Holt Uncensored

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by Pat Holt

Friday, February 14, 2003


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Thanks to cartoonist Tom Tomorrow for yanking back the curtain that U.S. officials used to cover the Picasso masterpiece "Guernica" at the United Nations before Colin Powell's appearance.

The painting hangs at the entrance of the Security Council, where its theme of the horrors of war offers an important backdrop to press conferences about ambassadors trying to stop war.

According to ArtDaily.com, "a diplomat stated it would not be an appropriate background if the ambassador of the United States at the U.N., John Negroponte, or Powell, talk about war surrounded with women, children and animals shouting with horror and showing the suffering of the bombings."

So when in doubt, cover it up! says the Bush administration, as Attorney General John Ashcroft did so brilliantly when he spent $8000 to cover the exposed breast of the "Spirit of Justice" statue for distracting viewers at news conferences while Ashcroft droned on.

Still, "Guernica" got covered because it was *too* appropriate: Powell has already announced that U.S. strategy against Iraq during the first 48 hours of war will be the "Shock and Awe" deployment of "3000 precision-guided bombs" (Newsweek) that will pretty much pulp Iraq back to the stone age.

For the people of Iraq, experts say, the experience of a U.S. "Shock and Awe" blitzkrieg will be similar to the bombings of Guernica, Hiroshima or Dresden.

So Tom Tomorrow has righted things on his website, This Modern World, by artistically placing Powell in front of the "Guernica" painting after all.

Click on http://www.thismodernworld.com (scroll all the way down this very long column): Seeing Powell bluster and backpedal and augment and spin ("sure there was no smoking gun, but there was tons of smoke") in front of Picasso's horrible nightmare vision of war is to experience shock and awe at the power of art.



Speaking of the power of art, guess who will be the first to get carried off to the dungeons under the just-leaked "Patriot Act II," the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003.

It'll be artists and writers (as usual) - and not the published-on-paper writers, either. It'll be the more identifiable underground, the incensed webloggers and the angry chat-room talkers and the outraged commentators who this week have been writing blistering columns on the Internet about the "obscene," "atrocious" and "disgusting" Constitutional violations of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003.

Thank heaven for that dear patriotic soul in the Justice Department who leaked the 120-page draft of the DSEA/2003 to Chuck Lewis of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity. Lewis then rushed it over to Bill Moyers at PBS, who in turn interviewed Morris on "Now with Bill Moyers" a week ago today.

Immediately, the Internet erupted with noisy and furious reactions that ended up calling for the impeachment of George Bush and a host of White House staffers.

But not so in the print-on-paper media. In fact, a "muted response to Ashcroft's sneak attack on liberties" has been monitored by the media watchdog group FAIR, which noted that very few newspapers ran the DSEA/2003 on the front page - even the New York Times buried it in the back - and that ABC, CBS and NBC ignored it. Other than a few editorials against it, "the story has barely made a ripple in the U.S. news media."

How could that be? The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 goes much farther than the USA Patriot Act in terms of crippling debate and dissent, crushing Constitutional protections and sending dissenters to jail or even out of the country.

Just to refresh your memory: If enacted, this legislation will give the federal government the power to:

  • declare war on individuals as well as terrorist groups
  • prohibit information and legal representation for people "detained"
  • create a DNA database of suspected terrorists (holy cow! that alone..!)
  • override all state bans to curb law enforcement abuses
  • enable the government to "expatriate" U.S. citizens (whoa whoa whoa!)
  • reduce judicial oversight on secret intelligence "courts"
  • further deny Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests
  • enhance racial profiling to an obscene degree (OK, my "obscene")

It's "an incredibly offensive" proposal, Lewis told Moyers, and guess why it had to be leaked before anybody heard of it? Because the Bush administration was waiting for the kind of "fear and paranoia" that followed 9/11 and that ushered the first atrocity, the USA Patriot Act, through Congress with nary a negative word.

So the thing that's "incredibly offensive" now, said Lewis, is that the Bush administration is "taking advantage of the insecurity that we all feel today" and waiting for the "worries and fears" about national security Americans will feel very deeply during a war against Iraq.

"Then they're [Ashcroft et al] gonna pop this baby out and try to jam it through (Congress)" again, as Lewis put it in his inimitable way.

What awaits the Bush administration if it passes? An enemies list that would make Richard Nixon drool: Tens of thousands of email addresses locating writers on the Internet who have been howling against The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 since it was first leaked a week ago.

And sure, we've seen some discussion of the DSEA/2003 in the print media, but most of it has been the kind of spineless, lame coverage that hardly provides in-depth analysis.

