On the matter of Rand Paul’s being detained by TSA, I see people arguing that the machine pinged, and that Senators should be subject to the same rules as everybody else.

Bullshit. It is absolutely, positively, totally irrelevant whether the machine pinged, didn’t ping, or lit every situation board at NORAD with red lights and sirens. Bringing up the machine’s reaction is either abject stupidity or deliberate dishonesty — misplaced pseudo-egalitarianism or an attempt to divert people from the subject.

Paul is a Senator. Senators are members of Congress. Members of Congress SHALL NOT BE IMPEDED except in extreme cases. The Constitution doesn’t say “stopped” or “prevented”. It says “impeded”, that is, slowed down or temporarily inconvenienced. Paul lost two hours and missed his flight. That’s an impediment, and it’s unConstitutional.

Yeah, there’s the potential for abuse — LBJ doing 110 in his Lincoln on Texas back roads comes to mind. It fails to matter. The Constitution ALSO says that the only judge of the qualifications of members of Congress is Congress. If anybody’s going to slap a Senator down, it has to be the Senate, not some TSA baby-groper.

Senators are not “anybody else”, they’re Congresscritters. Congresscritters are important, and have that privilege in the Constitution, because they’re Congresscritters. The Framers put the requirement in because they knew history, particularly the events surrounding the English Revolution and Restoration. There’s a long history of rulers getting a free hand by preventing Parliament from meeting, and although there’s no way for Law to stand in the way of that in a practical sense, with that provision as Law of the Land Teh Protector at least can’t argue that the tactic is legal.

Personally, I think it was in the nature of a trial run. If this stands, all the President has to do is tell TSA to crank the machine’s sensitivity up to “tooth fillings and gum wrappers” whenever a Senator comes through. Presto, no session, and a free hand for recess appointments. Oliver Cromwell would be so proud.

[UPDATE] Thanks, Glenn, but a minor correction. I’m not “worried”. I expect abuse, in the same way I expect sunrise.

And how many siblings?

Mark Steyn points out, quite correctly, that many if not most of the problems of Western society are ultimately demographic:

[Greece] has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren — i.e., the family tree is upside down. In a social-democratic state where workers in ‘hazardous’ professions (such as, er, hairdressing) retire at 50, there aren’t enough young people around to pay for your three-decade retirement. And there are unlikely ever to be again.

And why will there never again be enough young people? You do know where the babies that grow up to be young people come from, don’t you? Young people still like to fuck!

This also points to the vexing question of why there aren’t more youngsters going into the “STEM fields”, the professions where creativity can result in something enduring.

Bluntly: They ain’t gonna get paid.

If you know — know for sure — that if, as a young person, you go into a productive field, you are never going to be rewarded for your productivity because any return will be immediately skimmed off to pay for the three-decade retirement of your elders, what’s the point in learning to be productive? Calling for the younger generation to work harder so as to provide their parents and grandparents with comfort, while they must content themselves with a tiny fraction of the fruits of their labor, is just a call for volunteers for slavery. It’s no real surprise that they’re seen as such, or that the response of the real, ultimately rational young people is “Fuck that for a game of soldiers!” Instead, they angle for their own seats on the gravy train.

The problem is made worse by Progressive ideology. Every society ever has agreed that taking things away from people is Bad, right up to the Socialists, whose initial impulse came from people who noted angrily that Workers weren’t getting their Fair Share of production. Of course there’s a loophole: It’s not just all right, it is positively Virtuous, to take things away from Bad People in order to punish them for being Bad. It is therefore Progressive to define anyone who has things as Bad, in order to justify taking them away. Producers will inevitably have more than parasites, up to the point where what they have is <hiss>redistributed</hiss>. It follows that the productive must be defined as Bad People, in order to justify depriving them of what they have produced — and few want to be Bad, to be seen by society as Evil, so even if they don’t see a future of slaving away for no return they choose the Good by avoiding productivity.

