Everybody Loses.

James Somers has an infuriating article in the Atlantic describing the collapse of a great dream:

You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.

It’s a long, depressing tale in which there are no villains, just people variously overambitious, naive, and trying to get a decent deal, but it’s well worth the read. Here are a couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite:

The irony is that so many people opposed the settlement in ways that suggested they fundamentally believed in what Google was trying to do. One of Pamela Samuelson’s main objections was that Google was going to be able to sell books like hers, whereas she thought they should be made available for free. (The fact that she, like any author under the terms of the settlement, could set her own books’ price to zero was not consolation enough, because “orphan works” with un-findable authors would still be sold for a price.) In hindsight, it looks like the classic case of perfect being the enemy of the good: surely having the books made available at all would be better than keeping them locked up—even if the price for doing so was to offer orphan works for sale. In her paper concluding that the settlement went too far, Samuelson herself even wrote, “It would be a tragedy not to try to bring this vision to fruition, now that it is so evident that the vision is realizable.”
[ . . . ]
“The greatest tragedy is we are still exactly where we were on the orphan works question. That stuff is just sitting out there gathering dust and decaying in physical libraries, and with very limited exceptions,” Mtima said, “nobody can use them. So everybody has lost and no one has won.”

Via Helen DeWitt at paperpools.

Comments

  1. Although the legal issues suck for everyone, the fact is that Google still has digital photocopies of 30 million books saved in several locations worldwide. No fire will be able to destroy them.

    Everyone should be scanning first, and asking questions later.

  2. Actually, Rick, the fact that Google still has the books but is unable to share them has been considered a negative thing. Access to such a large corpus allows Google to develop natural language processing applications that none of its competitors could, and for a company that has already established monopolies or quasi-monopolies in various areas, this is chilling.

  3. Well, “chilling” depends on your perspective. I personally don’t give a rat’s ass about Google’s natural language processing applications, but I care deeply about access to books.

  4. As a start, I wouldn’t even mind if a hypothetical idiot billionaire who couldn’t even complete a simple sentence decided to scan every book on earth for their own nefarious purposes.

    As long as multiple copies exist in diverse formats, that is much better than them simply physically disintegrating on a shelf somewhere.

    At some point in the near future, those documents can and will be freed, even if by a generous gift of money, or a bailout, or a digital theft, or an accident, or even a reasonable agreement.

  5. The image at the top of the article representing libraryhood is the Long Room in the Old Library, Trinity College Dublin. As you might imagine, access to the books there is close to zero.

  6. Google, though, hasn’t used any special rights to make that corpus. All of it comes either from publishers by ordinary contracts, or else from libraries, who have the legal right (indeed, the moral duty) to copy their collections in order to help preserve them. Anyone with the same money and interests could have done what Google has done.

  7. ‘Copyright’ should be only about distribution. You actually ‘copy’ words on a page into your brain whenever you look at them.

    Taking photos of book pages is not the same thing as selling a copied book. Do people believe that you need a copyright license to make screenshots of pages on the internet for your own use?

    This could get totally out of hand, as in the music business. But at least even they are not arguing about if you made a digital copy of a song before it was even used to make a sample for a hypothetical new song.

  8. Do people believe that you need a copyright license to make screenshots of pages on the internet for your own use?

    No, but I believe that is a matter of fair use / fair dealing, as does Google when it deals with copyrighted works.

  9. I once tried to follow the legal back-and-forth on this matter, but it was complex and daunting. It’s true that Google asserted a “fair use” right in what they were doing, but in fact they were scanning books in their entirety, and authors of said books were supposed to take Google’s word for it that they wouldn’t go beyond fair use.

    I have a couple of books that are out of print, and it would be nice to see them available again. But it wouldn’t be so nice if Google made (a little bit of) money out of the process and I didn’t. There are some difficult contractual questions (which the Atlantic story only hints at) in figuring out whether rights to an out-of-print book have reverted to the author or not.

    In the end I agree that it’s a shame the Google settlement came to grief on monopolistic concerns, which are not the concerns authors (in my experience) had. At the same time I don’t have an altogether benign view of Google (despite the fact that my electronic existence is largely in their hands) and the full settlement was so long and byzantine that I have no way of knowing whether it would have been good for me (as both author and reader) or not.