Here's a possible reason for this. As Eric Alterman points out in his book, "What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News" (Basic), the problem with the press today is not that it's liberal but that it's afraid to *appear* liberal to those vociferous and relentless conservative critics who have hounded the media since the Reagan administration.

Instead of standing up for itself against such onslaughts, the press has reacted with a typically "muted response" about such civil liberties matters as the leak of The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003. Instead the attempt by media editors is to show "balanced coverage" of "all sides" of every controversy - few other "sides" exist.

Clearly, TV news editors don't get it. During the January 18 antiwar demonstrations, I remember one TV channel attempting to "show the other side" after scene after scene of hundreds of thousands of protesters chanting and carrying signs against war with Iraq.

The news anchor then explained the next scene would show "the other side as we go now to an opposing march" of people who represent America's right to defend itself." Viewers were then whisked over to a park where 40 people shook "Saddam Must Go!" signs at the camera.

Today whether the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 passes or not, we face the fact that "if you're a disfavored political group, or from the wrong ethnic background," as Lewis told Moyers, the feds can "come after you, get your credit card data, your library records, your Internet searching, everything. And they'll decide whether or not you're a suspect."

Maybe there are people in the United States who think this is a good thing. If so, let's have more public debate; let's take the time to, as Lewis and Moyer said, "chew over the consequences." Otherwise, the Bush administration, in its rush to war, may succeed in rushing a bill like the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 that will not only cart writers off to jail without legal representation, it will also trample Constitutional freedoms far beyond war's end.



By the way, Tom Tomorrow's lengthy column is always full of juicy tidbits, including this one under the heading, "Everybody Hypes," on the publishing industry:

"I was talking to a publisher at a small press book party not too long ago, and I asked him about the print run of the guest of honor's book. The publisher looked at me sheepishly and said, 'Officially, 40,000. In reality, 10,000.'

"He went on to explain that this was how the business works, as far as he could tell: Everybody lies, and everybody knows it. If you announce in Publisher's Weekly that you've got a first run of 40,000, everyone does the mental calculation and says, 'Ah, a 10,000 run.'

"If, however, you announce that your first run is 10,000, they assume you've made a couple of copies at the local print shop and you're standing out on a street corner somewhere trying to sell them."

Why, that's nonsense! Reputable publishers would never do that. If you announce that your first run is 10,000, it means you're a small press or self-published author offering rights of the book for sale to a mainstream publisher.



Dear Holt Uncensored:

Did you see this recent little gem (from Publisher's Lunch)? It read:

"Classic Lit CD Offered for Schoolwide Licenses: Palm Digital Media and Lightning Source are providing a package of 250 'classic literature' ebooks for schools at a licensing fee of $499 for the school year (or 500 classics for $750 a year). The collection, which appears to comprise public domain works, is provided on a CD that can loaded onto a school's server."

Seems to me you've really got to hand it to PDM and Lightning Source. They've stumbled onto a brilliant business model, even if they don't seem terribly original *content providers*. All these years, we chumpy book publishers have been selling books to readers and libraries *without licenses*! As if books were something that could be *owned*.

All this time we should have been issuing licenses, *annually renewable*! After 30 years of wandering in the wilderness, I could just about kill myself! Why didn't I think of this before? But at least now, hallelujah!, we publishers have been handed the solution to all of our publishing woes.

From now on we'll just print a license agreement in every copy of every one of our books, an agreement which will bind the licensee upon opening the factory seal such that she/he/it shall be bound by an express term license stipulating how long and under what circumstances it (the IPC - Intellectual Property Conveyance) may (and may not) be lent or resold, and even more to the point how the IPC *remains the property of the publisher*! Even if or when it falls into the public domain.

But wait, there's more. Pretty soon, now that POD (Docutech and such) is becoming all the rage, we'll even be able to franchise Public Libraries to print and distribute our IPCs for us, thereby arranging to have them sublicense our publications and enforce our renewal fees!

And then libraries will sub-sublicense their franchises to in-house Barnes & Nobles. Wow, the possibilities are almost endless. Everybody wins! And we ICPs (Intellectual Content Providers, formerly known as Publishers) get in at the First Level for all that downstream flow. And to think I was contemplating a career change...

Bruce McPherson
McPherson & Co.

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I found your piece about Amazon.com's used-book sales interesting. One thing that struck me is that, environmentally, selling hurt books through Amazon.com or other online markets is a heck of a lot better than dumping them in landfill as has been the wonderful alternative.

I also think that there's a certain parallel to the music industry debate about Napster and such sites. As much as the music industry went nuts about how much Napster and other file sharing sites were going to hurt them, the music industry went into a steep downturn once Napster was shut down.

There's something helpful overall to having a more dynamic marketplace. And, in my view, Amazon.com, with all their wacky marketing schemes, has been part of increasing the dynamism of the book marketplace. Of course they're doing it to someday make some money off it, and so is every other bookseller in the world.