This has long been the case in the STEM fields, especially engineering, where the diligent, creative, and productive have seen the fruits of their labor go largely to Management and other offshoots of politics. What they got in return was job satisfaction. Even if they didn’t get a lot of money, they could point with pride to the bridges and moon rockets they built. I have an acquaintance who is quietly proud that some of the things he made using machine-shop tools are now on Mars, components of the rovers. No more. Newt Gingrich is a wild-eyed visionary! He wants to build moon bases! This cannot be borne! Technical resources must be directed to Saving the Planet, and (not incidentally) preserving the lifestyles of the parasitic classes. It’s not a wonder that young people don’t go into science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Not only are they difficult studies, not only is it clear that they won’t get paid proportionately for their efforts, they won’t even be allowed to build anything cool. No spaceships — it’s gonna be incremental improvements to wheelchairs and portable oxygen generators right up to the point where they’re needing them. This is (ahem!) not a particularly exciting prospect for an enjoyable career.

And I don’t know how many offspring Mark Steyn has, but as an intelligent and rational person he might well have seen this situation coming — and, if he did, might well have concluded that producing another few slaveys or parasites wasn’t worth the effort. How about it, Mark?

Stacy McCain rips most entertainingly into Amanda Marcotte over her anti-endorsement of Santorum. There’s no doubt whatever that Our Amynda is a piece of work with a number of fairly frantic bees in her bonnet, but it’s worth asking how she got that way. Rightists often ask, with visible wonder, how people like Marcotte and Margaret Atwood come up with their extreme and often hysterical views of the Right, and I consider myself a Rightist (of sorts) but totally understand where they’re coming from.

There is a vast chasm of a gap between opposed to abortion and wanting a Law against abortion. The first is both moral and practical. Moral issues are canvassed elsewhere much better than I can manage, but the practical remains stark: You are gonna die someday. The future belongs to those who show up for it, and if you don’t have children you have no future. The second — aaah. The second is what generates Marcottes.

Postulate a Law against abortion. What would have to be done? Well, would the simple existence of a Law stop babies being killed? Of course not. The Law would have to be enforced. There would still be doctors, nurse practitioners, med students, a host of other medical practitioners, and a good-sized number of wannabees providing the service on the sly, and you have to have a way to detect them and put them out of business. The information about how to do it is public on the Internet and elsewhere, and you have to find a way to suppress that. It’s perfectly possible, although damned dangerous, for a woman to do it to herself, perhaps with a sympathetic friend to help, and a method must be found to keep that from happening.

Parsing the Whys and Wherefores, we circle around and come to a conclusion: the only way to stop abortion using a Law is to establish a massive, powerful, expensive, and highly intrusive police force, charged with finding out whether any woman is pregnant and preventing her from getting an abortion. Any lesser means will still allow leakers, and experience tells us that any system that allows leaks will eventually allow a flood. Behind all of Marcotte’s sneers and vulgarisms, it is that police force that she opposes; The Handmaid’s Tale describes one alternate version of such a police force, and not the worst version possible by any means. Atwood, too, is opposed to the establishment of such a force — and so am I.

If you want to establish a massive, powerful, expensive, and highly intrusive police force, I am your opponent — and I don’t give the slightest whisper of the faintest possible hint of a damn what you want it for. It’s a source of power, and by Rule #3 becomes an attractant for power-seekers who, once ensconced in it, will seek to expand its power without limit regardless of its original function or the reasons for establishing it. Nor do I give the slightest whisper of the faintest possible hint of a damn about your bitching about, e.g., the EPA, which is a marvelous example of a police force seized by extremists and power-seekers who use it for ends its founders never intended. In all the history of the World, there has never, ever, ever been a case in which such a police force didn’t get seized by extremists and power-seekers, and if you want to set up Yet Another Example of a proto-Gestapo (which is what all such are, your excuses about Saving the Children being totally irrelevant), I’m agin it.

I vote for, and generally support, the Right over the Left, and I consider Amanda Marcotte and her ilk to be generally wrong and distastefully nasty in expressing themselves, but I also see, at least in many cases, where the fears that led to their nastiness originate — and they are often, as in this instance, perfectly logical and rational. I don’t like them worth a damn, but if push came to shove I’d be bound to join their camp over the underlying issues. The fact that they have issues requiring the establishment of massive, powerful, expensive, and intrusive police forces for their own ends just makes it into a matter of selecting the lesser of two evils, and as a general rule the Left at least tends to be honest about it, to the point of delighting in what their goon-gangs will do to opponents if allowed. It’s unattractive as all Hell, but the obliviousness displayed by many “socon” rightists is even more distasteful. If you’re going to rant that consequences be damned if you can save one child you make my trigger finger itch in exactly the same way the Leftists do, because the only difference between you and them is some technical terminology. I have to ally with you because the other causes you support are more in line with my thinking, but it doesn’t mean I despise you any less than I do any other supporter of intrusive meddlers with guns.

