Politics: Too many Boswells?

So some background here (and eventually I’ll explain the picture!): As I was writing my thoughts on Scalzi, I went looking for Dickens quotes and found (God I love Gutenberg) letters!  In one of them (I was searching keywords but this letter made me pause for context) I found this AMAZING line:

I can imagine a succession of Boswells bringing about a tremendous state of falsehood in society, and playing the very devil with confidence and friendship.

-Letter to John Foster Devonshire TerraceSaturday, April 22nd, 1848

Ooooooh…..

Do you know what a “Boswell” is?  It is a confidant who publishes your life.  The famous-ness of the phrase is probably retained from Sherlock Holmes calling Watson his “Boswell” because it was a term known in that age.  But Dickens wrote about it and wrote negatively.  Ok, again this was as I was thinking on Scalzi writing fiction as a commentary on my time… so I couldn’t help but have these two thoughts collide.

Dickens called the excessive use of biography as negative.  Competing biographies degrade trust in society.

There are over 7,000 books in that tower I have at the top of this post – and all of them are about Abe Lincoln. Oh, and in 2012, that was less than half the books that had been published regarding that president… Now granted, not every one of those books is a Boswell Biography (which is a style) BUT… BUT!

I have been mulling in my mind WHY.  This is probably the question that has founded more of my thinking than any other. And this quote (granted, you should read the full context) made me STOP.  Like full mental stop and connect two things (at least in my mind).

We have flooded the market with biographies and monographs on great people or perceived great people AND we have an issue in society where people pick and choose their “experts” based on… intuition?  There is an issue of trusting “experts” in society.  There is an issue of people cherry-picking data to confirm their own bias instead of seeking a truthful answer even if it proves them wrong.

I’m not saying competing biographies and new information can’t change the narrative we understand.  Just taking any information and then applying a lens of declassified information can drastically shift historical events.  But a lot of books are written by folks claiming to be “expert” in some way which compete with each other – and how do we know which ones to trust? And how do we determine who to give our confidence to?

Dickens was a smart man.  I think he might have been on to something.  I don’t want to silence (most) people, but… could this be exasperating some of the issues we have in our politics and social commentary?  This explosion in the past 30-50 years of “experts” without a way for the common person to vet them?

Not having a solution, I am mostly putting the question out there.  I will indubitably continue to mull on this one and look to other smart people to see if they say anything that sounds like a solution.  I don’t like the idea of “committees” who choose what we can read.  This removes any kind of certification board; academic panel; etc.  The closest is some kind of peer-review in terms of non-fiction books. And if it isn’t peer-reviewed, then we (society) can teach our children to read such books with deep suspicions.

I mean, I hope people know Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is fiction but at this point… I can’t help but wonder if there are folks that either think he’s a fictional character (despite the like 15,000 non-fiction/semi-fiction that predates vampire hunting) or there are people who think he really was hunting supernatural creatures.  I’m not sure which makes me grieve more.

Musing: Book of my Time

This is not a review of Collapsing Empire (John Scalzi) because it’s the first of either two or three books – and I am chomping at the bit to be able to get #2.  I am actually really glad I waited to read it until now – if I had read it when it first came out I would have been soooo cranky. Ok, by read I do mean “listen to Wil Wheaton read it” and thoroughly enjoy his performance.

I have been musing over this book since last week – I woke up Saturday morning at 6am and found my mind turning over bits of it.  It is is the first time in my life I’ve read a book and thought “damn, if/when they read this in 100 years, what will they say of us?”

Let me clarify here.  John Scalzi has never considered himself a paragon of literature.  He has said (I am paraphrasing here) a thousand times he writes books he hopes entertains people.  He isn’t writing to make social commentary (again, as I understand from his blog) and he isn’t writing to change minds.

I wonder if Charles Dickens would have said the same thing.

I have been told in my entire academic career that Dickens was writing on purpose to change minds.  But I don’t remember ever seeing a quote from him saying this was his goal. HELL – he called A Christmas Carol “his little christmas book” and he just wanted that to make some money to pay the bills!  THAT I remember. I don’t think he was trying to pen the great novel it turned into.

Did he have a social conscious?  God yes. Clearly.  Do I think he was trying to spark social revolution with his novels? No.  I think he was writing those to entertain. I ran searches for keywords (society, poor, etc.) and he didn’t talk about these things in his correspondence.  The closest I found was a letter where he came to Virginia (1842!) and wrote about slavery.  (seriously, go here and read his letter to W. C. Macready in 1842!)

