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Wrap-up of news and opinion from your not-so-humble correspondent.

An Open Letter to Jeff Bezos,
Founder, President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board, Amazon.com

“J. Neil Schulman has seen the future, and there are no books.”
– Cynthia Crossen, The Wall Street Journal,
Jan. 18, 1989

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I’m one of the pioneers of the eBook, according to a 1989 article on me in the Wall Street Journal. I’m also an award-winning author and filmmaker with nine of my books and a feature film I wrote and directed sold on Amazon.com.

In a graduate course I taught for the New School for Social Research in Spring, 1991, I wrote the following phrase: “an electronic reader weighing 9 ounces, with a high-rez, page-white screen.” I got pretty close to describing the Amazon Kindle, 16 years before it existed and three years before you started Amazon.com. Wikipedia tells me that the first Amazon Kindle weighed 10.2 ounces when released November 19, 2007, and that the latest Kindle weighs 8.5 ounces.

With foresight like that, maybe I’m worth paying attention to for a couple of minutes.

Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos
Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos

Amazon.com and I are in a kind of symbiotic relationship.

As an author my on-demand books are placed on Amazon.com by Ingram and I link to them from my websites through an Amazon.com Associate’s account.

I’ve put one of my most popular book titles on sale in the Kindle store.

I’m also an Amazon Prime member.

As a filmmaker Amazon.com’s IMDb division lists me, personally, and my film projects.

I’m a subscriber to Amazon.com’s IMDb Pro service.

I submitted my first feature, Lady Magdalene’s, to dozens of film festivals using Amazon.com’s Withoutabox division.

Through Amazon.com’s CreateSpace division I’ve made Lady Magdalene’s exclusively available for sale through Amazon Instant Video.

CreateSpace has also made the Lady Magdalene’s soundtrack CD exclusively available on Amazon.com.

In a few months the DVD of my movie Lady Magdalene’s will be released and in anticipation of that I decided I should raise the word of mouth about Lady Magdalene’s on the web. One of the legs of that advance marketing strategy was to run some Google Adwords text ads directing people to the Amazon.com Instant Video page for my movie, with the intent of driving sales and raising its ranking. I used the link code provided me as an Amazon.com Associate to do it. Each click to the Amazon.com sales page cost me around forty-five cents.

Yesterday I received an email from the Amazon.com Associates department.

Did the email thank me for spending my own out-of-pocket money to drive business to Amazon.com?

No.

Did the email offer to enter into a co-op marketing agreement by which Amazon.com would share the costs of the ads with me?

Uh-uh.

The email bitched at me for (a) violating my Amazon Associates agreement (does anyone actually read web boilerplate before clicking “I accept”?) by using my link in an ad; and (b) infringing on Amazon.com’s trademark by using Amazon as key words in web searches. The email told me I wouldn’t be paid any commission on these sales and told me if I didn’t remove my ads my Associate affiliation would be shut down.

Dude, you have got to be kidding me. Read my articles on IP here, here, and here. I’m considered the most vociferous defender of IP in a largely anti-IP libertarian movement. I’m the last guy on earth who would consciously violate your trademark.

I bet, when you and your fellow geniuses figured out — a few years after I did — that digital media and computer networks was going to drive brick-and-mortar booksellers, record stores, and video rental stores into bankruptcy, you never figured that your anal-retentive lawyers were going to mess up your brilliant business model by discouraging your strategic allies from doing business with you by making your employees treat them like crap, but that’s what they’re doing.

I removed my ads that at no cost to you were driving sales to your shop.

Heads up from me to you, free of charge.

Sincerely,

J. Neil Schulman

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Harry’s Law

I’ve been a resident of Pahrump, Nevada, since 2001. In 2006 I filmed much of Lady Magdalene’s in Pahrump, the rest in Las Vegas, at Hoover Dam, and at Front Sight, which spreads from Nevada’s Nye County (where Pahrump is) into Clark County (where Vegas is).