All of which is one of the main reasons Left and Right have gotten to be, and stay, neck-and-neck in politics. Independents, whose votes are crucial in any election, tend strongly to have (usually incoherent versions of) the same attitude — there are already plenty of goon squads euphemized as “police forces” out there, and establishing another one is not to be favored. The fact that socons tend to gloss over, or seem oblivious to, the difference between wanting some outcome and establishing a goon squad to achieve an outcome makes them equally, if not more, unattractive to people whose actual wish is to be left the f* alone. It was opposition to such measures that led to “smelly hippies” getting their hands on the levers of power in the first place, and that’s going to keep happening. Examine your Issue. If it means establishing a massive, powerful, expensive, and intrusive police force in order to accomplish it, I’ll vote for the Other Guy — and I know damned well I’m not alone in that.

Not really, of course, but if you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action[1].

Comes the news that the Romney campaign put together a conference call discussion with media outlets, and the outlets they chose came exclusively from the leftoid-liberal side. Moe Lane is resignedly indignant that no right-leaning outlets were included, and Stacy, The Tech Guy, and Ed Morissey are a little more outspoken. It’s quite true that “left-liberal media” is very nearly a unitary phrase, but c’mon, Romnists — there are some that aren’t quite as far out as Mother Jones.

What the incident points up is that Republicans don’t really lust for death. The Republican leadership longs to be Democrats, or at least to get the kind of coverage from the media Democrats get, and in seeking such favor from the media mavens they betray the “base” they depend on for votes. That being a form of political suicide, it’s easy to conclude that self-destruction is what they intend. It’s the major reason support for John McCain was so lukewarm, and why I, personally, will go out on a limb to add Mitt Romney to the list of people who will never be President of the United States of America. He chooses to appeal to the media gatekeepers, and thereby chooses that I (and a lot of people) will stay home rather than voting for him. Choose the action, choose the consequences.

It’s also the much-sought-for reason for the appeal of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Whatever else can be said of those two, it is impossible to visualize either of them performing the full proskynesis on the sidewalk in front of 620 Eighth, piteously imploring Pinch & Co. to say something nice about them. The primary difference between McCain and Romney in that respect is that John would try hard to build a wall of bystanders to prevent public notice, whereas Mitt would call in the cameras before heading for New York. Flash traffic for all Republican hopefuls: this does not endear you to the hinterlands.

[1] With apologies to L. M. Bujold, who articulated Cordelia’s Law.

“Capital” is the resources taken out of society to form the means of production.

If “Stomp Out Capital” means not doing that any more, it means no production because there are no means of production. “Production” is what most of us eat (and wear, and live in, and…) Before Europeans came to the American continent, the natives didn’t engage in capitalism and had no means of production. They also engaged in continuous violent conflict over resource allocation. Estimates I’ve seen put the number of them, at that time, at about a tenth of the number of people we have now, or fewer — which says the carrying capacity of the North American continent is about that, or less.

So taken literally, “stomping out capital” means killing nine out of ten of the people now alive. Guns and bulldozers are products, output from the means of production, and are themselves things that can be used for production or to facilitate it — capital. If capital is anathema, firing squads and mass graves are Right Out; the killing will have to be managed by attrition, a nice, neutral term for “starving ‘em or letting ‘em freeze”. My response to that is you first, m– f–s, and that’s the way it would probably work out, anyway. The Sioux had neither Professors of Gender Studies nor the resources to support such societal excrescences, and a society without capital will need warriors to dispute resource allocation, not academics free to pursue their courses of study.

But of course that isn’t what the “Occupy Movement” intends. What they really mean is that farms and factories and the other means of production should continue to exist, so that surplus resources continue to be available to feed the idle, most especially including their good (by definition) selves. They don’t want to “Stomp Out Capital” at all; they want to have it all under the aegis of a single organization — a monopoly.

