August 31st, 2009


[links] Link salad mumbles its way into another work week

A review of The New Space Opera, volume 2 — The reviewer was not so much with the liking of my story, or the book in general.

Writer, this is your job — (Via a mailing list I'm on.)

Scrivener's Error on the Google Books settlement deadline — He's absolutely right. Without respect to your opinions of this wretched matter, you should act in some fashion. Letting it pass by is your worst choice.

US's Yucca Mountain nuclear project in meltdown — Real estate deal of the century. And a serious nuclear policy issue. (Thanks to madwriter.)

It's time to embrace American royalty — Glenn Greenwald deploys some weapons-grade snark over the hiring of Bush daughter Jenna Hager as an NBC White House correspondent. (Via Making Light.)

Does Satan Have Good Intentions? — Digby on Christian support of the morally insupportable.

We ration. We ration. We ration. — Healthcare in America, not quite as perfected as the Town Hall shouters want to believe.

Some more comments from me and others on healthcare reform, linked here because they were originally posted during the Friday afternoon blog memory hole: [ | LiveJournal ]

?otD: Ah, but who is it climbs to your picture, with a garland of freshly-cut tears?

Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 6.25
This morning's weigh-in: 230.0
Currently reading: The Real Wizard of Oz by Rebecca Loncraine; Acacia by David Anthony Durham

Originally published at


[politics] The Right's assault on your rights

Last Friday on my Facebook presence, David Bara made the rather astute comment to the effect of:
The founding fathers looked at it differently. To the right was anarchy, to the left was tyranny. Labels like "Liberal" have very little to do with dictionary definitions, as does "Conservative". "Conservatives" should be in favor of things like conservation of the ecology and wildlife, liberals should be championing the rights of the individual over the rights of an oppressive government. Neither seems very true today.

And he's right, at least to a point. That's a deep irony.

We hear a lot about rights from the Right. Original Intent. Second Amendment rights. How the proposed healthcare reform process is a government intrusion on our rights.

Yet modern conservatism, as expressed in the actions of the Bush administration, in Republican Party state and national platforms, in the discourse on talk radio and cable news, in letters to the editors, in demonstrations, even in the occasional murder of a doctor, is very much about the government limiting personal rights.

Some examples of personal, legal and civil rights which conservatives eagerly support wholesale abrogation of through government intervention:

For fear of terrorism:
  • Conservatives favor torture (in direct contradiction of two centuries of American values, as well as any sense of morality or ethics)

  • Secret trials with closed evidence

  • Indefinite imprisonment without trial

  • Indefinite imprisonment past the expiration of sentencing

  • Suspension of habeas corpus

In the name of promoting specific religious beliefs (contra the First Amendment's protections of freedom of religion for all):
  • Forced pregnancy (through denial of family planning services and abortion access)

  • Criminalization of private sexual behavior

  • Denial of civil and legal rights to entire classes of persons (opposition to gay marriage)

  • Destruction of educational standards and opportunities (mandating counterfactual Bible-based teachings in biology and other subjects)

  • Establishment of specific religious practices (mandating school prayer)

Perhaps most ironically of late, many of the people who are braying loudest about forbidding any government influence in healthcare decision-making are the very same people who want government to ban abortion — one of the most important healthcare decisions a woman can make. The hypocrisy of this is breathtaking, albeit largely unacknowledged.

In every one of those cases, liberals stand foursquare in favor of individual rights against the conservative urge to promote government interference in our personal liberties. Many of those threatened or denied are explicitly delineated in the Constitution. (And to be fair, it is the shame of the Obama administration that they have not moved quickly to roll back so much of the damage the Bush administration did in this regard.)

Conservatism is a movement which famously doesn't "do nuance." Many conservative leaders are proud of their unwavering principles. This in turn leads to absolutism in rhetoric and policy. From there it's a short road to condemning liberals for pushing for gun control or healthcare reform as limiting individual rights.

Yet to my eye, modern conservatism is largely defined by a strong desire to limit the rights of others. The classic signifiers of conservatism — fiscal prudence, small government, limits to foreign adventuring — are long lost in the Reagan and post-Reagan era of the GOP. Except for their fixation on reducing tax levels, the Republican party and American conservatives have betrayed their traditional values for the comfort of taking away the rights of other people in order to help themselves feel safe, feel holy, feel American. (Or, as Interrupting Gelastic Jew recently said, "I'm scared, so take away that guy's rights please!." Pretty much the Bush administration's statement of principle with regard to terrorism.)

You can't take away rights, just because you disagree with someone, or they make you feel icky, or they violate the commandments of your particular religion, or because they're poor or the wrong skin color. That's why we talk about "rights", instead of "privileges". Yet conservatives, who fixate loudly on the rights they value for themselves, consistently campaign for wholesale abrogation of the rights of others.

All of this has been a bad bargain for conservatives, and a truly horrid bargain for American society as a whole. The rhetorical absolutism of which conservatives are so fond, their collective disdain for nuance, is voided by their own contradictions, as a result robbing cherished conservative principles of intellectual honesty or consistency. There's a hell of a lot of that much-despised nuance embedded in the tension between stated conservative principles and the rhetoric and actions of conservatives.

