25 July 2015

Secret Ingredients

An utterly disjointed (and mostly disgusting) selection of link sausages on the platter for the week...

  • Recently driving in North Portland — and by "recently" I mean "since 01 July," when Certain Substances became legal in Oregon — I saw a grocery store sign advertising a special on "Stoned Fruits." At least it was truth in advertising...
  • And it was a crappy drive getting to Portland, after getting caught (fortunately, it was just a short delay because I got by before HazMat came) when the interstate was closed for an overturned truck. Its cargo: PortaPotties.
  • Kris Rusch offers some interesting thoughts on the foolishness of publisher branding that expose a further industry blind spot. There's a fundamental problem with the entertainment industry's approaches to branding — not just publishing, but through every segment: Nobody at the corporate (or at least at the conglomerate) level is asking the fundamental question of what can be joined together to form a discernable brand. With extraordinarily rare (and self-limiting) exceptions, it's simply not something that can be done at the corporate level for corporate identities. Branding in the arts really does not extend beyond the artist/author/creator. Consider these examples:

    • Name the musicians in the "stable" of The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince... and believe me, there was a concerted effort to jointly identify them.
    • It's not just popular music. It's pretty easy to associate the Berlin Phil (particularly under Karajan) with Deutsche Gramophon. Without researching, can you identify the labels associated with Concertgebouw Amsterdam, the London Symphony Orchestra, the (US) National Symphony Orchestra, or even the Boston Pops?
    • Without searching, name the publishers of Scott Turow, Stephen King, John Grisham, James Michener, and Thomas Harris. Yes, it's a trick question on multiple levels.
    • Even film is not exempt from this problem. With the exception of coownership of the source material by part of the same conglomerate, it's quite unusual to be able to name the actual production company for any film, or even the distributor. Name the production company and studio for Star Trek, for Twilight, for To Kill a Mockingbird, and for Psycho. And yes, most of those are trick questions, too.

    Instead, MBA thinking makes management at distribution-of-the-arts conglomerates believe that the conglomerate is a valid brand identification for fundamentally dissimilar works. The obvious counterexample — Harlequin — has worked only because its various works are far from dissimilar... and even then fell apart when Harlequin tried to expand beyond the narrowest conception of small-r romance. And the less said about "live" arts, especially theatre, the better: With the single exception of the Royal Shakespeare Company (or, perhaps, the Ashland Shakespeare Festival), which relies upon an overarching brand name to its identity, it's almost impossible to name a "brand" relating to the distribution point.

    What Ms Rusch is describing for her own company, and her own works, is different: Her efforts are designed to enhance an existing identification of the origin, nature, and quality of goods... not to establish one out of thin air.

  • RIP E.L. Doctorow.

19 July 2015

The Beat of a Different Doldrummer

Two weeks of unexpected travel plus a sore back plus July is not a recipe for lots of blawgging...

  • Kris Rusch penned a balanced excoriation of the "Authors United" call for an antitrust investigation of Amazon that is both correct as far as it goes and goes the wrong direction — for much the same reason.

    The key thing to remember about "Authors United" is that it is composed of "bestselling authors," and mostly of trade fiction writers. Neither represents a majority — and perhaps not even a significant element — of authors, of book-length print publishing, of author compensation from sales of books, or of anything else; it's akin to a call for inquiry into NFL ticket pricing by a group of long-term luxury-box ticketholders (especially when it turns out that most of them don't buy their own tickets, but rely upon others to buy them for them... such as the almost-inevitably bestselling authors of film novelizations, and the authors whose sales were mediocre until some media adaptation raised their profiles). The factual disclosures and analysis that these "bestselling authors" expect/hope will result from a government-led antitrust inquiry into Amazon's practices will, in all probability, be meaningless to the unwashed masses in the bleacher seats at Wrigley Field — or, more to the point, attendees at college football games.

