18 November 2017

Preliminary One-Finger Salutes

In the pre-holiday-season rush for "new" — especially in the world of computing — a few comments on "new" stuff that isn't working. And not-so-new stuff that isn't working.

  • Microsoft, there's no reason whatsoever to demand copying of the desktop.ini file to data-only media, whether they are thumb drives or archival disks. And it's not even necessary for Windows machines… which are perfectly capable of reading pure data. Knock it off; it just takes up space and actually inhibits use on non-Windows devices and noncomputers. Not to mention that it's a privacy nightmare.
  • Any software vendor that demands installation of a separate, non-operating-system "update protocol" — and especially if it's impossible to update the software unless one allows that protocol to run at startup and embed itself in the operating system! — should be forced to spend a week in the middle of Alaska on a laptop with limited access to power and reasonable internet access. No, Oracle/Adobe/Google, your desire to push dubious "updates" (and ads and "freebies" like McAfee's crapware) to me on your schedule — notwithstanding anything time-, power-, and resource-critical that I might be doing — is not sufficient justification.
  • Firefox 57 is a complete disaster from an interface perspective. Whatever its functional improvements, its contempt for interface customization — precisely what attracted many of us to Firefox in the first place — and, more particularly, the moderately visually impaired, in favor of antisocial media and security-impairing bullshit, is keeping me in Version 56. In particular:

    • Inability to move the menu, the search bar, and the address bar (which should always, always be separate from the search function, unless you really do want people to end up at hijacked domains and encourage typosquatting) to a single top line, thereby taking away 10% of the vertical real estate
    • Inability, in the basic program, to choose what is "on top" in the window… and an almost purposeful breaking of every extension that allows that
    • Adoption of touchscreen menu memes as the default, and forcing them on those of us who do not have (and refuse to adopt!) touchscreens

    Thus, I haven't really tried Firefox 57, since the initial installation broke my ability to actually use it. And I won't be doing so for at least several weeks, until themes and systems get updated so I can continue to work in it. No guarantees even then. (And Chrome is not an option, since that there is literally no way to keep Google — an organization from which I am "across the v." — from tracking and storing certain information, nor to keep offensive and security-impairing ad-related material off my computer. Plus it's a bloody resource hog.)

  • If I explicitly turn off automatic loading of a process or dll or file, the next update shouldn't automatically turn that back on. Especially when that process or dll works just fine when it is loaded only upon program start instead of upon initial booting. That means you, Microsoft, with your every-time-there's-a-security-update-to-Office attempts to make OneNote and Outlook (which, I should add, are disabled on my machine) run their crap at startup. And the same to a whole bunch of other vendors, like any update to any Adobe product automatically causing its (nonworking, security-evading) updaters to run automatically at boot and reset options to "automatically check for and install all updates."
  • The less said about proprietary data formats and forced obsolescence, the better. I'm looking at Cupertino (ok, admittedly with my welder's faceplate in place) and forced updates to its software for accessing data already in the possession of its customers. I know people with four-year-old versions of That Software who can't do necessary security-based updates for this reason alone; the security update is bound into a commercial-model update. I'm also carefully avoiding any invented word beginning with the ninth letter of the English alphabet and improperly claimed as a trademark in Cupertino in startling bits of overreaching and arrogance, especially relating to entertainment material without regard to more-senior users of the very marks in question.

    And it's not just Cupertino. One reason that my gaming has fallen off over the years is the adoption of a certain "default" to vapors from boiling water as required to make games work or even install at all, presuming that I necessarily want to play in an insecure mode with others online, have high-end WiFi all the time, and will tolerate mandatory installation (and constant operation) of a nasty old coal-fired boiler on my diesel-electric submarine. (Hey, my hardware isn't a super-up-to-date nuclear attack sub, either.) And everything I said about proprietary update systems goes triple (expansion) here, too.

The underlying problem isn't with basic concepts and basic security. "Security update" does not mean "marketing opportunity," assholes… especially when that specific "marketing opportunity" has previously been explicitly declined. Not everyone is sitting in a Silicon Valley office with a dedicated T3 line; some of us are sitting in airports and cheap hotel rooms desperately trying to access a court's docket or a tax-filing website or healthcare information on a hard deadline, and we really don't need anyone telling us to do something else Right Now (and reboot/restart a program afterward, thereby losing all of our current work). Just because there's no real damage to you assholes if your Faceplant status update is delayed a couple of minutes doesn't mean you can assume there will be no real damage to us for anything else.

And stop calling it "advertising" when it does anything more than actually advertise. If you're doing bloody traffic analysis (aka "data analytics"), it's not "advertising": It's data collection, usually without regard to privacy or security (or even bloody disclosure). Calling something "collateral damage" does not remove it from the realm of "war crimes," any more than saying "I was raised in the sixties" means one's conduct is immune from being treated as "sexual harassment."

17 November 2017

Blame the Lawyers

This time, I mean it. And I mean one specific subset of lawyers in particular: The Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Commission and those subject to its so-called "regulation."