That exposes the fatal flaw of all socialist-oriented notions: the assumption, maintained by rapid side-shuffles and handwaving, that there is a fundamental moral and existential difference between “Government” and all other forms of human organization. “The Government” == “The People”, or so they’ll tell you. That’s a hole aspiring Rockefellers, Carnegies, and Mellons can drive a truck through, and they do. Preventing the custodians of resources from dipping into them for their own benefit makes ordering back the tide look like a trivial exercise. Nancy Pelosi used The People’s resources to ferry her dog back and forth between San Francisco and Washington in a private jet, and there are plenty of examples of that kind of thing regardless of whether (R) or (D). Do you really suppose that, e.g., Jeff Immelt would have fewer perquisites and privileges as People’s Commissar for Electrical Equipment (North-East Region) than he does as President of General Electric? It is to bitterly chuckle.

What’s even more ironically amusing is that the Occupiers’ most vocal complaint is against the early stages of transferring custody of the means of production to Government control. The bureaucrats who will be taking over know nothing about the process, so they will have to be taught; the obvious way to do that is to co-opt the existing management into Government to facilitate the transition — “crony capitalism”. A pseudo-Marxist Government is neither more nor less than crony capitalism taken to the utmost degree. Marx himself was aware of that, which is why he did so much handwaving about “the Proletariat” as distinct from “Government”. However, he never defined a mechanism whereby the Proletariat could manage the means of production — and there isn’t one. Enterprises require day-to-day hands-on management that cannot be done by committee, let alone a Committee of the Whole People. That means the Proletariat must appoint deputies to do that for them, and such deputies constitute a Government, by definition. The obvious candidates for the posts of deputies to manage the means of production are the ones who are doing it now — “crony capitalism”.

So what does OWS want? Mass murder, or monopoly as an extension of crony capitalism? The answer is “both”, depending on which OWSer you ask.

The mass of the movement is composed of people who haven’t thought the matter through. Such people see what they consider to be injustice (correctly, in many cases), and want to eliminate the structures that support it — but they don’t know or don’t care what the unintended consequences will be. They’ll be wailing in despair that that’s not what they meant, right up to the moment the firing squad puts bullets in their temples.

The leadership, as with all pseudo-Marxist or “socialist” movements, is either as oblivious as their followers or aware and doesn’t give a damn, and it doesn’t matter. Their goal is to be In Charge, largely because of the egotistical notion that they could do much better than the existing managers, but in many cases because they want the privileges of being Boss (hello, Mr. Obama). Ignore their speeches. They don’t want to destroy the System, they want to control it, and the ones who want power for themselves have the advantages of stronger motivation and a better handle on the process than the naifs who think they can Eliminate Injustice by getting their hands on the levers. If the process is allowed to proceed, sooner or later a truly determined individual will emerge to take absolute control. Since such a person will have to be obdurate and unbending, I suggest that we call him “Steel”.


From Major Chuck, via Mostly Cajun:

The AUTHOR is currently under the care of mental health and other medical professionals, currently takes prescribed pain-management and psychotropic medications, and is under treatment for both Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress. So take anything written as either the medicated ramblings of a mad man, or as the official policy and position of the United States Army. You will be wrong in both cases.



Can we stop pretending the Obamacare decision is in doubt?

It’s a wonderful chance for theater, including requests to put the arguments on teevee for the first time, and there’s a lot of public angst and debate, but I reckon we all know, in our heart of hearts, how it’ll come down. The Court will listen to hours of legalisms, will deliberate long enough to get everybody on the edges of their seats, and then will issue a multipage opinion with multipage dissents attached, all of which will be an attempt to obfuscate the plain conclusion: Of course we can do that! We’re the Government!

If I were privileged to present anything before the Supremes, I would ask them to help me out. Here’s the deal: I would like to do something that isn’t subject to regulation by the Congress and/or the Executive agencies to which the Congress has delegated its powers.  Never mind why; think of it as a hobby or an  idle entertainment. Here in Texas, there are people who have a lot of fun trying to visit all the County Courthouses — there’s no real point to it, but they find it enjoyable. Same here — I’d just like to check that box on my bucket list.