    There does need to be significantly more information made available on pricing, sales, and everything else in publishing. Publishing's culture of secrecy harms everyone whom the industry is supposed to benefit, and benefits only financial investors who might as well be investing in a widget factory in Pocatello, but for the rent they're refusing to allow for in their calculations of what they're "due" as a "fair return on investment". But that information should not be limited to what might seemingly be relevant to a few privileged vendors. I agree with a call for factual inquiry into Amazon's sales practices... and that of the rest of the publishing industries and the distribution arms of the publishing industries. Into the facts, mind you: Antitrust analysis will lead precisely nowhere, due to ideological distortion of "antitrust" and "unfair competition" over the last four decades and to the inescapable fact that there is no single publishing industry to which all of this applies. That inquiry cannot be limited to financial terms of a single endpoint if it is to be meaningful at all; the rapid convergence on "25% of net is the appropriate royalty for e-books," for example, needs at least equal scrutiny, as do nonfinancial anticompetitive terms demanded by publishers.

  • Senator McCain may have been a naval aviator, and a graduate of the US Naval Academy — both of which severely limit his strategic understanding and thinking, and his ability to comprehend and allow for fundamental changes in circumstances. He did, however, serve. Neither The Donald nor the thing on his head, however, did so — nor did the vast majority of other aspirants to the Presidency.

09 July 2015

Near the Molehills of Madness

Just a couple of miscellaneous notes in the midst of insanity (like you'd be able to tell, right?)...

  • A descendant of Jefferson Davis helped convince South Carolina's legislature to take a symbol of hatred and treason off the state Capitol grounds. The most unintentionally amusing (but also ironically accurate) element of the article may well be the reporter's bio slug:

    Michael E. Miller is a foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Post. He writes for the Morning Mix news blog.

    Sending a foreign affairs reporter to South Carolina to report on this issue may prove to have been a bit more prescient than anyone should feel comfortable with.

  • I'm shocked — shocked, I say — to hear that Exxon knew of climate change issues in the early 1980s and financed denialists thereafter. I do have one quibble with the article, though: It wasn't just a few isolated scientists who knew about climate change in 1981. In the 1970s, one high-school debate topic (on energy policy) resulted in high school students debating possibilities of climate change about every other round. The misuse of short quotations as soundbites is behind my longstanding aversion to, well, soundbites... as evidence of intellectual dishonesty and failure to understand.

    Perhaps the less said about the comparison of energy companies to tobacco companies, the better. At least when one lights up some oil one gets some useful energy out of it.

  • In one of the most remarkably dunderheaded pieces that has appeared in a remarkably dunderheaded publication in some time, a reporter claims that e-readers that report actual reading habits back to the vendors are privacy protection. If you don't want fellow subway riders to know what you're reading, make a book cover out of a paper grocery bag... like we used to do in middle school in the 1970s. Or, if you want to be a little more flamboyant, use leftover wrapping paper from that "adult entertainment emporium." But don't revel in your newfound privacy: There's a pretty good chance that someone else on that subway car works for a company that relies on personal data on your reading habits snatched from your Kindle or Nook or iPad.
  • At least some commentators are starting to admit that — just as for printed books — library e-books won't significantly cut into sales of e-books. Leaving aside that libraries are actually the single biggest (and cheapest) targeted display for books possible, the frustrations caused to readers by the way that publishers are treating libraries concerning e-books will eliminate any problem with sales rather rapidly (and ponder the preceding sausage...).
  • Loathe as I am to cite to anything from PW as factual, the list of the largest publishers in the world last year bears consideration for three points.
    • As a rather considered smack at those who think popular fiction represents "the publishing industry," seven of the top ten on the list are nonfiction-dominant. Seven of the top ten English-language-based publishers on the list don't even have a trade fiction imprint... and one of the exceptions is Scholastic, which doesn't do fiction marketed to those old enough to vote.
    • The body of the piece admits blatantly that (a) it is strongly affected by currency fluctuations and (b) continuing merger activity will be by far the most significant cause of any changes in the near future.
    • Comparison is difficult because accounts are not on the same calendars... or same basis. Which, one might add, also presumes the accuracy of material used to create post hoc rationalizations for royalty statements.

    Yet again, the story is between the lines. Which, when one thinks about it at all, is rather shameful for a publication that purports to cover fact-based issues relating to the publishing industry.

  • It's not quite Rosebud.

