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February 28, 2006
Fncking Public Citizen Again
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:40 PM *

They’re at it again.

In today’s news:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - One of the top prescription painkillers has been linked to thousands of accidental, heart- related deaths and can be addictive, a consumer group told federal health regulators on Tuesday, calling for its removal from the U.S. market.

In a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Public Citizen said the drug propoxyphene, sold by Xanodyne Pharmaceuticals under the brand Darvon, had been linked to 2,110 accidental deaths between 1981 and 1999 — nearly 6 percent of all drug-related deaths.

That is to say, 3.5*10-7 deaths per year when divided among the population of the USA.

“No good physician uses these drugs,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, head of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

I do wonder if any physician who prescribes this drug has cause for a libel suit against Dr. Wolfe.

What the hey is the matter with letting doctors and patients decide on their own therapies?

Dr. Wolfe and his cohorts have passed beyond trying to do good: now they’re just trying to justify their continued fund raising.

Rec’d
Posted by Teresa at 12:58 PM *

I’m not going to discuss any of the particulars, but Dave Howell is a saint.

February 26, 2006
Open thread 60
Posted by Teresa at 03:50 PM *

You tell me this is God?
I tell you this is a printed list,
A burning candle and an ass.

—Stephen Crane

February 24, 2006
What perpetual copyright means to me
Posted by Teresa at 09:09 AM *

We’ve recently returned from Boskone: a very nice convention. One of the interesting sights I saw there was a fellow preaching copyright absolute and everlasting. His writing belonged solely to him, he said, and should continue to belong solely to him (or, presumably, his heirs and assigns) forever more.

One hears such things from time to time.

It put me in mind of a particular passage in Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall of Hard Usual Words, the first dictionary in the English language. I’m fond of it. Here’s the passage:

If thou be desirous (gentle Reader) rightly and readily to vnderstand, and to profit by this Table, and such like, then thou must learne the Alphabet, to wit, the order of the Letters as they stand, perfecty without booke, and where euery Letter standeth: as (b) neere the beginning, (n) about the middest, and (t) toward the end. Nowe if the word, which thou art desirous to finde, begin with (a) then looke in the beginning of this Table, but if with (v) looke towards the end. Againe, if thy word beginne with (ca) looke in the beginning of the letter (c) but if with (cu) then looke toward the end of that letter. And so of all the rest. &c.

Isn’t that fun? You see there the advent of universal alphabetical order in our language. And if Disney or Lucasfilms or other entities I could name had been around at that time, and if they’d held the rights to Cawdrey’s dictionary, I can easily imagine them claiming perpetual ownership of the idea of organization by alphabetical order.

I wish I could recall the title of the book in which the author ingeniously explained that he’d compiled a list of the major subject headings in his book and the pages on which they occurred, and printed it at the end of the volume. That was trippy, to be momentarily in a universe where the index was a brand-new thing that had to be introduced and explained to the reader. I remember that he had a good piece of down-home advice: if the reader discovered that he’d left some necessary or useful entry out of the index, they should take pen and ink, and enter it in their own copy.

Every book is unique. Every good book encapsulates value that is unique to that book. But all writing floats in a sea of other writing, and a book’s unique elements are never the whole of the book. Every writer is part of a larger general discourse, and in the course of writing will adopt, adapt, reject, comment on, and bounce new ideas off that body of discourse.

Aren’t you glad that, three hundred years later, we’re not paying royalties to the inheritors of the Cawdrey estate every time we use alphatical order as an organizing principle?

It is right that what’s new and unique in a writer’s work be recognized as peculiarly their own. That’s fine. But copyright is not a statement of inalienable natural right. It’s a social convention, intended to reward (and thus encourage) writers and publishers to produce more books. To pervert it into a claim of perpetual ownership, especially when that claim is being forwarded by large entertainment conglomerates, is the moral equivalent of driving a fence around the commons.

February 23, 2006
Opting out of education
Posted by Teresa at 05:17 PM *

The Arizona Senate’s Committee on Higher Education has voted to let university and community-college students opt out of required reading assignments they consider personally offensive or pornographic.