Pahrump is not like other places.

In January, 2011 the Pahrump Town Manager, Bill Kohbarger, recommended to the Pahrump Town Council that privately owned firearms be banned at town-sponsored events and on official town property.

The next town council meeting Pahrump gun owners, speaking from the floor, refused to let any other town business proceed until that proposal was rejected by the town council. The Pahrump town council permanently tabled the proposal.

At the February 12 town council meeting an extension of Bill Kohbarger’s contract as town manager was voted down, 3-2. Without that vote his contract would have automatically extended another three years. This firing was despite all the town bureaucracy speaking in favor of what a great boss Kohbarger was.

Despite being a decent town manager by all accounts Bill Kohbarger made a fatal political mistake, the sort of thing that in olden days got people tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail.

Bill Kohbarger forgot where he lived and who his employers ultimately were. He forgot that Pahrump comes from a tradition that prizes individual autonomy and individual freedom. He forgot that outside Las Vegas — which is filled with a bunch of California immigrants who still haven’t melted into the culture — Nevada is still very much the Old West.

Nevada Senator Harry Reid just made the same mistake.

Harry Reid
Senator Harry Reid (D, NV)

To quote Mark Waite’s story in Wednesday’s Pahrump Valley Times:

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., appeared to pause for a moment during his speech to the Nevada Legislature Tuesday after he said the state should outlaw prostitution, as if to anticipate some applause.

There was none. There wasn’t any applause either from officials representing Nye County or a prominent brothel owner who commented on the senator’s remarks to the Pahrump Valley Times.

My house in Pahrump is a mile from two brothels. They’re not near any schools. The women who work there aren’t allowed into town except one day a week, to visit the doctor for STD tests. They pay taxes and they don’t bother anyone.

Nevada is the only state in the union that still allows its counties the option to allow legal brothels (Nye County does, Clark County doesn’t), which are legal in the UK, European countries like Germany, and in Asian countries like Thailand. Prostitution is illegal in Muslim countries that operate under Shariah law, and in places whose laws are still influenced by other sexually restrictive religious codes.

In this last election for the Nevada Senate seat, Republican “Tea Party” candidate, Sharron Angle, was not only opposed to legal prostitution in Nevada, and — incredibly — even legal gambling in Nevada, but opined in one interview that if bringing back alcohol prohibition was the only way to keep marijuana illegal in Nevada, she would favor bringing back Prohibition.

It was nutty stuff like that which got Harry Reid re-elected in a year when fiscal conservatives were regularly retiring big government spenders.

So now the winner adopts the loser’s platform, in a state which has little tolerance for its elected representatives infringing on what they see as their liberty.

It might take a while, Harry, but wave to Bill Kohbarger on your way out, because if I have to choose between the honest working women of Pahrump or the whore currently representing the State of Nevada in Washington, I choose the honest working women of Pahrump.

#

Holder’s Law

Anybody besides me watching Kathy Bates’ new legal drama, Harry’s Law?

In the fifth episode titled “A Day in the Life,” Kathy Bates’s character, storefront lawyer Harriet Korn — new to criminal law — tries to resign from representing a client charged with murder when she finds out her client really did it. Since the jury has already been empaneled the judge won’t let her — so Harry deliberately scuttles her case by telling the jury her client is guilty, causing a mistrial, a contempt of court citation, and a hearing to disbar her for inexcusable misconduct.

You see, when you’re a lawyer representing a client, you’re supposed to represent your client to the best of your ability, no matter how much you hate the scumbag.

Funny that this standard didn’t apply when California Attorney General Jerry Brown (now the California governor again) — charged to defend the majority of California voters who had passed a proposition amending the state’s constitution to forbid issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples — threw the case.

