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All Together Now

Dec 31, 2013
Maybe next year.

Maybe in 2014 all those voices of dissatisfaction, from the unemployed, the underpaid, and the underrepresented; to the homeless and the hopeless; to Krugman and Stiglitz and Reich; to Mother Jones, Sister Amy, and Brother Cornell; to Scahill and Hedges and Greenwald; to Chomsky and Nader and Ehrenreich; to Snowden and Manning and Assange; to Occupy Wall Street and even to the Tea Party; and finally and firstly to you and me; maybe in 2014 we will get together and begin to forge the New Age of American Democracy.

Without such a new age, 99 percent of our children are doomed to a marginal income even in the professions, to a rampant and unrestrained corporatocracy, to one meteorological disaster after another, to the triumph of tyranny as China assumes command of the world, to a very possible fiery end in nuclear cataclysm.

Everything is broken. The end is near. Let's get to work.
tags: Working Together

Noted with Interest, November 2013

Nov 26, 2013

Storybook Plutocracy
by Thomas Frank. Review of George Packer's The Unwinding. ". . . a minor masterpiece of the social-disintegration genre—a beautifully written, clinically observed story of the slow-rolling economic transformation that has, over the last 30-odd years, made vast parts of America into a destitute wasteland while lifting a fortunate few to a kind of heaven on earth. . . ." From Public Books, November 21, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2013.

Obamacare: The Biggest Insurance Scam in History
by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers. I told you so, four years ago. Merry Christmas! From truthout, October 30, 2013. Accessed November 5, 2013.

There Are Good Alternatives to US Capitalism, But No Way to Get There
by Jerry Mander (can that name be for real?). An excerpt from his new book, The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System. I disagree it is obsolete, quite the contrary, unfortunately. I will confess this, too: I love capitalism. But I love ice cream, too, and if I let ice cream have its way with me the way capitalism is having its way with the world today, a similar end would result. From AlterNet, July 24, 2013. Accessed November 5, 2013.

Imploding the Myth of Israel
by Chris Hedges. The greatest tragedy in history, following so soon after the second greatest. A two-state solution will never work; a one-state solution will never be proposed. The Jews will be fighting on and on, winning all the battles, until they lose the war (as we learned so starkly in The Gatekeepers). From truthdig.com, November 4, 2013. Accessed November 5, 2013.

tags: Noted with Interest

Noted with Interest, October 2013

Oct 30, 2013

A Summary of McMinimum Wages and McWelfare in One Hilarious Clip
by Bill Maher. So why is no movement starting up in our country? Excerpted by The Daily Unworthiest. Accessed Oct 30, 2013.

The Folly of Empire
by Chris Hedges. No one conveys the doomsday to which we are rushing like Hedges. From Truthdig.com, Oct 14, 2013. Accessed Oct 16, 2013.

Looting the Pension Funds
By Matt Taibbi. If you are a public employee, your pension is almost certainly disappearing into the pockets of the 1%. Find out how. From RollingStone, September 26, 2013. Accessed October 2, 2013.


tags: Noted with Interest

The End of Libraries, Part XVII

Oct 05, 2013
Time for an update.

In my first posting on this issue, in October 2011, I said, “I do not believe I am being an alarmist. We are in a political climate where public services are being privatized, downsized, or eliminated at a rapid rate. And if [public] libraries cannot begin to serve their patrons’ eBook reading needs—and they don’t come close to doing so today–and an Amazon or other commercial endeavor steps in to fill that need, libraries are finished.”

Shortly after I wrote that, Amazon introduced the book-lending add-on to its Prime account service: Prime members could now borrow one book a month with no due date. This was in addition to other Prime advantages: two-day delivery and a video collection made available for streaming. It was an effective sweetener to the $70-per-year Prime account and today Amazon has over 430,000 titles available to Prime borrowers.

Still, Amazon Prime lending isn’t much of a threat to libraries—yet. Real readers need a good deal more than a one-book fix every month. And the content remains problematic. Most, if not all, current bestsellers (or even second- or third-string bestsellers) are not available for Prime lending. But if you're a slow reader and happy with the ten-thousandth knockoff of Twilight, Prime lending may very well be providing a disincentive for visiting, or supporting, your local library.