Interestingly, Dickens & Scalzi have something else in common.  Scalzi has written very openly about the difficulties he experienced growing up.  Dickens’ father went to debtors prison and at 12 Dickens had to go to work at a factory to support his family.  They both had some truly lucky breaks during their teens (Scalzi went to a great school, Dickens got a white-collar job – at the time a truly amazing break for a boy from a lower-income family).

I can’t help but wonder if Collapsing Empire might be one of those books kids read in school in 100+ years and talk about how Scalzi wrote it as a commentary (he says he didn’t!) on early 21st century society.  Some of the issues it touches on (gender, sexuality, stratified societies, greed & power, language…. God I don’t want know how many times “fuck” is used) are things that are just so real to me these days.

Whether intentional or not, the book does (in my opinion) touch on some of the mental/social fights we are having today.  It might just be Scalzi working through it in his own mind or reflecting his own dreams of how society could be into text.

I can’t wait to see the whole thing play out. I will have to read them again.  Hell, I might even buy some copies in paper-form that I’ll write in/mark up and do I truly in-depth review of them!  I haven’t done that since college…. mmmmm that sounds mentally yummy.

SCOTUS: Searching Cars

There are two cases this year dealing with cars and the fourth amendment in front of the Supreme Court.  My little SCOTUS nerdy heart is a little excited.  Both of them will be argued today.

Byrd v. United States

So I can see the argument in this case (here is a professional write up if you want a longer version) where a woman (Reed) let her significant other (Byrd) drive her rental car.  Not only was he NOT on the rental, she wasn’t even in the car with him.  He got pulled over and the cops searched the car without a warrant (and without probable cause) arguing that because he wasn’t on the agreement – they don’t need a warrant.  They convicted him for the heroin in the trunk.

I can’t wait to (a) hear what the professional attorneys argue and then (b) how the court falls on this case.  I am also really glad I don’t have to rule on it!  There could be some interesting fall-out on “possession and control” being required (or not) for warrants.

So on the one hand Byrd wasn’t on the rental agreement – much like if I let my sister (or friend or whoever) borrow my car they aren’t on my registration.  Does that mean if I let my friend borrow my pickup truck (as every pickup truck constantly lends out their trucks!) and they hide a stash of heroin under the driver’s seat or in a cooler (can’t be seen) could the cops pull them over for a routine stop and then search (and impound) MY TRUCK because I let a friend borrow it?  And what about if someone steals my car – do they have fourth amendment rights because they “possess and control” my car at this moment?

On the other hand, rental companies make you sign an agreement saying ALL drivers must be “registered” and anyone not registered is…. illegally (?) driving the vehicle.  Technically, Reed (Bryd’s SO & mother of his children) signed an agreement saying other drivers are only permitted with “prior written consent” (and paying a daily fee). The government contends this prior contract dismisses Byrd’s fourth amendment rights.

And it gets complicated because there ARE rules about “even if someone is doing something illegal it doesn’t waive rights” (hence cops can’t JUST search your car when you ran that red light – they still have to have probable cause).  And can Byrd be held responsible for Reed breaking the contract between herself and car rental company? (there are rules about people who don’t know they are being used in crimes too).

I am looking forward to hearing the court rule on this one – HOW they phrase their ruling can shift this in a lot of directions.  They COULD strike the provisions (and extra fees) on car rental contracts.  They COULD argue that the contract creates a binding clause and means Byrd “stole” the car (I doubt they would – I might have been told “yeah, I totally paid for you too” and then… ugh!).  They COULD rule that  warrant/probable cause is still required when a contract has been broken OR when someone isn’t registered on a vehicle (so my husband could get my car searched ’cause he isn’t on the registration!)

Collins v. Virginia

This case also has to do with the fourth amendment and vehicles – with the addition of “private property.”  I’m not going to say I understand the previous rulings as well as I should to explain when/why vehicles can be searched with exemptions.  I do understand there are already rulings on exemptions to the warrant requirements (it’s called the “automobile exemption.” (professional write up here)

So in this case the cops were searching for a motorcyclist.  They narrowed down their search area using social media & a cop saw a motorcycle under a tarp-like cover next to a house. He went up and looked under the tarp-thing and found out the motorcycle was stolen. Should the cop have needed a warrant to lift the tarp?

