Monday, September 24, 2007

A Few Words about Harlan Ellison

Our friend Harlan Ellison was feted at the Cleveland Public Library on Friday night. I'm not from Cleveland, but I spent 2 1/2 years living in the Heights while I went to law school there. I couldn't be at this event, but I did let some friends of mine know about it and I hope they had a chance to see Dreams with Sharp Teeth and hear Harlan speak afterwards. It is an experience not to be missed. I was asked to write a tribute, which I did. I thought I'd post it here.


“Ms. Valada?” questioned the voice on the other end of the phone. “This is Harlan Ellison.” The call came through just a few days after I had moved to Cleveland to start classes at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law. I had left my career as a professional photographer in Washington, D.C. to become a copyright lawyer. Six weeks before the call, I flew to Los Angeles to photograph a number of science fiction writers for an exhibit and Harlan Ellison had been my primary goal.

My formal introduction to Harlan got off to a rocky start (and that’s a whole story I won’t tell here) but illustrator Leo Dillon stopped Harlan from walking away from the sitting. Despite that prickly meeting, I knew I had captured something special about Harlan on film and that he would have to love the print I mailed him. He did. His tone on the phone was far friendlier than it had been in July. He wanted to use the photograph on a book jacket. Obviously, I was a “real photographer” and not just somebody with an expensive camera. I realized he must have called within minutes of opening the envelope.

Harlan recognizes, encourages, and respects talent. Many writers got a break because of Harlan Ellison. So have artists. Harlan is, and long has been, a tireless advocate for creators’ rights, but he doesn’t just talk the talk. He understands the business of writing. I don’t know anyone who can find more ways to make money off the same words than Harlan can. Most importantly, he’s ready, able, and willing to take on anyone who infringes on his rights as a writer. From the standpoint of preparation, he’s the perfect client for a copyright lawyer and a shining example to anyone who ever had delusions of making a living from their creative output.

In April of 2000, I got another call from Harlan. By then, I was living in Los Angeles, had practiced copyright and entertainment law for about seven years, was the outside general counsel for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and was married to one of Harlan’s best friends (despite what was said back on that day we were first introduced), so a call from Harlan was a relatively common occurrence. This time, however, Harlan was hopping mad because his work was showing up in news groups on-line and he wanted to go to war.

Unlike almost all of the other authors whose short stories were being “shared” on-line—and there were many--Harlan’s copyrights were all registered and properly renewed with the U.S. Copyright Office. Under any other circumstances, we could have filed an action that very day going after all direct and contributory infringers, demanding statutory damages and attorneys fees, and we most likely could have prevailed at the level of a preliminary hearing. Not so when the infringers were using the Internet, where the law had recently been changed to shield the deep pockets (in this case America On Line and a company called Critical Path), and where there was not one reported ruling construing the new law.

Harlan wasn’t too happy to find out that what is known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) required us to send notification to both AOL and Critical Path and that they had the right to be dropped from any lawsuit if they responded “expeditiously” and took down his stories. He would be limited to going after the individuals who had scanned and uploaded his stories, and those who continued to post and re-post them. Identifying the perpetrators in this or any similar case would prove to be almost impossible or financially ruinous, leaving a copyright holder with little in the way of restitution for infringement on the Internet.

Amazingly, neither AOL nor Critical Path responded to the notice-and-take-down demands we sent. They did notice the filing of the lawsuit, though, and thus began four years of facially conflicting defenses, motions, discovery, motions, rulings, settlement (with the one direct infringer we could identify and with Critical Path), and appeal before the Ninth Circuit recognized that the DMCA placed obligations on service providers before they would be able to claim that precious limitation on liability and AOL finally sat down to negotiate a settlement.

Through it all, Harlan never wavered in his belief that he would prevail. While many of Harlan’s colleagues and fans gave financial support (all repaid) for him to carry on this fight, a huge vocal contingent of the “information wants to be free crowd” jeered his efforts and dismissed his likelihood of success. Now, there’s a reported Ninth Circuit ruling with his name on it, which, unlike a large percentage of published rulings, has already been cited by other courts working their way through the legal mire of copyright in the digital age.

There are many people who want to be like Harlan Ellison the writer, with good reason. More of them should try to be like Harlan Ellison the businessman.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Now That's Customer Service!

