Holt Uncensored

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by Pat Holt

Wednesday, February 26, 2003


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I'm not sure why we have to go all the way to Israel for a shocking report on invasion of privacy at eBay, but, apparently, we do.

According to the Tel Aviv daily newspaper Haaretz, recently Joseph Sullivan, eBay's "director of law enforcement and compliance," spoke to law enforcement agencies at a conference in Connecticut called "Cyber Crime 2003."

The speech was "closed to reporters," writes Haaretz's reporter, Yval Dror, and no wonder. Having "obtained a recording of the lecture," Dror writes that Sullivan told the audience: "eBay is willing to hand over everything it knows about visitors to its website" to anybody in law enforcement, no subpoena necessary. In fact, a FAX is fine.

eBay can get away with this because "when someone uses our site and clicks on the 'I Agree' button, it is as if he agrees to let us submit all of his data to legal authorities," Sullivan said.

So anyone from a police detective to a CIA employee, FBI agent or National Park ranger can make a request to receive all eBay knows about a customer. Then, routinely, "eBay sends back the user's full name, email address, home address, mailing address, home telephone number, name of company where seller is employed and user nickname," Dror writes.

"What's more, eBay will send the history of items he has browsed, feedbacks received, bids he has made, prices he has paid, and even messages sent in the site's various discussion groups." And don't worry if your request is about an old customer. eBay has saved "every iota of data" that has come through since the company began in 1995.

Why the zeal to release this kind of data?. "We believe that one of the ways to fight fraud is to cooperate with the legal authorities at the various levels," says eBay spokesperson Kevin Pursglove. Aha: So cozying up with the right people in law enforcement means eBay may ask for an exchange of favors as well?

That sounds awful, but it gets worse. When computers at eBay sense suspicious behavior on the part of a customer, Sullivan and his six investigators have created "pseudo buyers" with "simulated histories" and "simulated feedback" to draw suspects into the open (the word "entrapment" is not used).

With such antics as this, Sullivan has found ways to "help" law enforcement even further. "Tell us what you want to ask the bad guys," he told the conference, according to Dror. "We'll send them a form, signed by us, and ask them your questions. We will send their answers directly to your e-mail."

As Dror concludes: "Essentially, by engaging in what seems like impersonation, eBay is exploiting its relationship with customers to pass on information to law enforcement."

And it still gets worse: Last year, eBay bought the credit-clearing Internet service PayPal. From this, Sullivan reportedly boasted of having a new "20 million files on its users," and said to the law enforcement agencies: "If you contact me, I will hook you up with the PayPal people. They will help you get the information you're looking for. In order to give you details about credit card transactions, I have to see a court order. I suggest that you get one, if that's what you're looking for."

Whoa: Sullivan can look at these files (and those of Half.com, which eBay also owns) and advise law enforcers whether *they* need a court order? Is that really what he means? Would that be invasion of privacy or just plain spying?

Well, we're a long way away from Kenneth Starr's demand of booksellers to reveal Monica Lewinsky's book-purchasing records. With "details about credit card transactions" so amply available behind the scenes, Starr and other prosecutors need never be embarrassed by bad publicity or court orders, at least from eBay.

And what a shame all this is: eBay has long had the reputation of being the safest place to buy and sell on the Internet because it offers a self-cleaning environment. Customers share their experiences about buyers and sellers and warn each other about "the bad guys."

But a story like this from Haaretz could scare off millions - I know I'll never use eBay again - especially since Dror looks at Sullivan's zealotry in the context of 9/11.

"One would think that preserving privacy of the users, whose moves are so meticulously recorded, would be keenly observed at eBay, whose good name in the Internet community is one of its prime assets," Dror writes. "But in the U.S. of the post 9/11 and pre-Gulf War II era, helping the 'security forces' is considered a supreme act of patriotism."

That's what it looks like from afar, but one wonders what eBay is really up to.