So, Mr. Roberts, what might that be? Consult your colleagues as necessary.  There are some things that can be eliminated a priori. I can’t buy anything, because that’s commerce and under present doctrine all commerce is “Interstate” and subject to regulation. I also can’t refrain from buying anything I don’t want, because that, too, “affects interstate commerce” and is thus subject to regulation. Can I breathe? Well, as far as I can tell I can inhale, but if I exhale I emit carbon dioxide, which the Court has ruled can be regulated (under what pretext I don’t pretend to understand). Anything else? Bueller?


…at least according to the President. (via The Professor)

What this is, is the opening shots in the inevitable decay of a Socialist economy. When productivity starts dropping and there are fewer resources available for redistribution, the leadership notes that the people aren’t working as hard as they used to. The obvious conclusion is that the people have gotten lazy, and the nomenklatura then start on a campaign to get people to work harder and more effectively. Look up some political posters from the USSR of the Twenties and Thirties for examples.

It isn’t true. What’s happening is that people are working more virtuously — in Socialist class-warfare terms.

The fundamental postulate of class warfare is that people who have “more” are to be envied. If they won’t give some (much) of their “more” to those who have “less”, they are Evil. People who are evil should be punished, and one way of punishing them is to take their stuff away.

Productive people always have “more” than unproductive ones, and as a rule feel proprietorial toward it. If they made it or grew it themselves, they feel that it’s theirs and will defend it. That means they don’t want to give it to those who have “less”, and under class warfare that makes them Evil. Nobody wants to be considered Evil, so people avoid doing things that gain them that label. Since productivity always results in the charge, the people choose virtue over evil — and productivity disappears. If there is no production, there is no wealth for the leadership class to control. The leadership class sees that and concludes that the people are lazy, where in reality the people are choosing virtuous behavior in the terms the leadership class have defined.

Several people have noted that college students today turn up their noses at the prospect of working for private corporations, instead choosing “public service” (a.k.a. Government employment) or NGOs that promote Good Causes. (See also: “Occupy Wall Street”) Working for a corporation would result in the corporation making a profit and therefore having “more” which it doesn’t choose to give to those who have “less”. It is therefore Evil to work for a corporation, and virtuous to work in organizations that attempt to suppress the Evil and distribute the “more” to those who have “less”. People who choose virtue in that context supply two hits to the economy. They do not themselves produce, and they work — work hard and virtuously — to suppress Evil productive activity.

A working definition of “Socialist” might well be “somebody who doesn’t realize that that cycle exists”. No Socialist can recognize the process, because it directly contradicts their ideals. They see that productivity is dropping and that as a result they have fewer resources to redistribute, and have no explanation for the effect. Since productivity is the result of work, they conclude that the people don’t want to work — that they are “lazy”.

But they can go to the factories and mills, or to the bureaucracies that support them, and see people working hard and virtuously. “Lazy” isn’t a sufficient explanation. Something must be preventing production, some malignant force that stops the production of wealth and makes their noble goals unattainable. The obvious candidate for that force is the people who say that Socialism doesn’t work. Those evil bastards must be sabotaging the virtuous folk, reducing production, creating poverty because they like poverty. If they didn’t like poverty, they would overwhelmingly support the actions of the Socialist idealists to eliminate it. It’s sabotage, pure and simple; tossing monkey-wrenches into the works just for the delight of preventing Good Things from happening. You’ll find those posters in the pre-WWII Soviet Union as well, growing more strident as the years pass.

I, personally, give it ’til about the first of the year before Barack Obama starts out on a major campaign against the “wreckers” and “saboteurs” who prevent him from achieving his Noble Goals. He and his sycophants have already started out in a small way, but for the moment the only villains they’ve identified are the “obstructionists” of the Republican-led House of Representatives and Republican Senators. It’s clear, though, that “obstructionism” isn’t sufficient to achieve the effects visible; thus the second step, “laziness”. Look for speeches vilifying “wreckers” and “saboteurs” starting in about January, if not a bit before. If you want to help Obama & Co. out, look up and translate some of Lenin’s speeches from the mid-Twenties. There’s plenty of material there that could go straight to the teleprompter without much more than substituting American idiom for Russian, and the original speeches were fairly effective; no reason to work at inventing something new. After all, that would be productive.