  10. SFReader says:

    I read the article, but I still can’t quite understand what was the reason exactly which prevented Google from opening access to all of the safely out-of-copyright books they scanned (published before 20th century). That’s millions of books, easily, and as far as I am concerned, the most interesting ones.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    Note that in addition to “really old” works, absolutely everything first published in the US between 1923 and 1960 inclusive would now be public domain in the US if its copyright term had been determined according to the laws in effect at time of publication, rather than Congress giving the rightsholders’ lobby free after-the-fact bonus protection which obviously did not retroactively incentivize the creation of more or better work. That’s a pretty massive currently-tied-up-by-the-lawyers corpus. Here’s a sampling of what would have just entered the public domain (works first published in 1960) had the new rules not been made retroactive. https://law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2017/pre-1976/

  12. It’s true that Google asserted a “fair use” right in what they were doing, but in fact they were scanning books in their entirety

    The famous four factors for fair use (purpose and character of the copying, nature of the work, amount and substantiality of the amount copied, and effect on the market for the original) are not four gateways through which fair use must pass to succeed, but four elements that a court must weigh in making a determination of fair use. In this case, for example, a court might decide that although a copy of the whole is bad from the “amount and substantiality” standpoint, it wins on “purpose and character” and “effect on the market”.

    what was the reason exactly which prevented Google from opening access to all of the safely out-of-copyright books they scanned

    They in fact do so. In determining the date of a book, however, they are at the mercy of their metadata providers. If one provider says that a book was published in 1920, and another that it was published in 1926 (probably a later edition), as a matter of prudence they adopt the date 1926. In the subset used for Google Ngrams, they have checked publication dates individually, but for most of the 25 million books they have not.

  13. Which makes it all the more aggravating that they did such a crappy job with the metadata to begin with, arrogantly assuming they knew better than librarians.

  14. @John Cowan: Your comment is correct but doesn’t address the point I was making. Google never established that what it wanted to do with the scanned copies fell within the traditional fair use guidelines, and besides that it was impossible to know whether, having got their foot in the door, they might expand to additional uses that would further stretch legal credibility.

  15. SFReader says:

    -They in fact do so.

    Really? Because Google Books is full of 19th century books for which only Snippet View is available.

    This suggests that the books were indeed scanned (otherwise they couldn’t offer Snippet View), but they won’t give us access for some reason. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t be copyright, because, I mean, the author is dead and his children are dead and grandchildren and maybe great-grandchildren too.

  16. SFReader says:

    For example, why this book is available only in Snippet View?

    Title James Gilmour of Mongolia: His Diaries, Letters and Reports
    Volume 25 of James Gilmour of Mongolia, His Diaries, Letters and Reports: Edited and Arranged by Richard Lovett … With Three Portraits, Two Maps and Four Illustrations, Richard Lovett
    Author James Gilmour
    Editor Richard Lovett
    Publisher Religious Tract Society, 1892
    Original from the New York Public Library
    Digitized 7 Mar 2007
    Length 336 pages

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Do people believe that you need a copyright license to make screenshots of pages on the internet for your own use?

    Some academic publishers do in fact believe that.

  18. Title James Gilmour of Mongolia: His Diaries, Letters and Reports

    Probably you see snippet view (which is the default) because you are outside the U.S. I see full view, and can even download a PDF of it; if you want the PDF, let me know. Alternatively, there are proxies that make Google think you are a U.S. user.

  19. SFReader says:

    That’s even stranger than I thought.

    What is the reason for this restriction? I mean we already established that it can’t be copyright. Then what?

  20. Yes, very strange indeed.

  21. Not copyright in the U.S., due to the absolute cutoff before 1923. But that is a matter of local law. In the EU it’s possible that an author who died in 1948 at age 100 might have published a book in 1868 which would still be in copyright, so Google sets the publication cutoff for readers in EU countries at 1865. [update: deleted stuff about Australia that turned out to be my misinterpretation]

    Details and solutions. However, the author doesn’t grasp just how big Google Book is: half a minute of research per book (a gross underestimate) would be 24 years of work without sleeping or eating.

    “Police in many lands are now complaining that local arrestees are insisting on having their Miranda rights read to them, just like perps in American TV cop shows. When it’s explained to them that they are in a different country, where those rights do not exist, they become outraged.” —Neal Stephenson

  22. Steve H. says:

    The reason for the restriction is probably still copyright. It’s just that different countries have different copyright terms, generally based on the lifetime of the author. There are various complexities, but in most countries it’s life + 50 years or (increasingly) life + 70 years. (The US copyright term for works published since 1978 is also life + 70 years.)

