Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Marriage equality in Washington for Valentine's Day

Governor Chris Gregoire signed the Washing marriage equality bill into law today. At some point this year, for same-sex couples it will be possible to get married in Washington, as well as marrid. The Seattle Times editorial summarised the situation:

The rights, responsibilities and obligations of same-sex couples have been put into law. Two signature campaigns loom this spring. Ignore them both. Voters and lawmakers have spoken.

One campaign has about four months to gather 120,000 signatures to present voters with a referendum on the measure Gregoire signed into law. Another would seek to define marriage as between one man and one female.

"It is signed," the governor declared to raucous cheers. It is settled as well. Washington has a law that respects religious freedom and celebrates the family values that empower the state.

We'll see what the summer brings. But today I'm hopeful. Happy Valentine's Day.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Full Metal Jousting

So how come I didn't know about Full Metal Jousting?? I'm guessing it's the perfect accompaniment to prednisone. Take a look at the show:

But this video, courtesy, is much more interesting:

So: Downton Abbey or Full Metal Jousing tonight... Tricky.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Gattinara: a marvellous surprise

If you get the chance, drink this wine. I'm a huge fan of the Piedmontese, but I'd never had Gattinara before. It was a lovely surprise. A great wine for the price.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012


This isn't a video, just an excuse to play the music. "Papa's Got a Brand New Pigbag" by Pigbag, was a track I danced my brains out to back in the days of 36-hour amphetamine binges. Why am I playing this now? Because after an allergic reaction yesterday I'm on a short course of steroids and I am cranked up to 11. Whoooeee!! I'm going to get a lot done today. Step aside. Or go turn it up loud and dance.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Twenty most beautiful bookshops

Flavorwire has a list of the twenty most beautiful bookshops in the world. This one is Selexyz Bookstore, a converted Dominican church , Maastricht, Holland. I could spend some serious time there.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012


Shopping is excellent fun. Especially when there are bargains to be had. After yesterday's spree I now own items from Prada, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and many other purveyors of lusciousness. I also took enormous pleasure in buying all sorts of pretties for Kelley. And I'm not destitute yet.

I think I'll have to do it again tomorrow.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Washington marriage equality passes the state House

As expected, the Washington House passed the same-sex marriage bill (55-43). The Governor will sign it. Then we wait and see. If opponents get 120,000 signatures by early June on a petition to put the matter to a vote in November, the law will go on ice until then. If they fail, couples will start walking down the aisle this summer.

My hope? That the crazy people can't get the signatures to force referendum. My expectation? That they will--but that the referendum will be roundly defeated by the sensible citizens of this state--though probably not before there's a lot of ill-feeling flung back and forth by both sides.

But, hey, marriage equality is coming to Washington State.

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Proposition 8 ruled unconstitutional. Now what?

Yesterday, California's Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote the opinion for the 2-1 majority:

"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples."

Just before the judgement I would have said that the next step would be the Supreme Court. But the court handed down such a tightly framed opinion--specific to California--that it's possible the justices in Washington D.C. could refuse to hear the case. I just don't know. Nor does the Los Angeles Times:

The narrow California-only approach adopted by the 9th Circuit means the high court might choose to steer clear of the dispute.

If so, that would leave for another day — perhaps several years in the future — a national ruling on same-sex marriage.

"The opinion holds that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional only in a case where the state had already granted full legal rights to same-sex couples," said University of Minnesota law school professor Dale Carpenter.

The decision "is specifically looking at the role of Proposition 8 in the California context," said Santa Clara University law professor Margaret M. Russell. Because it is limited to California, the Supreme Court may not be as concerned about reviewing it as it would a ruling that would have affected the entire country, she said.

I want to be able to marry Kelley; I want the same legal rights and protections as heterosexual couples; I want to be able to introduce her as my spouse, not my domestic partner. But I'm lucky: right now I just want that. Assuming the universe is kind (always a dangerous assumption), that is, assuming neither of us dies, I'm not accused of some heinous deportable crime, or neither of us is either hospitalised or imprisioned, federally recognised marriage won't make much difference to us. I'd feel safer having it, of course, but today at least I don't need it. Washington State has pretty good domestic partnership laws. As long as we stay here, as long as nothing bad happens, we're fine.

But think about that for a minute: I'm okay, I'm as safe as a person who loves someone of the opposite sex, as long as I don't get older, don't get sicker, don't draw attention to myself, and don't go anywhere. Does that sound like the America you'd like to belong to?

And then consider that there are many women and men out there who love others of the same sex for whom federal marriage, right now, could make the difference between life and death: they need access to Social Security, and Medicare, and private health insurance, and the ability to make end-of-life decisions. They need to visit their sweetie in jail. They need to not be deported.

When I first came to this country Kelley and I went through the agonies of the damned for me to get the right to live and work in the US. My cased ended up making new law (and I got called uncomplimentary names on the front page of the Wall Street Journal), we spent $20,000 (financed by credit cards), and it took five years of stress and going back and forth between countries. If either of us had been a man, it would have cost me $75 and a quick visit to the INS (as it was called then).