Thanks to weblogger John Adams at http://www.jzip.org for tipping me off to this story. If the American press doesn't report it, you can find it at http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=264863&contrassID=2&subContrassID=5&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y



As he moves into a tent on the Iraq/Kuwait border, photographer Thorne Anderson writes that "you can actually see the U.S. tanks moving in the Kuwaiti desert and the dust kicked up by the camps of the 90,000 American troops on the other side."

Anderson, a member of the independently financed Iraq Peace Team, refuses to believe that war is inevitable just because combat forces are so visible and so close. The only way to stop them, he believes, is by peaceable means that "reach people in the United States with a broader picture of Iraq than they can typically find in mainstream media."

Anderson's gripping photos of civilians in Iraq, published on the Internet by Voices in the Wilderness, a group dedicated to stopping American-backed U.N. sanctions against Iraq that began after the first Gulf War in 1991, caught the eye of Margo Baldwin, publisher at Chelsea Green in Vermont.

"I was so moved by the photographs that I contacted Thorne and suggested he consider doing a book," she said by phone yesterday. "As it turned out, he had a photo-essay that could be rushed to press right away."

The result is "Iraq on the Edge," a haunting and powerful 24-page booklet that Baldwin's newly hatched Coalition will publish via donations and distribute free to any bookstore that wants it.

"We have only a few weeks to get it out before the Bush administration mobilizes this mad rush to war," Margo said.

It's fascinating to watch this kind of breakneck publishing process come together, every step more of a call for help than a standard publishing procedure.

Only a few days ago, Baldwin told PW Daily she was hoping a distributor would step forward to handle "Iraq on the Edge." By now this is done. "We have a distributor on each coast - Bookpeople in California and Bookazine in New York - so little by little the pieces are falling together."

And very quickly. In a very short time, independent publishers from all over the country have contributed enough money to support a 10,000-copy print run, and, thanks to Internet mathematics, the more people who contribute, the greater the value of each donation. If the first printing is hiked to 50,000, and "this seems feasible at the rate pledges are coming in," Margo says, the unit cost goes down to 50 cents a copy.

The Coalition wants pledges rather than cash at first because once a total is calculated, the print run will be set. At that point Margo will e-mail everybody who's sent in a pledge and explain where to send the money and how many copies it will buy. For example, if the 50,000-copy print run holds, a $50 donation pays for the printing of 100 copies.

That's a good feeling for anyone who is against a war in Irag, certainly, but it's even a better feeling if you believe in publishing as an industry that provides many different ideas from many different voices.

About the Book

Much has been published about Iraq, but what hits the reader of "Iraq on the Edge" is the feeling that you've just walked into the country and are meeting people face-to-face. Thanks to Anderson's gorgeous full-color photographs, we see the heart of the country in its places of social interaction and religious inspiration.

We also see effects of bombing raids that have continued steadily since 1991 and, even worse, of sanctions that have made it impossible for Iraq to repair its crippled infrastructure. Even a brief glance reveals how paltry is Bush's promise of $900 million to bring the country back after the coming "regime change."

For all its painful revelations, the book is a relief to read. At last Iraq's true condition, so often bypassed by the American press, can be seen in a vivid, compelling and humane depiction. Here are the "toxic junkyards" - relics from the war created by radioactive depleted uranium (DU) that has brought cancer to 40 percent of the area's population in 5 years.

Here is a 9-year-old boy whose face is so ruptured by skin cancer he has been blinded, yet can't stand the blistering touch of sunlight. Here is a doctor who tries to treat patients without modern medicine, which is prohibited by the sanctions. One photograph shows an assortment of textbooks that are pitifully out of date because of the sanctions. Another shows an underweight baby in a huge leg cast whose fragile bones were broken in childbirth.

I say it's a relief to see this book because now we know: When we hear that the leading killer of millions of children in Iraq is simple diarrhea, we can see why this is so by the raw sewage and polluted water (both remaining because UN sanctions have "obstructed reconstruction").

When the text quotes two former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinators in Iraq, both of whom resigned in protest because the program of sanctions "prolongs suffering of the people" in Iraq and has "no chance to meet even the basic needs of the civilian population," we can see the evidence here.

And the worst part of it is that in a new war, where it appears that at least 13 million Iraqis will face starvation, "the majority of war deaths will be civilian."