However, two new commercial endeavors pose a far greater threat: Scribd and Oyster. The former has been around a while, providing online documents in a rather eccentric presentation mode. They and new startup Oyster are offering Netflix-like subscription plans for “all you can read” at less than $10 per month.

Oyster touts 100,000 titles, mostly consisting of the HarperCollins backlist (again, no current hot-ticket items yet available) and a few smaller publishers. Scribd doesn’ break out book numbers from its claim of having “40 million documents.” I could not find a facility to search either collection for the titles on my six-page To-Read list, though I suspect I would not find many, if any, of them available.

So content remains a problem. Your latest Grisham or Grafton is almost certainly at your public library (though not digitally, and you may have to be on a waiting list—but it is there).

Still, these vendors bring us another important step closer to The End of Libraries. By offering all you can read at a price affordable by most middle-class readers, they have gone the next mile in obviating the need for a public library for those individuals most likely to utilize and support it. All that remains now is the content puzzle. Once a Scribd, Oyster, or Amazon figures out how to convince publishers of the financial benefits of making all their publications, including new ones, available to their programs (see part II of The End of Libraries), then it is game over for public library support, and we will see libraries close at an even great rate than they are closing today.

And Our Banana Republic will be that much closer to becoming a reality.
tags: Books and Libraries

Noted with Interest, September 2013

Sep 18, 2013

Almost Half The Country Canít Afford Basic Needs
by Alan Pyke. The line on the graph is disturbingly straight and steep. Have we passed the halfway mark in 2013? From thinkprogress.com, Sep 18, 2013. Accessed Sep 18, 2013.

Everything Wrong with America in One Simple Image
by Justin Rosario. An eye-opening graphic and a stunning video of Jeff Daniels ("Why America Is NOT the Greatest Country in the World, Anymore"). I would like to see some verification on the graphic. If it is true, it is truly appalling. From AddictingInfo.org, Sep 13, 2013. Accessed Sep 14, 2013.

Left With Nothing
By Michael Sallah, Debbie Cenziper, Steven Rich. They want it all—your money AND your life. And they'll get it. From The Washington Post, Sep 8, 2013. Accessed Sep 12, 2013.

Cornel West and the Fight to Save the Black Prophetic Tradition
by Chris Hedges. Okay, brothers and sisters, he's an eccentric. However, he is also the genuine article. Where else today can we hear the echoes of King? From Truthdig, Sep 9, 2013. Accessed Sep 12, 2013.

Poverty Has Same Effect On The Brain As Constantly Pulling All Nighters
By Bryce Covert. End Poverty Now! We can do it. From ThinkProgress, August 30, 2013. Accessed September 1, 2013.

The Expendables: How the Temps Who Power Corporate Giants Are Getting Crushed
by Michael Grabell. The "migrantizing" of the American work force. More and more of us are waiting at proverbial street corners, wondering if we'll go to work today. From Pro Publica, June 27, 2013. Accessed September 1, 2013.

9 out of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact
By "Politzane." Income inequality: Way worse than you think. Linked at Upworthy (Adam Mordecai), undated. Accessed Sep 1, 2013.

tags: Noted with Interest

Syria ... and You

Sep 03, 2013
We don't have a dog in this fight. We don't have a side to side with. The Arab world is in deep turmoil, caught between the forces of longstanding (and often US-maintained) dictatorships and antediluvian fundamentalism. Oil is about to go through the roof (according to Kiplinger forecasts), from the current $107 a barrel now to probably $120 to $140.

If there was ever a time to call upon America's instinct for isolationism, it's now. If there was ever a time to focus our extensive innovative and entrepreneurial talents on renewable sources of energy, it's now. If there was ever a time to stifle our rush to solve the world's problems through a unilateral application of force, for which no one has yet offered a convincing scenario for success, it's now.

