Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Liberals Moan Over Right-wing Book Sales

10.11.2009 (8:01 am) – Filed under: Conservatism,Liberalism,Literature ::

Don Surber says that the lefties are getting their knickers in a twist because conservative authors such as Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and others are selling too many books.

What’s wrong with writing something that people actually want to read?

…the left is wetting itself over this.

The Huffington Post asked: “Should The New York Times create a separate bestseller list for conservative blockbusters? Think of the history: we have a children’s bestseller list because of “Harry Potter” — Harry was knocking adult books off the top spots on the hardcover fiction list so publishers complained. The same thing must be true for Beck, Palin, Cheney, Bush (George W. and Laura), Malkin and others.”

So typical of the losers on the left. They can’t compete straight up, logic for logic, idea for idea, book for book. One can almost hear the red-faced panting of their failed efforts as they wheeze, unable to keep up with their betters.

“Not. Fair. Can’t. Do. It. Must redefine playing field so we can compete.”

That axiom, so central to the heart of leftist thinking, is the definitive hallmark of failure.

You want to sell some liberal pulp in book form? Write something that people actually care about instead of the self-indulgent drivel that passes for free thinking. Tropic of Cancer, anyone?

The Tragedy of the Week

28.08.2009 (5:19 pm) – Filed under: Literature,Media ::

image With Ted Kennedy and Dominick Dunne passing on this week you might think this article is about one of them but you’d be wrong.  No, the real tragedy of the week is the end of Levar Burton’s Reading Rainbow, the PBS show the Roots and Star Trek star used to pass on his love of literature to children all over the country.

Kennedy and Dunne have left a temporary void, but their shoes will be filled and most likely sooner rather than later.  Conversely, the Reading Rainbow, the 3rd longest-running PBS series of all-time, will likely not be replaced.  New techniques in reading education, it is believed, make Burton’s motivational techniques irrelevant.

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Playboy’s Interview with Ayn Rand Fascinating, Disappointing

03.05.2009 (12:40 pm) – Filed under: Literature,Philosophy ::

Though not normally on my reading list, it came to my attention that Playboy has published the text of it’s 1964 interview with Atlas Shrugged author Ayn Rand on its Facebook site. 

It’s a fascinating interview in which Rand easily rebuffs Alvin Toffler’s attempts to paint her views as inconsistent and out-of-touch – highly recommended reading.

Atlas was voted the 2nd most influential book of all time, trailing only the Bible and it’s easy to see why upon reading it.  No more consistent or direct philosophy of personal conduct has ever been articulated.

One thing I found disappointing about the interview with Rand was her discounting of individual value systems.  Rand’s own views obviously suited her very well.  But the ultimate individualist must also recognize that every person prioritizes values differently.  This is particularly true in regard to matters of faith, a subject that Rand treats with utter disdain and thereby fails to account for individual value systems, an essential part of any philosophical movement.

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Who is John Galt?

27.02.2009 (9:38 am) – Filed under: Business,Literature,Society,Taxation ::

Steve Hayward says that if Barack Obama’s trillion-dollar tax increase is implemented that he will go on strike in the fashion of John Galt, Ayn Rand’s famous lead in Atlas Shrugged.

…my bigger idea is to go all Randian and literally go on strike (and I’ve never really been much of a Rand fan, by the way–Whittaker Chambers had her down right).  I’m going to start converting income opportunities into more leisure by deliberately reducing my income.  Already between federal and state income taxes, self-employment taxes, the AMT, and phased-out dependent deductions as income rises, I’m at a marginal rate of about 50% on my last dollars earned from writing or anything else.  So it will pay to keep below Obama’s high income threshold.  I suspect a lot of self-employed people will make similar calculations and adjustments, and the revenue yield will be far below what Obama’s people project.

If the economic disincentives to work are pronounced enough, it’s certainly possible that others will follow in Hayward’s footsteps.  Not sure what Steve means by a lot, however. 

I suspect that most of the self-employed, who in many ways define ambition by their willingness to forsake the relative safety of corporate/government work, will continue to keep plugging along if only because their ventures require a certain amount of care and feeding in order to produce anything at all.  But it also seems likely that small business owners will re-invest in their companies rather than pay higher marginal tax rates on money they pay themselves, thereby achieving some of the same impact as an outright strike.

As many of you know, I am a big-time admirer of Rand.  However, it must be said that her work ignores some of the realities of life, the most poignant being children and the love, attention, and costs they bring with them.  Pure individualists may disregard such concerns but for most of us they are the reality of why we work.  That’s one reason why I don’t think that Hayward’s plan will lead to a mass Galtian movement.

