Thursday, September 30, 2010

Debtors' Prison Makes a Comeback

Debtors' prisons were outlawed early in the nineteenth century because people realized that debtors couldn't work and pay back their debts (or support their families) if they were behind bars. However, debtors' prisons may be making a comeback in the early twenty-first century. Newsweek published a short article this week entitled "The Return of Debtors' Prisons in Louisiana," by Joel Schectman. Schectman concluded that

[W]hile poverty is no longer a crime, at least not officially, two new studies suggest that the practice of locking up debtors is becoming more common. In separate efforts, the American Civil Liberties Union and Brennan Center for Justice at New York University spent a year observing court cases and interviewing hundreds of defenders, prosecutors, and the accused. The results, copies of which were released early to Newsweek, show a troubling pattern of incarceration in at least 16 states, where even minor, nonviolent offenses such as speeding and loitering result in prison time for the poor.
This is because courts fine poor defendants, "triggering an endless cycle of legal jeopardy." New Orleans Municipal Court is "particularly hard-nosed," according to Schectman, and jails indigent defendants who miss court dates; of the group studied, two thirds spent sixty days in jail. The same ratio was observed in Charlotte, North Carolina, although the number of days spent in jail was much lower.

The debate over bankrupty is sometimes colored by issues of morality--should people be allowed to walk away from obligations they freely agreed to assume? In this case, however, the issue is not morality but economics. As state funding for courts has dried up in the last few years, states have turned to fees as a way to pay for running their court systems.
In a memo obtained by the ACLU, the Michigan courts administrator is brutally clear, reminding judges of "tough economic times" and urging a "culture shift" toward pay-or-prison collection tactics.
In New Orleans, fee collection underwrites 40 percent of the costs of the city courts, and Judge Paul Sens says he's not running a debtors' prison but initially gives every defendant the option of community service. Clearly, however, many people who come before Judge Sens are being sent to prison. To me, this approach seems counterintuitive. It is by no means cheap to incarcerate people. To save money, it would seem to make sense to keep people out of prison. Furthermore, as was recognized in the nineteenth-century, people can't make money while in jail, further exacerbating their poor financial situation.

A New Approach to Newspaper Websites

The survival of newspapers in the digital age is a concern for anyone who values the analysis and critical commentary that a good newspaper offers. Raw, unfiltered news is widely and freely available on the Internet, and newspapers and other print publications are struggling to survive in a world where people are hostile to the idea of paying for news. How can newspaper websites generate revenue so that they can continue to employ the journalists who create the content? Rupert Murdoch has put many of his newspapers behind a paywall; it appears that The Wall Street Journal is thriving in the online environment (unique content?), while The Times of London has been less successful in attracting paying customers. For earlier OOTJ coverage of the Murdoch newspapers and their paywalls, click here. The New York Times is erecting a paywall that will go live in January 2011, and it's reasonable to assume that this experiment will be watched closely, especially since an earlier attempt at charging for the online newspaper was a failure that was abandoned rather quickly. No details about the Times paywall have been announced.

Today's Boston Globe is reporting that the Globe is going to try a different approach that will debut in the second half of 2011. Instead of having one site for all content, the paper is going to host two sites. will remain a free site with "limited access to journalism" but with "breaking news, sports, and weather ... as well as classified advertising, social networking, and information about travel, restaurants and entertainment." The Boston Globe Lite? The new site,, will be "designed to closely approximate the experience of reading the paper's print version [and] will contain all the stories and other content from the day's paper as well as exclusive reports, in-depth news, analysis, commentary, photos and graphics, plus video and interactive features." Subscribers to the print paper will have access to for free, a model I wish other publishers would emulate. No price has been set yet for the digital-only subscription. To read the press release about the two websites, click here. It will be interesting to see how this new approach develops, and if it will generate enough revenue to pay for the Globe's newsgathering operation.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010 is coming!|Start Petition

The issue is Water -- Millions of people around the globe lack access to clean water.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Celebrate International Right to Know Day: Sept. 28!

Correction and apology: October 11, 2010: I received an e-mail from Daniel Metcalfe, the Director of the FOIA center at American University, below, Collaboration on Government Secrecy. When I first visited the site, I failed to notice a small white note in the lower center of their large dark blue center panel, just below the name block. The white letters simply spell "Continue." If the visitor presses that link, you then come through into the real meat of the site, which I missed on my first visit! I apologize, and am humbled. The site actually has a great deal to offer. If Professor Metcalfe's Dean's Fellow had not spotted this post and alerted him to it, we would have missed out on this site's value. There is an impressive list of relevant U.S. Code citations, which link the reader to the full text provided by, a non-partisan website which credits official and credible sites like Thomas and Legal Information Institute for bill and statute texts. There are also Attorney General Memoranda regarding FOIA, a report on how the Obama administration is doing on transparency, which includes lots of links to full text of Executive Orders, press releases, and many other texts. There are lots of reports from the Center itself on many aspects of government secrecy, documents from conferences and programs they have held. They have a list of amendments to the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), with links to full text of the bills. And they have reports from their center analyzing the effects of each amendment. Each fall and spring, they issue a thumbnail of FOIA in the Supreme Court, and then provide links to any decisions of the Court, including Certiorari, Amicus briefs, briefs, and related articles analyzing the decision. There is a special analysis of FOIA post-9/11, focusing on non-Supreme Court litigation. They offer an analysis of National Security classification of government materials, organized by administration, looking as far back as F.D.R. The analysis is very in-depth. , and includes lots of full text links to official documents as well as to reports. There is a section on States Secrets Privilege, and another on Pseuosecrecy. And finally, a report looking at transparency worldwide. I apologize for giving such a very rich site short shrift! is an international network of private individuals and organizations interested in freedom of information, transparency from governments:

The Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet)is an international information-sharing network of organizations and individuals working to promote the right of access to information. Members of FOIAnet are civil society organizations with active programmes to promote the right to know. FOIAnet also runs a discussion list for news and debate on the right of access to information; there are currently over 400 people on this list, including CSO representatives and lawyers, academics, information commissioners and others with a specialised interest in the right to information. The network launched and promotes International Right to Know Day which takes place on 28th September of every year.
They list members from all around the world. And they have a fun world map with "push pins" showing the location of Right to Know Day events, on their home page. It only shows a few events in upper North America. One is happening in our building, and I was surprised to find it registered on their map. But there are dozens all through Mexico, Central and South America. There are a good few around Europe and into Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, a number in Bangladesh, and India, and a few scattered across Africa. None in the far East.

This website offers some resources, links to organizations' websites in various countries which vary a great deal in what they have available when you follow the links. It's worth exploring though. Sometimes, it's just a list of people studying the issue of government secrecy, as with the disappointing American link,, "Collaboration on Government Secrecy," at American University. Some, like the Scottish link to University of Dundee, Centre for Freedom of Information, will eventually bring you to FOI Seminars, which has some reports that may be useful. Likewise, the Argentinan Unversidad de Palermo Centros y Programas de Investigacion, if you can read Spanish fluently, provides lengthy reports at the first link on the top left, written by law faculty members. The IST (Stockholm-based International School for Transparency)includes a link for a court decision out of South Africa about Zimbabwe, and a number of news reports. And the South Africa link, Open Democracy itself is a rich source, with links for legislation, information on recent litigation, training information and news, organized by topic. It's a bit of a come-uppance, actually, to realize that the U.S. site, rather like our current administration, which has trumpeted its "transparency," only to disappoint us in so many ways lately, is not all that informative about Freedom of Information.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Prosecutorial Misconduct

USA Today's article entitled "Prosecutors' Conduct Can Tip Justice Scales" makes for upsetting reading. The paper launched an investigation of "201 criminal cases ... in which judges determined that Justice Department prosecutors ... violated laws or ethics rules." The high-profile Duke lacrosse case demonstrated that prosecutors can badly overstep and misstep, but the USA Today investigation shows that the same abuses are rampant in the federal system. The consequences have been serious--"the abuses have put innocent people in prison, set guilty people free and cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees and sanctions." One of my colleagues at Pace Law School, Professor Bennett L. Gershman, was interviewed for the USA Today story. He is a former prosecutor himself, having worked for the prestigious Manhattan District Attorney's Office for six years. Professor Gershman has written extensively about prosecutorial misconduct on both the federal and state level, and many of his law review articles are available by hypertext link from his faculty page (linked to above). According to Professor Gershman, the abuses detailed in the article are the "'tip of the iceberg' because many more cases are tainted by misconduct than are found. In many cases, misconduct is exposed only because of vigilant scrutiny by defense attorneys and judges." The article is accompanied by a compelling videotape that focuses on the case of Nino Lyons, who was incarcerated for nearly three years after a prosecutor failed to disclose exculpatory evidence; he was eventually declared innocent and released, but his life will never be the same. The prosecutor, Bruce Hinshelwood, was ordered to pay $1,111.80 in costs and to attend an ethics workshop, but stayed on the job until 2008 and has since opened his own practice. He was never punished by the Department of Justice or by the Florida Bar.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jeffrey Toobin Analyzes Breyer's Impact on the Supreme Court

In the New Yorker for September 27, 2010, Jeffrey Toobin has a very lengthy essay on Stephen Breyer, considering his position on the newly reshuffled Supreme Court. Breyer has a new book out, Making Our Democracy Work. According to the blurb at the publisher's website, he surveys the history of the Supreme Court, looking at various times when the Court's rulings have been flouted or ignored, and then discusses what he believes the Court did to create public trust in its authority and what it must to do maintain that trust. The link provided here to the publisher's website also then leads on to an audio of Justice Breyer on NPR's "Fresh Air" radio show, but does not include any reviews of the book (see one here, from the New York Times Sunday Book Review, by Jeff Shesol, who was a speech writer for President Clinton).

Basically, Toobin sees Breyer as potentially a key deal maker now among the liberal wing on the Supreme Court. He notes how odd this is for a justice who is only liberal by contrast with the current court, or only liberal in certain senses. He also is a person who seeks compromise. An example of both tendencies that Toobin offers are the two cases that came before the Court. Could people put creches in a park and could they erect them in a courthouse? Four of the Court thought both were permissible and four of the Court thought neither was permissible. Breyer voted to allow the park and ban the courthouse display.

Breyer's passion is for administrative law, which is central to the gun control rulings of the last several years (District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S.Ct. 645 (2007) and McDonald v. City of Chicago, (2009). See also Wikipedia, the end of the articles for helpful links McDonald and Heller.), as well as several cases that may be working their way up to the Court now regarding this administration's health care act. One key opinion is Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, 561 U.S. ___ (2010) (Wikipedia entry so far is a stub, but it will grow with better links). This is the Sarbanes-Oxley case, and turns on matters of administrative law, which is Justice Breyer's passion, according to Toobin. Justice Roberts wrote for the majority, and Breyer wrote a passionate dissent, with Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Sotomayor joining, that, with appendices, occupies more space than the majority opinion. The majority opinion finds the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (P.L. 107-204 and Wikipedia article for helpful links), to offend the doctrine of separation of powers because it "...withdraws from the President any decision on whether good cause exists. ..." for withdrawing Public Company Accounting Oversight Board members and instead vests that authority with Commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission.(slip opinion, majority opinion, at p. 14). After first noting that the question lies at the intersection of 1) Separation of Powers and 2) Who has power over Executive Branch officials, and the extent of that power. He states that neither text nor history, and perhaps no precedent helps with the resolution of question presented. He warns, quoting Justice Thomas from Chicago v. Morales, 527 U. S. 41, 106 (1999) that “this Court” is “most vulnerable” when “it deals with judge-made constitutional law” that lacks “roots in the language” of the Constitution (internal quotation marks omitted). (Breyer, Dissent, at page 6 in original slip opinion of Free Enterprise Fund)

