27 January 2010

Read Some Gawdawful Rubbish Like You Always Do

Here's a tidy cover for this untidy sausage platter. Consider the potential evil of librarians (HT: Ann Bartow at Madisonian):

And now, lifting the lid:

  • If you speak three languages, you're trilingual; if you speak two languages, you're bilingual; if you speak only one language, you're an American, and "neurally disadvantaged" compared to much of the world. And I say this as one local school district has dropped all languages but English and Spanish... and would drop Spanish if the state didn't require offering a foreign language for accreditation. In this house, between the elder remora and I we can comfortably read newspapers in three different languages and puzzle our way through them in another six or seven with the aid of a dictionary; three of the languages in question are non-Indo-European. I guess, then, that we're "neurally advantaged"... that is, we're nerds, and proud of it. We also avoid making an error warned against by Twain ("The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them").
  • The UK's new Supreme Court has hit the ground running, and is demonstrating that the war on terrorism does not justify a suicide pact: the suicide bombing of civil liberties in the name of (ineffectively, I might add from professional experience) preventing "support" of terrorist activities by private citizens and organizations. As one judge said, "Even in the face of the threat of international terrorism, the safety of the people is not the supreme law." Now if only our Supreme Court — upon which the UK's version is modelled! — would join the party...

    Meanwhile, the President of Israel addressed the Bundestag (auf deutsch).

  • Meanwhile, back on this side of the pond, the Obama administration is more and more resembling the first season of The West Wing, as Obama is about to give a State of the Union address... hopefully leading up to a "Let Barack Be Barack" moment. Politics may be "the art of the possible"; it may require compromise to actually get something constructive done; but it does not require compromise before one even gets to the bargaining table... especially when, on the evidence of this past year, the "Loyal Opposition" is loyal only to their electoral chances and not to the Constitutition that gives them the opportunity for those electoral chances.
  • The Copyright Office is finally recognizing that some works are published only online, and is changing the deposit rules for online-only publications (PDF). As of 24 February 2010, deposit will not be required at time of registration — only "when requested" by the Register. This will simplify using the eCO online registration system, but may lead to some recordkeeping lapses; copyright holders will need to keep a complete, verifiable record of how the work appeared online.
  • In a shocking, shocking development — even more shocking than finding gambling in Rick's casino — the NYT has discovered that banks are paying their managerial employees at the expense of their shareholders. This is very much a "the devil you know" problem: The only devil that most of the top managers (even the well-intentioned ones!) know is the particular subculture of hedge-enhanced "quant" investing that has become popular since the early 1980s, and they fear that if they don't pay the next management layer down as that layer has come to expect, they'll leave. Then top management will be dealing with two unknowns, not just one: A possibly new paradigm, and implementing that possibly new paradigm with new middle management.

    That should sound a great deal like the problems that the military faced in the 1970s and 1980s with the all-volunteer force. Unfortunately, it also had the effect that we had some pretty damned incompetent top management during the first Gulf War, particularly on the civilian side; middle management (both commissioned and enlisted) took up the slack, but nobody learned that lesson... and the more-extended occupation of Iraq after Gulf War II certainly chewed up things unnecessarily from 2003 to 2006 as the reinstated incompetent civilian managers, and holdover incompetent military managers (many fewer, fortunately), got themselves weeded out — at a much higher price than merely an inflated salary.

  • Speaking of problems with "the devil you know," here's a seemingly unrelated string of stories on the devil of numericizing expression: The OC Register wonders how to make the arts matter in an era of required monetization; the editor of the Grauniad ponders online paywells for news; an author who actually went through the slush pile on the way to agenthood and commercial publication trashes Author Solutions' concept of monetizing the slushpile (HT: GalleyCat); NPR ponders the possible advantages to publishers of competition in e-book distribution platforms (while, of course, there's not one word of the possible advantages to authors); the LA Times continues the "Avatar is only the box-office champ due to inflation" meme, without acknowledging that prior champs didn't have to compete as hard against non-film alternatives (or even other films!); Salon throws a bucket of cold water over the enthusiasm for (author-financed, naturally) book trailers; and PW, in an all-too-typically slanted report, discusses a speech calling for "new business models" at Digital Book World... by the president of Macmillan, of all people (given that Macmillan has just tried to impose a horrendous and ridiculous new erights clause on authors in a new "form contract"). All of these stories concern the same problem that underlies the "excessive pay at banks" item: The impetus to put numbers on the unmeasurable, or at least the not-reliably-and-replicably measured... such as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.
  • Speaking of inept monetization, the DoJ has approved the proposed LiveNation/TicketMaster merger; it's pretty apparent that nobody at the DoJ attends concerts (at least not on their own money)! Meanwhile, there's an impending proxy battle brewing within management of the combined behemoth, which takes me back to the Gulf and Kissinger's lament about the Iran-Iraq war, wondering why they couldn't both lose. Well, in reality, they did: At least the citizens of those nation-states did; the shareholders of the combined LiveNation/TicketMaster entity will; and the public does, too.
  • It's ok to bar prisoners from playing D&D (PDF) but continue to allow them access to the Left Behind books and the bigotry of the 700 Club. <SARCASM> Yeah, I'm thoroughly convinced that there's a legitimate penological interest behind this decision </SARCASM>... although, admittedly, the real question is probably not one that the courts are equipped to handle (and certainly not when Chief Judge Easterbrook is on the panel, if only due to his even-more-restricted-than-one-would-otherwise-believe view of the proper role of courts). It does, however, reflect the anti-nerding-out prejudices of the American public nearly as well as the first sausage on the platter this morning does.