On Free Speech

Far too many people these days seem to think that freedom of speech means freedom from being criticized, freedom from consequences, freedom from verbal retaliation. We need only look at the response of the two guys whose columns triggered the current kerfuffle over the SFWA Bulletin for an example of this — apparently people criticizing their columns is censorship, oh noes!

One of my favorite quotes on this subject comes from Jim Hines, who said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.” Everyone who’s ever whined that their free speech was being curtailed because people responded by saying mean things about them needs to tattoo Jim’s quote on their forearm or something, someplace where they can see it every day.

Tobias Buckell just linked to this great post by Ken White on Popehat, the legal blog. It’s right on point and well worth reading. It starts like this:

Let’s be clear — the right to free speech is the right to express oneself without state retaliation. It is not a right to speak without social retaliation. Speech has consequences. Among those consequences are condemnation, vituperation, scorn, ridicule, and pariah status. Those consequences represent other people exercising their free speech rights. That’s a feature of the marketplace of ideas, not a bug.

Yet too many people seem to think that free speech includes not only a right to be free of consequences imposed by the state, but a right to be free of consequences imposed by other people. Therefore they attempt to portray criticism as a violation of their rights. This, of course, finds no support in the law, and is patently unsustainable as a philosophy besides — it nonsensically elevates the rights of the first person to talk over the rights of the second person to talk.

There’s more; click through and check it out.


Abusing Child Protection Laws

Kaitlyn Hunt is an 18-year-old high school girl who’s in love with another girl, a 15-year-old who goes to her school. They met when Kate was 17, and the younger girl’s parents disapproved of the relationship, but rather than, say, talking to Kate’s parents about it, or trying to resolve their concerns in a civilized manner, they waited for Kate to turn 18 and then called the police.

Kate was expelled from school, and arrested in February for “lewd and lascivious battery.”

According to Findlaw:

Under Florida law, engaging in sexual activity with a minor between the ages of 12 and 16 is a felony. Because the law does not make an exception for consenting minors, Hunt could potentially face up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted, and up to $10,000 in fines.

Florida does have a Romeo-and-Juliet law. These are generally intended to provide some rational exceptions for two young people who are close in age. Unfortunately, the Florida law would only let Kate petition to have her name taken off the sex offender registry after she’s convicted; it would do nothing to save her from the rest of the legal meatgrinder, and she could still spend those 10 years in prison for the heinous crime of having a girlfriend who goes to her school.

Oh, and if one might be thinking of giving the younger girl’s parents the benefit of the doubt, and assuming that it’s the relationship with an “adult” that they’re objecting to, they’ve also accused Kate of turning their daughter gay. So… yeah. This is pure, hateful homophobia at work here.

Please sign the petition on Change.org asking to have Kate freed. This is a ridiculous abuse of the laws intended to protect children from actual predators, and of the sex offender registry — unfortunately one of many. We need to make it clear to parents who disapprove of their kid’s boyfriend or girlfriend that criminalizing teenagers who fall in love with other teenagers won’t be allowed to stand.


There’s Always One Joker

In with all the other April Fool’s posts that went up a couple of days ago, one of the web site staffers over at the Locus website decided to write an incredibly unfunny joke stirring a stack of feces that’d long since gone cold and crusted over — the incident from 2010 when WisCon, an SF convention founded specifically on principles of social justice, dis-invited one of its guests of honor for publicly posting an anti-Moslem screed on her LiveJournal. The basic message of the post was diametrically opposed to the foundations principles of WisCon, and continuing to honor this person would’ve been a travesty, so she was dis-invited. There was some kerfuffling, but then it died down. The person who wrote the non-funny April Fool’s post for the Locus site decided it needed to be stirred up again, and saw nothing wrong with saying nasty things about Moslems, women, feminists and fat people in order to get his “point” across. Or maybe he saw that as a bonus?

The Locus magazine staff, being decent people, pulled the post as soon as they saw it that morning, and posted an apology. We know they’re decent people because it’s a real apology, not the usual “We’re sorry you’re so overly sensitive, and we had no idea you’d be so unreasonable as to be offended” kind of non-apology these incidents usually produce, so kudos to the Locus folks.

The guy who wrote the offensive post decided a little more stirring was necessary, so he posted to his personal blog, making it clear that yes, he had intended to be offensive, and yes he had meant to be taking a shot at WisCon over this 2.5-year-old incident, and that he was outraged — outraged, I say! — at the craven censorship to which his superiors were forced by the politically correct harpies of WisCon. Because clearly it’s impossible that anyone not associated with WisCon could have been at all upset by what he’d said.

