COB-76: keep sitting

challenges of a desk job

Jeroen Eisenga’s powerful performance art film, Springtime 2009-11, offers profound insights into the bureaucratic condition.  Eisenga sat at a desk while 250,000 bees gradually enveloped his body.  If he had stood up, he probably would have gotten stung.  That’s exactly like the situation in many bureaucrats’ desk jobs.

An essential bureaucratic skill is being able to sit through all kinds of changes and difficult conditions.  Sitting through meetings is good practice, but the importance of sitting goes far beyond meetings.  A place in a bureaucratic organization is a seat.  Keep sitting in your seat, or you risk losing your place.  Kids and other non-professionals who have to sit for a long period often start to squirm.  Top bureaucrats don’t squirm even after sitting for years.  They placidly and implacably meditate upon the next report to be produced and the best color for its cover sheet.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, Michael Rosenblum observes that Twitter is wrecking the elections.  Debates are now focused on producing good 140-character tweets.  The political situation was much better in the past:

When Lincoln and Douglass debated for the Illinois Senate seat they engaged in 7 debates. Each lasted for hours. Each candidate presented their position for 60 minutes, followed by a 90 minute rebuttal and a 30 minutes rejoinder. Plus cross-questioning.

Audiences sat in rapt attention throughout the entire 7 hour event.

The fundamental problem today is lack of bureaucratic education in the schools and colleges.  Kids should be trained to sit through a series of lengthy lectures.  A seven-hour debate is roughly equivalent to seven lecture courses in a day.  Most kids now have less than five courses per semester.  The need for reform is obvious.

Scott Adams, who writes a serialized graphic novel on bureaucratic procedures, also authors a blog filled with new ideas and imaginative thinking.  That stark inconsistency should make you suspicious.  Adams apparently does not have the natural disposition to provide true insight into bureaucracy.

Despite numerous programs to lessen discrimination against bureaucrats, much work remains to be done.  Consider the situation in the 31st century:

Bureaucrats in the 31st century are usually members of the Central Bureaucracy handling financial, legal, and other business matters in New New York, or Product Inspectors at Mom’s Friendly Robot Company working in Tijuana, although this is less common.

These people are often discriminated by others, and have been described as “faceless bean counters, who blend into the woodwork”. There is a numerous list of bureaucrats, and Hermes Conrad (bureaucrat grade 36) is the most wellknown of them.

This situation highlights the vital importance of the Carnival of Bureaucrats.  We intend to continue defending and celebrating bureaucrats through the 31st century and beyond.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

al-Jahiz on "substantial non-infringing uses" in ninth-century Baghdad

In ninth-century Baghdad, the Muslim scholar al-Jahiz addressed the legality of alcoholic drinks under Islamic law.  Al-Jahiz harshly and amusingly attacked Medinese jurists.  He declared:

These Medinese jurists who make the smell of drink on the breath a flogging offense, judge that possession of an empty wineskin demands similar punishment because, they claim, it is one of the tools of the wine trade.  (This led one wag to wonder why they do not flog themselves, since each one has about his person the tool of fornication!)  By analogy, they ought to impose the ultimate penalty for possession of a sword, a knife or deadly poison, since these are all instruments of murder.[*]

Al-Jahiz had a keen mind for legal argument.  His argument here predated by about a thousand years the argument in Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios (1984).  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that manufacturers of home video recording devices are not liable for copyright infringement because “substantial non-infringing uses” exist for home video recording devices.

Copyright didn’t exist within the vibrant world of authorship in the ancient Islamic world.  But the copyright-infringement defense “substantial non-infringing uses” was recognized in other legal contexts in the ancient Islamic world.

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[*]  Al-Jahiz, Kitab al-sharib wa al-mashrub, trans. Colville (2002) p. 142 (On Drink & Drinkers).  The Medinese jurists declared that drinking toddy was unlawful.  Al-Jahiz argued to the contrary.

Colville, Jim, trans. 2002.  Al-Jāḥiẓ.  Sobriety and mirth: a selection of the shorter writings of al-Jāhiz. London: Kegan Paul.

legal suppression of paternity knowledge

The Superior Court of New Jersey decided in 1950 a case concerning contested paternity.  The case arose from a claim for financial child support.  Judge William J. Brennan delivered the opinion of the court.  He observed that in the field of contested paternity, “the truth is so often obscured because social pressures create a conspiracy of silence or, worse, induce deliberate falsity.”[1]  Judge Brennan’s opinion reversed a lower court’s denial of a motion for a paternity blood test. Judge William J. Brennan went on to a long and influential career as a leading justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.  His statement about paternity law was astute.  But as of yet, it has had little influence.

Paternity law has expanded from law regulating legal paternity to law pretending to regulate paternity knowledge.  Consider, for example, a New York State statute concerning contested paternity:

The court, on its own motion or motion of any party, when paternity is contested, shall order the mother, the child and the alleged father to submit to one or more genetic marker or DNA marker tests. . . to aid in the determination of whether the alleged father is or is not the father of the child.  No such test shall be ordered, however, upon a written finding by the court that it is not in the best interests of the child on the basis of res judicata, equitable estoppel or the presumption of legitimacy of a child born to a married woman. [2]

The truth about biological paternity is relevant, but not necessarily decisive, in a reasonable legal determination of legal paternity.  The New York statute, however, positions the suppression of the truth about biological paternity as a step in the process of declaring legal paternity.  That’s the sort of deliberate falsity that Judge Brennan described.

Suppressing true knowledge of biological paternity encourages further falsity.  New York State courts now deliver in contested paternity cases ruling like this:

a social worker who interviewed the child testified that subjecting the adolescent child, who wishes to have a stronger relationship with respondent, to genetic marker testing would be emotionally damaging for her at this age. Under these circumstances, although the relationship between respondent and the child was somewhat limited, the Family Court properly concluded that the best interests of the child require that respondent be estopped from denying paternity. [3]

This case does not concern content-based regulation of a man’s speech.  The man can still tell the adolescent child that he is not her biological father.  Moreover, by affirming the man’s legal status as the child’s father, the court affirms implicitly that the man can legally make medical decisions for the child.  Genetic relationships are medically important.  As a medical matter, the man should be able to decide that the child needs to know whether she is in truth genetically related to him.

Being legally estopped from denying paternity really means being subject to a financial child-support order irrespective of biological paternity.  The court’s opinion falsifies what it really concerns: long-term, monthly monetary payments. The court’s opinion shows a social worker and the judiciary engaged in what Judge Brennan insightfully called a “conspiracy of silence.”

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[1] Cortese v. Cortese, 76 A. 2d 717 – NJ: Appellate Div. 1950 at 156.

[2] New York Family Court Act § 418 (a)N.Y. Family Court Act § 532 (a), and also other sections of N.Y. family law, have similar language.

[3] Matter of Commissioner of Social Services v. Victor C., 91 A.D. 3d 417 (2012) – NY: Appellate Div., 1’st Dept.  For similar decisions, see In the Matter of Glenda G. v. Mariano M. 62 A.D.3d 536 (2009); In the Matter of Smythe v. Worley, 72 A.D. 3d 977 (2010); In the Matter of Dustin G. v. Melissa I., Charles H., 2010 NY Slip Op 46, and In the Matter of Derrick H. v. Martha J., 82 A.D. 3d 1236 (2011).