Breyer urges the judiciary to concede to the superior understanding of, and capability to manage both administrative and political power of the other two branches of government. He notes the size and complexity of the federal government to explain the practicalities that drive the need and reasonableness of the delegation set up in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. And Breyer also reports the voting both in the House and the Senate and the speed with which it passed, in the wake of the Enron scandal. He provides citations to many pieces of legislative history, (at page 10 of the dissent), from pages in the Congressional Record, to the Presidential Signing Statement and a report from the ABA (which seems to be no longer available at the URL cited).

In many ways, Breyer is, as Toobin's article comments, a classic "Roosevelt New Dealer," who sees the need for the government to regulate modern life, and takes a pragmatic, or "workable" approach to democracy, in which he sees the Supreme Court eschewing both trying to do amateur history for the sake of Originalism and trying to closely interpret the language of the Constitution. Breyer prefers taking a practical approach which often results in solomonic judgements such as the pair of cases described by Toobin involving creches in a public park compared with a courthouse. Breyer notes the "two layer" insulation between the President and the Board members in the Free Enterprise Fund case was inserted to protect the Board members' independence from political pressure, quite the opposite of the thinking of the majority, who felt that the President needed to be given back control. And Breyer would remind his colleagues on the Court that they are substituting their own judgement, (as lifetime appointees on the federal bench!) for that of the elected Congressional leaders (who were subject to their own electoral pressures from constituents) -- ironically enough, in this matter. (actually, OOTJ readers, this is Betsy inserting her own irony notice here).

But the most important part of Breyer's dissent comes at Section II D, pages 23 - 33, where he raises the specter of this decision unraveling the federal government's entire administrative structure, from court clerks, to administrative agencies to the very military itself. The majority opinion focuses on "inferior officers," without adequately defining the term for Breyer's administrative legal mind. Breyer combs earlier Supreme Court opinions and even a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel Memo.

Reading the criteria above as stringently as possible, I still see no way to avoid sweeping hundreds, perhaps thousands of high level government officials within the scope of the Court’s holding, putting their job security and their administrative actions and decisions constitutionally at risk. To make even a conservative estimate, one would have to begin by listing federal departments, offices, bureaus and other agencies whose heads are by statute removable only “for cause.” I have found 48 such agencies, which I have listed in Appendix A, infra. Then it would be necessary to identify the senior officials in those agencies(just below the top) who themselves are removable only “for cause.” I have identified 573 such high-ranking officials, whom I have listed in Appendix B, infra. They include most of the leadership of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (including that agency’s executive director as well as the directors of its Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation and Office of Enforcement), virtually all of the leadership of the Social Security Administration, the executive directors of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the general counsels of the Chemical Safety Board, the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, and the National Mediation Board. ... The potential list of those whom today’s decision affects is yet larger. As JUSTICE SCALIA has observed, administrative law judges (ALJs) “are all executive officers.” Freytag, 501 U. S., at 910 (opinion concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (emphasis deleted);...

And what about the military? Commissioned military officers “are ‘inferior officers.’” Weiss, 510 U. S., at 182 (Souter, J., concurring); id., at 169–170 (majority opinion). ... Numerous statutory provisions provide that such officers may not be removed from office except for cause (at least in peace time). See, e.g., 10 U. S. C. §§629– 632, 804, 1161, 1181–1185. And such officers can generally be so removed only by other commissioned officers, see §§612, 825, 1187, who themselves enjoy the same career protections.

The majority might simply say that the military is different. But it will have to explain how it is different. It is difficult to see why the Constitution would provide a President who is the military’s “commander-in-chief,”Art. II, §2, cl. 1, with less authority to remove “inferior”military “officers” than to remove comparable civil officials. ...

The majority sees “no reason . . . to address whether” any of “these positions,” “or any others,” might be deemed unconstitutional under its new rule, preferring instead to leave these matters for a future case. Ante, at 27. But what is to happen in the meantime? Is the work of all these various officials to be put on hold while the courts of appeals determine whether today’s ruling applies to them? Will Congress have to act to remove the “for cause” provisions? Cf. Buckley, 424 U. S., at 142–143. Can the President then restore them via executive order? And, still, what about the military? A clearer line would help avoid these practical difficulties.

The majority asserts that its opinion will not affect the Government’s ability to function while these many questions are litigated in the lower courts because the Court’s holding concerns only “the conditions under which th[e]se officers might some day be removed.” Ante, at 27. But this case was not brought by federal officials challenging their potential removal. It was brought by private individuals who were subject to regulation “‘here-and-now’” and who “object to the” very “existence” of the regulators themselves. Ante, at 33, 8 (emphasis added). And those private individuals have prevailed. Thus, any person similarly regulated by a federal official who is potentially subject to the Court’s amorphous new rule will be able to bring an “implied private right of action directly under the Constitution” “seeking . . . a declaratory judgment that”the official’s actions are “unconstitutional and an injunction preventing the” official “from exercising [his] powers.” Ante, at 10, n. 2, 6; cf., e.g., Legal Services Corporation v. Velazquez, 531 U. S. 533, 546 (2001) (affirming grant of preliminary injunction to cure, inter alia, a separation-of-powers violation); Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., 343 U. S. 579 (same). Such a plaintiff need not even first exhaust his administrative remedies. Ante, at 7–10.
561 U. S. ____ (2010), BREYER, J., dissenting, at pp. 28 - 29, 30-32 of original slip opinion. Toobin characterizes this vision as a computer virus that would unravel the federal government.

