Monday, May 21, 2012

Clarity in legal writing

Beginning today, May 21, 2012, Scribes, the Clarity international association and the Center for Plain Language are co-hosting a conference in Wash8ing D.C., focusing on the new United States Plain Writing Act of 2010 (excellent information page here). There is also a Plain Regulations Act, but that is not the focus of the conference, exactly.

Tip of the OOTJ hat to The Scrivener, whose Winter, 2012 issue not only announces the conference, but also has some powerful and charming articles on plain language writing. I recommend it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wait, just a darned minute... the sky isn't falling!

I was flipping through the May 1, 2012 issue of Library Journal, when I was amazed to see a very short item in News Desk (page 11 in print) about the Libraries Online Incorporated (LION) a consortium of 25 Connecticut public, academic and school libraries boycotting new purchases of e-books from Random House. There is actually a fuller story online at Library Journal's Digital Shift. On March 2, Digital Shift covered a huge price increase, of as much as 300%, imposed by Random House on libraries buying their e-books. An e-book that cost $40 one day jumped to $120 the next, while the print version remains at $20 with the library discount! Random House is the only large publisher to make its e-books available to libraries without onerous restrictions, according to the article, but this is their rationale for the price increase:

“We believe our new library e-pricing reflects the high value placed on perpetuity of lending and simultaneity of availability for our titles,” said Stuart Applebaum, a Random House spokesperson. “Understandably, every library will have its own perspective on this topic, and we are prepared to listen, learn, and adapt as appropriate,” he said.

“Simultaneity” here means that Random House’s titles are available to libraries on the same date the retail edition is put on sale. It is not referring to simultaneous, multiple user access. The model remains one book, one user.
The reader can see the entirety of the Random House spokesperson's statement at the end of the Digital Shift article linked above.

To return to the boycott. The LION boycott was voted unanimously by its members on March 20, and communicated to Random House by LION president Richard Conroy. This boycott follows a similar boycott by a consortium of public libraries in Nova Scotia the South Shore Public Libraries, which voted to boycott purchases of new e-books from Random House by April 3, when this article ran in the The Chronicle Herald News. I think the issue is nicely put by the chief librarian Troy Myers:
"I don’t want to pick a fight with them, but their pricing’s unfair and I think they need to change it," chief librarian Troy Myers said Monday. (snip)"It’s public money we’re talking about here, and for us as a board to be good stewards of that money, we can’t justify paying these prices,"

Library board member Alan Wilson ... fully supports the boycott, saying it's important to take an early public stand.

"If this is a trend and not a single publisher, it’s something to be very concerned about," Wilson said.

"It’s a question of equity and fairness," he said, for both the authors and readers, and the publisher should have discussed the issues with the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Canadian Publisher’s Council.

"It seems ill-considered, it seems ill-timed and unilateral.""
I was quite surprised that these 2 groups were coming out as consortia, organizing a boycott against a publisher because of a pricing issue. Because, you know, we've always been told by our professional organization that if we acted as an organized group of librarians to act against a publisher on any issue of pricing, for instance, or other consumer issue, for instance, we might be accused of ...


That we, the consumers would somehow be organizing as a trust or bloc to somehow illegally manipulate pricing.

And that's why we, as AALL members, for instance, are supposed to sign some sort of agreement before we go on the AALL lists, right? That we won't discuss

THINGS that might violate ANTITRUST

or wait...

is that really just about

making some really big publishers


Friday, May 11, 2012

Obama first sitting U.S. President to speak in favor of same sex marriage

When President Obama spoke to Good Morning America on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 about his evolving feelings about same sex marriage, he became the first sitting American President to support same sex marriage. The Boston Globe ran a very nice article about the interview, which ran in two parts. There was a "breaking news" interruption of soap operas on Wednesday morning, and a longer airing of the full taped interview on Thursday.
Obama said his position on same-sex marriage evolved over several years as he spoke with friends, family, and neighbors about it. He cited the influence of members of his staff “who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together,’’ and the gay soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors “who are out there fighting on my behalf’’ but not allowed to marry. (snip) Obama said he has “stood on the side of broader equality’’ for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, “and I’d hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient . . . and I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word ‘marriage’ is something that evokes powerful tradition and religious beliefs.’’
The article quoted some activists who were angry and disappointed at the timing of the President's announcement, coming right after the North Carolina vote to amend their state constitution to ban same sex marriage on Tuesday, May 8. The President, in fact, expressed his disappointment in the voting outcome.

Obama's opponent in the Presidential race, Mitt Romney, when governor of Massachusetts, unsuccessfully sought several times to find a legislative way to overcome the judicial opinion that legalized same sex marriage in our state. He has stated that he opposes same sex unions and would support a federal Constitution ban on gay marriage. He would also support the current Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). So there is a clear split between the candidates on this issue. Obama does say that he supports individual states' right to decide for themselves how to treat the issue, so he does not contemplate a federal law that would override state laws on the matter.

I was listening to the radio on Thursday, and they were interviewing people about their reaction to the announcement. One gay journalist said that he really had not expected that the announcement would have much affect on him, but when he actually heard his President speaking words that reaffirmed his humanity, he was so moved that he burst into tears.

This is a civil rights issue. It is about treating people with dignity and equality. Bless President Obama for taking a huge step and doing the right thing in this area. I hope it does not hurt his campaign, but only helps.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Celebrating William Garrow

Did you ever wonder where the presumption of innocence in criminal trials came from?  What about the inadmissibility of hearsay evidence?  I had always assumed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that they had been part of British law at least as far back as the Normans.  Recently, however, thanks to a terrific British television series, Garrow's Law, I learned about the man who was responsible for the introduction of these important principles into the Anglo-American legal tradition.  The series uses real-life legal cases argued by Garrow at the Old Bailey to dramatize the career and life of the man who brought about what amounted to a revolution in the English common law. 

Sir William Garrow (1760-1840) isn't as well known as he deserves to be, but the TV series and recent  biography (John Hostettler and Richard Braby, Sir William Garrow:  His Life, Times and Fight for Justice, 2009) should help to rescue him from obscurity.  Garrow was a  crusading barrister who was a fixture at the Old Bailey--the Central Criminal Court in London--for about ten years in the late eighteenth century.  According to the preface of the Hostettler and Braby biography, Garrow's "aggressive defence of clients creat[ed] a new phenomenon in the criminal trial."  In fact, Garrow "led the way in altering the whole relationship between the state and the individual by his role in the revolutionary introduction of adversary trial."  (p. ix).  Garrow's skills at cross examination were legendary, and he helped to create rules of criminal procedure meant to protect the rights of prisoners.  According to Hostettler and Braby, "adversary trial was given constitutional recognition in the United States Bill of Rights and spread to all countries influenced by the common law."  (p. xi)  Garrow eventually became a member of Parliament, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, and a judge, but was mostly forgotten after his death.  

Drawing mainly upon his career in the Old Bailey, Garrow's Law ran for three series of four episodes each.  The BBC recently decided not to renew it for a fourth series, which is a shame because I found it to be well acted and compelling.   The producers of the series drew upon the Old Bailey's archives for their inspiration, a process that is documented in this short film about the making of the show.   The Garrow Society website also offers information about his life and work.  All are well worth checking out.