03 February 2018

Buried Lede Link Sausage Platter

Perhaps not the lede, but at least the overt politics. Not that deeply.

  • A different take on "urban planning" seems necessary, and not just for the arts.
  • If you really need proof that the wrong people are in charge in publishing, consider yuuuuuge advances for celebrity "memoirs" and similar works. Leaving aside the fundamental dishonesty involved with these almost-universally ghostwritten (and seldom acknowledged as such) works — which would at least be a matter for discussion in any kind of writer-respecting society, or in which "trademark as a designation of origin" was enforced with anything approaching an even hand — the real problem with this article, and all of the juicy finger-pointing, is that it stops where it does. As appalling as seeing these figures is, articles like this one don't ask the obvious follow-on question: What are these distortive transactions doing to the rest of the marketplace?

    That doesn't just mean "the rest of the memoir segment," either. Even a megacorporation like HarperCollins has a budget for advances, and outsized advances offered to a few authors act as fat leeches on the advances offered to everyone else. The less said about how this sort of thing affects behavioral allocation of other resources (availability of review copies, promotional effort aside from budget, etc.), the better. On the other hand, a fuller analysis would also help torpedo the myth that the publisher isn't making a profit until the advance has been earned back… and that's definitely not something that the publishing industries want authors to understand.

  • At least I'm not the only one who is skeptical of Apple as a closed-system content provider. Cupertino has just never struck me as sensitive to creators/authors, perhaps — and only perhaps — to a certain type of commodified middlecreature. Welcome to the party, Bloomberg, because fundamentally Apple's plan all along has been to require one to engage in tying arrangements declared unlawful under antitrust law half a century ago.
  • An interesting piece — an interview with "Bob Roberts" — reflects on some of the predatory behavior in H'wood… and prefigures similar predatory behavior that is already unfolding in publishing:

    Aside from his monstrous behavior with women, Mr. Weinstein ravaged Hollywood in other ways, Mr. Robbins posits, adding that, though the producer was hailed for his good taste, “you could make the argument that Harvey’s overall impact on cinema was negative.[…] What happened is, when Miramax became as successful as it became, every studio all of a sudden wanted to have an independent arm,” he says. “So they all set up their little boutique companies that would do ‘independent’ films, quote unquote. And it wasn’t that they were independent or edgy or that the content was risky or provocative. It was more that it was independent of paying people what the studios had to pay them. And so it became this way of making films on the cheap and not committing full studio resources into those kinds of films.”

    When Mr. Weinstein asked Mr. Robbins to star in an indie called Smoke, shortly after the producer had sold Miramax to Disney for some $60 million, the actor remembers confronting him, saying: “‘Harvey, the talent made your company and you’ve been paying them scale for years. And you just put a fortune in your pocket. When are we going to see some of that?’”He said that Mr. Weinstein called back an hour later to say that he would pay Mr. Robbins a million dollars to do the part but ordered him not to tell the other actors, who would still get scale.

    Maureen Dowd, "‘Hollywood Is Changing,’ Says Its Veteran Activist, Tim Robbins," NYT (03 Feb 2018, typography and fake/misparagraphing corrected). Tell me that doesn't sound like the problems created when publishers refuse to release actual, auditable sales figures and rely on "scale" (the virtually nonnegotiable royalty rates) to deal with their own century-old Uber-like problem (not my first — or twelfth — choice of links, but paywalls… the irony of which in this context is just a bit overwhelming).

  • I promised that I'd allow myself only one, context-sensitive reaction to the State of the Uniomn-Busting speech, so here it is:

    It's the fault of law schools.

    So, so many people in government and politics have law degrees. By itself, that's fine. The problem, ultimately, is who is being admitted to law schools, and more finely how law schools sort the admittees into which school and cohorts within each school. It's sort of like comparing basketball teams from, say, Japan and Thailand to those from the Netherlands and Lithuania: There's going to be talent on both sets of teams, but one of them is unlikely to be well-adapted to 1990s-NBA-style every-possession-must-end-with-a-collision-and-a-dunk hoops, because demographics presort otherwise. And what the law schools — and, thus, political advisors — do is sort against science. Science undergraduates spend more time in class (if only due to the difference in credits accorded "lab" versus "lecture/discussion"), and thus have less time for activities, and get slightly lower grades on average. Further, unlike other undergraduate majors like political science and history and business administration, the top of the class in the natural sciences and engineering tends toward medical school and continuing in the sciences/engineering themselves, not law school, further "pre-sorting" the selection.

    And that means we end up with celebrated judges who establish foundational law not knowing the difference between arithmetic addition and the summation of discontinuous functions over discontinuous, noncontiguous domains (or even recognizing the possibilities of discontinuity, noncontiguous domains, duplicative cost allocation, or divide-by-zero errors); a Supreme Court on not which one of its nine members, or even one of about forty clerks, had ever even been in the same room as a semiautomated DNA testing machine, let alone observed how a routine (lab-pristine) sample gets handled and tested, before deciding matters of life and death based thereon; elected officials, disproportionately former prosecutors, who continue to deny climate change solely because some of their moneyed constituents tell them so; I won't go on. But I will call on the Association of American Law Schools to stop relying on "grade point average" as the sole measure of undergraduate achievement that it tracks, because doing so discriminates against increasingly important basic knowledge.