To point back to Bara's comment, the definitions of our political labels have changed, radically so, even in my lifetime. As a liberal, as an American, as a human being, I'd really like to keep my rights safe from conservative America. My rights and yours, including the rights of all my conservative friends despite themselves.

I can't help but hope that conservatives themselves would like the same thing, if they listened to their own reality instead of their rhetoric.

Originally published at


[publishing] One last crack at the Google Books settlement

One more shot at this. The Google Books settlement deadline is upon us. As it happens, I've been discussing this all day in various emails and blog comments. I thought I'd pull together my thoughts, one more time, as refined through the months that have passed since my last series of posts on this.

In as few words as possible, I think every copyright owner needs to strongly consider opting out.

First of all, I think the underlying goals of Google Books are laudable. Orphan works are an issue of both public access and cultural heritage, not to mention scholarly interest. Furthermore, I'd very much like my work to be accessible via a platform such as Google Books, consistent with my publishing contracts and rights permissions. If they'd asked me if I wanted to be a part if it, I'd have beaten a path to their door.

But they went the diametrically opposite direction from the entire history and structure of copyright law. The Google Books settlement enshrines a complete reversal of copyright control from the rights holder to the rights user, in their presumptive assertion of licensing rights absent the proactive objection of the copyright owner. Supporting the settlement puts every author in the position of being vulnerable to any larger player appropriating our copyrights, then arguing by precedent of the Google Books settlement, "well, you didn't object" — precisely the Google Books settlement argument.

This would open the door to unauthorized reprints with no redress, for example, and more to the point, Hollywood and gaming appropriation of copyrights without the author having a chance to negotiate or assert control of their own intellectual property. For deep pocketed companies, it will almost always be cheaper to litigate or settle after the fact than to license up front, given that the majority of authors won't have the wherewithal to pursue copyright cases against well-funded studio or corporate legal teams.

The underlying problem with the Google Books settlement is that a proposed copyright management regime optimized for dealing with orphan copyrights (where there may well be an argument to be made for presumptive assertion of a license) has been generalized to the entire universe of copyrights. This supports the interests of content consumers (access to copyrighted material) by betraying the interests of content creators (restructuring the fundamentals of the copyright licensing process).

Those who are urging opt-in are taking a stance of short-term expediency (some money is better than no money) over long-term principle. Unfortunately, in this case, the long-term issue is so high-risk that I don't see how any rational actor who expects to realize copyright income over the next decade or two can possibly support opting in.

I am not an attorney, this is not legal advice, but following is my understanding of the options. Note that I'm almost certainly wrong on some of the matters of fact here, but that's also a big part of the problem. This settlement is so cumbersome and so complex that even the attorneys who worked on it don't fully understand it. (I learned this in conversation with someone in a trade publishing house's legal department.)


Assert that you are a member of the covered class from the settlement. Waive your right to further redress. Agree with the settlement, participate in financial payouts from Google. Much of the agent-publisher side of industry is falling in on this option, for short term commercial reasons.


Assert that you are explicitly not a member of the covered class of the settlement. Preserve your right to further redress; for example, a more advantageous class action. No financial payouts from Google. Have more options to protect your copyrights.

No action

Under the terms of the settlement, if you fail to either opt-out or opt-in, Google Books by default acquires a subright to your copyright and continue to be able to feature your works, and you are presumptively included in the covered class, but without a payment method or assertion of ownership of your copyrights.

"No action" is the worst of both worlds, and also the truly pernicious part of the settlement, that in failing to respond you have agreed to the licensing terms. This is like me saying, well, you didn't say anything about me squatting in your vacation home, so now I'm a renter, and oh, I've decided it's worth $50 a month. Copyright has always been an opt-in process, not an opt-out process, with the copyright owner in control of the transaction. This is an absolute reversal.

If you think about it in terms of orphan works, their stance does make some sense. It's not purely piracy. But the net effect on working authors with active copyrights is a whole different kettle of fish. This settlement, however well-intentioned in its origins, is theft, pure and simple.

Parenthetically, I'll note that the opt-in process is heinously detailed and places extensive burdens of proof on you the copyright holder; for example to list precise page numbers on which your work appears in every edition of an anthology. Given my publication history, I'm looking at literally days, possible weeks of work, to document and defend copyrights that I already own without dispute. To return to the vacation home analogy, this is like the squatter and the police demanding that you show the title deed before any action can be taken to remove the illegal occupiers.

Will the settlement stand under litigation or judicial review or legislative action? Heck if I know. I sure hope not. But I do know that Google has deeper pockets than every author in the world put together, and good funding counts for a hell of a lot in both civil suits and in pursuing legislation.

Lacking the funds to do more, opt-out was the only sensible thing I could do without supporting the piracy either actively by opting in or tacitly by sitting it out. I strongly urge all copyright holders to do the same, and explicitly deny the legitimacy of this process.

Google has transitioned from "Don't be evil" to "Evil is as evil does". Let's not support them in this.

Originally published at