I've been trying to buy the "Impeach Remove Jail" t-shirt from Viggo Mortensen's Perceval Press for several months. Every time I try to place an order, they are out of stock. I'm not sure that's because of the sentiment or because of who's selling it, but either way it's a great slogan. So, on Thursday, I noticed the shirts were available again and I attempted to order one in long sleeves and one in the new pink color in short sleeves.

The site had several places where it warned customers to it the send button only once, lest they be charged for duplicate sales. Unfortunately, when I clicked the button, I got an error message. I tried fixing things twice more with the same results (insanity would be expecting a different result, I guess), so then I went in search of the information to contact the company to ask what was going on and make sure that six shirts weren't in the mail.

I can understand why it's a little hard to find an e-mail address to actually contact the company, but I finally managed to find it--no hot link there--and I sent off a short e-mail explaining the problem. Much to my amazement, used as I am to never hearing a response to queries I send to on-line companies (why hasn't that bra company answered my question yet?), I got an e-mail from a nice person named Walter within minutes.

Walter told me that had changed servers only the day before and they were having some problems, but if I tried again, thing should be o.k. Also, not one of the three orders had gone through, so my credit card was safe. I tried to place the order again, and got the same error message. I immediately let Walter know and THEN he wrote back to say that they were trying to get in touch with their tech person and that he would e-mail me as soon as he knew things were working again. He also assured me they had plenty of shirts in stock.

The next morning when I checked my e-mail, there was an e-mail from Walter assuring me things were working and I was able to place my order. On Saturday--that's yesterday, the day after I placed the order--the shirts arrived. Now that's great customer service.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Where Once It Never Rained 'Til After Sunset

We went over to UCLA to catch the road production of Camelot. Somewhat to my disappointment, we didn't get the version with Michael York as Arthur. Even if he can't sing, he follows a long tradition of actors in musicals who can't sing: Richard Burton and Richard Harris in that particular role, actually, and Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. Instead, we got Lou Diamond Phillips, who can carry a tune most of the time.

I had never seen the play done and I've fallen asleep during my attempts to watch the 1968 screen version which has a design sensibility firmly seated in the flower-power, Peter Max days of the waning decade. It doesn't work for me, any more than the filmed version of Hair does locked into the look of the wrong decade.

I thought the look of the production was very nice, with Arthur and Guenevere frequently color-coordinated. Merlin was wearing long rasta-hair in his brief appearance. Most of the singers were just fine and Rachel de Benedet was terrific as Guenevere. The audience was fairly sparse, which lowered the energy in the room.

Pretty much only the center section of seats was filled, leaving lots of open space at Royce Hall. Len wondered why he hadn't been able to buy better seats last week and I felt annoyed for the man ahead of us at the box office trying to buy cheap seats for his kids for tonight--they should be offering twofers to fill up the place. People will definitely be moving around just like they did last night.

I'm partial to the Mary Stewart books on the Arthurian legends, with Marion Zimmer Bradley's effort in second place. The Once and Future King has never done it for me at all and I think that Disney's attempt at that story is one of its least successful animated film.

It was very easy to see why the Kennedy administration chose or had "Camelot"chosen as its theme. It is all the sadder to look at that choice from more than 40 years later, for both the successes and the failures resound in the lyrics and dialogue.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who Was that Hooded Man?

Last week, I saw what looked like an uncredited cameo by Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn on The Colbert Report. The video of the scene should be here. I'd like someone to confirm whether Viggo was indeed under the Strider costume. Although his voice didn't sound quite right--I'm so used to the soft-voiced Viggo rather than the troups rousing Viggo--he was wearing the beard I've seen him in promoting his new movie and it sure looked like him in the close-in shots. That final line about going after some orcs made it seem pretty likely it was Viggo--just in case the audience had doubts.

The Spector of Simpson

Mark Evanier is planning on going on a tri-county killing spree if Phil Spector gets off because he figures that no celebrity can be convicted of murder in Los Angeles. So keep your doors locked. At least a 7-5 jury isn't as stupid as the one that let O.J. Simpson go after a matter of minutes of deliberation, but I do think the judge made a mistake about not giving instruction on lesser included charges such as manslaughter. I do believe that reckless disregard moves things from manslaughter to murder, but it's been almost 20 years since I took criminal law.

