a Shakespearean portrait of bad public reason

Purported portraits of Shakespeare have attracted considerable public interest. A scholar recently explained:

If Shakespeare study today is a lively mix of wishfulness, mythology and scholarship, this may simply be because we don’t know what he looked like, and what we do know about him is unsatisfactory. … How did this money-worried little capitalist, who conducted his life in a flurry of land deeds and small business ventures, write Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet?

An authentic portrait of Shakespeare could not answer this question. It would provide only an easier way to understand what everyone already knows: irrespective of the facts of his biography and despite his inexhaustible creativity, Shakespeare could be recognized as a human being with a human face.

A separate motivation for interest in Shakespeare is the thrill of publicly recognized discovery. Just a few months ago:

ALEC COBBE was strolling around the Searching for Shakespeare exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery when he was stopped in his tracks by a painting that was the spitting image of one he had on his wall at home. … Scholars have confirmed that Mr Cobbe’s painting is the original of the famous portrait in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington that was on loan at the National Portrait Gallery exhibition….[The Times]

This is a modern enchantment: the possibility of a true, material discovery, made solely by chance.

Discovery usually requires more time and effort. Over the past decade, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, a professor at the university of Marburg and Mainz, has been a scholarly leader in discovering more about Shakespeare. Professor Hammerschmidy-Hummel has extensively investigated primary sources, including continental pilgrims’ registries that have not previously been studied in relation to Shakespearean biography. Her biography, William Shakespeare: seine Zeit, sein Leben, sein Werk (2003) (forthcoming in an English edition entitled The Life and Times of William Shakespeare) extensively explored Shakespeare’s Catholic connections. This work includes considerable conjecture and interpretive construction. But much recent Shakespearean scholarship recognizes the importance of Catholic faith to Shakespeare and also richly employs conjecture and interpretive construction. Prof. Hammerschmidt-Hummel puts more emphasis on Catholicism in understanding Shakespeare than most current Shakespearean scholarship, but her standards of reasoning put her work well within the form of legitimate contemporary scholarship.

Thrilling discovery depends upon good public reason. Early in 2005, The Culture Show on the BBC broadcast an exclusive report on scientific investigations of the Flower Portrait. Some considered the Flower portrait to be a portrait of Shakespeare. The report declared: “it can be categorically stated that Flower portrait of Shakespeare is a nineteenth century painting.”

With respect to public reason, some aspects of the report on the Flower Portrait are not impressive:

  1. The report didn’t indicate the scientists making the claim. Using a passive voice for a new knowledge claim obscures agency and accountability. That’s particularly inappropriate for a new, categorical claim.
  2. The claim wasn’t made public in circumstances associated with scholarly scrutiny. Making findings public on “The Culture Show” is rather different than publishing them in a peer-reviewed journal.
  3. Details of supporting evidence that would make the claim subject to significant, independent review were not made readily available to the public. Such evidentiary details could be made available globally on the Internet at low cost. But they weren’t.

Modern scientific analysis can provide highly convincing evidence about the date of paintings. But the public support for the claim that the Flower Portrait of Shakespeare was painted in the nineteenth century seems to be not much more than the authority of the National Portrait Gallery. Francis Bacon, the English philosopher and statesman who made a great contribution to the development of science, would not be proud of this. Belief based solely on the authority of a well-established, well-respected institution isn’t thrilling.

More exciting, and bewildering, is Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s beautifully illustrated new book, The True Face of William Shakespeare (2006). This book provides new information about four images that Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel argues are contemporary images of Shakespeare: The Chandos Portrait, the Flower Portrait, the Davenant Bust, and the Darmstadt Death Mask. And what of the National Portrait Gallery’s claim that the Flower Portrait was painted in the nineteenth century? Professor Hammerschmidt-Hummel claims that the National Portrait Gallery tested a copy the Flower Portrait, not the original. She includes two photographs showing clear differences between what she describes as the original portrait and the copy. However, the National Portrait Gallery’s test of the Flower Portrait documents that the tested painting covered a sixteenth-century Italian painting of a Madonna and child. That underlying painting is a recognized aspect of the Flower Portrait. This gross conflict leads to at least one firm conclusion: good public reason is here out of joint.

