Wrong Question

28 November 2001

Well, we have wonderful news from Excite @ Home. We may have an interruption in service this Friday. Mark will redirect my mail so that it would go to my Hotmail account, so you could still use my normal e-mail address and have it get to me, I hope. But the pages may or may not be down, and connectivity may or may not be interrupted.

The annoyance value, however, is definitive. I have a feeling of "Hell-o, people, this is my job!" I stay in contact with most of the people for whom I do contract work via e-mail. I mean, I can finish the stuff that I know is coming up and get it sent out before then. But I'm certainly not happy with the situation. Perhaps if they'd provided actual service, they wouldn't have had to go bankrupt and be replaced by another network. But I digress.


I've been getting e-mails from people I don't know that have no text in the e-mail and wave files attached. I hope none of you have had the urge to send me wave files without explanation, because I've been assuming it's something silly and viral, and I've been deleting them. Same with sending me HTML documents: if you want me to read something, you have to tell me what it is. No compromise here.

So yesterday I started a story for an anthology, and I worked on my BEC article (that's Bose-Einstein Condensates, for those of you who haven't read about this year's Nobel Prize), and I edited "Dark Thread" and sent it back to Mr. Nice Semipro Editor Man. Stuff like that. Talked to Scott for an hour and a half.

Two of the happy things in the newspaper today: first, there's an executive order extending the executive branch's ability to hold their current prisoners without trial, even if a court order says that they have to let them go. So the only thing that can fix this situation is for the Supreme Court to declare the executive order unconstitutional. Arghhhhh. Last weekend, we were talking with my Uncle Rudy about politics, and he seemed to believe that the new laws would be used for good, for defense of our country only. I was, at best, skeptical. But ignoring our own judicial system? How does this defend the country?

And the other happy thing: evidently some of the TV networks are claiming that deleting commercials from their programs (with a TiVo or what have you) violates copyright law. Their claim is evidently that they have copyrighted the entire programs, with commercials. This gets tricky when they start getting into selling syndication rights...and what about different regional commercials? Does the network own a dozen or a hundred different copyrights, each with a different local commercial?

So much of this copyright argument stuff makes no sense. Evidently O'Reilly (the guy with the animal books that tell you how to do stuff on the computer if you're not a dummy) and Richard Stallman are in a big ol' fight over what the "Zeroth right" is -- free access to information or the author's right to control their own work. I don't think it matters, honestly. They are both asking the wrong question, which is, "Who owns the absolute rights in a vacuum?" What they should be asking is, "How does an author/reader achieve the best situation?" Because everybody ends up happier that way. I truly believe that authors benefit from having some of their work available for free, and readers benefit from having the author more or less control where the work goes -- that is, handling markets of more than 50 to 100 people. If you ask the question the other way, it ends up being a clash between author and reader that I don't think is there in reality.

(Mark says, "You will never get Stallman to ask such a merely practical question." But I don't see how ignoring the world we live in is a superior moral choice. Pragmatism isn't all there is to morality, but if you don't have any alternative to everyone suddenly and magically deciding to do things your way, I think you'd better go back and start again.)

I think a lot of problems come from asking the wrong questions -- big and small problems. Or from not recognizing the right question when it's asked. Abortion debates become a lot more civil when you can calm people down enough to ask, "how do we know that someone is alive and human?" The churches we've visited lately seem to all be asking the wrong question: "How can we make things more modern?" Rather than asking people, "What makes you happy or satisfied with a church service?" Even personality tests often seem to be asking the wrong questions of me. On the Meyers-Briggs, for example, my introvert-extrovert scores came out exactly even. This is not because I'm in the middle. It's because the trait they have lumped together as "introvert/extrovert" is two separate categories for me, and I'm on opposite extreme ends of the scale. It's just not a good question to ask if you're trying to describe what I'm actually like.

In physics, I met a lot of professors who were fond of "mu." It's evidently what a Zen Buddhist says to indicate that the question, as posed, has no meaning. "Is it a particle or a wave?" Mu. Wrong question, ask again. I like mu, too.

It should be a surprise to no one that a lot of my favorite people in the world are the ones who ask good questions of me. Implicitly or explicitly.

Speaking of which, Sarah had one, and in her Gritter way, she didn't bother to try to pretty it up. Just asked. It's refreshing when they do that. She said, "So if you wrote some children's books that became wildly successful, would you sell out?" Well. The answer is no, but some people might think it looks like a partial yes.

I would be willing to sell the rights to a movie version of my books. I would be willing to sell, say, dolls or action figures or stuffed toys or a role-playing game. But. They would have to be directly related to my book, and they would have to be true to it. Which makes me think that it's never, ever gonna happen, because I don't write the kind of book that goes well with action figures.

Fortress and The Grey Road are YAs, I guess, so it's somewhere in the realm of possibility that someone would want to merchandise them. But I wouldn't let them make all the characters into Barbies. Nate is a fat kid, and Miri has a big nose, and...yeah. There are all kinds of traits that just don't fit with most merchandising I've seen. I write the kind of books that would make it hard to sell out, because nobody would want to. I suppose that's good; I do it more or less on purpose, but not consciously, if that makes any sense at all.

This poem about eating oatmeal alone charmed me. Very much so. I found it in the journal of one of Jette's HoliDailies people. But I have to stop reading journals for the time being and get myself showered and dressed so that I can actually deal with the outside world today. Whoa.

(It's William Blake's birthday today, and I just have Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon in my head: "William Blake?" "William Blake!" "What do you mean, William Blake?" "I mean WILLIAM BLAKE!" "Who are you?")

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