Sunday, August 7, 2022

*Hamilton*, Hypocrisy, and... Havel?

A little over seven hours SSW of Chez Curmie is the medium-sized city of McAllen, TX, home to, no doubt, some quite wonderful people.  Alas, it is also home to the Door Church and RGV Productions: these people are considerably less than wonderful unless your definition of that term includes intellectual property theft, active misreading, hypocrisy, hatefulness and general assholitude.

This weekend, RGV Productions staged a production of the Broadway megahit Hamilton at the Door Church in McAllen; they also videoed the show and posted it to YouTube (it’s since been taken down).  What they didn’t do was to obtain the rights to do the play at all, let alone to make changes that completely distort the meaning of the script.  Curmie confesses that he’s never actually seen a production of the show, but he feels pretty confident that the story doesn’t end with a preacher telling us we can be cured of our problem with homosexuality.

The issues here are in one sense pretty clear: there is no question that the production company and the church violated copyright law, or that they did so absolutely intentionally.  There is similarly no doubt but that they are sufficiently self-righteous that they believe themselves exempt from the dictates of regulations they consider inconvenient.  One wonders how the notoriously anti-Christian Friedrich Nietzsche would respond to his concept of the amoral übermensch being co-opted by a passel of dim-witted Bible-thumpers.

As for those folks, it seems that whole “render unto Caesar” business that appears in not one, but three, of the Gospels (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, and Luke 20:25, for those of you playing along at home), got skipped over while they were concentrating on mistranslating passages that condemned pederasty and raping male slaves as if they were indictments of homosexuality in general.

Certainly if Lin-Manuel Miranda and his cohorts chose to sue the production company, the church, and all the individual decision-makers involved, they’d have a very strong case, and, as Chris Peterson of the OnStage Blog notes, the penalty for the offenders could easily run to five or six figures.

Part of Curmie wants LMM and Disney, which paid a very large chunk of change ($75 million) for exclusive video rights to the show, to put these hypocritical buffoons out of business permanently.  They certainly deserve it. 

But Curmie is also reminded of one of his favorite acting roles, that of Leopold Nettles in the great Czech playwright (and, later, President) Václav Havel’s Largo Desolato.  In that play, Nettles, the central character, has written a book which the powers-that-be don’t like.  Indeed, he is visited by two goons we are led to believe are representatives of the ŠtB (the Czech equivalent of the USSR’s KGB or East Germany’s Stasi).  Still, he remains undaunted.  They do eventually succeed in breaking him down, however, by removing their threats, suggesting that his book was too insignificant to merit their attention.

It’s certainly true that Hamilton, like virtually every other show anyone has ever liked, probably gets staged illegally on a regular basis, and that chasing them all down might be more trouble than it’s worth.  A lawsuit could also feed the church’s finely crafted persecution complex, as if idiots like what passes for a brain-trust at Door McAllen were somehow innocent victims of a massive conspiracy to deny their religious expression or some such horseshit.

Perhaps, then, the way to go would be to issue a statement that the church’s ill-intentioned theft of intellectual property was so insignificant, that despite the best efforts of the perpetrators the production failed so miserably to undermine the meaning of Hamilton that to sue such a gaggle of incompetent amateurs would be beneath our collective dignity… but do this again, to literally anyone else, and we will clobber you so hard and so fast that you will never know what hit you, only that you’re penniless, nationally disgraced, and revealed as the small-time con men you truly are.

There’s something to be said for this strategic approach.  Still, Curmie would absolutely love it if LMM and the Mouse were to squash this church and all its adherents like a bug on the windshield at 70 mph.   

 

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The APA Flunks Their Psych Exam

Dr. Ruba with one of her awards

Dr. Ashley Ruba is a recent graduate of the PhD program in psychology at the University of Washington.  She is, apparently, very good at what she does: she received not only a dissertation award but also an early-career grant from the American Psychological Association (APA).  So far, so good, right?

Well, uh… no.  You see, Gentle Reader, in order to actually receive her awards in person at the convention in Minneapolis this week, she’d have had to pay the organization $595.  That’s the registration fee for someone like herself: neither an APA member nor (anymore) a student.  

Her response was predictable, at least to those of us who aren’t professional psychologists: she told them to perform an exercise best suited to particularly limber hermaphrodites.  Well, she was more polite than that, but there’s no doubt about her intent.  She tweeted,

So, let me get this straight. I won not one, but two @APA awards. But, in order to accept these awards at the conference, I need to pay nearly $600 in registration fees. 

No one day pass. No fee waiver. No way to attend a 50 min ceremony.

Conferences are a scam. I’m not going. [an obvious typo corrected]

Kim Mills, the APA’s talking head, of course sniffed that it’s not feasible to grant awardees free registration because the conference runs on a tight budget: “We couldn’t possibly offer that many free registrations to people.”  There are assholes, and there are idiots, but seldom do we see such a stellar example of both at once.

First, Curmie knows a little about professional conferences, having attended several dozen of them and served on a conference committee or two.  Breaking even on a conference is a good but not absolutely necessary thing, especially for an entity like the APA, which sits on net assets of about $49 million and makes the overwhelming majority of its money through other means.  Yes, there are some professional organizations which are in danger of going under if their conference loses too much money; the APA isn’t close to being one of them.

Second, extending a one-day pass to an award recipient costs the APA <checks notes> precisely the cost of a name badge, or maybe a buck or so if you want the fancy kind with the accompanying lanyard.  (I’m even willing to bet Dr. Ruba would have paid for her own badge.)  It’s not like the hotel or conference center or whatever charges the organization for everyone who enters the space.  And Curmie will bet the proverbial ranch that it cost more to send her the plaques than it would have to let her pick them up in person.  Seriously, how freaking stupid can you get?

Are conferences a “scam,” as Dr. Ruba suggests?  Well, Curmie isn’t going to go that far, but it’s certainly true that they’re damned expensive.  Curmie was lucky in that for the last couple decades of his career his university would pick up at least a healthy percentage of the cost of attending one and often two conferences a year. 

Counting everything—conference registration, driving to and from the airport, parking, airfare, transportation to and from the hotel, the hotel itself, meals, internet (it may be free at the Super8, but not at the Hilton)…—we’re often looking at $2000 or more for a national conference.  It’s also true that the people who benefit most from conferences, those in early career, are also those least likely to be able to afford to attend.  Fortuitously, Dr. Ruba was already going to be in Minneapolis for other reasons, so she could have attended the ceremony… if the APA was run by people who actually gave a damn.