When "That Judge" archly justified his violation of federal court orders regarding litigated subjects as a sitting judge subject to the Supremacy Clause, Article VI cl. 2 (which he had specifically sworn to uphold), he should have been subject to public discipline, and probably disbarment. Not just the first time, but the second time, too. This is not because he held a particular set of beliefs, or continued to advocate for a change in law; a vicious and even incivil dissenting opinion would have been in-bounds, however unjustified on the merits. It is because he demonstrated unfitness to practice law by explicitly rejecting valid and binding court orders concerning particular conduct not just of matters he was adjudicating, but of himself, in a way that so thoroughly undermines the rule of law that it simply cannot be tolerated from any officer of the court — let alone a judge.

It is uncertain whether the people of Alabama would have paid any attention at all. After all, this is a state in which I was accused over the phone of being a "[expletive deleted] christkiller" for having the temerity to ask the local Chamber of bloody Commerce for contact information for a local synagogue/temple on behalf of several fellow officers who wanted to attend Passover services... which explains full well why there was no entry in the local phone book (this was the late 1980s). But the Bar has to have higher standards than that. Not just higher bar-exam test results, because the bar exam does not and cannot test whether a prospective officer of the court is actually committed to the rule of law. A public record of bar discipline might have given at least some voters pause at primary time, and is a critical element of electoral information today.

And discipline imposed this century wouldn't have helped any woman being subjected to what they have credibly described as — to put it as mildly as possible, because after all I haven't reviewed evidence, only public statements — creepy stalking and sexual harassment years ago by an apparent predator overimpressed with his political power, even more than was Boss Hogg (and on all evidence, not much if any brighter).

As some modest compensation, members of the Alabama State Bar Disciplinary Commission, you've got company in a lot of other states. No discipline was imposed on Rod Blagojevich after his removal from office by the Illinois Senate following a full impeachment trial finding him guilty of outright corruption; no, there wasn't even a formal inquiry until years later, after a federal trial and appeal on broader charges. Discipline of various Watergate conspirators was largely minimal. (And meanwhile, solo and small-firm practitioners continue to bear the brunt of discipline for conduct laughed off in large firms, in-house counsel, procecutors' offices, and most other government roles not involving criminal defense and/or child welfare.) So this isn't unique to Alabama: It's a problem with the entire profession.

As a military officer, I was ashamed of the respect offered to William Calley and Ernest Medina among a certain cohort of my fellow officers (despite my conclusion based on review of documents that they had more probably than not been ordered to engage in at least some of those activities, they still had an obligation to disobey clearly unlawful orders). Unfortunately, that cohort was in midlevel and even senior leadership positions during the Reagan Administration, including "luminaries" like the Iran-Contra miscreants (who shall not be named here). Had there been a significant conflict at the time, I think things would have, umm, devolved discreditably under their "leadership." Fortunately, by the time the first Iraq-related conflict in the Arabian Gulf rolled around, their influence had been diminished by retirements, disgust at Iran-Contra itself, and a better class of officers resulting from higher standards imposed during the Ford and Carter years, who had attained enough seniority to credibly say "No, sir, I cannot follow that unlawful order" with at least some expectation of vindication. (Of course, that's what "That Judge" will claim he was doing… but the order in question did not require him to do something unlawful, it rejected his position that what he was doing was lawful, and that distinction really does make all the difference.) The public deserves better than this. I deserve better than this. I'm pissed off that I have to be ashamed at another profession that proclaims that it can only be self-regulating, and nonetheless refusing to do so to the detriment of the public… but not the political ambitions of its members, never that.

14 November 2017

First of the Pre-Thanksgiving Link Sausages

A general note on recent controversies: Neither gonads nor wallets have grey matter, so allowing either one to do one's thinking is necessarily brainless.

  • This should open some eyes in the general quasiconsumerish world, the world of those who look at the lifestyle of Taylor Swift and think it represents that of composers: The general/default poverty of the "unaffiliated": composer. Drawing the connection between the rhetoric of encouraging entrepreneurship in the wider economy and the actual barriers thrown up to entrepreneuers — ranging from unfair taxation until they incorporate to the tyranny of calendar-based payments and repayments expected of non-calendar-tied businesses (and people!) — by the cold, hard numbers-based economy. Getting to long-run success requires the ability to eat through the short run…
  • "Unfair taxation until they incorporate"? What the hell? Just stop and consider two things that the current tax system does:

    • Every penny of "the place to live" is deductible to a corporation or other business entity. Not just "mortgage interest," but rent, utilities, repairs, real-estate taxes, leases for office furniture, broker's fees … every damned penny. Try that trick on any US personal tax return; better yet, compare what an entrepreneur can claim as a "home-office deduction" to a business entity in otherwise identical circumstances. All by itself, this radically reduces the effective tax rate on comparable revenue for corporations, at least as compared to individuals.
    • Every penny spent on uniforms/attire, training, and education by a business entity is deductible. For individuals… not so much. The craziest distinction with individuals is that it's deductible if, and only if, it relates to either (a) one's current sources of income, or (b) a formal, degree-granting program. An individual-entrepreneur hairdresser cannot deduct the educational expenses (especially non-"tuition") of a wilderness-guide training program that is not affiliated with a recognized educational institution — or vice versa. A corporatized hairdresser, however, can. More to the point of the preceding item, an out-of-work individual-entrepreneur author cannot deduct the educational expenses (especially non-"tuition") of an automotive-mechanic training program that is not affiliated with a recognized educational institution — or vice versa.

