May, 2006

7 May 2006, by

Vacation Time!!!

Every May, Susan and I take a vacation, usually to the beach in North Carolina. This year is no exception. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Raleigh as I write this. I’m speaking to the Civil War Roundtable here tomorrow night, and then it’s on to Wilmington for the rest of the week. I have the Cape Fear CWRT on Thursday night, hosted by my good friend Chris Fonvielle.

The difference this year is that for only the second time in my nineteen-year career, I am taking two weeks off in one shot. When we leave Wilmington a week from today, instead of heading home, we’re off to a second week in the Outer Banks. We won’t be home until May 21.

Part of my reason for telling you this is so that you don’t expect me to be hugely prolific when it comes to blogging while I’m gone. There will be a few posts, but I very seriously doubt that it will happen daily. If there are gaps, please forgive me, I AM on vacation, after all. 🙂

Part of the plan for today was to make a stop and do a bit of battlefield stomping at the Guilford Court House National Military Park on our way to Raleigh. Unfortunately, the battlefield gods were unhappy with me today, because it’s been raining hard since we hit Charleston, West Virginia. As we didn’t have a lot of time to visit the battlefield, and it was raining hard, we decided not to stop, to save it for another day, and just press on to Raleigh. We put in a good 500 miles today, and decided it was better to just get to our hotel here, have dinner, and have a quiet evening resting up. Sorry I have no battlefield stomping after-action report for you. There will be at least one during this trip, as I intend to see the sites on Hatteras Island associated with the Burnside expedition.

I hope everyone has a good week.

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Last week, I posted about a law suit that had been filed by a blogger for criticizing the State of Maine and its marketing agency. In that post, I mentioned that I was so horrified by the filing of this sort of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit against a blogger exercising his right of free speech that I was thinking about offer my legal services on a pro bono basis.

I decided to do so yesterday. In researching the suit and its status, I discovered that Lance Dutson, the blogger who was sued, was being represented by lawyers who are associated with The Media Bloggers Association, an advocacy group for bloggers. Here’s the mission statement for the group: “The Media Bloggers Association is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting, protecting and educating its members; supporting the development of ‘blogging’ or ‘citizen journalism’ as a distinct form of media; and helping to extend the power of the press, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails, to every citizen.”

Part of that advocacy is providing a network of attorneys well-versed in the sorts of intellectual property issues that arise, as well as the First Amendment and media law issues that go hand-in-hand. Today, I decided to volunteer some of my time to assist in the MBA’s efforts. If I can do some good, I am happy to do so.

The SLAPP suit against Dutson seems to have backfired, by the way. The MBA spread the word rapidly, and the blogosphere rallied around Lance Dutson. The plaintiff is now backpedaling quickly in the wake of a tsunami of criticism and scorn, and the governor of Maine has asked for a meeting of all of the parties in the hope of making this go away quietly and very quickly. We shall see. If it does go away quickly and quietly, it will be a real victory for the First Amendment, bloggers, and the MBA in particular.

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Apparently, there is justice in this world.

Today, Little Brown, the publisher of Kaavya Viswanathan’s novel, pulled the plug on the thing permanently after learning that Viswanathan had stolen from two other authors. “Little, Brown and Company will not be publishing a revised edition of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan, nor will we publish the second book under contract,” Michael Pietsch, Little Brown’s senior vice president and publisher, said in a statement.

It turns out that Visnawathan stole from the book version of The Princess Diaries by Megan Cabot and also from a book called Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella. Various accounts have reported the same kinds of spookily similar passages in Visnawathan’s book as passages from these two works, much like the eerie similarity of passage from two books by Megan McCafferty that I noted here last week. As I said then, there are simply too many verbatim or nearly verbatim restatements for these things to be coincidental. It’s extremely interesting to note that Visnawathan has suddenly gone silent, refusing comment and refusing to talk to the press. It seems to me that the deafening silence is the best evidence of her guilt; if she was indeed innocent, wouldn’t she be protesting her innocence loudly?

As an author who has worked hard to maintain his integrity and honesty, I am tickled to learn that Little Brown has done the right thing here and has not only pulled the plug on revising the existing book, but also in canceling its contract with the plagiarist. It remains to be seen whether Kinsella or Cabot will pursue copyright infringement claims against Visnawathan (I sincerely hope they do), or whether Little Brown will sue to recover the large advance that it paid to Visnawathan on breach of contract grounds.

Irrespective of whether the publisher or the other authors take legal action, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Kaavya Visnawathan’s career as a novelist is over. That, in and of itself, is poetic justice. Of course, Hollywood being what it is, she’ll probably land a tell-all book deal and sell the movie rights and make a fortune, thus receiving a huge reward for being a thief.

I can only hope that doesn’t happen. Sadly, though, P. T. Barnum was quite correct when he said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” In a society where a brainless, completely talentless bimbo like Paris Hilton is considered newsworthy and admirable for no reason other than genetics, I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope. However, I remain optimistic and I pray that he will be proved wrong and that justice will be served by Visnawathan’s impending fade into obscurity.

At the very least, my belief in the power of karma has been restored. There is justice in this world.

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Susan and I purchased this house in March 1995. It was built in 1968, and featured lots of lovely early Brady Bunch decor features such as olive green floor tile, harvest gold appliances, yellow bathroom fixtures, and lovely flocked wallpaper. We were only the third owners of the house (and still are, for that matter). The thing is that neither of us has ever liked this house. She thought I liked it, and I thought she liked it. Consequently, we decided to purchase this place even though we both hate it. The only things it had going for it are that it is located precisely halfway between Susan’s mother’s place and Susan’s grandmother’s place, and that it has a large fenced yard that’s great for large dogs. However, even that is not without its problems–there’s a portion of the yard that has atrocious drainage, and about half the time, it’s like gelatinous goo out there with bottomless mud that provides a very attractive nuisance for golden retrievers. Needless to say, we spend far more time than we might otherwise enjoy wiping muddy doggy feet as a consequence. We moved in on tax day, and have been here ever since.

When Susan’s grandmother died, we ended up with a bunch of her crap that got stuck in our basement. Then, when Susan’s mother died, we ended up with a lot of her stuff, too. Mix in the fact that we tend to be clutter people and have way too much crap of our own, and it’s a real recipe for disaster.

There’s a nearly 40 year old silver maple tree in the front yard. At this point, it’s as tall as the house, which means it has a huge root network. That huge root network is the root of our problem. The roots broke up the masonry main sewer line, and it then backed up into the basement. Not realizing that the line was broken, we had it snaked out, and everything was okay for about two months, and then it happened again. The plumber ran a camera down the line, and we got to see the true state of affairs: the line was hopelessly broken in multiple places and was far beyond repair. Seven thousand dollars later, we had a brand new PVC main sewer line that’s impervious to the roots.

The problem is that two major back-ups of the main sewer line turned the basement into a toxic waste zone, and we avoided the problem by not going down there unless absolutely necessary. It’s incredibly dusty down there–I am allergic to dust–and God only knows what else. We’ve realized that try as we might, we can no longer avoid that particular zone of the house, and tonight we started cleaning it out. It’s a horror zone down there, and finishing the job is going to be a nightmare. I suspect that I’m going to have to end up hiring someone to finish the job, I recently saw and check out this House Cleaning service in Boise for better results. Because I’ve already got a sinus headache from the short time I had to spend down there. It’s a damned good thing that there’s very little down there worth keeping.

I can’t wait to get out of this house that I hate, but I absolutely dread the process that will be entailed.

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