It may be that O.J. is finally getting his come-uppance over in Nevada. Len said that one of the victims of the alleged robbery has had a massive heart attack. He asked if the guy dies, does it append a murder charge. That would be a felony murder charge and I think it would require a causal connection between the robbery and the heart attack. It might certainly hold up in a civil damages trial as connected. We study a case in law school torts known as Pfaltzgraff--spelled something like that--which is all about causation and foreseeability, but there's also a matter of "the eggshell skull" which says you take your victim as you find them and too bad if you didn't know they had an eggshell skull and that pat on the head killed them, liability attaches.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to the Future with WML

The double dose of What's My Line Live on Stage on Sunday as a charity event was great entertainment. Of particular fun for us was meeting Rose Abdoo, who was on the first panel of the evening, along with our friend Andy Zax. Rose played Gypsy on Gilmore Girls, the wonderfully written series created by Amy Sherman-Pallidino and a big favorite of ours. Rose will be in the new Sherman-Pallidino show The Return of Jezebel James. Rose stayed through the second show so she could have her picture taken with Len. She said there was a closet in her house filled with comic books he had written.

The fabulous Lea Thompson was the mystery guest on the second of the back-to-back shows Sunday night. Despite her faux French accent, her friend Elaine Hendrix guessed her after only four "no" answers were given to the panel. She looked just great. In addition to her acting work, she's directing these days. It turned out she had been in the audience with us on Saturday night at Falsettos watching her Caroline in the City co-star Malcolm Gets play Marvin.

The two panels each managed to guess half of their guests. The big reaction of the evening came with Bo Slyapich who catches rattle snakes--he brought one with him and had it out on stage as you can see in the photograph. I watched one woman jump out of her seat and had to keep the friend sitting next to me from doing the same. Len, who was sitting in the front row wasn't particularly thrilled with things either. Me, I'll handle non-poisonous snakes but I do worry about running across a poisonous one when I'm walking Ace out on the trails in the hills of Chatsworth.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Theatre Time

Last night, we went to see Falsettos in a benefit performance for The Actors' Fund. Len had seen it before, I had not. Virtually every word is sung, so being able to understand the words is pretty important. Unfortunately, the sound was a little harsh and I couldn't understand it all. I heard enough to get by, but I missed some great lines.

The show combines two other, shorter pieces the first of which concerns a married man coming out of the closet and the effect it has on his wife and son and the second takes place several years later with the rise of the unknown disease we know call AIDS. Len and I and the friend with whom we attended the show all talked about losing friends to the epidemic. Then our friend mentioned having a gay colleague who has never known anyone who's died from it. What a change from a short time ago.

Tonight we're off to back-to-back performances of What's My Line Live on Stage. Len's not on the panel, but I will be shooting stills from my aisle seat in the second row. Len will help wrangle the panelists. I can't wait to see who they got as mystery guests for this charity event.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Macho Mash

Susan Faludi had an interesting OP-ED piece on "America's Guardian Myths" in the New York Times this morning at this link. Relating the story of colonial women who survived the early Indian wars (and lived to write about it), and comparing those wars with the terrorist attack on 9/11, Faludi warns against the resulting mythology of strong white men and weak women which arose in both cases.

I read this following a mailing from "The Pen" alleging that the "mistaken" movement of warheads earlier this week is actually preparation for a preemptive nuclear strike against Iran. I confess, my immediate thought was there was no mistake involved, unless it was that the information got out, but then, I've had a level of paranoia since the Pretender arose to his throne which I hadn't felt since I was a child in panic from overhearing the adults talk about war with the U.S.S.R. Just because The Pen is paranoid doesn't mean that Bush and Cheney aren't out to cause Armageddon. Won't they be surprised when (a) there is no afterlife or (b) there is an afterlife and they aren't going to Heaven. Monsters.

Six years ago today, Len and I flew back from New York out of Newark Airport because I had to prepare for two depositions and filings in Harlan Ellison's case against AOL. Otherwise, we would have had tickets for September 11 or 12, to spend more time with family after the Philadelphia World Science Fiction Convention. While I would not have booked tickets on early morning flights, we would have been witnesses to the destruction in New York and our return home would have been delayed by many days--assuming I would get on a plane, which I have not since September 7, 2001. It isn't so much that I hate flying, it's that I don't want to die in a plane crash, and the best way to help that along is to not fly. Stupid, I know.