    What this really comes down to is inept — even corrupt — interpretations of a fundamental principle of tax law: "Living expenses" (and "personal improvement") aren't deductible against income taxes, because they don't go toward generating income in one's existing line of business. Only expenses purportedly directly related to generating income in one's existing line of business (plus some "socially beneficial" expenses added to encourage certain kinds of business spending) are to be deducted from income before taxation. In short, business get taxed on their net; individuals get taxed on their net; and the two definitions of "net" are completely incomparable. So much for "tax reform" that ignores the difference. And thus, the megarich (who don't actually need these deductions) can continue to restrict the opportunities available to their social and inherited-wealth inferiors via decisions made and resources available years, or decades, in the past.

    Thus, the simplest true "tax reform": Rationalize the business-entity and personal rates; just make the concept of "expenses" deductible from income identical to both, independent of "form." If it's a "research and development" expense, deduct it; if it's a "necessary place of business (and thinking about business after business hours)" expense, deduct it. Without regard to whether the taxpayer is a natural or unnatural person. And for my next trick, I will demonstrate how to ensure that the children of Ireland are useful to their parents, or at least admit that the method for doing so needs to be discussed instead of dismissed as irrelevant.

  • It wouldn't hurt, either, to acknowledge something that this otherwise-praiseworthy piece at WaPo ignores: That its titular exemplar for rejecting homo economicus was a member of the inherited-wealth aristocracy, and wrote almost exclusively about members of the inherited-wealth aristocracy.

07 November 2017

Do Your Duty

If you're a US citizen, there's a very high probability that today is election day for you. (A few states and localities hold their off-Congressional-cycle elections on days other than the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.) Do your duty and vote.

It does matter whom (and what, in the instance of referenda and initiatives and such) you vote for. It matters even more that you vote at all: That is, ultimately, why every American veteran is a veteran. As shameful as some of the particular policies and interventions over the years have been, it's all ultimately in protection of the US Constitution and the right to vote — none of the rest of it happens without it.

And for international readers, and US readers whose elections are on a different date: Do your duty when it's your turn. As Archie Tuttle says, we're all in this together. Even when we can stand each others' views.

31 October 2017

Spooky Inaction at a Distance

The quiet for the month reflects postsurgery stuff (not significant complications, more discomfort and loss of energy) and Life. Just because if I went to the beach now, Frankenstein's monster would point and say "Gnarly scars, dude!" — and all of the children would run screaming, even on Halloween, as if they wouldn't have before — doesn't mean I should "walk" around internet Hyde Park/Times Square in a virtual Speedo in virtual subzero weather… as antisocial as I can be on my best days.

But let's have a witch hunt anyway. So, if His Cheetoness weighs more than a duck, he won't float, and we might get better after all having been turned into newts… but probably not that much better, and probably not enough to avoid a lifelong fondness for insects and worms.

  • Quasiopinion pieces at the NYT and in WaPo each rather inelegantly attempt to grapple with the problems of reforming (anti)social media without archly grasping with the real problem:

    There are downsides to ascribing/allowing motivation of social institutions solely by shareholder wealth maximization, and there's a quasilegal barrier to doing anything else.

    None of which is to say that there aren't some pretty dark social-engineering, quasipartisan, and even scary monsters of abuse lurking in Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., 204 Mich. 459 (1919), concerning corporate purposes other than wealth maxmization. (Note: That's "wealth maximization" in the long term, not immediate magic-of-accounting profit, you arrogant hedge-fund/corporate-raider shitheads.)

    In short, the law of organizations has not kept up with the fact that economic theory (except for a few cranks) abandoned the "rational economic actor" as a complete, necessary, and sufficient explanation of human behavior half a century ago (Exhibit A: for all of its faults — and they are many indeed — the American Red Cross, a corporation (PDF, see page 2)). One of the comments at the NYT sort of hints at this by suggesting that social media needs to be run as benefit corporations (which would by no means restrict the founders from paying themselves outrageous salaries and benefits!), but fails to note that the divide between "benefit" and "for-profit" is still too strictly and formalistically established… and requires an expensive, time-consuming formal reorganization with concomittant vulnerability to regulation-by-lawsuit and/or -by-government that destroys flexibility to meet changing needs, objectives, opportunities, and responsibilities. And if you limit someone's identify to being only "White" or "Black," you miss not only all of the shades of grey in between, but all of the Hispanics and Native Americans, and even questions of whether a particular origin counts as "White" or "Black" (let alone the distinction between descendants of slaves and Nigerian princes… even real ones…). And it matters, because when we preestablish the criteria for "success" we necessarily discount other aspects of "success" that have failed to win the preexisting, usually-decades-old-among-different-people-entirely argument.

