THE VIEW FROM CHAOS MANOR
View 495 December 3 - 9, 2007
Highlights this week:
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December 3, 2007
We went to my granddaughter's grandfather's funeral today (the other one, not me) and we have an engagement tonight, so there won't be an essay today. For what's going on in digital rights and author interest protection, see yesterday's View.
Jack Healey was a good man, and although we didn't know him long, he became a friend. We will all miss him.
It was a pleasant drive down to Huntington Beach. We were going in the right direction to avoid traffic, and in the afternoon we came back swiftly, hitting traffic only in the last few minutes.
= = = = = =
Tomorrow I have some errands in the morning, and I'll have to work on Mamelukes in the afternoon, so I won't have a lot of time tomorrow either.
I do note that the US Attorneys in the Border Patrol Agent case didn't do well in the appeal hearing, and admitted that (1) their star witness is a liar and big time drug dealer, and (2) the defense hadn't been able to present that to the jury, and (3) the US Attorneys knew that their star witness was back at running drugs, but wouldn't let the jury know that either. This may get interesting.
The ideal outcome is that the US Attorney goes to jail and the Border Patrol agents get out. Not likely, but some Members of Congress are now looking to make that happen. They're pretty angry.
The real lesson in that case is that if you're going to shoot someone, be sure there's only one side of the story told in court. I am sure most intelligent law enforcement people already know this. Whether sending that message is all that good for the nation is another story.
|This week:||Tuesday, December
Today was devoured by locusts. I had errands and some flaps in organizations I belong to, and other stuff, and essentially nothing got done.
My ISP changed server boxes today. For a short time I had no email and my sites were down, but the transition went smoothly and all is well, and that wasn't the reason for my day of funk.
With luck I will do a chapter of Mamelukes today. We're also overdue to get the first installment of the December column done, and I've neglected the essays here. Mea culpa. I hope the subscribers think they get their money's worth even so.
I have got the contributors of the two War World novels, Blood Feuds and Blood Vengeance, to send me authorizations for getting them back into print, and I'll now start negotiations for that. Certainly we can get them into electronic copies. The question will be whether if you accept Amazon Kindle publication, which is non-exclusive, other publishers will still be interested in ebook copies. We'll see.
Two of the authors, Harry Turtledove and Steve Stirling, are far better known now than they were when those books came out, so this shouldn't be difficult. Anyway we'll see what happens here.
I am informed by my agent that Inferno I and Inferno II are now in the production process at Tor, so we are officially DONE with those books. Hurrah. Niven will be over tomorrow and we'll take a hike, working on the plot of our next Big Book. Hitting the earth with something big has been very lucrative in the past...
And I have to get myself in gear and do some creative work, having spent my morning on administrative stuff.
Only Firefox is driving me nuts. I can't open new links until it will open and it won't open without updating since I closed it without restarting last time. Eventually I'll be able to process the mail.
This is very relevant to the ebook situation:
Powell's turns the page
The cash register at Powell's City of Books, the nation's preeminent independent bookstore, rings thousands of times a day as customers pick up new and used books, funky British editions, local literary journals and obscure zines.
This is going to be long, and for some it will not be interesting. To skip it click here.
I recently received this letter purporting to summarize what happened. It is a good illustration of what you can prove if you make up your data.
I have brooded over this for some time. You can prove anything if you make up your data.
Here in fact is what actually happened:
First, background: scribd is a for profit corporation with millions of dollars in VC capital. Its web site consisted of documents posted by anyone who cared to. There was no attempt to check whether the poster had any right to put up those documents. Documents available for downloading included: I Have No Mouth but I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison; everything ever written by the late Jack Chalker; every book and story written by the late A. Bertram Chandler; works by Poul Anderson; works by the late Roger Zelazny; and everything ever written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle both as individuals and in collaboration. These I know about and they are representative of thousands more.
When one attempted to call attention to this scribd either ignored the communications, or sent the legal requirements for a DMCA takedown notice. Those requirements include a statement under penalty of perjury that the complainant either owns the copyright or is an authorized representative of the copyright owner. While some authors and estates have asked SFWA to act for them, many have not, and scribd claimed the right to ignore complaints from anyone other than the copyright owner. In other words, they can take the property and do with it as they will, and it's up to the owner to find out they are doing it and complain.
