The Moderators of Popular Subreddits Should Be Elected
I have been using Reddit for about five years now. I think it is neat. I have used it as a site to promote literature videos, I have made whole short stories into individual subreddits, I have even encouraged other people in elite NYC media positions to consider it as a valuable tool when it comes to finding and promoting interesting content.

The users of Reddit are great. The only problem is that it has grown far too big for the moderators who "squatted" on popular subreddits years ago and now wield massive, unearned influence over subjects which they do not comprehend and do not deserve to curate.

Reddit is trying to position itself as a trustworthy source of news and information, as a "democratic" source of internet crowdsourcing. Reddit creator Alexis Ohanian is running for President of the Internet right now under the platform that he is "making the world suck less." Even President Obama sat down for a reddit AMA just last month.

But power corrupts.

Case in point, here's something that happened to me today.

Last night, I came home to my neighborhood in Jackson Heights and found a huge mob gathered in the street in front of huge projectors where they were all watching the presidential debates together. I thought it was cool so I took a couple of pictures.





I shared the pictures with my Fiction Circus audience on Facebook, and the response was so positive that I shared the picture on the "politics" subreddit, a subreddit with two million subscribers and a pretty vibrant and active discussion culture.

The post was crazily successful. In a few hours, I had hundreds of upvotes. I went to work (I am working right now as a cold caller for 1199-SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, doing "get out the vote" work), and when I left, the submission had over a thousand upvotes and seemed to be gaining even more momentum.

One poster even said the picture gave them chills.

People were proud to see Jackson Heights reprented so positively. They were proud to see the democratic process in action. They were proud to see true diversity and real political interest, which is exactly what I was proud of when I stumbled onto the scene in my neighborhood. You can read all the comments yourself, because I saved the link:

http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/11mo0g/so_i_got_off_the_subway_after_work_and_there_was/

But when I got home from work, the post was gone from the politics page of reddit altogether.

I was confused. I thought there had been some mistake. I sent a message to the moderators:

"Hey, why did my post get cut from the page? It seemed like people really liked it and then all of a sudden it was gone."

Here was the only response I got, from a moderator with the handle "davidreiss666":

"We don't allow pics."

I checked their policies. It says the don't allow images, but I have certainly seen pictures on the reddit politics page before. The images restriction is there to stop memes. Keep in mind, this was a HIGHLY popular post and was about to make it onto the front page of reddit itself, "THE FRONT PAGE OF THE INTERNET."

"It doesn't say that anywhere," I wrote back. "It says you don't allow "images," unless they are infographics or cartoons. How do I report you?"

"Images and pics are the same thing. And neither is wanted here. Go away."

Clearly I was dealing with someone for whom power was a neat, new drug.

"Now you are harassing me," I wrote back. "Seriously. How do I report you? I am logging this. You know I am the editor of a magazine, right? Obviously that post was wanted by a few thousand people until it was unceremoniously censored."

Instead of receiving a civil reply, the little motherfucker simply banned me from r/politics altogether. I got a message that said:

"You've been banned from posting to r/politics: Politics."

And then he sent me this:

"You are not welcome here. We have rules. If you don't follow them, we will remove the submission. You are rude, and not welcome in this subreddit anymore."

So I wrote back:

"I am writing a fun article about you. You will see it tomorrow!"

SO. In a nutshell, I posted a picture of people from my neighborhood gathered in the street to watch the presidential debates.

I posted it to r/politics.

It was a successful submission. It was a wildly successful submission. It was the most successful reddit submission I have ever contributed.

It was deleted by one lone moderator named "davidreiss666."

When I asked why, and asked for some adjudication, I was banned from the politics subreddit altogether. The moderator considered my completely understandable frustration to be "rude."

I want "davidreiss666" removed from office. I don't want to take his place, but I want him removed. If I can be summarily banned for little to no reason, then at the very lest "davidreiss666" deserves a referendum on his or her competence.

Who's with me???

Posted by miracle on Thu, 18 Oct 2012 01:04:07 -0400 -- permanent link

Hot Text and Miracle Margins

Recently, I have been doing a lot of sitting around reading long articles on the internet, thanks to my new job as a cold caller.

I have noticed something while reading these long articles. Long articles generate lots of intriguing discussion and commentary, but this commentary is unpleasant to read because it comes after the article and you don't know which statements or ideas in the article have provoked controversy until after you are done reading.

The human need to "digress" is not accounted for.

Comments are like a press-conference after the fact instead of a simultaneous, sideways conversation. It is fascist and does not really mimic the way we interact with text, given infinite possibility.

