08 April 2023

Persistence v. Silence

This blawg persists, even after being warned.

  • There's something somewhat self-destructive about being a Heffalump legislator from Tennessee attempting to maintain the decorum of a legislative body. A senator from Tennessee arranged for silencing of a white woman whose crime was reading a historical document on the senate floor regarding a nominee's [un]fitness for a cabinet position — but that nominee was (a) a former federal judge, who by any reasonable interpretation of the actual rationale for 28 U.S.C. § 455 never should have run for office, and (b) a white male sitting (majority-party) member of the Senate. Apparently, the Tennessee House learned to turn its ire from women to blacks by expelling two urban-area members who "persisted" in demanding legislative action, on the floor of the legislature, by being too loud and uppity and opposed to the leadership's policy preferences. Without, apparently, considering anything less than the nuclear option.

    This was astoundingly poor leadership; no, it was mere bullying. Let's leave aside for the moment that — without any evidence of actual corruption on the part of those expelled (or the white woman who was proposed to join them, and yes I'm suggesting that all of the obvious stereotypical subtexts were in play), who were elected from districts gerrymandered into place by those who voted to expel them — expelling those members directly thwarted the will of the respective voters who placed them in the Tennessee House. Indeed, it silenced them; they currently have no one speaking for them in the Tennessee House. I've come to expect that sort of contempt for urban voters and districts from rural-area landowners and their pets; just consider the dynamics of the California 20th, not to mention the Wisconsin 1st, Ohio 8th, Illinois 14th, Georgia 6th, Washington 5th, and Texas 12th (as an exercise for the student, figure out what those — at the respective times — have in common). But it's bad leadership — not to mention bad policy — to consider and impose only a remedy of silencing and shunning in response to what appears to be a first offense against purported "decorum," especially when that offense is directly concerned with a prior failure to act and present issue before that legislative body. It's one thing for a judge in a courtroom to take steps to ensure that there's a single, clear transcript of proceedings available… for later review, in detail, on appeal; it's another thing entirely to suppress opposition inside a legislative body, and reflects poor leadership. Any military officer who had made it through the first 45 minutes of training to be a commissioned officer could tell you that (even if they later chose to ignore it).

    Enough of that. Now, page two — the rest of the cultural story (go ahead, unpack that bit of sarcasm all the way).

  • In an entirely unsurprising piece of utter bullshit, yet another commentator/columnist in a national publication has bought into the false dichotomy concerning e-book availability through libraries by ignoring the real parties in interest in favor of the easy-to-define fight. There's no consideration whatsoever of author interests here. There's no consideration whatsoever of library patron (or, for that matter, taxpayers-supporting-the-libraries) interests here. There's no consideration whatsoever of broader cultural-preservation and research and advancement-of-the-arts-and-sciences interests here. Yet, under the IP Clause, those are the primary interests that are at issue; "exclusive rights" are merely an authorized means to the end(s). The fundamental assumption that's being made is that all electronic books are being distributed in the same fashion, under agreements crafted with specific knowledge and contemplation of the e-book marketplace and environment today… and as it will evolve over then next decade. And further, that publishers are a complete proxy for the interests of everyone involved in creating every book that happens to be in electronic format. Yeah, right. And there's even less excuse for this coming from an academic librarian ensconced at a private university with a notorious historical bias against interlibrary availability of materials.
  • Which is — holding my nose at the source of the link, although none of it is actually news — all too parallel to abuse of audiobook monopoly power. n.b. Mr Doctorow and I have had some public, always-polite disagreements over the years on electronic-content access, but we've never disagreed on either DRM or that author's choice (not any intermediary's choice) is the appropriate gatekeeper. DRM isn't just bad policy; it's self-defeating. And I remember CopyIIPC and DeCSS all too well, but can't say anything further due to my disreputable past. Nor about the potential (however obvious) relationship to spyware.
  • Tom Weldon, head of PRH (UK), the sole illustration in the accompanying articleAnd then there's what passes for "publishing journalism" that frequently whinges about limping after shooting itself in the foot. Like this article on Random Penguin's internal problems with diversity whose only illustration is the one embedded here. Any obvious common ground with the preceeding link sausages (or, for that matter, any of the other sausages) is both intentional and inevitable.
  • Meanwhile, there's what passes for controversy concerning Picasso. There is inevitable interplay between "the artist" and "individual works created by the artist" — one cannot ignore the rest of the artist's life. At the same time, "the artist" and "individual works created by the artist" are not congruent sets; they are intersecting sets, some with greater overlap than others, and that overlap varies with perspective, too (because even the intersection is perceptual, not "in the same plane"). Fully cancelling artists is almost never appropriate; maybe warning labels, or sufficient other education, are appropriate (maybe). And certainly not until we also cancel treasonous crap like election denialism, and every film ever touched in any fashion by Harvey Weinstein, and the assholes who don't acknowledge the problems with Genesis 34. <SARCASM> Oh, I see: Picasso was a dirty foreigner, so it's justified and consistent with all that's 'murikan. </SARCASM>

    My point only is that it's an individual decision. As it happens, I really don't like most of Picasso's works; I used to walk by one made more famous in The Blues Brothers quite frequently, and it just seems, well, meh. I can dislike the vast majority of Wagner's bombast without ever referencing his antisemitism (and worse). I can personally question the priorities behind a local library spending money for a complete set of Lynyrd Skynyrd CDs while refusing to keep Neil Young in the collection (each of them has, after all, put out more than one song). What I have immense difficulty with, though, is saying that my off-work however-distant-contextual preferences justify "cancelling" an entire oeuvre. There is always, after all, the Twain method of art criticism — but not if the source has been cancelled, because then it's not even available as an object for satire or parody.

    A book, or song, or painting, has no more power over one's own mind than one lets it have.

  • It's not just core creators at risk, either. The problem of effectively excluding the great unwashed from the ranks of performers is not very far away from post hoc rationalizations for cancelling the core creators. And that there's considerable overlap there is relevant, too; our perceptions of who "Woodstein!" were/are are shaped as much by the individual subtleties of Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford as they are by Goldman's script or even their own writings in WaPo and book or the events at issue. Ponder too, for a moment, how reactions would differ if the subtext of "taking down Nixon" had concerned someone who wasn't a foulmouthed bigot (of an "unprivileged" upbringing) at a time when foul language was declassé for public consideration, a sign of lesser worth and intellect — however indisputably corrupt. And CREEPy.