This is of course a stunningly stupid thing for them to do. The reason they’ve done it is even dumber:

The legislation stems from complaints by Christina Trefzger, who attended community colleges and Arizona State University. She said some required reading assigned by instructors is morally unacceptable to some.

“A lot of students are being forced to choose between their personal or religious beliefs and the demands of education,” she told members of the Senate Committee on Higher Education on Wednesday.

One specific complaint was aimed at “The Ice Storm,” a novel dealing with adults and children experimenting with sex, drugs and suicide.

Oh, come on, now. “Unacceptable to some”? I wouldn’t swallow that one in a casual discussion in a Usenet newsgroup—which, come to think of it, was where I first became acquainted with the Argument from Some People, as in “Some people might find that offensive.”

I guess the Committee on Higher Education hasn’t done any time on Usenet. If they had, they might know how to reply:

  1. “Some people”? How many people are we talking about? Who are they? Name names. Give numbers.
  2. How does Christina Trefzger happen to know these people? Did they all spontaneously decide to unburden their souls to her? How’s this ombudsman gig of hers supposed to work?
  3. Has Ms. Trefzger read the book in question? Would she be willing to be tested on the details?
  4. How unacceptable do these supposed students find their classroom assignments? Could we please have more detail? “Unacceptable” is a word that can be used to describe curdled Hollandaise sauce, chronic tardiness, SUV accident rates, and genocide. It doesn’t tell us what’s actually going on in these classes.
  5. How many is “a lot of students”?
  6. I notice that Ms. Trefzger says the reading assignments offend students’ “personal or religious beliefs.” Do all the students object to the same material on the same grounds? If not, how do their objections and reactions differ? Please be specific.
  7. What is the actual mechanism of harm when, as Ms. Trefzger asserts, students are forced to choose between their beliefs and their reading assignments? Do the students belong to denominations that forbid them to read naughty books, no matter what the circumstances, so that their homework leaves them in a state of sin? Have their spiritual practices hitherto kept them from knowing about the existence of sex, drugs, or suicide? What, exactly, is the problem?
  8. How racy are the reading assignments likely to be in Eng. Lit. courses taught at dusty little Central Arizona community colleges? (Hint: a book which PW and Amazon characterize as “Exhaustive detailing of early 1970s popular/consumer culture in suburban New England provides the context for this archetypal tale of the American nuclear family in decline,” and describe in terms like “ponderous sense of alienation,” “the text,” “more encyclopedic than evocative,” and “a bit stale,” is unlikely to be as exciting as Ms. Trefzger’s hearers will have been imgining.)
  9. Is the word “pornographic” even vaguely appropriate in this context? This is a novel by a former Pushcart Prize winner, published in hardcover by a respectable house, and marketed to the general public. I sincerely doubt there’s more than a few pages of onscreen shagging in it, much less pornography. Here’s the test: can Ms. Trefzger and her as-yet-unidentified buddies name one single person who bought and read The Ice Storm as an aid to personal sexual gratification? Have they tried using it that way themselves? Did it work?
  10. Are Ms. Trefzger and these allegedly discomfited students aware that most novels which deal with sex, drugs, and suicide are meant to be in some measure disturbing? Are they further aware that eliciting that reaction is a recognized function of literature? And have any of them noticed that the author doesn’t approve of the milieu he’s writing about?
I can’t believe the Arizona state government is giving this much power to Christina Trefzger on nothing more than her assertion that some people were upset by having to read a novel about wealthy, bored Connecticut WASPs experimenting with sex and drugs back in 1973.

This has nothing to do with literature or morality. It’s a simple power play: “We can force you to do something stupid by threatening to get upset and accuse you of condoning immorality.” High school lit teachers get hit with this kind of crap all the time.

Personally, I loathe being threatened with indeterminate problems that’ll supposedly cause dreadful yet indescribable harms that can only be addressed by doing whatever the person doing the threatening wants.

If the Arizona Legislature goes through with this idiotic law, I hope they specify how a student goes about getting excused from completing a particular reading assignment. It shouldn’t be quiet or private. Students should have to explain in front of their classmates the harm they think the assignment will do them. A list of students, excused assignments, and accompanying explanations should be posted on the door of the English office.