Curmie truly believes that his university got its money’s worth on their investment in his conference attendance.  I won’t deny that seeing friends is also a perq, but I got better at my job—in the classroom and rehearsal hall, but also in terms of understanding how universities operate—by talking with colleagues from around the country (and sometimes from around the world). 

I was able to advance my career, but, more importantly, I was also able to make connections that helped advance my students’ careers.  But Dr. Ruba has moved out of academe, so this last benefit doesn’t exist for her.  Her frustration, especially given her specific circumstances, is more than understandable.

Curmie happens to be the national president of a professional organization with considerably less than 2% of the APA’s resources.  We award a few thousand dollars a year in scholarships to outstanding students.  Usually, the recipients can’t attend our annual meeting (held within the conference of a larger organization) in person, but whereas we’re not going to underwrite all their travel expenses, if they can get to the conference center, we’ll make damned sure they can get inside without paying for the privilege.  

There are so many downsides to the situation Dr. Ruba describes, but the worst may be that the culprit here is the American Psychological Association, an organization which one presumes is dedicated to furthering understanding of how the human mind works.  It is a cruel irony that these are the folks who are apparently incapable of understanding how people respond to stimuli, or how they should be treated.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Well Done, Kansas!


Curmie was born in New Hampshire and grew up in New York; he spent three years in Kentucky, seven in Iowa, and one in the UK; he’s lived in Texas three times longer than he did in Kansas.  All that said, there is a strong urge to consider himself a Kansan.  This was true before Tuesday, but that day’s events certainly did nothing to quell that impulse.

Tuesday, everyday Kansans, the same folks who gave Donald Trump a 15-point victory over Joe Biden, thrashed, by 18 points, a GOP power grab amendment which would have granted the state legislature, controlled by the looniest of right-wing pseudo-Christians, the ability to outlaw abortion in literally all cases, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or even the life of the mother.  And those folks are blinkered enough to have done so.

All of this, obviously, comes in the wake of SCOTUS’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade decision ensuring the right to abortion under certain limitations.  We can trace this, of course, to the egregious manipulation of the SCOTUS approval process by Mitch McConnell, certainly one of the most loathsome creatures to have slithered across the political landscape in decades. 

If McConnell had a soul, let alone any ethical sensibility, Merrick Garland would have been confirmed (or at least had a vote!), and Amy Coney Barrett wouldn’t have.  This is not, Curmie hastens to add, necessarily to suggest that Justice Barrett is unqualified, only that there wasn’t sufficient time to appropriately vet her candidacy prior to the 2020 election, and McConnell is on record as saying that his job was to get her confirmed (not, be it noted, to give her a fair hearing).

McConnell’s hypocrisy, outrageous as it was, wouldn’t have mattered, of course, if Hillary Clinton had run a competent campaign, or (perhaps) if the trio of Trump appointees, nominated by a candidate who had lost the popular vote by a pretty sizable margin, had been honest in their responses to questions about Roe.  They lied.  Everyone—left, right, and center—knew they lied, but it would have been impolitic to have said so, so they got away with it in a GOP-dominated Senate.  (Side note: no one believes Ketanji Brown Jackson doesn’t have a definition of “woman,” either.)

The Dodds ruling was red meat to the right-wing base, but it appears that Curmie may have been correct back in early May when he wrote:

Be careful what you wish for, GOP.  You’ll likely find that your rallying cry whimpered its way to death alongside the SCOTUS ruling you so despise….

“Right this wrong” is a far more rousing slogan than “Maintain the status quo!”.  Now, the energy is on the other side.  Far more people will rally, both literally and figuratively, behind what they perceive as an issue of gender-based discrimination than did so because a single petty criminal was inadvertently killed by an asshole (not necessarily racist) cop in Minnesota.  And the protests will almost certainly be less violent, making them less objectionable to those in the middle, politically.  

It’s difficult, from outside the state, to get much of a read of what was happening in Kansas.  Curmie still has a lot of friends there, but virtually all if not indeed literally all of them are at least as progressive as he is.  Two things were clear from their posts on Facebook: that they were genuinely concerned that the amendment might pass (it’s Kansas, after all), and that they were organized and ready to take on the challenge.  Curmie went into Tuesday cautiously optimistic, but no more than that.

After all, the state’s GOP had orchestrated their attempted overthrow of abortion rights very competently.  Last year, they passed a law which was (no doubt intentionally) sufficiently vaguely worded that the state’s League of Women Voters stopped their decades-old tradition of registering new voters.  This tactic wasn’t aimed at abortion rights per se, of course, but who, exactly, are those prospective voters who couldn’t register the way generations of their forebears could?  Well, at a guess, they’re young, disenfranchised, disproportionately female… whyever would the entitled white male power structure want those people to have political suasion?

The campaign from the Bible-thumpers (though seldom Bible-readers) was promoted as “Value Them Both,” nomenclature which bears as much relationship to reality as the “German Democratic Republic” or “states rights” as the cause of the Civil War.  The whole impetus of the proposed amendment was to deny autonomy to women and to grant personhood to fertilized (not even implanted) eggs.  The ways in which this proposal values pregnant women elude Curmie’s normally well-developed imagination, let alone his logic.

Then, the vote was scheduled not during the general election (as those for other constitutional amendments were), but during the primaries in early August: when the voter turnout is disproportionately older and more conservative.  Oh, yeah, and the opposition would have three months less time to organize.  Interesting coincidence, huh?

By the way, exceptionally high turnout, as much as twice the total for the last “normal” election season, for a traditionally sleepy August primary certainly contributed to Tuesday’s result.  Give people something important on the ballot and they’ll show up.  Who’da thunk it, right?

Finally, there was an robocall campaign which flat-out lied about what a vote meant.  Voting “yes” was to turn over power to the legislature, but the “anonymous” call reversed that.  Curmie doesn’t know if that call was aimed primarily if not exclusively at, say, registered Democrats, but at least three friends posted on Facebook that they received that robocall, and a number of their friends commented that they had, too.  Luckily, the “no” side was all over that nonsense, and voted the way they intended.

Given all this, the serious thumping administered to this amendment is rather impressive.  The New York Times is now suggesting, based on the Kansas results, that voters in only seven states would endorse the kind of proposal presented to Kansans (one other state would be a complete toss-up).  Was Tuesday’s result in Kansas truly a bellwether, even a portent?  Is it, as Politico would have us believe, “a political earthquake with the potential to reshape the entire midterm campaign”?

