I met her my first year of university in Sarasota, Florida, at a tiny college that is now at war with Ron Desantis called New College. It wasn’t my first year of uni—I’d been to two other universities by that point already, and would ultimately end up getting my degree from yet another—but it was my first year there.
She played a song for me. Well, she played several songs for me, really—she’s the reason I still love the Indigo Girls—but she played a particular song for me, Gaudì, by the Alan Parsons Project.
That opened up a rabbit hole. It was 1990, just before the Internet as we know it started to become a thing, and I wanted to find out everything I could about Antoni Gaudì, the completely bonkers architect, and the Sagrada Familia, his most famous work.
I resolved then that one day I would visit Barcelona and see the Sagrada Familia myself.
Last month, I did. It was, by a large margin, more magnificent than I could have imagined.
Mad scientists get all the media limelight. Not enough people truly appreciate mad architects.
The Sagrada Familia is deliriously, exuberantly bonkers, a brash monument to defiance of conventional ideas about working stone.
A lot of folks are familiar with it, at least in passing. If you see a photo of the exterior, odds are good you’ll recognize Gaudì’s weird, still-under-construction cotton-candy masterpiece.
Apologies in advance, this post is about to get really image-heavy. All bandwidth abandon, ye who enter here.
We were in Barcelona last month to spend some quality time together, and to do a photo shoot of the Borg Queen xenomorph hiphugger parasite strapon, about which more later.
Our first full day in Barcelona (or was it our second? The days blurred together), some of us headed out into the Spain summer heat to see the gloriously insane architectural wonder of the Basilica of the Sacred Family.
(They did not, of course, allow bunny ears inside the church.)
The place was…words fail. Brilliant. Grand. Magnificent beyond anything I expected. I cried when we got there.
I’ve seen photos, of course. But no pictures, not even the ones I’m posting here, can do any justice to the scale of the place. Even standing outside doesn’t give you a sense of the enormity of this monument to a strange man’s strange vision.
These oddly angular figures are much larger than life-sized, with a Cubist vibe I really dig.
The level of detail absolutely everywhere, inside and out, is just breathtaking. Gaudì was obsessed with animal motifs, that decorate the walls and doors all around the church.
One of the many doors is this enormous heavy thing of bronze, designed by Josep Maria Subirachs. (And yes, the text is backward on the door.)
I love that you can tell which symbols resonate with people by which symbols visitors touch.
Oh, but the inside…
The inside is where you truly get a sense of just how enormous, how vast this space truly is.
These photos don’t do it justice. No photos do it justice. The sheer overwhelming magnitude of this vast space inspires awe.
Just standing in this vaulted space, just existing here, is a deeply, profoundly awe-inspiring sensation.
We got here after a long (and honestly rather tedious) guided tour of the outside, which I recommend you skip if you ever visit—it was almost enough to suck one’s soul through one’s ears, so incredibly bland and boring it was.
I don’t rightly comprehend how it’s possible to make Gaudì or his grand creation boring, but somehow, the tour guide did it.
But all that was burned away in the avalanche of wonderment at stepping through the door into the church and really appreciating, for the first time, such incomprehensible beauty.
Standing there bathed in ethereal light, it’s hard not to feel like you’re within some living thing.
Even the light itself is alive, as much a part of the architecture as the stone and the glass. This space flows with light, in a way no picture can ever show. The light moves constantly, always changing, brilliant, flowing along the walls as the earth spins and the sun moves across the sky, never the same from moment to moment..
Every time you look up, it’s different, the light, the color, bringing even more life to what always feels alive.
My friend Alice, who I met in Tallinn some years ago, was able to join us in Barcelona. She found a quiet place from which to try to capture the extraordinary play of light and stone in watercolor.
When I visited St. Paul’s in the Vatican, I saw a monument to tedious human greed, every pope trying to outdo the one before, inscribing their names in gold above each new wing. Here…this place is the opposite of that, beauty rather than hubris, inspiration instead of braggadocio.
Everywhere your eye turns, there’s more to see, more to discover, more to explore. The breathtaking level of detail that fills every part of this space is hard to take in, yet it all works together exquisitely.
Even the essential infrastructure, utilitarian things like staircases, become objects of beauty.
Backing up to take the whole thing in, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and humbled. I visited the Sagrada Familia twice, and it made me cry both times.
It still isn’t finished, and won’t be for decades. Antoni Gaudì envisioned a cathedral in the old style, a work of generations finished a century more after it began, touched by the hands of many architects.
Some of the more modern elements include design philosophies that Gaudì might not have chosen, like this strangely abstract Jesus re-envisioned as a Sith Lord, but that’s part of the point.
