22 June 2009

Bleary-Eyed Monday Morning Link Sausages

I'm bleary eyed, not the link sausages — the grinder did a pretty good job with their eyes.

  • Here's an amusing thought: ROTC for spies proposed. I wonder if they'll be required to wear trenchcoats on campus uniform day? With the number of work-study and grad-school students who end up working in places at any decent college/university who will have access to the data necessary to figure out who is paying for Johnny's tuition — not to mention the general inability of teenagers to keep secrets from anyone except their own parents — proposals to keep the identity of RITC cadets secret are going to run into reality pretty damned fast.

    All seriousness aside, this is both a good and a bad idea. It's a good idea because the intelligence community desperately needs intelligence officers (particularly analysts and operations supervisors) who have not come throught its "academies" to offset the tunnel vision imposed by those academies; and, more importantly, as a wedge for other federal service ROTC-like programs. It's a bad idea because — perhaps more than any other area of federal service, including military officers — the close observation afforded by the intelligence "academies" is (if performed competently) a necessary component of training candidates... and washing them out.

  • As is all too typical, everybody arguing about whether the RWA is stupid in excluding e-publishing from its convention panels is missing the point, because they're forgetting the purpose of that minimum-advance requirement. The requirement has been around for a lot longer than e-publishing has been around, and is drawn from SFWA's model (yes, there has been overlap between the two groups for a long time). It's not about e-publishers and their undercapitalization; it's about keeping vanity-press-only authors out, and reinforcing the idea that the organization is supposed to represent a commercial trade. The required advance is set at a level high enough to keep someone from paying their $5,000 (now closer to $20,000) to V_____ or D____ or P_____ A_____ while simultaneously preventing token illusory advances (like P____ A____'s) from masking the noncommercial nature of that publishing contract.

    The treatment of e-publishers is just collateral damage... and all of the favorable and unfavorable implications of that accusation are specifically intended. It's not like I haven't been dealing with this particular issue for a few decades now.

  • Further proof that most publishing executives don't know what they're talking about: A publishing executive claims that "[Paper-over-board binding is] not very common in the United States," and that paper-over-board casebound books are innovative in America. This is pretty easy to refute, even against the particular examples he cites as the exceptions... because they're typically found in school libraries, where one will find a plethora of paper-over-board books. I think what this executive means is that paper-over-board binding is somewhat uncommon in general trade publishing in the US; that's not, though, what he said, nor what the people who wrote/published the article mean. In short, it's yet more proof that there's no publishing industry in the US — just the bastard offspring of a three-century-long orgy among thirteen distinct publishing business niches.

    But then, the attitude that educational publishing isn't "real" publishing has other roots, too... such as the WFH doctrine that dominates there.

  • It's that time of year in the Supreme Court: The toughest decisions get issued. That said, there's surprisingly little real news today, despite the issuance of NAMUDNO — a case challenging the overall constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act's "preclearance system."

    For those who don't know, Congress determined in the 1960s that some parts of the country were so pervasively discriminatory in their voting histories that changing anything about voting procedures there required preclearance from the Department of Justice. In this instance, a water-services district near Austin, Texas wanted to change its polling location from someone's garage to somewhere else. Since Texas is a "covered jurisdiction" under § 5 of the Voting Rights Act, someone objected, leading to this litigation. In an 8–1 decision, the Court held this morning that the water district — since it has no history itself of voting discrimination, but is merely a discrete subset of a jurisdiction (Texas) with an extensive history of voting discrimination — must be allowed to use the "bail out" provisions in the Voting Rights Act to bail out of the preclearance requirement for administrative changes that do not themselves, on their face, appear to discriminate.

    That constitutional question has attracted ardent briefs from dozens of interested parties, but the importance of the question does not justify our rushing to decide it. Quite the contrary: Our usual practice is to avoid the unnecessary resolution of constitutional questions. We agree that the district is eligible under the Act to seek bailout. We therefore reverse, and do not reach the constitutionality of §5.

    Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, No. 08–322 (22 Jun 2009) (PDF), slip op. at 2. Interestingly, the only Justice who would have voted to kill off § 5 entirely as unconstitutional was... Clarence Thomas.

    That said, one must begin to wonder whether the avoidance doctrine retains much objective validity. Much as I'd prefer to see § 5 actually expanded — there's plenty of actual discrimination in voting going on even outside of "covered jurisdictions," and the problems in Minnesota scream very loudly that state and local supervision of elections is structurally inadequate — I do not think that the rule of law is well served by evading the issue. Sometimes it's necessary for the courts to get things wrong in order to force the legislature to act; the Voting Rights Act is, itself, a good example of that.

    Meanwhile, "Dick" Cheney and his henchcreatures will escape civil liability to Valerie Plame (and her husband) for outing her as a CIA covert operative, as the Court has refused to review a decision (PDF) denying her the ability to proceed (see page 2, denying certiorari in number 08–1043). And this on a day when the events in Iran recall questions of "legitimate elections" after Bush v. Gore, and Minnesota remains down a Senator...