I don't think the "standard unit" of a work of prose is the sentence. I think it is probably the paragraph. Paragraphs can be long or short, but they contain a full idea by definition and are the equivalent of how much a person can say in one burst while chatting before they must take a sip of coffee or lean back in their chair and cross their legs.

Comments inserted after each paragraph would be disorienting without some way to hide them. You also need to know that they are there without looking at some number. So here is what I am proposing:

Each paragraph of a work of text should become a button. When you click the paragraph button, the paragraphs split open, revealing the comments between them that relate to that paragraph, and also allowing you to comment yourself. These are "miracle margins." Additionally, ala Reddit, one might also be able to like or dislike each individual paragraph, and also share each individual paragraph via various other social networks.

When the paragraph is shared, it becomes a link that refers back to the text as a whole. People love to share articles on Facebook, for instance, by merely using a pullquote as an explanation.

But here's the cool part. The density of comments -- or, perhaps, the amount that each paragraph is liked -- will be signified by a change in color intensity that can be turned on or off. This is "hot text."

Here is what I imagine this would look like ("hot text"):



The difference in color on these paragraphs signifies a difference in the amount of comments. The more comments there are, the darker the paragraph.

And then if you clicked on one of these paragraphs, this is what you would see ("miracle margins"):



Also, there would be buttons that would let you share this paragraph via your favorite silly social media platform. Imagine that they are there.

I think this will work exceptionally well for long-form and short-form journalism, and I also think it will be a good idea for ebooks.

Each ebook will have a webpage. This webpage will host all the comments about this book from every reader who has paid for access. These infinitely dense comment trees can be easily hidden, and the colored hot text can be turned off if it is distracting. These public margins are BETWEEN paragraphs, not to the side, and comments can be hidden like Japanese sliding screens.

Additionally, the moderators of specific books (authors? English professors?), like the moderators of Reddits, will be able to screen and delete comments, flagging them as spam or as inappropriate.

And here is the beautiful part, as far as making money goes:

Like Reddit, the authors of books will be able to sell ads in between these public margins. Any text could be monetized this way. The ads would not detract from the original text since you would only see them if you clicked a specific paragraph to see what people were saying about this paragraph.

Anyway, that's my idea. Feel free to steal this idea if you want, if you think you have the capacity to make this happen.

I would use Kickstarter to get this idea off the ground, but I am extremely ambivalent about Kickstarter.


Posted by miracle on Wed, 01 Aug 2012 17:36:51 -0400 -- permanent link

The Poetry of Bruce Lee


Since there is still no YouTube literature category, I had no choice but to unleash the poetic fury of Bruce Lee in the "Autos & Vehicles" category, where his unrivalled poetic power will only do harm to unfortunate inanimate objects, like tanks and armored personnel carriers.

FIRE!



WIND!



EARTH!



WATER!



HEART!



For a detailed analysis of Bruce Lee's poems, check out this article from "The Rumpus," by Dave Landsberger

Posted by miracle on Wed, 14 Mar 2012 12:27:54 -0400 -- permanent link

Please Help Me Fight to Keep Credit Card Companies from Deleting Controversial Books from the Internet
So credit card companies are trying to delete my books and stories from the internet.

Though I have been rejected from every publishing house in America, now I am also being told that I can't even "self-publish" my glorious filth for money.

I have credit card bills, but I cannot pay them off by conducting business the only way that I know how: writing and selling short stories and novels.

This is an extremely upsetting predicament.

It's nothing personal, evidently. Credit card companies are cracking down on amateur writers all over America this week and no one seems to care very much.

PayPal is refusing to serve as a money nexus for any publishing entity that publishes erotica, specifically erotica featuring incest, bestiality, rape, or underage porn.

(NOTE: I don't write erotica, nor do I write about any of these topics specifically. But my stories, like all literature, have controversial themes and transgressive subject matter that mark them for deletion in any marketplace that doesn't have the protection of prestige. Michel Houellebecq 's next book = safe! The entire Smashwords catalog = up against the wall, smoking one last cigarette, blindfolded, singing the "Internationale.")

No one is taking much responsibility for this act. Who can I blame? Smashwords blames PayPal. PayPal blames their overlord, Ebay, and Ebay blames credit card companies like Visa, Mastercard, and Discover.

This worldwide crackdown on filth is not making the news, but it is happening. This is not some weird political conspiracy theory about chemtrails, aspartame, gluten, or vaccines. It is happening -- in real time -- and unfortunately the victims are perverts and assholes like me who write nearly-criminal stories that only bad people and foreigners enjoy.