Again, I want to hear how the justices rule on this – it isn’t black & white. On the most basic brush there is “cop came on private property” and “cop lifted the tarp” (not readily visible)  but there is also “is the land I own safe from warrantless search” and “my car parked on my driveway” (yes, even though in this case it’s “stolen car”).

Previous rulings have protected cars parked in/around the home lot (and searching on the land around a home).  But is does open quite the can of worms about when/how cops might be allowed to search vehicles.

So will the court expand the officers’ ability to search vehicles?  Will they uphold that private property is (for lack of a better word in my vocabulary here) sacred from this type of search and demand warrants?  I am curious to see how the court falls out on this issue and what they say about it.

Politicis: Smaller Government

Ok, so my title might already be making people see red.  Hell, if you read my blog regularly you’ve heard me advocate higher taxes. So before you jump to “HOW COULD  YOU?!?!”…. let me explain.

The US Federal government is terribly inefficient.  Honestly, the breakdown between Federal, State, and smaller is atrocious and when I listen to “small government” speakers I always wait to see IF they will say any of the things I want/need to hear to support them.  (FYI, I don’t remember ever hearing it from “tea party” or “libertarian” candidates)

#1 – we spend more than we take in

I’ve written about taxes before:

Politics: Taxes (Part 1)

Politics: Taxes (Part 2)

Politics: I like to pay my taxes

So I won’t drone too much on this point.  But yeah, we DO spend more than we take in. How much of that is a problem with the fact we have drastically lower taxes per capita (which is proven over and over and over – go see it here: http://bfy.tw/Eabd) verses how MUCH our government does with those funds…. different question.

#2 – HOW we spend the money

Ah, now for ME – this is the rub.  I’m going to use an example for this.  So, Story Time!

When I got married I eloped to the courthouse.  We couldn’t get our marriage certificate the same day.  We had to go back like 10 days later.  That is twice we had to go to that courthouse that month.

Once I had my marriage certificate I had to take it (and other proofs) to the Social Security Administration office to get it changed (I actually had to go twice ’cause the mis-spelled it the first time!).  When my SS card finally arrived in the mail, I then had to go to all sorts of other offices to get things changed:

  • Drivers License
  • Car Title/Tag
  • Passport
  • Library

Alright, I know the library is very different but still – government!  Why the flying squirrel of living purple doom did I have to take (a) time from my life but (b) a bureaucrat’s time to get these done? THIS is the kind of inefficiency I object to – WHY do have to go to each of these offices?  Would there ever be a scenario where I legally change my SSN and keep the old name on the driver’s licenses or passport?

When I’ve mentioned this to people they look at me like I’m saying something weird and say “but SSN is federal and driver’s license is state…..” OK – what about SSN and PASSPORT at least?  Why can’t some of this be automated in some way? Why can’t there be some communication from the SSNA and Passport folks (IRS does it automatically!)

So that is a pretty simplistic example, but if we could reduce 10% of the inefficiency of our current government; the waste of having to have so many staff to process a single piece of information…. 10% is not tiny.  With a budget of $3.8 TRILLION, 10% would be something like 300 billion? Am I doing this math right?  A lot. Alot alot (aside: did you ever meet an alot)  Of course, all this would just go to reducing the deficit (which was over 600 billion in 2016) not actually putting money “back in the pot” to be used on anything new.  But it would help! It’s a step in the right direction and would make people less annoyed that they have to go to 6 different places for everything.

The problem is I don’t necessarily think we should cut anything that is a “general service” (ie the EPA or Parks Services…) but we should work on efficiency of those services.  This would make everyone happier! It would save taxpayers money!

 

Review: Copyright

I have strong if only 85% formed opinions on copyright law.  On the one hand, I am a writer and I can imagine the sort of horrors which could come from NOT having copyright laws in place to protect artists.  However, we live in a weird world where I also think copyright is used and abused.

The Good:

Harry Potter is an excellent example of a few people have tried to claim Rowling “stole” their idea (magical school isn’t exactly original…) and there is a LOT of fanfiction out there.  About the original characters; folks putting themselves into that universe; and just in the universe but utterly “original” in other ways.

Things like not being allowed to copy a book and resell the copies; “steal” and/or “pervert” characters; and simply changing names and re-publishing are all (unfortunately) required protections.  There is no part of these elements I would like to remove.