He saw the Sagrada Familia as a sort of paper boat set adrift into the future, something he would never live to see completed, a project that would be guided by future generations long after his time was over.
It’s a heady and powerful thing to touch those walls and feel the way it has become not one person’s project, but a project by humanity. No words or images I am capable of can ever truly express even one percent of the incredible experience of being alive to witness such a magnificent undertaking.
I started blogging on this very day in 2001, when I created my LiveJournal account. My how the internet landscape has changed in the past twenty-two years.
My first LiveJournal post is still up, and indeed my entire LiveJournal is mirrored on blog.franklinveaux.com. I still use LiveJournal occasionally, though these days I’m most active over on Quora.
My first blog post, back when I hadn’t the faintest idea what a blog was for, included a set of photos I’d taken, so it seems reasonable that a post on the copper anniversary (and who comes up with these rules, anyway? Why isn’t there a ytterbium anniversary? There should be a ytterbium anniversary) I should do the same.
A scene from the Thames River at night, June 24, 2023.
Dramatic sky from the balcony of the place we stayed in London
Graffiti at a skate park in London.
The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid in uni. The reality was even more magnificent than I imagined. (I have an entire blog post brewing about that, in fact.)
It’s been a wild twenty-two years. I am grateful for most of it, but most of all, I’m grateful to have been given the extraordinary, and extraordinarily rare, opportunity to exist, to have these brief moments in the sun.
I spent roughly thirteen billion years not existing, and some decades existing. Existence is better.
I’ve now been back from Barcelona for a week, but I still don’t have my luggage (thanks, WestJet!). I’m way, waaaaay behind on processing and posting photos from the trip, including from the two days I spent at the Sagrada Familia (which was magnificent beyond what I ever imagined), so here’s a quick teaser from a Barcelona photo shoot of the alien xenomorph hiphugger Borg Queen parasite.
A few days ago I uploaded a smartphone pic of my wife being test-fit with the alien xenomorph hiphugger strapon to Twitter and Facebook. I’m in Florida right now taking care of my mom, so I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity to do a test fitting of the latest prototype with her.
I posted this photo:
…and man, the Internet exploded. I woke up this morning to find the Facebook pic had been shared almost a thousand times (including, I’m told, on the official Sigorney Weaver fan site?), my inbox was jammed with people asking where they can get one, and two OnlyFans performers and an adult toy store owner wanted to talk with me.
So I think it’s time for…
The Official Borg Queen Alien Xenomorph Hiphigger Strapon Frequently Asked Questions!
Ready? Here we go!
1. What is this thing?
It’s all Joreth’s fault is what it is.
Go back in time to 1977. I saw Star Wars as a kid on opening night, and for the next five years I was obsessed. I had Star Wars trading cards, Star Wars models, Star Wars everything.
So when the movie Alien came out in 1979, my parents were like he loves Star Wars, this is a space movie, he’ll love Alien.
So they took a kid. To see Alien. I had nightmares about it for the next thirty years. I still do occasionally. The creature from Alien is the shape of all my fears.
When we started planning a get-togther of the extended polyamorous network back in 2018 (interrupted by COVID), Joreth was like “you’re terrified of the creature from Alien, right? I love pushing your buttons! You should design a strapon based on that creature! And for extra horror, I can wear Star Trek Borg Queen cosplay with it!”
And thus was born the Alien Xenomorph Hiphugger Strapon, a project I’ve been working on for about four years now.
2. Okay, okay, but the real question: Where can I get one?
Ah, now that’s a question!
So okay, here’s the thing. Right now, four prototypes exist. The test-fit revealed a design flaw in the harness, which I’m fixing.
Each prototype takes about $80-$90 worth of silicone and about three days of work to make, which is a way of saying that if I make them for sale, they’re going to be very expensive. Every one is hand-made, and the process is a beast. (Also, these things are heavy! That’s a huge honkin’ bit o’ silicone.)
How expensive? I don’t know yet.
Where can you get them? Right now, I’m open for commissions over at my new Web site, Tentacle Love.
I’ve scheduled a photo shoot in mid-May with a model I’m really looking forward to working with, so look for a site redesign, and more information about the Xenomorph Hiphugger Strapon, in June.
Note: I am considering making designs available at reduced cost for OnlyFans models, porn performers, and porn studios, in exchange for a link back to the tentacle.love website.
3. What is it made of?
The hiphugger itself is 100% medical-grade, body-safe silicone. The straps are nylon, anchored to a steel ring in the body. The tube is food-grade silicone.
