23 September 2011

End-of-the-Week Link Sausage Platter

... now with new, improved sawdust filler!

  • There's a purported list of those who influence what gets read in England on the Grauniad's website. The substance is quite simple: Only a very small minority — about 22 or 23 by my count — are people who see books in manuscript form as submitted by the authors. Instead, the vast majority of these people are in the sales-and-distribution chain, and do not see the raw material input (or, all too often, the finished products) for themselves, but that's for another time.

    Somewhat ironically, for a list pertaining directly to the written word, the list is not in written-word form; it is, instead, a purportedly interactive display of photographs from which one can draw further data with a mouse. This says more about what "influence" appears to mean than does the makeup of the list itself... particularly as the design chosen does nothing whatsoever to illustrate actual relationships among the underlying data, presuming that there are any that don't properly belong on the society page.

  • Still clearing that conflict on the HathiTrust/Google Bookscan lawsuit analysis, but I expect to clear it today or tomorrow. This is part of the problem with being a "hired gun" type — one can never tell when a consultation is going to get in the way of the news. Or, for that matter, vice versa. Let alone a blawg.
  • Professor Pollack makes some extremely interesting and perceptive comments concerning the NCAA and "student-athletes" that I believe do not go nearly far enough. I was a college athlete myself... at a Division III school. My oldest son was/is a college athlete below varsity level at a Division I school (but with pretty significant interaction with the varsity), and I was a graduate assistant at that same university (right across the street from the football stadium). The treatment of "student-athletes" and of graduate student assistants/fellows is closely related, and it is not in the immediate unenlightened financial self-interest of the American university system to do a damned thing about it. (N.B. Anyone who says that American universities are inherently and uniformly "liberal" has never examined their labor-relations records...)

    This is strongly related to the collective-action problem for "independent contractors" — not just authors, artists, etc. who might read this blawg, but the small consultancies and businesses that (according to Heffalump ideology) drive "job growth" in the postindustrial economy — and their inability to equalize bargaining power with behemoths like health insurers, courier services, etc. Of course, that's not something that the current holders of political and economic power want examined too closely, either.

  • Leave aside substantive guilt for the moment, or the ethics of having any kind of death penalty. The execution of Troy Davis demonstrates why I — as a former commanding officer, dammit — "shall tinker no longer with the machinery of death." This nation (which has a far better record than most) has demonstrated that it cannot establish a system of imposing state-sanctioned death upon an individual without fucking up in either fact or appearance more often than acceptable. Leaving aside the racial/bigotry/class warfare components of the problem, which one really cannot do, the fact that too damned many of the people involved in the system are subject to popular elections for one of the two decisions a government must make that must under no circumstances be committed to populism/mass hysteria/electioneering/whatever you wish to call it makes our administration of the death penalty inherently unsafe at any speed... or with all deliberate speed. It is not a coincidence that the states with the most-significant known problems with death-penalty administration are all majority-agrarian.

    Ultimately, actually "doing justice" is not enough. The State must be seen to do justice. Regardless of whether Davis was "actually innocent" or not; or whether he was guilty and got the chair substantively due to skin color/social class/whatever; nobody who has been paying any attention at all can really claim that the State of Georgia has been seen to do justice in his case. And that's just not good enough.

  • And closely related to those issues, Bruce Schneier offers three concerns for present and future information security. One may well disagree with how to answer the questions implicated in those three concerns; one cannot, however, evade answering those questions in the first place.
  • Marginally sane ideologue Krauthammer claims that Obama is returning from "phony centrism" to (purported) social-democratic roots. Snort. Krauthammer is one of those whose ideology labels anyone not in the archneoconservative camp as a "liberal," and in particular has conveniently forgotten (or never considered) all of the parts of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill and John Locke that draw a line between individual transactions and acceptable systemic behavior. Obama's centrism is far from phony; any increase in purported social-democratic flavor in a few of his initiatives and/or his rhetoric merely changes his default position by about four points on a one-hundred-point scale. Of course, to Krauthammer and his ilk, any change at all away from hard right is unacceptable and a significant threat to baseball and apple pie; but then, I believe that a threat to baseball is a good thing. The key distinction, though, is this: Krauthammer and his ilk uniformly have no real experience of immersion in or around the human cost of unenlightened self-interest. Obama has at least some of that experience... and "some" is enough to move him to the center.