30 June 2015

Applesauce

Apple has lost its appeal of the antitrust judgment against it in the Wormyfruit e-book pricing lawsuit. The money quote (literally):

More fundamentally, the dissent’s theory — that the presence of a strong competitor justifies a horizontal price-fixing conspiracy — endorses a concept of marketplace vigilantism that is wholly foreign to the antitrust laws. By organizing a price-fixing conspiracy, Apple found an easy path to opening its iBookstore, but it did so by ensuring that market-wide ebook prices would rise to a level that it, and the Publisher Defendants, had jointly agreed upon. Plainly, competition is not served by permitting a market entrant to eliminate price competition as a condition of entry, and it is cold comfort to consumers that they gained a new ebook retailer at the expense of passing control over all ebook prices to a cartel of book publishers — publishers who, with Apple’s help, collectively agreed on a new pricing model precisely to raise the price of ebooks and thus protect their profit margins and their very existence in the marketplace in the face of the admittedly strong headwinds created by the new technology.

US v. Apple, No. [20]13–3741 (PDF) (2d Cir. 30 Jun 2015), slip op. at 9–10 (emphasis in original). There's a lot more to plow through — the opinion, concurrence, and dissent add up to over 150 pages — but the bottom line is that the liability and injunctive relief were affirmed in whole (indeed, the concurring opinion is even more dismissive of Apple's "defenses").

I feel vindicated on two grounds. Not only is this the rationale for antitrust lawsuits in the first place, but the court rested its judgment on facts found by the judge after a trial — and that's almost impossible to overturn. I thoroughly expect Apple to call for en banc consideration (especially since there was a dissent), but I do not expect a different result en banc... or on any appeal to the Supreme Court.

When the facts are against you, argue the law. When the law and the facts are against you, make applesauce... of a variety hopefully tastier than that decried by Justice Scalia last week.

28 June 2015

Short Memories

Chief Justice Roberts lamented:

Understand well what this dissent is about: It is not about whether, in my judgment, the institution of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples. It is instead about whether, in our democratic republic, that decision should rest with the people acting through their elected representatives, or with five lawyers who happen to hold commissions authorizing them to resolve legal disputes according to law. The Constitution leaves no doubt about the answer.

Obergefell v. Hodges, No. [20]14–556, slip op. at 42 (log.) (U.S. 26 Jun 2015) (Roberts, C.J., dissenting). No, it doesn't; neither does it leave any doubt about the Court's duty.

With all due respect, Mr Chief Justice, I think you're fundamentally wrong here. Under this reasoning, the Court in Loving — a case you cite with approval, id. at 45 (log.) — had no authority to force the state of Virginia to drop its "definition" of marriage as being between individuals of the same "race." Under this reasoning, the Court in Griffin was not empowered to reject the quasilegislative actions of a local school board in closing all public schools rather than admitting persons of all races to its schools without segregation.

The District Court held that "the public schools of Prince Edward County may not be closed to avoid the effect of the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court, while the Commonwealth of Virginia permits other public schools to remain open at the expense of the taxpayers." At the same time the court gave notice that it would later consider an order to accomplish this purpose if the public schools were not reopened by September 7, 1962. That day has long passed, and the schools are still closed. On remand, therefore, the court may find it necessary to consider further such an order. An order of this kind is within the court's power if required to assure these petitioners that their constitutional rights will no longer be denied them. The time for mere "deliberate speed" has run out, and that phrase can no longer justify denying these Prince Edward County school children their constitutional rights to an education equal to that afforded by the public schools in the other parts of Virginia.

Griffin v. School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty., 377 U.S. 218, 233–34 (1964) (citations omitted).

Indeed, this is the entire point of enshrining rights in a separate Constitution that is not subject to endless legislative tampering.

If, then, the courts are to regard the constitution, and the constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the legislature, the constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.

Those, then, who controvert the principle that the constitution is to be considered, in court, as a paramount law, are reduced to the necessity of maintaining that courts must close their eyes on the constitution, and see only the law.

This doctrine would subvert the very foundation of all written constitutions. It would declare that an act which, according to the principles and theory of our government, is entirely void, is yet, in practice, completely obligatory. It would declare that if the legislature shall do what is expressly forbidden, such act, notwithstanding the express prohibition, is in reality effectual. It would be giving to the legislature a practical and real omnipotence, with the same breath which professes to restrict their powers within narrow limits. It is prescribing limits, and declaring that those limits may be passed at pleasure.

