The FCC and the Battle for the Modern Internet

Today, Chairman Ajit Pai of the FCC, flouting a majority of the U.S. public that has been surveyed time and again as being against the decision, and disregarding the dissenting opinions of two of his own boardmembers, announced that Net Neutrality is officially dead.

Take a breath. Take a drink. Let it out. I’ll wait.

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You back? Good. Because first of all, let me just say: I know this hurts. We just watched three men snicker and condescend to two women and a host of data, history, and opinions while voting to gut the Internet as we know it. Second, and most importantly: this is not over. Not for a minute. This was a major battle, don’t get me wrong, but we knew we were going to lose here. Pai has ever been a friend to the corporations of the world, and makes no qualms that whatever they want, he thinks is for the best.

What Comes Next

This decision is going to be tied up in courts for months, if not years. In the state of Washington, they have already said that regardless of a federal decision like this, they will be doing everything they can to maintain Net Neutrality for their own people. There’s going to be a splintering, and further court cases, as sides assault every linked issue. It’s going to get messy. The knives are coming out. And we’ve all got skin in the game–so we’ve got to get dirty.

web17-fcc-1160x768“Innovation and investment” are the bywords Mr. Pai has used as his rallying cry. It’s fairly transparent. What he means and what he wants is a world where, at a whim, companies can decide you’re going to need to pay extra cash for every little service. It’s like if EA suddenly were given world power: you can still play, but by god, you’re going to need to pay for every little service and every little upgrade. It’s life as DLC.

What his side wants, under the auspices of “innovation,” is for cash flow potential for corporations to be unrestricted. They don’t care about innovation–they don’t have to innovate or get better when they already reap the benefits of forcing you to use whatever they give you. And where their rivalries and internal hatreds emerge, is where you’ll really notice some nastiness. Do you like Netflix, for example? Comcast never did. Do you like Streams, such as Twitch? They gobble a lot of data, you know. ISPs don’t like that. So what if your ISP decides they, or any individual site or service, go against their values? Don’t align with them? Say farewell to that service. And further–there will be nothing you can do. Because the Internet isn’t neutral anymore. It isn’t protected ground. It’s full on PvP–and you’re level one, while the fellow you’re dueling has all the top tier gear and skills. There’s no appeal.

Like Netflix? Streams? Any of that good stuff? Well, what if your ISP decides they, or any individual site or service, go against the values? Bye-bye service. Nothing you can do. No appeals. Because they will have that power with no Net Neutrality. The Obama administration put the rules in place specifically to avoid motions toward that end.

I’m not saying these extortion demands erupt tomorrow. Even these companies, greedy as they are and giddy with victory, have PR teams. They recognize the rage going on over this issue. Like most things, the plan will be: wait a little while until the heat dies down, then gradually implement. It is something that can happen. Most likely, it’s going to look like modern cable packages: Premium speeds versus Lower speeds, with more paid for faster Youtube, Snapchat, etc. services. Sites like Wikipedia may have to do EVEN MORE  fundraisers to meet cost demands raised by these ISPs.

Ongoing Battle

Congress has the power to reverse the FCC’s decision to dismantle net neutrality protections. Unlike Ajit Pai–who was not elected and publicly has stated his lack of care for backlash over Net Neutrality repeal–politicians do have to worry about elections. They can be influenced. Many have taken lots of money from ISPs over the years, but they still have to worry about getting their seat back next election. A lot of those seats are coming up for re-election in 2018.

The trick is to make sure they know that. And feel it. Hell, did you see how quickly Patreon backed off its updated pay model when people launched into an uproar? Make them backpedal that quickly.

You see, the Congressional Review Act is almost assuredly going to be tapped to try and review and ultimately reverse the FCC action by those opposed. Get enough members signing on in the 60 legislative days available–the CRA allows Congress to reverse regulatory actions within 60 days of their creation–and Ajit Pai could find his ambitions dead in the water.

What they cannot be allowed to do is run out the clock.

If that fails? There remain the courts and the state level–and we would have to fight in every state, and in a constant, unrelenting force through the courts. The latter gets dicier, however, as the Trump administration continues pushing forward more of its rather controversial nominees for those roles.

I tack on the bad to let you know the stakes and realities: the fact remains the same as that with which I began this piece. The fight is not over. Far from it. Settle into the trenches. Get your jams queued up. It’s going to be a long night.

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Those Hits, They Keep On Coming

Dedicated to a Changing World, just for the blog:

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Photo by Aimee Vogelsang

The first hit makes him think of hands. Hands like small stones, weighing down his pockets.