  • And then there's the flip side of oversharing on (anti)social media and in the classroom: Trigger warnings and accusations of snowflakism frequently coming from the entitled from privileged and protected backgrounds, which entirely ignore that the purpose of a trigger warning is to facilitate engagement with difficult issues by foreshadowing, and enabling those who might be triggered to be prepared so that any visceral reaction (however valid and sincere) does not eliminate the chance to communicate. That some of the outrage about trigger warnings is coming from the same sources who are equally outraged by spoilers for their favorite TV series bears some consideration, in the comfort of a classroom or seminar or even public panel devoted to careful consideration of not just the subject, but the tools; in more craftsmanlike terms, not just the beautiful grain and texture of the rosewood desk, but the quality and construction of the joinery and finish. Since the joinery and finish are inherently (and inextricably) intertwined with the characteristics of the materials — one would use different joinery and finish on MDO laminates, for example — just maybe that matters.
  • Liz Bourke is much too nice about the illusion of linear measurements of "quality" in the arts — perhaps even self-underminingly so. I refuse to get drawn into a hypothetical debate over whether Da Vinci or Michelangelo produced work of higher quality, whether considering specific works or broader subsets or their entire output. That hypothetical purposely chose two canonical dead white guys without considering, say, Georgia O'Keefe; or considering their subject matter as part of the "quality" debate; or… you get the idea.

    Here's why Ms Bourke's presentation is slightly self-undermining: It fails to acknowledge the limits of pluralist interpretation and evaluation. To an extent, the comment "[Books'] success as a work of art is entirely subjective" is correct — but there are limits. It is not possible to linearly rank-order all books for merit, definitively. It is, however, possible to sort groups of otherwise comparable books out into "kewl and worth further discussion," "meh," and "save trees (and electrons) from these ones"… and then just not discuss that third category. However, the claim that reactions are "entirely subjective" does not acknowledge that some "subjective" belief is not reasonable, is not supported by the text, and may not even be supported by the personal experience of the person forming the belief. <SARCASM> I would never suggest that some "evaluations" of works of art are offered in bad faith for reasons independent of the merits — objective or subjective — of the works in question. And Pat Boone never existed, either. </SARCASM>. In short, the short piece presumes good faith in the absence of any real evidence that "good faith" is the default, let alone universal.

12 October 2017

Not in Defense of Buggywhips

Too many mind-altering substances of late (and no, I do not mean ink on paper, even with the biggest fight in the current administration being over whether Cheeto is a "moron" or a "fucking moron")... but that's sort of what surgery does, since the pharmaceutical industry can't be bothered to do the same kind of research into pain control without adverse side effects that it does for erectile dysfunction.

  • Oh dear, yet again the Department of Overstatement is running rampant regarding book sales… yet again involving pseudoactivism by Douglas Preston in the face of facts that don't quite match up, largely because he continues to believe that all of publishing works exactly like he thinks commercial-publisher trade fiction works. (Nope. Not even close.) In an editorial in today's NYT, he raises the tired old "deceptive discounts" argument yet again.

    Without pretending to defend the practices of "wholesale price competition and margin splitting," especially given that those really paying the price for such "competition" are the captive labor forces and those reaping the benefits are not the consumers but the investors, one must wonder what Mr Preston thinks of shopping at Nordstrom Rack, or T.J. Maxx, or any of a variety of other discounters-of-new-clothing-and-fashion-accessories vendors who take advantage of the same thing in an industry with per-item margins significantly lower than in publishing. Without the benefit of the insane "returns" system, which is what is really driving the particular characteristics of publishing.

    This is another example of an argument from assumed authority: That Mr Preston is a bestselling author (not to my taste, but whatever) gives him a platform and presumed authority to pontificate on "the way publishing works," when it at most gives him some insight into part of one of the thirteen publishing industries. Not the largest one, either. It is possible that some of these "overdiscounted new books" are returns being resold on Amazon… but that's the case at Barnes & Noble and Half-Price Books and other brick-and-mortar stores, too. Not all returns are converted to remainders, especially in the textbook-publishing industry (which, by the way, has considerably higher profits at both the store and publisher levels than trade fiction); those copies of the current edition of Tipler's freshman-calculus-physics textbook (publisher's retail price: $229.49) are on sale at the college bookstore were almost certainly not all printed for this fall. His railing against Kirtsaeng (which he never has the good grace to note is a Supreme Court opinion that specifically refutes one of his points), continuing to assert that "Publishers sell books to international wholesalers at large discounts on a non-returnable basis. By contract these books must be sold abroad…" without acknowledging that for several years these contracts — themselves an unfair trade practice — have been unenforceable is, to say the least, intellectually dishonest.

    Another problem is that everything Mr. Preston says is couched in "could" and "may," but aimed at an entire subset of commercial practices. Admittedly, part of this is publishing's own damned fault: It operates on a culture of secrecy that would shame the intelligence community in its effectiveness. For example, the intelligence community (and those around it) know quite well how much intelligence value comes from open-source analysis, and can even quantify it. In publishing, not so much… because even publishing itself doesn't know. And that's the real flaw with Mr. Preston's argument: Only one of the examples of "unfair" sources he cites is actually an unfair source, and he poisons even that by equating "has previously been in a bookstore (even still cased up in the back)" with "shopworn." Further, nobody knows just how much of the lower margins are being absorbed by investors seeking to make up in volume what they don't earn in individual-item profit… which is exactly how wholesaling is supposed to work, regardless of the products at issue. The real "could" that Mr Preston doesn't note, though, is something like "These cut-price retailers using Amazon could be taking advantage of the lower operating costs of the Amazon system and consciously choosing to lower their prices while maintaining per-item margins that are, to them, satisfactory, whether using traditional wholesale acquisition or any of a myriad of other perfectly legal variants that have arisen off the profoundly broken returns system."

