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Digital Economy and Vulture Funds

Wednesday 24th March, very mild, cloud rising and clearing as the afternoon declines. Did I say, on that walk from Woodingdean to Lewes, I never saw so many sweet violets before. These, in the thumbnail, running all along the foot of an old wall by the Downs Hotel, unphased by busy road at their feet. The scent, a delicate blend of Parma sherbert and dog wee. . . presumably passing dogs either like the odour and give it their seal of approval, or else hate it and try to do everyone a good turn by providing their own Febreze.

If you were involved in the Drop the Debt movement a few years back, you probably got an emergency email a week or so ago, over the sabotaging of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill: a private member's move, that had cross-party support and was about to become law, to protect the poorest countries in the world from toxic lawyers. Here's the link if you'd still like to do something to support that: Sadly, though we may have hoped that the toxic lobbying behind that last minute "objection" from Christopher Chope was private enterprise too, it seems that Mr Cameron may well have approved their attitude:

It shouldn't be this way. Justice and Peace should be the openly avowed objectives of the State, globally and locally. Greed and Hypocrisy, those two pillars of the English nation, should be the country's shadow-self, skulking in corners, afraid to speak their own names. Would it were so.

While I'm at it, here's news of another Bill that's going to be law before you know it: a link to Gill Spraggs' post on the Digital Economy Bill. An issue that definitely wants watching. Plus her detailed take on Clause 43

Small item in New Scientist: Surveys have shown that when people insulate their housing to the nth, the saving on energy consumption is considerably less than predicted, for the people are more interested in comfort than conservation, and having stuffed their cavity walls, filled the loft with foam and double-glazed everything else, they then tend to turn the heat up. Same sort of thing happens when Gordon Brown, who doesn't have a clue, or want one, on Environmental Issues, decides to embrace Greenwash. Hence the High Speed Rail Network proposal, a Big, Big, Flagship project that will Save the Planet (as less people will fly from London to Birmingham) so that means huge spending on a completely new build, while leaving the existing network languishing, is perfectly okay. It's having your cake and eating it too! Shame it isn't actually going to connect with Heathrow, but that's a footnote. Here's Christian Woolmar's take:

Hm. Maybe I should have headed this "please do not read unless you already agree with me". But though it sounds like a ranting set of links, that's because of my grumpy temper this afternoon. Your actual respondents are an even-handed lot, and worth anybody's attention.

The Red Needles, Chamonix

Tuesday 23rd March, low cloud and mist, cool. How quickly Spring catches up. Everything's changed since ten days ago. Such an epic winter it's been, I'm sorry to see it go, but I can never resist the spring.
Hazel catkins have expanded, primroses burst into flower on the banks, one of my native daffodils has opened, buds popping open on the hawthorn, visible on the little blackthorn where there were only dead-looking twigs. Frog action, modest but healthy, in the fishpool, clumps of spawn moved into the "wildlife pool" (it has yet to catch on with the wildlife, tho' a couple of frogs have been seen visiting). On Sunday Peter and I walked the Jugg's Road to Lewes from Woodingdean (Jugg's Road: the fishwives of Brighthelmstone carried jugs full of fresh fish to the nearest town this way, long time ago). It's a walk for skies and landscape curves, not detail, so much of the downs under the plough, price of wheat must have gone up again I guess. Very beautiful under that powdery blue sky of early Spring, and uncountable larks, shouting and shouting. We inspected the dewponds on Kingston Hill for amphibs, saw nothing but some charming little snails, tiny glittering beetles scooting around in the submerged grasses, tiny dots of smaller animals. Hey, since we doped our "wildlife pool" with genuine pond water (from the dipping spot at the Heart of Reeds) maybe we'll get some of these.

The Aiguilles Rouges are featured because that's a detail from the jigsaw that saw me through the winter (as some of you may know, I work on jigsaws while thinking out what to do about chapter seven, and is that character superfluous etc; yes, just like Ax Preston). I usually favour art-jigsaws, I thought it was because of my superior aesthetics, I now concede it's because landscape can be just impossibly hard, making nonsense of my writer's meditation technique. Still, I won't forget them, and they're on a must see list now. Got to walk that black bridge.

Reading/watching. The Brian Cox series on the Solar System, and liking it very much.

Also just finished the Dragon Tattoo books. Excellent best-seller material, wads and wads of simple journalistic prose hung on the hook of a textbook Grimm fairytale. Have to say, the second one was the weakest, possibly because the "diversion", an exposé of sex-trafficking (so well-done in the first, when it was an exposé of corrupt financier's empire), completely failed to deliver. Curious about the titles, I found a page discussing the phenomenon: where I learned that the translator's name is a pseudonym, because the real person, translator with a major reputation, had his name taken off the books. . . Also learned that the title "Men Who Hate Women" was rejected for the English version (though not for any other European market) "because people would think it was Non-Fiction, and be offended". Isn't that interesting!