(Update: Reynolds reminds us that “hoarders” should be added to “wreckers” and “saboteurs”. )

In our modern, tech-driven age one of the major subsets of monopoly is proprietary data formats. If you can set it up so that the only way to access the data is to pay you for a way to read it, you can rake in the cash. The version of that that people my age are most familiar with is the VHS vs. Betamax wars, in which Sony tried hard to make video tape inaccessible to anyone who didn’t pay them, but it was a standard tactic in the early days of computers. Right up through the early 1980s, all of the computer manufacturers and most providers of sophisticated programs made their data formats proprietary and incompatible with anyone else’s to the extent possible, and employed legions of lawyers to prevent others from creating conversion software that would allow users to escape “lock-in”.

Nowadays we’re seeing a repeat of that tactic in electronic book formats. The Sony rôle is taken by Amazon, with proprietary formats for the Kindle, and the VHS-equivalent is .epub, a semi-open standard being adopted by Amazon’s smaller competitors. Kindles won’t read .epub, and Amazon keeps the specifications of its own formats close to its vest and won’t license them (or won’t except at prohibitive cost), so competitive e-readers can’t load them. They have in common the .mobi format, a legacy of MobiPocket, but .mobi doesn’t have a lot of the features both manufacturers and users want in an electronic book.

Unfortunately for Amazon (and for anybody else seeking to establish a proprietary format) the world is full of programmers who learned from the early days of computers to hate that tactic with the heat of a thousand suns, and are prepared to put their coding effort where their hearts are. Conversion from Betamax to VHS and vice-versa required a complex, expensive machine; there weren’t many companies with the capability to develop and manufacture such a thing; the result was that it was easy to detect and deter violators of the Betamax licensing provisions. Conversion from any computer file format to any other requires… a computer and suitable software; computers are ubiquitous, and computer software requires programmers to stay up late and code; it’s virtually impossible to even detect a programmer punching keys in the basement of a house somewhere in Eastern Europe, let alone find out what he or she is working on so as to deter them from that attempt. The predictable result is conversion software, which is already starting to appear.

The three I’m familiar with are Calibre (note the spelling), Jutoh, and Scrivener. They each have a different focus: Calibre is primarily library management and conversion; Jutoh focuses on the .epub format, and is a way to edit files in that format more or less directly; and Scrivener, which has been popular on Apple for years and is now available for the PC, is primarily utility software for writers but can read and write a number of different formats. Calibre is free. The other two are payware, but the cost is within reach of anybody who can afford $200 for an ebook reader in the first place.

For the owner of an ebook reader who isn’t concerned with authoring, Calibre is the right choice. All of the readers come with (proprietary) library management software. Calibre aims to replace that, and can connect directly to most readers; its conversion capabilities are extensive, and are or can be made more or less transparent. Hook your Kindle to your PC, use Calibre to download and file a .epub from B&N, and transfer that to the reader. It’s all automatic, with the only thing you’d notice is that it takes a little longer than a simple file transfer. It isn’t perfect — the format it’ll convert to is .mobi, not .avi or the newer Amazon format, so if the book is complex the result may be missing some features. We can expect that Amazon will field a legion of lawyers to make sure that continues to be the case, but if all you want is to read the book, the process works fine.

For authors who are already using a compatible workflow (which most are: Microsoft Word as the origin document) Jutoh works well. Its developers are directly connected to those working on .epub, so it probably has the most complete set of facilities for managing that format. Once again, its access to the Kindle depends primarily on the .mobi format, so some of the gee-whiz features may be missing. It’s easier for an author than Calibre, because Calibre’s focus on library management creates some clumsiness, especially for incremental development, i.e., editing and new versions.

Scrivener comes closer to matching my writing workflow, but it isn’t very useful as a general file-conversion utility. The capability is there and usable, but that isn’t what the program was designed for. Mac-using writers have raved about Scrivener for a long time now, and having it available for the Microsoft environment will probably attract a host of new users, but they’ll mostly be writers or wannabees. A person who just wants to read ebooks and doesn’t intend to write them will find it formidably complex; Not Recommended for such an individual. Again, its access to the Kindle is mainly via MobiPocket.