    The most-grievous problem, though, is that Mr Preston is fundamentally wrong about the "unfairness" issue. He implies — but never says — that these practices are harming payments to authors. Hogwash: Once the books have been "sold" into the wholesale-and-returns system, authors are wholly compensated under the terms of their own contracts. The retail price paid by Reader D507 does not change the compensation to the author for books in the wholesale-and-returns system except if those books were originally placed there through either returns or so-called "high-discount sales" — and neither of those unfair trade practices has a damned thing to do with Amazon, or third-party sellers using Amazon as a storefront. Not a damned thing. Mr Preston's real target is, and must be, the author-publisher contract: Not just because it's the only thing he remotely has "standing" to concern himself with, but because it's the only thing that he remotely displays enough knowledge to discuss. And, as evidenced by his improper eliding of "when the author's account gets credited for wholesale transactions," not all that much of that.

    Then there's the issue that the concluding paragraph doesn't follow from the rest of it:

    Amazon does what it can to rein in bad actors but it is at the top of a slippery slope in turning over its main buy button for new books to third-party sellers. This policy is bad for books, bad for authors and bad for Amazon’s customers.

    Let's pretend that it's not too early in the bloody morning for yet another bloody slippery-slope argument put forth by someone with a hidden agenda and an investment in things not changing. It's early in the fall term, Mr Preston, but this is a D+ essay. Please improve by the end of the semester or your overall course grade — not to mention general credibility — will suffer.

  • Two interesting views on giants of midcentury British literature caught my eye. One shouldn't surprise anyone — that understanding the Eric Blair/George Orwell transition and biography sheds some light on both his writings and those around him. The other is a bit more salacious, concerning the pretensions and character flaws of John A.B. Wilson and its relationship to his writing and place in the world of British letters. That they caught my eye, though, doesn't mean I entirely agree with the articles, lo these many years after my own research…
  • Here's another misguided attempt to fix something fundamentally flawed: Preventing credit-reporting agencies from using social-security numbers. Which, of course, will have the unintended consequence that those with name or address (or perhaps other) similarities to people with bad credit "instances" (whether or not those "instances" are accurately reported) are going to have even more difficulty in correcting their credit reports. No, the problem here is that the very concepts behind the credit-reporting system are so deeply and fundamentally flawed that the system needs to be blown up and rebuilt from a zero base. But that would cost money… and require use of credit facilities by the credit-reporting agencies… which leaves aside the moral and economic depravity that's fairly uniform among the upper management and boards in the industry (which have never, for example, asked themselves how much of a "credit score" continues to bear statistically significant effects of redlining, let alone overt discrimination based not upon the individuals being reported upon but upon their parents' circumstances)…

26 September 2017

Chunky Link Sausages Kneeling on the Sideline

Definitely chunky this time.

  • In yet another example of ignorance about how publishing works elsewhere from one segment of the industry, a UK journalist in a respected UK publication opines, as the opening of her article on the purported "differences" between US and UK cover design:

    Covers sell books.

    Danuta Kean, "Cover Versions: Why are UK and US Book Jackets Often so Different?," Grauniad (26 Sep 2017). I have a succinct, one-word answer with a long explanation:

    Bullshit.

    First, one must note that every single example offered is from bordering-on-literary trade fiction (with the single exception of the "title piece," from popular-trade nonfiction). That is, Ms Kean is making a broad statement of both similarity and difference from self-selecting samples of only subsets of publishing in the first place. This is an all-too-common problem, and neglects the converse instance: In category fiction and preadult ("children's," "early reader," "middle grade," and "YA" being the most common US subcategorizations), for example, UK covers are superior to the US covers more often than the converse, being far less prone to active misrepresentation and appealing to the wrong audience than the corresponding UK covers. Consider a critically-acclaimed and commercially successful work with near-simultaneous UK and US releases, such as Philip Pullman's book due out in the next month (UK edition on the left).

    UK editionUS edition

    Even the proportions of the UK cover are slightly more appropriate… but the key is to notice that the UK cover can be read in poor light, and will be clear on a hasty cell-phone picture, and is a consistent meme with Pullman's other related UK books (the US cover… is not).

    The real problem with Ms Kean's statement, though, is that it neglects its implicit inquisitory object: "To whom?" And here, the UK practice is markedly superior, because UK books are designed to actually appeal to the book's audience, while US books are (still) designed to actually appeal to bookstore and distributor "buyers" to get books "onto the shelves" (or webpage). Let's just say that the demographics — let alone tastes — of those two audiences are not congruent and leave discussions of racial, ethnic, and economic discrimination and condescension for another time, ok? (We certainly could have the discussion, as any photograph of senior management at any major US distributor or chain store could easily demonstrate — especially when supplemented by short bios.)