The Toobin essay is a lengthy one, looking at Breyer as a jurist, and at his place in the Court. It considers how past justices who have become "great dissenters" have slowly become disenchanted and bitter as the years rolled by -- things I did not know about either Felix Frankfurter or Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., assuming that this is a correct characterization. But Toobin draws Breyer as an even-tempered and cheerful man, who resolutely remains up-beat even as he often is the lone writer of his dissent. He evidently find great solace in the popular books he has come out with, as well as his family. I hope he continues to be a happy justice. His attention to detail in the administrative law area is important, even if it is not glamorous.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Federal Reserve Statement on the Economy & a Translation

The Federal Reserve has issued a Press Release stating that the "pace of the recovery ... has slowed in recent months. ... the pace of economic recovery is likely to be modest in the near term." And then they tell you what the Fed's Open Market Committee has voted to do about it, and who voted how. It's all sort of confusing to read. So, for our benefit, Slate online magazine and NPR have cooked up a translation of the statement into plain English, with a nice toggle switch to flip back and forth between the official version and the Plain English. They had a bit of fun with it, which is good, because otherwise, it's kind of anxiety-inducing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lost Authors' Libraries

The Boston Globe Ideas section today features an interesting article on authors' libraries being dispersed, both during the authors' lifetimes, but most especially as part of estate settlement. Craig Fehrman writes, focusing largely on a recent case that came about most unusually. Annecy Liddell examined a used copy of a book at The Strand, a famous book store in Manhattan. As she paged through the book, she noticed that the previous owner had written his name in the front. Then she discovered that the owner had made marginal notes all through the book. She decided to buy the book anyway, and went home and looked up the previous owner on Wikipedia. She discovered that her book had been owned and annotated by a famous, though cultish novelist, David Markson, considered the most important experimental novelist in American fiction.

Ms. Liddell posted a note to her Facebook page about her discovery. And fans of David Markson stumbled on the note, deducing that Markson, who had died recently, had had his personal library dispersed to the Strand. The fans used Facebook and Twitter to coordinate their purchases at The Strand. They made notes of what they found and bought by Markson. They compiled lists of the books they managed to retrieve and swap scanned images of the pages with annotations, and stories of their adventures.

The author of this newspaper article explains that, though the fans of Markson were stunned that his annotated books should end up in the clearance bins at a bookstore, and scattered to the winds, to uncaring purchasers, that the "system" does not usually care about authors' libraries. Even authors themselves do not seem to care about keeping their libraries intact or passing their annotations along. In fact, Markson seems to have planned to have most of his 2,500 volume library sent to The Strand, where they had hosted many readings for him over the years, and he had sold off parts of his collection over the years to finance his life. Other authors who seem to be unconcerned about scattering their libraries include John Updike, who gave many of his books to church book sales, friends, and a nearby book store.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), gave 500 of his books to help found the public library in Redding, Connecticut. And after his death, Clemens' daughter, Clara donated another 1,700 of his personal library books to that public library. Many of the patrons discovered Clemens' annotations in the books and began cutting the pages with his writing as souvenirs. But there were still many volumes with his notes intact. After the Redding Public Library weeded, and discarded many of Clemens' old volumes, a book dealer realized what he had, and academic libraries across the country managed to purchase the books. Now these libraries hold Clemens books with his marginalia, with purple library stamps marked Redding Public Library.

Starting in the 1950's scholars began to value the markings that some authors made in their books. For a few, more high profile authors, there are lists of books that once made up their personal libraries, and some scholars even try to figure all the books that an author may have read, whether they owned the book or not. There is one for Twain, for instance, created with enormous effort. Scholars sift through purchase receipts, library check out slips, diaries. Craig Fehrman asks, why not try to create the list before the library is dismantled? He answers that the estate handlers are often under great time pressure -- to clear out an office for the next tenant, for example. I suppose, they may not always know that the author will be interesting to posterity, either, though David Markson turns out to have told his children that he would become famous when he died and to hold onto a certain number of his books until after his funeral.

Quite an interesting article, and an interesting insight into writers and their pressures and quirks! As a librarian and a reader, someone who works with archivists and has been an English major, this was fascinating stuff.

Focus on Fonts

I first got interested in fonts when I took Professor Terry Belanger's course "History of the Printed Book" at Columbia University's School of Library Service in 1974. Professor Belanger devoted a large portion of the course to discussion of font design, and by the end of the semester, most of us could recognize the fonts used in early printed books and threw around technical terms such as "sans serif" with ease. This experience came back to me when I read in the Boston Globe an article on Matthew Carter, the "celebrated typeface designer." The article is accompanied by a short but informative video in which Mr. Carter discusses his work on the redesign of the Globe in 2000. The font he designed for the Globe, Miller Globe Text, is still being used today for the print newspaper; the online newspaper is produced using the Georgia font, which Mr. Carter originally developed for Microsoft. Another of his well-known designs is Verdana from 1994, "a revolutionary font for having prevailed over technical constraints of that time, like coarse computer screen resolution." Mr. Carter was involved from an early stage in creating fonts that would be easy to read on screen.