The people are speaking and we don't want another mideast conflict. We may, and should, and must, shed many a tear for those poor dead children laid out in their shrouded rows. But everyone's fight cannot be our fight. We don't have the prestige, the power, or the right to intervene unilaterally.

Write your representative. Tell her or him that you oppose this war. Write your senators and tell them that you oppose this war.

They may very well take us to war yet again, anyway—historical precedent does not assuage our anxieties in this regard. But if you don't speak up to your congressman and to your senators, and they go to war next week, it will, to a small extent, be your fault.

So don't just go up on Facebook and grouse to your Friends. Our nation's future, to a small but so-important extent, is in your hands.
tags: Congress | Militarism | History

Noted with Interest, August 2013

Aug 25, 2013

The Comforts of the Apocalypse
By Rob Goodman. Much food for thought. Why are we here? Where are we going? What does it all mean? From The Chronical of Higher Education, Aug 19, 2013. Accessed Aug 25, 2013.

The Blip
By Benjamin Wallace-Wells. What if everything we've come to think of as American is predicated on a freak coincidence of economic history? And what if that coincidence has run its course? (And note the Comments.) From New York Magazine, Jul 21, 2013. Accessed Aug 1, 2013.

UK Report Recommends Author Payments for Library Ebook Lending
By Ian Clark. The UK is way ahead of us in bringing eBooks to public libraries, though even they still have a long way to go. From Library Journal, Aug 1, 2013. Accessed Aug 2, 2013.


tags: Noted with Interest | Books and Libraries | Economics

400 ppm and Counting

May 26, 2013
The only question now is whether the relentless rise in carbon can be matched by a relentless rise in the activism necessary to stop it. —Bill McKibben

The CO2 level in our atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (ppm), higher than at any time in the past 3 million years. The annual rate of increase has also accelerated over the past 55 years from about 1.55 ppm to more than 2.5 ppm.

NASA recently polled ten climate scientists on their reaction to this landmark number, and it is revealing how mild their reactions seem. No one is standing on a chair, screaming hysterically for change in our energy policies. This speaks to the success the radical right has had in pooh-poohing climate change. The scientists who know best the awful future we are facing are keenly sensitive to appearing to be alarmist, though we are now past the time when alarm bells should have reached deafening levels around the globe.

Obama will soon approve or disapprove the Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would bring tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to other pipelines already under construction in the U.S. that would deliver it to refineries in Texas. Though in and of itself the pipeline will not increase the CO2 levels spewing into the atmosphere—if this pipeline is not approved, Alberta will find a way to ship their product to the orient— it isn’t going to help, either.

We need an energy initiative at least as ambitious as our race to the moon in the 1960s, and much more vital to all our interests. Here is one idea: Let’s cut our use of fossil fuels by 4% every year for the next 25 years. Cut our imports and cut our domestic production and utilization. In a quarter of a century, we can get to the point where we contribute nothing to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, at least insofar as they are caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Of course, along the way, we are going to have to maximize conservation, development of renewables, and research and development aimed at keeping the lights on and the traffic moving after 2038. Is there anyone, knowing of our wealth and our resources, who can seriously doubt we could succeed?

On the other hand, knowing what we know about the way the world runs in 2013, is there anyone who can seriously believe we will embark upon anything like this in the foreseeable future? More to be expected is that we will continue our inexorable march to the Land of No Return.
tags: Environment | Oil and Gasoline | Energy

Boston and Beyond

Apr 20, 2013
Now that both Boston bombers have been caught and the nine-days’ wonder that permeated the airways 24/7 has been stilled, perhaps we can pause a moment to remember the nameless hundreds of thousands of innocents our bombs have slaughtered over the past 12 years.

If you don’t want your heart broken, don’t go HERE to view seven of the 11 children—babies, really—slaughtered in the “fierce battle” between U.S.-led forces and the nefarious Taliban a couple of Sundays ago. And this was no anomaly. “Collateral damage” is practically the watchword of the “wars” we have fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Indonesia, Sudan, Somalia, etc., etc., over the past decade.

