Friday, January 28, 2011

Space Tragedies and Poetry

I looked it up a while back to check the date, but today is the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. In a posting on another blog that even fewer people read than this one, I use that as a jumping-off point to talk about presidential documents and how you would use the Public Papers of the Presidents if you wanted an official cite to Reagan's remarks to the country that evening. I also prattled on about the "In Event of Moon Disaster" speech that William Safire wrote for Nixon in case NASA couldn't get Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin off the lunar surface and back to earth. (Nothing I've read about the contingent Apollo 11 speech makes mention of Michael Collins, who remained in the Command Module circling the moon, but apparently his greatest fear in the entire work-up for Apollo 11 was having to return to Earth alone as a "marked man for life". (Thank you, Wikipedia!!!))

But back to Space Tragedies and Poetry. Reagan's Challenger remarks, written by Peggy Noonan, quoted High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. As that link explains, he was an American pilot who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force before America entered WWII, and a test flight at 30,000 feet inspired the poem that Noonan excerpted and which Reagan related to a nation in mourning, telling his fellow Americans that the shuttle astronauts had "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God".

Reading Safire's article about his long-forgotten Apollo 11 contingency speech, he notes that his conclusion had Nixon say:
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
and which is a variation of the end of The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, which starts:
IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
At least one web page notes that both these disaster speeches - one never delivered, and one delivered memorably - used quotes from poets who both wrote about romanticized visions of war in the first half of the 20th century, but its only, as far as I've found, if you read the WikiP page for Brooke that will you discover not only did they both attend the same school in England (Magee's parents were missionaries so, though American, he got around as a kid), but that they both won the same poetry prize thirty four years apart from each other.

Did Peggy Noonan know of this connection? In both the column she wrote about the Challenger speech and in that chapter of her book about being a speechwriter for Reagan, she doesn't mention knowing about the Safire contingency speech at all, so this is likely just one of those very strange coincidences.

Noonan's column, incidentally, was written after the shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry in 2003. As far as the presidential response to that tragedy, Bush Jr. and his speechwriters, I presume, knew better than to bother with any fancy poetry (understandably, given that "There once was a man..." is probably the limits of his experience with poetry) and instead quoted Isaiah 40:36 in his response. It's a good, appropriate piece of verse, but overall Bush II's post-Columbia remarks are as unmemorable as was most everything else he said during his presidency.

Full blog post...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Goat-Rope that is SSRN

Over the holiday break, I got another “Everyone Wins a Ribbon Day” e-mail from SSRN:
Dear Brian Huddleston:

Your paper, "Louisiana Legislative History Resources", was recently
listed on SSRN's Top Ten download list for LSN: Legal Information:
Authority, Citation, & Precedent (Sub-Topic). As of 12/30/2010, your
paper has been downloaded 48 times. You may view the abstract and
download statistics at

Top Ten Lists are updated on a daily basis. Click on the following
link to view the Top Ten list for the journal LSN: Legal Information:
Authority, Citation, & Precedent (Sub-Topic) Top Ten.
I got a message like this soon after I uploaded this paper, and it was a joke even then: that e-mail said my paper was in the top ten downloads for the previous two months, but I only had 11 downloads at the time. Yet I was in the top ten because, yes, there were only two papers within this subject “eJournal” for that two-month period, and mine was the second of the two. (And who the hell was downloading it? - its a pretty narrow subject to be browsing for something about Louisiana legislative history research on SSRN.)

The bottom line is that SSRN has so many subject-specific “eJournals” - seven related to ConLaw and jurisprudence, six related to employment law and related matters, etc., etc. - that ANY paper can just about be assured of being a “Top Ten” download for that particular eJournal soon after you upload it to SSRN. This fact is sometimes trumpeted by self-serving law professors who conveniently leave out the detail that their paper was a Top Ten download only in the “Law of Armenian Basket Weaving” eJournal and instead represent it as a overall “SSRN Top Ten Download”. But I’m not naming names...

This recent message from SSRN was all the more suspect since my “paper” is a year and a half old - I doubt its within the top ten of anything now. But yesterday SSRN President Greg Gordon sent the follow-up e-mail to, apparently, a whole mess of people who got a similar message:
We apologize for sending you one or more incorrect email messages
last week. While testing some new functionality, our servers sent
"Top Ten" emails to the top one hundred downloaded papers in certain
ejournals instead of the top ten.
Oops! Damn that decimal point! And how disappointing! - my 2009 paper was only in the TOP ONE HUNDRED downloads for 2010 in the “LSN: Legal Information eJournal, Authority, Citation, & Precedent Sub-Topic”.

Wait - I didn’t even notice that - the eJournal is “Legal Information and Technology”, but they rank the top downloads for EVERY “sub-topic” within that journal? There are about forty sub-topics under this eJournal, including a full dozen sub-topics about the “Practice of Law Librarianship” for all my fellow law librarians to bulk up their resumes with “Top Ten Downloads” boastings.

Realizing this, its not surprising I’m in the top 100 downloads for the “Authority, Citation, & Precedent” sub-topic: there are only sixty-three papers TOTAL under that sub-topic! And I don’t think I put my paper in that sub-topic - it has nothing to do with Authority, Citation, & Precedent - its about Louisiana legislative history and was a contribution to a 50-state survey that apparently is no longer going to be published in Legal Reference Services Quarterly. Does SSRN stick papers in these eJournals and sub-topics randomly?

And let’s not even get into the poorly-thought “opt-out” requirement for authors who don’t want to participate in SSRN’s new “Hard Copies for $9.99” service. There’s no way for authors to get any royalties on this, and apparently this will violate the terms of agreements that professors sign with most law reviews. SSRN said it needed to start doing this to help cover expenses, even though they’re bilking charging the majority of law schools $6000+ annually to sent out four or five e-mails a year with lists of recent faculty articles, aka the SSRN “Research Paper Series”. We've been debating ponying up for our own Research Paper Series but I've repeated offered to the Dean that I would do the same thing for half the price.

Full blog post...