Frankly, Curmie doubts it, although it sure would be nice if it were true.  GOP pols may be pawns of corporate power, evangelical immoderation, and the NRA, but they’re not total idiots… well, some of them are, but you know what I mean, Gentle Reader.  There’s plenty of time for the right to re-group and re-strategize before November. 

But this week may lead to a little more forthrightness from both sides.  Curmie has already seen that Mike Collier, the Democrat running for Lieutenant Governor of Texas, will (if elected, of course) “codify Roe v. Wade into Texas law.”  Curmie doubts that it's entirely coincidental that Collier’s tweet first appeared less than an hour after the news networks declared Kansas’s Value Them Both Amendment soundly defeated.  If all we get out of this week is a Democratic Party prepared to run on what it believes, and perhaps a Republican Party that must either stake out an extremist position or be seen to equivocate, Curmie would call this a win.

Hell, it’s a win, anyway, and Curmie celebrates (in absentia) with his Kansas friends.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Statutory Rape and Further Punishment of Victims

Two cases of statutory rape have made headlines recently.  Such cases are problematic enough on their own, but both of these stories involve further victimization of those who were already abused.

The bigger story, apparently, concerns a 10-year-old girl in Ohio who, because of the Dodds ruling and a state legislature dominated by pseudo-Christian yahoos conservatives was denied an abortion in her home state.  The Ohio “trigger law” now restricts abortions after six weeks; the girl was at six weeks and three days. 

To think that law makes any sense, you’d have to be both an absolutist about abortion and remarkably ignorant about how pregnancy works… or, one supposes, sufficiently unscrupulous to make a law effectively banning abortion altogether while pretending, presumably for political cover, not to do so.  Especially for someone so young, menstrual periods are often irregular, so it’s quite possible that this girl legitimately might not have even suspected she might be pregnant until an abortion would be illegal… not to mention that she’d likely be in denial about the entire incident.

The fact that the girl was ultimately able to secure an abortion in Indiana (where abortions may well be banned by the end of this month) is irrelevant.  Curmie has argued before that a moral/ethical argument against virtually all abortions is understandable.  But in the same way Curmie can respect both Muslims and Christians without being either, he disagrees with that absolutist position which, ultimately is based on the idea that a collection of cells is a “baby” because we said so. 

The Ohio law, incidentally, skips over all that high-falutin’ “embryo” and “fetus” terminology and declares a fertilized egg an “unborn child”; it also clings to the “fetal heartbeat” nonsense: a neat trick since their idea of a “fetal heartbeat” occurs before there is either a fetus or a heart.  There is no moral, ethical, philosophical, religious, or biological “right answer” to the central question of what constitutes a “baby.”  Curmie knows only that he deeply distrusts those who argue that their opinion is a fact, and who insist upon strictures to which everyone must abide. 

Curmie may comment later on the machinations that brought about the overturning of the Roe decision, but let’s leave those aside for the moment.  The point is that whatever you think about Roe—correct ruling, horrible ruling, good result from a bad argument—the issues are, must be, different if the woman (or girl!) involved is pregnant only as the direct result of being a crime victim.  Now, those “equal protection” arguments must resonate, and we have, even in the minds of honest absolutists, conflicting moral/ethical imperatives. 

Crime victims should be supported, not (as in this case) condemned to carry a reminder of their trauma and (unwarranted but still real) shame for another several months.  If this girl was six weeks and a couple days along in late June, and she was apparently only nine when she was impregnated, then she’d probably be starting 5th grade (!) at about 15 or 16 weeks, and would start “showing” soon thereafter.  Girls of that age have enough to go through without that, not to mention that carrying a pregnancy to term can be extremely risky for someone so young.  

At this point, we have a clear duty to protect a victim, and a pregnant 10-year-old is by definition a victim.  If there’s a constitutional protection for criminals against cruel and unusual punishment, there damned sure ought to be one for people abused by those criminals.  As far as Curmie is concerned, this overrides any argument based on an opinion about when human life begins. 

Of course, there followed the (inevitable?) argument that the whole story is, or at least could be, made up by “an abortion activist” (a.k.a. an obstetrician-gynecologist).  The Indianapolis Star wouldn’t comment on whether they’d confirmed Bernard’s story, so the reactionary conspiracy theorists were in full flower in double-quick time.  Right-wing PJ Media hack Megan Fox led the pack with a series of what she may indeed be stupid and/or doctrinaire enough to believe are actual indictments of the story.  Naturally, she accuses Bernard of playing to the media instead of caring about the child.  

Dr. Bernard

It might be worth mentioning a couple of facts in this regard.  Fox tweeted, “#DrCaitlynBernard got a call from another doctor asking for help for a horribly abused child and her first instinct was to call the media.”  

Bernard said she received the call from an Ohio colleague three days after the Dodds decision: so, June 27.  But the story doesn’t come out until four days later, on July 1.  A paper is going to wait four days to cover a story this potentially explosive?  It sure seems to Curmie that maybe contacting the media wasn’t, in fact, the first thing Dr. Bernard did.

Fox also expresses concern that the police weren’t involved.  Of course, the crime had already been reported to Franklin County Children’s Services on June 22, five days before the Dodds ruling was handed down, eight days before the girl’s pregnancy was aborted, and nine days before the news story was first published.  That office then alerted the police, who, for reasons of their own (not to tip their hand to the rapist that they were closing in, perhaps?), did not respond to questions about their involvement in the case.

It is true that the story as reported does indeed lack “the name of the referring doctor, any of the towns involved, whether charges were brought against the child’s alleged rapist and whether Bernard or the referring doctor contacted the authorities regarding the child rape.”  As it should.  If it’s standard procedure to protect the privacy of adult rape victims, it damned well better be for girls, and none of these protections seem inappropriate. 

Could the story have been completely fabricated?  Sure.  So could stories about, oh, I dunno, teachers cramming CRT down the throats of third-graders.  The difference between these two examples is that the doctor’s story is plausible.  Even if it had been a complete fiction, it describes events that could reasonably stem from an absurd legislative action. 