'For better or worse, I did get involved in this at an early age, and I do have a sense of being part of a continuum that's technical ... I've lived through the change from metal type to film to digital and from the desktop and to the Web to wherever we are now--I don't know--so I've had to adapt to these changes, and I've done so very readily, I've been glad to do that.'

Mr. Carter is going to be honored for his work next Friday by the Boston chapter of the AIGA, which is, according to its website, the "professional association for design." Matthew Bacon, president of the board of AIGA's Boston chapter, states that "honoring [Carter] is honoring the differences that design makes for the human experience."

For more information about Bitstream Charter, the font shown in the illustration above, click here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Constitution Day

Whoops! OOTJ nearly missed celebrating Constitution Day, 2010! Tip of the OOTJ hat to William Hein, actually, for their little e-mail alert! Here is the Federal Register Notice of Implementation of Constitution and Citizenship Day on September 17 each year, in 2005.

The Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement announces that, pursuant to legislation passed by Congress, educational institutions receiving Federal funding are required to hold an educational program pertaining to the United States Constitution on September 17 of each year. This notice implements this provision as it applies to educational institutions receiving Federal funding from the Department.
The federal law noted is Section 111 of Division J of Pub. L. 108-447, the ``Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2005,'' Dec. 8, 2004; 118 Stat. 2809, 3344-45 (Section 111). Here is a nice site with lesson plans and facts about the Constitution. Fox News actually has an informative story about the history of the bill and this holiday here. Apparently the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia urged the passing of this law in 2004, though it had roots all the way back to 1940 when Congress created "I am an American Day" in May. In 1952, Congress repealed that earlier law and re-created the holiday as as Citizenship Day, on September 17. So, Senator Byrd's law, tucked into an appropriations bill I can't help but notice, adds two requirements to Citizenship Day:

* The U.S. Office of Personnel and Management will make available to all agency heads material to help educate all federal employees about the Constitution, particularly regarding its relation to the oath they take to uphold it; and

* Every educational institution receiving any federal funds must hold an educational program on September 17 for its students.

The image of the original Constitution is from , the National Archives website.

Calculate Government Costs - a hair-raising experiment

I tried out the calculator. It's sponsored by the non-partisan Independent Institute, which explains itself:

The Independent Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan, scholarly research and educational organization that sponsors in-depth studies of critical social and economic issues.

The mission of the Independent Institute is to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity. ... In order to fully understand the nature of public issues and possible solutions, the Institute’s program adheres to the highest standards of independent scholarly inquiry.

The resulting studies are published and widely distributed as books, articles in The Independent Review, Policy Reports, Working Papers, and other publications. Events sponsored by the Institute bring together scholars and policy experts to debate issues and discuss their implications. This work is conducted in conjunction with a series of educational centers ...
They also publish a quarterly newsletter, and an online newsletter, and maintain extensive archives. The website, in fact, looks like it could be a good research site for certain topics. But the Cost calculator is kind of fun, but also heart-stopping. Though, after a bit, you get kind of inured to the big numbers. Late Senator Everett M. Dirksen was famous for saying, "A billion here, a billion there and soon, you're talking about real money."

Any way, the calculator requires you to enter your education level, then your age and finally your income. After that, it tells you how much tax you will pay over the rest of your lifetime. And how much income your could have generated by investing that money instead. They make a lot of assumptions -- that you would have invested at such and such a level and not spent it on a vacation or a better car, for instance. But it's laid out with bar graphs and the amount in bold face numbers. And then, you have the option of finding out how much of that money will be spent on different federal spending: Afghanistan and Iraq Military Operations, Economic Stimulus, Financial System Bailout, Recession Welfare, Agriculture Programs and Subsidies, Disaster Relief and Insurance, Economic Development, Education, Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Foreign Aid & International Affairs, Justice & Public Safety, and on and on...and on. Everybody's ox is up for goring, I think. It really does seem to be non-partisan. You can see just how much your taxes in the future will be going to fund each of these operations, again, making assumptions, that you continuing earning at the same rate, and that tax rules remain the same. But it's quite an interesting exercise. A cool tool to get you thinking, and then, maybe to go on to the Independent site and other associated parts of the website to think about what to do if it bothers you. Enjoy noodling! It's interesting to see what differences it makes to change the education level or age in this calculator.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fun with Paraprosdokianisms

Thanks to my youngest brother, I have been introduced to praprosdokianisms, or paraprosdokians. We all actually have run across them; we just didn't know the ten dollar word for these delightful little humor bits.

A paraprosdokian (from Greek "παρα-", meaning "beyond" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation") is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists.

Some paraprosdokians not only change the meaning of an early phrase, but also play on the double meaning of a particular word, creating a syllepsis.
(from the Wikipedia article, which then offers the lucky reader a lovely list of fun ones with attributions). But from the list my brother sent me, which has different ones, I offer some that are relevant to my librarian readers:

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

You're never too old to learn something stupid.

Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

Well, it's not what you think.... I am being too poetical for my own good here. The Library at New Mexico State University is canceling hundreds of subscriptions due to a $600,000 budget cut, according to an article by Paige Chapman in the Chronicle of Higher Education (dated Sept. 8, 2010 in the Faculty section). Only 20% of the subscriptions are going to be possible to replace through consortial arrangements. The rest will have to be replaced with interlibrary loan requests as needed. And of course, there is not any extra money allocated for the ILL that will surge this year. And when the ILL money runs out, it runs out and the users will just have to fall back on their wits. The worst news in the article was that they are looking at even more budget cuts -- the same or higher -- for next fiscal year.

