02 June 2008


Book Expo America was in Los Angeles this year. My publisher, Bleak House Books, was there and so was I. It was astounding, a reminder that despite all the creativity involved, I'm part of an industry. What I do is not really all that different than someone who stamps and molds widgets that are then sold to hardware stores. Not deep down at the heart of the matter, in any event.

A couple of complaints:

I, and a lot of other authors at BEA, gave away advanced reading copies (ARCs) of our upcoming books. There was a gigantic autograph area specifically for that purpose. People lined up to get them. Some of those lined up were used and collectible booksellers who wanted nothing more than to get some free stock for their stores. They have no intention of carrying the final product, the one that my publisher sells and that I get royalties for. When those people asked me for a signed ARC, I politely and cheerfully gave them one. But inside I felt like slapping them silly.

Kindles, or something like them, are probably the wave of the future; one of them at least. The tsunami of the future more like. But I'm suspicious. My most recent publishing contract says that I split the proceeds from the sale of electronic rights 50-50 with my publisher. (My agent gets 15 percent of my part of that, too.) When an actual paper copy of one of my books sells, I get a percentage of the cover price from every sale. Electronic rights are usually a one time deal, having nothing to do with how many individual books are sold. (Even if they were calculated on each sale, e-books generally sell for less than half the price of "real" books.) I ran into a few fellow authors who seemed very enthusiastic about Kindles. There is no doubt that the growth of e-publishing is inevitable and I am not one to stand in the way of "progress." Still, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that this is just another way that us authors are going to get fucked.

But, despite my complaints, I had a grand old time at BEA. There are too many pictures to post here, so you can go to my set of them at Flickr.


Are there any legal limits on how the constitution, of the U.S. or California, can be amended? This is an important question.

If an amendment is passed by congress, a state legislature or referendum (in the case of California) and then ratified as required, by definition what it pertains to becomes "constitutional."

Recently, the California Supreme Court overturned the state ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional. They could do that because the ban was a mere law, it wasn't part of the state's constitution. So, opponents of gay marriage now want to pass a constitutional amendment that could not be overturned by the (state) court.

This brings up the question of, can you pass a constitutional amendment about anything? Are there no “unalienable” rights?

What if Congress passed a constitutional amendment, and two-thirds of the states ratified it, that revoked the 14th and 19th amendments, disenfranchising everyone other than white males? There's nothing unconstitutional about that.

Far fetched? Maybe. Prohibition was passed, then repealed. Germany in the 1920s and early '30s was chaotic but democratic. Hitler was elected, then amended the German constitution to create a legal foundation for everything he did.

The initial founding document of the United States, preceding the Constitution by a little over 11 years, is the Declaration of Independence. In its second paragraph it states: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness..."

Here's a question: does the Declaration of Independence have any actual legal standing? If so, does that mean that some rights are "unalienable"; meaning that they can't be taken away, not even by amending the constitution? And does it also really mean that all "men" (the modern interpretation of which would be "people") share in those unalienable rights?

Is marriage, and its attendant package of legal and financial protections and responsibilities, one of those rights? In spite of divorce rates and a few couples I know, doesn't marriage have something to do with the "pursuit of happiness?"

If indeed all people share rights (and responsibilities) equally, can even a constitutional amendment apportion those rights unequally? Is there some higher, legal power, or basis, than even the Constitution?

I hope so.


Stephen Parrish said...

The preamble to the Constitution begins "We the people" not "We the certain kind of people." That says it all, as far as I'm concerned.

Great pictures. Wish I could have been there.

Nat G said...

The Declaration has a legal standing in that we are no longer subjects of King George III and his heirs. However, it is not a governing document for our country. Imagine if it were -- with the right to liberty being inalienable, we'd have to shut down all the prisons!

Eric said...

One wonders, however, whether or not the Declaration forms a basis for our governing documents, as it is our foundation document. The question I've got is, if there is such a thing as an unalienable ("inalienable" sounds right to me, but the copy I've got of the Declaration uses "un...") right, can that right be denied even by a constitutional amendment? I'd be curious to hear from a legal scholar on whether or not there have ever been any constitutional challenges based on the assumption of unalienable rights.

Nat G said...

Whoops - you're right, it is unalienable, and I knew that (I've corrected others on it before), and then I let the wrong thing slip into my brain buffer. It's not a difference that make no difference, or at least there are people who discuss the differences between in- and un-alienable.

Eric said...

According to the OED, "unalienable" and "inalienable" are the same thing, although the entry for inalienable seems to be more modern.