Amazon Stumbles Over Parody Book

John Scalzi Banned This Book

Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed my generally favorable disposition toward Amazon. I consider it a public service to refute the deceptive zombie memes spread by Amazon’s less scrupulous detractors.

These actions are rooted in my commitment to support what’s best for readers and authors. In most cases there’s no question that Amazon treats their customers–both writers and readers–better than legacy publishers do. However, I have no qualms about calling Amazon out when they drop the ball.

A disappointing case of Amazon violating their customer-centric prime directive has developed in the last few days. The incident arose in response to an ongoing flame war between best selling author John Scalzi, who recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with Tor Books, and game developer/SFF editor Vox Day, whom one might describe as the sci-fi equivalent of a heel wrestler.

The full details of the controversy can be found here. The part that interests me is Scalzi’s request to have a parody book with a highly unflattering invocation of his name in the title removed from the Kindle Store–a request which Amazon granted.

Taking a moment to dispense with an obvious objection, Scalzi sought expert advice on the book’s legal status and was informed that it is clearly recognizable satire protected under the First Amendment. So the book’s unknown author is guilty of breaking no law.

I also understand that Amazon is a private sector company that has every right to decide what it will and will not sell. That’s not the crux of my argument. I maintain that, even though removing the book was well within Amazon’s rights, they were stupid to do so.

Bowing to the demands of a best selling, millionaire author makes Amazon look like they’re siding with the establishment against the little guy–and in this case, they are.

It doesn’t help that the same author chided Amazon back in 2010 for doing what he’s just turned around and asked them to do.

Even more disturbing, some customers have reported the book missing from their Kindle libraries (see comments 5 and 10). Amazon has deleted eBooks from customers’ Kindles before. Even Amazon president Jeff Bezos called the practice “stupid”, but that didn’t stop them from doing it again.

And since the book in question was the #1 parody title on Amazon, a lot of people may have had their purchases deleted. Amazon has always issued refunds when they’ve done this, but it’s the perception of confiscating property without the owners’ permission that makes this move a huge customer service failure.

Postscript: the book is back in the Kindle Store under a new title. It’s to be hoped that Amazon learned the lesson that Sonny Corleone ignored to his peril: don’t interfere.

David Freer on Politics in SF

David Freer over at Mad Genius Club has an interesting essay up called The Winter of our discontent that is worth a read. He delves into the strange political realities found in publishing today and it is well worth the read. He also senses a change a foot and I hope he is right.

We’ve been cursed to live interesting times. Times in which we are assured there is a right side of history. Usually we’ve managed to get onto her wrong side, which is also her right side, it seems. It’s a very confusing situation, even if you’re not as dim-witted as moi, your local furry-pated simian.

The world is changing very fast. There is a sort of inverse law in this: when the King/President/Emperor/ Pope, the establishment politicos start telling you something is definitely going the way the PTB have been pushing it… You can bet the tide is running the other way. Historically the shrillness is inversely proportional to facts and the zeitgeist. When they tell you the sun never sets on British Empire (yes I know that meant it was around the world) it’s about to go down. When Neville Chamberlain tells you it’s peace in our time, you know that just ain’t going to be so. It’s obvious to anyone that economic and social factors are running us towards a change. History will be history, and although written by the victors (and later revised by the next victors), its sides will change. As a reaction to the Charlie Hebdo atrocities by Muslim terrorists… we have various Left wing SJW people telling us that it’s the victims fault and that really we need not to protect freedom of speech, but to stop nasty homophobic racists offending Muslims (who, um do quite well at homophobic racism, but it’s un-PC to point this out). And lo, some governments seem to be thinking about going along with them.

At which point someone of my acquaintance said ‘why don’t these lefties learn, instead of doubling down?’

My answer (and be patient, this does apply to writing), is that it’s actually not just lefties. It’s a power problem. At the moment, that’s pretty left wing. Those in power tend to be surrounded by sycophants, live in their little bubble. Some of course are devout believers in their own rightness. Others are just so used to winning without any effort always they’ve forgotten the possibility of losing. It’s been their way or the highway as long as they can remember. Nowhere has these been more true than in traditional publishing and among their camp-followers.

It started to change in socio-politics a while back. Looking back, 2007 was probably the apogee. In publishing it might have been two or three years later (publishing trails, it does not lead much). But there have been many canaries in the coal mines whose singing has gone silent in the last while. The key with pendulums is to remember the higher you push them, the harder they swing back.

