01 January 2005

Just a few random comments to begin the year…

For those who equate "controversial opinion" with "activist judge," I recommend reading the NYT piece on Judge Rakoff's death-penalty jurisprudence. If nothing else, it demonstrates that Rakoff's opinion was not "activist nonsense," but instead an attempt to reconcile a perceived problem with the rule of law. Then, too, there's Rakoff's explicit acceptance of the authority of higher courts… something that too damned many Congresscreatures seem unable to do.

Over at IPKat, one finds a couple of interesting items. First, it appears that Germany may well be imposing a digital equivalent of the blank-tape tax on computers. Of course, this begs the question of whether even a pfennig (yes, it's an obsolete term, but bear with me) will make its way to the authors and other creators of works… <SARCASM> but far be it from me to be skeptical of the good intentions of the copyright-exploitation industry. </SARCASM> Then there's the question of the potential impact of China on the value of trademarks. If the underlying assertions are valid, then one must question what will happen when sub-Saharan Africa begins to have disposable income!

The shenanigans in the Washington governor's ballot recount can be explained in two words to those of us who grew up in King County: Slade Gorton. Ol' Slade was the King County Assessor before he "graduated" to state and national politics, and far from averse to manipulative tactics in selecting which neighborhoods would receive sharply higher real estate assessments. And that, of course, was an aspect of legal—if nonetheless slimy—manipulation. As Leo McGarry said, though, it's more a case of choosing the lesser of "Who cares?" On the other hand, I spent too much time in Cook County (Illinois) and central Oklahoma, too, so perhaps my lack of faith in the American mechanisms for implementing rule by the voters should come as no surprise.

Finally for the moment, Alex Hamilton tries to deconstruct bestsellerdom over at the Guardian. Unfortunately, his article ultimately emphasizes the utter bullshit inherent in calling something a "bestseller:"

Way in the lead was Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which sold in numbers matched only by Lady Chatterley's Lover in the 60s, James Bond and Jaws in the 70s, and Harry ongoing Potter, whose latest sold so many (three million) of its 2003 hardcover that it apparently left only 470,000 laggards waiting for the paperback. (Its export figure, by the way, is my estimate based on the average 22% of home sales.)

(typography corrected) If nothing else, the lack of hard figures either in the article itself or, as admitted in that last parenthetical, considered in the article itself should undermine one's confidence in the facile conclusions therein—not to mention the rather bizarre selection of what counts as a "bestseller." Admittedly, the article focuses on the UK market; that gives it a far firmer grasp of numeric realities than the US market. Remember that nobody knows how many copies it takes to get on the NYT bestseller lists, either weekly or annual; the figures are never disclosed. Despite the computerization of BookSense, things really aren't much better, because it excludes "non-bookstore" outlets from its reporting.