What ought to have been a police action—the meticulous pursuit and capture of individuals involved in an international conspiracy of religious fanatics—has instead turned into Apocalypse Now, with death raining down upon the general populations of a large slice of the world; with the abandonment of due process, the laws of war, and any human decency; with the revival of medieval confinements and tortures; and with no end in sight of vastly expensive conflicts that fill the pockets of the corporatocracy and bankrupt the public coffers.

It is not surprising that a young and impressionable boy, helplessly watching the slaughter of babies, brides, and thousands of others of his co-religionists should be led to take the awful action that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly took last week, cruelly wounding 170 people and ending three innocent lives, his brother’s life and, effectively, his own. It is only surprising that more young men and women have not done the same.
tags: Militarism | Religion | Terrorism

The End of Libraries, Part XVI

Apr 17, 2013
Let’s forget about using the term “Used” in connection with digital music, movies, or books. Let us stipulate to the fact that a digital file remains in its original pristine condition, unless it is corrupted in some way, in which case it usually becomes useless.

And let’s forget about allowing anyone to use the term “Licensed” when referring to the purchase and sale of digital media. When I buy a book, I buy it, I don’t license it, and I don’t care if it comes in a parchment scroll, a bound monograph, or a digital file.

And then let’s establish the finding that the First Sale Doctrine applies to copyrighted material regardless of its embodiment—parchment, paper, or bits. There are plenty of ways to insure security against copyright infringement for eBooks. Look at Amazon, which has a pretty impressive method in place already, and has been loaning books through its Prime service since 2011. If there has been any successful or widespread abuse of that system, I haven’t read about it.

If we don’t establish the First Sale Doctrine as applying to digital media, public libraries could lose the right to loan eBooks. And since eBooks will soon be the primary embodiment of books, public libraries could lose their relevance, their funding, and their existence. This must not be allowed to happen, for the sake of our democracy.
tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XV

Apr 07, 2013
The trial court decision on Capitol Records, LLC, versus ReDigi Inc. was handed down in March, and the news is not good.

Read the decision HERE and google “Capitol ReDigi” to learn the details on this case. This piece addresses what I see are the dire implications of the decision, if it is not overturned on appeal.

The First Sale Doctrine, recognized by the Supreme Court in a 1908 decision, establishes the right of the purchaser of a copyrighted work (book, music, movie, painting, etc.) to dispose of that work in any manner they wish without requiring further compensation to the original copyright holder (typically the publisher of the work). The purchaser may loan, resell, give away, destroy, or do anything else they want with the work except copy it.

The First Sale Doctrine enables libraries to purchase books and subsequently loan them to their patrons at no cost or compensation to the original seller. In the first entry in this series, I made the argument that physical books were on their way to joining the Dodo bird and the dinosaurs, owing to a number of factors. One may say the same for all of the copyrighted materials noted above, and not just books. The world is moving inexorably to digital manifestations of music (iTunes); movies (downloads, streaming); and books (eBooks). The economics in the case of the latter are simply too irresistible. No trees to cut down, paper to manufacture, type to set, pages to print, or heavy books to bind, box, and ship all over the world. And one could say the same for CDs (vinyl and tape having long since passed from the scene) and DVDs.

Judge Richard J. Sullivan, in handing down his decision in Capitol, failed to recognize this new digital world, and rejected ReDigi's business model on the basis that it violated copyright. Consideration of the First Sale Doctrine, given a violation of copyright, was therefore not reached (“Because the Court has concluded that ReDigi’s service violates Capitol’s reproduction right, the first sale defense does not apply to ReDigi’s infringement of those rights.” (p.11)) Judge Sullivan needs to learn the difference between File Copy and File Move.

So let us imagine a not-too-distant and all-too-likely future when physical manifestations of books have become as rare as hen’s teeth, found largely in museums and private collections. And let us imagine the Capitol decision has been applied to digital manifestations of books (as it more or less has been by default in this decision). In this scenario, libraries will lose their First Sale Doctrine right to loan books. That is to say, they will lose their reason for being. Already, major publishers refuse to sell eBooks to libraries (e.g., Simon and Schuster), charge exorbitant prices when they do (e.g., Random House), and/or place draconian restrictions on lending (e.g., HarperCollins). And all of them that do sell to libraries insist on a sales/pricing/distribution model which utterly fails to take advantage of the revolutionary possibilities afforded by digital media, to everyone’s loss: their own, their authors’, and their readers’ (see Part II of this series).