4. How does it work?
The straps are riveted to a steel ring inside the body of the hiphugger and go around the wearer’s hips. (I’m modifying the design so that instead of two straps around your hips, there’s one strap around your waist and one around each leg.)
There’s a food-grade silicone tube through the tail, attached to a (rather large) reservoir. The reservoir might need to be smaller; 150ml is a lot of xenomorph slime.
5. Can you make other colors?
Yes. If and when I make these for sale, they can be any color you like.
6. Why on earth…??
I’m terrified of the alien from Alien. My wife likes pushing my buttons. The extended polyamorous network is having a get-together next month, so we* have planned a Borg Queen Xenomorph Gangbang.
I legit never expected the idea of an alien xenomorph sex toy to blow up like it did.
* By which I mean my wife, my girlfriend, and my crush, with participation from my Talespinner, which is why there are four prototypes.
7. Star Trek and Alien? Isn’t that crossing the streams? You never cross the streams!
Have you seen the Borg Queen?
If that’s not an organism begging to be parasitized by the alien, I don’t know what is.
Of course, all the mechanization might interfere with the normal alien reproductive cycle. So rather than the facehugger attaching to the Borg Queen’s face and planting an embryo in its chest, it attaches to the Borg Queen’s hips, where it controls the Borg Queen’s mind, filling her with an unnatural, unslakeable lust, a burning desire to spread the xenomorph’s eggs through its ovipositor. The Borg Queen can think of nothing save the indescribable pleasure that floods every corner of her being when she finds a new host for the xenomorph that now controls her mind.
Joreth is working on a cosplay costume that combines elements of xenomorph and borg design. I’m 3D printing parts of it—I’ve learned to 3D print parts directly bonded to tulle, so she can sew them onto the costume.
8. Is there a facehugger version?
Yes! It’s not as far along; I’ve been working on it for less than a year, and only one early-stage prototype exists.
The facehugger legs wrap around the wearer’s head and are secured by straps. The tail goes around the wearer’s neck, of course, and the ovipositor…well, you know.
The ovipositor is made of a different, soft silicone—the type fleshlights are made from—so it feels very soft and horrifyingly flesh-like in the mouth.
9. These look like they’re designed to squirt. So…what do they squirt?
Glad you asked.
That’s also been an area of ongoing research. I’ve worked on developing an appropriately horrifying material to squirt, because of course, the aliens are known for their slime.
What I’ve come up with is a mix of edible lube, food coloring, and cooked mini tapioca pearls. It’s awful.
I’ve made it transparent and in all kinds of colors. I think the green is the worst. Just the thing for your alien egg ovipositor needs.
For those who prefer reproductive fluid in a more traditional color, or who want something perhaps more suitable for oral ovipositor use, a mix of milk, heavy cream, and tapioca pearls is suitably awful.
The facehugger is especially bad because the ovipositor is so soft it swells and then…wriggles when the tapioca pearls go through it.
10. How on earth did you make this thing?
Okay, now that is a loooong story. If you want to know the geeky technical stuff, read on! If the nerdy bit doesn’t interest you feel free to skip this part.
When Joreth first approached me with the idea, I used a 3D modeling program called Blender to make a facehugger. I made the tail into a dildo, then 3D printed a hard plastic version so I could get a sense of scale, because it’s hard to tell in a computer.
I printed several versions, using each one to make adjustments to the design until it was the size and shape I wanted.
It went through five or six design revisions before I got a version I was happy with.
I took the model into a program called Meshmixer to make a mold for casting silicone, then 3D printed the mold.
I actually had to get an oversized 3D printer to make the mold, because it’s so big! A normal consumer 3D printer isn’t even close to large enough. The hiphugger uses a 5-part mold; the facehugger uses a 10-part mold.
I couldn’t figure out how to cast something this complex; a normal split mold doesn’t work because the tail and the ovipositor actually connect to the body at different angles in a way that makes a traditional multi-cavity mold impossible. As near as I can tell, I’ve invented three new silicone casting techniques in the process of making this thing!
Each one is cast in several stages. The hiphugger requires three separate pours, with the silicone curing between each pour. The facehugger requires five pours with two different types of silicone.
I’me now on version 7 of the mold, with a new version 8 coming to make the harness work better.
Recently, a Quora user asked a question about what problems we, the Internet horde, have with leftists.
I kinda wanted to start my answer with “the biggest problem I have with leftists is how easily they turn to being whiny, self-indulgent, virtue signaling pricks too lazy to do the work demanded by the ethics that they so love to pat themselves on the back about,” but Joreth thinks maybe that might not go over so well as an introductory paragraph, so perhaps I’ll start a bit more gently.