The moments of that trip I keep thinking about are (a) going to a play in the West Village and looking up at the lights of the World Trade Center after dark; (b) walking in my old neighborhood past the Empire State Building and thinking "I could go to the top in an elevator and not worry about an earthquake;" and (c) walking through Times Square with my niece, hearing and seeing an emergency vehicle working its way through traffic, and having Kristina say to me "I always wonder how fire engines will get through Manhattan in a real emergency." Five days later, she had her answer.

There are only 500 days until January 20, 2009. Will we actually see the Repugnantans leave office or will they destroy the government and us first?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

It's a Girl Thing

Tuesday night, I went channel surfing while the remote was briefly in my control because Len was grilling dinner. TMC was running National Velvet for the millionth time, and for the millionth time, I tuned in somewhere other than at the very beginning--actually much closer to the end than that.

For all the books in my life, I've never read this girls' classic. At least I don't remember it. I have read Black Beauty, and I can't even think about that one without choking up all over. The British film with Nightcrawler--well, Alan Cumming--as the voice of Beauty has me sobbing buckets. I love King of the Wind but I've never been able to get through The Black Stallion. Many young girls read these and more. It's all part of that horse obsession.

12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is so beautiful and wonderful in the film, but several things bother me:

1. The horse is called "The Pie." I assumed (correctly, when I checked) that's because in the book the horse is a piebald and this is short for "The Piebald." A piebald is a horse with big splotchy black and white coloring. There's a piebald in the stall next to Ace right now. A skewbald is a horse with chestnut and white markings--Hidalgo is a skewbald. An an oddbald (I had never heard of this before) is a bay and white. In the U.S., we call them pintos (for grade horses) or paints (when they have Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse bloodlines.) The horse in the film is a copper-penny chestnut with a big blaze and white socks. Quite pretty, and I am partial to that color since my Prince came dressed in it. I suppose they couldn't find an appropriate piebald for the film.

2. There are scenes where Elizabeth Taylor is clearly riding, and others where the stunt rider is far to big to be her. Ooops.

3. At one point, the horse gets sick and goes down in his stall. Apparently, he stays down all night, while Velvet and Mi tend to him without getting a vet. A real horse would probably be dead from being prone that long. When a sick horse is down, one generally tries to get the horse back on its feet as soon as possible. Most horses don’t lay down for more than 15 minutes at a time—rarely more than 1 ½ hours in total a day. Seabiscuit was a notable exception. He would apparently sleep lying down for hours at a time.

3. I can only assume that riding styles have changed dramatically since 1944, because the riders are leaning back as the horses take off over jumps. Their legs are pushed way forward. I don't jump, but I've photographed quite a bit of it, and these days the riders are practically prone along the horses' necks as the go over jumps. Legs are bent, so the ear-hip-ankle alignment stays in place. Heck, it was that leaning back with my legs forward that got me out of the saddle last month. So many of the horses are upside down, with their noses in the air and backs hollowed out--bad on the horse--indicated some pretty bad riders and extras.

I think I read that Louis B. Mayer gave the horse to Elizabeth Taylor for her birthday. She earned it. The movie was a financial success and the actress who played her mother won an Oscar (the film won two and was nominated for several more.)

I tried to find out where the film was shot, especially the steeplechase, but that's not clear. I found a blog, apparently by someone who served in WWII, which mentions seeing the film being shot at Pebble Beach, which does have an equestrian center. The Wikipedia entry on the film mentions the light poles in the background which would not have been seen in Britain at that time. I didn’t doubt the film was made here, I just wondered exactly where was here.

The last (and only) time I saw a steeplechase in the flesh was probably 30 years ago in the hunt country of Virginia, where the course covered lots of farmland. I don't recall seeing as many horse in the field at the same time as are in the movie, but it was certainly exciting to watch.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Al Gore Was No Dunce

Evgenia Peretz wrote a great article in Vanity Fair about the skewed coverage Al Gore got from the media in 2000. Heinlein said something along the lines that "intelligence is not a crime, but most people treat it like at least a misdemeanor" and this article supports that notion in a big way. So many things that Mr. Gore said were distorted by the press with the effect of turning him into a laughing stock, thus creating an even playing field for the Pretender. What a disservice the press did to the American people and the world by that kind of coverage.

