Law and the Multiverse: Immortality and Copyright

In comic books the issue is not just long-lived or immortal characters like Wolverine, but in fact most characters seem not to age much, and in the rare event they do die they usually don’t stay dead. So the ‘life of the creator plus 70 years’ term is effectively eternal for most superheroes.

As to the bit about the Constitution, well, the Supreme Court considered what ‘limited Times’ means in Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U.S. 186 (2003). In a 7-2 decision the Court pretty firmly held that, so long as the copyright term is finite (i.e. literally not infinite), then Congress may set the term as it pleases, including extending the term of existing works retroactively.

I don’t think even an apparently immortal character like Wolverine would upset the Court’s analysis because immortality isn’t really provable. Once someone dies you can say “yep, they were mortal alright,” but as long as someone is alive they are potentially immortal.

More from here.

What women want: Gay male romance novels…

This quote pretty much says it all. According to m/m author Heidi Cullinan:

“One of the reasons why more women are ravenous for these books is that they want to read something about gay men that doesn’t involve them suffering from [HIV/AIDS], committing suicide or getting bullied. I know I was,” Cullinan says, adding that mainstream TV shows such as Queer As Folk and True Blood have helped heterosexuals embrace guy-on-guy fantasies as “normal.”

Three Apple Engineers and Three Microsoft Engineers

Three Apple engineers and three Microsoft engineers are traveling by train to a conference. At the station, the three Microsoft engineers each buy tickets and watch as the three Apple engineers buy only a single ticket. “How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?” asks a Microsoft engineer. “Watch and you’ll see,” answers the Apple engineer.

They all board the train. The Microsoft engineers take their respective seats but all three Apple engineers cram into a rest room and close the door behind them. Shortly after the train has departed, the conductor comes around collecting tickets. He knocks on the rest room door and says, “Ticket, please.” The door opens just a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor takes it and moves on. The Microsoft engineers saw this and agreed it was quite a clever idea. So after the conference, the Microsoft engineers decide to copy the Apple engineers (as they always do) on the return trip and save some money.

When they get to the station, they buy a single ticket for the return trip. To their astonishment, the Apple engineers don’t buy a ticket at all. “How are you going to travel without a ticket?” asks one perplexed Microsoft engineer. “Watch and you’ll see,” answers an Apple engineer. When they board the train the three Microsoft engineers cram into a restroom and the three Apple engineers cram into another one nearby. The train departs. Shortly afterward, one of the Apple engineers leaves his restroom and walks over to the restroom where the Microsoft employees are hiding. He knocks on the door and says, “Ticket, please . . .”


From here.


Civil Disobedience, Bibliophile Style

As unemployment rises, municipal tax bases and city budgets fall. That’s meant scores of libraries closing all over the world. In 2009, Philadelphia announced that they were closing all branches of the Philadelphia Free Library. The news of the closing spread, largely via Twitter, Facebook and blogs, and the decision was rescinded. Other libraries haven’t been so lucky; there have been reductions in hours and services, staff, and book collections, all over.
This week in Stony Stratford, near Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, library patrons responded to the announcement that the library would close as a cost-saving, patrons responded by borrowing the maximum number of books allowed, until all 16,000 volumes of the circulating collection were checked out.

The idea was initially suggested in jest by a patron as a civil protest. Emily Malleson from Friends of Stony Stratford Library (FOSSL) said that after consideration, she decided to put the idea on the FOSSL Facebook page.

It’s a novel method of civil protest, worth remembering. You can read more here.

War for the Oaks — Emma Bull

Bull, Emma.
War for the Oaks.
Orb Books, 2001.
ISBN: 978-0765300348

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bull_war_for_the_oaks“Urban fantasy” is relatively new as a fantasy sub-genre. Certainly my first exposure to urban fantasy was via the deserved popularity of the Borderlands shared universe. Borderlands
created a new genre space for heroic fantasy in an urban setting. Bull’s work is often cited as an example of “urban fantasy,” but in War for the Oaks she makes Minneapolis as full of wonder as Tír nan Og. War for the Oaks is about an otherworld intruder, a pooka who shape-shifts into a large black dog, and Eddi McCandry, a mortal musician who becomes an unwilling pawn in a fairy civil war.

Bull draws on fairy folklore throughout her novel, and uses it to create fully realized characters rather then mere types. Bull begins with a solid foundation of traditional fairy folklore and makes it new, in large part because she has interestingly real characters. Eddi McCandry isn’t another calque on Janet from the ballad of Tam Lin; she’s Eddi McCandry. And the Pooka isn’t exactly like anything or anyone else either. Bull has also captured the essence of Fey game-playing and ethics here, and all of it in fabulous dialog. This is a book that you really should read if you have any interest in contemporary fantasy at all, since it has very much helped shape the genre. Plus, it’s really really good.