Oh dear. It seems I’ve started that way after all. Well then, to arms! Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war! I mean, god knows I spend a lot of time dishing on conservatives, so maybe it’s time for liberals to get some of that attention. You know, in the spirit of generosity and fairness of heart.
Image: stillfx on Adobe
One of the biggest differences between liberals and conservatives centers on social organization, and appears to be a consequence of concrete, identifiable structural differences in the brain.
Conservatives favor vertical social hierarchies divided into leaders and followers, high status and low status. A place for everyone, in other words, and everyone in their place.
Legitimate authority is to be obeyed without question; questioning authority is treason, an offense against all society. People on the bottom of the hierarchy should know their place and not get uppity.
People are sorted by physiology, and presenting yourself outside the accepted norms that communicate your station and position in the hierarchy—men wearing “women’s” clothing, people of one race “putting on airs” of another race (especially one of higher stature), these things are absolutely unacceptable.
Liberals, on the other hand, favor a horizontal, flat social organization. Leaders are not above everyone else, they serve everyone else. Questioning leaders to keep them on the right track? That’s not treason, that’s Tuesday. People who are structurally marginalized or disempowered by social convention? It’s the duty of society to equalize their position.
Which, okay, well and good, but…
Liberals like to ridicule conservatives as delusional imbeciles with their “alternative facts,” weird conspiracy nutters always yammering on about absurd hallucinations like “Jewish space lasers” and Democrat sex-slave rings run from the basement of a pizza shop that’s doesn’t have a basement.
But at the same time, liberals embrace their own delusions, they’re just delusions of a different flavor, and they go right back to that horizontal social structure ideology.
So a couple years ago, this guy:
got into hot water over the N-word.
No, not that N-word. The Chinese word 那个, pronounced something like “nà ge.”
This guy is Greg Patton. He’s a professor at the University of Southern California, where he teaches, among other things, business communication.
He was teaching about filler words—words that lack specific meaning but are inserted as pauses. English filler words include “like,” “uh,” and “um.” Spanish filler words include “pues” and “a ver.” German filler words include “ach so” and “klar.”
Chinese filler words include 那个. And 那个 sounds enough like the other n-word that students complained and he was removed from the class.
This illustrates a problem, absolutely endemic in certain liberal circles, that several people I know call “rounding up to abuse.” Liberals get absolutely giddy over the idea that one of their own turns out to be An Abuser of some kind—a secret racist, a secret homophobe, whatever. They absolutely delight in it, and so will go hunting for reasons to label people atop the current social hierarchy Bad People.
Part of it is personal kudos and virtue signaling. “Look at me! Look at me! I’m not like those others! Watch as I tear down the hierarchy! Watch me stick it to The Man! Hey, everyone, look at me! Aren’t I wonderful? I’m a good person! I stand with the downtrodden! Praise me!”
But that’s only part of it.
Part of it is that a lot of liberals absolutely, positively loooooove being bullies…as long as they can make themselves believe their bullying is in defense of the marginalized and downtrodden.
image: Victor on Adobe
Yes, I’m serious.
I know liberals always whine about what bullies conservatives are. “The cruelty is the point,” we say of conservative policies.
And it’s true. Conservatives love bullying. They’re quite open about it. They get off on it. That’s why they punch down; in the hierarchical order of things it’s acceptable to bully people lower on the hierarchy than you are.
Liberals also love to bully people, but they’re sanctimonious about it. They say they don’t, and one of their favorite pastimes is feeling superior to conservatives because conservatives are so gleeful about punching down.
However, when liberals see an opportunity to bully someone and can rationalize it to themselves, they throw themselves into it with a zest and zeal that puts conservatives to shame. Liberals love bullying just as much as conservatives do, it’s just that liberals lie (and lie to themselves) about it.
Liberals are sanctimonious about how awful it is when conservatives punch down. But the truth is, liberals are better bullies than conservatives are…BECAUSE they’re sanctimonious about it. Far too many liberals believe—absolutely, truly believe—that if they can just find the RIGHT people to bully and harass, they can somehow bully and harass their way to a more just, more equitable, more peaceful and harmonious Utopia.
They look for reasons to bully—they round up to abuse, they get outraged because 那个 sounds like the n-word—because a white dude using the n-word is someone they’re allowed to bully, someone they feel good about bullying.
They wanted Greg Patton to be slinging the n-word around in his class, because it gives them license to let slip their inner bully and feel good—no, feel righteous—about it, and score virtue points with their fellow liberals at the same time. Liberals get off on that.
In short: Conservatives bully because it maintains the hierarchy. Liberals bully because it’s fun, and it makes them feel good about themselves.