Steve Adelson

Dear Holt Uncensored:

About your discussions regarding print-on-demand (POD) books.

My second novel is about to be released in June of this year. It will be available as either print or ebook, since that's what my publisher does. Here, for what it's worth, are my experiences being a 'POD' author.

Your summary of the history of POD is accurate, as far as it goes. True, iUniverse and several other companies, co-opted POD technology for the purpose of creating vanity presses. But...other people, people who love books, who believe that there are good writers who deserve to be published, who want to create books that are of as high a quality as anything turned out by NY (or better). The only way a small press can possibly compete is to use POD, which allows them to avoid the dreaded offset press run of 2500 copies or so, which severely limits their capital resources.

Sadly, booksellers were inundated (mainly by B & N, through their alliance with iUniverse) with less than quality books produced by the vanity presses and this has served to tar all POD-produced books with the same brush.

The stumbling block for most small POD publishers at the moment is distribution and price. Ingram's stranglehold on book distribution remains a difficult barrier to negotiate. Pricing meets retail resistance, since POD, which produces a trade paperback-sized book, is more costly than offset mass market-sized paperbacks. We're talking twice as much, so for an unknown author to actually convince the wary retail customer to take a chance on their book is an uphill battle.

There are few newspapers that will review small press books, regardless of their method of print. And, of course, many reviewers were inundated by the same vanity deluge and now automatically discard any trade paperback novel they receive, unless they know the publisher.

There's a lot of whining about the book business. For myself, it really doesn't matter. I just tell the best story I can and let things happen as they will. But my book is edited, and re-edited, the cover is carefully and professionally designed, the price is kept as low as I and my publisher can afford. If it's a good book, it will eventually come to the surface. Maybe I'll get a fat, six-figure advance from a NY publisher one day, but, frankly, I doubt it.

But, I am published. And no, I didn't have to pay someone to do it. They actually liked the damn thing. Twice!

Miles Archer, author of "Too Many Spies Spoil the Case."

Dear Holt Uncensored:

Thanks for running my letter about POD publication. Just one thing - the link you put on the page points to the first chapter of my second book, not the first chapter (prologue) of "Jahred and the Magi." The correct link should be:


There's an underscore between jm_prol.htm you just can't see it because of the hyperlink structure here.

Wilma Clark

Dear Holt Uncensored:

As the Beatles sang, "I read the news today oh boy . . ."

The retailers who have recently agreed to collect sales taxes are certainly not doing this out of the goodness of their capitalistic hearts, nor as some have suggested, "it's the right thing to do."

Oh no . . .

"The major retailers said the move also helps them integrate their online and brick-and-mortar operations.

"Many have created separate corporations for their online businesses, but the services customers want, like the ability to buy online and make returns at a nearby store, require the integration of the online and brick-and-mortar operations.

" 'In order to allow consumers to return merchandise bought online to our stores, we need to charge sales tax,' said Susan McLaughlin, a Toys R Us spokesman." http://www.gomemphis.com/mca/business/article/0,1426,MCA_440_1730666,00.html>

So, will the imposition of a sales taxes cause online buyers to head to their local brick & mortar stores? Apparently not, at least according to one study, see: http://www.dmnews.com/cgi-bin/artprevbot.cgi?article_id=22948

"In a survey conducted in November, 46 percent of consumers said they were aware they could avoid sales taxes on online purchases by comparison shopping, according to Jupiter [Research]. Of those who said they knew, 61 percent do not go out of their way to find online retailers that don't charge sales taxes, Jupiter [Research] said.

"The benefits of multichannel integration overwhelmingly outweigh the importance of sales tax avoidance."

If the Streamlined Sales Tax Plan is okayed by Congress (and with the current make up of Congress apparently allergic to the word "tax" that ok is rather iffy at the moment. . .) I suspect there will be a lawsuit regarding it from some online retailer(s) in one of the five non-sales tax states, such as New Hampshire (whose motto "Live Free Or Die" is a less than subtle hint about how they feel about things). My further guess is that it will boil down to: "Why should I spend time and money being the unpaid tax agent for 45 states that haven't figured out how run a state without resorting to a sales tax." The New Hampshireites I know are a rather cranky independent group of folks.

[Here's a link to a Washington Post article, that in itself contains lots of links, to the sales tax, nexus, Congress issues: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35186-2003Feb6.html ]

As for the Streamlined SalesTax . . . I gather mega stores like Wal-Mart are eager to see that happen as soon as possible - it'll reduce their paperwork considerably, making them more efficient and profitable. All of which brings to mind the old saying: "Be careful what you wish for, you may get it."

Michael Walsh

Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.

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