Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Open Letter to the United States Congress

It's time to exercise your privilege and responsibility as a citizen of the United States of America. I encourage you to take a few minutes out of your (understandably) busy schedule to protect your Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the presses, by opposing SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act:

- You can write your own letter, or copy and paste the one I wrote if you like it (see below), but make sure to say something to your representatives in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Remember that in politics, silence is consent!

- You can find out who your representatives are by going to

- If you've got the time, you can read the full text of the bill.

- If you don't have the time, you can watch Hank Green's video, "Top 5 Reasons ████ ██ ██████" which explains exactly why SOPA would be so bad for the internet and freedom of speech. (He talks about the movie "Akira" for the first 28 seconds, but rest assured, it's not irrelevant to the point he's making about SOPA).

Dear Congressman/Congresswoman/Senator,

I’ve been hearing a lot about the Stop Online Piracy Act (a.k.a. “SOPA”, or “H.R. 3261”), and most of what I’m hearing is very negative.

I may not work with the film or music industries, but I do work for Google (through a third-party vendor named Genpact), and I speak with small advertisers and online business-owners every day. I see firsthand how many Americans depend on the internet for their income; whether they have brick-and-mortar stores or are entirely online, the internet is the great equalizer of American commerce, and one of our only economic engines that’s doing well in the current economy.

I feel strongly that the powers which would be granted to large entertainment corporations by the provisions within SOPA are unfair to the aforementioned small businesses, as well as freedom of speech and freedom of the presses. Essentially, SOPA will allow a small group of persons not elected by the people to make themselves a de facto internet censorship bureau, with no forms of oversight, redress, or recall. It would be possible for large companies and entertainment giants to wage legal war on one another for the right to distribute content, but small advertisers (such as the ones I work with every day through Google AdWords™) simply don’t have the resources or the time to do that. They would be forced to allow large corporations to shut them down, and would have no effective means to challenge such decisions. Any content which media giants found offensive or inconvenient, they would be able to remove instantly from public view, without any need for a warrant, and without any form of government oversight.

Over the last few years, acts of so-called piracy have increased dramatically. I myself must admit to occasionally watching movies through YouTube and other video sites, but typically only when the film in question is fairly old or rare, and proves difficult to rent or purchase. With ticket prices as high they are, and the economy as it is, there are few Americans who can afford to take their entire family to the newest 3D blockbuster at $15 per person. When one considers that with the advent of user-generated content, one can find almost limitless entertainment online (and all for free), it’s not hard to understand why the market is less and less willing to bear the cost of traditional, “legitimate” means of purchasing entertainment.

I’m not trying to defend internet piracy. What they do is illegal, and involves the distribution of something they do not own and have no right to distribute, even if it is intangible information. But the free market, America’s vox populi, is trying to tell us something. The market no longer views entertainment as the sole province of content-creating professionals, but a collaborative process in which all people may participate. Our views on entertainment, and how much we are willing to pay to be entertained, are changing, and Hollywood needs to change with them.

Napster® and iTunes® are excellent examples of how big business changes (or fails to change) with the times. Napster showed up in the late nineties, ready to change the very nature of the music business, but rather than embracing a new, more efficient and democratic business model, the media giants chose to gang up and crush Napster® before it could mature. A scant few years later, iTunes® showed up on the scene with the backing of a major corporation, fast and reliable service, and prices which reflected how much people were actually willing to pay for their music. The result has been one of the most widely-used and enjoyed music download services in the world. SOPA seeks to undo the progress which has been made in the ten years since Napster® first pointed out that there might be a better way of doing things.

I don’t object to corporations having the power to protect their interests. I don’t even necessarily object to the large salaries given to powerful CEOs, musicians, and movie stars. What I object to is this attempt by Hollywood to dictate not just how people should spend their money, and how much money they should spend, but what people can and cannot put on the internet. The American government was created with a built-in system of checks and balances (as any grade-schooler can tell you), to allow each branch of government to prevent the abuse of power by another branch.

SOPA will grant corporations and CEOs, who are not elected by the American people, powers which are effectively the same as those possessed by certain branches of the U.S. government, but without any form of oversight, transparency, or accountability. This is an irresistible invitation to bad behavior on the part of those being granted these powers. I, for one, will not support this bill, nor will any Representative who supports it receive my vote in future elections. As a matter of fact, I will not cast my vote for any member of a Congress which allows such a bill to pass. I hate to hold your feet to the fire, but the duty of my Representative is to make my voice heard in Congress and the Senate, and if my current Representative is unable to do so, I will be forced to cast my vote for a Representative who is able to do so.

Furthermore, I feel that if America passes this bill, it will seriously damage our credibility in international politics, while we urge countries like China and Iran to stop censoring the internet in their own countries. If we threaten economic sanctions against these rogue states while simultaneously curtailing freedom of the presses and freedom of speech in our own country, we’re not just sending mixed messages; we’re undermining our own credibility, making it look as if the values we attempt to “impose” on the rest of the world are not even cherished and protected in our own country.

I may be only one citizen, but there are many others who feel the same way as I, but lack the time or the inclination to write such long-form letters as I have written you. Perhaps they don’t know about SOPA. Perhaps they don’t care. But I can say for certain that when small businesses start to go bankrupt because large corporations are blocking their attempts to upload new and original content to the internet, their ire will turn on those who signed into law the bill which allows those corporations to thwart their efforts to carve themselves a slice of the American Dream.

David F.K. Wurtsmith

Monday, December 19, 2011

NaNoWriMo: The Aftermath

November was pretty crazy, as you can tell by the fact that we're more than halfway through December before I got around to posting this. I barely had time to see Brianna on a regular basis, let alone anyone else. It was a long slog, and there were more than a few points where I felt like giving up. Most of these moments occurred in the second week, though when I logged in the day after Black Friday and saw the 5,000-word deficit in my word count... well, that was the bleakest moment of my November, let me tell you.

But, against all reason and my own inclination, I persisted. I smashed my own maximum daily output records on two consecutive days. On the November 25th, I more than doubled the largest number of words I'd ever written in a single day. The next day I surpassed even my own newly-set record, and this time without the help of pre-written material in my notebook that I could simply transcribe.

I think that this remarkable increase in productivity would not have been possible without a marvelous pep-talk from Brandon Sanderson. All the other pep-talks this month were by professional writers, but Sanderson I knew by name. He's finishing the Wheel of Time books after the untimely death of their author, Robert Jordan. In his pep talk, Sanderson confided in us that even he, a professional and fairly successful writer, had never completed an attempt at NaNoWriMo, despite doing it for many years. Perversely, it was the knowledge that it would be okay to fall short, and that I would be in good company if I did, that gave me the strength to pull ahead and cross the finish line.

The last days were full of anticipation, and eagerness to regain the alluring jewel known as "Having Free-Time." After a month, its absence was sorely missed from my life.

I at about 10pm EST on November 30th, the final day of NaNoWriMo. My reward was small: an eight-second video of congratulations from the Office of Letters and Light staff, and a full-color printout certificate of victory. I did a little booty-shaking victory dance for Brianna's amusement, printed out two copies of my certificate (one for home and one for work), and promptly went to bed.

The next day, I posted online that I'd won. A few people congratulated me, but otherwise, life went on much as it had before (and during) NaNoWriMo.

Except it wasn't the same. I had become that rarest of rare birds: the Novelist. I had completed NaNoWriMo once before, in 2007, but the draft was utter crap, and it never went anywhere. This year's attempt was different. I wasn't just writing for the sake of overcoming a challenge or winning a wager with myself: I had a story to tell, a story that I believed in, a story that I needed to tell, no matter the cost.