I am so outraged at the combination of publisher and vendor greed pumping subscription prices ever higher, and the ways that legislatures budget pressures can slash away at university budgets. And libraries look like innocuous places to cut. After all, it's not anybody's salary. And it's not the heating plant, or (heavens forbid!) a sports program. How rarely will anybody get together and protest the cutting of a library budget!

But I remember forecasting that the publishers wrongly assumed that there were bottomless pockets to tap in the academic libraries, so they could go on raising their prices for subscriptions and just squeeeeeeezzzzeee as hard as they wanted to get that last drop of blood out. See these two earlier posts here, which I illustrated with the goose that laid the golden egg. You remember that story, don't you?
Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg (2006) and a related post on The Importance of Timing (2006)

PS. I note that the link to Jacob Stein's wonderful essay is missing. Here it is.

GPO-Access Replacement Launching, and Authentication of Law

GPO-Access has had a great run as the portal for the Government Printing Office. It is still up through the end of this calendar year. But the replacement site is already up and running and it looks great. Introducing...... (drumroll, please).......

It has a full home page. But it works well. There is a banner at the top with a small menu, which frankly all seem to lead back to the old GPO-Access website. There is an old FAQ section, which can be helpful if you have documents questions, and you can put in new documents questions with the same section, and check your existing queries as well.

But if you skip that top banner, and look at the main portion of the page, there are three panels, or columns. The left and right columns are narrower and the center is much broader. The left column offers again to take the reader back to GPO-Access, and divides the readers into Customers, Vendors and Libraries. Then there is a blue box of Quick Links to the most popular (one guesses) URLs:

* US Government Bookstore

* Ben's Guide to Government for Kids (a useful site!)

* FDLP Desktop (for the Federal Depository Libraries)

* Catalog of U.S, Government Publications

* Digitization Registry

(The choices remind the reader that 1) The GPO is the government's bookseller; 2) The Federal Depository Library Program is alive and is run through this site; 3) the GPO is charged with digitizing much of what it has been printing for centuries, and the users will want to know what is now available electronically.)

The right hand narrow column features a changing list of "Latest Resources." Today everything listed are congressional bills and debate transcripts about Wall Street reform and health care reform. But it gives the citation, title and a hot link to pick up the full text of the document. It also offers the entire text of the CFR (Code of Federal Regulations), the Federal Register issues, the Budget for fiscal year 2011, the Economic Report of the President for 2010, and more. Except for your time and disc space, these appear to be free downloads. The large files, such as titles of the CFR can be zipped, or can be delivered in XML, with each file size noted.

The center panel has the main news:

The migration of information from GPO Access into FDsys will be complete in 2010. The migration is occurring on a collection-by-collection basis.
There is a lengthy list of the various titles and the dates for which each is carried. The list is changing day by day, as the migration continues.

The top of the center panel has a search bar, where you can enter a basic search. There is, however, an advanced search function where you can specify the type of material to be searched, up to five search criteria can be laid on the query. There is an excellent Help section, which I believe is the same as from GPO-Access, though I may be wrong. It is a very powerful search engine for frequent users who master the syntax and understand the various tools offered, such as SuDoc numbers and referenced citations, but even the keyword search and simple search seem to work pretty well. There is also an option from the original search bar to Retrieve by Citation, which works easily because the system provides a set of boxes for the user to enter the citation, so you don't have to guess at the correct format. Even more exciting, when I pulled up a CFR citation for 2010, I got a digital version that was "Certified by the Superintendent of Documents [] United States Government Printing Office, certificate issued by GeoTrust CA for Adobe." This was in a medium blue bar across the top of the screen, with an image of a pen at the right side of the bar. This is exciting, the beginning of Digital Authentication of laws online.

More on e-books

E-Books Summit: There is an e-books library summit coming up September 29, 2010! Co-sponsored by Library Journal and School Library Journal, it is aimed at Public Libraries, School Libraries and yes, Academic Libraries, too. It is a Virtual Conference which runs 10 AM - 6 PM EDT, with archives available October 1 - December 31, 2010.

Keynote speakers include Ray Kurzweil, David Lankes, and Kevin Kelly. OOTJ readers may recognize Kurzweil as the developer of the Kurzweil reader and the long-awaited (still waiting, Ray!) Blio free e-reader platform that will have such mongo read-aloud features because he works closely with the vision-impaired community. And OOTJ readers who were at AALL in Denver in July, 2010 may recognize David Lankes as the keynote speaker there, who gave a very high-energy talk to us (it's mentioned on the link page shown here). OOTJ readers who also read Wired will recognize Kevin Kelly's name from that context.

On a related note, blog has a very nice analysis of the Kindle and its environmental impact. You have to replace more than 20 NEW books with a Kindle to balance the environmental impact of the heavy metals and plastics and energy of its manufacture, and power for its maintenance.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

End of the Print New York Times?

The New York Times is the "newspaper of record," probably the most respected and best known paper published in the United States today. Although it is the hometown newspaper for the New York City metropolitan area and a reliable source for stories of local interest, it is also national and international in the scope of its coverage. Like most other newspapers, the Times has been struggling with crafting a business model that will enable it to be relevant and financially solvent in an era when people have so many ways, many of them free, to get their news. The newspaper erected a paywall and took it down again in 2007 because of disappointing revenues, and has announced that it will start charging for content again in 2011. Times articles will continue to be accessible to search engines.