Why? Partly it’s because I want to see image-conscious undergrads telling their peers that they can’t cope with passing mentions of naughty activity. But more than that, I want them to have to object to something specific about the book, and explain why they, personally, can’t cope with it. If they want an out, they could get it. What they wouldn’t get is carte blanche to harass teachers for reasons that wouldn’t stand the light of day.

Addendum: Via John Price writing in Pharyngula, the text of the proposed law, and the Senate fact sheet on it.

February 21, 2006
The Yankee Internationale
Posted by Teresa at 02:22 PM * 88 comments

I am informed that The Internationale can be sung to the tune of George M. Cohan’s I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

And now you’re stuck knowing it too.

February 16, 2006
Spin
Posted by Patrick at 03:19 PM *

I generally don’t put inside-baseball science-fiction-field stuff like this onto Making Light, and moreover I generally avoid making specific award recommendations, because I work with a lot of authors who have a lot of different strengths and who needs the invidious comparisons? However, in this case, I’m going to risk making an exception. I want to urge everyone who’s planning to nominate in this year’s Hugo Awards to consider a book I think is one of the finest science fiction novels of the last decade, Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.

To quote the hardcover flap copy, which I feel entitled to do since I mostly wrote it:

One night in October when he was ten years old, Tyler Dupree stood in his back yard and watched the stars go out. They all flared into brilliance at once, then disappeared, replaced by a flat, empty black barrier. He and his best friends, Jason and Diane Lawton, had seen what became known as the Big Blackout. It would shape their lives.

The effect is worldwide. The “sun” is now a featureless disk—a heat source, rather than an astronomical object. The moon is gone, but tides remain. And not only have the world’s artificial satellites fallen out of orbit, but their recovered remains are pitted and aged, as though they’d been in space far longer than their known lifespans. As Tyler, Jason, and Diane grow up, space probes reveal a bizarre truth: The barrier is artificial, generated by huge alien artifacts. Time is passing faster outside the barrier than inside—more than a hundred million years per year on Earth. At this rate, the death throes of the sun are only about forty years in our future.

Jason, now a promising young scientist, devotes his life to working against this slow-moving apocalypse. Diane throws herself into hedonism, marrying a sinister cult leader who’s forged a new religion out of the fears of the masses.

Earth sends terraforming machines to Mars to let the onrush of time do its work, turning the planet green. Then they send humans…and immediately get back an emissary with thousands of years of stories to tell about the settling of Mars. Then Earth’s probes reveal that an identical barrier has appeared around Mars. Jason, desperate, seeds near-space with self-replicating machines that will scatter copies of themselves outward from the sun—and report back on what they find.

Life on Earth is about to get much, much stranger.

Publishers Weekly called it “an astonishingly successful melange of SF thriller, tender love story, father-son conflict, ecological parable, and apocalyptic fable.” The Washington Post said “The long-anticipated marriage between the hard sf novel and the literary novel, resulting in an offspring possessing the robust ideational vigor of the former with the graceful narrative subtleties of the latter, might finally have occurred in the form of Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin.” Denver�s Rocky Mountain News called it “the best science fiction novel so far this year.”

Since his debut with 1986’s A Hidden Place, Robert Charles Wilson has turned out a distinguished body of science fiction novels and stories, most of which turn on some kind of radical intrusion of the outrageously strange into the well-observed, realistically-portrayed lives of his (usually contemporary) characters. But Spin represents one of those stunning leaps upward that sometimes happen to writers in mid-career, comparable to what Vernor Vinge did when he published his extraordinary A Fire Upon the Deep, save that Wilson was leaping up from an even higher level.

