Results tagged “Congress” from critical difference

If there's one group of authors who excel at envisioning utopias and dystopias, particularly those brought about by technology, it's the science fiction crowd. So the fact that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America are sounding the alarm over the Google books settlement ought to give pause, at the very least.

That thought has been niggling at me for weeks, ever since Ursula K. Le Guin quit the Authors Guild in protest over the proposed deal. "There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle," she wrote in a fiery letter of resignation. Noting opposition to the settlement by the National Writers Union and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, she told the guild she would remain a member of those less influential organizations.

Yesterday both of those groups, along with the American Society of Journalists and Authors, sent Congress a letter (text below) decrying the proposed settlement as unfair. "There are millions of book authors in this country who could be locked into an agreement they don't understand and didn't ask for," they wrote. Arguing that genuine "orphan works belong to We, The People," not to Google, they added: "The Constitution says copyright is essential and gives Congress responsibility for it, not Google and a gaggle of lawyers."

Sci-fi authors have an uncanny ability to imagine the dangerous directions in which the world could -- and sometimes does -- go when technology and corporations are unreined. But they don't get a lot of respect, at least not until someone notices that their predictions have come true.

Their warning against the Google books settlement as it stands is explicit and very much rooted in reality. It might be safer to heed them, if only just this once, before disaster strikes.

January 7, 2010 1:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Bizarre though it was to see all the headlines this week touting Al Franken's seriousness about his new job (he spends nearly eight months post-Election Day litigating the results of the vote, and there's any doubt about his seriousness?), Victor Navasky offers Minnesota's junior senator some good advice in a New York Times op-ed today: "Satire -- which has a long and refreshingly subversive history as a form of truth-telling and effective social commentary -- is Mr. Franken's comparative advantage in his new job and he should exploit this blessing, not deny it."

Navasky continues:

The Senate, let's not forget, is already filled with blowhards, policy wonks and, if you will, lying liars. It's a mistake to assume that if he puts his comic talents to work in the Senate, like Rodney Dangerfield, Mr. Franken will automatically lose its respect.

It's understandable that Franken wants to be both respected as a legislator and respectful of the institution he's finally joined. It's only natural that he'd be wary of being cast, and marginalized, as the class clown. But Franken isn't just a comedian; he isn't just a freshman senator. He's also an author who did an extraordinary job, in "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," of harnessing humor to make a case built on painstaking research (conducted with a team of students while he was on a fellowship at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) and broad knowledge of the political landscape. The guy knows the subversive power of making people laugh in order to make them think.

And, let's face it, he's not exactly Sonny Bono or Fred Grandy. Unlike Cher's ex, who became a representative from California, or Grandy, the actor who played Gopher on "The Love Boat" before he was elected to the House from Iowa, Franken is well known as an egghead. He already has intellectual and policy cred.

"Fools are my theme, let satire be my song," Lord Byron wrote. From Aristophanes to Jon Stewart, humor has been one of the most potent of rhetorical tools, and Franken has been employing it to talk about politics for decades. Smart, politically acute comedy is even experiencing something of a heyday right now; witness Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the parade of politicians eager to be their guests. And Washington is not without legislators, like Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, who make serious points with lacerating humor.

Though Franken's job isn't comedy anymore, he honed some undeniably transferable skills as an entertainer. Opponents may be waiting to pounce on him for any display of jocularity, but it's a mistake for them, and for him, to view his ability to deploy precision ridicule as anything but a strength. As Barney Frank has said, "Ridicule doesn't work unless the subject is ridiculous."
July 10, 2009 12:30 PM | | Comments (1)
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