President Obama's views on marriage equality are 'evolving'. Which means, in my opinion, he knows full well that right now, lesbians and gay men are second class citizens--a status with very real consequences (none of them positive). He also knows that there's not a lot he can do about it until he's reelected, and that if he had spoken up earlier, he wouldn't have been elected. So he's been dodging the question to the degree he's able for the last four years. (Do I approve of his stance? No. I do understand it.) Expect a change in November.

This afternoon, the Washington State House will vote on a marriage equality bill. It will pass. Gov. Gregoire will sign it into law. No one will get married this year, though: fundamentalists are almost certain to get a referendum on the ballot to take away marriage equality. I honestly don't know what will then happen in November. I like to think the people of Washington would do better than the people of California did four years ago. But I don't know.

Expect me to talk about this issue more. For me, this is not an intellectual exercise. For me, this matters.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Amazon's showroom coming soon?

It looks as though my prediction of Amazon's showroom is about to come true. Michael Kozlowski at Good-E-Reader has the skinny:

Amazon sources close to the situation have told us that the company is planning on rolling out a retail store in Seattle within the next few months. This project is a test to gauge the market and see if a chain of stores would be profitable. They intend on going with the small boutique route with the main emphasis on books from their growing line of Amazon Exclusives and selling their e-readers and tablets.
A source has told us that they are not looking to launch a huge store with thousands of square feet. Instead they are going the boutique route and stocking the shelves with only high margin and high-end items. Their intention is to mainly hustle their entire line of Kindle e-Readers and the Kindle Fire. They also will be stocking a ton of accessories such as cases, screen protectors, and USB adapters.

This was an inevitable move. And given that it's Amazon, the customer service will be out of this world. I hope they also have parking, and are next door to a luscious restaurant/bar/cafe. And performance space.

Comfort. Good light. Easy access. Good coffee. Excellent service. Book toys to play with. Book accessories to croon over. Books to actually heft and fondle. Joy in the job. My guess? This will be a Seattle readers' paradise.

Readers don't much care about the economics of publishing, or the long-term game. They want a relaxed, thoughtful, well-informed and, above all, easy shopping experience. Amazon will give it to them.

Indies will have to pick up their game. And soon. Rumour never escapes Amazon's event horizon until they are ready to implement.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time for the first time

For years I watched people recommend A Wrinkle in Time. For years I thought, "I really must read that." Last week I saw that Farrar, Straus & Giroux were making the fiftieth anniversary edition available for Kindle. I read it.

I didn't like it.

I don't think I would have liked it as a kid, either. Why? Because the viewpoint character, Meg Murray, is utterly passive. Everything just happens to her. She absorbs what's going on around her but rarely makes decisions. (Those decisions are all made by her brother, a trio of 'witches' and her father.) She makes no real choices and suffers no real consequences--apart from one moment near the end when she fatalistically (very unexcitingly) is forced to be brave. And that, to me, read as a rather flat moment: she moved through the rescue of her father blankly. She is dull.

In addition, it was an utterly linear book, a travelogue. It reminded me a bit of The Silver Chair: a supposed catalogue of wonders that struck me as contrived and bored me rigid. I just didn't care. I didn't smell, feel, taste, worry or wonder about anything. And the god stuff felt like treacle left out so long it had turned stiff and unappealing as cardboard. I only managed to finish the book because one, it was short, and, two, it was so thin, so thuddingly uninvolving that I could think about other things as I read.

So: the book didn't work for me. I know that it's a favourite of millions, but I just don't get it.I'd love to hear what other readers think.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Brimming with happiness

Yesterday afternoon, the sun shone, birds sang, the neighbour cat slept curled up in the sun on the deck (right next to the miraculously-surviving marjoram). Kelley was off running a non-profit board meeting. I decided to take a couple of hours and do something frivolous. I settled down with a cup of tea to watch Final Countdown.

This film is an old favourite of mine. But I generally forget it exists until every now and again Netflix or some other recommendation engine suggests it for my viewing pleasure. Kirk Douglas, bless him, looked a little bit too old, even in 1980, to play the part of an active duty naval captain. Martin Sheen was unbelievably young and fresh, and of course Katherine Ross didn't have nearly enough to do. The whole thing is basically lovingly detailed military hardware porn, but I like it anyway; I find it soothing.

So, I was watching the film, and enjoying it, but I had to keep pausing. Oh, the film was its usual reliable self, but I wasn't: I was brimming with joy. It kept threatening to spill over. Eventually I had to go outside in the glittering sunshine and just revel in the world: the bare trees in the ravine tangled with light, the scent of green things pushing through the winter dirt, the dusty softness of the cat's fur...

I beamed benevolently at my domain and felt glad to be alive.

On Friday I had some news that makes me feel that all is right with the world. I'm not at liberty to share it yet, but hopefully I can next week. It's satisfying and gratifying news, the kind of thing that makes me feel that my life is full of grace, that I'm walking with the right people in the right direction at the right pace.

