Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sarah Palin

I don't usually write about politics on this blog, but I feel a need to spread this link around -- a post by an Alaskan political blogger about Sarah Palin.

She's hideously right-wing, even for a Republican, and also problematic for other reasons:

-- Would deny women the right to an abortion, even in rape cases
-- Wants creationism taught in schools
-- Is strongly homophobic
-- Supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
---- Denies scientific evidence of the polar bear's threatened habitat and shrinking population in support of the above
-- Only found out recently what the Vice President actually does.

She's also recently become involved in an ethics scandal for misusing her gubernatorial authority to try to get her ex-brother-in-law (who's involved in a custody battle with her sister) fired from his state trooper job, which is going to make for some great media-mud over the next couple of months.

Her interest is fiercely local. She said right out, when she became governer of Alaska, that she'd be supporting the interests of her home town and its area. She plans to continue that attitude if she's elected Vice President, ensuring that the "VP slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans." It's pretty clear she has no interest in serving the country, only her particular chunk of it, which is where her loyalty and interests will always lie. Maybe that makes for a good mayor, but it's iffy in a governor and unacceptable in a President or VP.

Her experience is minuscule. She was the mayor of a tiny town for a number of years (I've seen population figures of 5500 and 8500, but at any rate less than 10,000) and has been governor of Alaska (pop. less than 700,000) for two years. Supporters are saying her "executive experience" is much greater than Obama's; come on, my high school's student body president "governed" 2700 people, but that doesn't make him/her qualified to be the next American president. Scale and complexity matter, folks.

And make no mistake, if Mr. McCain is elected, there's an excellent chance that his Vice President will end up as President somewhere along the line. Mr. McCain is 72 and has significant health problems. The American Presidency is one of the most stressful jobs on the planet and ages its incumbents very quickly. So the question here is not only whether Ms. Palin is qualified to be Vice President, but whether she's qualified to be President. I don't think so.

The overwhelming opinion (at least among liberal bloggers and commenters) is that the Republicans are hoping that throwing a random vagina onto their ticket will win them some significant number of disappointed Clinton supporters. Considering that Ms. Palin's politics are pretty much diametrically opposed to Ms. Clinton's, I'm hoping this particular trick won't work. (Although after the last decade or so, I'm not willing to swear anything when it comes to the possible stupidity of a large block of American voters.)

If Republican advisors thought it prudent to have a woman on the ticket, there are a number of better qualified Republican women they could've chosen. The fact that they didn't, that they thought this particular Republican woman would do just as well, shows that they were more interested in her plumbing than her political strengths. It's insulting to women that the Republicans think any significant number of us will vote for a ticket with a woman on it only because we share plumbing. And it's insulting to all the citizens of the United States that Mr. McCain is willing to choose a running mate he thinks will help him get elected, without considering what this person will add to his actual administration should he make it to the White House, and that he's apparently incapable of enough contingency thinking to consider what sort of President she'd be should he pass away or be incapacitated while he's in office.

I was planning to vote for Mr. Obama anyway, but if I'd been teetering, this would've pushed me firmly onto his side.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Vote to Give Books to Kids

First Book is having a vote in their What Book Got You Hooked? campaign, and will be donating fifty thousand books to kids in the winning US state.

Go here to vote. All you have to do is vote for your state (or whichever state you want the books to go to), but you can also tell them what your earliest favorite book was and why if you want to. Name and e-mail are also optional.

You can vote once a day between now and 15 September. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. :D

By the way, my favorite book when I was little was The Gingerbread Man. Hey, it's about someone who runs around having fun and causing trouble, and that's pretty cool when you're four or five. ;)

Thanks to Kerry Allen, one of my fellow Romancing the Blog columnists, for posting about this.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Relationships -- Failures and Fixes

For whatever reason, I just got a whole bunch of blog posts by Steve Barnes (who just generally rocks) dumped into my reader, so I'm going through a lot of good stuff. I ran into this one, which struck me as particularly useful for anyone writing romances, or just writing about relationships between people.

Whether you're looking to write a believably solid relationship, or looking for reasons why a relationship might crash and burn, Steve has a pretty comprehensive list here. Great bunny chow. :)


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Plagiarism -- Spreading the Word

So Dear Author reported that the Plagiarism panel at RWA Nationals was poorly attended.

It's disappointing, but from what folks have said, both in the post and in comments, I'm not really shocked. I think there are a few things going on here.

First, I agree with those who said that many people who are outraged about plagiarism likely didn't go because it sounded like a "This is what Plagiarism Is" sort of panel, and yeah, we know that already.

Theft of Creative Property
Speakers: Dr. John Barrie, Jane Little, and Nora Roberts
Join Dr. John Barrie, the creator of the architecture and technology behind iThenticate and Turnitin, and best-selling author Nora Roberts and attorney and blogger Jane Little for a Q&A session on plagiarism. Special moderator: Sarah from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

I agree with Gina that this doesn't sound like a call to arms. It doesn't even sound like a call to come and have your opinion counted. Folks later in the comment thread are correct that we need to show that the community in general strongly condemns plagiarism, but the panel description didn't make it sound like an event where people were being encouraged to come and show the flag.