    So unless Google can be sure the author died more than 70 years ago, they can’t safely make the book available in many countries. For books published around the mid-1800s and earlier, it may be safe to assume the author died long enough ago, but for anything after that they’d really have to figure out when the authors died and associate that metadata with the books. That would be a pretty difficult project to do for the whole Google Books collection (and inevitably impossible in some cases), so it’s not too surprising they haven’t done it.

  23. @Steve H.: Gilmour died in 1891 and Lovett in 1904. Both are well-known figures; sorting out this kind of metadata isn’t exactly trivial, but it’s far from impossible, especially when one can throw at the problem the kind of resources Google has.

  24. The Hathi Trust has some books available in their entirety that Google doesn’t present fully, or at all, even Google-scanned ones. However, HT only lets you read them a page at a time, and does not let you download full book pdfs. Why? Because.

  25. internet archive also has full view of the Google version of many books only available internationally as snippet view on Google itself. I presume this results from someone in the US downloading the pdf from books.google.com and uploading it to archive.org with manual metadata.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    In the EU it’s possible that an author who died in 1948 at age 100 might have published a book in 1868 which would still be in copyright, so Google sets the publication cutoff for readers in EU countries at 1865.

    Sounds better in the original: “Well, it is possible that an author died in 1944 aged a hundred and that he had published his or her first book in their late teens in 1864.” Those pronouns 🙂

    […] Miranda rights […]

    Several countries have set up 911 as a general emergency phone number for just this reason.

  27. Miranda rights :

    In the UK, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 reduced the right to silence, and the police caution was expanded to include “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court.” I remember an episode of The Bill shortly afterwards in which the arresting officer used this formula and the suspect said something like “Oi! That’s not wot yer supposed to say!”

  28. The only upside to European copyright laws are that companies occassionally do strange things and release previously unreleased stuff, because otherwise it would fall into public domain.

    For example, all known original recordings of Bob Dylan before 1967 have now become widely available because they had to release 100 copies before the 50 year copyright deadline. And Sony released exactly that many cheaply burned CD copies, randomly within Europe, as ‘the copyright extension collection’.

  29. @John Cowan:

    However, the author doesn’t grasp just how big Google Book is: half a minute of research per book (a gross underestimate) would be 24 years of work without sleeping or eating.

    Or, to put it differently, a full-time job for a year for some 130 people. Even if we double the estimate, hardly outside Google’s budget— and probably less than their SpaceShipOne replica cost.

  30. In the UK, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 reduced the right to silence

    And by so much, reduced the presumption of innocence. For shame, Ukavians. This is what comes of having a Parliament that is superior to its constitution.

  31. What JC said.

  32. David Marjanović says:

    Indeed. But that reminds me…

    In the US, certain things require a 60 % majority in the Senate. But that fact itself can be modified (as it has been twice in recent years) or abolished by a mere 50 % majority in the Senate. Such basic things as how the Senate works aren’t in the constitution.

    The German constitution contains the famous Ewigkeitsklausel “eternity clause”, Article 79(3), which says that changing the constitution in ways that would “touch” the basic organization of the federation into rather autonomous units, their “principal” participation in legislation or the principles laid down in Articles 1 and 20 (human dignity, importance of basic rights, democracy, rule of law, and the right to resist against anyone who tries to change any of that), “is inadmissible”. Note what’s missing from that list: Art. 79(3) could be abolished the ordinary way as described in Art. 79(2), by a 2/3 majority in the national and the federal chamber of parliament.

    Artikel 79
    (1) Das Grundgesetz kann nur durch ein Gesetz geändert werden, das den Wortlaut des Grundgesetzes ausdrücklich ändert oder ergänzt. […]
    (2) Ein solches Gesetz bedarf der Zustimmung von zwei Dritteln der Mitglieder des Bundestages und zwei Dritteln der Stimmen des Bundesrates.
    (3) Eine Änderung dieses Grundgesetzes, durch welche die Gliederung des Bundes in Länder, die grundsätzliche Mitwirkung der Länder bei der Gesetzgebung oder die in den Artikeln 1 und 20 niedergelegten Grundsätze berührt werden, ist unzulässig.