I've been grinning so hard my face hurts. I'm smiling still.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Academic publishing is a racket

I have seen many horrible contracts. It constantly amazes me how little some writers think of themselves, their work, and their own ability to determine their own course. At Sterling Editing we occasionally offer unpaid and informal contract advice to clients. (We make it clear that this is not our area of expertise, that the client should talk to their agent, talk to their lawyer.) We're stunned by how often we end up saying: If it were us, we would run, not walk, away from this contract.

I have seen writers make some bad decisions. Many, for example, agree to edit anthologies for a pittance, while their editing 'partner' does no work and takes most of the money. (I remember an incredible phone call with a famous and prolific anthologist/packager who tried to persuade me into such a 'partnership'. Literally incredible: I simply couldn't believe the terms he was offering. He in turn was astonished that I refused. I was astounded that anyone ever said yes. I went off and made my own deal, and the result was the multiple-award-winning Bending the Landscape series.)

I have seen many decent writers agree to sell long term exclusive rights to their stories for a pitiful sum and miserable pro rata royalty (sometimes no royalty) to said anthologies. The anthologist (sometimes the packager, sometimes the publisher) makes a tidy profit.

I have seen newer writers literally chained for life to small LGBT presses: their contract is not only an NDA, it's a non-compete, ever. It's an indemnity. It's a binding contract of servitude, for a pittance in advance, joke in royalty percentage, and complete loss of the author's control. (The worst offenders deserve their own blog post, which I'll get to one day.)

But what takes the biscuit for sheer egregiousness is the standard contract for academic journals, who hold a virtual market monopoly and so can dictate terms.

These contracts are horrifying. Any writers' organisation would advise against signing them. Most of those organisations would bring grievance proceedings against the publisher.

I've only read a couple of academic-journal contracts, and I don't have either of them in front of me. But here's what I took from that reading (if anyone has better information please correct me):

  • a scientist does research at an institution largely funded by the taxpayer
  • scientist writes, unpaid, a paper about her research
  • she submits the paper to a prestigious journal
  • the journal's publisher persuades other scientists, peers, review the paper, unpaid
  • scientist rewrites the paper, unpaid
  • scientist creates illustrations, unpaid
  • publisher sends a contract:
    • publisher charges the scientist for the privilege of being published (this is a not-insignifican sum: four figures--usually paid by the scientist's institution, the one supported by the taxpayer)
    • publisher owns the copyright, in perpetuity
    • publisher pays zero royalties
    • publisher charges high per-use reprint fees (e.g. $31 per copy); no one--no scientist, no researcher, no student--can have access to this paper without paying for it, forever
    • publisher charges institutions high fees (the highest single annual subcription is, I think, now over $20,000--but, wait, there's more: the publishers tend to bundle titles, so libraries must subscribe to many to get one)
  • the scientist loses all control over her own work, forever:
    • s/he may not reprint her own work on her blog or website
    • the journal can sell media rights to the scientist's paper (and keep the proceeds)
    • the journal can republish the paper in any way it likes, forever, and pay the scientist nothing
    • etc.

In other words, the taxpayer pays for the research, the taxpayer pays the journal to publish that research, the taxpayer pays again--via institutional library subscriptions to said journal--to access the knowledge they've already paid for.

But academics haven't had much choice: it's publish on these terms, or not publish. If you don't get published, you don't get tenure. You don't get the grants. You don't do the research. We all lose. Except, of course, those journal publishers.

It's a racket, pure and simple. One such publisher, Reed Elsevier, made a profit last year of 36%. That's a huge margin. And the taxpayer is funding it. And knowledge and learning are suffering.

I'm happy to tell you that academics are finally stirring in protest against this brazen monopoly. They are organising. Go read this article in the Guardian by Mike Taylor. If you're an academic of any stripe, go sign the Cost of Knowledge petition. I think we're witnessing a sea change. I for one am delighted.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Washington state senate votes Yes on marriage equality

This evening the Washington State Senate voted 28-21 for marriage equality. The House will most probably vote early next week. Most observers are confident the bill will become law. And that is when the fun begins: right-wingers will scramble to get a referendum to take marriage equality away before the law can go into effect. There will be name-calling, and mud-flinging, and sad insults hurled. But I'd like to celebrate, for now, the civilised behaviour of our Washington legislators:

After the session adjourned, Sen. Ed Murry said he had anticipated 27 votes, so getting 28 votes was a “pleasant” surprise.

“I was moved by my colleagues' courage, and the tone of the debate was one of the best I’ve seen in 17 years in the Legislature,” Murray said.

It would be a great gift for everyone if that could continue.

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I have many things I want to talk about: B&N's 'declaration of war' against Amazon, academic publishing (and how it's always been at war against knowledge), how my anti-MS diet is going, thoughts about Hild, the up-coming vote in the Washington State legislature, thoughts on Apple's iAuthor tool, and much, much more. But I'm also busy on a couple of other fronts, so today I'll have to leave you with this photo of the ravine taken at breakfast. Yes, that really is sunshine you're seeing. Sunshine in Seattle in February. Enough to make a person feel downright pleased with the world.

Wherever you are, whatever you plan to do with your day, take a moment to look around and be glad.

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