This was a fairly last-minute addition to the conference, so it's great that there was anything and not surprising that neither the write-up nor the basic panel concept were terribly creative or exciting. I'm sure folks will come up with something next year that'll attract more interest. Seressia had some good ideas for panel names and concepts.

Second, however much need there is for education about just what plagiarism is and is not (and I do think there's a pretty huge need), I don't think the people who most need that education are the ones likely to show up at a panel on the subject. In the various plagiarism incidents of the past year, there were plenty of people insisting that the writers involved had not committed plagiarism and had not done anything wrong, and a low but significant percentage of those claimed to be writers, as I recall. These people are already sure that they know what's what, though, and are positive that all the fuss is just a bunch of jealous people being mean. They're not the ones who are going to go to a panel to learn about plagiarism. This education is necessary, but it needs to be all-pervasive through the industry, to the point where the people who don't want to deal with it can't avoid it -- both to educate the people who are mistaken about what plagiarism is, and to smack the people who don't think it's a big deal upside the head with the knowledge that it is serious and that there'll be considerable social censure applied to people who commit it as well as to people who support them.

Because third, I think that's the biggest problem right now, that there's too much of the wrong kind of social support for demonstrated plagiarists. There are too many people, both writers and readers, who don't think it's a big deal, and who therefore see what social censure there has been so far as a bad thing, as people being "mean" or "cruel" or "jealous" or "trolling" or whatever. If copying someone else's words isn't wrong, then smacking people who copy is a nasty thing to do and the writer gets defensive and all her fans or personal friends jump up to defend her with much righteous indignation.

I saw too many people, in the incidents with both Ms. Edwards and Ms. Logan, jump up to defend them out of the belief that supporting a person means supporting every action they take. They think that being a true fan means being on your favorite writer's side no matter what. They think that being a true friend means assuring that friend that of course they didn't do anything wrong, no matter what it was they actually did. The idea that supporting a person means kindly but firmly helping them admit when they've made a mistake and take whatever action is needed to fix the mistake (even if an apology is the only option) is a null concept to these folks, and there are a lot of them.

Sometimes the pressure against plagiarism and plagiarists is enough to overcome the misguided social support around the plagiarist -- as in the case of Ms. Logan, whose book was withdrawn from publication and who I'm pretty sure will never do that again -- and sometimes it isn't -- as in the case of Ms. Edwards, who's lost one publisher but has two more briskly selling her plagiarized work.

There's still social pressure pushing in the wrong direction, in support of the plagiarists. (Poor things, they've been through so much!) Together with ignorance of just what plagiarism is, however much true ignorance there might be, it gives us the situation we have right now. Too many people, including some writers, don't think there's anything wrong with copying someone else's lines. Way too many readers don't even know what's going on, and (judging by responses from readers who did know) wouldn't care if they did. And too many publishers (two out of three of Ms. Edwards's publishers) don't care because hey, since the readers don't care, the publishers are still making money selling those plagiarized books.

Backing up a step, too many schools have lax attitudes toward plagiarism, or only pay lip-service to what anti-plagiarism rules they do have, as in the case of Christine Pelton and Piper High School. Kids are growing up thinking that plagiarism is fine if you don't get caught, and that even if you do get caught, most of the time nothing will happen. These kids are the adults who eventually get caught up in plagiarism cases in the publishing world, either as writers who do it and then get indignant when they're caught, or as writers who defend other writers who get caught at it, or as readers who don't think it's a big deal and keep buying the books they like no matter who actually wrote the words in between the covers, or as publishers who'll keep publishing the works of a plagiarist so long as they sell. This is a systemic problem, and a series of educational "This Is Plagiarism" panels at RWA National, no matter how well conceived or well meant, isn't going to fix it.

It's a good start, though.

Rather than simple instructional panels to discuss definitions, maybe next year's panel (or panels?) could talk about what to do if you've been plagiarized. Can your agent help you? Your publisher? (They darned well should, but we know that at this point they likely won't -- what can we do to help nudge them along?)

What legal steps can be taken, and what will they cost? Could RWA, or some other writer's group, start a legal offense fund, to help writers who've been victimized take their cases to court? Sure, you can sue for expenses, but if someone can't afford to press a civil case in the first place, it'd be nice if there were a fund to help them out; they could sue for expenses and then repay the fund when they win and get their damages-plus-expenses money. Or maybe a list of lawyers willing to take on plagiarism cases, with expectation of payment out of an expense award, could be assembled?

How many of the writing groups have actual statements in their bylaws saying that any member shown to be a plagiarist will be expelled, permanently, period? Any? Maybe some should, whether at the national or local level. It might be something to talk about, at least, in a panel or other gathering.