That it thus reduces to nothing what we have deemed the greatest improvement on political institutions, a written constitution, would of itself be sufficient, in America, where written constitutions have been viewed with so much reverence, for rejecting the construction. But the peculiar expressions of the constitution of the United States furnish additional arguments in favour of its rejection.

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177–78 (1803).

The true difficulty here is that the Chief Justice does not acknowledge that an accepted fundamental right — marriage — may not be diminished through a definitional artifice by a portion of the government that is not charged with defining fundamental rights. This is functionally the same argument that shored up "separate but equal" for so long, to this nation's shame and disadvantage and (hopefully) regret. That the Virginia antimiscegenation law did not engage in the formal artifice of "defining" marriage as "between a man and a woman of the same race" made its function no less "definitional" as to who enjoyed a fundamental right.

Just as the time for deliberate speed has passed, so has the time for deferring to legislative (and quasilegislative) definitions whose effect — whose very intent — is to deny discernable segments of the citizenry fundamental rights accorded to the citizenry at large. That may make some policies difficult. It may create tension with other rights, such as a purported "free exercise" right to disregard "immoral" or "ahistorical" conduct (which leads to an obvious question regarding the right of Jewish or Muslim members of the Senate to object to the presence of pork-infused bean soup on the menu of the Senate cafeteria, as is presently required by law... especially when that law does not requiring koshering or other ritual cleansing of the bowls used to serve that soup). It does not, however, allow the courts to evade their duty in declaring that legislative and quasilegislative acts (or omissions) violate fundamental rights.

Only two of the three branches of government are elected in the federal system. Indeed, that unelected branch serves on good behavior once appointed. These are the biggest nonexplicit hints possible that the third branch is not supposed to be bound — not even swayed — by popular opinion, let alone legislative intransigence. This is what the concept of "checks and balances" described throughout the Federalist Papers is all about: That certain types of powers overlap when put into policy, and that different methods of reasoning apply to different kinds of powers. The power to declare a right is not legislative in nature; indeed, it is not electoral in nature, either.

26 June 2015

Mending Words

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Robert Frost, "Mending Wall" (1914)

Are fences unambiguously good? Or do we have a writing "problem" here?

  • Someone else has discovered that books don't get adequate fact-checking by publishers. Well, some books don't: The problem is much worse at conglomerate publishers who do not maintain subject-area expertise in staffs, and emphasize managerial efficiency in the form of minimizing staffing costs. Proper fact checking, by its nature, is inefficient and seems quite costly; the paradox that only specialty publishers and imprints, and some university-affiliated presses — those publishers operating on the most-fragile economics — seem to engage in it in anything approaching a systematic fashion is rather disturbing, but not all that surprising once one actually reads an E&O ("media perils") insurance policy. Besides, it would close off an entire subsector of books to fact-check and warrant-check them: Ideological rants (mostly those on the right these days, but the left is far from immune). It's one thing to determine that a particular stated fact in a written work is "correct"; it's another thing entirely to see how that fact provides a warrant for a conclusion drawn from it, especially in an ideologically oriented work.
  • All of which leads to the two big-headline (and two non-big-headline) decisions from the Supreme Court yesterday and today. There is actually a common thread among King v. Burwell, No. [20]14–114 (the Affordable Care Act allows tax deductions in states that choose to implement the program via a federal exchange rather than directly operating their own exchanges), Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., No. [20]13–1371 (the Fair Housing Act allows attacks on housing policies that have the effect of discriminating, not just those with discriminatory mechanisms or intent), and Johnson v. US, No. [20]13–7120 (the "residual clause" of the Armed Career Criminal Act cannot be used to increase a sentence because it is unconstitutionally vague):

    Bad writing.

    Not of the opinions, but of the underlying statutes.

    Some of the bad writing is structural in nature, such as the silly failure in the Affordable Care Act to define "exchange" to include both state-run and federally-run-under-state-authorization-for-that-state exchanges; some of the bad writing is more subtle, in the form of almost-intentional vagueness to avoid loopholes exploited by "bad people" (Johnson) or "good people" (Texas Housing), neither of whom can tell what the law actually means in the specific contexts facing them all that easily. The common thread in the legislative histories of all three laws is that the particular language in question came in committee markups — the equivalent of smoke-filled back-room negotiations. What this says about the relationship between legislative process and legislative competence is rather disturbing... and not all that surprising in the face of the fourth opinion from the last two days, which is ultimately the argument that the time for all deliberate speed in establishing civil rights for yet another disfavored group has come and gone, and that the individual states have dragged their feet too long. Not just since Windsor, but since Lawrence (at the latest).