The other is that, unlike the liberal fascist American government in Atlas, I seriously doubt that today’s liberals would:  A) recognize that their policies are what is killing western civilization as we know it; or B) have the courage to admit it if they did realize the effect of what they are doing.

Then again, who is John Galt?

Gays, Books, Tolerance and Equality

04.10.2008 (12:35 pm) – Filed under: Education,Gay Rights,Literature ::

Joe Windish says that he’s got to give Focus on the Family credit for their demonstration of public high school library’s intolerance for Christian literature – credit for doing something wrong:

As a gay man, I don’t want tolerance. I want “equality and justice for all.”

Their stunt is a good one. But it’s time to call the question. As we’ll see in the upcoming elections, the larger society no longer agrees with them.

Props to Joe for coming right out and saying the issue is personal for him.  For me it’s something less.  No one close to me is gay; therefore, my interest is primarily in helping ensure that our local school has a clean, healthy set of books for the teens in the community to read.

The phrase Joe’s taken liberty with (pun intended) is “liberty and justice for all”, something quite different.  Straight or gay, liberty is not at issue in the U.S.  Joe and others are free to do exactly as they please and it suits me fine that they do so.

However, the fact that they have their preferences sexually does not create a right for gays to alter the traditional definition of marriage.  Neither does it allow them to dictate terms to public schools about what books are to be allowed to be on the shelves.

While it is certainly true that some Christian books may “make ‘gays’ feel inferior” – different or disliked would probably be better word choices – the reverse is just as true:  books that glorify homosexuality, espouse its acceptability, or promote its propagation are distinctly offensive to Christians (as well as Muslims and others).

The word, being mightier than the sword, cuts both ways.  True tolerance would allow for the expression of conflicting opinions and standards in the public square.  Truth is we’re really not that mature as a society and one result is that marginal sub-cultures such as gays and immigrants are given preference to traditional Americans and their values.

Specifically with regard to gay “persecution”, Joe also says:

Focus on the Family sees homosexuality as a disease infecting society and it is their God given duty to cleanse society of that disease. They will use any means necessary to demonize and exclude those of us who are gay.

That statement may or may not be true.  I am no expert on FotF or its perception of its duties, so I can’t contradict him.  Instead I’ll respond as if he’d made that claim about my own beliefs.

I don’t think that homosexuality is a disease; rather, it’s an effect of vastly complex bio-chemical reactions and resulting emotions that we haven’t come close to understanding yet.  Some gays undoubtedly make their orientation as a matter of choice while others feel compelled in that direction.  What of it?

Whether by nature, nuture, gene, or environment isn’t of immediate importance.  What matters is that encouraging growth in the number of gay Americans is not desirable.  If you’re gay, fine.  But it’s foolish to insist that Christians accept an expansion of your sub-culture’s numbers and influence over society.  While not a disease, the effects of homosexuality may, in some ways, prove to be similar insofar as its practice, by its very nature, necessarily reduces birth rates and increases social dissonance.  Christians and other traditionalistic groups necessarily oppose such an expansion.

But using “any means necessary”?  Hardly.  No one credible – and no one who’s a true Christian – has the slightest interest in creating homosexual ghettoes, sewing stars on the jackets of gay Americans, or initiating a gay neo-holocaust. 

Standing firmly behind the current and historical definition of marriage is indeed discriminatory – in favor of male/female unions, the only combination that can possibly lead to the continuation of the American culture. 

(Discrimination, it should be understood, is a good thing.  Choosing between a good book and a bad one, for instance, is inherently discriminatory.  We discriminate in every facet of our lives – always have and always will.  It didn’t become a crime until undue preference was given to the fringes of society in recent decades.  But the practice of discrimination, of being discriminating, in other words, is a good and powerful thing when used wisely.  It’s time to restore the meaning of the word.)

In this context discrimination means supporting and protecting traditional American and Christian values, sometimes at the expense of those coming from the margins of society.

Christians and non-Christians alike should love and respect gays in our society and never cause them harm.  But that does not mean that we must condone or emulate their ways.  Nor can it ever mean that in any free society, for we are free to disagree, with anything, for reasons of our own choosing.

Specifically regarding literature made available to minors on public property, Christians, Muslims, et al, will never accept of pro-gay material being on the shelves.  Joe may be correct in his assessment of this election cycle’s effect on whether it happens anyway.  But even a government mandate backed by laws and, ultimately, guns does not acceptance make.  And it never will.

The most democratic approach and the one most in keeping with American idealism would be putting “What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality” on the same shelf as “The Case for Christ” and letting the facts speak for themselves.  But it’s unlikely that the social tensions involved would accept this compromise to take place.

