October 16, 2007

LITTLE PESTS Posted by Sheila Connolly In the wake of Al Gore's Nobel Prize, this is a great time to talk about environmental issues as part of Blog Action Day. I want to say something about one small aspect of our environment–one about which I have some direct and personal knowledge. My husband is an entomologist who works for the federal agency in charge of monitoring and combatting invasive insect species. (Disclaimer: the opinions expressed herein are mine, not his.) Most of us don't think about invasive species on a day to day basis–but we should. Insects make their way into this country through any number of unexpected ways. For example, while Asian countries such as China may claim they have inspected their goods (which one could question, given recent news reports), they don't necessarily inspect the wooden packing crates they use to transport their goods on container ships. Say hello to the Asian Longhorn Beetle, which has cropped up across the country around port areas. Or you're traveling back from a wonderful vacation in some glamorous foreign country–Europe, Mexico, Thailand. And you just happen to slip a last piece of fruit into your suitcase as a souvenir. Bad! You ignore the signs posted in the airport when you come back. Your luggage might be inspected, or it might not. The fruit makes it home and sits on your kitchen counter for a few days–and releases a whole bunch of flying something-or-others that go forth and conquer. Or you go camping in the north woods somewhere. Oh, look–lots of dead branches, just what you need for kindling for the fireplace back home. You throw some in the back of your SUV and drive home, where you stack the kindling in the back yard for winter. Bad again. That's how the Emerald Ash Borer travels from state to state. Why is this a problem, you say? It's just a couple of bugs. The birds will get them, or they'll freeze come winter, right? Wrong. Imported species have no natural enemies here. The critters that have lived here a long time have their own niche in the local environment, wherever that may be. They have a place in a specific food chain. The newcomers don't, so they have carte blanche to eat their way through whatever they come across, while the local predators look at them and say, what're they? I don't eat them. Unfortunately, without natural predators, the invaders can multiply and spread very, very quickly, and do a real number on your local crops. Or trees. Case in point. In Australia, there was once an infestation caused by a small wood wasp, that could do large damage to pine trees. (Apologies to my scientist spouse–I'm oversimplifying things here.) How can a tiny wasp kill a full-grown tree? Very fast. By the time you notice that the tree is infested (its needles turn red), it's only a year or two away from death. No spraying or pruning can save it. Gone. The Australians thought they had it under control and relaxed their treatment, back a few decades ago. The next time they flew over some of their forested areas, it looked like a New England autumn scene, with at least half the trees dead or dying. Pines are not supposed to be red. Ever since they have been a lot more careful in monitoring and treating their trees. But in Australia, pines are a cultivated crop, grown for pulp and construction purposes in managed plantations. That can't happen here, right? So the insect arrives in the U.S. (which it has, in multiple places)–so what if we lose a few pine trees here and there? We've got lots, right? Again, wrong. What happens when that insect makes its way to areas in the southern U.S. where most of our construction lumber comes from? We're going to start building new homes out of plastic (okay, we do a lot of that already, but it would only get worse). There is a political problem. As noted, our government has agencies and mechanisms for dealing with invasive species, as they should. But, as often happens with federal agencies, both the staffing and the funding are inadequate to deal with the full scope of the problem (or perhaps I should say, the many little problems). Government agencies depend on federal budget funding, which must be approved by Congress. Say your elected representative has an infestation of Insect X in his or her district; s/he will lobby hard for funding to deal with that. That is good. But say, after a couple of years, some other member of Congress finds a new and different pest in his or her backyard, and starts lobbying for funds. The government likes to spread its money around, so the funding shifts. But is the first pest eradicated or controlled? Not necessarily, and absent funding, it will just resume business as usual. Well, why can't the individual states handle the problem? They try. (We won't get into the problems of coordinating efforts between different governmental agencies.) But, guess what? Insects don't respect state borders. One state can mount an aggressive and successful campaign to deal with a pest, but a few miles away in another state, the little buggers are just laughing, waiting to sneak back. And consider the very long Canadian border, with all those trees on the other side. Insects can fly, you know. Just because insects are small does not mean they cannot do major damage. And as the climate warms, the insects' range increases, moving further north. They're not going to go away. Just because they're small does not mean we can ignore them. What can you do? Encourage your elected officials to sustain research and eradication efforts, and to see them through. Or decide now which crops and trees you can live without.