Of course, as Curmie initially suspected, it now appears that a suspect was indeed arrested for felony rape of a 10-year-old Ohio girl… and confessed!  Right-to-lifers still won’t let it go: the fact that the story is true (or at least that there was indeed a 10-year-old victim in Ohio) is regarded as “pure moral luck,” and the real bad guys aren’t the rapist or the misogynistic legislators, but the rather those awful people who reported a true story as if it had been based in fact.  There was even an argument that we don’t know if the 10-year-old victim whose alleged rapist was arrested is the same girl Dr. Bernard was describing… as if that matters even a little in terms of the larger story.

But if Curmie thinks this case is troubling, the news out of Louisiana might just be worse.  Just read the headline: “A Louisiana woman was ordered to pay her accused rapist child support after sheriff ‘dropped the ball.’”  Yes, Gentle Reader, you read that correctly.  A more colossal fuck-up in the legal/judicial system would be difficult to imagine.

Crysta Abelseth at age 32

Here are the details, such as we have.  In late 2005, a 16-year-old girl named Crysta Abelseth met 30-year-old John Barnes in a bar in Hammond, LA.  Barnes reportedly said he’d drive her home, but instead took her to his house, where they had sex.  She says he raped her while she was passed out; he says it was consensual.  

Legally, it doesn’t matter: the age of consent in Louisiana is 17.  It was rape, and according to Louisiana law two things are true: 1). it doesn’t matter if she lied about her age (he claims she had a fake ID, which, under the circumstances, certainly seems plausible), 2). the fact that he was more than four years older than her makes it a felony.  So his denial that he committed felony rape means precisely nothing.

The arguments of idiots like Todd Akin (remember him?  Curmie does) notwithstanding, that evening’s events led to a pregnancy.  Abelseth chose to have the child (there’s that word “choice” again!), apparently allowing friends and family to believe that she had been impregnated by a boyfriend. 

All was well until Abelseth’s daughter was five, when somehow Barnes discovered her existence.  Despite the fact that admitting the child was his would prove his guilt of a felony (!), he proceeded to demonstrate paternity and somehow was awarded shared custody; he paid $428 a month in child support beginning in April 2013.  Needless to say, in a just universe, he’d have been immediately arrested rather than granted any rights whatsoever to even see his biological offspring.  But this was only the beginning of the insanity of what passes for a justice system.

In 2015, a bunch of stuff happened.  In May, Barnes sued for sole custody, claiming Abelseth had men spend the night while her daughter was present.  “Men were coming in and out of my child's life…. She had three husbands in six years and it wasn't healthy.” 

A few weeks later, Abelseth reported to the police that Barnes had raped her in the traditional sense of that term.  She told a reporter for a Baton Rouge television station that the delay in making the allegation was because “I thought if I didn't do it the next day, there was nothing I could do about it… I went to a trauma counselor, and he said, ‘No, you have 30 years after you turn 18.’”  A skeptical person might well find the timing a little… erm… interesting, and to at least entertain the possibility that there was a little retaliatory gamesmanship at play, but it’s still pretty difficult to feel a lot of sympathy for a sexual felon, however much he attempts to claim the high moral ground.

Anyway, the Tangipahoa Sheriff’s Office now admits that Abelseth’s allegations were not assigned to the proper department to be investigated.  “We dropped the ball,” quoth they last month.  Uh, yeah, that would be a big “oops,” especially since it’s clear that Barnes had sex with an underage girl, whether it was “consensual” or not.  Oh, and Barnes’s company, Gumbeaux Digital Branding, listed the Ponchatoula Police as a client on their website… until that TV news story ran, after which that listing was removed.  That’s not suspicious at all, right?

Moving on in 2015: Judge Jeffrey Cashe is now assigned to the case, which seems never to end.  Six months later, which is to say in early 2016, a new joint-custody agreement actually forced Abelseth to pay child support to Barnes.  That’s right, the rapist was receiving child support payments from his victim; the amount was actually increased the following year.  A couple of brief notes here: Abelseth’s attorney should be disbarred for incompetence, and if Judge Cashe could place higher than third place in a battle of wits with a dustbuster and a toadstool, it would be revelation to Curmie.

Fast forward to earlier this year, when Barnes sued for sole custody of his daughter, amidst a flurry of claims and counter-claims between he and Abelseth.  The most damning of the accusations was that he was mentally, physically, and sexually abusing his daughter.  The strangest was that Abelseth had given the girl a cell phone in violation of an order by Cashe.  Abelseth was accused of “promoting inappropriate behavior because the girl had done something stupid with a previous phone:  the first-ever teen-ager to do so, and all the mother’s fault, apparently.

Yes, it’s true: the timing of Abelseth’s allegations does seem suspiciously retaliatory.  But there’s a difference between distrusting a woman’s testimony and giving sole custody of a teen-aged girl to a man who is her father only because he <checks notes> committed a sexually-based felony with a teen-aged girl as the victim.

None of this mattered, apparently, as Cashe granted full custody to Barnes.  According to Abelseth, he did so without giving her a chance to defend herself or even notifying her or her lawyer of the decision.  If she’s telling the truth: wow.  If she isn’t: wow.

Then, perhaps in response to headlines that made him look like an imbecile, Cashe reversed the order, appointing a temporary third-party guardian.  There was another court day, apparently a long one, last Friday, and a decision is due this week.  If this were an actual soap opera instead of real life taking on all the trappings of one, it would be time to break out the popcorn.  Unfortunately, this is a real girl at the center of this storm, and she’s the one most likely to suffer while the adults hurl epithets at each other.

Sigh.

Monday, July 4, 2022

Independence Day Thoughts, Past and Present


Curmie hasn’t written here in almost three weeks.  Needless to say, it hasn’t been for lack of things to talk about.  SCOTUS alone would be good for at least two posts; Curmie may get to them, but he tries not to comment at any length on decisions he hasn’t read.  The Dodds ruling alone is over 200 pages, and the Carson and Kennedy decisions total another 120.  There are others, too…

There’s been a lot of other stuff, too, some of which I hope to get to, perhaps combining two or more stories into a single post.  But for now, perhaps it’s time to look at where we are in general terms.  The bad news is everywhere: the tanking stock market; soaring inflation; the Russian invasion of Ukraine; the fact that whoever the Presidential candidates in 2024 are, it’s extremely likely that Curmie will be voting for the less awful candidate instead of one he actually supports.  And then there are those SCOTUS decisions that are depressing in both their 1950s world view and their predictability.