This is an actual fight between money and art.

Libertarians? Hippies? Right wing? Left wing? You people both claim that you love freedom of speech. I usually hate both of you, because I usually don't believe you and also because the politically-motivated usually write terrible fiction. But now is your chance to prove me wrong.

It is frustrating to see this happening and to see no one leaping into action to help. Credit card companies seemed to have weighed American apathy correctly. People like to fight for symbols and concepts, but they get nervous when the fight is for something actually important, like made-up stories about doing it with your granny in a shack in the woods or raping horses with comatose children or whatever.

I have had enough, personally. I am tired of being chased further and further underground. I feel that I am already underground enough. The only time I get to share my stories with the public is when I shout them at people in bars, when I give them away for free on my blog, or when I turn them into YouTube videos:



I enjoy being paid a tiny honorarium for the fiction that I write. It is legal for me to write the stories that I write. It is legal for me to sell them. I need a place to do this. Smashwords gives me the best percentage from my sales and allows me to put my novels into formats that everyone can enjoy.

***

People who do not live their lives in a red rage, waiting for the slightest provocation from powerful forces in order to go into "combat mode," might argue that there is no need to defend pornographers in a venue meant to sell legitimate fiction.

However, though I do not specifically write "porn meant to titillate," the books that I have written do feature scenes that violate the new terms of service that PayPal is demanding from Smashwords.

If Smashwords is going to delete "any" books for the reasons that they have stated, then they are going to have to delete my books, too. Smashwords told me that what I should do is make sure that my books aren't tagged with any obscene words so that they are not rounded up and flagged. This is a sly warning -- an invitation to a clever dodge -- but I can't do such a thing in good conscience.

Instead, out of protest, I have tagged ALL of my books, even the ones that are basically innocent, with dangerous words -- "bestiality," "rape," "underage," "incest," "barely legal" -- even though I have specifically been warned not to do this.

Check out my amazing tag cloud of horribleness at the bottom of my Smashwords author page!

I urge other Smashwords authors to join me in tagging books with these offensive concepts, in order to make the point that you cannot cherry-pick the ideas and themes that are appropriate for fiction.


(flag courtesy of Mr. Sam Snoek-Brown)

Writers are spiteful animals who actually like dangerous ideas. It is thrilling to produce them. It is thrilling to read them.

NOTE: Yes, it bothers me that child pornography, rape, unwilling incest, and nonconsesual sex with animals exists in the world. However, because I am not a fucking idiot, I don't think that deleting books about these topics will get rid of these problems. I like not being a fucking idiot. It makes the world much nicer for me, and makes me able to enjoy many rare and exquisite things, like liquor chocolates, French novels, Janis Joplin, and writing stories about genetically-engineered, epileptic rodents that are sold as living dildos.

Other people who are not fucking idiots can tell the difference between fantasy and reality. We have a little club. It is called "reading."

Rape is horrible, but nobody is "deleting" rapists here. Instead, we are compounding the world's misery by taking the ax to borderline schizophrenics, cranks, weirdos, perverts, and delusional dreamers like me who have harmed no one and only wish to share their insanity with the world in order to prevent being ruled by this insanity.

How will it feel to have my books deleted from the internet by a credit card company?

My books being deleted from the internet by a credit card company will feel exactly like getting raped by a grizzly bear at a McDonald's Playland while children watch, French fries dangling from their mouths, their diapers filling with green diarrhea.

If I were to write a story about how it would feel, that story would also have to be deleted by Smashwords.

***

The attack on Smashwords really hits me particularly hard, because I was already swallowing my pride when I decided to self-publish my books and stories in the first place.

Sometimes I read about famous authors who "made it" and I see that they had over fifteen rejections for their novel. Or maybe they received over 100 rejection letters for their short stories, enough to wallpaper the room of their garret. Or maybe it took them three sad years to finally place one of their genius short stories in a magazine.

My stories have been rejected thousands of times. I have actually never been published, except in a magazine called "Out of the Gutter" which was published by a friend in Austin and is meant specifically for "men in prison."

"Okay," I told myself after ten years of writing stories and a hundred completed tales that no one wanted. "So I am not really meant to be a writer. And yet I can't stop doing it. What does this mean?"

It means I published two short story collections inside rubber genitalia, inventing the "digital sculpture" in an effort to reinvent what publishing even means.