Several attempts were made to get scribd to be reasonable. They weren't. Then the following events happened.
1. A list was compiled as a talking point. We had told them there were thousands of documents. Scribd said "Naw, which ones? Be specific!" Mostly, in fact, they ignored all attempts to get them to pay any attention to the tens of thousands of pirated works on their site.
2 The list compiled used the names Heinlein Silverberg and Asimov because they had authorized SFWA to act for them. Over six hundred documents came up. Over a hundred were eliminated from material in their header and title. Those included 9 Doctorow items. All items whose headers made it clear they didn't belong were eliminated.
3. Any further examination would have required that each document be downloaded and opened. That takes time. There were still hundreds on this list alone.
4. scribd was asked to examine the documents as examples of possibly in violation postings. They told us to pound sand. Suggestion was made that scribd ask those posting items to certify that they had the right to post them (citing creative commons would be one valid reason). They told us to pound sand. They declined to work with anything other than takedown orders.
(A scribd official has told me they defy me to show they told us to pound sand. Of course they did not use that language. Mostly they were simply unresponsive. They certainly refused to take any initiative, and kept repeating that they would respond to takedown orders.)
5. In exasperation Committee Chairman Burt said "Ok this is a takedown order". Of course it was not. It wasn't a legal order at all. It wasn't in any legal format and scribd had no more obligation to pay attention to that than they had to all previous requests to be reasonable. If I send you a list and say take these down, you have no obligation to do it. I have to send them in proper format, and certify that I am either the copyright owner or have authorization to act for the copyright owner before you have to pay attention to me. This wasn't in that form, and could have been ignored. They knew that. They had been telling us that in the past. There were no legal ramifications. You may think of Burt's exclamation as an aggressive bargaining statement if you like. Ignoring it would have had no legal consequences, and scribd knew that.
(The official response of scribd to Burt's letter was from their lawyers who made it very clear that this did not meet the requirements of a DMCA takedown order, and put them under no obligations.)
6 Nevertheless they did pull them and notified Doctorow and others they had done so, expecting I suspect that there would be a storm. About 90% of the documents on the list were blatant cases of piracy. Some were trivial. Some number, from a dozen to about fifty, were legitimately posted, some under the Creative Commons license, and should not have been removed. The removals were done by scribd. When complaints came to SFWA both the Committee Chairman and the President sent notices to both scribd and the document authors removing those from the list and apologizing to the authors.
7. scribd had EFF send a bullying letter to SFWA (A scribd official says defensively that letter was generated at the request of Cory Doctorow. I have no reason to doubt this, but the letter to the SFWA President says that it is on behalf of EFF's client, scribd.com.)
8. The resulting storm wasn't to scribd liking. Several VC's decided not to talk to them. (A scribd official says these persons are mythical. I can only say that I may have sources scribd does not have.) EFF got more hostile mail than it had expected. While there was a lot of obloquy poured onto SFWA, scribd came in for their share -- after all, they did have about 10,000 pirated documents up on their site, and anyone could go see that. Many people did, and were appalled.
9 For whatever reason, scribd got nervous and pulled thousands of documents including hundreds by Doctorow and others posted under Creative Commons, this time purely on their own initiative. They discovered that sorting the illegal from the legal documents took time and resources they did not have (and they have far more resources than SFWA or any individual author) so they went to mass action by pulling all the documents put up by particular individuals, whether legally there or not.
(A scribd official has sent me mail saying that my account is bs, and complaining that they never told SFWA to pound sand. I agree. They never used that language. They also insist that the letter to the SFWA President was sent on the instigation of Mr. Doctorow, not scribd. I can only say that the letter says it is on behalf of their client, scribd.com. The relations among Doctorow, EFF, and scribd are not within my kenning.)
Now: Please tell me how, short of opening each of tens of thousands of documents and generating a legal DMCA order for each of those found to be in violation of copyright and by an author who had authorized SFWA to act for him/her, anything might have been done? Scribd relied on the sheer amount of work required. They counted on our inability to do all that.