A few columns back I noted that Americans have fallen for the myth of the "clean war, as New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges states in his book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." The Bush administration wants us to believe our bombs are so precise they will hit military targets only and with luck take out Saddam Hussein without so much as spilling his coffee.

But as Anderson shows in "Iraq on the Edge," people are going to get their limbs blown off, and if they live through it, face a slow death from cancer. Already they say, "we are living through another Hiroshima," and that's even before the 48-hour "shock and awe" rain of bombs, even before those 90,000 American troops begin to advance.

You can see "Iraq on the Edge" at the Voices in the Wilderness site at http://www.nonviolence.org/vitw/pages/lib_multimedia.html.

But even if you don't have a chance to look at it, for those of us in publishing who believe in getting every angle of the truth out there for readers to decide for themselves, here is a chance to do something practical and philosophical at once.

Just email Margo right now at mbaldwin@chelseagreen.com and tell her the amount of your pledge - every dollar and every minute counts - then wait for her to explain where to send it.

Meanwhile bravo to Chelsea Green, the independent publishers who make up the Publishers for Peace Coalition, the wholesalers waiting to distribute the book and the booksellers waiting to bring it to a waiting public.

Remember, email MBALDWIN@CHELSEAGREEN.COM with your pledge. It just takes a moment.



I often wonder why the mainstream press rarely says anything positive about book clubs.

Maybe, like Seth Mnookin of Newsweek, newspaper and magazine writers find that making fun of a new literary trend is a lot easier than taking it seriously - especially, in Newsweek's case, if you can ridicule the city of Los Angeles at the same time.

Mnookin says that "in Los Angeles, home to the Botox lunch break" (ha ha), even people in their mid-20s and early 30s have discovered the value of book clubs. And why? Is it because they know that reading and discussing books can deepen thinking and improve the mind?

Not exactly. Here's Mnookin's explanation: "With people marrying later, and schedules becoming more and more hectic, book clubs are appealing to people who want a connection that isn't about dating (or at least isn't about singles bars) or money or jobs or working out."

You can tell that Mnookin has researched the subject thoroughly because such scholarship is everywhere evident in this article.

"Book clubs are more satisfying than grabbing an after-work cocktail in a crowded bar," he adds knowledgeably. As proof, he interviews a man who met his wife in a book club, not a bar.

He misspells the name of Pauline Hubert (not Huburt), who runs BookMovement.com, an online resource for book clubs, and then turns to that dreaded catchall of American journalism, the "informal survey."

According to the latest informal survey, which probably means he asked his friends, Mnookin says that "women join book clubs in much greater numbers than men, and are more likely to use the monthly sessions to talk about their love lives, or their jobs or their families." As proof, he quotes Francette Kelley, who works in TV development: "It's sort of like a therapy-session gossip thing."

But men are different. "Literal-minded simpletons that they are," Mnookin writes, "[men] seem to be more likely to actually read and discuss the book at hand."

And there you have it, the John Gray School of news reporting: Men Are >From Mars; Women Are From A Pointy Headed Planet.



Dear Holt Uncensored:

Amidst all the bashing of POD and vanity publishing, the veterans of the book business might want to pause for a moment to consider the terrible options available to any first-time novelist in today's marketplace.

I'm an employed writer in another medium. I worked many nights and weekends on "The 37th Amendment," my first novel, over a period of six years. Halfway through I began to read articles about the publishing business to see what my options might be for eventual publication.

It was instantly apparent that major publishers and reputable agents have no interest in manuscripts from writers who have not previously been published. To paraphrase, "You're SLUSH! Send a self-addressed stamped envelope because you're not worth the POSTAGE IT TAKES to tell you to GO TO HELL!"

And that was positively encouraging compared to the horror stories of new authors whose books were orphaned by mergers and layoffs, released without advertising or promotional support, or kept in print on an eternal backlist (thanks to print-on-demand technology) so that the rights never reverted to the authors.

Compare that to POD self-publishing, which would immediately make my finished manuscript available in trade paperback through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com to the buyers I would target through my own marketing. And no one could pull the plug on the book if it didn't perform in the first eight weeks.