The second hit makes him think of eyes. Eyes that never let him see them cry, because of what that might do to him.

The third hit makes him think of lips. Lips that drink alone to forget, breathe out bloodless clouds into the silent air between them.

The fourth hit makes him think of hearts. Broken hearts that end him, piece by piece, for all the lies his lips told, all the secrets his eyes held back, and all the pain his hands brought.

Writers, Beware Blue Deco

It’s time to add another bundle of publishing scammers to the list.

Long time followers/readers might recall mention of friend and fellow author Bryce David Salazar on this site. He is the author of She Sees Metaphors, a master of imagery, and a strange thing for horse masks. In all, he is a pretty decent fellow I was delighted to see make it in the literary world with his debut novel.

27fae5_8b14feb6aa5945f5b7896329b1f6c897~mv2Unfortunately, his debut has been spoiled by his publisher, Blue Deco Publishing. Bryce is one of seven authors ostensibly represented by the company who are currently petitioning, through Change.org, for reversion of rights and payment of outstanding royalties under what they allege is a voided contract.

That outstanding royalties bit is key. You see, Blue Deco pledged under their contract to pay third quarter royalties to their authors by Nov. 15 of this year. It now being November 27, they only just recently provided a brief severance e-mail and money to several of the authors. These authors also noted that such payments were similarly late in the second quarter. Being paid for one’s work shouldn’t sound revolutionary to anyone, especially not when it’s on paper.

That said, the company also has skimped on its actual duties. ISBN numbers, for those who don’t know, are a critical part of the publishing process. They represent the identity of the work, making them identifiable by publishers, booksellers, libraries and other retailers worldwide. It says, “THIS BOOK WAS MADE BY SO AND SO, THIS IS WHAT IT IS AND ITS FORMAT.” To get your own, unique ISBN, comes with a price tag associated.

While the ISBN doesn’t in and of itself provide any legal or copyright protection, it’s an absolute legal necessity in some countries. Amazon’s Createspace service handles it free for self-published authors, as it essentially becomes their publisher. However, it is usually publishers themselves who take on associated costs as part of production costs.

Blue Deco had, as part of its contract with its authors, agreed to provide ISBNs. Instead, it turned to CreateSpace to make these ISBNs, therefore negating a major factor behind going with a publisher: it made these books self-published, CreateSpace books, rather than attaching its own name to the works.

There’s more to the tale, of course, but the sum of things is that Bryce and his fellow authors have declared their contracts voided. Up until recently, Blue Deco hadn’t responded in any way to its authors. It was only until their public call for help and awareness that the company issued its severance. Even so, it still has them proudly listed under its authors.

Authors being taken advantage of by scam artist publishers is an unfortunately growing trend. There’s whole websites, like Writer Beware!, dedicated to tracking them down and exposing them for what they are. Often, they face no consequences beyond what public outcry can force upon them, by leaving them no shadows in which to scuttle.

Help get justice for these authors and guarantee the Blue Deco Publishing is no longer able to operate in the shady manner it has chosen. Spread the word. Support artists. Keep creativity alive.

(For more, check out Bryce’s own page on the issue: http://www.brycedavidsalazar.com/2017/11/please-help-me-get-unpublished.html)

Microfiction: Spreading Roots

Daniel has never been much of a gardener. Yet he knows what his lover likes. He clears and tills a space near the back fence, out of the way, where people might miss him between all the pot plants and strawberries (the two go well together). When he pauses to breathe and to sweat, he can feel the tingles where she kissed him, like poison ivy spreading, out in the national forest. It’s evening before he can plant her seed, but it doesn’t take long after that.

Drunk on pollen, he could wait all night. Her vines scrabble in the dirt, inch by inch, awaiting their crown of flowers. A dryad can sprout wherever her tree takes root.

Salt the Earth

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Photo by Jonas Dücker

On my lips

the beginning of a name

ransacked by shadow

before its breath was drawn.

 

Sunlight scatters on the wind,

prismatic sprays of receding

ash that carry us far, far

from its expectation.

 

Distance, the stars whisper,

is measured by the sacrifice

of the named, until none

need heart, weightless and alone.

Fae Things

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Care of Shutterstock.

On the moonstruck branch

he alights, a note pouring out

into the aether, each green year

passing into the song which nurtures.

 

Rooted in the changeling soil

he sleeps away the stiffness

of a beating heart, triumphant

in the spilling deep.

 

Autumn is a dance of mushrooms

binding oaths until midwinter

steals the complexity of life

and he must find his humors elsewhere.