Fay, is there any hope for better reason? The Searching for Shakespeare exhibition ignored Prof. Hammerschmidt-Hummel’s work, except for a short, dismissive footnote buried in the catalog. The final essay in that catalogue concluded:

We will never know what Shakespeare looked like. What is important for us is to recognize the extent and diversity of reproductive portraiture of the Bard and to acknowledge what lies behind the continuing desire for the authentic image, the Shakespeare grail…. As an emblem of national identity and cultural pride, it is without rival.

How dull. If scholars agree that what’s important in scholarship, including science, is high politics, then much of the personal thrill of discovery becomes impossible.

My love, even certainties cannot justify your acting as if you were dead.

I never saw that you did painting need,
And therefore to your fair no painting set.
I found, or thought I found, you did exceed
The barren tender of a poet’s debt.
And therefore have I slept in your report,
That you yourself, being extant, well might show
How far a modern quill doth come too short,
Speaking of worth, what worth in you doth grow.
This silence for my sin you did impute,
Which shall be most my glory, being dumb.
For I impair not beauty, being mute,
When others would give life, and bring a tomb.
There lives more life in one of your fair eyes
Than both your poets can in praise devise.
[Sonnet 83]

I think Shakespeare’s lover would have dismissed this kind of play, and insisted, “Try!”

incentive-compatible, just-in-time dishwashing

Mr friend Dr. S. (B.A., Princeton; M.S., MIT; M.D., Yale) shared with me a long time ago a stunningly innovative solution to a difficult group-living problem. I will now share that solution with you, my highly esteemed blog co-participants.

The group-living problem: No one does the dishes. They pile up, festering in the sink. The longer the dishes stay in the sink, the less anyone wants to wash one and use it. The equilibrium is all the dishes piled in the sink and culturing new weapons for germ warfare, and the housemates using papers plates and plastic utensils.

Can economics offer economic man a better life? Indeed it can.

The solution is refrigeration. Actually, freezing. In group living situations, no one goes shopping, either. Thus the freezer is empty. So you just put the dirty dishes in the freezer. Then when someone wants to use a dish, he simply takes it out of the freezer and gives it a quick rinse. This is incentive-compatible, just-in-time dishwashing.

I realize that the parameters might be different for women. I myself have always believed that “economic man” is a ridiculously narrow, unrealistic model of humanity.

communicative punishment of non-criminal "sex offenders"

Ohio is establishing a registry of sex offenders who weren’t criminally convicted of sex offenses.  The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, reported:

A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.

The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio’s so-called Megan’s Law.

The person’s name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where [the person] could live.

Especially with the Internet, the government declaring a person to be a sex offender is a potent communicative punishment.  Most persons consider sex offenders to have committed some of the most vile crimes imaginable.  Ohio’s electronic sex offender registration and notification system communicates detailed, immediate information about sex offenders’ movements to interested parties.  “Visitors to the {Ohio sex offender Internet site} can register to have an e-mail message sent directly to them any time a registered sex offender moves within a mile of any specified address.”

The political incentives to impose such communicative punishments are relatively strong.  The first sex offender registry was established in New Jersey in 1994 (Megan’s Law).  Within a decade, sex offender registries were established across the U.S.. Such a registery is now under consideration in the U.K. (Sarah’s Law).  The story of a young girl viciously raped and killed easily attracts public attention.  Protecting children is a propitious basis for legislation.  Even better, legislation that imposes communicative punishments don’t cost much public expenditure. Communicative punishment is much cheaper than imprisonment.

Given these circumstances, communicative punishments merit strict scrutiny for due process.  What about “the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel in his defense”?  Forget about those rights.  A declaratory judgment, based on the preponderance of the evidence, is all that is necessary for the government to communicate powerfully that a person has joined the heinous category of sex offenders {see Sec. 2721.21 of the Act}.