Emma Bull and Will Shetterly have co-written War for the Oaks: The Screenplay. I keep hoping someday Bull will record all the songs.

Sunshine — Robin McKinley

McKinley, Robin.
Berkley Trade, October 2008.
ISBN: 0425224015

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It’s not that any of the Others are really popular, or that it had only been the vampires against us during the Wars. But a big point about vampires is that they are the only ones that can’t hide what they are: let a little sunlight touch them and they burst into flames. Very final flames. Exposure and destruction in one neat package. Weres are only in danger once a month, and there are drugs that will hold the Change from happening. The drugs are illegal, but then so are coke and horse and hypes and rats’ brains and trippers. If you want the anti-Change drugs you can get them. (And most Weres do. Being a Were isn’t as bad as being a vampire, but it’s bad enough.) And a lot of demons look perfectly normal. Most demons have some funny habit or other but unless you live with one and catch it eating garden fertilizer or old combox components or growing scaly wings and floating six inches above the bed after it falls asleep, you’d never know. And some demons are pretty nice, although it’s not something you want to count on. (I’m talking about the Big Three, which everyone does, but “demon” is a pretty catch-all term really, and it can often turn out to mean what the law enforcement official on the other end of it wants it to mean at the time.)

Robin McKinley. Sunshine.

Cover of Robin McKinley's SunshineSunshine is a baker. Sunshine is a very good baker, locally known for her cinnamon rolls as big as your head.

She is also the only person known to have survived a vampire abduction, not to mention having escaped with the aid of another abduction victim, also a vampire. In the middle of the day.

So yes, Sunshine’s unusual. To those more familiar with McKinley’s juveniles, this isn’t a juvenile. This is not your standard vampire book. Sunshine is a fully realized character without being truly like anyone else. She’s no Buffy, no Sookie Stackhouse and no Anita Blake clone. She’s completely herself. That said, well, yes, this is an “urban vampire” novel, and yes, I suspect “Buffy, Vampire Slayer” was an influence, but so were Bram Stoker’s Dracula and “Beauty and the Beast.” In Sunshine McKinley has, again, taken old myths and reshaped them. The vampires, and Sunshine’s world, are different from other vampires and not-quite-this-universe worlds. In addition to McKinley’s gift for story and character, we have her flexible prose, which is fully exploited to give Sunshine her own voice. It’s an interesting voice, and a very real voice, though not always an easy one to listen to.

One of the things I love about Robin McKinley’s books is that I can count on her to surprise me, and she did with this book. I’ve read Sunshine twice, and am looking forward to a third reading. This may be my favorite of McKinley’s books, (so far) but I really wish she’d included recipes for some of Sunshine’s bakery creations. Especially the cinnamon rolls.

When Truth is Stranger…

NOTE: SF writer Charlie Stross inadvertently broke a fairly major story online, so the links to his original post may only work intermittently, and the comments feature at Autopope may not work at all, for a bit. He’s expressed some difficulties serving the anomalous amount of traffic.

But here’s the link to the relevant Hansard transcript.

Apparently, a shadowy organization is offering an undisclosed-but-fabulous sum of money to bail out Britain. No strings attached, of course…

The money quote?

Lord James of Blackheath:  For the past 20 weeks I have been engaged in a very strange dialogue with the two noble Lords, in the course of which I have been trying to bring to their attention the willing availability of a strange organisation which wishes to make a great deal of money available to assist the recovery of the economy in this country. For want of a better name, I shall call it foundation X.

We can only hope that offer isn’t coming from the organisation’s secret lair beneath a remote volcano…

Amazing Yellowstone

Okay. I must confess, I’m a fan of apocalyptic-science, even though I realize that terms like “Super-volcano” are scientifically meaningless.

But how cool is this?

Once thought to be the dead remains of an extinct volcano or volcanic system, the Yellowstone Caldera is alive and well, sleeping just below our feet.

USGS Volcano Alerts

Earthquake report for Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Webcams: Watch the planet breathing.

AfricaTown and the Last Slave Ship

Anthropology professor Neil Norman from the College of William & Mary has recently excavated sites in Plateau, Alabama, searching to reconstruct the lives and deaths of those early inhabitants of AfricaTown, according to this article at Dr. Norman has been working to reconstruct the everyday lives and history of AfricaTown’s residents, and to locate and map the gravesites of many of those residents, as well.

Abaché and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis

Abaché and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis

The project was funded and supported by local sources, including a grant from the Alabama Historical CommissionMobile County, the City of Mobile, and the Museum of Mobile.

