20 October 2023

A Sequel to Despair

Non Sequitur, 19 Oct 2023

Unfortunately, this is a more-than-adequate explanation for the conflagration going on in the Levant at the moment — it's all "geopolitical drama to keep a few old [relatively] rich guys in power" when it's blamed on organized religion and sectarianism (however often that blame is correct as to the match… but not the fuel or accelerants). Those residents of the region who can see beyond the brainwashing imposed by those old guys in power usually just want to live, to become no longer impoverished. So, because they're calling for peace and therefore a threat to the established order, they're disproportionately oops-targeted. (There are at least three millenia of precedents, all the way up to actually admitting the impulse to destroy the village to save it.)

But I'll make an effort to ensure this platter isn't all-war/atrocities-all-the-time. No guarantees as to all-outrage-all-the-time, though; and definitely not even much effort expended on no-disparagement-of-old-guys-in-power (not nearly enough to be a good-faith effort… dark pun intended).

  • I could just say "it's entirely predictable that a party opposed to governance at all would prove itself unable to govern," but that would be telling, wouldn't it? The Heffalumps are doing their very best to show, not tell; what more to say about the Heffalump clown car being up on blocks after having been run into a concrete wall a few times, then stripped for parts by the neighborhood thugs? Even when the car is a paid-for-by-donors Mercedes (because no American-made production vehicle is luxurious/prestigious enough for our "betters")?
  • America owes a reckoning to its mistreatment of indigenous peoples. The irony that they've already had some measure of vengeance (however much the economic benefits of that vengeance also went to a few white slaveholding families, their descendants, and their corporate retainers) gets little attention. I'd just as soon declare tobacco a Schedule I substance (together with its "mere derivative products"); it meets the definition ("no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse"), and my lungs — everybody's lungs — would benefit. Plus it would stick it to a well-hidden group of families far worse than the Sacklers.

    Sure, there would be collateral damage, including entirely acceptable civilian casualties.

  • OK, maybe I should lighten up a bit by congratulating this year's Nobel Prize recipients. But the "lighten up" is only transient, especially once one considers (a) the outdated categories, specified in the nineteenth century (the absence of "mathematics" grinds away at reality, doesn't it?) and, well, (b) the ethics of the award in the face of how "science" gets done (and got done even in the nineteenth century). The result of such a flawed, idiosyncracies-of-a-rich-tech-entrepreneur process is all too predictable.

    And that's long before considering the outright — there's no other way to say this, and it's not intended to denigrate those actually chosen (well, except maybe a few, but they're mostly deceased) — foolishness of the selection criteria for the literature prize. Leaving aside the false equivalence between "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction" and the other awards (each of which relate to a discovery that even in the nineteenth century would not have been embodied in a single work or entirely by a single person… except, perhaps, in mathematics, and only perhaps and only as to the nineteenth century and earlier), not to mention "an ideal direction" and the corresponding "most important discovery or invention," the translation problem (and this is an easy one, as it's a European Indo-European language!) further masks that "ideal direction" in at least three layers of cultural isolation, second-guessing, and white north-European privilege. Then there's the bizarre anti-science orientation of the literature prize itself: If any of an author's books have a rocket ship or extrasolar planet/moon on the cover — however irrelevant to the content, however unrequested by the author — that author's candidacy is sunk. This is the only rational explanation for the late Ursula Le Guin's absence while simultaneously awarding a number of inferior speculative-fiction works and writers that were not so handicapped; it's hard to accept The Tin Drum, most of the works of Kazuo Ishiguro, everything I've read (in translation) by Mo Yan, Gabriel García Márquez, and José Saramago, etc., etc., etc. as anything but speculative fiction (however dressed up for marketing purposes as "fabulist" or "parables" or whatever, in an effort to avoid the prejudices and bigotry of the "guardians of culture" that populate commercial publishing the world over).1

    I didn't really lighten up very much, did I?

  • Maybe the "literary fiction" horse is actually sitting in that bottle of glue out in the workshop (where it will be much more productively used to create a new desk on which one can actually write worthwhile works, computer or longhand), but at least we know who the horse is. Purportedly, not so much in Scandi-Noir, which rather leaves aside the possibility that an author changed style and voice to match the material or for any other damned reason. Oh, wait a minute… oops.

    The real problem is that the label "literary fiction" was/is largely applied by marketing dorks not addicted to the product. And that's marketing dorks at all levels — under the model of commercial publishing that accelerated to dominance beginning (in NYC anyway, and merely parallel to elsewhere) with Bennett Cerf's use of a superior original position to shred the veil, mere "editors" are now (and have been for at least half a century) there more for their immediate-commercial-appeal acumen than for their editorial skill. I, for one, would gladly treat Ursula Le Guin and Gene Wolfe and Mary Doria Russell as "literary fiction" and exclude tales of suburban unacknowledged teenaged angst by all the right kind of people, but nobody asked me…

  • Then there's yesterday's "big news" from Georgia: Lying-sack-of-vulture-guano Sidney Powell has pleaded guilty to her role in election-fraud conspiracies. That's guilty, guilty, GUILTY! (echoes from Doonesbury half a century back entirely intentional — and to whom that was applied bears more than a little consideration). What will be really interesting is exactly how Powell surrenders her law license… oh, wait a minute, that's not an explicit condition of her plea deal??????????

    Some commentators think this will hurt The Orange One's own defense. A lot. But this is a woman who already has (and had, but that's getting into other, nonpublic information) a reputation as, well, a lying sack of vulture guano. On her relatively truthful days, of which there appear to have been very few on this subject (PDF) (largely affirming the trial court (PDF)).2 The Orange One's counsel will surely employ a trial strategy of "you cannot believe anything this woman says, and here's why" in front of the jury. They may not overtly label her as such; they may also try the time-tested "rogue subordinates, epitomized by this uppity woman" defense. Needless to say, those defense strategies do not exclude each other; I expect variations on both to be in play. Especially since, based on prior statements, the Orange One's counsel is all-in on his misogyny (which is not, and probably should not be, in itself sanctionable… although one can certainly express disdain for the minuscule-e ethics, the inhumanity, of doing so even if not personally held).

  1. That is not saying that the "winners" were/are inferior to Le Guin — it is only pointing out that they didn't have a marketing-imposed handicap for fundamentally similar works, as The Left Hand of Darkness really has very little technologically to distinguish itself from the 1970s except biology and setting on "another planet" — specifically, Planet Siberia (c. 1937 with slightly updated technology, different geography, and a more-than-passing nod to prior Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak).
  2. There's one bothersome aspect of this ruling: The pretense that twelve hours of "continuing legal education" can overcome the fundamental misconduct behind a multi-state web of filings that resulted in a 900-page amended complaint just before this judge. At minimum, there should also have been a three-credit-hour (that is, roughly 40 class contact hours plus preparation time, together with multiple graded exercises) advanced-undergraduate-level composition course included in that sanction. At least the judge also suggested reexamination of the law license; predictably, however, that didn't work out so well, which says more about "selectivity of bar discipline" than any bar disciplinary authority wants to acknowledge. It also says a helluva lot about the bar admission process, in particular the emphasis on "bar exams" that do not — by design, cannot — test the ability, let alone inclination, to tell the client "no, you're liable" or "no, don't do that, it's unlawful," let alone "no, you're not entitled to the pony as a matter of law." It's worth noting that at the time Powell was first admitted, there was no required ethics exam, nor required testing integrated into the basic exam (it was merely a testable subject); I'm not certain that "grandparenting in" is a good idea in that context, let alone when a licensing jurisdiction changes its entire ethics ruleset (and Texas did, too, after Powell's admission to the bar).