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I think we all saw the news yesterday. Those who were watching Fox News and CNN even got to see several iterations of the news. In a complicated decision, the US Supreme Court rejected the individual mandate under the commerce clause but upheld it under Congressional powers of taxation. I’m not here to argue about whether the bill ultimately is or isn’t constitutional. I’m not a constitutional scholar. I’m only going to share a few things in an attempt to make the ACA a relevant topic on what is primarily a blog about writing.
First was a writer who announced he would be able to go to writing full-time under the ACA provisions that go into effect in 2014, especially the provision forbidding health plans for discriminating against applicants with pre-existing conditions. Second was Steampunk artist Kyle Cassidy predicting that “artists will leave crappy corporate jobs they held just to have insurance for art jobs that pay less.”
Now today on Art Info there’s an article titled How Artists Will Be Affected by the Supreme Court’s Decision to Uphold Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which goes into more details about…well, how artists will etc etc etc. While the site largely focuses on the various graphic arts, it’s important to remember that all people who create for a living will have similar effects. Whether a painter, sculptor, free-lancer, or author, we’re all in a position where our creative endeavors result in an unpredictable income stream for all but a very fortunate minority. The probably with this spotty stream is that insurance is, in a word, expensive.
One of the reasons that healthcare is prohibitively expensive for artists and other self-employed people is that they are not part of a larger network, which allows insurance companies to better spread out risk and costs. Even small companies sometimes don’t qualify for group plans. Some 52 percent of artists described themselves as either completely uninsured or inadequately insured in the face of high premiums, high deductibles, and annual limits on care.
Under the ACA, states will set up group exchanges by 2014, which will organize the insurance market and allow individuals and small businesses to band together to form groups, just like if they were part of a large corporation. The exchanges will not be able to consider pre-existing conditions when creating groups — currently one of the biggest reasons why individuals or small businesses have a hard time getting affordable insurance.
I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t promise that the ACA is going to work entirely as expected. Or that it will be enacted at all. A significant groundswell of anti-ACA emotion could give Romney the White House and enough of a GOP presence in the House and Senate to overturn the bill. It’s going to be a long and weird two years until the majority of the ACA takes hold, and probably a few years after that until we will know how it works in reality versus in theory.
However, I support artists. I support creators. Not just because I am one, but because this world would be a damn boring place without things being created. So I support a safety net for those individuals who dare to dream and want to try creating full-time. Hell, I hope to join them some day. So I hope that Cassidy, Art Info, and the writer planning on going full-time in 2014 are well founded in their optimism, that this will provide a way for more people to be able to create without worrying about what will happen if they get sick.
When asked in 1993 about whether it was easier to be a writer in Canada or America, science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer answered:
I think the biggest advantage a writer has in Canada is free government-sponsored health care…I was able to become a full-time writer because I didn’t need a job in order to get health insurance. Canada — and just about every other industrialized country — considers health care a basic human right, but in the States so many people who might otherwise take the plunge and become full-time writers have to stay shackled to a nine-to-five job so that they won’t be financially ruined should they be in an accident or get ill.
The ACA isn’t full Canadian medical care. But it is a step towards allowing those who want to be full-time creators to do so. Taking aside all the politics about the ACA, whether it’s Obamacare or Romneycare or whatever othercare you care to call it, I applaud a society that better supports those who create for the betterment of that society.
If that’s political, it’s political. It’s also how I feel.
I do what I can to avoid politics on this blog. Oh, not completely. Anyone could find my posts about SOPA and PIPA and see where I stood on those issues. But if I’m going off on an opinion, it’s more likely one about corn shuckers in the grocery store than anything that the Republicans or the Democrats have done. This is entirely a personal decision, one made for myself that I don’t think all writers could/should/would follow me up on. I do plenty of political opinioning in real life, it gets me riled up at times, and it’s nice to have my blog as a place for calmer discussion.
There’s also that one sticking point when it comes to political opinions. Lots of people have them, and not everyone agrees with them.
This past week has seen two very prominent writers delivery two very impassioned editorials. The first was Stephen King when he called on the government to “Tax Me, for F@%&’s Sake!” and the other comes from Orson Scott Card asking “What Right Is Really At Stake?” with regard to North Carolina Amendment 1. Neither man has ever shied away from the political spotlight in the past, and these editorials are both well in line with their previous opinions on these subjects. King does not hide his liberalism, nor does Card hide his conservatism. I’m going to just state, because I think most people who know me know where I stand on these things, that I agree with Mr. King and disagree with Mr. Card. This entire post is going to be so much easier to write if I don’t pussyfoot around that.