A great deal of science fiction is about what the field’s insiders often call “sense of wonder,” a quality not entirely unrelated to the good old Romantic Sublime. Many of the genre’s classics are in essence carefully-tuned machines designed to attract readers whose primary conscious loyalty is to rationalism, and lead them by a series of plausible contrivances to a sudden crescendo of mystical awe. This is an important part of SF from Olaf Stapledon to William Gibson and beyond. Lifelong readers of the genre are pushovers for this trick, so much so that we routinely forgive a multitude of sins: scientistic handwaving, tenuous logic, and the constant sensation of the author�s elbow in our ribs. Pretty cool, huh? Robert Charles Wilson�s elbow is never in our ribs. Perhaps better than any of the classic SF masters, Wilson understands the power of the reaction shot, the fact that the Great Strangeness is ever so much more powerful, more transforming if we experience it through the eyes and reactions of characters we’ve been made to believe in and care about very much indeed. And he does it all in a plain middlebrow manner without flimflam or stylistic show.

Published last year in hardcover, Spin is now out in mass-market paperback. Whether or not you’re part of the science-fiction community and its various awards, pick up a copy and give it a try. It’s one of the great SF novels of this generation.

February 12, 2006
Brooklyn, this morning, 9:30 AM
Posted by Patrick at 02:08 PM * 174 comments

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Arthur
Posted by Teresa at 01:16 AM * 71 comments

It is with sorrow that I report the passage from all earthly cares of Arthur, our hamster, who was formerly Jim Macdonald’s hamster. Among his other distinctions, Arthur was the only cavy to have ever attended the annual Viable Paradise writers’ workshop in Martha’s Vineyard.

arthur.jpgHe was a Teddy Bear hamster, which is a long-haired variant of the Syrian Golden. He was also the biggest hamster I’ve ever seen. The first thing Elise Matthesen said when she met him was, “Looks like there was a guinea pig in the woodpile.” We had to give up his Habitrail-type cage when he got too big to fit through the passageway tubes.

His palatial second cage is only a couple of feet away from where I sit when I’m writing.

Arthur lived a happy life—sleeping, grooming, gnawing on the bars of his cage, getting petted, wheedling snacks (especially green peas, avocado bits, salt-free corn chips, mesclun salad mix, and leftover Chinese takeout rice), plotting escapes, running on his wheel, arranging everything in his cage just so, rummaging through his food dish to find all the best bits so he could carry them off to stash in his little plastic igloo, dashing around the apartment in his hamsterball (I’ve seen him do five or six circuits of the dining table at top speed), and having random spells of passionate digging and berm-formation that left bits of cage litter scattered for several feet in all directions. He pursued all these activities with heartfelt diligence.

He will be much missed.

February 10, 2006
Here We Go Again….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:10 AM * 137 comments

As you know, thanks to the FDA banning pemoline, Miss Teresa now has only three drugs to combat narcolepsy, the most effective one no longer being available.

One of her others is Ritalin. Now the FDA’s drug risk committee had a meeting and:

The advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend patient guides, and it voted 8-to-7 to suggest that stimulant labels carry the most serious of the Food and Drug Administration’s drug-risk warnings something called a “black box.”

Y’see, they found that some people who take Ritalin have heart problems. Gee, ya think? That’s something that stimulants do. You want to see some ectopic beats? Hook me up to an EKG after I’ve had my morning coffee. But these nice fellows don’t want anyone to have an increased risk of heart problems. Hot news flash for the FDA: Over time the death rate from “living” is 100%! The big question is quality of life while you’re still alive.

“I want to cause people’s hands to tremble a little bit before they write that prescriptions,” Dr. Nissen said.

Hot news flash for Dr. Nissen: Neurologists’ hands already tremble, because the DEA likes to drop in on them and screw with them just for fun. (Chasing neurologists is lots easier and lots safer than chasing the guys from Cartagena. Neurologists are listed in the white pages and don’t carry machine guns.)

Marketplace from American Public Media had a big propaganda scare story on Ritalin yesterday.

We’re looking now at what pemoline faced in 1996. So, in 2016 will we see friggin’ Public friggin’ Citizen petitioning the FDA to ban Ritalin, and the FDA rolling over for it? Sure, I can see that.

If you need Ritalin to maintain your quality of life, the time to fight this nonsense is now, not when you show up at the pharmacy one morning with your scrip in your hand, only to discover that there’s no more to be had.