No publisher will ever be sorry to see a library close. This wrongheaded decision may very well enable them to close them all.

tags: Books and Libraries

Noted with Interest, March 2013

Mar 31, 2013
How is it we can live with ourselves while children die of preventable disease, starvation, and abuse? How is it we can live with ourselves when in our own land of plenty men and women are forced to work for less than they need to live decently, by employers who reap billions from their labor and who live in luxuriant circumstances unimagined by the most profligate potentates in history? How is it we can live with ourselves in a country which every day massacres innocent women and children in a misguided, dollar-driven assault on the whole world? How is it we can live with ourselves in a society where we need full-time armed guards patrolling our school corridors? How can we live with ourselves when we see the deficit rising to over a trillion dollars a year and the climate deteriorating in front of us and not only do nothing to ameliorate these impending train wrecks, but instead do everything we can to bring them about as soon as possible? How can we let, how DO we let, all of this happen, when we have the power to stop it?

We are a “not caring” people, not an “uncaring” people. However, is there, finally, any difference between the two? I think when someone figures this out, how we can tolerate these states of affairs, indeed even consciously and willingly abet and worsen them, we will have discovered the defining attribute of our species. Because no other species has this awareness and should it be miraculously visited upon the dog, the elephant, or the dolphin, who could imagine their being co-conspirators in such enormities?

* NEW * George Carlin on the New World Order
No one told it like it is like George Carlin: “...There’s a reason education sucks and there’s a reason that it will never, ever, ever be fixed ... Because the owners of this country don’t want that ... They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying, lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else ... They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking ... They want people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re comin’ for your Social Security money ... And you know something? They’ll get it ... The game is rigged, and nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care ... It’s called the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.” From YouTube. Accessed March 31, 2013.

Before Greed: Americans Didn’t Always Yearn for Riches
By Richard White. From Boston Review, Jan/Feb 2013. Accessed March 20, 2013.


tags: Noted with Interest

The End of Libraries, Part XIV

Mar 21, 2013
This is a big deal.

The Supreme Court recently decided a case which has a direct impact on the First Sale Doctrine I have been addressing in this series. And it’s good news!

Kirtsaeng v. Wiley (PDF) involved a Thai student studying in America, Supap Kirtsaeng, who discovered that his expensive textbooks were for sale for much less back home in Thailand. He had relatives buy a slew of them there, imported them to the U.S., and sold them on eBay, netting himself a bundle. One of the text publishers, John Wiley & Sons, objected, and a long court case ensued. I am not sure how Kirtsaeng ended up being the plaintiff; however, the bottom line is that he won, in a case in which interpretation of the First Sale Doctrine played a pivotal role.

In brief, the court ruled “. . . that to impose geographic limits on the first sale doctrine would make no sense. . . .”

In my view, to impose limits on the First Sale Doctrine because of the medium of delivery would be equally senseless. A book is a book, regardless of the manner in which it is delivered to the buyer.

Unfortunately, Kirtsaeng does not explicitly determine this. We must wait for Capitol Records v. ReDigi (see Part XIII of this series) to take the next step toward that determination. However, this ruling is a big first step to establishing First Sale protection to buyers of eBooks. And when that is done, libraries will be empowered to purchase eBooks via any route available to them, including via personal purchase, and lend them to their patrons. A bright day may finally be dawning.

Read more on the case and the decision at this NPR page.

tags: Books and Libraries

The End of Libraries, Part XIII

Mar 18, 2013
I closed out my series on “The End of Libraries” last June, having said all I had to say on this sorrowful situation. Other than the fact that Amazon has since almost doubled the number of titles it now offers for loan through its Prime service (310,948 as of today), there has been no substantive change in the status quo in the eBook lending world. That situation may be about to change.