    In short, all four decisions are — at their core — findings of legislative malpractice. That's not surprising: Human beings dominate legislatures. Human beings make mistakes. The real problem is that human beings aren't all that good about acknowledging their mistakes... or restructuring the way they do things to minimize them in the future after they're pointed out. It's not that legislatures need to be dumped (the alternatives are worse): It's that they need to act like legislatures and not self-aggrandizing clubs, and have the humility to run their high-concept language past good writers (admittedly, that will exclude most lawyers). I understand Chief Justice Roberts' lament in Obergefell (the "gay marriage" case), which essentially boils down to reluctance to tell the legislatures that their abrogation of duty is not acceptable... but do not defer to it an awful lot, because that's the essential function of courts in a constitutional system. Telling a legislature — federal or state — that "your paper was either flawed or not turned in on time" is not an improper extension of the judiciary into the legislative function! And the contrast with his overly diplomatic criticism of bad writing yesterday in King is rather important to understanding all four decisions — not just his own opinions, but the panoply across the Court.

  • None of which is all that surprising, when even Psychology Today admits that increasing American antiintellectualism is a problem. All you needed to do to see that was attend a suburban or exurban public high school... in the seventies. Or even ponder the second-order implications of Friday Night Lights and Fame and their popularity. Of course, "ponder the second-order implications" is rather intellectual in nature, so perhaps — just perhaps — that is expecting rather too much.

And so, with all of that in mind, perhaps we've got some mending to do. Not of walls, but of gates, and gaps, and words.

22 June 2015

Randomized (Mostly) Unlinked Sausages

  • I already said this before — during the last cycle — but I just don't believe that Donald Trump's "hair" was born at the same time he was. Or even in this country: I suspect it is a dyed hyena pelt... from Kenya. #BirtherTrump'sHair
  • There's really only one thing left to say about the atrocity in Charleston, South Carolina. To quote a former Congressman from that state, just before That Flag became an issue for the first time: "South Carolina is too small to be a nation and too large to be a lunatic asylum." (Or maybe he said "republic" and "insane asylum" — I've not seen an original, and secondary sources disagree.) My point is that nothing much has changed since the Hon. James Petigru noted the problem over 150 years ago. In some ways, it's a replay of the not-as-cold-as-civilians-thought war, accepting individual Russians (especially potential defectors) and hating/distrusting Soviets — only to end up with the stereotype of Redfellas and corruption.

    And on the gun-control sideshow: Maybe if we armed our law enforcement personnel with adequate nonlethal means, the insanity of the self-defense rationalization for individual carrying of weaponry utterly unsuited to a well-regulated militia would be more apparent... to anyone who is actually paying attention, which doesn't appear to be much of anyone.

  • It's really hard to know where to begin on the Greek financial crisis, or where it will end. There really aren't any possible winners, or credible balanced sources. There's a fundamental underlying problem, though: The financiers demanded terms that purportedly reflected the risks of default... and now that Greece is in danger of default, the financiers are demanding further, outside actions to cover those very risks while retaining their profits.

17 June 2015

Irritation

Just a very short note of irritation at the legal profession and legal education.

Several incidents over the past few years have crystalized for me a serious blindspot in the education and mindset of lawyers: The inability to conceptualize choices made among bad alternatives, due in large part to the post hoc, unstated assumption that based on the information and resources actually available at the moment of choice, there was a clear "good" choice that "should" have been undertaken, and that any deviation from that "good" choice is somehow subject to later second-guessing.

One example of this comes from the mortgage crisis that began about a decade ago. There's a lot of blame that gets attached to all of the actors in that mortgage crisis, ranging from the banks (and occasionally individual bankers themselves) to the servicing industry to the real-estate industry to a rather despicable subtextual disdain for those who overborrowed... especially first-time buyers who overborrowed. The main difficulty is that all of this presumes that there was a "good" alternative to entering the home-purchase or -refinancing market in the first place. Due to a wide variety of pressures and experiences, Americans rightly believe that if they are renters they will not get the attention, services, or anything else that they need in life; the evidence for this ranges from the preference for home ownership in credit reports (and the cascade effect on everything else in one's life) to obvious geographic comparisons of schools in high-rental versus high-ownership zones to hospital and medical services locations to... I won't go on. I'm not at all saying that actual misconduct and greed and so on shouldn't have consequences; I'm saying, instead, that it's not a simple, binary comparison between the actual results and some unachievable Pollyanish hypothetical as implied by virtually every case in virtually every casebook and judicial/administrative opinion.