But it’s the 4th of July, and that takes on special meaning this year.  A lot of Curmie’s Facebook friends are declaring that this isn’t Independence Day, it’s just Monday (with a day off from work).  One friend (a man, by the way) wrote “This year’s Fourth has a different feel to it, and it isn’t good.”  Curmie hears them.  There is, perhaps, less to be happy about, let alone proud of, today than many Independence Days past.  But, glancing back at some of what I’ve written on previous July 4s, there’s a trend. 

Two years ago, the piece was titled “’... but it can be.’ A 4th of July musing, borrowing a line from the Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom.”  The context is that for all its chest-thumping, the US is not, in fact, the greatest nation in the world… but it can be.  Our reality doesn’t match our aspirations, but the solution isn’t to give up: it’s to do the work necessary to raise the nation closer to what we would like it to be.  It certainly isn’t to roll over and concede.  The otherwise depressing news from Ukraine should certainly have taught us this: to quote hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “you always miss the shots you don’t take.” Standing for something involves risk; Volodymyr Zelenskyy is an international hero for a reason.  Barry Goldwater meant something altogether different in declaring that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” but those words themselves ring true: it’s just that Senator Goldwater and Curmie see “liberty” a little differently.

Four years ago, Curmie posted “Curmie Returns with a Bit of the Boss,” citing Bruce Springsteen’s song “Independence Day,” which has nothing to do with July 4, of course, but which still resonates on this day.  Especially relevant are these couple of lines: “Because there's just different people coming down here now / And they see things in different ways / And soon everything we’ve known will just be swept away.”  Disagreements about politics, for example, ought not—in most situations, at least—end friendships.  That doesn’t mean we should all “just get along.”  It does mean that unless we find some common ground on even contentious issues like gun control and abortion, society is going to unravel.  Alas, there are ideologues and authoritarians on both sides of such issues, and even recognizing the other side’s point of view as anything other than outright evil seems problematic for many.

One other early July post from years past also seems relevant.  Twelve years and two days ago, Curmie wrote “The Lessons of Easter Week, 1916,” pointing out that the Rising of 1916 in Ireland failed to achieve anything that looked like independence from England.  And yet, it did, because of English over-reaction: providing emergency medical care to James Connolly so he wouldn’t die before they could shoot him, allowing a British officer who ordered the deaths of three men almost certainly guilty of literally nothing at all to plead insanity and retire to Canada on a full pension, dumping the bodies of the executed revolutionaries in a mass, unmarked, grave and covering them with quicklime. 

The Irish people in general thought the Republicans (in the Irish sense of that term) were annoying at best… until English arrogance was allowed to show itself in full bloom.  Sinn Féin, the leading ultra-nationalist party, increased its membership in parliament from 6 members to 73 in the first election after 1916.  The more moderate Irish Parliamentary Party showed a concomitant drop, from 68 votes to 7.  Oh, and the Irish Free State came into being less than six years after the Easter Rising.

What all this means is that perhaps Michel Foucault was right: that history happens not in events themselves, but in the interstices between events.  The Dodds decision in particular was an event.  It now remains to see what history ensues.  It just might be that over-reaching claims another victim.

The current Supreme Court has shown itself to be little interested in obeying either precedent, even after promising to do so, in the case of Dodds, or in the separation of church and state in the cases of Carson and Kennedy.  As noted above, Curmie hasn’t read those decisions, and will speculate on his response only to this extent: that he’ll be considerably less than surprised should he learn that these cases were decided on the basis of political ideology rather than actual constitutional issues.

The standard line among liberals is that the system is stacked against anyone who isn’t white, male, rich, heterosexual, and Christian.  The “male” and “Christian” parts of this aphorism certainly seem to have been upheld by SCOTUS of late.  We’ll see about the others. 

It’s important to realize here that perceptions are as important as reality in some regards.  No, we shouldn’t trust emotionality over reason, but certainly recent events have served to make many people, and not just the easily persuaded, distrust the system, and that’s not a good thing.  There’s no question that we’re not going to see the protection of individual rights (other than gun-toting) from this SCOTUS, and they’re likely to be around for a while.  Short of drastic measures (which Curmie does not support), we’re not going to have the citizenry prioritized over the interests of powerful entities for a good long time.  President Eisenhower warned about the “military/industrial complex”; replace the military with reactionary Christianity and that’s pretty much where we are now.

For all this, the conflict is not over.  Curmie used to identify his political stance as “from the radical middle.”  That’s beginning to be true, again.  The party of Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell is indeed a threat to American democracy.  But so are quotas, racial set-asides, and cancel culture.  Seriously, is there anything positive to say about Biden/Harris other than perhaps, perhaps, they’re a little less mentally unstable, a little less incompetent, a little less wrong on the issues, and little less dishonest than their predecessors?  So we should just pack it in, right?

In a word: no.

Curmie is a huge fan of the University of Kansas basketball team.  They’ve won two national championships in the last 15 years.  In one championship game, the Jayhawks trailed by nine points with less than two minutes to play.  In the other, they trailed by 16 early in the game and at the half by 15.  They didn’t give up, and they were the ones raising the trophy at game’s end. 

All is not lost, today.  Curmie won’t guarantee we’ll get there—to the founders’ “more perfect union,” to MLK’s “promised land,” to the greatness of our collective vision.  But striving for less, accepting less, cannot be countenanced.  We must heed the words of James Baldwin cited in the meme above: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”  This is the opposite of the “love it or leave it” rhetoric of the warhawks of Curmie’s youth.  Rather, this is a call to arms to fight for what is right… and despite its manifold failings, this nation has much that is positive on which to build.

246 years ago, a collection of flawed but prescient men—virtually all of whom would be regarded as both racist and sexist by today’s standards—released a document, radical for its day, that changed the world.  It was, of course, a seditious if not treasonous act, and it took more than a little courage to embark on a course that would inevitably lead to conflict with the world’s greatest military force.  On that day, those 56 privileged white men pledged not only to each other but to a fledgling nation of their own creation, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  The current reality may not be worth this sacrifice, but the aspiration is.  We forget or ignore that at our peril.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Ilya Shapiro and the Sad Portents

This post has been languishing on Curmie’s computer, half-written, for too long…

The Ilya Shapiro case at Georgetown Law School is one of those stories that mostly played out while this blog was dormant.  The proverbial fecal matter interfaced the whirling rotors in January; Curmie didn’t write any blog posts between November and April.  