The Bad:

All that said, I do stand by saying copyright is broken.  Mickey Mouse is 89 years old – Walt Disney died over 50 years ago.  Why the hell isn’t Mickey (and everything else from the 20’s/30s) Creative commons yet? There are not a lot of folks old enough to even remember his original incarnation first-hand.

And Mickey is a terrible example for this because he is still a creative character in “active use” – but what about all the novels, music, & art which was produced in the 20’s, 30’s & 40s that is still under copyright because some “publisher” (corporate or private holder) has kept submitting to get their information renewed?   what has been lost in smoldering remains of a basement file because it wasn’t “cost effective” to keep publishing it but they sure as HELL aren’t going to let go of that copyright that might “someday” make them money!

Look at the stories of all the movies/tv we’ve lost because studios wouldn’t share and wouldn’t sell and stuff literally got moldy and destroyed?

The Idea:

Ha! You thought I was going to call it the ugly.  Well…. it is a pretty ugly idea right now, so….

This is a “rough draft” of an idea I’ve had for more-than-a-minute.  I know it isn’t perfect – I don’t understand enough how copyright protects completely visual art (painting, photography, etc.).  So Let me just say this is separating what I would call “individual” art (ie a painting)  from what I will call “replicative art” (ie tv shows, movies & books)

So here it is:

I would like copyright to say if you have your work of art unavailable for sale for >12 months (ie not on Amazon digital/ Google Play/ your website with a snail-mail-order-form), you lose the copyright.  With an adendum that if a Publisher (ie book publisher) “owns” the rights and THEY fail to keep it available, it can then revert automatically to the creator (ie the author) for an extra 12 months.

  1. False Scarcity (such as Disney hording movies in their “vault”) would be stopped
  2. Authors/creators would not be “held hostage” by a publishing house or bad agent-negotiated contract because their book wasn’t well received immediately (despite decades of evidence that sometimes stuff only becomes popular “later” rather than “now” ….)

Now, I know movies/tv shows have a weird relationship with like Netflix and Hulu, but in those cases the movies ARE available, I just might not like the price/location – which is a different issue altogether.  I might not like a font on a book, it doesn’t give me the right to scan the book in the MS word and start editing it for myself…. and shouldn’t.

Like I said, it’s a rough-draft idea.  I know it still has holes, but the more I read writers’ blogs, the more the current copyright laws make me UN-happy.

Politics: Local

So last year my husband and I bought a house.  And usually, I can ignore any elections in odd-number years, but 2 of the the 3 city council “at large” posts are on my local ballot.  So it’s time for:

Annual Election Coverage

Now, because I am just a hair paranoid, I won’t list candidate names.  And my city is new, so some of our local issues are as simple as “people figuring out how a city works.”  So of the 2 council-at-large seats up, one of them is the incumbent, facing no challengers (makes THAT vote pretty easy…)  The other seat is more fun:

Candidate #1 – The Man-Boy

So I don’t like this candidate and I will be voting against him.  Done.  I hate the tone on his website – he sounds smug and condescending and stupid.  He says things like “I won’t vote for the city to raise taxes” because he “believes in limited government” (our city does three things – it’s already frickin’ limited!)

Take your damn libertarian/anarchist stupidity into the wilds where you aren’t affecting other people. I live in a city of 35,000 people in 16 sq/mi – which if I’m doing the math right puts us at about 2,200 people/sq mile. We might need to have someone who will raise our taxes because it’s the right choice for the city. And you apparently don’t have the balls or the backbone or the brains to do that because you want to “protect the individual from the government” (the gov’t ain’t gonna rob my house or jack my car or shoot my dog or dump waste into my rivers or build a strip club at the end of my neighborhood…)

And then he has this human-trafficking thing that he’s against… and it just is weird. It’s just this like white-knight bullshit-feeling…. Like really? THIS is your issue for the city? There are *gasp with me* FOUR massage parlors which must be doing something other than massages! Did I mention that he sounds like a condescending worst-of-white-male asshat?

I don’t like anything he says. He makes my skin crawl with every heeby-jeeby that jocks in high school and frat boys in the college EVER illicited. I will vote against him – especially ’cause there are 2 other candidates I like a LOT more.

Candidate #2 – The Newcomer

Here’s the first candidate I like. He is the “newcomer” because he’s running against the incumbent and I couldn’t come up with a better title for him…

He isn’t exciting (which let’s be honest, is what I want).  He does kind of hint at the “limited government” thing but he talks about accountability and sustainability – I like these words. I like these words a lot.  He talks about the diversity of my city (maintaining & encouraging) – which I think is decently diverse but I like a candidate who makes it part of their platform.