The common thread in all this is that Amazon is vigorously developing new, better, flashier proprietary formats, leaving the .mobi format as an orphan, and employing lawyers to enforce the full rigor of copyright law to freeze competitive e-readers and the developers of conversion software out of their revenue stream. If Jeff Bezos were to ask my advice (not bloody likely!) I would tell him to abandon that approach. The whole point of .epub is that it’s a relatively open, common format, and later versions have a good feature set. If it doesn’t have a feature Amazon wants (other than proprietary lock-in) the .epub developers would welcome assistance from Amazon’s highly competent army of programmers to incorporate it.

They won’t do that. Thanks to some very smart moves in other venues, Amazon is the Big Kahuna of the ebook, and sees their competitors as ankle-biters whose primary utility is that they’re useful as defenses when the SEC comes calling. “No, of course we’re not a monopoly, look at all the competitors we have!” No doubt their bean-counters are sniggering at the vain attempts to depose them from their perch, as the cash rolls in.

I would urge them to caution and avoidance of complacency. In the late Seventies Sony was the Big Kahuna of video tape, making money at a ferocious rate and prepared to deploy schools of legal sharks to maintain its position. It’s worth noting in that respect that Beta/Betamax/Betacord was, in fact, a superior format, with better definition and more satisfactory synchronization than VHS — but VHS was easier to build, and didn’t require substantial payment$ to Sony in order to deploy it. Smaller manufacturers, working on a shoestring to bring product to market, adopted VHS, and Betamax was eventually nibbled to death rather than either winning or going out in a blaze of glory. Beta was always the preferred option of professionals in the video business, and now that DVDs and Blu-Ray have more or less eliminated video tape from the consumer market, most of the surviving tape users are still working in Beta — but they’re a small market, and always have been. When tape was “live”, consumers went with VHS, and Sony failed at its attempt to lock everybody in to its revenue stream.

Something similar is very likely to happen in the ebook business, although the situations aren’t precisely parallel. Unlike what Sony did, at present Amazon isn’t charging a premium to users of its format(s), but if it achieves lock-in the clamor from the bean-counters to start doing that will be well-nigh irresistible. Even if they don’t, there are enough programmers out there who despise proprietary formats that the pressure to decode and reverse-engineer them will be equally great, and keeping the lid on via deploying platoons of copyright lawyers is a short-term solution at best, because if the decoding/encoding system escapes onto the Internet at any point the effort will have been futile.

Again, at the moment Amazon isn’t acting like a monopoly or near-monopoly, but there are a growing number of people who recall the near-inevitable consequences of the establishment of a monopoly and View With Alarm the growing power. One thing Bezos and company could do to at least partially head that off would be either to open their formats to competitors (and conversion software writers) or to adopt a relatively open standard. It would reassure people that, even if the Big Kahuna achieves full dominance in the market, others would continue to have access, and would go a long way toward decreasing any feelings of resentment that might result in either programmers or the legal system attacking them. Embrace .epub, Jeff. You’ll spend less for lawyers and programmers both, and get fewer people mad at you.

But since he won’t, conversion software is needed. It will be available, too. It already is, and more will come along. Users of e-readers should seek it out and support it, if for no other reason than to keep Amazon honest.

John Scalzi is exactly who he is. Disappointment happens when expectations aren’t met.

Scalzi’s discussion of the Penn State child-rape case cites Ursula K. Leguin’s “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” as a parallel. It’s a false analogy. Though I mostly don’t like Ms. Leguin’s work, in this case she had a specific didactic purpose and executed it quite well –but to cite that story as analogous to any real-world case, especially as encountered by an American, is an abdication of responsibility.

One of the most-discussed science fiction stories is “The Cold Equations”, by Tom Godwin. In that story, the characters are faced with a situation where they have no good choices. The best they can do is to minimize their losses, and Godwin set the story up so that the minimum loss is a large one indeed. People often argue about the story by opining that the setup isn’t realistic — that the ship would have extra fuel, or that some other condition would be changed, allowing the minimum loss to be less, or avoided altogether. That isn’t the point. The way the situation is framed, staying within the parameters Godwin carefully set, the choices are as stated — and are horrific at best.