    In some ways, the distinction is actually worse away from the so-called "prestige mainstream." In US practice, active misrepresentation and/or pure category identification is the norm. In speculative fiction, choosing at not-quite-random two NYT bestselling series, one has on the one hand the "Kewl Spaceship" meme permeating John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, which concerns infantrymen and political systems (although this scene on the cover admittedly represents one, potential, momentary depiction of an incident that is in focus for less than a paragraph and is far from central to the book itself); on the other, one has the "BFG" meme permeating covers for "Jack Campbell"'s Lost Fleet series, in which neither the protagonist nor all but one of the critical "supporting actor" characters ever picks up a personal weapon, let alone pulls on fanciful "combat armor" or even leaves the damned spaceship.

    This is yet another example of publishing's obsession with fallacious inductive reasoning, in particular the so-called "hasty generalization." It's bad enough when one misgeneralizes from merely too few samples; it's even worse when those samples are already, archly, outliers from a subset, and one is attempting to draw conclusions as to not the subset but the entire population.

  • If only this had been an Oscar Mayer controversy involving "failing to control a weiner": former Congresscritter Anthony Weiner sentenced to jail. In contrast to the preceding, umm, link sausage on this platter, this says less about any particular subset of the political classes than it does about the political classes themselves. Weiner (and those like him… which, in many respects, includes the entire Congress) believed that the object of power is power, and that having power requires flaunting it. And I'm not just referring to the cell-phone flaunting, either.
  • Speaking of which, a note to the current designated resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC: The election in November 2016 was not for King. A monarch gets to declare by fiat what is "right" and "moral" for his or her citizens to do, and then just have the fun of enforcing it… especially against the descendants of a bunch of unruly colonists who celebrate the date not of their forming a true nation (years later), not the date on which their military forces finally forced the then-monarch to capitulate (also years later but not quite so many), but the date on which they gave the monarch the finger (handwritten with quill pen on parchment in far-more-civil language than appears anywhere in contemporary public discourse). It's a pretty serious indictment when 1%er football players, and coaches, and owners go to the public sporting temple of that very same monarch's successor and stand respectfully for that successor's national anthem — after having kneeled respectfully, together (with those not kneeling locking arms in Solidarność), in protest at your interpretations of the meaning of this nation's national anthem.

    That is indeed my meaning, sirrah: The dumb jocks displayed more intelligence, class, self-motivation to success, awareness of their surroundings, and savoir faire than you do every time you let your fingers do the {expletive deleted} walking, whether on (anti)social media or in your bloody speeches. As a veteran, I put my ass on the line for the right of every person in the United States — not just citizens with the right kinds of parents and appropriately Judeo-Christian upbringings and substantial financial success — to exercise "the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." And for you, you privileged draft-dodging jerk. Because that's why we're {string of foul and offensive expletives of the kind you, sirrah, use to describe those who disagree with you} HERE as an independent {different and even more offensive string of expletives deleted} NATION. I'll lock arms and kneel with those "sons of bitches" any time: By law, I had to show respect for and solidarność with the Reagan Administration on Iran-Contra, so I'll damned well do it for something I agree with! (Plus, I've actually bloody been to bloody Ferguson, Missouri… without a Secret Service escort to keep the hoi polloi away, either.)

19 September 2017

Not Making a Fool of Yourself

This is a general note for creators, fans, and everyone else connected to the arts and entertainment industry.

Don't make a fool of yourself by believing one side of the story's public statements without checking the other position(s) when there's a public ownership or rights dispute… especially when the other side(s) has/have opposed those statements in public (such as court filings). Even if your own financial interests are in one side being "right"; even if one side is being painted as utterly evil by pseudonymous sources, or even well-respected sources; even, and perhaps especially, if one side plays either the poverty card or the vulnerable elder card. You will discover that much of the time — most of the time is not far off — Things Are Not What They Seem, and there's a textbook case of Seller's Remorse buried in there somewhere that will quite probably change your mind somewhat (even if only to "everybody screwed up").

If you're going to nonetheless go ahead with supporting one side despite the murkiness of the situation, at least name the other side correctly in your publicity and fundraising campaigns. Which, of course, requires actually reading the documents in question, which is just too damned much effort for some people. No matter what, though, don't trust anyone in the arts and entertainment industry at their word when they make public claims of either untold riches or profound poverty — look at the documents. And if the party making an emotional appeal over money can't or won't cough up the documents to support its own claims, think again.

<SARCASM> This has nothing whatsoever to do with any of several matters pending and/or recently adjudged in California and New York courts and arbitrations that you may have seen in the news. Nope: There's no relationship to specific matters at all. And I'd certainly never make statements like this from a position of actually knowing much about the relevant facts in some or all of those matters, because that would imply I have no respect for some of the parties and/or their lawyers. </SARCASM>

15 September 2017

Cassini, 1997–2017

Beloved NASA spacecraft that lived on on the grand tradition of about two-thirds of NASA's missions: Greatly exceeded expectations and lifespan. (We try not to talk about the other third, like when we crash something on Mars because somebody didn't convert English to metric properly.) Survived by 67 moons, multiple rings, a polyhedral storm, and an awful lot of new dreams and knowledge. Here's a charming funeral announcement (if your browser will display insecure videos, that is).

It makes you wonder why we didn't start more missions as soon as Cassini showed success. Oh, yeah... we were too busy in Southwest Asia to spare a dime.

