12 March 2012

Post Daylight Savings Time Bleariness

Hand me that gallon jug of coffee...

  • Scott Turow — an author whose work I admire — has rather definitively demonstrated that one need not understand the publishing industry to pontificate upon it... in his role as president of the Authors' Guild. His screed is founded upon two assumptions that bear no scrutiny whatsoever. Sadly, they are both assumptions that run counter to his past experience as an Assistant US Attorney — but are entirely consistent with his current law practice in white-collar criminal defense at a BigLaw firm.

    First, and most obviously, his position essentially reduces down to "Amazon is worse, so anything done by others in response to it is ok, or at least doesn't justify any Department of Justice scrutiny for antitrust violations." I am not defending Amazon here, because from at least one perspective he's correct: Amazon has used market power to obtain extreme discounts from publishers, and those discounts under the current economic model of publishing have been extremely damaging to publishers and (indirectly) to most authors. This is another aspect of the distinction between a monopsony and a monopoly, as I've invoked repeatedly: The captive audience of suppliers cannot see that the same improper methods being used to harm consumers form the bars of their own captivity.

    And that reveals the second flawed assumption behind Turow's screed: That the present economic and financial measures of the publishing system provide the proper measure of what authors are due for their efforts. Discounting is a major problem if, and only if, one assumes that the returns-system-driven retail pricing system of publishers is in anyone's best interest... and there's no evidence whatsoever that it's even in the publishers' best interest (or ever was), let alone anyone else's. Then, too, the argument that retailer rights to set prices will destroy author compensation is relevant if, and only if, one accepts that author compensation is properly based upon 25% of net... as imposed by the publishing community in what appears to be, itself, a core violation of antitrust principles. Turow's argument is essentially based upon his own outlier experience; in Occupy Publishing terms, he's one of the .01%.

    With all due respect, Mr Turow, your letter gets a C- in antitrust law and reeks of ownership of a major supplier to a buggywhip factory. Try again.

  • I'm actually starting this on "Selection Sunday" for the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Don't get me wrong — I enjoy college basketball, more than I do the NBA game, although it's a matter of taste — but I'm really offended by the obtuseness of the coaches whingeing over the deserved firing of Bruce Weber, the U of I's coach and the contextless speculation and overt attempts to influence the relatively new athletic director. There's actually a much more fundamental reason that two of the three "high profile" U of I coaches of losing programs were fired: Their off-court performance was inconsistent with the university's mission, and particularly that of a leading research university.

    NCAA Academic Progress Rate
    University of Illinois
    Ron Zook
    Men's Basketball
    Bruce Weber
    2005 n/a 990
    2006 926 986
    2007 930 989
    2008 930 984
    2009 951 979
    2010 949 964

    Given that a score of 930 is supposed to result in NCAA penalties starting next year, this is appalling — and Weber's downward trend after the last of his predecessor's recruits graduated is troubling in itself. No Big Ten school should be averaging below 970 in any sport; such a performance indicates both extensive recruiting mismatches and failure to properly prioritize and support once athletes are on campus.

    Unless, that is, we're going to drop the pretense that these are student-athletes... because examining the real issues (such as median standardized-exam scores, high school and college GPAs, actual graduation, and so on) instead of relying on the gentleman's-C-based APR from the NCAA would really blow things up. That's before considering the extensive involvement with the local police and legal systems, too...

    One last note: The median eighteen-month-trailing APR of the top eight seeds (that is, 1 and 2 seeds in each region) for the entire men's basketball field of 64/68 announced yesterday is 974, indicating that "winning" isn't entirely incompatible with a gentleman's C.

  • On a broader note of cultural criticism, consider the intractable problem of naming cultures other than one's own. This applies even in northwestern Europe, and inside of linguistic faultlines: Just try throwing thousand-year-old cultural artifacts from Berlin and München in the same exhibit with no explanation...
  • Once in a while, Thomas Friedman has something worthwhile to say in his NYT columns... even if he seldom extends it far enough. Over the weekend, he invoked an OECD report that includes a fascinating table visually correlating student achievement and natural-resource extraction as a proportion of national economies (presumably this new report, but Friedman — as is his wont — did not fully name his source) (both PDF). Leaving all chicken-and-egg questions aside, this table begs two critical questions. First, what counts as "natural resource extraction" — that is, does it include agriculture? Second, how much of this is a consequence of urbanization and not of industry segmentation? Seeing the whole report might help... but that would require reading it, too, wouldn't it?