In an article in Communications of the ACM (March 2013, v56#3) praiseworthy for its clarity of style and explication of legal issues, Professor Pamela Samuelson (UC/Berkeley) has written about the case of Capital Records, Inc. v. ReDigi, Inc. ReDigi has an online business reselling music originally purchased from iTunes. Capital Records is challenging the legality of that business on copyright and other grounds.

The outcome of this case, which at present is at the trial level with at least two appellate levels to come, will determine the manner and extent to which the First-Sale Doctrine should be applied to digital media. This doctrine, which I mentioned in Part XII of this series, confers on the first purchaser of a copyrighted item (book, video, music) the right to loan it, give it away, or resell it without compensation to the original seller. The First-Sale Doctrine, in essence, makes libraries possible.

Capitol Records v. ReDigi will determine whether this doctrine should be applicable to digital, as well as physical, media. It is a case which, in Professor Samuelson’s understated words, “really matters.” She has kindly allowed me to post a PDF of her article, which I encourage you to open and read.

The trial judge heard oral arguments last October; his decision should be imminent. Though the losing litigant will almost certainly appeal, a well-considered and well-articulated opinion will be difficult to overturn. Let’s hope the trial judge understands the importance of the task before him.

tags: Books and Libraries

Sequestration

Feb 28, 2013
Tomorrow sequestration begins, and today the market flirted briefly with closing at an all-time high. Go figure. Apparently Wall Street loves the chaos, the upwardly mobile unemployment rate, the accelerated deterioration of our infrastructure, and the thousands of laid-off teachers who will shortly join the 300,000 who have been laid off since June 2008.

As always, the coming economic storm will hit the poor the hardest, and more of us hanging onto the middle class by our fingernails will be joining them. The inequality gap will increase even more, if that is possible.

Will this benighted country ever find its way back to its ideals? Can our world do without the beacon of our example? Have we become incapable of producing a man, a woman, or an idea that can bring us together in common cause to save our own souls?

Stay tuned.

tags: Congress | Politics | Poverty

My January Rant

Jan 31, 2013
Lest a month go by in my neglected blog without an entry, allow these few rants on its last day:

  • I've been assiduously at work on bookaworld, making contact with Ethiopian writers and booksellers, and working on the Ethiopian/English volume of Aesop's Fables. I cannot say the same for the IRS which has sat on our application for 501c3 status for over four months. A recent phone call to them resulted in my learning they think there is something wrong with my meticulously prepared application. They won't tell me what. They won't even tell me when they will tell me what, though it looks like it will be around the end of the year! I'd ask for my $400 back, but you know where that would get me.
  • Guns. Don't look for substantive changes in gun laws. The Supreme Court has held that the second amendment guarantees individuals the right to own military weaponry. And it will take a constitutional amendment or a new and very different Supreme Court before that changes. And is it my imagination, or am I reading about a fatal shooting just about every day now?
  • Syria. Bashar al-Assad has now killed upwards of 60,000 of his own people, making his old man, at a measly 25K or so, look like a wuss. There is a little doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect that frowns on a nation slaughtering its own, and calls upon the international community to do something about it. Is anyone listening?
  • The Economy. A very good friend lost his job this week. Don't be fooled by the current bull market. Poverty is increasing. The middle class has shrunk to an all-time (that's ALL-TIME) low. The wealth gap is growing, with most of us stretched thin while a very few enjoy wealth that would embarrass Louis XVI. I say, let the ridiculous sports figures, Hollywood stars and, yes, even the hedge fund managers make their quadrillions a year, if they can get away with it. But there is no excuse for any American to be without the guarantee of a job at a living wage.
  • Education, etc. Where to start? When I think of the American lives that we are wasting, when I think of the world's lives that we are wasting (as many as 18 million people, mostly children, die of hunger every year), when I think of all the brain power that goes to waste through preventable wars, hunger, disease, meteorological disasters, and lack of education. This world could be a paradise, if we only saw to the basic needs of one another—clean water, sanitation, nutrition, an education, and a job that pays the bills. Is that so much to ask? Does anyone doubt there is enough to go around?

tags: Education | Poverty | People

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