Have to say #2: not to speak ill of the dead and all, and I do know how it probably happens and why (It's all in Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws) But for a bloke who is so outraged about men hating women, Stieg Larsson has to have spent a great deal of time thinking about young, almost pre-pubertal women suffering aggravated rape, young women getting murdered by sexual torture, women of all varieties getting persecuted and insulted in all kinds of ways. And so it goes, that's what fairytales are always about, after all.

Have to say #3. The Handsome Prince goes missing. . . It's true what you've heard about the movie. Salander is played by someone who looks a lot less like a starved and alienated stray kitten than she should, but our hero is played by someone who is going to puzzle audiences very much indeed, as the second and third episodes appear, and all the fabulously beautiful intellectual bodybuilding ladies crawl at his feet, begging to have his babies.

Elizabeth, how kind of you to ask after the tadpoles. Here they are, getting on fine.


Wednesday 10th March, a high-pressure dry blue sky, warm sun, keen breeze; not so bitterly keen as it was yesterday.

Update on the tadpoles. I now have two colonies indoors, one lively, feather-gilled and feeding on lettuce, the second a few days behind and with a few more casualties in the mix. Outdoors, development is much slowed by the cold, tho' I cover the tubs over at night. No more spawn has appeared, the single remaining mating pair returned to their endeavours today, after being under the ice since last week.

I brought my two clumps of spawn in thinking they might be dead, like last year; or that it would only be for a day or two. Now my goal is to rear at least fifteen or twenty froglets & I think I have them indoors for the rest of the month, unless the weather changes. I might buy a magnifying glass.

In my diary for 2009, same date, it says "this has been the coldest, longest winter for a decade". The truth is, by my record winters down here in Brighton have been colder, in terms of days/nights of frost, for quite a while: cold that I'd have thought unusual in Brighton thirty years ago, interrupting spells of well above average temperatures. Chaotic winters, you might say. We didn't get the overly warm periods this time.

Wonder what will happen in 2010/11?

The Spawn Dilemma ("frogs are my canaries" obsession#n)

Thursday 4th March, blue sky, bright sun, chill air but no ice or frost. This entry photo stars my cat Ginger, dressed in a table napkin. She's fond of dressing up. Napkins, newspapers, anything that could cover a cat. . .
What shall I do about the spawn? This time last year, our fishpool was a heaving mass of amorous frogs, but none of their spawn survived. Most wasn't fertile, maybe some succumbed to a March cold snap. Many individuals seemed very stressed (reddish skin, skeletal thin) though I didn't see any definite signs of the "red leg" disease. This year, let us say the over-population problem seems to have been resolved. There's one mating pair in the fishpool, nothing going on in the new small pool, and I have two batches of spawn. The first laid is fertile: I have commas indoors and creased oblong eggs outside.

I think I'll bring the whole of the first lot indoors, leave the second lot outside, see how that works.

Nicely done. . .

Tuesday 2nd March, white roofs blue sky, no commas yer. Second batch of spawn in the dead flag leaves, tightly pursed bundle of jelly, hope it's warmer inside there. To be moved from fish pool when small pool ice has melted.

Working as I do in a genre that has been assuming the imminent demise of printed fiction for decades, and expecting (with or without enthusiasm, depending whether you are an Orwellite or an Asimovian) total Panopticon culture maybe even longer, I don't know why I'm worried. I'll live in the unregulated chinks, for as long as they survive and same as I do right now. Much of my fiction/nonfiction is free online already & it gets distributed okay, or at anyrate better than I could expect from the Giant Nothing Evil Team.

However, the Google Book Settlement Resistance thing gathers momentum, run by people who are old fashioned enough to act as if they have a voice in the design of governance: and good for them. Here's Gill Spraggs' statement from the Google Books Breakfast last week: Discuss!

The Bookseller reported recently the government sees it as "right" that
the Publishers Association "leads" the UK's response to the Google
Settlement. I've been asked to point out that the rights that the
settlement would license to Google are rights to works created by
authors; rights that in a huge number of cases belong to authors;
publishers may hold licenses to them, but authors own the copyrights.
Many of the rights to out-of-print books have reverted to their authors.
Authors are very big stakeholders in this business; and many of us are
feeling that we are not being taken sufficiently into account. It is
authors who by their original creative work produce the value on which
the entire publishing industry depends.