Don’t sidetrack me; I don’t consider that any government should be licensing marriage in the first place, for the exact same reasons I don’t want my own state intruding into the private consentual relations between a man, a woman, and a MasterCard. Or two women, a man, and a MasterCard. Or Two Men and a MasterCard. Or whatever party the holder of the MasterCard can afford. And I apply the same moral and ethical standards to longer-term contracts, like marriage.

Eric Holder
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

But now U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder — the lawyer whose client is Congress when its elected representatives pass a law — has done what Jerry Brown did — what Harry Korn did in a weekly TV drama: betrayed the client and thrown the case, for no other reason than that he doesn’t like it.

I don’t like it, either, but WTF? Are the lawyers who are supposed to be in the business of defending the law now allowed to throw any case they don’t happen to like?

Even an anarchist lawyer in a private arbitration would get sanctioned for that.

#

Look for the Union Label

Wisconsin Education Association Council
Wisconsin Education Association Council

My mother told me as recently as yesterday at dinner that some of the first words out of my mouth when I first learned to speak were, “That lousy union!”

No, I wasn’t regurgitating an incident from a past life. My father, concert violinist Julius Schulman, had been the concertmaster and featured soloist of the WOR Mutual Network Symphony Orchestra when it had higher ratings than the rival NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. I picked the phrase up from my dad because he was still complaing about losing that job — at the time the pinnacle of his musical career — when Musicians Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians struck WOR because the network tried to fire several musicians who got full salary but never were called in actually to perform. In other jobsite situations this is called featherbedding.

The strike was never settled. WOR simply gave up its orchestra and went to “canned” music.

That lousy union.

Like my father, I’m a union member: the Writers Guild of America, East, affiliated wth the AFL-CIO. I have no particular beef with my union, aside from them striking twice within my first few years of membership and the six-month-long strike that wiped out the only job I’d been contracted to write a movie for TV and my never getting another paid job screenwriting for someone else’s company, since. I have a talent agent and a literary manager representing me, plus my own production company. I’ve never understood what a union can do for me that my reps and I can’t do without their help — except lose me job offers from producers who don’t want to sign a union contract.

Everybody misses the point about what a union is and what it does. Unions supposedly raise wages and working conditions by collective bargaining, which supposedly places them on an equal footing with big employers. The natural laws of economics are described to say that when the price of anything, including labor, is raised above what the market will bear the market will replace it with something else or somewhere else. Collective bargaining can’t raise the market value of a worker for a particular job any more than it could alter the laws of motion or thermodynamics. If wages and benefits get too high, jobs are eliminated (like my dad’s job) or outsourced to places which don’t have rules making them bargain with unions.

This too theoretical and complex for you? Try this on for size. Unions have no word for management or bosses as insulting as the word they use for non-union workers: scab. Unions are not organized against management and bosses. Unions are organized to regulate workers and to use force against unregulated workers.

Now, in the private sector — where any “job” is nothing more than a trade of work in exchange for money — interfering with the trade is tyrannical.

Workers should be free to bargain collectively or not to bargain collectively.

Employers should be free to bargain collectively or not to bargain collectively.

Anything that anyone – government or goon — does by force or threat of force or even the implication that force might be used — to compel either side either to bargain collectively, or not to bargain collectively — is tyrannical.

But when the “trade” is between a government and an individual, anything the individual can do to even the odds is an improvement. That includes organizing the government workforce and collective bargaining. It’s just one more separation of powers. It’s one more limitation on government power. It’s one more monkey wrench thrown into the machinery of Leviathan.

Government is force. It is tyrannical and coercive by its nature. It takes its money by force and spends it by fiat. Only the delusion of its officials and employees that they are doing something worthwhile that can’t be done in a private transaction separates government from being a purely criminal operation.

So this pro-capitalist libertarian wishes to extend his support to the members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council in its struggle against the Wisconsin Republicans led by Governor Scott Walker to eliminate their collective bargaining powers.

This article is Copyright © 2011 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust. All rights reserved.


Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!

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