Even though neither man has made a secret of his politics in the past, both surprised some readers and fans with there editorials. If you peruse the comments for both articles, each include several examples of “you’ve lost me as a reader.” Those six words scare the shit out of me. Certainly King and Card, both stalwarts of genre fiction, can sustain a few losses in the readership department without any major changes in their royalty checks, but I’m still trying to win people over as readers, and the thought of losing them before I even have them? That’s what keeps me away from getting too political in my posts.
But what are we as readers to do when we learn that our literary heroes don’t share our personal opinions?
It’s a tough question, and one that I’ve been churning over in my head this past day. I’m going to be honest, I’ve only read one Orson Scott Card novel. I recently found a hardback of Wyrms at a thrift store and thought I should give it a try. It was neither in the top ten or bottom ten of books I’ve read, and ultimately stands out in my memory for the rather, ahem, interesting climax the story reaches deep within the bowels of the post-industrial planet. I’ve not read the Ender series. I haven’t actively avoided it, it’s just one of those things that has never made it onto my pile. In that way it’s like The Godfather, which I’ve never seen for no reason other than I’ve never seen it.
This editorial hasn’t made me any more likely to read Ender. Perhaps it’s made me less, that’s hard to say. He hasn’t lost me as a reader, per se, but he’s made it that much harder to win me as a reader. I don’t know where I would stand if I were an existing fan of his work. I’m certain that a percentage of the readers he has “lost” with this opinion weren’t his readers to begin with, but some of them were. And it’s left them in a very difficult position, seeing a world that they potentially grew up with colored by the opinions of the author, even if those opinions may not translate to the page.
Does that mean that Card shouldn’t have said what he did? Absolutely not. Orson Scott Card is entitled to have and speak his opinions, just as Stephen King is. I doubt anyone reading this blog is going to question that fact. I’ve never understood the notion that celebrities aren’t supposed to use their celebrity to promote political opinions. Especially because what people tend to be saying is that they shouldn’t use their celebrity to promotion political opinions I disagree with. However that freedom of speech goes every which way, and I’m just as much in my right to be less interested in picking up his books, and someone else is well within their rights to put them down entirely. To stop reading the Ender series because they believe that firmly in marital rights. To stop reading the Dark Tower because they believe that firmly in tax reduction. There are also liberals out there who will go right on reading Card and conservatives who have no problem picking up King. It is neither a failure of character to walk away from these writers because of what they said, nor a failure of conviction to stay with them in spite of what they said.
This is a hard post for me to write, because I do feel like it exposes a part of me I’m not entirely comfortable with. It’s the part of me that doesn’t talk about politics because I know I’m the kind of person who might put an author down if I learned his politics varied too greatly from my own. It also forces me to look straight in the face of the part of me who disagrees categorically and completely with just about every word of Orson Scott Card’s editorial, and yet sees a certain bravery in it. Perhaps more so considering the general trend towards liberalism within genre writers. Or is that only my personal perception based on who I follow on Twitter and G+? A man who makes his living on selling himself to others through his fiction and who believes thoroughly enough in his convictions to use his significant megaphone even when he knows they’ll make him unpopular to many. It doesn’t change my opinion on his position, change my likelihood of reading him, but it is an odd moment of clarity. Which is uncomfortable and makes me twitchy, but there it is nonetheless.
Writers aren’t heroes. They’re people. They will, at times, disagree with us or even disappoint us in their opinions. Perhaps to a point that those words of theirs we read before are forever changed in our minds. This is the risk that always comes when people put themselves out there, and one of those odd bits of collateral about deciding to write. One of those things we might not all think of when we’re putting word to paper. I still stand largely where I did before on expressing my own political opinions, you’ll see them few and far between. But there is an argument for letting the chips fall where they may. No writer should ever be forced to be what they aren’t to attract or keep readers. As long as they remember they are not entitled to readers, either.
Statistics say a few people did visit this site yesterday just to find that it joined the internet-wide blackout protest against the SOPA and PIPA legislation working their way through the US House and Senate. First, I’d like to say a few words on my decision to join the protest, then a few words on why I’m against this legislation. Words I probably should have said on Tuesday.
