22 August 2017

Fingers in My Ears

As difficult as it is to tear one's attention away from the hourly circus in DC in favor of tasty internet link sausages...

  • There's a dark side to the distributive arts that doesn't get enough attention. At the moment, one of the most obvious examples is determining the authorship of Chihuly glass sculptures — individual creations to a plan of some kind by highly skilled (but undisclosed and largely anonymous) craftsmen. This is just the shadow of H'wood and N'ville. There just aren't a lot of films that justify "A BigEgo Film" for someone who is a well-known producer or director — there are so many creative, highly skilled people also involved, beginning with the scriptwriters and going through the set/costume designers, sound/music creators, directors of cinematography, editors, and somewhere in there the actors, not to mention the army of technicians without whose skills none of the rest of them could be properly recorded for our appreciation. Similarly, Brittany Spears didn't play an instrument… or write the music or lyrics (or even have a clue about them before being handed a "potential new hit"), or do the show choreography or design or lighting, or do any of the technical things in the studio… and her brand is a middle-of-the-road offender in the world of N'ville. And the less said about "Gordon Lish," the better — and that's far from the only example I could name in publishing, even restricting myself just to "American literary lions of the mid-twentieth century."

    To ensure that it's even more thoroughly screwed up, we're going to have judges — lawyers — guide the decisionmaking. Members of a profession that regards true creativity as at best a vaguely insulting patch on a small hole in the grand scheme; that disdains facts, and more particularly the difficulty of gathering them accurately; that does its damndest to ensure that there are no exceptional circumstances, and those that are truly exceptional are treated as "outside the law" requiring extralegal response (like "clemency" or "pardon" or "prosecutorial discretion"). Yeah, that's going to give an appropriate result that will adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Meanwhile, there's the problem of what is really growing in education. There are lots of similar references out there, from preschool on up. These complaints, however, represent pendular motion, making up for decades — centuries, even — of administrative neglect and incompetence in academia. That's not to defend overhiring and overemphasis on administrative positions now; it's to understand the source. The number of administrative screwups that I observed from the 1970s on in educational contexts that required only a bit of competent administrative attention early on (instead of boatloads of paper thrown at them later, as was required by the objective bad faith in desegregation and other equality-of-opportunity matters) exceeds my capacity to count conveniently, even with the assistance of a calculator. So, to make up for the past and prevent the past from recurring in the future, the beancounters have essentially mandated a different kind of screwup in the present: Self-justifying drones.
  • Let's hear it for being a bit too friendly to be a friend of the court. There's actually a quite simple solution, but it's one that the legal profession has steadfastly refused to even contemplate for decades. In my first profession, the rule of thumb was "If there's an appearance of a conflict of interest or undue influence, there is a conflict of interest or undue influence." That decisional rule might make it difficult for some of the bigger law firms (or small-and-medium firms in small-and-medium markets and contexts) to continue with current practices… unless the profession were also smart enough to do away with the artificial trade-protectionist barriers of "state registration and regulation of lawyers," which would reopen matters in a way that the profession has also refused to even contemplate for decades.

    I have no love lost for any of the law firms mentioned in that article, or the so-called US Chamber of Commerce (which thinks of itself more like the local Chamber of Commerce in Pleasantville than it's prepared to admit). In fact, I've had direct adverse encounters with the Chamber and with two of the law firms (and lawyers) mentioned… and one of them has since largely cleaned up its act and is still on the wrong side of the ethical wall, under the standards of my first profession…. Then there's the historical meaning of "commerce," which is almost always thoroughly undermined by the US Chamber of Commerce and its quasioligopolist policies and membership (which, frankly, would probably be much happier if Letters Patent were issued — and required — for each of its members' lines of business!).