And if news of even some of these discussions spread, and a few of these or similar actions were taken, that would show the plagiarists and their defenders that their peers in the industry are serious about this, that it is a big deal and that it won't be tolerated. Because the bottom line, in my opinion, is that we have to make plagiarism a socially as well as professionally poisonous act. So long as some large percentage of writers and readers think that plagiarism is no big deal, or just a minor infraction, or that plagiarism means taking someone else's entire book, verbatim, and publishing it with your name on it (and that absolutely nothing less than that qualifies), people will still do it. And so long as some large percentage of writers and readers are willing to "support" their favorite writers or their writer friends who've been shown to have committed plagiarism, people will still do it.

So long as a clear demonstration of plagiarism still has the power to tear apart an industry, a genre community, a social group -- so long as there's still enough support for plagiarism and the people who do it to even make an argument of it -- writers who'd rather take the way of ignorance or laziness won't have any incentive not to.

That attitude of support for plagiarists, from even a few other writers and from any number of readers and from their publishers, makes it too attractive a gamble to take; even if you lose, chances are you'll still have people patting you on the back and telling you that you're wonderful, and you'll still have a publisher (or two) willing to sell your books.

The social support for plagiarists is what has to be eliminated, and doing so will take a prolonged and vigorous attack from many directions. Panels, yes, on a variety of related topics. Discussions of what to do and how to appropriately punish plagiarists, at all levels. Plans for taking legal action in cases like that of Nora Roberts and Janet Dailey, where there's very clear financial harm, demonstrable to a court, and where the victim isn't a Nora Roberts and doesn't have the resources to take that legal action alone. Pressure on publishers to take action. (Which will happen automatically if some large percentage of readers become aware that this is a problem and stops buying books by plagiarists, but I'd hope we wouldn't have to wait that long for the publishers to do what's ethical.) Articles and editorials, fliers and pamphlets, posters and buttons, blog widgets and colorbars, and above all discussion and planning and agreement by a clear majority of the industry that this is not at all acceptable, ever, period.

Only social pressure will do the job thoroughly, and turning around a social impulse is never easy. There's no one solution. But if enough people try enough different things, the mass of pressure and influence will eventually come together and make plagiarism as socially and professionally poisonous as it should be.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Comment Weirdness...?

Is anyone else on Blogger having their comments acting weird? I had someone comment on my previous entry, but when I got here their comment was gone. (It was Stewart Sternberg -- I'm not ignoring you, I'm trying to find you. [flail]) So was my reply to Bernita's comment, which I'd done a day or so earlier.

I got another comment the next day, from Anonymous, and it didn't show either, nor did Stewart's nor my reply to Bernita.

Now it's a couple of days after that and my reply to Bernita is back, but Stewart's and Anon's comments are still AWOL. :/ I'm figuring I'll give it another day or two (at least until I'm back home -- I'm at WorldCon in Denver right now) and then just paste their comments in from my e-mail notices and reply all at once. This is really annoying, though. [glares at Blogger's server]


Monday, August 4, 2008

Don't Burn It -- Return It

I'm sure everyone here has at least heard of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series of YA books about a girl with a sparkly-vampire boyfriend. The first book was made into a movie, which is coming out in December, and the fourth book, Breaking Dawn, just released with many midnight bookstore parties and a concert and cetera marketing stuff.

The problem is that now that the fans have actually had time to read the fourth book, a significant number of them aren't at all pleased with it. Some people were talking about having book-burning parties, but this thread on suggests returning it instead. And people are.

Not only are many of the fans in that particular thread saying they're going to return their copies, but J.L.J.M. said in this comment:

Just got back from Borders, where they took back my book with no problem. Got into a discussion with the cashier about how I was the 15th(!!!) person to bring my book back today. Seems like many customers felt that SM was not true to her characters and her self created Twilight world, and are calling foul.

And in a later message, Charie La Marr Longo said:

I agree totally. I saw about 20 returned copies at Target tonight. Returning them is the right thing to do. Burn them and she will still have the money. Don't let that happen.

That's a lot of returns, especially on the day after a book was released. Even if those particular data points are outliers, it still suggests a lot of these books are being returned, which is even more significant considering how rarely this happens in general. Julian Black, over in the Fandom_Wank thread says in a comment here:

I almost never saw books returned for being lousy while I worked in bookstores. Maybe twice. That one Borders already had 15 returns is mind-boggling to me.

Yeah. This is a pretty impressive show of consumer rebellion in the bookstore.

I've never read any of Ms. Meyer's books, so I don't have a personal stake in this. But it's interesting to see that there apparently is a point past which even the most rabid reader fanbase cannot be pushed.

I don't think this is going to become at all common, but if this does hit the news (and I think it will) it's something other rabid fans are going to remember, next time their favorite author launches a much-hyped and marketed book which they think is a dud.

[ETA: comments closed because of spam.]