03 September 2017

CoverFail 6.07

Just about everyone in the West has heard some variation on "don't judge a book by its cover." That's ordinarily sound advice: The marketing material comprising the "cover" seldom has diddly-squat to do with the contents; frequently, even the purportedly factual material is misleading or worse. Consider El Presidente's purported seminal work The Art of the Deal… which is not "by" him in any sense. (I've even seen some reviews that claim its content didn't then, and still doesn't now, reflect his actual business practices.) Consider overblown titles like "The Only ____ Book You'll Ever Need" — or most trade nonfiction titles beginning with a definite article (falsely implying that there is no possible contradiction or alternative to the rest of the title). Consider misleading cover illustrations, such as putting a picture of Supergolfer X on the cover of a book about golf courses that includes only one course on which X has ever even played, let alone had any actual affiliation with; or that shows Superchef Y smiling in a TVgenic kitchen that Y has never actually cooked in (let alone done any of the cleanup or prep work in, or actually shopped for equipment for, or food to cook in).

But all of that is typical marketing fluff, as misleading as it is (and as regulated out of existence as deceptive trade material it would be in, say, the packaged-dinners section of the grocery store, or an auto-parts store). Publishing is often worse than that. Indeed, by default publishing is worse than that.

  • Those annoying Chevrolet commercials claiming that Chevrolet is the "most awarded" (American) manufacturer just copy decades of publishing-industry examples of throwing "Award-Winning Author" on the cover of completely noncomparable works. Just in the last couple of years, for example, I've seen a long-ago-published (execrable and should have been disowned, because the author has grown a lot in the years since) novel remarketed with a "___-Award-Winning Author" fake medallion, because the author recently got an award for a work of short fiction.
  • There's also the "Bestselling Author" tag… in an industry that treats actual sales numbers as proprietary trade secrets, and won't even tell authors about them until 18 months later (presuming the accuracy and honesty of royalty reports in the first place). There is literally no wide-spectrum tracker of sales in publishing: Every single one neglects Amazon (and those who haven't had a college student in the house would be shocked at how many textbooks get ordered from Amazon, putting even nontrade books in play). The largest database — Nielsen Bookscan — is not only expensive, but horribly underinclusive.

    And then there are the survey-based bestseller lists, most prominently (but not exclusively) the NYT lists. Leaving aside the arrogance and almost-certain conflicts of interest involved in establishing such a list allegedly reflecting the nation as a whole from the city that purports to be the center of trade publishing, the attempts to "protect" the list by keeping the reporting stores "secret" frequently backfire. I offer this as an alternative:

    Be Inspired! Create Your Own!

  • Blurbs and endorsements. What more can I say? No matter what signed "proof" publishers have that the provider of a blurb has actually read the manuscript, a high proportion hasn't. (Or, as for certain Bay Area authors a few years back, couldn't… having died before the manuscript was with the publisher.) They're also startlingly unhelpful, virtually always extracted out of context… and, more often than not, based on the blurber's perception of the author as Deserving Marketing Help, aside from the merits of the work at issue. They're actually less meritorious than the typical celebrity endorsement, which must at least reveal whether the endorser actually uses the product or service.

Sadly, there's a common thread to these particular marketing efforts: They all display a certain contempt for the reader, depending as they do on uncritical acceptance for products that, by their very nature — even when marketed as "just entertaining stories," let alone anything else — require at least some semblance of the opposite. Indeed, they're not aimed at the actual purchaser of books at all (well, perhaps they're in part aimed at library-system buyers); they're aimed at 1980s-gestalt chain-bookstore Buyers, to get them onto the shelves in the first place. The last time I checked (about five minutes before posting this), it wasn't the 1980s any more… and the public has a helluva lot of alternatives to browsing at a mall-based Waldenbooks, especially that part of the public living more distant from Manhattan than Paramus.

It's not just deceptive. It's stupid. It's not even a case of "selling buggywhips," but one of "using only the buggywhip distribution system, and methods that seemed to work for buggywhips, three decades later for aftermarket-replacement ignition keys." And as the background information in that link on the YA-list gaming of the NYT list indicates, it's not just — or even primarily — publishing: It's underlying memes across the entertainment industry.

28 August 2017

Uninspected Link Sausages

… because America can't be great if we intrude on free enterprise by inspecting Wurstwerken.

  • At least this isn't coming from DC. But it's connected to DC.

    The ignoramuses at PW have yet again released their list of "the world's 50 biggest publishers." It is, yet again, woefully incomplete: The very biggest publisher is completely missing, and so are two others in the top ten (estimated). This is the DC connection, because the missing wooly mammoth in the room is the US Government Printing Office (and equivalents elsewhere, such as Her Majesty's Stationery Office). And they're bigger even considering that much of their work is "at cost" or non-revenue-producing — IRS Publication 17 would have been among the world's biggest publications last year if this list didn't have the silent "commercial" in front of it, and ", because we say those are the only things that matter" behind it.

    The less said about the actual sales and impact of electronic publication — particularly given the rather dubious accounting at commercial publishers related to e-books — the better. Congratulations, PW, your annual list is everything we've come to expect from years of pseudojournalistic training.