The fact that Greg Patton didn’t actually use the n-word doesn’t matter. Liberals wanted him to have used it, because it feels so goddamn good to pick up the torches and pitchforks—it’s a big part of how liberals show themselves and each other that they’re Good People on the Right Side of History.
And if Greg Patton is generally fairly progressive himself? So much the better. Now they can show how fair-minded they are—they even go after the baddies in their own ranks! Not like conservatives. Oh no, we hold everyone accountable! See how good we are? Praise us!
Truth doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t matter. What matters is that desire to prove your worthiness by attacking the bad guy, whether he’s actually a bad guy or not. (Greg Patton was completely exonerated after an investigation—fortunately for him, he’d recorded the class.)
Image: @anniespratt on Unsplash
This is one thing self-described “social justice warriors” consistently get wrong. Truth matters. There can be no justice without truth. If your “social justice” has no truth-finding mechanism, it’s about conformity and mob rule, not justice.
I feel this should be obvious. Why is this not obvious?
Conservatives often accuse liberals of racism and sexism, in a “you want to keep Black voters dependent” and “you want to tell women they aren’t allowed to be mothers and housewives” kind of way.
This is, of course, absolute bullshit, not even remotely true…
…but it is in the neighborhood of truth.
Liberals often think in terms of archetypes. They’ll say on the one hand that we’re all people—young or old, black or white, man or women, we all deserve equal treatment.
Which is true.
But then on the other hand, they’ll tend to see people in terms of archetypes. oppressor and oppressed.
You see this play out in simplistic, bumper-sticker liberal morality. “Believe women” is an example. Not “support people who say they’ve been abused while also fact-checking,” which is too complicated to fit on a bumper sticker and therefore doesn’t work well with liberal virtue signaling.
Let’s turn that around a bit: “Believe whites.” That…feeeeels a little uncomfortable, doesn’t it?
Why is the one okay but the other isn’t?
Liberals will probably tell you “well, as a historically marginalized group, women have long been accustomed to not being believed, so historically, thee’s an imbalance that needs to be rectified, and and and…”
And and all of that is true. But why “believe women” rather than “don’t automatically disbelieve women?”
Because “believe women” lets you virtue signal while also avoiding, you know, actually doing the work that the ethics you claim to have would require.
If you have two different individuals who say two different things, and your goal is truth, you have work to do. It takes effort. It takes investigation, it takes careful consideration, it takes mental and (dare I say it?) emotional labor.
If, on the other hand, your social group tells you that there’s one side you always and automatically believe—you always believe the white person, you always believe the woman—then you can short-cut all that “truth” and “evidence” and “careful, critical thought” stuff to get to the ‘right’ answer—which is, of course, the one that gains you social standing in your social group.
Different classes of people are not treated as individuals by liberals. They’re treated as a member of their class, with built-in assumptions about who is hero and who is villain based on perceptions of which group is the oppressor and which is the oppressed.
That’s why you’ll see questions like this on Quora:
Actual question on Quora
This question is, of course, utter nonsense. We don’t despise Thomas because he’s black, we despise him because he’s corrupt.
And yet, liberals tend, by and large, merely to wave an airy hand and dismiss questions like this, without ever asking: Why would someone ask this? Where would they get this idea from?
Asking that question leads in some uncomfortable directions. Directions like, might someone who watches the behavior of many liberals each the conclusion that liberals hold double standards, condemning a behavior from someone they might justify or even accept from a different person who belongs to a different social group? (Uncomfortable answer: yes. I’ve witnessed liberals with radically different responses to domestic violence by men against women and by women against men.)
We liberals mock double-standards held by conservatives, while ignoring the plank in our own eye. This isn’t a liberal/conservative thing, it’s a human thing—we all, including you, including me, hold double standards—but goddamn, liberals can be so sanctimonious about our own double standards.
Which brings up another difference between conservatives and liberals: Conservatives attack the Other. Liberals attack their own.
There’s nothing more infuriating to a liberal than a fellow liberal who’s 99.87% in agreement with them—that last fraction of a percent is MORAL IMPURITY that must be PURGED WITH FIRE.
All you liberals who bitch and moan that liberal politicians are so ineffective, listen up: you can’t build your new egalitarian Utopia when you’re preoccupied with knifing your friends in the back.
This is the natural consequence of the horizontal vs vertical social hierarchy thing. In vertical hierarchies, those below always accept any behavior from those above.
Like Trump, for example. Those who accept him as rightful leader excuse his grift, his lies, his incessant self-absorbed pandering, his philandering, because he’s at the top of the hierarchy and submission to rightful hierarchy is a core moral value.