I don’t really care where you sit on the political spectrum, what is happening in sf/fantasy needs the brakes put on that pendulum. Over the years there have been some great writers from across the spectrum, and we’re all poorer for losing that. Yet that’s exactly what has happened. I’d hard put to put an exact date on it, but when the Hugo and Nebula awards slipped over into being entirely left wing, and gradually further and further left-wing. Always remember: there is no concrete reason why SF/Fantasy (in English) readers should not largely reflect the reading population of the English first language countries. Now, there are some reasons why certain parts of that spectrum don’t read. They might be too dumb, or have cultural objections to it. But broadly speaking if readers do not reflect the demographics of the EFL countries… we need to know why. The writers are product of the readers, therefore they will always follow the reading trend. If it’s not there: you’re losing some great writers, and also the money their reader section represents. If you have to ‘lose’ anyone make sure it is a small group, but there is no real reason for that. It’s a numbers game for us readers (and for writers, as a result). If sf becomes more popular… there will be more of it, and more means more good stories will emerge. Which is something that everyone (regardless of creed, color, political persuasion or sexual orientation) who loves sf/fantasy should want. Political affiliation is something we know a lot about the numbers of supporters of. It isn’t 99% left, let alone hard left. Actually the hard-core supporters of either right or left are a minority, in roughly equal numbers, and there is a large ‘floating’ pool. As has been displayed, repeatedly, political parties can come from nowhere (Nazis, Communists both provide recent examples) and capture that floating pool. Centrists or ‘I don’t care or like any of the candidates’ win the majority of elections, except when they’re caught up by a sudden change. Yet this is not reflected in the awards for the last twenty years or so. They are ludicrously improbably all far left.

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L. Jagi Lamplighter talks about leaving leftism

Our own L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright has a couple of interesting essays that she wrote on her transition from the lefty liberalism of her youth to a more conservative stance as she matured. Check out her essays The Ones Who Walk Away From Washington Reboot and Part Two: Seeing With Eyes Unclouded By Hate. She talks of her idealism as a youth, i’ve never really understood that. Leftism has always struck me as a nihilistic death cult, but i’ve been a crusty old reactionary for decades.

In my youth, I was a Liberal of the fiercest sort. I never went so far as declaring myself a communist, because it was clear to me, even at a young age, that communism would not work. However, I was for every other Liberal policy one can imagine.

When John and I got together, we had many discussions (and arguments) on economics and politics. John was a Libertarian at the time. I thought this meant, “he did not care about people.” In fact, I would have summed up politics as: Liberals care about people, and other political groups do not.

Then, one day – after many, many hours of fierce debate with my future groom – I had an epiphany. All in a flash, I saw my philosophy in a new way. Up until that time, I thought that politics was a matter of trying to get the government to put in policies that would help people. Suddenly I realized that someone had to decide what these policies would be – someone had to decide what they thought would help people. Who got to decide this?

Implicate in the Liberal mind-frame, I realized, was the idea that we, the elite, decided what they, the masses, needed.

Close on the heels of this realization came three more:

1) The entire Liberal mentality was based on the idea that ‘we know better than you.’ (As in ‘we know better than you how you should spend your money, so we’ll make you pay for this with your taxes, instead of giving you a choice.’) Liberals were patronizing.

2) While I favored the system that allowed the patronizing elite to decide the fate of the masses, there was no guaranty that my ideas would come out on top. If they did not, then I was one of the masses who did not know better that the other guys to whom the other guys were being patronizing.

3) Treating someone in a patronizing manner often curtailed their freedom of choice.

Suddenly, I was at an impasse. Patronizing the poor was in conflict with freedom, and I had to chose which side I was going to stand upon. I could believe people were too stupid to take care of themselves or I could trust them and side with freedom.

It’s a very scary thing to decide to trust people, especially when the evidence around you suggested that they might not qualify to be trusted. However, I could not knowingly turn my back on freedom. For I was convinced that to be happy, a person needed wisdom, and to be wise, a person needed the freedom to make mistakes.

So, bravely, I chose freedom, turned my back on telling other people how they should live their life, and joined the rank of the Libertarians.

John and I lived some happy years as Libertarians – happy for us. Not so happy for the poor souls we harangued. In general the philosophy suited me, for it required you to believe that if you did something you would often get the opposite result from what the general mass of humanity would expect (lower taxes brings higher revenue, for instance.) This fit my model of hoe the universe worked.

Read the rest of Part 1 and read Part 2

Peak Leftism

The Federatlist has an interesting article up called Have We Already Reached Peak Leftism? by Robert Tracinski that asks a pretty important question.

In the realm of Sci Fi we have the Pink Shirts and the SJW’s who have a large cultural hegemony but their dominance is probalby not as much of lock as it is in academia. Still perhaps we will continue to see a trend away from it as we are likely to see a trend away from it in academia. Give it a read.