SFWA, Scribd.com and ePiracy and why its important

12.09.2007 (12:58 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Justice,Literature,Politics,Society,Stupidity,Technology ::

Over the Labor Day weekend there blew up a weird story that involved the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) and the website scribd.com.  For those not in the know (like me), scribd.com allows users to upload text files and share them with users in a collaborative format (not unlike Flikr).  Now the problem arose when a number of users on the scribd.com site started posting copyrited materials.  These included the texts to a number of novels by writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg and others.  To sum up the fracas, SFWA acts as an advocate for authors that do not have the means to protect their own copyrights, and also specifically for the estates of some authors (Silveberg to be one).  So, the SFWA tried to contact scribd.com to get them to stop the posting of the files.  It appears that scribd.com was not exactly cooperative with SFWA and so the SFWA sent them an e-mail that claimed to be a DMCA notice.  The DMCA is very explicit on how such takedown notices must be formatted and the SFWA did not meet those guidelines.  Additionally the SFWA did not vet their list properly and included works that were in the public domain or used a Creative Commons license for free distribution.

Now the fun really began.

Scribd.com did start to take down some of the copyrited works, but two other things happened.  One was that a novel by Cory Doctorow entitled Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.  To be fair, SFWA did mess up.  Their takedown notice was not in the correct format, and also included works that they did not have the authority to request a takedown for.  This was a mistake.  The President of the SFWA apologized for the mistake and the organization disbanded its ePiracy group.  Scribd.com did being to make efforts to remove much of the copyrited material, but evidently not all.  They also contacted the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) to begin litigation against SFWA (or at least threatened to do so).  This was likely the major reason for the disbanding of the ePiracy group in SFWA.

But this brings up some very interesting points.  There has been a lot of discussion on this topic (and I liked to a large number of articles about it below), but the theme tends to run along a couple of salient points.

First…who should protect the IP of a writer?

Second…Should the SFWA act on behalf of its members to protect their IP?

Third…just how bad/stupid is the DMCA and should it be repealed/modified?

Fourth…just who is the victim in this affair, scribd,com, SFWA, the authors, Cory Doctorow, anyone?

Fifth…is IP really something that can/should be protected?

Ideally, when an person creates something, a book, a painting, a photograph, software, music, etc., they should be able to decide how it is distributed.  For example, professionally I create software systems for the use of companies.  Part of my employment agreement is that my employer owns the rights to anything that I create.  This is OK with me as I don’t really want to own it (and assume the liability).  In compensation I get paid well for my IP.  I also like to take photos with my digital camera, and I like to write blog entries (like this one).  In those cases, I do not attempt to make money off of them (and honestly would just be thrilled to be recognized as taking a cool photo, or writing an insightful blog entry).  So, for the most part, I freely distribute them in the hopes of my Instalanche ™ or similar 15 minutes of fame.

But what, if I made my living from selling photos that I took?  What if my written word was my livelihood?  I doubt that I would be all that happy to see it distributed without my being paid for it.  It would be no different from my work at a company being given to another company without my employer being paid for it.  This is, in essence, the fight over Intellectual Property.

So, who should protect a creator or IP from someone using or distributing their work (without their permission) and not paying for it?  Well, the US government has laws (specifically the DMCA and the Copyright act of 1975) that protect the rights of creators.  They aren’t the best laws, and they have a lot of problems with them, but they do allow for creators to stop people from, in effect, stealing from them.

John Ringo, one of my favorite authors currently, says that this is the job of the publisher.  In his words

Jerry says that ‘absent SFWA’ no one will protect the rights of the authors. In a way, he’s correct. But authors shouldn’t have to defend their rights.

That is what publishers are for.
If the work is currently in circulation and the publisher does not support ‘free range’ ebooks, let the publisher’s legal department handle it. They have lawyers and paralegals and all the rest. They may even have database people who can create a simple query. ‘If: book = free-range Then: Don’t Sue’

He has a point, but I would point out that not every publisher has the deep pockets that allow them to pursue such legal adventures.  Not only that, but for many authors their works are not mainline books that publish tens of thousands of copies and make the author millions of dollars.  And what if they aren’t books, but magazine articles, photographs, or essays?  In Mr. Ringo’s case, his publisher makes hundreds of books freely available on their website.  They also have a policy that if you purchase an eBook from their site that you CAN distribute it.  Its a great marketing policy and got me interested in the Belesarius and Lt Leary series by David Drake.  It also got me to read Mr. Ringo’s series with David Weber (The Prince Roger Series).  I don’t dispute that eBooks are a great way to market.  I DO dispute that every author must feel that way…or more importantly every creator.  What does a creator do, when their distributor (publisher) does not bother to enforce their copyrights?  After all, its the author that is loosing the money.  The distributor is loosing only potential revenue, and they might not care.  Jerry Pournelle brings up a very good point that some of his books have exclusive electronic distribution channels and thus he is not even allowed to publish them himself on his website.  Why should scribd.com be allowed to make money on his works in a way that he is not?

