15 March 2017

Aristotelian-Fallacy-Spiced Link Sausage Platter

…aka the false dilemma, which is I suspect inherent in the so-called "two-party system" — a system that is not inherently part of any representative democracy.

  • Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma? Well, I do. And so should anyone who prefers unambiguous writing, like the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (PDF). In this instance, the presence — or absence — of an Oxford comma in a piece of legislation (one of those places that, ya know, good writing really matters) essentially caused an entire case and probably cost upward of a quarter of a million dollars in attorneys' fees on each side, between the district court and the appeal… and these are the lucky ones who actually got a hearing. And this time, the court actually came to the "right" (and a principled) decision based on external evidence and other statutory provisions... but better writing, and better proofreading, would have avoided the litigation. At least on these grounds.
  • Meanwhile, over in the UK a major ISP has been forced to block access to a known pirate site. In Football Association Premier League, Ltd v. British Telecommunications PLC, [2017] EWHC 480 (Ch) (13 Mar 2017), the Hon. Richard Arnold held that he had jurisdiction to issue the blocking order, and the recent CJEU decision in GS Media justified cutting off access.

    Unfortunately, the decision does assume too much in one respect: That the Premier League actually has a proper copyright right in its broadcasts of football matches. And this is a closer, and more dubious, matter than it appears… once one removes the commercial considerations that make engaging in the fight "worthwhile." It harkens back to the question of whether a still photograph of a still scene is copyrightable — and, more to the point, by whom. After all, the Premier League doesn't actually engage in any expressive conduct; it doesn't even set the rules for the matches! But that's for another time, I'm afraid; in this instance, things are rather annoyingly intertwined with the poor posture of the not-before-the-court defendants and the rent-seeking behavior of the intermediaries.

  • Prospero (the semipseudonymous group blog on the arts at The Economist) desperately tries to explain what is right and what is wrong with dystopian alternate histories without any real grasp of what they are. The column fails at both understanding the "change a single variable and see what happens" quasiscientific focus on the so-called "counterfactual" element, and at seeing that alternate history treats the history itself as an additional character rather than a mere "background element." Too, Prospero is looking at far too narrow a subset of alternate histories from which to draw any conclusions — not even a very wide range of alternate-histories-of-the-Nazis; other novels (e.g., Philip Roth, Norman Spinrad, and a host of others) and even media (e.g., Iron Sky) fall in that description and rather thoroughly refute what passes for a thesis.
  • A fascinating, wide-eyedly-optimistic opinion piece at SciAm's blog network suggests that demonizing opposing voters is counterproductive. To a point, this is correct. But:

    • Some of those voters of the opposite ilk really are "demons"; there's really no other way to characterize the ardent and explicit 'murika-is-for-anglo-saxon-protestants-only subgroup. So, just as pretending that all opponents are demons is counterproductive, so is pretending that no opponents are demons.
    • Conversely, such an effort ignores the demons among one's own fellow travellers (and yes, I use that Red Scare/McCarthyist term intentionally). For example, ardent Democrats ignore at their peril the nepotism problems presented by machine politics, with Chicago and the dysfunctional Illinois state government being only the most-obvious and irrefutable examples. Indeed, the "nepotism" issue is one reason that I was not very enthusiastic about the Presidential race, because it presented a choice among evils instead of a choice I could actively support (however flawed).
    • A conversation as proposed (and assumed) has as its premise open minds on all sides of the conversation… and, as a further subtext, that there are more than two sides. To name one, the insistence of a certain hard-core fringe that "all GMO is evil" neglects the nature of genetic modification (ask a veterinarian about the AKC's standard for "German Shepherds" and see if that's any better than gene-splicing).
    • And it's not just "open minds" that are at issue: It is the very nature of what is considered persuasive. At present, the conversation on politics — not just in the US, and not just regarding "Trump voters" — is about ideology with little regard for facts, for fact-gathering, for known problems with fact-gathering, and so on. That is, in part, because most of the public doesn't know squat about gathering facts; at best, it knows how to manipulate numbers in spreadsheets that may be WAGs hiding all of the assumptions behind them (e.g., ROI, which by definition disdains the contribution of labor and intellectual property in an ideological frame that asserts that only financial capital has true value).

    I might otherwise characterise the article as "charmingly idealistic," except that I spent far too much time dealing with the ugly underside of ideological strife to find much of it charming.

  • I am shocked — shocked, I say — to discover that the Prince of Orange's 2005 tax returns appear at least somewhat fictional. In that, I'm afraid, he's just engaging in class solidarity… and the time-honored tradition in the West of saying something different to one's tax collectors than to one's bankers. The sheer scale is somewhat bizarre, but the nature is not (nor, if anyone is honest, unexpected of this particular member of this particular class). I don't ordinarily turn to avowedly fictional accounts for deeper factual inquiry into historical events — and neither should anyone else.