements that did not appear in the First Amended Statement of Claim, many of which occurred after Trout Point filed its case. In Mississippi, a “default judgment may not extend to matters outside the issues raised by the pleadings or beyond the scope of the relief demanded.” Indeed, Trout Point itself acknowledges that “each communication of the same defamatory matter by the same defamer, whether to a new person or to the same person, is a separate and distinct publication, for which a separate cause of action arises.” Thus, a Mississippi court would not grant relief based on statements that did not appear in the plaintiffs’ complaint. Moreover, the Nova Scotia Court awarded damages based on the name-calling and verbal abuse discussed above, which is not actionable in Mississippi. In sum, much of the conduct that underlies the Nova Scotia Court’s oral opinion and damages award would not give rise to relief in Mississippi.

    Trout Point Lodge, Inc. v. Handshoe, No. [20]13–60002 (5th Cir. 05 Sep. 2013), slip op. at 22–24 (footnotes and citations omitted, italics in original) (PDF).

    I do not pretend that this is easy. Some of those "objectively unreasonable" statements that might seem actionable later turn out to be true. "Don't be an asshole" rules work only within communities (and not always then): Sometimes, getting the attention of other communities will be treated as assholery. Even then, the assholery may itself be at least subjectively justifiable, as in hypothetically trying to get the attention of followers of the odious Westb0r0 Church concerning hypothetical misconduct by their leaders that even they might agree is misconduct. (Sadly, the operative phrase there is "even they"... because there's no question whatsoever of objective misconduct, often in the name of free speech.)

  • Before we attempt to rehabilitate postmodernism, we should be careful to define what "postmodernism" means. Contrary to the glib statements put forth by both its adherants and its critics, postmodernism does not, at its core, deny the existence of objective truth. It denies the perfect communication of truth of any kind. Cynically and somewhat sarcastically, it's possible to argue — based primarily upon the viciousness of academic politics in the 1970s through 1990s concerning postmodernism and its offshoots — that postmodernism itself demonstrates that the only possible perfect communication concerns, at its core, material that is known or suspected to be false by the communicator but will bring personal advantage to the communicator. (I'm lookin' at you, Ivy League literature departments north of New York City. Not only you, but you were collectively some of the worst offenders.)

    This is, I'm afraid, another example of mistaken universal application of Aristotelian logic. There are, in fact, legitimate bimodal inquiries ("if not uniformly yes, necessarily no"); but the distance between my favorite Scottish verdict of "not proven" and "objectively innocent" should demonstrate that we need to be very careful assuming that. Indeed, the OJ Simpson murder proceedings — considering the criminal and the civil actions together — is one of the best possible data points in favor of postmodernism as a useful tool toward greater understanding that's currently out there.

  • Come on, Android — give me a break. Better yet, stop optimizing your system for third-party access to my identity, data, and viewing habits... that's what the NSA is for. (Admittedly, Android's policies and practices are slightly better than those of iOS and the Kindle OS, but that's not saying much.) Which leads, in one of those postmodernist who-cares-which-came-first-in-time arguments, to musings on the economics of e-book bundling.
  • Speaking of the bad side effects of marketing...
  • Then there's the question of genius versus talent... and the source in that essay is rather disingenuously and ironically ignoring his own position and past in debates about intellectual attainment and culture, but that's so postmodernistically reflexive that it's really for another time. If, that is, there exists "another time" not influenced by this one!
  • All of which leads to the question posed by Dr Johnson: Why write, if not for money? Of course, that paragraph in Boswell's Life of Johnson goes on to cite half a dozen instances in which Johnson himself wrote for reasons other than money...
  • RIP Ray Dolby, the same week as humanity has left the solar system with its music.
  • Y – M – C – A! OK, I hated that song (and continue to hate it) as much as any other musically-educated person did/does, but it's still a victory for creators.