05 May 2014


... may make the heart grow fonder (although I wonder about that), but it certainly does not make the conversation more enlightening.

  • I'm shocked — shocked, I say — to find that PW covered the announced acquisition of Harlequin by HarperCollins in loving detail... but said not one peep about Harlequin getting an atomic wedgie from the Second Circuit the day before that announcement (last sausage). That the wedgie necessarily impacts the potential value of Harlequin also seems to have escaped attention. Gee, it almost makes one wonder if there's a conflict of interest in there anywhere. It's not much better elsewhere. Pardon me, but how is an allegation that an acquisition target has systematically and unlawfully underpaid its content suppliers, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars (or possibly more), and will now have to defend its conduct after losing an appeal that will also reverberate throughout commercial publishing, not relevant to the acquisition story?
  • Junot Diaz ponders the overwhelming whiteness of MFA programs. It's a frustrating circumstance. On one tentacle, if there's one area of academia that would be best served by truly blind "auditions" it's writing-related programs. On another tentacle, the application packages themselves would — indeed, must — have a strong tendency to disclose something personal about the candidates. On yet another tentacle, Mr Diaz's writing is the most interesting of those in his cohort whose work I've read. On a fourth tentacle, my taste isn't exactly mainstream, and IMNSHO MFA programs need at least twelve additional credit hours at the graduate level of reading and critically analyzing literature (both good and bad), if only so that the benchmark of what writers are aiming for/inspired by is not restricted to undergraduate surveys and bestseller stacks. On a fifth tentacle, it was always going to be this way as long as the MFA is a terminal degree maintained primarily for institutional prestige and profit. On a sixth tentacle, it was always going to be this way as long as MFA programs are taught almost exclusively by non-working writers who need not support themselves with their writings... but only with their reputations not among readers, not even among writers, but among other MFA instructors.
  • In the wake of Free Comics Day, one must ponder censorship of comics... and realize that there is not one "good guy" with superpowers currently being portrayed in mainstream comics-based theatrical and/or TV features who is not Caucasian, or at least presents as Caucasian. The closest things come are the definitely-secondary-character-and-not-in-current-focus Storm of the X-Men... and non-superpower-endowed Black Widow (who just might be a Russian Jew, not a Caucasian, despite purported canonical statements). Now don't go comparing this to the preceding sausage on this platter unless you've taken your antinausea medication of choice first!
  • Well, the Supremes really blew it this morning on the Establishment Clause. All nine justices shared, in their various opinions, an assumption that is demonstrably false. That assumption is perhaps most obvious in the opening of Justice Kagan's dissent (the opinion that comes closest of all four issued today to reflecting reality... but not that close):

    For centuries now, people have come to this country from every corner of the world to share in the blessing of religious freedom. Our Constitution promises that they may worship in their own way, without fear of penalty or danger, and that in itself is a momentous offering. Yet our Constitution makes a commitment still more remarkable—that however those individuals worship, they will count as full and equal American citizens. A Christian, a Jew, a Muslim (and so forth)—each stands in the same re­lationship with her country, with her state and local communities, and with every level and body of govern­ment. So that when each person performs the duties or seeks the benefits of citizenship, she does so not as an adherent to one or another religion, but simply as an American.

    I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian. I do not contend that principle translates here into a bright separationist line. To the contrary, I agree with the Court’s decision in Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U. S. 783 (1983), upholding the Nebraska Legislature’s tra­dition of beginning each session with a chaplain’s prayer. And I believe that pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality; such a forum need not becomea religion-free zone. But still, the Town of Greece should lose this case. The prac­tice at issue here differs from the one sustained in Marsh because Greece’s town meetings involve participation by ordinary citizens, and the invocations given—directly to those citizens—were predominantly sectarian in content. Still more, Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize reli­gious diversity: In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions. So month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits. In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.

    Town of Greece v. Galloway, No. [20]12–696 (PDF), slip op. at 56–57 (Kagan, J., dissenting).

    With due respect to the Justices, not one of them has ever had the experience of being pilloried in government service because one did not attend any church. Not one of them comprehends the profound insult to one's own integrity of the implication that one will not tell the truth unless the oath includes a reference to punishment from/assistance by a deity, or that the decision to impose a prayer referencing a deity in which one has no faith as part of the opening for business of an explicitly secular governmental body devalues everyone who does not share that particular belief... even if there is some rotation so that other beliefs might be included. In short, Marsh — like Buckley — was wrong when decided, primarily because the self-selectivity of the institution making the decision essentially barred those most-often affected or insulted by that decision from explicating its effects. That is the point of the inelegantly-worded Establishment Clause: Within the limited conception and language of the Founders, that is as far as they could go. One could not reasonably expect a bunch of landowning white English-speaking Judeo-Christian eighteenth- and nineteenth-century men to necessarily understand — and put in clear language — a specific guarantee that nonslave black transgendered persons also have equal protection of the laws, so that later generations can't come along and proclaim "original intent" as a limitation on their vision... when the limitation is in their language only.

    Unfortunately, excessive veneration for stare decisis and the narrowness of vision of never-had-another-profession-or-career lawyers made this result predictable... and Justice Kagan's insufficient acknowledgement is the dissent; the controlling (not majority!) opinion goes much farther off the rails. I am violently hostile to theocracy, and to all of its trappings. "Two millenia in Jerusalem" should be enough of a rejoinder... if, that is, one thinks about it, and about those displaced by, for, and through it, and then stops to realize that Jerusalem is only one of a dozen or so examples. Much closer to home, one could point at the shenanigans in Oklahoma regarding the purported threat of sharia... or, in California, Proposition 8.