So… a little background.  Shapiro had been recently hired as senior lecturer and executive director at the law school’s Center for the Constitution.  In January, with the announcement of the imminent retirement of Justice Breyer, Shapiro criticized President Biden for signaling his intention to keep his campaign promise to nominate a black woman for any SCOTUS opening.

Shapiro’s admittedly inelegant tweet has been taken down, but there are lots of screenshots, etc., out there:  

OK, so there’s much to unpack here, not least of which is wondering what the hell Georgetown thought they were getting when they offered a senior position to someone who’d put in over a decade at the Cato Institute.  Moreover, Biden’s campaign promise was stupid, pandering, and politically naïve.  Who, exactly, was going to change their vote from Donald Trump to Joe Biden on the basis of that pledge?  And whereas politicians in general (and Biden appears to be no better or worse than most) casually forget what they said in the campaign by, well, the day after the election, Biden picked this vow as one to keep.

Moreover, the stated reason for the exclusion from consideration of anyone except black women, diversity, is rather strained.  True, there’s a long history of white men on the court, due in large part to the fact that for a good deal of American history, they were indeed the only ones qualified.  The eight returning members of SCOTUS after Breyer’s retirement include a black man and three women (one of them “of color”), just not a black woman.  

Plus, of course, Shapiro is right that Judge Srinivasan, as an Asian-American, would also represent first for SCOTUS.  Equally importantly, let’s look at religion, certainly a category that might shape a justice’s perspective, perhaps to roughly the same degree as race or gender.  According to a Pew Research Center report from a few years ago, Protestants outnumber Catholics in this country by more than a 2:1 ratio, and Jews by nearly 25:1.   Yet even after Justice Jackson replaces Justice Breyer, there will still be six Catholics and a Jew on the Court, as opposed to two Protestants.  If we lump together “atheist,” “agnostic,” and “nothing in particular: religion not important,” we get a figure more than eight times greater than the Jewish population, yet since 1916 there have been two or more Jewish Justices more often than there have been none; there has never been a Justice (or as far as Curmie can tell, a nominee) from that “unaffiliated” group.

Does this make the court “less like America”?  Perhaps.  But Curmie believes in meritocracies.  The NBA sure has a lot fewer white or Asian players than their populations would suggest.  So what?  The goal is to win basketball games, and if the best players available to help the team win are black, so be it.  Same with SCOTUS.  No, I’m not suggesting that every SCOTUS choice was divinely inspired—few of us will have abundant respect for both Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor—but drafting Sam Bowie before Michael Jordan might not have been the brightest move ever, either.

Shapiro is correct, too, in another tweet in which he suggests that the nominee, who turned out to be Ketanji Brown Jackson, would be regarded as an “affirmative action” choice.  The wording might be a little harsh, but it’s not inaccurate.  One could argue with some justification that the two Justices just mentioned, Thomas and Sotomayor, may also have been chosen for their demographic profiles.  But Jackson was considered the best option not merely from a specifically and intentionally delimited field, but from a delimited field that had been publicly trumpeted by the administration.  The fact that she’s at least as qualified as any of President Trump’s nominees fades to the background: she will be perceived by many people not as the best choice for the job, but as the best available black woman.  And that does add what Shapiro calls an asterisk to her status.

Obviously, though, it’s the penultimate sentence, especially its last three words, in Shapiro’s tweet that has garnered all the attention.  More on that in a moment.  But let’s talk for a moment about what everyone else seems to overlook: that first word.  This guy is a high-ranking administrator at a prestigious law school and he tosses out his opinion as “objective”?  Precision in writing ought to be very high on his list of priorities.  The “lesser black woman” phrasing was inelegant, but any objective observer (see what I did there) reading those words in the context of the rest of the tweet knows what he meant, and it wasn’t racist.  On the other hand, suggesting that objectivity in deciding the “best pick” is even possible, let alone that he alone can recognize that fact is an expression of both delusion and arrogance.

But, let’s return to that phrase that caused all the furor: “lesser black woman.”  Taken in context, all Shapiro is saying is that if Srinivasan is the best available candidate, then literally anyone else is “lesser.”  It was, after all, President Biden, not Shapiro, who limited the field to black women.  The phrasing was, as Shapiro was to admit, “inartful”—“a less qualified black woman” would make the point clearer and less problematically—and yes, he should have known better.  Still, if we were to fire everyone who ever said, “inartfully,” something that wasn’t intended to be offensive but could be interpreted that way, the unemployment rate in the country would be pretty damned close to 100%.

Georgetown, of course, suspended Shapiro almost immediately, with law school dean William Treanor writing that “The tweets’ suggestion that the best Supreme Court nominee could not be a Black woman and their use of demeaning language are appalling.”  Let’s look at the two halves of that statement.  The first part is technically true: if Shapiro thinks the best candidate is an Asian-American man, that pretty much means anyone else—black woman, white man, even a different Asian-American man, is “lesser.”  But “demeaning language”?  Clumsy, sure, but demeaning?  Only if he meant it to be.  (Curmie clings to the vestiges of modernism.)  

Lost in the furor, of course, is the fact that Shapiro’s comments about an “intersectionality hierarchy” are, alas, pretty accurate.  There are those, traditionally disenfranchised, whose omission in the past must be compensated for in the present… and those who can, irrespective of skills and qualifications, we in our Wokeness can still cheerfully ignore.

It’s important to note here that the central issue here is not constitutionality: as a private university, Georgetown is not required to allow freedom of expression.  Rather, the question is whether they uphold their own proclamations—that, for example, “To forbid or limit discourse contradicts everything the university stands for.”  To say that Georgetown failed to abide by their own pieties is to err rather more on the side of understatement than of hyperbole.

Anyway, after innumerable headlines, tweets, memes, and other forms of pseudo-argumentation, Shapiro was re-instated… but on a technicality.  He wasn’t actually working at Georgetown yet, you see, when he had an original thought defied Woke orthodoxy tweeted something that should be protected by the university’s claim to academic freedom expressed his heinous opinion.  Therefore, he couldn’t really be terminated.  Sure.  

It is a decision born of cowardice, stupidity, ideological tunnel vision, and a willingness to make up some implausible rationale to avoid (the university hoped) an inevitable lawsuit… people who can be offered leadership positions at Georgetown Law tend to be aware of legal remedies to problems, after all. 