Ohio’s civil communicative punishment of sex offenders seems to have been the product of a sordid deliberative failure. The Blade reported:

The concept was offered by Roman Catholic bishops as an alternative to opening a one-time window for the filing of civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse that occurred as long as 35 years ago.

The Ohio Supreme Court a few months earlier issued a ruling affirming a time limit for filing abuse cases.  This matter is more awful than the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.  It’s more awful because priest have in fact awfully abused children.  I would guess that was also true in the early nineteenth century.  From 1950 to 2002, however, about $650 million has changed hands in judgments against Catholic churches and religious communities concerning sex abuse. This new legal development provides new motivation to address the serious problem of sex abuse.  The solution that the Roman Catholic bishops proposed in Ohio shows that the problem concerns everyone.

Protection of civil liberties are central to the rule of law.  But perhaps the only deliberative fate worse than being an accused sex offender is being accused of defending accused sex offenders.  The Blade reported:

No one in attendance voiced opposition to rules {concerning civil denunciations of a person as a sex offender} submitted by Attorney General Jim Petro’s office to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, consisting of members of the Ohio House and Senate.

In fact, you can find right in the New Jersey State Constitution this text:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution and irrespective of any right or interest in maintaining confidentiality, it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law the disclosure to the general public of information pertaining to the identity, specific and general whereabouts, physical characteristics and criminal history of persons found to have committed a sex offense. {NJ Constitution, Art. IV, Sec. VII, para. 12, added Dec., 7, 2000}

This text essentially states that the rest of the Constitution does not apply to persons “found to have committed a sex offense.”  And what does it take to make such a finding? In Ohio, it’s a civil declaratory judgment based on preponderance of the evidence.  Liberty under law, including liberty from personally damaging government communication, should be more secure than this.

carnival of the bureaucrats #2

Featured this month as Bureaucrat-of-the-Month is Funtwo. That’s not Fun2.0, but Funtwo. Bureaucrats have no need of superfluous precision.

You can see Mr. Funtwo working intensely in front of his desk in the video below (or here). With characteristic bureaucratic modesty, he appears faceless.

Mr. Fun continues in the tradition of bureaucrats that have made Korea a world broadband leader. I predict a great future for this young man in the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication.

The fruits of his work are for all to hear. Sweet child o’ mine, purple haze envelopes purple motes, free bird flying on a stairway to heaven, all along the watchtower, watch this! Bureaucrats rock!!!

Other submissions:

The Obvious? laments:

As I get to see more and more organisations I sometimes get overwhelmed by a feeling I can only describe as melancholy at the number of clever, well meaning people in business who spend their working lives making it harder to get things done.

Cheer up, sir. That’s called private-sector job creation.

Pope Benedict XVI offers St. Gregory the Great as a model for public administrators. But why aspire to be just a servant of the servants of the public? I’ve already achieved several bureaucratic levels lower than that! Additional insight for old media leaders: Gregory the Great, by reaching out to the so-called “Barbarian” peoples, fostered the development of a new civilization.

Generative Transformation reviews Henry David Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. Thoreau’s 1849 essay begins:

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto,—”That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—”That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Under Rule 6, submissions to the carnival of the bureaucrats may not include the phrase “‘mindless bureaucrats,’ or any other similar terms.” The sentence “That government is best which governs not at all” does not directly use the phrase “mindless bureaucrats.” However, it has connotations similar to that of “mindless bureaucrats” except if the former phrase is interpreted to mean that conscientious bureaucrats will do nothing. But that interpretation is not tenable, because most bureaucrats in fact work hard. Based on the preceding analysis, this particular submission is rejected by us as not meeting the requirements of the applicable regulations, which do not necessary preclude future submissions concerning civil disobedience, which we recognize has served the public interest in certain circumstances, which will not be described herein by us.

That concludes this edition of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival regulations. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.