[If anyone cares, I don’t work on WisCon, and have never even attended.]

I’m not linking to Mr. Shit Stirrer because I don’t want to reward him for his behavior by giving him any traffic, or his blog any incoming links. I’m not naming him for similar reasons. If you click through to the page with Locus’s apology, though, there’s a link in the comments to his post, if you really want to read it. It’s the usual self-righteous garbage bigots spew when they’re called on their shit.

Jim Hines posted a commentary on his own blog, and as usual made some excellent points and worded them beautifully. One of my favorite parts:

I was a skinny, overly bright, socially inept, fashion challenged kid with glasses and a speech defect. My teenage years were utter hell. Looking back at any of those incidents of name-calling, having my books knocked out of my hands, being shoved in the hallway, tripped on the steps outside the school, having my belongings destroyed, and so on, very few of them in isolation were such a big deal. Real physical injury was relatively rare. But when those small jabs continue day after day, they add up. They whittle away at your strength and your hope, and it never, ever lets up, never stops, until you’re sitting alone in the bathroom with a syringe full of your father’s insulin, searching for a single good reason not to jab the plunger down and hopefully put an end to it all.

The backlash against the Locus article isn’t about someone taking cheap shots at Muslims and women. It’s about yet another person taking those shots, lining up to bully those who are already a popular target for abuse. And it’s about everyone else who stands around, encouraging and enabling that bullying.

The whole thing’s worth reading.

And he’s absolutely right — it’s not just about this incident, or some older incident, or another one that’ll happen next week. It’s about all the incidents taken together. If every day, someone pokes you — never the same person twice, but someone new every day — it might seem ridiculous to charge any of them with assault. But let it go on for weeks and months, let alone years or decades, and your body would be one huge bruise, and each new poke would be agonizing on top of the damage left by all the others. And if you complained, people would say, “Why are you making such a fuss? He just poked you! Sure, it’s kind of rude, but you don’t have to make a federal case out of it! Mellow out!” Those same people would glare with indignation while the person who “overreacted” dragged their purple, crippled body away.

A constant stream of offenses which are individually minor is just as harmful as one huge offense. This slam against Moslems, women, feminists and fat people was just one more in a long, long stream of offenses that members of every one of those groups has to put up with regularly, often daily. It’s not minor, it’s not funny, and the Locus staff acted appropriately, as any decent people would.


On the Gay Marriage Case

Writer Courtney Milan, who’s a lawyer in her day job IIRC, wrote this seriously awesome summary of Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments in the Gay Marriage case, in transcript form. They’re nowhere near done, but this is interesting and humorous and well worth reading. Probably a lot moreso, for most of us, than the actual transcript (which is 82 pages long) although she links to that if you want to tackle it.

Oral argument starts with Charles Cooper speaking on behalf of the petitioners, who are not in favor of same-sex marriage in California.

COOPER: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court. Today, we—

ROBERTS: In keeping with the practices of this Court, we don’t allow anyone to complete a full sentence before interrupting them. Tell us why the people who hired you should even be allowed to bring a case.

COOPER: Because California said so.

GINSBURG: So? We’ve said before that in order to be able to bring a federal case, you have to have an injury in fact, something that is specific to you.

COOPER: But these people were injured. They didn’t want gay people to marry, and now look! Gays. Lesbians. Able to marry at will. It’s very injurious. They’re injured just thinking about it.

Click through to read the rest.

She also summarized the next chunk, which is shorter but still has some good ??? stuff in it. She says she’s not going to do any more, which is a shame, seriously.


Scalzi Comments on Random House/Hydra Deal

John Scalzi doesn’t make a major point of discussing big publishers messing over writers, so when he does, you know it’s bad. He looks over a deal sheet Random House’s new electronic imprint Hydra is offering, and points out a few red flags.

* No advance.

* The author is charged “set-up costs” for editing, artwork, sale, marketing, publicity — i.e., all the costs a publisher is has been expected to bear. The “good news” is that the author is not charged up front for these; they’re taken out of the backend. If the book is ever published in paper, costs are deducted for those, too. [Note from Angie: there’s also a permanent 10% of net charge for the on-going sales and marketing that Hydra most likely won’t be doing.]

* The contract asks for primary and subsidiary rights for the term of copyright.

Click through for more detail and some commentary I found pretty entertaining. It’s clear, though, that Random House is looking to squeeze as much money from ignorant baby writers as it can, while hoping to pay out little or nothing.

Also recall that “term of copyright” these days means your lifetime plus seventy years. Your grandkids will still be getting royalty statements from Hydra saying, “Nope, haven’t made up those costs yet.”

