24 May 2010

Unedited Monday Link Sausages... of the Insane Kind

Monday. Craziness.

  • Here's a thought: If your conglomerate has been having trouble actually selling its product at local stores under central inventory management, why not try letting local management have more control over inventory? Waterstone's — the UK chain — intends to try that. This is a hint to you, B&N and (to a slightly lesser extent) Borders: The way out of your cycle of ever-dropping same-store sales might require letting store managers do more than manage the hours of the employees... and much, much less of letting your centralized "buyers" determine what's on the shelves in every store (especially when they're careless, or not — themselves — readers of the kinds of works they're "buying").
  • RIP Martin Gardner, who demonstrated once a month for many years that math is more than just something for textbooks, accountants, and structural engineers. My decade-long loss of interest in Scientific American began pretty much at the time the magazine was unable to replace him upon his retirement: Unfortunately, cloning hadn't advanced to the point where a younger version could take over.
  • Instead, we ended up with Andrew Wakefield and his campaign against vaccines (fortunately, not in SciAm!), based upon dubious science and even more dubious statistical analysis. Martin Gardner's columns in the 1970s taught me enough about statistics to interest me in going further in college... which enabled me to spot problems with Wakefield's conclusions when they were first published in Lancet. They've since been withdrawn; and now Wakefield himself has been removed from the rolls of licensed physicians for the serious research misconduct behind that article. That's not going to stop the ignoramuses of the antivaccine movement, who haven't yet figured out that statistics can never prove causation... or consider that there's a good reason that post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a fallacy.
  • Late-breaking news story: The NYT editorial page has finally figure out that the military academies are no longer about academic excellence. About sixty years too late, actually: Academic excellence stopped being achievable in the mid-1950s, when the words "pointy-headed" started getting put in front of "intellectual"; when the academies' strange variation on "tenure" drove away the best qualified potential instructors; when the academies' emphasis on tradition (including, but not limited to, the family tradition of attendance, generation after generation) pushed away the best and brightest of the generation; when, under DOPMA (early 1980s, responding to abuses from the Vietnam era), the academies managed to get hidden promotion advantages built into a purportedly up-or-out system; when... I won't go on.

    I no longer see a purpose for military academies as undergraduate institutions. Once upon a time — the early and mid-nineteenth century — there simply weren't enough college graduates from which to draw an officer pool in the first place... and there simply wasn't enough exposure to military history and issues outside of the specialized military community to serve that purpose, either. No more; at least since the explosion of studenthood with the GI Bill, there have been enough college graduates to create an effective officer corps for all three/four/five services. Instead, the academies should become a postgraduate system: A six- to nine-month course for officers (who have earned real degrees in real subjects from real schools prior to their commissions... not to mention having had real contact as adults with the kinds of people they'll need to be ready to lead during their college years) as their first active-duty assignments, and perhaps some recentralization of later professional military education to those campuses. Sort of like real research universities — the one aspect of American education that really does work, and work well (OK, there are some ways it could be improved, but I don't think anyone proposes throwing out the research university model and starting over).

  • This just in: The Supreme Court has unanimously held, in American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, No. 08–661, that the NFL's claim that it is a "single entity" — instead of a collective of thirty-two teams with an appended administrative apparatus — does not exempt the NFL from antitrust scrutiny under the Sherman Act for conspiring to restrain trade. In this instance, American Needle was a former nonexclusive licensee for NFL/team-logo-containing products whose license was not renewed when the NFL went to an exclusive-licensee system in 2000. As the Court puts it:

    Football teams that need to cooperate are not trapped by antitrust law. "[T]he special characteristics of this industry may provide a justification" for many kinds of agreements. The fact that NFL teams share an interest in making the entire league successful and profitable, and that they must cooperate in the production and scheduling of games, provides a perfectly sensible justification for making a host of collective decisions. But the conduct at issue in this case is still concerted activity under the Sherman Act that is subject to § 1 analysis.

    When "restraints on competition are essential if the product is to be available at all," per se rules of illegality are inapplicable, and instead the restraint must be judged according to the flexible Rule of Reason. In such instances, the agreement is likely to survive the Rule of Reason. "Joint ventures and other cooperative arrangements are also not usually unlawful… where the agreement … is necessary to market the product at all." And depending upon the concerted activity in question, the Rule of Reason may not require a detailed analysis; it "can sometimes be applied in the twinkling of an eye."

    slip op. at 18–19 (citations and footnote omitted). I'll have more on this later on, but it's a sensible interpretation of both antitrust law and the reality of the competitive market... insofar as "sensible" has a damned thing to do with exclusive sport licensing agreements, particularly after NCAA v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla., 468 U.S. 85 (1984).