Of course, less than a week after the suspension was lifted, Shapiro quit.  Of course, he didn’t just resign: he sent a four-page, single-spaced letter to the dean and—oh, yeah—made sure to send a copy to FIRE (at the time, the acronym stood for the Federation for Individual Rights in Education; it’s now the Federation for Individual Rights and Expression, expanding the organization’s scope beyond the boundaries of academe).  

That letter is quite a read, with passages like “the IDEAA [Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action] Report—and your own statements to the Law Center community—implicitly repealed Georgetown’s vaunted Speech and Expression Policy and set me up for discipline the next time I transgress progressive orthodoxy” and “no reasonable person acting in good faith could construe what I tweeted to be ‘objectively offensive.’” 

What’s really problematic is that he’s right, even about condoning even more “objectively offensive” tweets by liberal faculty: it’s difficult to find Shapiro’s tweet more problematic than this one from Christine Fair about the Kavanaugh hearings: “Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement. All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”  Yet Georgetown invoked their “free expression” policy for that one (as they should have, as both Ilya Shapiro and Curmie agree).

Of course, Shapiro promptly got another gig; he was hired as Director of Constitutional Studies at the Manhattan Institute less than a week after his grand-standing departure from Georgetown.  Someone of cynical disposition might suspect that this change of employment was a). precipitated precisely by the Georgetown kerfuffle and b). in the works long before his suspension at Georgetown was announced.  One suspects that the move, described by one libertarian columnist as “failing upwards,” will provide Shapiro with enough income that he can supersize his #3 combo meal from time to time.

Of course, conservative writers pounced all over this incident, claiming it demonstrates the chilling of free expression on university campuses.  And they’re right… sort of.  Curmie would refine that critique a little, to suggest that university administrators are increasingly narcissistic and hypocritical: anyone who disagrees with their divinely inspired religio-political beliefs is disruptive, and therefore subject to disciplinary action, irrespective of pesky little obstructions like the US Constitution or official university policies.  

Whereas many, probably most, of these incidents involve censorious asshats on the left imposing their will on those of the right (Curmie does recommend a piece written by FIRE intern William Harris for a well-written, interesting, and important overview of the historical relationship between free speech concerns and progressive politics), the converse is also true, as a glance at FIRE’s “recent cases” list demonstrates.  

There, we see attempts to suppress dissent from the left or to withhold support from organizations reasonably linked to liberal ideologies: politics and sexual identity at Hood College, criticism of alleged anti-Semitism at San Diego Community College, complaints about including works by BIPOC and queer authors at Soka University of America, revoking sponsorship of a popular student drag show at Texas A&M... and that’s just in the last six weeks or so.

But there’s another take-away that gets lost in the partisan finger-pointing, a variation on a theme Curmie wrote about over a decade ago in discussing the cases of University of Wisconsin-Stout professor James Miller and Nacogdoches (TX) high school soccer coach Farshid Nourimand.  Both were disciplined by idiot administrators after having done literally nothing wrong.  Both were eventually restored to their positions.  But both had an advantage: not only fans of the short-lived but much-beloved TV series “Firefly” and two of its stars—Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin—but also a good many of the 1.6 million Twitter followers of popular novelist Neil Gaiman rallied behind Miller.  Similarly, Clint Dempsey, surely one of the half dozen or so greatest American-born soccer players of all time, made a trans-Atlantic phone call in support of Nourimand. 

Ilya Shapiro has already landed on his feet.  But he was already a big deal, and his case got a lot of press in national media.  But if you’re merely very good at what you do and your case doesn’t get national attention except in places like the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed, if you’re just someone who criticizes your school’s COVID policy or dares to suggest that the DEI folks are over-reacting to a stimulus that isn’t really even there at all (Curmie wrote about both these stories last October), then you might be in real trouble.  

Not so long ago—well into Curmie’s career, in fact—the presumption was that faculty had the same rights to freedom of expression as everyone else, provided that they didn’t masquerade their opinions as facts and expect their students to agree with them.  Curmie remembers the Political Science department at a place he once taught.  One professor was the county chair of the Republican Party; another successfully ran for Congress as a Democrat.  As far as Curmie could tell, they liked each other, and both were apparently great in the classroom.  That’s what is supposed to happen.

But we have now entered the age of the Infallible Administrator (just ask them), and of imposed orthodoxy and homogeneity.  That’s not good for universities, and it’s certainly not good for the country.  Curmie misses his students, but is kinda glad to no longer be working full-time in a profession that has so demonstrably lost its way.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

The More You Pay, The More It's Worth

There are indeed no fewer than four stories concerning the art world buzzing around Curmie’s brain-box at the moment: the cake-flinging incident involving the Mona Lisa, the millions of dollars of damage at the Dallas Museum of Art caused by a young man “mad at his girl,” and the remarkably amateurish and possibly mischievous restoration of Prague’s Orloj Clock. Curmie has little to add about this last item, and may or may not get to talking about the first two. All of which leaves this item for today’s piece:

An under-appreciated Don McLean song, “The More You Pay, The More It’s Worth,” popped into Curmie’s head unbidden this month. One reason, I suspect, is that a little under three weeks ago, Sotheby’s, the New York-based auction house specializing in high-end artworks and similar items, had a little sale. “Little,” of course, is a fungible term, in this case suggesting that a mere $408 million (well, OK, a little more than that) changed hands in a single evening. 

Picasso’s “Femme Nue couchée”
Leading the way was a Picasso painting, “Femme nue couchée,” in which the famous cubist imagined his lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, as what the Guardian described as “a multi-limbed sea creature.” That seems pretty accurate, although the prose of Sotheby’s blurb is somewhat purpler:
A crowning achievement of painterly verve, energy and manipulation of the human form, the present work succinctly synthesizes the artist’s groundbreaking achievements of the late 1920s and early 1930s into one colorful, dynamic canvas. Here, in the seclusion of his new country home in Boisgeloup, the nude figure of Marie-Thérèse reclines in a highly abstracted space, her biomorphic figure imbued with fertility, sexuality and grace.
Well, OK, then.

Anyway, people seem to think it’s a pretty impressive painting. Curmie’s not here to disagree with that assessment. Indeed, were you to move the decimal point on the sale price of $67,500,000 a few places to the left, and Curmie might be interested. Indeed, Curmie really likes Monet’s “Le Grand Canal et Santa Maria della Salute,” which sold on the same night, but not, perhaps, to the tune of $56,600,000. In all, some ten paintings sold for $10,000,000 or more apiece, just that one night.