A recent study that has been making the rounds argues that “academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years.” The paper examines historical data and concludes that party and ideological affiliation in university psychology departments used to be split close to 50-50. By the 1960s, the ratio of Left to Right had climbed to about 4-to-1, and then in the 1990s academia was transformed. Conservatives were chased out, and current left-to-right ratios are estimated at 11-to-1 or higher.

Jonathan Haidt, the lead author of the study, is an honest liberal who admits—and the paper goes on to demonstrate this—that the dominance of the Left distorts the scientific output of academic psychologists. When there are no dissenting voices, it’s a lot easier to confirm each others’ biases.

I’m pretty confident you would get similar results for most other academic disciplines. When I was in college in the late 1980s and early 90s, my sense was that there was a generation of elderly scholars holding the line against “political correctness”—the term had just become popular—but as they retired or died, the new orthodoxy was taking over among their replacements. I’ve seen the same thing elsewhere: an older generation who are at the very least non-ideological and apolitical, followed by a younger generation who are steeped in the neo-Marxist dogmas of “race, class, and gender.”

Academia is likely to be the worst in this regard, since it is a parochial subculture isolated from “the real world out there” and highly resistant to influences that might correct its excesses. But much the same thing has happened in the other commanding heights of the culture, particularly the mainstream media, Hollywood, and the arts.

Current left-to-right ratios in university psychology departments are estimated at 11-to-1 or higher.
There are two ways to look at this trend: as evidence that we are doomed because the Left has taken over the key institutions of the culture—or as evidence that the Left has reached such a high degree of saturation that they have nowhere to go but down.

In other words: have we already reached peak leftism?

Microagression from Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn offers us some insights into the nature of Microagression, that latest of zany buzz words going around to describe acts leftists disapprove of that are so slight that you would be hard pressed to realize you are doing them. As ideas go I guess it is useful because they are supposedly unconscious and therefore the accused can’t hope to protest their innocence because the feelings of the accuser are all that is required to substantiate the charge. I share the bewilderment at the idea that your choice of citation style can communicate a political orientation.

The latest fad among the bien pensants on campus is the notion of “microagression.” It is never too clear of what this offense consists but, like Potter Stewart’s obscenity, “you know it when you see it.” Of course, “seeing it” is always after-the-fact, which means those accused seldom know they are doing it until the after accusation is itself leveled. This induces a level of terror in the intended targets. At least the old heresy hunters, Chesterton once pointed out, went to great pains beforehand to spell out exactly what the heresies consisted of.

The targets of opportunity in this case, at least those mentioned in the linked article, are liberal professors, so we are evidently in the phase of the Revolution when the Revolution begins to eat itself and Robespierre goes to the guillotine. Perhaps it is because liberal professors are so accustomed to apologize at the drop of a hat that it is easier to terrorize them.

Take the first example. Education professor Val Rust, who was into multiculturalism before the word existed. In a class on dissertation-preparation, he committed such microagressions as correcting someone’s capitalization, helping them simplify complex rambling sentences, and other thought-crimes against scholars of color.

Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments.

The idea that format and grammar do (or ought to) reflect “political commitments” is bizarre, and indicates that “political correctness” is not as innocuous as many suppose. Under the neue Rassenwissenschaft, Asian students are considered to be “white” for purposes of attack. This is likely because they do well in scholastics, which students in Newark public schools a couple decades ago denounced as “acting white” in their attacks on Caribbean blacks.

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Sarah speaks truth to power

Sarah A. Hoyt has some interesting things to say about the lefts idea of speaking truth to power. She observes the absolute absurdity of those with the political power, those in the elites or with the ear of the elites, claiming to “speak truth to power” or somehow to be “rebellious” and “against the man” when they are “the man”.

One of the most fascinating conceits of our ruling powerful elites — be they in entertainment, politics, governance, jurisprudence or news reporting — is the often repeated assertion of being some kind of underdog “speaking truth to power.” This comes with the concomitant illusion that anyone opposing them is paid by powerful interests.

Never mind that the ones making the accusation are usually in positions of power and receive recognition all out of proportion to their achievements, (no, really, Mr. Obama failed to deliver his first book, so they contracted for a second with an exponentially bigger advance. When he delivered an auto-biography instead of a book on race relations, it was taken and lionized. I challenge any writer/personage not of the establishment to replicate this feat.) Never mind that the dissenting voices often have to come out in less respected and far less rewarding channels, it is against those of us who speak the actual truth against those who yield actual power that the finger of mercenary interest is pointed.

To defend this absurd position, they descend to ever more recherché and counterfactual reasons as to why those who get little reward and no respect are actually the ones in power. Thus accusations of “White Privilege” are leveled against people who grew up in awful circumstances and made their own way, against people who are not in fact treated with any kind of deference and in fact against people who are not in point of fact white. And meanwhile those who side with them are considered to be “authentic” whatever the supposedly oppressed minority is.

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