So it's a problem. The difficulty is that the legal profession, and especially legal education and formal jurisprudence, do not provide any guidance whatsoever on how to deal with a problem all to familiar to military officers and even to many business leaders: How to accomplish the mission while minimizing collateral damage... and simultaneously acknowledging that there will be nonzero collateral damage. The closest that the law comes is the business judgment rule, which itself is wildly (and simultaneously) overbroad and overconstricted. It's overbroad because it doesn't require inquiry, but implicitly allows decisions made upon what is actually in front of the decisionmaker so long as that resembles what other decisionmakers might be expected to know (and therefore ignores context), and fails to account for foreseeable collateral damage; it's overconstricted because it applies only to certain aspects of pure commercial decisionmaking.

At its core, the real difficulty here is that lawyers simply are not trained in making or evaluating least-bad choices... except, that is, for criminal defense attorneys, and maybe family-law attorneys who specialize in child custody matters. Even they learn on the job; they sure as hell don't learn in law school, not even in "clinical" settings. And this makes a little bit of knowledge — especially a little bit of incorrect or purely-theoretical-with-no-lab-experience knowledge — extremely dangerous to everyone involved... most especially to their own clients.

09 June 2015

The Grinder Needs a New Blade

Really chunky link sausages today...

  • The New Republic has printed a worthwhile transcript of the discussion between the ineffably polite Neil Gaiman and the equally ineffably polite Kazuo Ishiguro on the "genre problem" in contemporary fiction. The most telling comment — among many that come very close indeed to actually criticizing someone, but step back from the brink — may be this one:

    [Ishiguro] I don’t have a problem with marketing categories, but I don’t think they’re helpful to anybody apart from publishers and bookshops.

    at which point Mr Gaiman's next words wrench the conversation to one of Mr Ishiguro's novels of a few years back.

    I'm going to suggest that this is, in the end, the entire problem with genre labelling. It is not there for the writers, or the editors, or even the readers. (Whether it's helpful to librarians is a very mixed question; does To Kill a Mockingbird belong "shelved under" Teen, or Literature, or Americana, or Historical Novels?) It is there, instead, for devotees of 1970s management theory that treats every book as primarily a collection of thin sheets of pulp within a certain standard set of form factors (disregarding the occasional outliers) that must be sorted based upon a soundbitish description of the incidental ink on the pages that was created, in all probability, by someone who had not read that incidental ink.

    Logistics are important, but they are only an easily measurable aspect of business success, and a frequent barrier to business success and/or cause of business failure — not a cause of business success. But because it's easier to point to and compare numbers (even when they're not ultimately meaningful — like fine gradations in SAT scores), it's also easier to get promoted on the basis of those numbers. This is particularly problematic when, as in publishing and every other aspect of the entertainment industry, there's a quantum-mechanics-like barrier between understanding the motion of a billiard ball and understanding the motion of an individual electron initially found in that billiard ball (since there's a nonzero probability that said electron will not end up in the same place as the billiard ball).

  • And on a related note, Frances Wilson describes, and perhaps laments, the niceness of contemporary literary reviews. She fails to note what reviews have become (and this directly relates to the conversation between Messrs. Gaiman and Ishiguro noted above): Thinly disguised marketing pieces in a culture in which authors are discouraged from ever criticizing other authors lest their own works suffer the same fate. There's a certain emperor's-new-clothes flavor to all too much of modern reviews, and in particular to failures to engage with bad underlying assumptions (e.g., "Napoleonic space navies" continuing to be a viable leadership/management structure when the newest spaceman recruit knows far more about just about everything, other perhaps than tying knots, than does any Napoleonic-era captain, if only due to modern education systems; hell, he probably knows more about why a ship floats in the first place, from third-grade science class!).