Liberals, on the other hand…if you’re not 100% with me, I will cast you into the lake of fire. Deviate even one iota and you’re gone.
is funny because it’s true. It’s absolutely classic leftist behavior, and it’s one of the things that makes leftists so goddamn toxic.
Today, I had to run a rather annoying errand—namely, I had to hike down to the Post Office (a 20-minute trek each way), which thankfully is open half the day on Saturday, to mail some of my personal porn stash to Congress.
Yes, I’m serious.
To understand this story, you must first understand cataloguing-in-publication. Most books published in or for sale in the United States have a CIP data block on the copyright page. It’s a set of bizarre numbers and dashes, and it indicates exactly how the book should be catalogued using the Library of Congress cataloging system.
This system is way more complex than the Dewey Decimal System, and has category identifiers for every category of fiction and nonfiction you can imagine, up to and including subjects as specific as “hacking,” “betrayal,” and “voluntary human sacrifice.”
This CIP data block looks like this:
These numbers all instruct libraries exactly how to file the book. The CIP block is put together by library science researchers who are intimately familiar with the filing system, and study the book to see how to categorize it.
You can get this information free from the Library of Congress, or pay researchers at specialized companies to put this block together. Without it, libraries will refuse to stock the book.
If you have the Library of Congress do it, you can get a Library of Congress Control Number, an ID that links the book to its CIP data block online. This LCCN also appears on the copyright page. So far, so boring.
Now, when you register a copyright on a book, you must send two copies of the book to the Library of Congress. However, if you get an LCCN, you must also send a third copy to a different office at the Library of Congress.
When Eunice and I published our pornographic collection of short stories, Ecstatic Communion, we got an LCCN. I didn’t realize until today that the Library of Congress needed that third copy. I didn’t have any extra copies, so I just had to send them my own personal copy.
Which means I can now check off “send porn from my personal stash to Congress.”
For those of you who’ve been hiding beneath a rock these past few news cycles, the Internet Archive, the operators of the Internet Wayback Machine, was just handed a stunning defeat in a copyright feud with Hatchett, Random Penguin, and other major publishers.
Essentially, they had set up an internet lending library, and the publishers…didn’t take kindly to that.
As a book author, I have super-complicated and mixed feelings about this.
There are two different ways to think about this huge kerfluffle, morally and legally. On top of that, there’s a whole ’nother dimension to the problem that has nothing to do with books or copyright at all.
Buckle up, this will be a wild ride.
So first, let’s talk about what’s happening. The Internet Archive is trying to become a digital version of this:
Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris by Remi Mathis & Marie-Lan Nguyen — CC BY-SA 3.0
Libraries purchase books, which they lend out to readers. Legally, they can do this because of something called the “first sale doctrine,” which says if I buy a book it’s mine and I can do what I want, including loaning, giving, or selling it to you without paying the publisher.
I’ve already paid the publisher when I bought it. That copy is now my property. I can’t make copies of it and loan, sell, or give away the copies, that would violate copyright law (which is literally the right to copy).
But I can loan, sell, or give away my only copy, because there’s one copy of it that the publisher was paid for. If I give it to you, I don’t have it any more.
Okay, so. When COVID hit, libraries all over the world closed. The Internet Archive said, hey waitaminnit, people can’t go to libraries. So how about this:
We will buy a book. We will then scan the book into an electronic copy. We can then lend that electronic copy to readers, but we will only lend it to one reader at a time. Once we lend it to someone, we won’t lend it to anyone else until that person has checked it back in with us, which erases it off that person’s computer.
It’s the same thing, right? We buy a book, we loan the book out, there’s only ever one copy on loan for each copy we buy. Just like a library.
Well, hang on, not so fast.
The legal situation around ebooks is a mess.
Publishers have long resented libraries and used-book stores. They quite like the idea that everyone who reads a book gives them money. They’d prefer to live in a world where if you buy a book, you are not allowed to give it sell it to someone else—if someone else wants to read it, they have to buy it too.
Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris by Remi Mathis & Marie-Lan Nguyen — CC BY-SA 3.0
Publishers hate this
The first sale doctrine came about in 1908, after publishers sued a book store that was selling books for less money than the publishers wanted them to.
The Supreme Court held that publishers have intellectual property rights in books that pertain to copyright and distribution rights, but the distribution right is exhausted once a book is transferred.
In English, that means if I sell you a book you can’t make copies of it, but I can’t control what you do with that physical book you just bought—I can’t stop you from selling or giving it to someone else, nor control how much you sell it for.
Then ebooks came along. And ebooks aren’t physical things. And book publishers said “we aren’t selling you this ebook. You are giving us money for a license to read it. You don’t own anything. We aren’t selling this file to you. We still own it. The first sale doctrine doesn’t apply.”