The result, in my judgment, was a Good Thing.
For those who think this all trivial, I invite you to Google the following line
zelazny Lord of Light ebook
You will get the following return as the first item:
This after scribd removed thousands of items. We are trying to reach Judy Zelazny to tell her about this. (As of December 7 that document has been removed by scribd, so at the moment it is no longer available.)
I note that my correspondent accuses Dr. Burt and SFWA of incompetence and laziness, and accepts that as fact. I would not myself call it laziness to decline to spend 400 hours compiling a properly vetted list of pirated documents. If anyone is lazy it is scribd.
The assumption here appears to be that the obligations fall exclusively on the victims, who must find the cases of theft, identify them properly, and send in legal notices demanding that scribd stop stealing their property. I would have thought the burden ought to fall on this well-financed for profit commercial corporation, not on the individual authors and copyright owners; but apparently my correspondent and those whose accounts he draws on think otherwise.
I also ask just who was harmed here? Apparently the harm was to Doctorow and Stross who, for two days, did not have their free documents displayed for downloading on a web site that used pirated works as one principle attraction to get readers. Me, I would be ashamed to sell to that market, but leave that. There is no evidence that at any time during the couple of days that their documents were no longer available on scribd anyone tried to download them. Of course the documents in question were available on other web sites including Doctorow's craphound web site, so even if someone wanted a copy and looked in vain for it on scribd, it could have been found elsewhere.
If anyone else was harmed I have not heard of it. So for a couple of days some free documents were not available on a single web site; meanwhile, hundreds of pirated documents by Asimov, Heinlein, and Silverberg were taken down and no longer available for theft.
Perhaps it is evil of me to do so, but I say Hurrah! I say it was a good result. I say that this action blasted scribd loose from their stance of stonewalling and doing nothing, and that is all to the good.
this is factually incorrect, egregiously so. First, the letter sent was not a takedown notice. It said "Yes, this is a takedown notice" but it was not in DMCA format, and did not contain any statement under penalty of perjury. It had no more effect than any other bargaining demand in a bargaining situation, and scribd knew that.
Second, the effect of improperly drawn takedown notices is not what is stated there. There was no great harm -- other than denunciations of SFWA. The consequence of claiming under penalty of perjury that you own the copyright or represent the person who does could indeed be severe, but that didn't happen.
As I said, you can prove anything if you make up your data.
The bottom line here is that there appear to be those who are far more concerned about having their works available for download by a readership largely drawn from people looking for pirated works, than for the owners of the pirated works. I find that interesting.
There is an interesting story from Japan about ebooks on cell phones over in mail.
There is a discussion of Barnett and his views in Mail
To learn how SFWA is stealing money from Cory Doctorow, see
It is probably worth noting just where Electronic Frontier Foundation, which says it protects individual rights, stands on this:
And a reader says:
Enough. I have work to do, and I have become pretty discouraged by all this. Apparently there is a large faction that is more concerned that their works be exposed for free download on a site that largely draws its viewers from those seeking pirated copies of copyrighted works, than with protecting author rights; and which is willing to spend as much time as needed to hound anyone who does not agree.
I have had a pretty good life as a writer. I feel sorry for those who want to follow in my footsteps, since it's pretty clear that the enemies of copyright will probably win this battle. There are many of them, and they wear us down.
December 6, 2007
Managed nearly a chapter of Mamelukes yesterday. I have been worn down by the zeal of those who think it more important that there be continuous exposure of free works on pirate sites than on protection of author copyright. I can understand those who want pirated works; it's the zeal that amazes me.
And yet another terrible flap. The Iron Law of Bureaucracy continues
And Niven ought to be over shortly and we can get to work.
Does anyone know how I can get out of Outlook? Until recently Outlook worked fine. The Microsoft Desktop Search engine could see all that email and indexed it and I could search for mail I got weeks or months ago and find it.
Now the search engine says it cannot find any -- ** ANY ** -- items in email. Email no longer exists for it. I have rebuilt the index daily for a week and this continues.
To abandon Outlook I will need a way to unpack all those PST files so that something else can index them and allow me to find items in there.
