03 August 2008

Internet Sausage Jambalaya

A jumbled up Sunday... which shouldn't really surprise anyone.

  • On the war crimes front, former Serbian leader Karadzic arrived at Den Hague for trial, and indicated that he'll defend himself vigorously against the charges. But a conviction of Karadzic is not the most important indicator of the usefulness of war-crimes indictments. Clausewitz famously claimed that war is just politics continued by other means; it appears that the same goes for the law of war.
  • Continuing on the military-issues front, the Bush strategy will not defeat al Q'aeda according to a new Rand Corporation historical study (link to PDF, 1.4mb, at bottom of page) of how one does (and does not) defeat insurgencies. As the Executive Summary indicates,

    Key to [a successful] strategy [against al Q'aeda] is replacing the war-on-terrorism orientation with the kind of counterterrorism approach that is employed by most governments facing significant terrorist threats today. Calling the efforts a war on terrorism raises public expectations — both in the United States and elsewhere — that there is a battlefield solution. It also tends to legitimize the terrorists' view that they are conducting a jihad (holy war) against the United States and elevates them to the status of holy warriors. Terrorists should be perceived as criminals, not holy warriors.

    ... which is exactly what those with any real knowledge of the cultures in question have been calling for for a couple of decades. Take away the "holy war" and the opposition will fragment into cooptable tribal factions. I'm not trying to imply that it's easy — just possible.

  • The l33t community is going to get up in arms (pun intended) about the UK hacker extradited to US for breaking into military systems. It shouldn't. If they had any idea just how chewing-gum-and-baling-wired the military information infrastructure really is, they'd never hack in... because they wouldn't want to play a nice game of global thermonuclear war. I'm not saying that Matthew Broderick could do so now — only that there are enough undocumented workarounds out there that nobody can guarantee that he couldn't.
  • Popular culture often decries "elitism" in the arts as somehow excluding the regular folks. So, for that matter, does the concept of evolutionary lit crit. But as Ursula Le Guin noted long ago, one does not compare one's skill on the violin to the hometown sixth-grade prodigy, but to Itzhak Perlman, as a standard of excellence. Perhaps much of the problem with accusations of "elitism" comes from poor communication of what the standards of excellence really are.
  • The publishing industry is not famous for its perspicacity. Consider this item on book covers at GalleyCat. The evidence of self-denial is pretty evident:

    In the comments section to the post, though, there's an interesting anecdote from the designer of the book jackets for Sue Hepworth's Zuzu's Petals, which explains how the first cover (left) inspired virtually no enthusiasm among bookstore buyers, while the redesign (right) was a hit with retailers, two of whom tapped the novel for in-store promotions.

    (emphasis added) This is in direct contrast to the origin of the article, which implied a concern about actual sales. In other words, the concern is about the feelings of people in the distribution channel... who do not really buy the products.

    This is disturbingly parallel to another piece on film self-publishing/self-distribution, which in turn leads to the FCC smackdown of Comcast announced last week. Professor Crawford's analysis bears consideration for the direct impact on the 'net, but consider too that the 'net is — functionally and economically — exactly parallel to the distribution-system problems facing independents in the publishing and film industries.

  • Last for the nonce, one of the unstated problems with the legal profession is its historic aversion to advertising. How else is someone going to get the right attorney for his/her needs? Certainly not by relying on the "ratings" in the (historically) leading US guide to lawyers, Martindale-Hubbell... because the attorney who wants to be rated must pay (and through the nose) to get the rating. Leaving aside the methodology of actually getting the rating — which has nothing whatsoever to do with determining whether the attorney meets his/her client's needs, but just what his reputation is among the country-club set asked to respond for ratings — the pending revisions to Mar-Hub don't appear to meet the real problems. That, however, would require the profession to start acting like one.