In this country professional book authors who have looked into the
Google Settlement hate it. I am talking about authors who license their
books to trade publishers in return for an advance on royalties, and who
have built their careers wholly or partly round writing; authors who
sell books in large numbers, and authors who are hoping that their
latest book will break out into the big time. Witness the many UK names
on the opt-out list, an amazing range of talent that spans the genres,
the generations and the political spectrum. The debate among authors in
the run up to the opt-out deadline was focused on the best way to escape
from the thing: opt out, or opt in and remove your books. I know several
who have taken the latter course; anecdotally, I know there are others,
probably very many. Some are relying on promises from their publishers
to pull their books from Google's database. I can only find one
professional UK book author who has praised the settlement: Maureen
Duffy, Honorary President of ALCS and a representative plaintiff.

The Settlement has been a PR disaster for Google. Authors worldwide
write blogs that are read by fans, friends, family, and many wannabe
authors. In recent months, comments on forums and blogs have become
increasingly hostile to Google. This includes comments on news sites,
and even, remarkably, in geek strongholds like the famous Slashdot site.

Google claims that out-of-print books are of no economic value, and that
the settlement is the only way that authors can benefit from them.
Professional authors know this is nonsense. Winning an award; getting a
TV or movie deal; bringing out a new book in a series; writing in a
genre that comes into vogue, or on a theme that becomes topical; all
these things and more can 'breathe new life' into an author's
out-of-print backlist. Authors who believe their works have value, to
themselves, to publishers and to other entertainment media want deals
with advances and promotion, negotiated on the best terms that the
market for their works will bear. They are not impressed by the prospect
of being buried amid millions of books in some online bookstack. They do
not believe that mass-licensing arrangements for the benefit of content
aggregators is a way to run a healthy book industry, or make the
profession of authorship either economically tenable or creatively

The Google Book Settlement is objectionable not just in its details -
though there are many objectionable things about it - but fundamentally,
in the way that copyright-owners are opted by default into a scheme for
reproducing, selling and sublicensing their works. I cannot put it
better than William Cavanaugh, the attorney who presented the case for
the US Department of Justice at the Fairness Hearing: he said that the
settlement 'essentially turn[s] copyright law on its head because it
eviscerates the requirement of prior approval from the copyright holder'.

Without prior approval, there is no copyright. Copyright is a right to
authorize reproduction.

Here's something else that Cavanaugh said: 'It is the right to control
one's work that creates the incentive to produce it.'

Every age gets the culture that it pays for: pays for in money, and pays
for in respect.

The market in e-books is taking off. If we let the market take its
course, then, a few years down the line, most in-copyright books of
value will be available, permanently, in e-editions. Given demand,
publishers, some of them specialists, will track down and negotiate with
the copyright-owners of those scarce but sought-after academic
monographs, those out-of-print novels whose authors still have a
following, and most of the rest of the misnamed 'lost books'.

Time enough after that to worry about the rest of the books, the
so-called orphans, and the books that nobody wants.

There is nothing new about reprint publishing. What is new is that the
web makes it possible to efficiently match the niche publication with
its readers, and the costs of keeping a digital work available are very

We can have a diverse, innovative market in e-books or we can have a
Google monopoly. We can have a publishing environment in which authors
whose works are in demand will be properly paid, because there will be
competing outlets for their work. Or we can write RIP over literature
in the long forms: the novel, the memoir, trade-published non-fiction,
and Google Books shall be its mausoleum.

We don't need the Google Book Settlement: what we need is what we have,
a living culture, generating real value.

Get in touch with Gill, or join the author rights group, via the blog:


The Digital Economy Bill sounds as if it also wants watching. The danger of losing copyright law is bad enough, but our Government (and I don't just mean the party in power, they are none of them to be trusted), thoroughly corrupted by the War On Terrorism, shouldn't be allowed near anything that gives them further unregulated surveillance access.


About three years ago (I think it was), I had a request from PS, would I write an introduction for Stephen Palmer's new novel? I think that would be okay, says I. Only I'd have to read the book before I could say yes definitely, wouldn't I? Send it along. Time passes, I'm not concerned, PS publishing is madly overstretched, they'll get round to sending me the script down the line. Eventually I forget the whole thing. Saturday morning last, packet arrives. It's the four colour printed ARC for Stephen Palmer's new novel. Uncorrected proofs, introduction by Gwyneth Jones to follow; due out in June. Whoa! I think I'm introducing this book! Never mind, it wasn't very likely I'd turn Mr Palmer down, I've read Memory Seed and Muzzeinland, it's only March, I'll just do what I can