This history (and the fact that I once worked for a Times subsidiary) explains my interest when my colleague Jack McNeill pointed out a posting in today's Huffington Post. Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, "acknowledged Wednesday that the newspaper will go out of print--eventually." He did not provide any idea of how soon this might happen. Nor did he provide any insights about the company's long-term plans except to say that media companies need to remain flexible and open to new approaches. His remarks were made at the WAN-IFRA 9th Annual International Newsroom Summit in London. More information about Sulzberger's remarks is available here. According to Business Insider founder Henry Blodget , the basic problem is this:

'The economics of the online news business will not support the infrastructure or newsroom that the printed paper supports. Unless the New York Times Company can come up with a miracle new digital revenue stream, therefore, it will eventually have to be restructured and downsized (or sold to a deep-pocketed Sydney Harmon-type [sic] who runs it at a loss out of love).' [Sidney Harmon recently purchased Newsweek magazine and is attempting to revive it.]

The online Wall Street Journal now charges for access, and seems to be successful. Is this because it occupies a niche position and readers don't have many options for the content it offers? Is it because Journal readers are more affluent and can afford to pay for content? Is what the Times offers sufficiently unique and valuable that users will pay for it, or will they get their news elsewhere? What makes a paper like the Times special is the quality of the reporting, and this is expensive. If it doesn't have the revenue to pay for the reporting, will it become just another newspaper and lose the qualities that make it special?

Post-script to e-books developments

The University of Michigan Press is offering a short and medium term rental option for their academic titles. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired Campus, Sept. 3, 2010, page A23 in print. I discover to my dismay that there does not seem to be a way to link to any archived version of a week-old "Wired Campus" article online. So, I will report without links.

University of Michigan Press has apparently been offering all or many of their academic titles available to rent for a semester or a year, at a discounted price. At the end of the term, the digital copy self-destructs. Now, the press is offering a shorter term lease to see if there will be interest. 261 of the most popular scholarly titles are available for for 40% of the normal list price for 30 days. Or for 75% of the full price, you get it for 180 days. For that time period, the e-book can be viewed on up to six different devices. The time begins to run when the e-book is opened.

For a digital book that costs $25.00, this is not a huge cost savings, but there are some titles that are much more expensive where the savings would be more substantial. The deal, even if savings are minimal, might be of interest to a student writing a paper, who just wants to be able to cut and paste text. When you calculate savings though, you must take into consideration that with a full purchase of the e-book, as with a print book, there is an item to return for resale.

The short article quotes Heather Newman, UM Press's trade-marketing manager, for several points. They hope the short-term lease interests students who need books for single citations or a single paper, or the use of a single course. The discount, she said, was determined by balancing book-production costs against what customers can spend. They are testing both rental costs and delivery options, trying to "align production costs with consumers' budgets." I thought that was a rather ominous-sounding way to produce scholarly texts. But I suppose university presses have to remain solvent. They hope to expand from the current 261 titles to 325 by the end of the year.

The article interviews Prof. Albert N. Greco, who teaches marketing at Fordham University's business school. Mr. Greco believes that the business model is a good one, addressing three problems the textbook industry has been facing:

1) competition from used-book sellers;
2) high return rates;
3) expensive production costs.

Greco says with digital books, all these problems are either eliminated or much reduced. But he notes that students may decide that the loss from not being able to resell the book is not worth the discount they receive at the purchase. Still, he predicts that by 2015, digital books will have taken off in universities, though he agrees, that it will be up to the students to decide.

*Note from Betsy: Nobody I have seen writing about this has done as good a job as Lyonette Louis-Jacques analyzing what students (at least law students) will want in a textbook. Her comments in a presentation on the issue were excellent. But summing up things that I recall and notes from this blog over the months we have commented on e-books, the most important things in e-textbooks seem to be:

1) Interface and Hardware
Customer satisfaction rests heavily on the design of the device and its software. How easily can the user flip pages, locate text, highlight material, enlarge tables? Does it handle color? Can it work on laptops or is it designated for a certain reader machine? How heavy is it? How long does it take to learn to use? If you are going to have the entire school on e-books, plan to offer tutorials for everybody on the most important features. There is a learning curve!

2) Battery Life
Laptop batteries rarely last more than an hour and a half without recharge or being plugged in. Dedicated e-reader batteries last much longer, but if you really mean to use e-textbooks throughout the day of school, you need to plan to have outlets in every classroom.

3) Subjects are not equally e-friendly
Math-heavy subjects are difficult in digital formats because the tables and formulas are difficult to read without easy enlargement. Tables are usually pop-up affairs that cannot be enlarged, and this makes digital versions very hard to read. Also, the Kindle and Sony Reader do not handle color. For many law textbooks this will not matter, but be alert, because a few courses, this may make a difference.

4) Weighty Matters
Students will welcome being able to carry just ONE item rather than hauling multiple heavy law books, or making multiple trips to and from their lockers with heavy law books, and a laptop or notebooks. They will, if the reader has a great interface, be thrilled to be able to take notes on the same device as the textbook, and have the outline aided from that text as well.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Blogs in the Spotlight

The National Law Journal's supplement, Law Schools--A Special Report, highlights five "pioneers in law blogging," who are some of the best-known bloggers in legal academic--Professors Douglas Berman (Sentencing Law and Policy); Paul Caron (TaxProf Blog); Christine Hurt (The Conglomerate); Brian Leiter (Brian Leiter's Law School Reports); and Eugene Volokh (The Volokh Conspiracy). The brief profiles of the bloggers contain some interesting nuggets about why they started blogging and how they juggle their time commitments. Professor Hurt revealed that it is difficult to start blogging, at least for some people. Academics are accustomed to sharing their work with colleagues and to reworking their ideas many, many times before publication. "The thought of throwing something up on the computer scene [sic] for the whole world to read in five minutes doesn't resonate with a lot of people." Professor Berman began blogging in 2004, and has "learned to rein in his impulse to post fast-and-furious reactions to news and events. ... Over time, [he's] gotten more sensitive to being more mature, to resist the significant urge to go for the quick, sexy, clever comment." All of the professors interviewed say that blogging is a tremendous incentive for keeping up to date in their area of expertise and makes them more effective classroom teachers.