I have, on several occasions, stated that I do not get into politics or religion on this blog, in my Twitter statuses, or over on Google+. However, there are some subjects that, while political in nature, I believe actually transcend politics. One of these is censorship, which I’ve spoken out against on several occasions in this blog. So while the battle lines being drawn in the House and Senate look partisan, my opposition to the bill has nothing to do with my personal politics, and everything to do with my anticensorship stance. That’s half of why I joined in. The other half is why I thought my little blog with its 20-30 viewers a day made any damn difference in the grand scheme of things. I don’t pretend for a moment that someone learned about SOPA or PIPA for the first time by following the link I had on my blackout page yesterday. Joining the protest was more about volume and solidarity. The potential enforcement breadth for these bills is vast and could hit both big sites like Wikipedia and comparatively microscopic sites like mine.
Actually, in the end, it could hit a site like mine much harder, because I wouldn’t have the necessary legal fund to mount any sort of appeal to the decision, I’d probably just have to take my lumps and be gone from the web.
So why, exactly, do I oppose the bill? I’ve seen some efforts made to paint anti-SOPA activists as pro-piracy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As a creator of Intellectual Property, I want to see that property protected. However the bills as written do nothing to actually protect anyone from piracy, all they’ll do is make the internet harder for the law-abiding citizen to use while stemming none of the illegal activity that happens. Whether this is because the bill authors are ignorant to the workings of the internet, or through a specific maliciousness, I could only offer opinions. Why won’t it work? Well, let’s create a tortured analogy, because I like creating those. And since this is a blog about writing, let’s use a book as an analogy.
Let’s, in fact, use a massive and hypothetical dictionary as our analogy. This dictionary contains every word and, bizarrely for a dictionary, has an index in the back. This is necessary because the words in the dictionary are actually presented in largely an apparently random order based on which language they came from and when they became words, so you need a way to figure out which page and column each word is in.
That page and column number is equivalent to an IP address. You may have seen those, they’re four sets of numbers separated by dots that usually look something like 127.0.0.1. Every website on the internet has an IP address, and if the website is so configured you can directly access it with that IP address. But they’re hard to remember, so websites instead are given nice friendly URLs, like dlthurston.com. The index in the analogy is a DNS server, a layer of the internet that translates the URL into the correct IP address so that a site can be accessed.
Back to the analogy. You’re looking through this dictionary and you see that the word “fuck” is in it. You decide that the word is offensive and that no one should be able to see that word. So you go to the index and you white it out. But here’s the problem. The word is still fully defined in the dictionary, it’s just been removed from the index. Anyone who knew where to find it will still be able to find it. This is what SOPA does, it demands that DNS servers remove the URL/IP linking to sites that are offering copyrighted materials.
But it does more than that. This dictionary is in a bigger library. Someone who knew where to find the word “fuck” in the dictionary decides to go to another book entirely and scribble in the margins where to find the word. You discover that, so what do you do? Well, an effective approach would be to figure out who the vandal was, but the approach that SOPA takes is to blame the author and publisher of the book, even if they had absolutely no control over margin scribbles.
So what can be done by the publishers and authors? Well, they can seal their books, not allowing any interaction. They could just not publish them to begin with.
In the end, it’s a completely ineffective approach to a legitimate problem, and one that will cause any number of unintended and extremely negative repercussions. It is far worse than the status quo. Fortunately SOPA is dead, but only for the time being. While yesterday’s internet protest was super effective and the bill did lose not just support but cosponsors, the remaining sponsors and authors are still promising to bring it back and try again. The primary weapons against these bills must be education and vigilance, because in the end this is the internet we’re talking about. Perhaps one of the most important inventions in the history of man for bringing people and ideas closer together. It isn’t always pretty, but burning it down out of spite is not the way to go.
Edited 3:33 pm: TED talks. Seriously, TED talks are fantastic. Not having a regularly scheduled TED and wanting to get a talk about SOPA and PIPA up, they invited Clay Shirky to explain the problems with PIPA and SOPA, all in a much more scholarly tone, and even with a better analogy than the one above.
I’ve said recently I never get political in this blog. Well…I’m about to get political. Because today is a day of action against a bill that is being put forward as a way of protecting intellectual property, or IP, but includes provisions that have implications far beyond those intentions. The bill is SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and it attempts to give the United States and its corporations censorship authority over the internet in an attempt to police any perceived violation of IP. This is dangerous legislation that gives entirely too much power over an international channel of free speech to individuals and organizations who don’t necessarily care about said speech.
Don’t know about SOPA? Some more information:
Some reading from Gizmodo.
This is the internet. It belongs to everyone.
I create Intellectual Property, anyone who writes does. And I want that IP protected. But…it is. There’s already plenty of provisions in place that legitimately protect IP without passing legislation that will do nothing to stop those who are looking to pirate, the bill’s very stated claim, while only serving to harass websites and social media.
So this IP creator says thanks, but no thanks, to this protection.