February 09, 2006
Making Light at Boskone
Posted by Patrick at 04:44 PM * 131 comments

I sidelighted an earlier version of my and Teresa’s schedule, but below the fold you’ll find the full schedule for all four of this weblog’s front-page posters.

Boskone is a science fiction convention held annually in Boston, Massachusetts. This year it’ll be over the weekend of February 17-19, and the guests of honor include Cory Doctorow and Ken MacLeod. If you’re one of our regular commenters (or even an irregular one) and you’ll be there, introduce yourself. Teresa will be carrying a camera and taking pictures of as many of you as can be induced not to run.

Take My Logline … Please
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:30 PM * 110 comments

Let us consider The Screenplay Agency.

What shall we say about The Screenplay Agency? It’s owned and operated by Robert M. Fletcher, a gentleman who was fined $50,000 and forced to make restitution in Washington state back in 2001. Seems he was “offering and selling unregistered securities, acting as an unregistered broker-dealer and/or salesperson, and making material misrepresentations and/or omissions.”

Somewhere around that time, Fletcher got involved with Sydra Techniques, a literary agency out of Boca Raton, Florida. Sydra changed its name to S.T. Literary Agency, then to Stylus Literary Agency, then split up into the Christian Literary Agency, the Poet’s Literary Agency, the Children’s Literary Agency, and the New York Literary Agency; collectively The Literary Agency Group.

They are supposedly headquartered at 275 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, New York … but when I visited there last year, and chatted with the security guard in the lobby, he was unaware that any of them were in the building. Nor did any of those agencies appear on his master list of tenants. What is actually at 275 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, New York, is Corporate Suites, friendly people who offer “Virtual Office Solutions.” As they put it:

Our Virtual Office Solutions are popular with home-based professionals who desire a professional address and corporate facilities to meet their clients, out-of-state or international businesses who require a meeting place and business address in New York and traveling professionals who are rarely in New York.

In short, a mail drop for a guy in Boca Raton.

Sometime about early October of last year, a new agency cloned off from The Literary Agency Group: The Screenplay Agency.

They say:

The written word when combined with the visual power of media has the power to make us laugh, cry, expose our failings, and give us the tools to fix them. The right words can literally change the world. As literary agents for screenplays, it is our job and pleasure to bring our clients� vision and work to fruition “on the big screen”.

What else do they offer? A “Book-to-Film: Special Division.

The Screenplay Agency�s Book-to-Film Division offers an exciting new opportunity for authors of fiction, non-fiction or short stories who dream of seeing their manuscripts or prose on television or at the movies. For the first time, the Screenplay Agency’s Book-to-Film division provides the services of credited agents of film and television to assist you toward bringing your manuscript to the Hollywood community.

What have they sold?

Our Successes
We have at least 3 option agreements underway right now, and we’ve probably assisted with another dozen or so in the last few years.

In other words, a big handful of smoke.

Attentive readers will have noticed how many of the linguistic markers have popped up on those web pages.

The discussion of The Screenplay Agency on the messageboards where screenwriters hang out paralleled the discussions of the other Literary Agency Group sub-agencies on the discussion boards where other writers hang out.

Anyone who sent a logline to The Screenplay Agency got a form letter back from “Sherry Fine,” talking about its commercial potential.

This cruised along for a couple of months. Then an actual screenwriter noticed it.

Now, I’ve had several friends who have submitted material to these folks. From what I can tell, they all had exactly the same experience. They submitted a logline on the Agency’s website. A few days later, they received a form letter stating that the Agency had read the logline, were impressed with it, and would like to read the first twenty or thirty pages of the script. A week or two after sending their scripts in, my writer friends received a much longer form letter. This one stated that the Agency had read the script sample, and liked it so much that think that they might be able to sell the script and represent the writer. Exciting news.

But wait, there’s more! The Agency explains that before going forward with their relationship, they need to read “coverage” on the script. Whoops. More red flags.

Now this coverage could be sent in by the writer, but it has to be done by a reader with experience in Hollywood, and has to meet several specific requirements spelled out in the letter. If the aspiring screenwriter doesn’t have access to someone in Hollywood that can provide this coverage (and let’s face it, they probably don’t, or they wouldn’t be trying to get representation from The Screenplay Agency), the Agency will recommend an “outside” coverage service that can provide the needed coverage for the low, low price of only $99 (or something like that).