Last night, Keith Olbermann did another great commentary on his show Countdown, repeatedly calling the Pretender out as a liar. I'm sure that the Pretender (or his handlers) regrets that he gave interview time to Robert Draper for Dead Certain, a book I hadn't planned on reading until last night. The Pretender's been playing at world leader and playing with the lives of our citizens. Will the word actually get out.

IMPEACH REMOVE JAIL as the slogan says over at Perceval Press. I'd really rather not have to wait 500 days to see these monsters out of office. The Democrats better start standing their ground.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Temperatures remain hot, though perhaps less hot than yesterday. The pony's had a few days off because of the heat--he can get sunstroke just like a human, although I would think that 40 million years in the Arabian desert might have made him adapt better than me.

We tried to stay in the a/c for as much as we could this weekend. Saturday, we drove up to Ellison Wonderland and wound up going out for dinner with Harlan and Susan at a small Argentine place in Reseda. The company was great, though Harlan was trying to pull me into a legal entanglement of which I wish to have no part. I don't like re-inventing wheels, and the people involved clearly have forgotten everything I taught them at the start of the century. Their loss, not mine.

I probably should have avoided the sangria at the restaurant. It was really, really good, but it gave me a nasty headache and I crawled into bed soon after we got home.

Sunday, I got up early to do the pick-up the house and yard needed before folks came by to play games. Many were thankful to visit our a/c, which isn't necessarily provided in some of the older houses and apartments on the basin side of the Santa Monica Mountains. We had maybe a dozen and a half folks, who ate, talked and played. One even used the pool, which she pronounced wonderful and chided us for not using it more often.

Monday, I gave Ace a spray-down to wash off some of the salt and minerals he's been sweating and which has been drying in streaks on his hairs. It probably didn't help much, but I felt better.

Then Len and I drove over to J. Keith Van Straaten's unairconditioned apartment for another afternoon and evening of gaming. Since I wasn't in the kitchen preparing Greek potato salad, tomato with mozzarella salad, macaroni salad, and various platters of cheeses, fruit, and other snacks, I could sit and play too. We played a board game called Wordster and then played three rounds of Celebrity, a game we learned at J. Keith's the first time we were invited.

The players all take a sheet of paper and divide it into a predetermined number of slips (16 worked quite well.) On each slip we wrote a name of a celebrity, other famous person or groups of persons, and fictional characters. The slips are folded up and tossed into a bowl, from which they are drawn. The first two games we played with two teams of 5 players. The last round was teams of two. I was on the winning group team for both games and then Len and I won the teams of two round by two names. I think there were 5 teams of two playing. We beat J. Keith's team (I had been on his team for the earlier two games) and Paul Goebel's (the TV Geek from Beat the Geeks) as well. Paul claimed to have never been beaten at Celebrity. Oh well.

What really astonishes me when we play the game is how many famous names and characters are not recognized by others in the room. To be fair, Len and I are usually the oldest people invited, but I really think it has more to do with being well read or well rounded from an educational standpoint than anything else. Among the names not recognized were Steve Wozniak, Henry Clay, Christa McAuliffe, Millard Fillmore, Sir Ian McKellen (in a room filled with actors) and Hermoine Granger. It was funny but somewhat horrifying to listen to people trying to make other people guess by giving clues to the syllables instead of saying, respectively:

Co-founder of Apple Computers.
"The Great Compromiser."
School teacher killed in the Challenger disaster.
13th president of the United States, after Taylor and before Pierce.
Great actor who played Gandalf and Magneto.
Harry Potter and Ron Weasley's best friend.

One of the hard ones I submitted was "Archy and Mehitabel" (which I spelled phonetically, not correctly), and only two other people in the room knew who they were. They got it from the clues where someone was working on "same name as" and breaking down the syllables, but the people to whom clues were given were clueless. When the name isn't guessed, the clue goes back into the bowl at the end of the turn. Consequently, I pulled it myself and gave Len the clue "he's a cockroach, she's a cat," which he got immediately.

People should just read more. Don Marquis' Archy and Mehitabel poems are available in various collections and some of them can be found here. Toujours gai!