This reminds me of the electronic “imprints” set up by some of the other big publishers through AuthorHouse, which were clearly meant to be cash cows for the sponsoring publishers. It looks like someone at Random House figured they could rip off writers just as well on their own, without having to hire another company to do it. Eliminate the middle-man and make more money, right? And hey, some bright RH executive thought of taking the rights for the duration of copyright, which even AuthorHouse, as horrible as its rep might be, doesn’t do. Go you, Random House! Way to be eviller than a notoriously deceptive vanity press!

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, SFWA has issued a statement declaring that Hydra is not a qualifying market. [cough]


Writer Hit by Trademark Bully

I’ve been watching this one develop all day, since I saw John Scalzi’s post about it, and things look to be turning around for the writer involved. Still, she’s still pretty firmly in suckland at this point, and the fact that it’s happening at all is outrageous.

MCA Hogarth wrote a book called Spots the Space Marine and self-pubbed it. Games Workshop (a large game company that publishes the very popular game Warhammer 40K) has recently decided to exercise its trademark of the term “space marine” — it has the term trademarked in the area of tabletop games and video games — against fiction. It sent a DMCA notice to Amazon, claiming that Spots violated its trademark, and Amazon took the book down.

Wow, where to start?

First, Games Workshop does not own the term “space marine” in the context of fiction. There’ve been space marines running around SF for about as long as there’s been a recognized genre called science fiction, and maybe even longer. Doc Smith and Robert Heinlein had space marines. There’s reams of prior art. Just because GW’s got a lock on the term in the gaming arena doesn’t mean they own it in fiction too, and the fact that they’ve started publishing fiction recently doesn’t change that.

Second, as Cory Doctorow points out, the DMCA doesn’t cover trademarks, only copyrights, so Amazon was under no obligation to comply with the take-down notice. They chose to do so freely when they didn’t have to — a thwap of the salmon to Amazon for being an auxiliary idiot here. (The comments to Cory’s post are pretty entertaining, if you’re at all familiar with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. :D )

Third, someone at Games Workshop must know their trademark assertion is completely bogus, because they’re going after a tiny little indie-pubbed book, but (so far as I’ve heard) haven’t said so much as “Peep” any of the big New York publishers who are “infringing” just as much on their supposed trademark, but who all have lawyers on staff.

This is pathetic behavior on the part of Games Workshop. I don’t know where their legal advice is coming from, but it’s not a source I’d ever hire, because it’s making them look like idiots.

The legal blog Popehat is calling for pro bono help for Ms. Hogarth in fighting this crap, which she can’t afford to do on her own. (Which GW counted on, I’m sure.) Popehat has a good track record with this sort of thing, as when attorney Charles Carreon sued Matt Inman; I’m betting they can get help for Ms. Hogarth too, and I’m looking forward to reading about the results.

I’ve been a gamer since I was a teenager. I played in the same FRPG campaign for almost twenty years, until I got married and moved away from my group. I used to work as a developer/gamemaster for a company that does online multi-player RPGs. I have no local gaming group, but still play computer games. As a member of the community Games Workshop is trying to do business in, I have to say that I’ll never again buy one of their products, ever. They’re a pack of cowardly, bullying douchebags and don’t deserve my business. I hope a lot of other gamers make the same decision.

And I hope a trademark attorney or two responds to Popehat’s call and gives Games Workshop a good smack upside the head on Ms. Hogarth’s behalf. They definitely need a few brain cells jarred loose.


The Invisible War

I really want to see this movie. I know it’s going to piss me off royally, but I still want to see it. And after researching things like this, I can’t even find it in me to be skeptical about the movie’s accuracy, based on what’s in the trailer. If so many in Congress will help government contractors in the field (i.e., mercenaries working for the US government) cover up rapes, when these are just hired hands and not sworn troops, how can we imagine that the US Military would not do whatever it could to cover up a plague of rapes within its own ranks? What a scandal! Of course they’d cover it up, for the same reason the the Catholic Church covered up its child molestors for so long, the same reason Penn State covered up for Jerry Sandusky for so long. The authorities think that the scandal to themselves and their institution is worse than the horror of what the victims are put through.

Apologists claim that some significant number of women who report being raped are lying for whatever reason. Some radical wingnuts claim that most women who report a rape are lying. The fact is that even today, in the 21st century, enough women who report being raped are treated horribly — during the report, during the investigation, during the trial if there is one, and sometimes even afterwards by their friends, families, co-workers — that most women who are raped have to think long and hard about reporting it for fear of being traumatized all over again, and many never do.

This looks like a good movie. I hope it draws some attention to the issue.


