Carefully avoiding the worst of things…
- Over at the Grauniad, there's a fascinating series of short pieces on children's books and inequality. Sunday's initial entry leads off with an entry that intelligently discusses implicit ordering, and most especially the "looks OK to me" problem, which in turn the last entry of the day really cuts into.
These essays are valuable in themselves, and may provide some ideas for commercial exploitation of the holiday season against the exploiting class (my own objection to "holiday music" is the pretty uniformly poor standard of musicianship even more than it is the pseudoreligious class warfare inherent in the lyrics). Unfortunately, they don't shine all that much light on the history of inequality in publishing itself, which made the more problematic memes not just acceptable, but required… and continues to do so today.
- A nicely restrained piece on the piles of crap masquerading as repositories of scientific articles also sheds light on the package-of-unwanted-crap meme endemic in the entertainment industry. The one that you've most probably contacted is cable-TV packages, but there are also issues like film distribution (especially after-release recorded copies), so-called "cooperative displays" at bookstores and those few physical outlets still selling non-holiday-themed music, and so on in which multi-item packaging dominates over actual end-user desires. Even cell phones are prone to the same problems — just try to find a cell phone without a crappy geolocation-based mapping system that doesn't work well outside of urban areas, even if you already have a better standalone device that does. The mathematical/economic foundations — and, in particular, their relationship to original position and the impetus to maintain or enhance one that is of advantage — are fascinating in themselves. To a certain kind of nerd, anyway, who is also considering the following aspects:
- The decision to participate (usually exclusively!) in these distribution schemes is almost never made by the actual creators of the copyrighted (or even intellectual-inquiry-in-which-copyright-is-a-secondary-concern-if-that) works, or even by any individual who has directly touched any part of the creative or distributive process for the works. It is almost always made as part of a purely cost-reducing decision by intermediaries whose sole interest is a financial investment whose decisionmaking would be identical if we were talking about widgets and not works — that is, this is the reductio ad absurdum of the efficiency imperative in neoclassical economic theory, especially as implemented by the hypothetical "prudent investor".
- Which leads to the more-critical question: Efficiency of what, and to whom? As implied in the initial piece, it is not efficient for the end-user to plow through a pile of crap. This exposes the oft-neglected tradeoff of "efficiency": That what is efficient for one player in a system often creates negative externalities for another — and if the harmed user has no effective remedy for the externalities, they are not going to be accounted for by anyone (not a hypothetical "dispassionate observer," and sure as hell not the investor(s) benefiting from the purported "efficiency"/actual negative externality).
- A piece across the Pond notes H'wood's problem with the class of its protagonists, but doesn't acknowledge that it's not just the origin of the heroes, but their very powers, even when those powers aren't "super" — nor that it's actually a more-prevalant (and less-excusable) matter here in the US of A than Over There. Not even with our myths of class mobility that neglect the reality of the Rawlsian original position (see preceding item), and that since we do not have a just society at present (a failing which is sort of a necessary precondition to ordinary tales of heroism), one aspect of heroism should involve overt rejection or at least acknowledgment of validating the original position against overt efforts to maintain it. But those stories are almost always historical at best… and seldom presented with the same budget as those that accept the original position as valid, which is itself an interesting comment on the original position.
- One side effect of this administration is going unremarked-upon: The return of The Octopus thanks to a three-decade-long attempt to kill off antitrust law, crowned by electing as chief executive a man who has tasted failure in every competitive market he has ever been involved in and success only when he had an oligopolistic or monopolistic original position. Oops, wrong octopus. Dammit, still the wrong octopus on Monday morning before sufficient caffeination. <SARCASM> Yeah, that sort of combined vertical and horizontal integration is really going to produce efficiencies that benefit consumers, just like the 19th-century trusts did. Without, of course, reifying either any particular investor's original position or accretions of great gobs of cash as having all the rights and privileges of people. </SARCASM>