As of now, the SFWA is out of the ePiracy business.  To some this is a good thing, to others, it isn’t.  How this all turns out remains to be seen.  For the 800lb gorillas in the marketplace (the Ringos, the Webers, etc.) they will likely continue to have the financial wherewithal to stop people from stealing their IP.  As I wonder what will happen when my wife publishes her books…will she be able to stop someone from stealing her IP and making money off of it?  I hope so.  But, since we won’t likely have the money to prosecute…I hope that some group (SFWA, her publisher, or some other group) will be able to help us out if such a thing happens.  Of course…what I really am hoping for is that her works are so amazingly popular that this will be a real issue for us (cause that will mean that we are going to be crazy rich!!!).

I recommend reading first the essay by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing.  Then the article on Ars Technica.  They are the most critical of the entire affair casting the SFWA in the mold of RIAA or the MPAA as a corporate entity that is trying to squash scribd.com.

Then I would recommend reading Jerry Pournelle’s discussion on his website Chaos Manner Reviews.

Dr. Pournelle pointed me to some essays by Peter N. Glaskowsky here, here and here.  He delves into some of the more amazing levels of scribd.com abuses by its members.

You can also read the scribd.com office response on their blog.

John Scalzi (an author that I like even if I think he is a political dolt) ran for president of SFWA and lost.  He was asked by his readers to talk about it and I think he pens and excellent, well written, and very balanced article that points out the mud on both parties faces.  He did used to be a reporter and it shows in his writing here.

Lastly, I learned of this brou-ha-ha by reading John Ringo’s website (I had just finished reading Vorpal Blade, very good BTW), and was looking at his upcoming releases when I saw a post about “That SRIBD thing”.  I didn’t know what it was so I opened it and then read Pournelle’s piece.

All in all it was worth spending my lunch reading about all of this.  I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on the issue due to my work being a creator (over which I don’t technically hold any rights) and being married to a creator (whom I hope to one day have to honestly worry about having her stuff stolen because it is so popular).

It’s a Only a Book…

27.03.2007 (10:36 pm) – Filed under: Islam,Literature,World ::

…and you know the one that I’m talking about.

It is, after all, the only article on the planet made of little bits of wood pulp, horse hooves, and black drops of dye (die) whose supernatural synergies grant the reader the inalienable right – nay, the duty – to kill anyone who thinks differently than or accidentally bothers you.

Update:  Or tries to spread a different religion than yours.

I’ve never read any of the books written by Salman Rushdie. They’re not exactly my cup of tea. Never saw any reason to. The truth is I thought both Khomeini and his fatwah were jokes from the middle ages. I guess I was wrong; Rushdie was just ahead of his time.

Does that make him a prophet?

“Happiness” by Michael Van Walleghen

15.06.2004 (7:57 pm) – Filed under: Literature ::

From In the Black Window: New and Selected Poems.

© University of Illinois Press

Melvin,
the large collie
who lives in the red house
at the end of my daily run
is happy,
happy to see me
even now,
in February—
a month of low skies
and slowly melting snow.

His yard
has turned almost
entirely to mud—
but so what?

Today,
as if to please me,
he has torn apart
and scattered
everywhere
a yellow plastic bucket
the color of forsythia
or daffodils . . .

And now,
in a transport
of cross-eyed
muddy ecstasy,
he has placed
his filthy two front paws
together
on the top pipe
of his sagging cyclone fence—

drooling a little,
his tail
wagging furiously,
until finally,
as if I were God’s angel himself—

fulgent,
blinding,
aflame
with news of the Resurrection,
I give him a biscuit
instead.

Which is fine with Melvin—
who is wise,
by whole epochs
of evolution,
beyond his years.

Take
what you can get,
that’s his motto . . .

And really,
apropos of bliss,
happiness
and the true rapture,
what saint
could tell us half as much?

Even as he drops
back down
into the cold
dog-shit muck
he’ll have to live in
every day
for weeks on end perhaps
unless it freezes . . .

whining now,
dancing
nervously
as I turn away
again,
to leave him there

the same today
as yesterday—

one of the truly wretched
of this earth
whose happiness
is almost more
than I can bear.

Finally, a poem that makes sense!