I elected to publish "The 37th Amendment" through iUniverse without ever submitting it to any publisher or agent.

The price is the enduring contempt of the publishing industry, but the reward is the word-of-mouth that has resulted in steadily increasing sales.

All the options for new authors are bad. You might want to hesitate before slamming writers who choose the bad option that gets the book into the hands of readers.

Susan Shelley
Los Angeles, CA

Dear Holt Uncensored:

About the Bush administration covering up "Guernica" at the United Nations when Colin Powell spoke to reporters in front of the Picasso painting, here's one note for you:

If you use this link: ://www.thismodernworld.com/weblog/mtarchives/week_2003_02_02.html#000179 you get directly to Tom Tomorrow's rendition of what Powell would have looked like if "Guernica" had remained untouched.

John Adams

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I don't think you should assume everyone naturally agrees with your politics - and you should not naturally assume your politics are "correct." But I guess since I may disagree with your politics that means my opinion isn't valid. That's the usual way it runs, right? Why not report on all the "peace rallies" run by writers who don't allow Jewish speakers who are pro-Israel (but who are not, by the way anti-Palestine)?

Karen Kelly Bloomberg

Dear Holt Uncensored

Miles Archer wrote: "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."

As a prolific book reviewer, I too am surprised that so many reviewing venues have this bias against small-press Print-on-Demand (POD) books, since the good/garbage ratio for such books is not substantially different from that for books published through the well known houses. (I'm leaving presses like iUniverse and xLibris out of the calculation, though I've received one or two excellent books for review that have been self-published in this way.) In recognition of this, at Infinity Plus (www.infinityplus.co.uk) we in effect ignore the publisher's name and the production method when assessing a book for review. Small presses and international conglomerates are thus on a level playing-field.

This cuts both ways, of course. To restate: When a book is reviewed, it gets exactly the same treatment no matter the status of its author and/or publisher. This means that, in particular, if a book is bad in the reviewer's opinion s/he says so, and likewise if it has been badly edited and/or proofread (strictures that apply surprisingly frequently to books received from the larger houses as well). Not all small-press authors and indeed their publishers are happy about this fundamental principle of equal treatment; conversely, a surprising number send letters of thanks.

I was interested also in Wilma Clark's long letter in #358 concerning her experiences with BeWrite, and wonder if I might add my own comments.

Unlike Wilma, who went to BeWrite with her first book, I went there with my fiftysomethingth, a novel called "The Far-Enough Window." It's an unusual novel, and my agents in both the UK and the USA had told me it was all a load of crap; I happened to disagree, but, with the current policy of most of the larger houses, especially in the USA, of refusing to look at anything submitted other than through an agent, there wasn't much I could do about it. I'd heard a good buzz about BeWrite, so I checked out their site, liked what I saw, and rather nervously submitted the book. It was accepted within the week -- none of your two-year waits here! -- and published last Fall, within a few months of its acceptance. I wanted to give it chapter lead-off interior black-and-white illustrations (told you it was an odd novel) by respected UK illustrator Ron Tiner, and in place of the expected resistance I got an excited "yes, please."

Since publication the book has received four reviews (that I know about), which is fewer than I'd have expected had it been published by an orthodox house, but all four have been raves.

Of course, I'm earning a lot less money from the book than I would have had it been published by one of the big houses. Moreover, while it's widely available online you're extremely unlikely to find it in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Those are distinct disadvantages, but on the plus side of the coin there's the fact that, without a small press like BeWrite, the book the reviewers are raving about might well never have been published at all.

While we were working on the book, I happened to mention to my editor at BeWrite that from time to time I came across first-rate authors who were in the same boat -- either established writers who, because judged to belong to the midlist, were having difficulties getting new books or timely reissues published, or new authors who were having trouble getting a hearing at all. Maybe I shouldn't have opened my mouth, because before I knew it I found I'd acquired a new title, as a BeWrite "Consultant Editor." Just what I needed, more work. However, it's been worth it -- not financially, of course, but in terms of satisfaction. I'm able, because of the connection, to bring to the light of day some very, very good books -- and one of them, C.S. Thompson's "A Season of Strange Dreams," is among the best two or three novels I've read in the past couple of years.