It Sucks to be an Object Lesson posted by Doranna The writing world...especially the genre writing world...it's a small community. It's also a community of intensely creative people...and those who are successful have generally become that way because they're also passionate people. They believe in what they're doing. We are also, I think, a fairly idiosyncratic group. Not to mention a wee bit professionally incestuous. Put those things together, and it would be easy to think casual. To think family. But sometimes...I think Miss Manners is more important for us than ever. *ahem* Not so very long ago, I posted about a big dust-up between SFWA and scribd, which had pirated approximately one bazillion works. In effecting a take-down of the work, SFWA erred; works that had specifically and deliberately been placed there were also removed. Apprised of the error, SFWA's president acted swiftly to rectify the mistake, and issued an immediate apology. Nonetheless, one of the affected authors saw to it that the world knew of his outrage, and of SFWA's vile behavior. Hoo boy, did SFWA suck that week. He had other ways to deal with the situation, of course. He simply opted to take the one that would make the most splash for his own agenda. No graciousness there; no taking the high road with an organization of which he's a member. No quarter given. All in all, it worked out pretty well for him. So it is with extreme irony that this week, the following open letter was issued: SFWA, Piracy, and Serious Literature -- An Open Letter (excerpted with permission, with the entire letter at this link) I originally sent the piece to David Langford for Ansible, because that's where I first saw the quote from Ruth Franklin that the piece riffs on. I also put it on my web site. (It's still there.) ... I then discovered that Doctorow had put it on his web site, without asking permission and without observing copyright, misrepresenting its purpose, and falsely claiming that it was under license by "Creative Commons" so that anyone could copy it. My agent and I had just decided to ask the e-piracy committe of SFWA, which I had come to count on in similar situations, to intervene on my behalf -- when we found that the committee had suddenly been dissolved, following complaints about unauthorized interference, issuing from Cory Doctorow. The irony of this situation is fairly visible. While Doctorow was making a huge fuss over an honest mistake, which when discovered was immediately redressed, he was publishing another writer's work without asking permission and in clear violation of copyright. ... -- Ursula K. Le Guin October 12 2007 ================================ Okay, so that'll get your attention, right? I mean, Ursula Le Guin...oh yeah. So...this had been going on for months, Cory wasn't responding to her requests via an intermediary, and when he did finally notice there was a problem, he took half-steps toward resolving it. Eventually, SFWA's ever-cool-headed president intervened and got action, and eventually, Cory posted what he's calling an apology, which seems to spend a lot of time defending his actions and taking potshots at others for an apology. (you can read for yourself). But it's not going down well, not even necessarily in his own community. (It would certainly be pretty bad news for him if we judged him by the standards he used on SFWA.) So here we are. Because in the publishing industry, you really never know. You might think you've got it made over here in this niche, or you might think you'll never have any use for this person over there in that niche, but seriously...you just never know. For instance, that young new writer I was once recommending to my friends? Someone I knew online, exchanged comments with, cheered her growing and notable success and the awards she won or aspired to? Right. Her. But then, when we were at the same major con in the same invite-only publisher event, she dumped multiple arrogant rudeness on me. You know, the kind where you blink and think to yourself, "She did NOT say that--!" Except...she had. And I began to hear similar experiences from other pros, some with much more chops in the field than I could ever carry. And so she became someone I do not read, I do not talk to, I do not recommend (or, frankly, discuss at all). She has fallen into my personal null filter. And I notice...she's quite suddenly not as visible as she was. I am not, I suspect, the only writer with a personal null filter. And so you treat others with professional respect, and you strive for a gracious response to what comes your way. You sit on your temper, you bite your tongue, and by golly you rewrite that email! If you think editors don't swap prima dona stories, you'd be wrong. If you think other writers won't fail to include you in networking and opportunities, you'd also be wrong. So take the high road--it'll pay off in the long run. Or don't, and see how long you can outrun your luck. If you're really lucky, you won't become a public object lesson. And if you're not... Well, Cory Doctorow can tell you. It sucks to be an object lesson.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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