Of course, the Picasso wasn’t even close to being the highest-priced artwork to be sold this month. Andy Warhol’s “Shot Sage Blue Marilyn,” went for almost three times as much at a Christie’s sale only eight days earlier. Yes, really: $195,000,000.

What would possess someone—anyone—to spend that kind of money on a single painting? The most obvious answer is conspicuous consumption: you spend millions of dollars on an artwork to show the world that you can. Another possibility is as an investment: what you can buy for a mere $195 million today might double in value, even relative to inflation, in just a few months. Of course, it might not, but if you’ve got that kind of money to spend on a painting, you can afford to take a gamble. Occasionally, the buyer is a museum rather than an “individual collector.” As a regular person with an interest in art, you like these folks. You might need to travel to Paris or London or New York, but you can actually see that masterpiece.

Of course, a lot of people go to those museums to say they’ve been there. Curmie remembers two trips to London’s Tate Modern: one in December of 2010, one in May of 2019. The special exhibitions on those two visits were of, respectively, Paul Gauguin and Dorothea Tanning. The former was, as might be expected, more expensive, ridiculously crowded, and peopled by a lot of folks who gave every impression of not wanting to be there. To some extent, Curmie was one of them: he likes Gauguin, but isn’t a huge fan, and the exhibition wasn’t of (Curmie’s personal opinion of) the artist’s best work.  Curmie’s claustrophobia didn’t help, either.

Tanning’s most famous painting,
Birthday”
By contrast, Curmie could show up at the ticket booth for the Tanning exhibition, buy a ticket at a reasonable price, and walk right in, instead of having to wait for two hours. There were other patrons there, but there was room to move around, and everyone was actually engaging with the art, stopping to examine this painting, stepping back to get a different perspective on that one, actually reading the posted descriptions. Curmie confesses he’d barely heard of Tanning prior to seeing that exhibition; a couple of the pictures in the promotional materials looked interesting, so he gave it a try. Curmie is now a fan. That’s what is supposed to happen: you check something out, and you like it. (Or it’s not to your liking; that’s OK, too.)

The point is that people swarmed the Gauguin exhibition not because they’re Gauguin fans, but because Gauguin is famous. And there’s no absolute guarantee that you’re looking at an authentic Gauguin, anyway, as a couple of stories from the last couple of years demonstrate. Here’s one about alleged Gauguins at the Getty Museum (this piece is now admitted to be a fake), the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. And here’s one about a fake in the Tate’s own permanent collection.

Curmie’s suspicion is two-fold: that the average person (Curmie included) couldn’t tell the difference, and either liked or didn’t like these works based on personal, idiosyncratic taste, independent of issues of authenticity; and that such an average person would be less likely to visit a museum or pay extra for a special exhibition if one or more artworks were believed to be forgeries or even (honestly) misattributed.

This might be the time to remind you, Gentle Reader, of the now-famous episode of world-famous violinist Joshua Bell putting on a baseball cap and a t-shirt and busking in a Washington, DC, subway station, playing a multi-million-dollar Stradivarius. Virtually no one paid any attention, and he made a total of $32, over half of it from a single contributor who actually recognized him from having paid a lot more than that to see him perform a night or two earlier. As blogger Harvey Reid puts it, “It’s hard for people to believe there is something amazing going on when there is no crowd, and nothing telling you to pay attention. There is a lot of context and provenance involved.”

Also of interest is the rationale for the Toledo Museum of Art’s sale of Cézanne’s “Clairière” (“the Glade”): “to establish an endowment to fund art acquisitions.” The painting sold for $41.7 million, so their endowment is off to a good start. More to the point, the management in Toledo seems to think that owning 400 paintings worth $100,000 apiece might be better than having one painting worth $40 million. Curmie nods in agreement.

Of course, the visual arts aren’t alone in this. COVID—both the pandemic itself and the still-extant regulations regarding mask-wearing (a restriction that has passed its sell-by date for most people) have actually made live theatre much more affordable. I just checked: I could get a ticket for Hamilton, once in the $600 range, on Tuesday night for less than $150 on Broadway, or for about $60 in the West End. The play I’d most like to see in either of those cities, Girl on an Altar, has good seats available all this week for £20, or about $25.

Theatre prices will skyrocket again once the industry finds its footing again.  (There was a brouhaha in London recently when tickets to Cock hit £460, or about $575, counting absurdly high processing fees.) Curmie has seen a lot of commentary from friends based in New York that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get New Yorkers to come to the theatre,  Tourists make up well over half of Broadway audiences already, and that percentage seems to be growing.  If Broadway is to ever again be a place where something other than already-established musicals can thrive, it will have to be the locals that make it so.  And that means prices that middle-class New Yorkers can afford.

But live music has gone in the opposite direction. An “Open Letter to Paul McCartney Regarding Ticket Prices” by Ryan Ritchie was published in Los Angeles Magazine a few weeks ago. A sample: “Call me naïve, but I don’t think any three people should have to pay $700 to attend any concert that doesn’t include Elvis walking onto the stage and confirming he faked his 1977 death. That is worth $700.”

It gets worse. Curmie follows the “Spring-Nuts” (Bruce Springsteen fans) Facebook page. The Boss, once the voice of the working class, recently released the European dates for a tour that won’t start until nearly a year from now. Many of those venues are already sold out, with tickets for even standing room running into the hundreds of dollars apiece, and that’s before the scalpers get in on the action. And a LOT of American fans are flying to Dublin or Amsterdam or wherever to see a concert. Curmie and Beloved Spouse would probably spend $500 or so, total, to see Springsteen live… but not round-trip airfare for two to Europe, several nights in hotel rooms (and meals in restaurants), and $400+ per ticket for standing room. Who will be at those concerts? Some die-hard fans, willing to drain their life savings to see their hero… and a bunch of rich people.

This isn’t good for the industry, or, more importantly, for the culture. If people are denied the opportunity to hear live music, or to see the detail of a great painting or sculpture, they’ll never understand that the actual art object is always superior in manifold ways to reproductions—recordings, photographs, whatever.  And they’ll either lose interest in the transcendence of great art, because they’ve never experienced it (notice that neither image included with this post does justice to the original painting), or, as in Plato’s cave allegory, they’ll try to convince themselves that the shadows are the real thing. Curmie isn’t sure which is worse, but he does know this: either way, we all lose.