  • A despairing note regarding baby products: The designer of sound-enhanced "Baby Einstein" toys is, umm, no Einstein. Putting the only speaker on the back of a toy, aligned so that if the toy is set down on the kind of soft or forgiving surface appropriate to have around a baby the speaker is completely muffled, isn't the brightest design choice that could have been made. Especially when that toy is otherwise designed to be manipulated by the child and the controls are placed so that if the child has access to the controls, the speaker is covered… and is in the place where the batteries should have gone anyway (and vice versa).

    Resemblance of this issue to anything relating to single-control-point-only computers and other electronic devices, especially those that make text-based input or operation virtually impossible, is probably not a coincidence.

  • Unfortunately, one can't stay away from DC-based nonsense for long these days. El Presidente (and yes, I do mean a stereotypical leader of a banana republic in the 1970s… because that's how he's acting) pardoned one of his minions and objectively breached his oath of office. One does not "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" by pretermitting its operation: The pardon of the Sheriff of NottinghamMaricopa was made before there was a final judgment on the table. And I don't mean just the right to appeal; not even a penalty had been decided. Which, when one thinks about it, constitutes contempt of court. But that's no surprise: El Presidente has made clear for decades that he has nothing but contempt for the courts, and the Rule of Law. I guess America was great in the Wild Wild West when it was at its most lawless…

    Resemblance of this illustration of a head of government's contempt for legal process to that on display 43 years ago this month is not coincidental. Hmm, both pursued a "Southern Strategy" of encouraging racism, too… but Nixon was — at least on the definitions offered in contemporary American political discussion — a liberal in many respects.

22 August 2017

Fingers in My Ears

As difficult as it is to tear one's attention away from the hourly circus in DC in favor of tasty internet link sausages...

  • There's a dark side to the distributive arts that doesn't get enough attention. At the moment, one of the most obvious examples is determining the authorship of Chihuly glass sculptures — individual creations to a plan of some kind by highly skilled (but undisclosed and largely anonymous) craftsmen. This is just the shadow of H'wood and N'ville. There just aren't a lot of films that justify "A BigEgo Film" for someone who is a well-known producer or director — there are so many creative, highly skilled people also involved, beginning with the scriptwriters and going through the set/costume designers, sound/music creators, directors of cinematography, editors, and somewhere in there the actors, not to mention the army of technicians without whose skills none of the rest of them could be properly recorded for our appreciation. Similarly, Brittany Spears didn't play an instrument… or write the music or lyrics (or even have a clue about them before being handed a "potential new hit"), or do the show choreography or design or lighting, or do any of the technical things in the studio… and her brand is a middle-of-the-road offender in the world of N'ville. And the less said about "Gordon Lish," the better — and that's far from the only example I could name in publishing, even restricting myself just to "American literary lions of the mid-twentieth century."

    To ensure that it's even more thoroughly screwed up, we're going to have judges — lawyers — guide the decisionmaking. Members of a profession that regards true creativity as at best a vaguely insulting patch on a small hole in the grand scheme; that disdains facts, and more particularly the difficulty of gathering them accurately; that does its damndest to ensure that there are no exceptional circumstances, and those that are truly exceptional are treated as "outside the law" requiring extralegal response (like "clemency" or "pardon" or "prosecutorial discretion"). Yeah, that's going to give an appropriate result that will adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Meanwhile, there's the problem of what is really growing in education. There are lots of similar references out there, from preschool on up. These complaints, however, represent pendular motion, making up for decades — centuries, even — of administrative neglect and incompetence in academia. That's not to defend overhiring and overemphasis on administrative positions now; it's to understand the source. The number of administrative screwups that I observed from the 1970s on in educational contexts that required only a bit of competent administrative attention early on (instead of boatloads of paper thrown at them later, as was required by the objective bad faith in desegregation and other equality-of-opportunity matters) exceeds my capacity to count conveniently, even with the assistance of a calculator. So, to make up for the past and prevent the past from recurring in the future, the beancounters have essentially mandated a different kind of screwup in the present: Self-justifying drones.
  • Let's hear it for being a bit too friendly to be a friend of the court. There's actually a quite simple solution, but it's one that the legal profession has steadfastly refused to even contemplate for decades. In my first profession, the rule of thumb was "If there's an appearance of a conflict of interest or undue influence, there is a conflict of interest or undue influence." That decisional rule might make it difficult for some of the bigger law firms (or small-and-medium firms in small-and-medium markets and contexts) to continue with current practices… unless the profession were also smart enough to do away with the artificial trade-protectionist barriers of "state registration and regulation of lawyers," which would reopen matters in a way that the profession has also refused to even contemplate for decades.

    I have no love lost for any of the law firms mentioned in that article, or the so-called US Chamber of Commerce (which thinks of itself more like the local Chamber of Commerce in Pleasantville than it's prepared to admit). In fact, I've had direct adverse encounters with the Chamber and with two of the law firms (and lawyers) mentioned… and one of them has since largely cleaned up its act and is still on the wrong side of the ethical wall, under the standards of my first profession…. Then there's the historical meaning of "commerce," which is almost always thoroughly undermined by the US Chamber of Commerce and its quasioligopolist policies and membership (which, frankly, would probably be much happier if Letters Patent were issued — and required — for each of its members' lines of business!).