It could be that the indexer is overloaded? That there are just so many email items it can't index them all? That if I were to delete some categories it would work again?
If not, I need to find a new procedure. Outlook has worked for me for a long time, but this failure to be seen by the indexer removes its main attraction. And since Microsoft can "update" my OS any time it wants to, I suspect they did something that broke the desktop search, and I have no idea if they are aware of that.
It is days like this that I get discouraged, even though I had a good writing day yesterday.
This morning's paper reports that one of the (private) schools in Los Angeles has scored in the top 10% of the nation in reading scores. It is not a coincidence that that is a school that uses Roberta Pournelle's reading instruction software.
December 7, 2007
Pearl Harbor Day
Most people today believe that Fascism is a "right wing" movement. I say "right wing" in quotes because I don't believe the left-right political spectrum is a very useful tool for political analysis, but that's another story already told; but to the extent that "left" and "right" have meaning, Fascism, a movement started by the Syndicalist-Socialist labor leader Benito Mussolini, certainly was a "left wing" movement. The successful deception to put it on the "right" was a tactic of the Communists, who tried to build an "anti-Fascist" coalition that would attract respectable people like J. Robert Oppenheimer. Of course the Communists were perfectly willing to make common cause with the Fascists in opposing the Socialists, but that's another matter.
The theory of Fascism, to the extent that it has a self-consistent political philosophy, accepts the Marxist theory of history as a series of class struggles; but whereas Communism seeks to end class warfare, Fascism believes social classes are inevitable. Mussolini was undoubtedly influenced in this belief by the brilliant work of Vilfredo Pareto, whose work demonstrated that power is always distributed unevenly, there will always be elites, and attempts to destroy class structures only replace one kind of social class with another. (The history of Communist societies and the nomenklatura are instances of successful predictions of Pareto's theories.)
Since social classes are inevitable, but class warfare cripples the state, the solution to the problem is for the State to stand above the social classes and force them to work together, preferably in equity and fair play. Fair play or no, though, the important thing is to make the classes cease their warfare and stop cancelling each other out, so that there can be social progress and national greatness. Hitler was Mussolini's disciple from the 1920's until the Austrian Anschluss. For a demonstration of the "left wing" nature of his thought, get a copy of Leni Riefenstahl's brilliant propaganda film The Triumph of the Will. In particular see the sequence in which thousands of laborers do a manual of arms with shovels, as the voiceover speaks about the relationship of "the classes and the masses."
Italian Fascism and its copiers including Francisco Franco's Phalange brought representatives of all social classes and institutions into the government, and in Italy the Grand Council of Fasces was the supreme legislative and policy body in the Kingdom; when in 1943 the Council voted no confidence in Mussolini as Duce, the King dismissed him.
Fascism had supporters in other countries. Franklin Delano Roosevelt resorted to a number of Fascist devices, including the "Blue Eagle" NRA; traces of this syndicalism remain in regulations governing the product of citrus fruit and milk to this day. Huey Long of Louisiana, himself sympathetic to the fascist theory of history and government, pointed out the fascist elements in Roosevelt's programs, and famously said that when Fascism came to the United States it would be in disguise.
The great conflicts between Fascism and Communism during the 1930's were not due to any great theoretical difference between the two philosophies; instead it was a power struggle pure and simple, each convinced that the other had stolen the other's clothes.
This is relevant to today's news in that the Bush plan for ending the mortgage crisis could have come right out of Mussolini's play book. It requires the loan companies to cooperate and devise rules, all reminiscent of the NRA. Note that the Democrats are quite in favor of the plan, only they want it to go farther and be under more government (bureaucratic) control. Neither has any trust in the free market.
Now government intervention in the market place is not always a bad thing. Left to itself, the inevitable logic of the market is that everything has its price, and it ends with buying and selling labor contracts that often result in conditions worse than slavery. For those who doubt that, look into labor conditions at the factories of William Lloyd Garrison, the Great Abolitionist.
