14 March 2016

Lingering on the Palette

If there's an overarching spice profile to this platter of link sausages, it's a lingering sense of "this is all so predictable"... with more than a stale aftertaste of "missed opportunities."

  • I'm somewhat amused, and completely appalled, by the current arguments over the posthumous San Bernardino phone tap. I have a four-word, two-element response: Edward Snowden; Chelsea Manning.

    As bad as giving the government the capability to actually obtain that information would be — if nothing else, the current environment demonstrates that only the targets of Hooverism have changed, not the underlying attitude — the government's demonstrated inability to handle, compartmentalize, and protect the information that it obtains is far, far worse. Imagine, for a moment — it shouldn't be too difficult — that the government obtains a warrant to silently obtain the entire phone contents of someone it arrests (rightly or wrongly) for involvement in a terrorist incident. We don't need to imagine an inimical foreign government seeking to protect its covert operatives (or expose ours!) that might seek to exploit the government's inability to protect information; we only need to imagine Gawker looking for dirt on Hulk Hogan.

    That's what should scare people: Not the siphoning of the information, but its storage in a relatively central location, with all of the technological and human flaws of any such storage system. But that concern is entirely absent from this debate, which assumes (a) that the government will only ever target the truly guilty, and (b) that the information is only ever immediately useful. Umm, not so much.

  • One of the greatest hopes for lasting peace in the Egypt/Israel/Lebanon/Syria/Jordan powderkeg is simple: Israeli politicians need to listen to their generals — about economic development. It seems to me that there's a pretty significant example of how well that works off to the northwest — a little something called the Marshall Plan...
  • Yet again, PW manages the bury all of the worthwhile analysis in one of its rare stories about structural and other endemic problems in commercial publishing... because its own ownership is notoriously worse than norms. "Why Is Publishing So White?" indeed — but the only meaningful analysis begins two-thirds of the way into the story.

    Unger’s colleague Retha Powers, who serves as assistant director of the CUNY program, was more blunt in her assessment of the situation: “I’ve heard the word pedigree used many times. There’s this assumption that a student who comes from NYU—who is more likely white—is going to be better suited for the publishing industry than our students, who have incredibly diverse backgrounds, racially, culturally, and also in terms of class.” She went on: “I think it’s odd that a student who is the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, interned at ABC and MTV, and is Phi Beta Kappa doesn’t even get a call back for an interview. On paper that’s a student who stands out, but what’s missing is that the student has a very [racially] identifiable last name and goes to City College as opposed to NYU.”

    Powers acknowledged that the CUNY program receives support from a number of publishers, some of which offer stipends to students taking on unpaid internships. Nonetheless, she feels the industry doesn’t practice what it preaches when it comes to hiring. While she does not expect publishers to “blindly place someone in a position because they’re a person of color,” she believes houses remain fixated on qualities that put CUNY students at a disadvantage.

    “[We have] students... who are amazing on paper, and they aren’t even talking to them,” Powers said. “There has to be a change in the business as usual. I don’t want to hear again, ‘Sorry, they really want someone from NYU or the Ivys.’?”

    (italics in original) And then the story completely drops this line of analysis in favor of the easy/easier white-man's-burden skin-color conclusion that was trotted out at the beginning of the piece — primarily because it's easier (and lazier) to do surveys of that nature. It's not that such surveys are worthless — it's that they are, by design, both incomplete and self-fulfilling prophecies. They assume that they are studying independent variables, such as ethnicity, when they are instead merely isolating surface characteristics from complex interactions.

    PW has, for decades, functioned as an echobox for a certain inherited (and largely whitish) economic stratum; when it does criticize something cultural about any aspect of commercial publishing, it buries it and deflects it. And if you think things are any different in N'ville or H'wood, you've definitely had a few too many multiple-martini business meetings... or other intoxicants. Sadly, things are much the same elsewhere among trade publications — one should ponder staffing at WSJ/Barron's/Bloomberg, H'wood Reporter/Variety/Deadline, the ABA Journal, and JAMA, too. And ponder how to keep America — or anything — great in just a little bit more personal detail.

  • Carrie Vaughn metamuses on Deadpool at Lightspeed.

    Much has been said about the film’s R rating. Whether comic-book inspired movies ought to be rated R at all (coming from people who still aren’t convinced that adults should be into this sort of thing in the first place), and what to tell kids who know and love the character from video games and cosplay who might now be barred from seeing it. The character isn’t necessarily, inherently a rated-R character. But the feeling in fandom seems to be that with the heavier rating, the character could stretch into his full potential without the worry that one more drop of blood or f-bomb might be too much. It’s an interesting discussion, since the whole rating system often seems to be out of whack. I personally thought The Dark Knight should have been rated R — the film is a meditation on senseless violence, but despite its ridiculous body count and impressions of pencils stabbed through skulls, it didn’t actually depict sprays of blood and didn’t have a whole lot of swearing, so it’s somehow instantly okay for thirteen year olds? I’m not sure that follows.

    And that's just the obvious — oblivious? — stuff. The film rating system is fundamentally broken because it panders to a certain subset of fundagelicals. At a broader level, consider two films that in terms of their "suitability" for younger audiences should have gotten an R rating under the stated standard of what it takes to qualify for an R, but for industry-politics reasons (among others) were given the "teen-friendly" PG-13 rating: Skyfall and The Avengers — which is not an attack on either one as a film, but a criticism of the marketing thereof. Conversely, Janis Ian asked the obvious question that torpedoes the entire premise:

    I watched the news last night at nine
    Saw a head blown off somebody's spine
    The women moaned and the children screamed
    Doesn't anybody else think that's obscene?

    In short, as Ms Vaughn implies, we're asking the wrong question(s) when we "rate" film based upon distorted hindsight-biased 1950s values even more rigid than Babes in Toyland or Leave It to Beaver or Happy Days... and the less said about TV, the better. Sex isn't the only danger; neither is violence. Age isn't the only designator of maturity, either, as the current political campaigns more than adequately demonstrate.