12 January 2015

Unparalleled Postulates

There's an inaccurate saying foisted upon first-year law students in common-law jurisdictions (and even in Louisiana!) claiming that the law is a seamless web. It's not — the law is seamy indeed, and any tour into election law will demonstrate that rather definitively — but most areas of the law do share common methods of reasoning. Those of you who remember high-school geometry and the misguided, watered-down concept of "formal proofs" taught there are more than entitled to cringe. Of course, "analogous comparison" is one of those methods of reasoning...

  • Apparently, I'm not the only one who believes that the best defense against terrorism based on "offensive" speech is the First Amendment. There are prices to be paid for speech no matter what; getting government out of that role not only makes sense, but it reduces the stakes to a private dispute. Private disputes can still be nasty, can still be widespread, can still result in bloodshed; they seldom, however, erupt into either warfare or tyranny... at least until a governmental function gets involved, at which point we end up in a company town near Mobile, Alabama.
  • The Authors' Guild has finally given up one of its lost/botched causes: the HathiTrust matter. Loathe as I am to cite PW for anything requiring legal interpretation or acumen, that article is less self-aggrandizingly deceptive than the press release announcing the settlement.... This was not a lost cause in principle — only in execution.
  • Yet another culture vulture has missed the target in claiming that academics suck the joy out of literature. Mr Giraldi has — as is usual in this argument, and he's far from alone — confused "demands imposed by the tenure process" with "what literature professors and grad students actually think, say, and do." Had he limited his critique to Publications of the Modern Language Association and to unironically linguistically imperialist Yale deconstructionism, he might have had a worthwhile point. As it is, though, he's damning every journalist on the basis of counterfactual crap on Faux News... just like Faux News itself.
  • A piece praising gatekeepers in publishing, I'm afraid, misses the point. Daniel Menaker praises editors at print publishers as gatekeepers, while missing the identity of the real gatekeepers... and the real publishing. Most publish-or-not decisions are not delegated to the editorial department, even in the relatively small minority of the publishing industries that focuses on trade and literary fiction (the focus of each article)... and Mr Menaker worked at an outlier — if a nontrivial one — in any event. Particularly in trade and specialist nonfiction (the majority of print publishing by almost any measure by a considerable margin), the acquisition meeting at which editors open the conversation — but never close it and never make the actual decision — is not just a sad event; it is the default, and has been for at least a quarter of a century.
  • Then there's the argument over the proper purpose of the corporation — an argument that bears a disturbingly solipsistic resemblance to Alexander Pope's imprecation that the proper study of mankind is man. Lurking underneath the argument, though, is the question of who has the right to determine corporate affairs... and how that person obtains that right. In reality, corporations are almost never directed for an extended period of time by a team — there's always a single decisionmaker, and the bucks really stop with him. Almost always that gender, too.

    There's a hint lurking in the specific examples cited by Professor Kwak: Many of them result from "family businesses" that, like Topsy, just grow'd, helped along the way by corporatism (and not incidentally by at least some variety of unfair labor practices, in the environment if not necessarily internally). That's the unstated subtext of the "sad" story of Timken Steel: That as it turns out, the fifth-generation kid was judged to not be the best custodian of fortunes that had outgrown a reasonable family-business boundary. I'm not at all sure that recognizing that is a bad thing... if only because I've seen dynasticism in action, up close and personal, in government, in business, in the military, and in the arts, and it seldom turns out all that well. It's not that shareholder activism is always justified, or even always (perhaps not even most of the time) well considered; it's that the alternative of trusting every corporate titan to be D.D. Harriman is worse, because that is emphatically not the case.

    Working out the implications of denying shareholder activism as a (not the) legitimate means of controlling corporations for the republican form of government is left as an exercise for those with more free time on their hands than I have right now. And applying that to corporations in the arts (including, but not limited to, publishers) will require more free time than anyone has on their hands.