If you buy a print book, you have the legal right to loan, give, or sell it to others.
If you “buy” an ebook, you are paying for a limited, revocable license to read it. You don’t own the ebook. The publisher can revoke your right to read it whenever they like. If Amazon decides to erase your Kindle tomorrow, they can do that. You have no right to loan, give, or sell that ebook to other people unless the publisher says you can.
So ebooks and print books are very different animals. You have a legally protected right to buy print books, start a library, and loan those physical objects to other people.
Ebooks? Nope. You have no right whatsoever to buy a bunch of ebooks and lend them out.
But wait! The Internet Archive is buying physical books!
Yup. But they’re not lending out those physical books. They’re scanning them, turning them into ebooks, and lending out the ebooks.
U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl, who is overseeing the case, was quite blunt about this:
At bottom, IA’s fair use defense rests on the notion that lawfully acquiring a copyrighted print book entitles the recipient to make an unauthorized copy and distribute it in place of the print book, so long as it does not simultaneously lend the print book.But no case or legal principle supports that notion. Every authority points the other direction.
And legally, he’s 100% right. No law, court finding, or interpretation suggests that if I buy a book I can transform it into another medium and then loan, give, or sell it on.
Copyright law allows fair use in the case of “transformative use,” which is use adds “new expression, meaning, or message” to the original work.” This is how movie and book critics can show clips or excerpts; their critique is “transformative use.”
The Internet Archive said “hey, the courts said that when Google scanned books, that was transformative use!” Judge Koeltl said “that was transformative use because Google scanned the books to make them searchable, but Google isn’t giving out scanned copies. You’re not doing anything new, you’re just scanning the books and giving them out.”
Legally, Judge Koeltl is 100% absolutely positively right.
The First Sale Doctrine applies quite narrowly to physical objects—physical copies of a book. All the laws about this are quite clear on that (though of course in 1908 nobody could imagine a book that wasn’t a physical thing, but still—the law as written is what it is).
Judge Koeltl also pointed out that publishers have no way to know if the Internet Archive is only loaning out as many copies as they have.
Libraries that loan ebooks do so with special permission of the publisher. This special permission comes with all kinds of strings attached, including paying fees and using encryption systems to make sure that if I copy a loaned ebook, then check it back in to the livrary, then restore the copy, I can’t read it—when I check it in, the library servers revoke my encryption keys.
The library servers also record and report the number of copies on loan, and this can be audited.
Internet Archive? Didn’t do any of that.
Morally, as a published author who makes a living writing, I think the Internet Archive is 100% absolutely positively right.
Their logic is sound. The spirit of the First Sale Doctrine clearly is intended to allow someone who’s purchased a book to loan it to others, even if the law as written came from a time before ebooks.
The Internet Archive argues, and I believe, that loaning books encourages sales. I know I personally have bought books I’ve borrowed.
But regardless of whether or not that’s true, if you’ve bought my book you should be able to loan it out.
Now, the Internet Archive’s copy control system may be problematic, but that’s engineering, not morality or law.
I sincerely hope the appellate court sees the intent of the law and agrees. I doubt they will. I think this is headed for the Supreme Court, and if I were a betting man I’d offer 80/30 odds the Internet Archive will lose.
The Internet Archive is facing an existential threat. If it loses on appeal—and I think it will—the damages will be staggering. Enough to bankrupt the Archive (which is a non-profit entity) hundreds of times over.
And that would be a disaster.
I don’t use the word “disaster” lightly. It would be a complete catastrophe. The Internet Archive houses the world’s only archive of the bulk of the World Wide Web.
They do a lot more, too. They are a repository for old games, flash videos, and so on that have otherwise been lost.
I fear that huge amounts of history will be gone forever if the Internet Archive ceases to be. The transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age is a watershed moment in human history, as important as the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, but because digital records are ephemeral, incredibly important historical records are also incredibly fragile.
We are living, right now, in an important time in human civilization. The Internet Archive is literally the only existing record of important parts of it. If they cease to be and their archive is destroyed, it will be this century’s equivalent of the burning of the Library of Alexandria.
Inspired by a question on Quora, I’ve been thinking about the idea of truth, and more specifically, the way societies seem to have an eccentric orbit around the truth—sometimes closer in, sometimes further away.
The United States, at the moment, is definitely at an apogee in its extremely elliptical orbit around the truth. At the moment, large parts of the American population, raised in a society that has attacked and undermined public education and critical thinking for decades, is of the opinion that truth is merely another opinion, and facts are whatever you want them to be. Don’t like the facts as they are? Come on down to Post Truth Incorporated, where we have 100% organic free-range no-cage alternative facts to suit every budget, agenda, and political ideology!