PS — of course, men are raped too. It’s just as horrible for them, and the social pressure against reporting a rape is just as strong for men, if for different reasons. Most people who are raped are women, though, so that’s where most of the problem is. If there are men in the military being raped by their fellow soldiers, I hope someone makes a movie about that as well. Any nest of vipers needs to be hit with a flamethrower, no matter who’s being bitten.

Agency Pricing?

A discussion on a private mailing list reminded me that there seems to be some confusion about just what agency pricing is, and whether it benefits writers, and particularly indie writers. Some prominent folks in the industry seem to think that indie writers should want an agency model when they do business with their vendors.

I disagree, and I think the confict exists because some folks are confusing a couple of factors. From the POV of the NY publishers, agency pricing is about controlling the final sale price. They were actually making MORE money under the retail system than they were under agency. They didn’t want e-book buyers to get used to low-priced e-books on Amazon, and they were willing to take a hit on their e-book profits to accomplish this.

Under the retail model, the vendor essentially buys however many units of a product, pays a certain price for them, then sells them at whatever retail price they want. That’s what produces price competition between vendors, which is good from the consumers’ POV — the fact that some vendors are willing to accept less profit per unit sold in an attempt to sell more units, by undercutting the store up the street (or online). The manufacturer (publisher) still received the same amount of money per unit sold regardless of the actual retail price, even if the vendor chose to use that product as a loss leader, losing however much money on each sale to get customers to visit their store and hopefully spend more money on other items.

So suppose I publish a book and I’d like to sell it for $6.99. I want 70% of that as my wholesale price to the vendor, so I offer it to the vendor for $4.89. So long as the vendor pays me my $4.89 for each copy they sell, I literally do not give a damn how they price my book. They can sell it for $9.99, or for $12.99, or for $7.99, or for $0.99, or give it away for free if they want, so long as I get my $4.89 per unit they move. That’s the retail model.

Under agency pricing, the book costs the same everywhere. Buyers have no particular reason to shop at Vendor X instead of Vendor Y, and no particular reason to buy a book this week instead of next month, because it’s the same price now that it’ll be next month; the price doesn’t change. And if you’re going through a NY publisher, that price is probably ridiculously high, so you’re selling a lot fewer units; even though you’re making more money per book, you’re selling fewer books and have less money at the end of the quarter.

Agency pricing was about protecting the publishers and furthering their attempts to slow down adoption of e-books. That’s it — that’s what the whole fuss was about. Agency pricing offers nothing to the indie writer. (And actually offers even less to the NY published writers, but anyway.)

Unfortunately, what we have now, particularly with Amazon, is the worst of both worlds. We can suggest a retail price, but the vendor can change that price whenever they want to (usually lowering it) and we get 70% (or 35%, or whatever percentage a particular vendor offers) of that actual retail price, which we don’t control in the long term. All we can do is suggest a price and hope the actual sale price stays somewhere in that neighborhood.

The solution to this problem is NOT agency pricing, which petrifies the whole equation and sets up a bad situation for the buyers, our readers. The solution is a true retail model, where the vendor pays us $X for each sale they make, and then they decide how to price the item in their store, setting up promotions and sales and loss leaders as they choose. If they think $X is too high, they’re welcome to decline to carry our product, and we can decide whether we want to adjust the price, or not. If we want to have some control over our own incomes, though, while maintaining a dynamic market that encourages sales, we don’t want agency pricing — we want retail pricing. We want to know that we’re going to make a certain amount per sale (which benefits us) and that it’s up to the vendors to fight it out amongst themselves in setting their retail prices (which benefits our readers, encouraging them to buy more books).

Agency pricing is about controlling the retail sale price. Wholesale pricing is about controlling the wholesale price. If I could control the wholesale price, I wouldn’t care about controlling the retail price; let the vendor control that, so long as I get my desired wholesale price. Arguing that indie writers should fight to control the retail price is ignoring where our money actually comes from, which is the wholesale price.

Agency pricing only looks good compared with the twisted, non-wholesale model we have now, and if we consider only OUR needs, ignoring the needs of our readers. The wholesale model supports both our needs, while still giving the vendors reasonable flexibility to create their own pricing and sale strategies.


Voter Disenfranchisement in Pennsylvania

From the Field Negro:

The first story is just about your basic racist idiot (and I’ll agree with anyone who thinks it’s uncool to make fun of the guy for being fat, jerkwad or not), but the second one is a great example of how Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law will disenfranchise honest people. People who are poor, transient, or of color are more likely to have document issues than people who are well off, at a stable address, and white. Being old, born at a time when documentation wasn’t as formal or vital as it is now, is an additional problem. In this case, Ms. Applewhite has been working on replacing her ID after it was stolen, but she’s over 90 and getting everything together is tough. She’s probably not going to be able to vote in November.

