28 April 2014

Overdue Link Sausage Platter

Great birthday present, universe: The flu and back spasms from the puking.

  • If you want to learn how to forge art masterpieces, you might try reading the federal indictment of a forgery ring's members. Before, that is, you spend too much time pondering the prices ascribed to those masterpieces...
  • Get yer warp drive at NASA? OK, I suppose we have to start somewhere...
  • ...how about with dragons?
  • If my surname was "Bundy," I'd seriously consider changing it. The best I could hope for was being associated with the fictional Al Bundy, whom I fortunately missed out on (largely because I was overseas at the beginning). With my luck, people would assume Ted or Cliven... and I'm not sure which is worse.
  • The annual Special 301 list of nations that the United States Trade Representative — a government official with absolutely no ties to or input from actual creators, but only from distributors like H'wood and commercial publishing — is due out in a few days. In the meantime, the USTR has announced that the Republic of the Philippines is no longer on the "watch list" of presumed piracy havens (which is functionally what the "watch list" is, even though Special 301 never uses the term "piracy"). So, congratulations, "indie" authors: The Philippines is now — with new, improved official imprimatur — no longer a danger to your copyrights!

    On the other hand, much of the "danger" that existed previously was due to postimperialist idiocy within the publishing industry. Despite its presence on the Special 301 list — and despite the fact that the Philippines has not been a "US territory" for some decades now — the default territories for commercial publishers based in NYC include the US, Canada, and the Philippines... but not Mexico (in English), despite NAFTA. Oh, wait: NAFTA isn't four decades old, so standard publishing practices haven't caught up with its existence yet.

I'm going to close with a long quotation this morning that illuminates an awful lot about the current Hugo Award nomination controversy. And the source, of course, was chosen with malice aforethought: He's a commie, and took up arms as a commie (just look at US Department of State records concerning one of the organizations he took up arms for). Well, not really a commie, but an ardent socialist... and former policeman for the British Empire... and frequently misunderstood, self-appropriated symbol of both the left and the right, of both liberals and conservatives, of conformists and libertarians. Without further ado, I offer the following rejoinder to both the nomination process and those who would manipulate it:

Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living. They are:

(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen — in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.

(ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm. Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement. Pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story. Desire to share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed. The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc. Above the level of a railway guide, no book is quite free from aesthetic considerations.

(iii) Historical impulse. Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.

(iv) Political purpose, using the word "political" in the widest possible sense. Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples' idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.

It can be seen how these various impulses must war against one another, and how they must fluctuate from person to person and from time to time. By nature — taking your "nature" to be the state you have attained when you are first adult — I am a person in whom the first three motives would outweigh the fourth. In a peaceful age I might have written ornate or merely descriptive books, and might have remained almost unaware of my political loyalties. As it is I have been forced into becoming a sort of pamphleteer. First I spent five years in an unsuitable profession (the Indian Imperial Police, in Burma), and then I underwent poverty and the sense of failure. This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation. Then came Hitler, the Spanish Civil War, etc.

George Orwell, "Why I Write" (1946) (typography changed to US standard, bold emphasis added). The various warring parties would claim that the third and fourth purposes dominate, with some nod to the second... while entirely ignoring the first. I would challenge that claim as rather ironically, reflexively, and intentionally ignoring all of these purposes, because that claim is itself a piece of prose writing subject to the same analysis.