    Reviews are not just adjuncts of marketing. Those who believe they are are living in their own little self-delusional world. Indeed, the credibility of reviewers who neither dislike many (if any) works nor explain cogently why (or even explain cogently what distinguishes two works they praise on different days) is about the same as paid spokescreatures on late-night TV and infomercials selling the latest essential product/service.

  • Speaking of Napoleon: A bicentennial €2.50 coin is upsetting the French. I definitely want one.
  • I've been made aware that there's been some criticism (from a Usual Suspect in such things) of my comments last entry on E Pluribus Hugo. Since I haven't seen the actual comment, I'm relying on a third party's summary: Apparently, by comparing Hugo voting to a poll tax, I'm an unsophisticate who thinks there should be no eligibility requirements and that everybody gets to vote on everything. Not so much; indeed, my fundamental criticism that one doesn't choose "best" through a popular vote should have been a hint.

    As my actual discussions indicate pretty clearly, the problem with poll taxes is not eligibility requirements; it is the proclamation that those who have been closed out by the poll tax are nonetheless represented and somehow bound by the results of that poll. In the good ol' post-Confederacy, that meant that polls taken in Alabama represent per force the opinions of all citizens of Alabama — even those barred from the polls. In speculative fiction fandom, it means that polls taken via the WSFS's mechanism with "memberships" are proclaimed by the WSFS and understood by everyone else (especially marketing dorks who don't make an effort to understand the system) as representing "all of fandom." And that's my objection in this sense: The overstatement of representation and the meaning of the results. Too, the Hugos (even in apparent "landslide" voting) are no more a "mandate" than was the result of the 2004 Presidential election, in which the victor garnered slightly less than 21% of the potential votes. This is all bound together with the rest of the system... and tweaking to prevent a particular variety of abuse assumes per force that there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the system.

06 June 2015

Pre-Road-Kill Link Sausages

Lots of driving in the near future; given the roads in California, my suspension is likely to be the first bit of roadkill.

  • Here's something to look forward to: My soon-to-be home is one of the worst baseball towns in the US. I'm looking forward to it: Baseball is a communist plot to destroy the fitness and team ethic of America's youth. Not to mention that baseball/softball fields are configured in a way to prevent every other recreational use; even golf isn't that exclusionary.
  • Turning to the world of real sport, watching The Fall of the House of Blatter has been gratifying in some respects, but sad in others. I suspect that the FBI doesn't (yet) have a smoking gun — but that someone at InBev or Adidas (the two biggest, longest-term sponsors) does, and made it known to ol' Tightershortsforfemaleplayers. And the timing was intended so that Blatter can try to manipulate the succession — both in the permanent, nonelected staff (who actually know where those smoking guns are) and the presidency itself.
  • The Copyright Office has issued a new report on orphan works and mass digitization (PDF). It's not as bad as it could have been, but it's clearly a result of agency capture and has failed to adequately consider the constitutional purpose of copyright: Encouraging authors (for all types of works) to create more works and thereby advance the useful arts and sciences. I'll have more to say later, after I follow the references and footnotes in more detail... but the dearth of references to authors' interests is neither very surprising nor very encouraging.
  • There's a proposal to tweak Hugo voting rules somewhat jocularly labelled E Pluribus Hugo that I cannot support, for three reasons. First, it depends upon accepting the proposition that a popular vote among those who pay a poll tax to vote is the best way to determine actual quality. (I'd be probably be more supportive if the Hugos themselves were renamed from "Best" to "Favorite.") Second, it does nothing whatsoever to deal with the far-more-serious problems of source restrictiveness and the inept calendar (really? for an award issued in late August, we start nominations in January?). Third, at a fundamental level it fails to engage with the dynamics of cliquishness (for both real and imagined cliques, I should note) that are at issue; in fact, it bears a disturbing resemblance to the evolution of voting patterns in Jim Crow country following passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1964, if not with the same obvious discriminatory animus.

    I think this proposal has been put forth in good faith, in a highly conservative attempt to retain, and even reify, a particular (and wildly inaccurate) fannish/SMOFish perception of what the Hugos "are" and "mean." The irony of that characterization is intentional, especially compared to the various canine complaints; it is obvious, disturbing, and all too typical of attempts to tweak selection mechanisms without pondering what is being selected... and whether that requires a farther-reaching change.