20 February 2017

9066… Oh My!

I've been to a certain former racetrack near San Francisco. It's now occupied by a midscale shopping mall, with a small monument out front (as to the road)/back (as to the cinema, parking garage, and mass-transit station) that nobody ever stops to look at. Unless, that is, they're nerds like me.

  • George Takei — one of the smilingest human beings like, ever — tells a cautionary tale from his childhood… for CNN, meaning that none of the people in this administration who need to hear it will. Not even if the ghost of Fred Korematsu wakes them in the middle of the night, rattling chains, and refusing to say whether he is the ghost of February past, of February present, or of February future… probably because with this administration, he's all three. Not even if Fred's daughter makes things even clearer: That would require reading.
  • An article in CHE actually criticizes the sacred cow of academia: The hypocrisy of the tenure track… and those left behind. There is certainly a place for the brilliant researcher who is a poor teacher in academic institutions, just as there is a place for the brilliant instructor who does little or no original research more due to lack of skill/impetus than the "distractions" of teaching. The problem is that the academy's system values only the former, and considers that only the former is "at risk" in the sense of needing the protections of tenure to advance knowledge — while simultaneously denying that instruction (especially where there is controversy) is the foundation of being ready to research instead of just randomly shock with the "new" (that, all too often, turns out to be not so new after all). And the less said about the utter disdain for the "public service" component of academia (such as being real "public intellectuals" within their own and related fields — but refraining from Argument From Authority in unrelated ones), the better.

    I've been around both kinds of "professors" noted above (I survived — even thrived — in waaaaaaay too much higher education for the average bear). Ideally, all professors would combine both virtues, but it's not going to happen. Too many professors can't even write their articles coherently without substantial assistance, however brilliant their research. (And I'm thinking explicitly of you, too, law professors; remember, I've been in charge of the slush pile at a law journal you wanted to be published in.) None of this is good — not for research, not for students, not for the institutions themselves.

  • It's more than just the economy per se, stupid. There's only one historical example — worldwide, in five thousand or so years of anything resembling "civilization" that isn't on a hypothetical island sunk forever in either the western Mediterranean or the Atlantic — of internally-instigated widespread economic growth in any non-command economy (and it's arguable whether any command-economy growth was internally instigated). Europe in the "long 18th century" (approximately 1689 to approximately 1815) was characterized by increasing economic activity, financial accretion with less reliance on favorable original position, increasingly stable governance, and greater mobility of information, and financial and intellectual capital, than any previous region/period… or virtually any since other than the United States of the first half of the twentieth century (and that's arguably due to outside instigation). This should be a lesson for isolationists, but it won't be.

    All of which leads to a philosophical question for which I have no answer — only more questions. The macroeconomic debate today is based on "job creation" as a measure of the success of macroeconomic policy. Fine, it's a measure; but, in an age in which there is increasing emphasis on "entrepreneurship" at all levels of both education and post-education experience; in which entrepreneurial/small businesses refuse to treat people who do work for it as having "jobs," but being "on contract for tasks" (not that this is entirely a bad thing); in which only those with only limited amibitions for class mobility even take jobs, as opposed to "beginning new businesses": What does "job" mean? And, more to the point, if "jobs" are to be held for only a limited period of time before diving into "entrepreneurial free enterprise," does that mean that those who hold "jobs" throughout their working lives are somehow lesser economic beings?

    And returning to one qualification: What does all of that say about the change in one's "original position" as a measure of macroeconomic merit? (For example, it's quite possible that the Prince of Orange has not substantially enhanced his net original position in comparison to others who had comparable original positions…)

  • Jim Hines has posted a three-part (so far, anyway) series on 2016 novelist income from a voluntary survey that provides some starting-point data for analysis: part one (15 Feb), part two (16 Feb), part three (18 Feb). There are few conclusions to be drawn from what he presents other than "some so-called 'indie' writers are doing better than the median for so-called 'traditional' (it-should-still-be-called-commercial-but-I've-lost-that-argument-to-those-who-don't-know-that-traditional-means-vanity-press-going-back-three-centuries) writers, and some are not." The data collection method does not support more than that (which is not a criticism of Jim or his methodology, because I don't think he was trying to do much, if any, more than that).

    The main problem with surveys of this nature is that they always lose to the tyranny of the calendar. Here's an obvious example: George R.R. Martin. It's been several years since the last published book in A Song of Ice and Fire, and he's been working on the next one since before A Dance With Dragons actually hit the shelves. Nonetheless, income will be highly compressed… but I seriously doubt that analysis of that income will be sensitive to the amount of time (either hourly or calendarly, take your pick) invested in the novel. Writing income in 2016 is not just from work performed in 2016 — even when restricted to novels published in 2016 (and the less said about "spring" versus "holiday" windows, the better). And, in turn, the combination of lag and frame size differentials means that one cannot predict appropriate current behavior based upon this retrospective data, if only because the times they are a changin' (as that data itself demonstrates)…