Scholarly E-books on the Way

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article at page A12 of its print issue for September 10, online if you have a subscription. "Publishers Join forces to Sell E-Books to Libraries," by Jennifer Howard, surveys several efforts by publishers to either set up consortia or otherwise get digital versions of scholarly monographs to academic libraries. She speaks with Garret Kiely, director of the university of Chicago Press, who is watching several efforts, but whose press already markets e-books. Kiely says that 80% of Univ. Chicago Press' e-book sales came from sales to consumers through e-tailers like, while only 20% of their e-books sold to libraries. Nevertheless, he and others of the university press publishers are pushing hard to develop a way to package their books in a digital format that will appeal to academic libraries. Here is the run-down of who is working on these projects, though I recommend reading the whole article:

* Project MUSE - currently produces e-journals, and wants to move into MUSE Editions to provide scholarly monographs. This is a consortium of 110 midsize university presses. Scheduled to debut July 1, 2011 on an "integrated platform" that should allow users to access journals and monographs in the same search result. They expect to offer "between 250 - 500 titles from the fall, 2011 lists of a pilot group of presses." Muse hopes to add backlist titles soon afterward, but not textbooks. In the future, participating publishers would make the digital version of a monograph available simultaneously with the print version. The cost structure would be similar to the current Project Muse, with discounted, tiered pricing. Eventually, Muse Editions could include "any nonprofit scholarly publisher in the humanities and social sciences..." who wants to join. Sadly for law libraries, this still excludes our largest publishers, unless we can convince our leading scholars to follow the new science model and create a nonprofit venue in which to publish their scholarship.

* JSTOR - Also currently producing an e-journal database. Wants to move into providing scholarly monographs working with a group of ivy and large university presses, "If we together can come up with a compelling service and business model..." This group is sponsored by Ithaka, a non-profit formed to assist academic organizations to use new technology to "to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways." They are not yet firmly committed to producing a salable forum for e-books themselves.

* Un-named proto-consortium - A group of university presses which have received two grants from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are studying what libraries want in e-book packages from university presses. Alex Holzman, director of Temple University Press, in a presentation at the Association of American University Presses annual meeting last June, told the audience that his group used a large grant from the Mellon foundation to hire consultants to study business models and survey academic librarians about the e-book options they want. Then, they will use a smaller grant from the same foundation to develop a business plan, finalize the features to offer, and create a Request for Proposals from potential partners. According to the Chronicle, they have interest from more than 50 university presses.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Student Loan Crisis

Kudos to my colleague, Marc Greenbaum, who alerted me to this fabulous graphic describing the terrible state of student loans, which he first saw at Above the Law, but which actually originates at courtesy of I wanted to include the image here, but it does not display well at OOTJ, because our window is too narrow and cuts off part. I highly recommend a visit, because it illustrates, not just how students are falling into debt, but how a series of changes to the law over decades has stripped them of the protections offered to borrowers in nearly every other situation. Now, student loan defaulters are no longer protected by

* Bankruptcy

* Statute of limitations

* Truth in Lending regulations

* Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

* Right to refinance

* State usury laws

* No protections from garnishment of
- Social Security income
- Disability income
- Wages without court order
- Tax refunds withholding

* Suspension of state professional license

I had not realized that students were being harassed and pressured so fiercely. There is a movement building and perhaps lobbying on behalf of the growing number of families affected by unbearable student loan payments will begin to move Congress to make changes in the laws. The problem is how much money the private lenders will be able to pour into lobbying to keep their profitable schemes in place.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

30 Ways to Rate a College

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a short article that surveys the ways that different organizations rate colleges. Dated August 29, 2010, by Alex Richards and Ron Coddington, the article is mostly an interactive map, which lays out on the left six different publications which rate colleges. Then, it lays out on the right, eight blocks of categories on which each organization ranks the colleges:

* Admissions selectivity and student demographics
* Evaluations
* Finances and spending
* International diversity
* Service
* Financial aid
* Student, faculty and alumni achievement
* Teaching

In each category, are from two to seven measures. Next to each measure is a circle with a number showing the number of raters who use that measure to rank colleges. The interactive feature lets you click on the publication name and "turn off" their lines on the map, or turn them back on.

Some of the categories listed above are fairly straightforward and self-explanatory. But others are less so. For instance, the two measures under "Service" are:

* Army/Navy ROTC size
* Alumni serving in the Peace Corps

Each of those measures has one publication using that measure to rate colleges, by the way, Washington Monthly. Some of the measures are strange and make you wonder what it actually has to do with the quality of the school. "Percentage of federal work-study grants focused on community service," for instance, might tell you something interesting, but I am not sure what it tells you about the quality of the school. That appears as a student demographic, and is measured by Washington Monthly. You can argue a lot about what any of these numbers tell you about a college, and whether the numbers alone tell you anything worth knowing.

The point of the article is actually how few points of agreement there are among the various organizations that rate colleges on the measures they use for ranking. They also point out that most of the numbers being used are input measures, and very few are output measures. One of the few, perhaps only scholarly works is Outcomes Assessment In Higher Education by Hernon & Dugan (2004). It is a serious attempt by respected academics to survey and evaluate methods of rating colleges and universities. They suggest new options as well, looking at input and outputs to be measured. I don't agree with all the suggestions, but it's a worthy effort, and I don't know of any other by people in the academy.