It is the nature of American political debate to demonize certain people and certain concepts without regard to their truth or falsehood and certainly without paying attention to the evidence. Indeed, the more truth a demon proposition contains, and the more evidence for its correctness, the louder the denunciations of anyone who has one good word to say about it. Witness what happened to Watson, when he pointed out, correctly, that Darwinian Evolution does not at all guarantee that human populations genetically isolated will evolve to have equal group intelligence; that the assumption of IQ equality among the races of man is a pious wish but has no scientific inevitability. He certainly said that to be provocative, but it remains a true statement. The result was that Watson was dismissed as Chancellor of the institute he built (which will now decline and fall), subjected to humiliating criticism and self-criticism sessions reminiscent of Mao's China, and reduced to non-humanity.
I don't think it would be a good thing for the Republic for a million families to lose their homes, even though most of them should not have bought them in the first place. They ought to experience consequences for their foolish acts of buying houses in the hopes that the rising market would let them continually refinance at rates they could afford; this despite warnings of a bubble. Of course the real villains here are the finance companies that knowingly suckered people into loans that no one in his right mind thought they could pay; after all, water runs downhill but it will never reach bottom. The bubble will expand indefinitely, or at least for a few more years. And there's so much money to be made.
Now the market remedy to this would be for the foolish buyers to default and lose their homes, and the rapacious lenders be stuck with them and have to sell at fire sale prices. Those who invested in loan companies that skated too close to the edge of the ice would lose their money. Folly and greed would be punished, not by human action, but by the remorseless operation of the market place. Lessons would be relearned, and another generation would be more wary of bubbles. The lessons would fade and it would all happen again, but not for a while.
Alas, that isn't going to happen. No politician can possible ignore the plight of a million or more people about to lose their houses "through no fault of their own", no matter that it's due to their folly. Moreover, the lobbyists for the investors in the rapacious loan companies will be quick to finance demagogues, cry RACISM!, and engage in any other political practice that will get attention off the fact that they had no sound business reason for making a $450,000 loan to an illegal immigrant with an income of $12 an hour at best when he could get work (an actual example I saw in the LA Times; the Times take was that this poor chap was going to lose his house, and he and the 12 relatives who lived there would be homeless).
The Fascist view, that government needs to step in and ameliorate class warfare by forcing the classes to work together, is not altogether a bad thing. It is certainly the case that class warfare can cripple a state and hurts everyone.
The problem with Fascism is the general problem of overly powerful government: instead of learning about economics and the forces of the market place, or inventing something new, or even working hard and saving money, the key to success is manipulation of bureaucracies. That can be through nepotism -- my cousin Takagora in personnel will ship you to Point Barrow if you don't promote me -- or through demagoguery, through intimidation or persuasion; but manipulation of the bureaucracies becomes the key to great success. If you read fiction written in India about conditions under the Permit Raj after Indian Independence, or examine life in Pakistan today, you will find illustrative examples. And of course for the very rich and powerful there's also direct influence over the government at the policy level.
We're going to intervene in the housing finance market. Given the stakes, there's no chance it will be ignored.
Huey Long would be pleased.
Brian Kennedy, please send me email.
My Outlook indexing problem is fixed. It will all be in the column next week.
|This week:||Saturday, December
After receiving email from a scribd official, I have made minor changes in my account of the SFWA/scribd affair. They're identified by being in parentheses.
I am doing the column and mailbag for next week. The column installment will be my Christmas shopping recommendations. I am also doing the International Edition to have that out before midnight Sunday.
After that, back to Mamelukes.
The radio doctor is saying that they now send people home with an EKG attached and it records while you are doing everyday activities. It reminds me that when I was at Boeing we needed to cook some astronauts at various temperatures from 40 C on up to 400 F. The flight surgeon who had medical responsibility required a real time EKG before he would allow the tests (we were testing heat tolerance in various full pressure suits).
In those days (1958) no one had ever taken a medical quality EKG from an unrestrained subject. In those days you lay down on a metal table, well grounded, in a shielded room, to get your EKG taken. We had to find a way to do it for a subject seated in a high stress environment and flying a flight simulator. We did it: I used a huge wall of operational amplifiers as analog computers, feeding noise in backward to cancel it out, filtering out muscle spikes, and using a bunch of other tricks. So far as I know it was the first EKG from a working subject. Now it's so routine they send people home with the amplifiers and it is recorded. Now that's progress!
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