He decided to test The Screenplay Agency by sending in the worst logline ever seen, to see if it would be rejected.

Alas, this was not to be. Just like PublishAmerica and the Atlanta Nights sting, The Screenplay Agency happily accepted and offered a contract to the worst that a serious pro could dredge up.

Here’s the logline for “Friendship Alley” that was sent, and greeted with the happy news that an aqent thought it had commercial potential:

“WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THIRTEEN TWELVE YEAROLDS FIND A RED BIKE AND A MYSTIC CRYSTAL OUTSIDE OF THE SCHOOL DOORS ONE DAY? AN DAVENTURE OF MISTICAL PROPORTIONS!”

The tale continues as a thirty page excerpt from the script (which doesn’t have any children, or a bike, or a crystal, and is titled “Chicago”) is submitted, and accepted! Happy day! It has to be read to be believed. This is, truly, bad. My hat is off to a master.

One tiny detail. In order to represent this work, The Screenplay Agency needs independent outside coverage. A mere $95 charge…. Then, if the coverage is “green-light,” the script writer will have to buy a pitch sheet (a $189 charge). But, luckily, The Screenplay Agency happens to know of a third-party company that will give you, the writer, a package deal for only $245!

Only problem is that no one’s ever heard of these coverage agencies in Hollywood, and there’s no reason to believe that they’re truly independent of “The Screenplay Agency” and it’s “affiliate agencies.”

The saga continues as “Chicago” gets a “positive review.”

Meanwhile, other scriptwriters (real ones) have started to play: Sherry oh Sherry am I to be a Viktim to?

Here we meet the soon-to-be-a-major-motion-picture “The Venus Trap.” The logline for this one reads:

A young women ensnars her older gargantuan lover in her wiley, unsuspecting, forcibly recaltricant, web of lies, deceits and more dammning lies, before swalling up his life, family and possessions, before moving onto the next viktim.

Then there is the classic Ice Cube Boy (check this one out — really — you won’t be disappointed): She Never Met a Logline She Didn’t Like

The way Robert Fletcher reacts to criticism on the ‘net is by sending out sockpuppets and shills. I expect we’ll see them here soon enough. Do try to greet them courteously, and don’t let them see the knives and the stewpot until the very last minute.

[UPDATE 10FEB06] The astounding conclusion of the “Friendship Alley” story comes in I Spy Pt. 4 (of 3): The Saga Comes To An End�. What happens when “Danny Broderick” tries to call “Sherry Fine” on the phone? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll struggle to control of your sphincters! (Great job, Warren Hsu Leonard. Bitchin’ phone.)



[UPDATE 14NOV08: If you’ve had any dealings with Robert Fletcher, or any of his businesses, the Florida Attorney General wants to hear from you.]

[UPDATE 11AUG09: Robert M. Fletcher, Literary Scammer. Bobby loses a lawsuit.]

[UPDATE 20AUG09 They’re changing their name (again!) to Strategic Book Group]

[UPDATE: 03SEP09: Attorney General Files Lawsuit Against “Literary Company”]



[UPDATE: 20JUN12]
Bobby has renamed his scam (again) to Strategic Book Publishing & Rights Agency (SBPRA), Publish On Demand Global, Best Quality Editing Services, and Best Selling Book Rights Agency, plus a dozen other names.

February 07, 2006
Narcolepsy update
Posted by Teresa at 12:05 PM *

I went to see my neurologist.

And the news is: my sleep disorder center is being shut down. I’ve been busted back down to “I am looking for a new neurologist.”

Damn. I really liked the new guy.

In other news, my excellent GP of many years has parted ways with my insurance plan.

The timing of all this could be a lot better. I’m just sayin’.

February 06, 2006
A most wondrous Labor-saving Contraption
Posted by Patrick at 08:18 AM * 72 comments

In the great tradition of this post-9/11 piece, Chris Bertram moves us one step closer to a world in which there will be no need for original weblog posts at all.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.