The pendulum doesn’t swing back and forth
A lot of folks think of society as a pendulum, swinging back and forth between two poles. This cyclic model of society suggests that countries or cultures swing back and forth between two poles, often liberalism and conservatism, but the overall tendency as time goes on is generally ‘forward,’ whatever ‘forward’ means.
I would like to propose that this is codswallop.
It’s overly simplistic. Societies don’t swing back and forth, and the poles are never fixed.
Instead, I think the truth is a strange attractor around which the trajectory of a society warps and bends, sometimes near, sometimes far, always in motion. The exact path the society takes is highly sensitive to that society’s origin myth, and varies with everything from current local politics to natural disasters to pop music trends.
Pretty much exactly like this:
This means you could take snapshots of a society’s history, like paragraphs out of the society’s history books, and treat the pile of snapshots like a Poincaré map of that society’s eccentric orbit around the truth.
Mythologies are necessary for social identity, every culture will have one, and subtle variations in a society’s founding myth can have huge effects on its path around the attractor of truth. A society that, for example, idolizes the myth of the Rugged Individualist may at some point along its trajectory bend in the direction of the notion that truth is a matter of personal opinion, not empirical fact. A society that enshrines the value that belief in God is vital to being a good citizen might find itself pulled toward the attractor of authoritarian religion as it flows along its course.
But these attractions are never as simple as a pendulum swing. Too many variables, too many competing ideas go into a society’s culture. Just as you can never set foot in the same river twice, for when you return both you and the river will have changed, a society cannot revisit the same moment twice, however much its members may long for the nostalgic past.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That’s probably true over great stretches of time, years to centuries to millennia, but the loops and bends away from that direction happen all the time, drawn by the irresistible tropism toward Rugged Individualism, Somebody Else’s Problem, xenophobia, profiteering, fear, and the urge toward authoritarianism that seems baked into us as a species.
Right now, we’re on one of those crazy slingshots away from truth, in an era where American Republican operatives sneeringly refer to the opposition as the “reality-based contingent” and offer “alternative facts.”
For those of us trapped on this arc, it’s small comfort that given another 40, 50 years, the moral arc of the universe may once again bend back toward justice. So…let’s be kind out there.
It started with a simple request. My publisher wanted me to solve a math problem. I thought, one, that’s a weird thing for a publisher to do, and two, math isn’t my strong suit, but hey, what the hell, right?
Turns out they used the solution to establish a connection between our time and 2054, or a potential 2054, or some 2054 that might be our future or might not be…I dunno. Anyway, they communicated with a person from that future, who sent back a manuscript of what life is like in her time, as a novel (and maybe a warning of things to come) in ours.
The novel is called immechanica, and it’s by Eden “E. F.” Coleman. It publishes in our timeline on March 14, but you can get it before then, and for less than cover price.
The early reviews are already coming in, and they’re wonderful:
Reedsy reviewers have this to say:
“This novel is an absolute page-turner, creating and maintaining heart-racing tension that makes the reader feel like they’re on the run too.”
“Like all the best dystopian narratives (Blade Runner, 1984, The Hunger Games trilogy), it seems this book seeks to sound the alarm but also asks the reader to question what the legacy of humanity will be…It sticks with you, tackling big ideas like transhumanism, environmentalism, and the evolution of a species. This high adrenaline read is perfect for those who love big philosophical ideas.”
Anyway, I think it’s a good book. If you’re interested in a completely new take on cyberpunk that’s less “neon and shiny chrome and augmented street samurai” and more “autonomous drones with AI facial recognition and DNA-tuned assassination weapons and deepfakes and widespread political corruption,” this book’s for you. I believe it has some of the first genuinely new ideas in cyberpunk in years.
So check it out! You can get it at less than cover price before pub date, and if you act quickly, you can even get a Boston Dynamics robot dog chassis as a backer reward.*
* Note: Robot dog chassis delivery requires acceptance of a third-party End User Licensing Agreement that includes a no-weaponization clause. Offer not valid in some ITAR-restricted countries, including Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Shipping not included.
I tried to read it when it came out and couldn’t get past the second or third chapter at all. Eunice was blisfully ignorant of the horrors that lurked within. So we made an entire episode of the two of us reacting in horror, specifically to the scene where Christian and Ana negotiate the terms of their relationship (and Christian violates Ana’s consent multiple times during the consent negotiation, which was…special).
Anyway, in the process of re-acquainting herself with the contents of that book, Joreth took a literal red pen to its pages, which you can see here.
And also, check out the podcast. We think it’s rather fun!