If the Pennsylvania Republican leaders had any brains at all, they’d be swarming around Ms. Applewhite, pushing through her document requests, making absolutely sure she gets new picture ID and a new social security card, and that her voter registration is up to date well before the election. If they want to go on pretending that Pennsylvania’s new law is really all about preventing voter fraud (despite the fact that the government can’t produce any evidence of significant voter fraud there) then they should make sure people like Ms. Applewhite are accommodated with all speed.

Oh, and for anyone who still thinks the voter ID thing is all about fraud, read this.

Mike Turzai, the Pennsylvania GOP House majority leader, said that a strict new voter ID law will help Republicans win the state for the first time since 1988.

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” he said to applause at a Republican State Committee this weekend, according to PoliticsPa.com.

The comment contradicted the usual Republican line that voter ID laws are for guarding against voter fraud — which is extremely rare if not nonexistent in practice — and not to help elect Republicans.

That’s why they’re doing it. Solving an incredibly rare problem with voter fraud is just smoke and mirrors.


Responding to Rape

Jim Hines, a great fantasy writer, also blogs about social justice issues. Recently he was scheduled to appear on Reddit, in the fantasy area, to do a Q&A about his upcoming book. He cancelled because Reddit is hosting a rather large and active thread where men who’ve committed rape are talking about what they did and why and how and how it felt, and apparently they’re getting an appalling number of back-pats and attaboys for it, along with praise for how “brave” they are to post anonymously about how awesome it was rape that woman, or reassurances about how they didn’t really do anything wrong because after all, from what you said it’s not like she screamed and cussed and tried to fight you off, right? Or whatever. :/

Jim posted about the cancellation and his reason for it, and of course a bazillion people from Reddit came over to tell him what a censoring dumbass he is. A few people made calm and reasoned arguments about why they thought he was wrong, which is cool, and there were people supporting his actions as well. One of the latter posted a comment I have to share.

Laura Resnick’s comment, trimmed down to emphasize a point:

This all makes me recall my experiences when I took a basic self-defense program designed for women. …

And what I found interesting, shocking, and really eye-opening was HOW HARD most of the women in the group found it to defend themselves. I don’t mean they couldn’t learn the skills. I mean that their upbringing ahd socialization had sCOMPLETELY indoctrinated them with the idea, the belief, and the behaviorial pattern that they DIDN’T HAVE A RIGHT to defend themselves. to such an extent that trying to practice self-defense moves against an attacker in a classroom setting was traumatic for them.

This conditioning was so powerful that there were women in the class who stood facing the attacker, weeping helplessly over their own indoctrinated inability to lift a single finger to defend themselves against a physical attacker.

… [I]t really opened my eyes to how many women have been taught their whole lives, by everyone and everything that’s ever had influence over them, that if they’re assaulted, attacked, raped, then they must lie there, still and weeping, rather than fight back.

And because of that conditioning, rapists like the ones bragging on Reddit can convince themselves they didn’t do anything really wrong since, gee, it’s not as if the assault victim really FOUGHT, right? She just cried a little and lay there, right? “So that must mean what I did wasn’t a violent felony, right?”

This fits perfectly with a post I did a while back about how rape happens, about how women are socialized to go along and get along and keep the peace and make other people happy, about how they’re not supposed to fuss or object or disagree and if they do they’re being a mean bitch or a stuck up bitch or an angry bitch. So many women don’t fuss or object or disagree, until suddenly some guy is pushing their legs open and if they object then, they’re a teasing bitch.

So, many women just don’t object. Much less, as Laura’s experience with the self-defense class for women shows, physically fight back.

Raising women to be ladylike, with a traditional (mild, demure, passive, pleasant, pleasing) definition of ladylike, is a significant chunk of the rape problem in our society. Of course, most of it is egotistical men* who think they’re entitled to anything they want, including a particular woman. But if we stopped enculturating women to be passive and started raising them to kick up a screaming, cussing, punching, kicking fuss whenever some entitled dirtbag decided to invade her territory, preferably well before it ever got to a place/situation where rape could happen, that’d take a decent bite out of the problem.


*Note that not all men are like this. I shouldn’t have to say it, but I’m saying it anyway. In particular, I can’t imagine any of the men who comment here regularly being like this. It only takes a minority, though, to get a whole lot of women worried and wary, especially since the raping minority don’t wear T-shirts that say RAPIST. If you’re a guy and this bothers you, or if you’ve ever had a woman give you a look like she was wondering whether she could trust you, that’s the rapist minority messing it up for all the nice guys.