Scenes on the Wind

20160727_192955There are no subways in Michigan

we write them off for Eastern fare

wind in our hair

lamenting the deathly slumber

of four-wheeled streets.

 

Meanwhile no one

listens to the rain

our souls spatter on the lakes

in the buzzing wake

of another ghostly tale.

 

The sun shines

on the creaking creep

of golden dunes

swallowing our memories year by—

imagination, drifting

 

over the gulls and with the wolves

reach for the hands that raised

skyscrapers spearing sky

alone in Detroit

longing for the city.

Depression Management: Public Perception vs. Internal Wars

With the onset of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I’d like to take a moment to discuss depression: some hard truths, some public misconceptions.

When you suffer from depression, wrangling your mental health is unpredictable at best. Yet time and again, that’s what you’re told: manage it. You’re better than this. You’re stronger than this. You’ve got this.

The thing is, more often than not, it has you, and you can throw down the gauntlet as many times as you want, but you’re not going to win. After all, the disease is there long before you ever notice its methodical creep.

I know, because it has been stealing my breath away since before I even reached high school.

Outsiders don’t tend to realize that depression isn’t just when my voice goes flat and my eyes go dead. Depression is always there. Perhaps 90 percent of my waking life I spend dealing with my depression, one way or another—thoughts of self-hate, mutilation or outright suicide. This doesn’t mean I don’t pick up a sword and drag its ass to the dueling field, but it does wear me down relentlessly, waiting for just the right moment to lunge.

Depression always has more energy than I do. It is more patient and more studious as well.

So when you see what many would consider “normal” me, with his easy smile, his incessant need for laughter, his outgoing adventurism, know that at the very same time, a second life can be living itself out beneath my skin. “Out” is a good term for it, too—since that second me is methodically going over all the reasons I do not deserve to exist any longer.

This is, bear in mind, even with pills in place to suppress it. People that hear you are on pills for this sort of thing tend to think one of two ways. Either: A. You’re crazy or B. Well you’re medicated, so why aren’t you happy yet? Pills are not end-all be-alls. They make you more susceptible to healing and to change, but they don’t themselves make the change. They make it possible to heal—they don’t heal on their own.

That’s the polite way of saying that, even on my pills—and by the way, I’m not even remotely going to go into the expansive discussion of finding pills that actually work for you—I can still feel like I’m losing my damn mind, and act like it too. This runs contrary to what we are taught and accustomed to with western medicine, I know. Take a pill, feel better. It confuses many when I say I am medicated and I am still struggling.

“Just give it time,” is a phrase that gets dropped more often than not. With mental health, time can be an ally every bit as much as a foe.

Frustrating the search for a cure is the fact that the same methodology of uplifting me from such dire straits may not be the same every time. Hell, what sets the depression off in the first place may not even be the same.

There are times it can be as simple as sleeping away the pain. Other times, I could lie in bed all day and still feel it welling inside, eating away at me. Those are the days I recognize I need to get up and move like everyone else, but convincing myself to do it takes on titanic levels of travail. In fact, this adds to the stress: this sense that I’m trapped in my own body.

There is rarely a point I don’t realize I’m acting irrationally, that this doesn’t make sense, that I shouldn’t be acting this way. Yet my mind won’t let me actively pursue any other direction.  The most perceptive truth bearer in the world can recognize all these things, lay out a concrete argument for why it should not be, and yet…

And yet. There’s a lot of “and yet.” The most rational, intelligent person in the world can still, in the face of depression, be dragged kicking and screaming into the dark—and I don’t claim to be the most intelligent person in the world.

Sometimes, depression doesn’t even have a source. I can just wake up to find it lying next to me with a big old grin on its sallow face, saying, “Hello, chicken shit,” and then the terror begins anew.

If you haven’t gathered by now, I am saying depression is not fun. Neither I nor any other sufferer chooses to be this way. When you see us withdraw and tell us to suck it up, or turn this into something about you, I want you to realize how cruel and undeserved that is. I can’t speak for everyone, but when I go quiet, it is an attempt to dissociate and protect.

I am not doing it to protect myself. I am doing it to protect you, be you my friend or common passerby. I lock it all down deep, put on a false face, and go numb. In fact, I will guilt myself without end if I feel like I am being unproductive or lazy. What you call relaxing, I begin to hound, ravaging myself with the cruelest internal monologue because “I should be useful.” Some call this high-functioning depression. By all outward appearances, I am still going through the motions of the day because the day demands it—but I am certainly not living. In fact, this is one of the most dangerous states.