“Those Who Walk Away from Omelas” is Leguin’s (successful) attempt to build a “Cold Equations” scenario in the moral sphere, rather than in physics. The people involved can accept or reject the situation as Leguin constructed it, but there are no other choices, the author having carefully precluded them. If you stay within the premises and structure Leguin set up, accepting evil (and thus becoming party to it) or accepting poverty and deprivation are the only possibilities.

Any story is a world to itself, and must be discussed and thought of while staying consistent with its premises and structure. The real world isn’t a story, and there are things available to real-world actors that don’t exists for story-protagonists, especially protagonists in carefully-constructed didactic plays like “The Cold Equations” and “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas”. But look at Scalzi’s first iteration of a response:

1. When, as an adult, you come come across another adult raping a small child, you should a) do everything in your power to rescue that child from the rapist, b) call the police the moment it is practicable.

Note that choice (a) is one that is not available to the protagonists of “Those Who Walk…”. It is, in fact, the Moe Lane solution: “The answer is to SMITE THE EVIL.” The events (yeah, I’m trying to keep the emotional level down a bit) occurred in a sports facility. Sports, to a close first approximation, are a way to sublimate violent impulses into constructive, or at least non-destructive, activity. As such, sports employ all kinds of tools that are approximations of what are normally “weapons”. In particular, a sports facility will have lots of different types of bludgeons lying about. Call them “baseball bats” or “hockey sticks” or whatever, they are modifications of things warriors used to carry around and use to bash their opponents. If you, as an adult, come across another adult raping a small child in a sports facility, there are all kinds of tools available to you for use in abating the nuisance — and a man raping a small child is likely to be both in a position to receive such abatement in an effective manner, and sufficiently preoccupied to give you an opportunity to administer abatement.

Scalzi goes on to add:

2. If your adult son calls you to tell you that he just saw another adult raping a small child, but then left that small child with the rapist, and then asks you what he should do, you should a) tell him to get off the phone with you and call the police immediately, b) call the police yourself and make a report, c) at the appropriate time in the future ask your adult son why the fuck he did not try to save that kid.

Note choice (c). Scalzi’s instincts are at least partly correct: he sees that it is the obligation of the witness to attempt to abate the nuisance. Why, then, does he cite the Leguin story, in which none of the protagonists has the power to abate the nuisance, as a parallel?

Omelas the City is a paradise for those who have accepted evil and are complaisant. It would seem that this is the parallel Scalzi sees — that the witnesses of the rapes had a good thing going for themselves and didn’t want to upset the applecart, so accepted the evil. But in his later discussions he talks about cowardice, and plainly is thinking in terms of grabbing the perp and shoving him away from his victim, which might not be practical for the average no-muscles dweeb faced with a practicing sports figure. But that’s not the only choice — a potential intervener is not faced with uncounterable danger to himself. There are weapons available, and the whole point of a “weapon” is to maximize damage to the opponent while minimizing damage to the wielder. That’s what a weapon is for.

But that third choice, unavailable in Omelas, isn’t available in Scalzi’s world, either. Scalzi’s a liberal, not as much of a leftoid as many are but right there in with the softie wing of the philosophy. “People”, in Scalzi’s world, don’t use weapons; individuals who do are eeeevil or at minimum misguided. The option of smiting a rapist with a Louisville Slugger simply doesn’t occur, and since it doesn’t, the potential intervener is faced with the Omelas choice: accept evil and become a party to it, or walk away.

That’s the other way Leguin’s story isn’t parallel. In the story, those who walk away are refusing to accept evil but must pay the price of being impoverished. In the real world, walking away is the same as accepting the evil. Every person has the responsibility to at least attempt to defeat evil when it is encountered. Refusing to confront the evil is another way of accepting it, and failing to use the tools at hand when confronting evil, thus placing yourself in danger of not only personal damage but of failure to effectively confront the evil, is simply a variant of “refusal to confront”.

The greatest failure of modern “liberalism”, to which Scalzi fully subscribes, is the deliberate choice of ineffective means of confronting evil. Choosing marches and “civil disobedience” and attempts to reason with the perpetrator, while not only rejecting the choice of a quick blow to the spine-skull joint of the perp but actively preventing others from taking such measures, is not confronting evil. It is complaisance to it.


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