15 September 2008

Variety Pack

We've got smoked internet links, raw internet links, and not a few rancid internet links today.

  • It's really, really hard not to lead with the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which comes from derivative pseudosecurities as a way of life. In other words, the financial markets are finally paying the price for elevating gambling above economics. Keep in mind that the so-called "professional gambler" who actually gets and stays rich engages in one of three kinds of behavior:

    1. Opposing high-risk bets by other players at low cost. A good example of this is the player at the craps table who consistently bets against the shooter
    2. Becoming the house, and thereby reaping the vigorish and house advantage for a highly diverse "portfolio" of bets
    3. Fixing the game (or, as a "derivative action," engaging in kneecap-alteration of big winners)

    It is not coincidental that the two legal grand strategies here involve taking advantage of small arbitrages over a long period of time to create a consistent average return — that is, working with what the system offers instead of trying to alter the system itself.

    This has some interesting, and disturbing, implications for the entertainment industry and its publishing segment. For one thing, it probably denies the existence of any "unified field theory" of publishing profitability based on new products/media in favor of that stodgy standby of the backlist. It also questions distribution models based upon bestsellers.

  • On the piracy front, it's really hard to have much sympathy for publishers suffering from piracy of textbooks. Having edited a few myself, I know all too well how little actually goes into the textbooks themselves... compared to how much goes into various sales efforts for them. And that's not to say that the editorial and production aspects of creating textbooks are easy! But this problem is nothing compared to the CCC going to blanket licenses (HT: Madisonian), with all of the historical problems of the CCC and its foreign affiliates.
  • One must wonder if Google is making us stupid. This is a sad corollary of "Do Westlaw and Lexis make lawyers stupid?" The ability to search on keywords and soundbites can be a wonderful thing, but it's very easy to take much too far... such as the Harvard-educated associate who cited a case against us for a slightly odd standard of review on summary judgment. Had the associate read two paragraphs after the juicy soundbite, she would have seen that the case itself denied that it was really about summary judgment, but instead concerned a bench trial on a written record — which did indeed have the standard of review so ardently desired, but did not resemble the matter before us.

    My point is that Google, and other keyword-indexing ("KWIC"-like) systems, do not substitute for actually reading the material in context. There's a darned good reason that reputable publishers do not just use a KWIC-generation system to create indices to even trade books, let alone scholarly books. The 'net hasn't picked up on that yet.

  • Unlike virtually every other blawg out there, I'm not going to link to the Tina-Fey-as-Sarah-Palin performance. Instead, I think Roger Ebert has a better take: Sarah Palin is the American Idol candidate. Given my disdain for AI, my approval of that view shouldn't surprise anyone... particularly given her support of book-banning. At least she hasn't (yet) supported the ultimate means of censorship, although that's far from unusual for her party. Instead, consider this pseudocountry commentary.
  • Mad politicians. Mad scientists. No implications here.
  • David Foster Wallace ended his authorial run in permanent fashion. His novels were certainly worth reading, but also reflected the "ghetto walls problem" common to contemporary commercial publishing: They were not what they could, and should, have been because the publishing industry wouldn't have known what to do with them. Instead, they were constrained by publishing-category limitations and an unwillingness to assimilate all of their implications, both thematically and otherwise. His use of language, though, was always interesting. And certainly more interesting than one typically finds in the Booker Prizes, which someone is finally criticizing for their historical oversights.