This is precisely the point when someone should step in, no matter how much I seem unreceptive, because once I have hit disassociation, the world has ceased to be important to me. What is more, I have ceased to seem important to it—from my point of view. This is when self-harm tends to come into the picture. At this point, the numbness is worse than outright pain—I want to feel something. Anything. Of course I can hurt myself, because at least then I feel something, and if I do not belong anyways, what does it honestly hurt?

After every suicide, there is someone standing off to the side with a shake of their head saying, “It was the ultimate selfish act.” I had a teacher in high school, a brilliant, caring man in so many other aspects of life, who told us that phrase openly once. Then he carried on with discussion, as though by this act, the person who had ceased to exist had erased their relevance from the world. He thought it was about something he refused to give them.

Depression is not about attention. Most people do not understand this, and that is fine.

That is why I am writing this. To help people understand. They understand even less, however, the notion of hurting and not being the one to reach out.

In most situations, this is what we are taught to do. Get in a car accident? Reach out to the cops, the paramedics, everyone you can. Get fired from work? Go get some drinks with friends and shit talk all the crap that led to this. Family member passes? Gather everyone together and celebrate their memory.

Depression doesn’t work like that. Depression is not an immediate problem and it does not have an immediate cure. It is the slow motion creep of decay that makes you feel constantly old before your time. It made me feel decrepit in Middle School, when I first made its acquaintance; it still makes me feel aged at 28. And this steady creep is what makes it so different.

When you do not believe you deserve to exist, or see any point in continuing to exist, you also do not see much point in reaching out to others.

Again: this is not for attention. I could not care less about attention. When I am hurting I do not want to bring that pain to others and I retreat a little more each day.

So, why doesn’t someone cognizant enough to write an essay like this call the crisis line? Why hasn’t your friend, with seemingly everything to live for, called their therapist?

I hurt

=

Call doctor

I don’t deserve to exist

=

Go silent

Numbers like the crisis line are important. They do save lives. I am not saying they don’t. What I am saying is, expecting the depressed person to recognize this and take the initiative is setting up a lot of room for failure. Numb people do not tend to reach out. Distraught people do. They need encouragement from others to do so, not abstract messages from nameless sources. People—real people—actively breaking through the barrier, telling them they need help because PEOPLE care if they are gone, PEOPLE care if they hurt, PEOPLE still have a place set out for them, is what helps. Will it make them distraught? Sad? Angry? Yes, all of the above. No one wants to be the person that made another weep.

But I’m here to say that a person weeping is worlds better than a person with no feeling at all, pondering what lies on the other side of a knife’s edge. Depression ravages. It destroys those it lurks within and ripples outward, hurting the lives of all those with which it comes into contact.

Do not make the mistake of treating it like any physical illness. It can feel impossible to weather, seeing a friend cave to it time and again, and seemingly never being able to get through to them. Think how they feel, actually living with that demon inside. If you want to help, and understand, just be there. Do not go into the battle with preconceived notions. Learn the signs. Reach out.

It has saved my life more than once.

Book Birthday for The Company of the Eagles!

So this here is one of those good news, bad news situations. I won’t beat around the bush: publishing efforts on my two outstanding standalone novels have stalled. It’s why I have been so quiet on that front since making all those less than subtle announcements a few months back.

EaglesCoverEbookWhile I find my footing in literary limbo, though, it’s my pleasure to announce that on Monday–yes, this Monday, October 2–I will be releasing a collection of fantasy shorts set in days well before the events of my Haunted Shadows novels. Which means that the month of Spooktober will begin with sword duels, rabid gryphons and some good old fashioned bounty hunting, care of: THE COMPANY OF THE EAGLES–the first part of a two part collection. There will be six short stories in total, though their lengths vary significantly, with the second collection of seven to follow in early 2018, if everything goes according to plan.

It’s only going to be coming out in ebook form, though, at least for the foreseeable future. That has less to do with an aversion to ye olde classic forms–I have enough bookshelves to disprove THAT–and more to do with number crunching. Nearly all my previous sales have come from ebook purchases, leaving little reason for a print run at this time. If any of you are interested, though, write me, and I’ll see what I can do.

Additionally, in honor of the release, the first book in the aforementioned series (The Hollow March) will also see a price drop to $0.99 for the first week! If you’ve been waiting to pick it up, on the fence, or just want to be able to grab two books for less than two dollars, now is definitely the time.

And remember, if you want to help my little book get out into the world, spread the word anyway you can! Every RT, share, review or chit-chat at the local drinking establishment helps.

I hope you all enjoy! I’ll post links when the book goes live.