Which brings me back to where I started. The only reason Chris Thompson and I were in touch was because I'd reviewed (favourably) his story collection, "Games Dead People Play" ... a book that had been "published" by iUniverse.

Paul Barnett Commissioning Editor, Paper Tiger: http://www.papertiger.co.uk US Reviews Editor, Infinity Plus: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk

Dear Holt Uncensored:

I read with special interest your recent letters from authors whose works have been published POD, since I run a one-man, no-budget, no-subsidy literary website and POD publishing house, LEGIBLE (www.geocities.com/legible5roses).

Print-on-demand and literary fiction and poetry are a natural match-up, it seems to me. For more than a century, poets and fiction writers with literary ambitions have been used to trading off fantasies of great monetary reward for creative freedom, and their publishers have sought alternative and usually inexpensive methods of producing and distributing their work.

The line of descent from the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press to Diane Di Prima and LeRoi (Amiri Baraka) Jones’ Floating Bear runs straight through mimeograph, Xerox, and samizdat and on to the WWW and POD.

LEGIBLE’s website is hosted free, and reliably, by Yahoo! via their Geocities program, as is the e-mailbox, legible5roses@yahoo.com. All the advantages of the web, for nothing per year. If I want to get fancy down the line, I’ll register a domain for the site through Yahoo!

On the home page are links to poems and stories by twelve writers, some nationally recognized, like Eleni Sikelianos and Mary Leader; some of smaller reputation, like Kat Meads and Richard Armijo; others for whom this is their first exposure to a curious public.

There are also poems by the winner of LEGIBLE’s first literary competition, the poet Michael Steffen, as well as a link for purchasing his book, No Good At Sea, through the POD specialists Booksurge.

Although most of Booksurge’s customers seem to be self-publishing authors, their automated website is perfectly set up for a small publisher to submit fully designed book files and color covers and go to press without an expensive minimum order or associated storage costs.

It’s a complete thrill, as a publisher, to have received Steffens’ fine work, previously unknown to me, and a little over a year later be able to deliver to him a carton of perfectly printed paperbacks, pleasing to the eye, mind and hand.

Steffen and I agreed that a relatively low and affordable price of $12 would make the book more appealing. A complete PDF (printable electronic file) version of the book can also be purchased from LEGIBLE, using PayPal.

Sales so far have not been bad, for a poet’s first book from a first-time literary press. Michael Steffen (like Wilma Clark) has had to shoulder a lot of the publicity and distribution. I’ve handled the ISBN and Books in Print folks, made the book available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, brought the book by hand into bookstores and libraries… The distribution problem is a hard nut to crack, as Clark and Miles Archer have noted. I hope to do better. Since I’m going to publish my own collection of short stories through LEGIBLE, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to experiment.

I’m preparing the manuscript for the second book of poems from LEGIBLE, and considering a book of short fiction, each from writers made known to me by the first competition. At the same time I’m reviewing manuscripts for the 2nd Competition, end date February 28, 2003 (I will extend that deadline until March 15th for any writers who mention that they saw notice of LEGIBLE in Holt Uncensored – go to www.geocities.com/legible5roses for guidelines, and take note that there is a $15 readers fee). I’m looking forward to adding more writers’ works and more PDFs to the site, and finding more writers to put in print.

As I researched the development of POD over the last four years, I felt as if I had discovered a great secret to starting a literary press without enormous financial outlay, influential friends or government grants with strings. I felt a little possessive about this secret. Now I realize that it can only be made more powerful by sharing it, that no matter how many other small publishers discover this path, LEGIBLE will always be distinguished by my personal taste and energies, and the talents of the people who find their way to it.

Michael Rosenthal

Dear Holt Uncensored:

A reader wrote: "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."

Really? I must be hallucinating all those remainder catalogs I see, and all those remainders and hurt books I see in bookstores all over the place. Michael J. Lowrey
Sunrise Book & Software Reviews

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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