The United States passed legislation in 1808, prohibiting the importation of slaves.  Those laws against importing human beings to be sold were largely ignored until the beginnings of the Civil War, however. As late as 1860, the Clotilda—widely identified as the last slave ship—carried a human cargo in excess of 100 souls (and perhaps as many as 160, the actual number varies by report). Men, women, and children imported from West Africa to Alabama, where they were to be sold as slaves.

Some reports have it that Timothy Meaher, the owner of the Clotilda, bet $100,000 that he could import a shipload of African captives, without getting caught. Other reports simply name Meaher as the financier. To evade the authorities waiting in nearby Mobile, Alabama, the human cargo were transferred to a waiting riverboat, and Captain William Foster burned the Clotilda then sank her. The captives were transported by riverboat up the Spanish River, then hidden, eventually some of them were sold, but many more escaped.

More than thirty of those original captives made their way back downriver to the outskirts of Mobile, where they established AfricaTown. From the last link:

The most noted of the original 33 was Cudjoe Lewis, who Howze said was her great-uncle. Lewis joined Allen and others to build churches, homes and schools. They built a community during a time of racial strife that has now survived nearly 150 years.

Records are not clear whether Africatown was ever formally incorporated as a town. It is now part of Pritchard, Ala., a suburb of Mobile. Africatown has more than 12,000 residents.

Mr. Lewis lived out his life in AfricaTown, and related much of the history of AfricaTown and its founders before his death in 1935.

Cudjo Lewis

photo from

The Encyclopedia of Alabama website informs us:

After their secret arrival—in 1820 the introduction of Africans was declared an act of piracy punishable by death—about 25 young people were sold upriver to slave brokers, but the majority remained in Mobile. Thirty-two became the property of Timothy Meaher, who had financed the expedition, and his brother James enslaved eight others, including Cudjo Lewis; twenty were sent to Burns Meaher’s plantation in Clarke County; between five and eight went to William Foster as payment for the trip; and others were bought by plantation owner Thomas Buford. The young Africans were employed as deckhands, field hands, and domestics.

After emancipation following the end of the Civil War in 1865, those formerly enslaved on Burns Meaher’s plantation joined the others in the area north of Mobile known as Plateau. They hoped to return to Africa and their families but were unable to do so for lack of money and thus decided to remain where they were, albeit on their own terms. In 1866, they established the settlement of African Town as the first town founded and continuously occupied and controlled by blacks in the United States.

For more information, consider the Sylvia Anna Diouf’s widely acclaimed book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama. Diouf painstakingly collects rare photographs, eyewitness accounts, interviews with former slaves, slavers, and other previously unpublished primary source material, to tell the stories of these remarkable settlers, and reconstruct the thread of narrative between their lives in Africa and their forced emigration to the United States.

The Tower Restored

Pisa’s famous leaning tower was reopened in 2001, but now the historic turret has been deemed stable, and its gradual tilt seems to be semi-permanently arrested for the first time since its construction more than 800 years ago.

The Telegraph reports on the release of The Tower Restored, a 1000 page account of the saving of Pisa’s Tower, representing step-by-step the experiences of the entire committee that spent years working towards a solution that would allow the  preservation of the eight-century-old wonder:

On the night of September 7 1995, the tower lurched southwards by more than it had done in the entire previous year. Burland was summoned for an emergency committee meeting, and Ladbrokes were offering 11-4 odds the tower wouldn’t survive into the 21st century. ‘We really were within days of losing it,’ Burland says. The anchor plan was immediately abandoned and another 300 tons of lead ingots added.

The locals were up in arms, the Mayor of Pisa railing that a ‘plumber with a toilet-jack’ would have done a better job. Worse still, because they had to have their charter ratified every three months by the Italian parliament, Burland and co spent the end of 1995 and start of 1996, an election year, waiting for a new government to sanction them anew.

The lead eyesore remained, and several committee members’ cars were pelted with Tuscan tomatoes.

diagram of how they saved the tower
Professor John Burland was part of the committee charged with with solving the unique challenges of saving the Tower of Pisa for more than two decades before the historic reopening in 2001. Burland and the rest of his team managed to solve the complex challenges involved in saving the wonder, while preserving the historic, artistic, cultural, and architectural integrity of Pisa’s miraculous landmark leaning tower.

The committee stood down in 2001, but last year saw two intriguing postscripts to their work: first, the official announcement that the tower has been fully stabilised, its lean finally checked; and second, the publication of The Tower Restored, an intriguing 1,000-page account, co-authored by the whole committee, of every step they took to save the marble cylinder.

While apparently some of the locals have grumbled that arresting the ever-increasing lean that would lead to inevitable collapse somehow diminishes the very character of the very famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, the team that’s spent two decades racing to solve the terribly challenging engineering difficulties entwined within extremely important artistic and cultural considerations would clearly disagree.

Saving the grand old tower seems actually to affirm the aptness of the name of the Piazza dei Miracoli.