He talks about encouraging “appropriate” growth in businesses – which is huge.  We have a traffic problem and one of the city’s mandates is zoning. I want someone who won’t let developers build higgly-piggly without considering the impact on already-bad-traffic-zones.

I like his picture & his announcement youtube video. He is this middle-ages black dude and wears a t-shirt & khakis. I know it’s a dumb reason, but he looks like someone I could have a beer with AND talks like an intelligent, thoughtful person…

Candidate #3 – The Incumbent

To anyone who knows me, they will shocked to hear – the incumbent stands a chance with me.  I like my city (hell, I bought a house in the city limits BECAUSE i like the city).  I like what they are trying to do and I think the current city council is already doing a good job.  She has served on the city council since it’s inception, has done a ton of gov’t training at the county and state level…. she knows what she’s doing. I haven’t been so awesome that I’ve gone to a council meeting… so she could be horrible on the council and I wouldn’t necessarily know.

So I have to go off her rhetoric.  She does get a point in her favor that I’m happy with the status quo….

Somewhat like C#2, she talks about “cost effective” and “customer service oriented” government.  But, and this is a pretty big BUT – she talks about our millage rate being zero, and promising to keep it there.  I actually don’t like that.

The older I’m getting the more this whole “zero taxes” thing pisses me off. If we decide to institute a police department or a parks & rec dept (because the county isn’t keeping up OUR parks…!) I would not object to raising my taxes.  Now, if she said, “I would never raise taxes without support of a ballot measure” I might roll my eyes but accept this.  I actually am very mad at politicians who say “I promise to NEVER raise taxes” because that means they aren’t willing to do everything, even risk their own re-election (though smart tax raises SHOULDN’T be a killer) to do right by me & mine.

Conclusion:

Well, I’m not sure how I’m going to vote.  Do I vote for the incumbent because I like her track-record or do I vote for the new guy who I like what he says?  I love that I have good choices!  Not so much the one bad choice who I will vote flip-a-coin for etiher of the other two instead of him!

Musings: Idea on Justice

I was talking to someone the other day about the justice system (the frustration with the “school to prison pipeline” and the injustice which being poor brings, etc. etc.)  I had an idea. I chewed on it for a few minutes but the more I’ve thought about, the more I liked it.

Right now, if a District Attorney (DA) gets someone to “plead” to the charge (say they are guilty, pay the fine/spend less time in jail) they get a tally in the “win” category JUST like they get as if they spent 6 weeks arguing in front of a jury and bringing up expert testimony and blady-blady-blah.  If they go to trial and LOSE – well they get a tally in the “lost” category.

Attorneys are rated (so to speak) on the win/loss record.  An attorney who wins 97% of their cases -damn, they must be a GOOD attorney, right?  Well, what if MOST of those “wins” were convincing 17 year olds to accept a deal where they say they are an “adult” who committed a crime and go to jail for 4 years instead of college?  What if most of those “wins” are taking a system that is struggling and making the most vulnerable in our society into your own personal ladder of success.

Now, I don’t have a problem with attorneys wanting to say they have a 97% win record.  I have a problem with the PLEA being a “win.”  It is, at best a neutral.

So companies use this thing called an NPS score to determine if customers are happy.  On a scale of 1-10 how happy were you.  1-6 are negatives, 7-8 is neutral, and only 9-10s are positives.  They do the math of “I had ## of people give me 1-6, ## of people give me 9-10, throw out the 7 & 8” to get a numerical value of customer happiness.

All I’m saying is when an attorney (in CRIMINAL court) takes a deal it should count like a 7 or 8.  It’s neutral.  It isn’t good (positive) but it doesn’t have to count against you.  So if a person shows up and confesses to a crime they DID commit (I wonder how often that happens….) and they take a deal because they confessed and cooperated… well ok.  But the only WIN the attorney gets is in front a judge/jury.

This isn’t a perfect solution.  Deals became a VERY useful tool to get small-time drug dealers (even back to prohibition) to roll over on the bigger distributors.  It’s been used in racketeering cases …. forever? I wouldn’t want to see DAs encouraged to avoid the plea deal.  I just hate that right now it’s a default because it’s an “easy win.”  Even possibly putting innocent (or not guilty) people in jail should never be counted as a “win.”  We have enough issues of jury trials imprisoning people who might not be guilty.