After I finished writing my second novel, the first book in my epic fantasy series about psychics, cockroaches, and unicorns, I accepted my lot in life: "No one likes your books very much, it seems. But the good people at Smashwords will let you publish them there for free, and maybe once you have made some money, you can go out and fund a print edition for your friends to have. Then your friends will be able to read your stories, at least. You will be able to sleep at night, and carry on with the sad business of writing the sequels to an epic series that no one wanted in the first place."

For a brief period, I had an agent. She shopped my novel around to all of the publishing houses in NYC, and they all turned me down. Then, she stopped being an agent out of sadness and frustration, apologized profusely to me, and we had tea together.

A very good friend convinced me to submit my book to an entirely different agent: some young go-getter with pizazz or some shit. After three months of silence, so long that I had completely forgotten about him, he sent me this letter:

"I'm shamefaced to have kept you waiting so long on a response to this. I really don't have any other excuse than the size of my reading load -- but still, three months is too long, and I'm sorry. Thank you for your patience and understanding. To cut right to the chase, this is is quite literally like nothing I've ever read before, both for better and for worse. Which is to say, it was a refreshing change from the predictable stuff that usually comes across my desk. But it's also just not really my kind of book. I don't think it even is a "kind" of book (or if it is, I've never read those kinds of books). I admire your talent and most of all your imagination, but I quite literally have no idea who would publish this. Which is not to say someone won't -- only that it's far enough outside of the kind of fiction I tend to represent that I wouldn't know what to do with it. It's a crazy book, but I'm honestly not sure if I mean crazy-good or crazy-crazy when I say that."

So, after being called "crazy-crazy" by a literary agent and told to go to hell -- basically -- I realized that my work provoked in East Coast elites the same emotions that my physical presence often provokes: fear and confusion. I remembered a piece of advice that my very good friend Chris Nicholas, Austin independent publishing's famous "Uncle Staple," told me once:

"Nobody likes it when you are smarter than them and you don't have more money."

So! Why try to be liked at all? Smashwords would be the place where I would instead build my world, all on my own, with help from no one but my pals.

Until now, I haven't had any problems with Smashwords. They have paid me quarterly (as they said they would!) and despite not listening to any of my excellent suggestions for how to be a much better website for their authors, they have still been pretty good about protecting their work and publishing precisely the kind of "crazy" ebooks that I enjoy reading.

I guess some part of me knew that this couldn't last forever. And now the credit card companies are trying to dismantle this plucky publishing platform that seems right on the cusp of breaking free and posing a legitimate threat to Amazon, Apple, and Google's initiatives.

Do I think I am some great, genius writer who deserves special treatment? No, not really.

(I mean: sometimes in the shower I think this.)

But do I think I deserve to have my books deleted from the internet by credit card companies?

Hell fucking no, I do not think this.

No one deserves this.


***

At first, I was surprised, shocked, and upset at Smashwords for their surprising, unilateral decision to change their policy and begin a massive culling of content for moral reasons (not legal ones).

Then, a few days later, Mr. Coker issued a different letter explaining his decision and seeming to waver a little bit about what was happening. It seemed that he was of two minds. He put the gun to the heads of his writers, but he couldn't pull the trigger.

Mark Coker himself is also a novelist. I think someone who was purely a business excecutive would never have hesitated.

Finally, he wrote all of us authors and publishers a more sympathetic analysis of the situation, asking us to help him fight this decision, asking us to help him raise awareness about the issue in order to put pressure on credit card companies who want to defund controversial books.

He ends his letter with: "Let's start a little fire, shall we?"

Yes, let's do that.

Share my rage a little bit with me for just one quiet moment. Imagine how you would feel after being rejected by every single publisher in your language. Imagine how you would feel if you then swallowed all the hate and bitterness in your heart, did judo on it, and started the hard business of making your own publishing empire out of your own works, aligning yourself with the biggest publisher at "the bottom" who was not actually going to charge you for the privilege of making books.

And then, imagine how you would feel if credit card companies found out where you were hiding and said that you had to find some place else to share your work -- that you didn't deserve any money for the decade of work that you put into your stories, even if you did all the publishing work yourself?

How would you feel about that? Would you be angry? Would you want people to stand up for you?

Don't pick on Smashwords, credit card companies. They do good work for bad people. I know they have the exact opposite of your business model, but try to understand them.

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

Here is a petition that somebody made. Petitions aren't as good as sharing this story with everybody that you know, but then again, probably everybody that you know doesn't want to read Mark Coker's call to action or my angry screed.

Posted by miracle on Mon, 05 Mar 2012 18:00:04 -0500 -- permanent link


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