Monday, May 18, 2009

Amazon: A History of Homophobia?

Pat Holt, in her Holt Uncensored blog, had some interesting things to say about a court case from ten years ago. You may recall that Amazon Bookstore, a feminist bookstore in Minneapolis, sued because of the name confusion. Oddly enough, it seems that the lawyers for thought that repeatedly asking about the sexual orientation of Amazon Bookstore's owners was an appropriate line of questioning in a trademark infringement case.

This reminder combined with another issue to make me even more annoyed with

Someone e-mailed me complaining about the price of my ebooks. I do give Book I of the trilogy away for free in multiple ebook formats (see this page), but she felt that, at $9.99 each for Books II and III, I was charging too much.

But here's the catch. When I listed my books on's Kindle site, I agreed to their terms. One of their terms is that I can't sell the books anywhere else for less than the retail price I set with And since takes 65% of the retail price, that means that at $9.99, I receive over a dollar less for an ebook than I receive for a paperback.

I am reluctant to charge more than $9.99 for an ebook, because most ebook readers, especially Kindle readers, expect to pay no more than that. But when I list the ebooks in other formats on other sites, I have to charge the full $9.99 retail price. Most of these ebookstores offer the publisher more generous terms than Amazon does. Many of them even allow the publisher to set the discount amount.

I could lower the price of my ebooks on non-Amazon sites and still make a reasonable profit on the books, but Amazon's terms prevent me from doing so. And if I lower my retail price, I lose too much on the Kindle sales, which are the vast majority of my ebook sales. It's a real double-bind. And it disturbs me that Amazon has so much power to set prices in the marketplace because of the popularity of their ereader device.

Maybe in a few years, when more (and cheaper) ereader devices are available and other ebookstores can compete effectively with, the price of ebooks will come down.

I hope consumers come to realize that Amazon's virtual monopoly is not a good thing for readers or writers.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My gay agenda -- Item #2

I never realized how difficult it would be to have an agenda. How does one come up with an agenda? It's one thing to have an idea of how you'd like the world to be, but quite another to suggest ways of achieving change. Especially when it comes to changing other people.

I did manage to come up with Item #2 for my gay agenda:

I want someone in AUTHORITY (Congress, The President, the Supreme Court) to remind the American People why our Constitution protects our right to Freedom of Religion, which also protects our right to Freedom from Religion.

Perhaps a little history lesson is in order:
After centuries of religious wars in Europe, in which Christians of various sects maimed and killed each other over whose brand of Christianity was the right one, people began to realize that no one was ever going to win, and that maybe all that killing and maiming might just be a little un-Christian.

And guess who came to America? People who were being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

What amazes me is that most Americans can easily criticize the Taliban and other Muslim extremists for imposing the harsh penalties prescribed by their religion (cutting off the hands of thieves, for example, or stoning to death a woman who has been raped, and therefore has technically committed adultery), yet few stop to think that, by insisting that our laws conform to their religious beliefs, they are doing pretty much the same thing.

What no one really seems to come to grips with is that, while it may be possible to compel behavior, it is impossible to compel belief. You can force me at gunpoint to go to church, and maybe you can insist rather forcefully that I mouthe certain prayers or credos, but you can't change what is in my mind or in my heart. That's the best reason not to force a religion or set of religious beliefs on anyone. It simply doesn't work.

And of course when you protect my right to believe and worship (or not worship) as I see fit, you protect your own right to do the same. If my rights can be abrogated, so can yours.

So keeping all that in mind, let's contemplate gay marriage. Or how about we just contemplate marriage, because I think we haven't given sufficient thought to what marriage is.

When a man and a woman marry in the religious tradition of their choice, they presumably make a commitment to found a family according to the beliefs of their religion about what constitutes a family, and what the rights, duties, and obligations of the spouses are. As a bonus, the state also agrees to recognize the new couple as a family.

Believe it or not, there are religious institutions that perform same-sex marriages, but so far only a few states (and not the federal government) acknowledge that two men or two women can form a family.

Prop 8 in California (which denies same-sex couples the right to marry) would never have been passed if not for the massive support of churches. Why do religious people feel they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on others?

It has been suggested that the state scrap marriage altogether, and just recognize civil unions between two people. So any male-female couple can have all the rights we now accord to married couples, but they won't have a marriage license, they'll have a civil union license, and if they want, their religious institution can provide a marriage license, just as they now provide a certificate of baptism, which is not the same thing as a birth certificate.

Because it seems it's the word "marriage" that gets folks all steamed up. And I don't think most gay people care what you call it, as long as their relationships are accorded the same respect as the relationships of the majority.

The Supreme Court of the State of California said:
retaining the traditional definition of marriage and affording same-sex couples only a separate and differently named family relationship will, as a realistic matter, impose appreciable harm on same-sex couples and their children, because denying such couples access to the familiar and highly favored designation of marriage is likely to cast doubt on whether the official family relationship of same-sex couples enjoys dignity equal to that of opposite-sex couples.

Here's the entire text of the decision:

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

My gay agenda -- Item #1

Since I am so often accused of having an agenda, I thought I might as well come up with one.

Coming up with an agenda, though, is a bit of a head-scratcher, because I really don't want to rule the world. Just my little part of it. And not rule it, exactly, but maybe influence it a little, to make it a bit more comfy. Like plumping up sofa cushions.

So here's something that would make me much more comfy.

My gay agenda item #1:

I wish I would never again hear anyone speak of the way I love as if it were something dirty.

Let's consider my experience of the past few weeks. First removed my books from their searches because they considered the content "adult." And then the West Bend, Wisconsin, County Council wanted to toss my books out of the public library.

The cause of both these incidents was neither a glitch nor a vast rightwing conspiracy. It was ignorance. And what is the cure for ignorance? Information. Information that we find in things like, oh, books, which we obtain from places like, oh, and the public library.

These ignorant people don't want anyone, especially the young, to see a book that might depict the lives of gay people in a non-negative way. Amazon did not remove from searches A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Once the other gay books were gone, that one came up #1 in searches on homosexuality. (It still does, along with several others that are clearly anti-gay.) And I doubt the West Bend County Council would object to keeping books like You Don't Have To Be Gay in the YA section.

Being old, I am long past being upset by things like this, but being old, I tire easily, and this is one battle I'm tired of fighting.

So let me witness here that all those ignorant efforts are in vain. I grew up in the 1950s, when homosexuality was all but completely invisible, and I was still gay, even then. I grew up in a society that was overwhelmingly heterosexual, and I never knew (or knew I knew) anyone who was gay until I was well into my 20s, and I was still gay. Before I was 25, I never read a book, saw a movie or TV show, went to a play, or heard a song on the radio that suggested that maybe a girl might fall in love with a girl, but I did anyway.

Seeing ignorant people trying to make us disappear doesn't hurt my feelings anymore, but it does make me feel their disrespect--disrespect for who I am, for what I've accomplished in my life, and for the one thing that makes our lives worth living: love.

To anyone who would say to me, You will go to hell for sins against nature, my reply will always be, If you believe in hell, which I do not, you may find yourself there one day for sins against love.

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