  33. Germany does, however, have a constitutional court which could rule any legislation abolishing 79(3) unconstitutional. France similarly has the conseil constitutionnel, though it is not called a court. The UK Supreme Court has no such powers: what 326 legislators agree on is THE LAW, without further checks of any kind. At present, the House of Lords must consent to any bill extending the life of a Parliament beyond five years, to prevent long parliaments, but that too is subject to change by ordinary legislation.

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    The US Constitution has a very very modest eternity clause, most of which (wordcountwise) stopped being relevant almost 210 years ago. The process for amending the Constitution, while daunting as a matter of procedure, has no substantive limits (e.g. the country could be turned into a hereditary monarchy or what have you if enough people wanted that and expressed that desire through the appropriate procedure) “provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” To change that last super-entrenched feature of U.S. governmental structure, you’d need some sort of extra-constitutional cusp event.

    I suppose the easier it is to amend a constitution or analogue (there is a historical reason why the BRD’s Grundgesetz is not called a constitution) from a procedural standpoint, the more one ought to be think about placing substantive limits on what can be accomplished by amendment.

  35. there is a historical reason why the BRD’s Grundgesetz is not called a constitution

    What is that reason, if it can be conveyed briefly?

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    BTW, re other countries using “911” to conform to US practice, I personally became aware in my far-off teenage years that the UK equivalent of 911 was 999. This bit of information made the lyrics of certain UK-origin punk-rock songs make more sense. I expect I learned it from a more sophisticated US teen punk-rock aficionado, since back then one couldn’t just google up the answer to mysteries like that. Nonetheless it may well be the case that the US-origin pop culture has been much better at disseminating the meaning of 911 around the globe than UK-origin pop culture has done for 999.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    To hat’s question, the Grundgesetz was originally enacted as an interim measure in West Germany in the hope that the division of Germany would not be permanent and with a desire to symbolically acknowledge regret that those Germans with the misfortune to be living under Soviet domination were not able to participate in the process of drafting or enactment. Calling it a “basic law” rather than constitution was intended to underscore its provisional/temporary nature, and the circumscribed degree of legitimacy associated with the pragmatic need to act w/o participation from those in the East. Thus the original article 146 provided that that the entire Grundgesetz would automatically lapse if and when a constitution (Verfassung) was freely adopted by the entire German people, in favor of such constitution on the day it became effective according to its own terms. “Dieses Grundgesetz verliert seine Gültigkeit an dem Tage, an dem eine Verfassung in Kraft tritt, die von dem deutschen Volke in freier Entscheidung beschlossen worden ist.”

    In the event, unification post-1989 was accompanied by some minor tweaks to the Grundgesetz rather than the grand replacement by a new and differently-named document that had been romantically hoped for by the earlier generation.

  38. Thanks, I would never have guessed any of that!

  39. David Marjanović says:

    “That reminds me” means nothing more; I didn’t mean to imply that anything is comparable to the UK’s lack of constitution, where neither the monarch nor the people, but Parliament, is the sovereign!

    […]; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” To change that last super-entrenched feature of U.S. governmental structure, you’d need some sort of extra-constitutional cusp event.

    Or you could use the American trick for getting rid of tenured professors: abolish the Senate.

    Anyway, the US constitution is the hardest one to change in the world, and has been ever since Yugoslavia collapsed.

    Grundgesetz

    The reason was the expectation that, upon reunification, a constitutional convention would be called and a constitution for the whole German people would be created to replace the provisorial Basic Law of the Bonn republic. When reunification actually came, none of that happened; the Basic Law was simply extended to cover the whole new territory.

    However, this terminology was never strictly followed (amazing as that is for Germany). In the Basic Law itself, no later than Article 2(2), we find “the constitutional order” (die verfassungsmäßige Ordnung); 5(3) even mentions “loyalty to the constitution” (Treue zur Verfassung); 21(2) says that parties which want to restrict or abolish liberal democracy or the existence of the country are “unconstitutional” (verfassungswidrig), and that that’s a question to be determined by the “federal constitutional court” (Bundesverfassungsgericht)… not mentioned is the agency that snoops on parties to check if they can be charged with being unconstitutional, officially called the “constitution protection” (Verfassungsschutz).

    The claim that the Basic Law isn’t a constitution is of course beloved by Reichsbürger, the local equivalent of Sovereign Citizens.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    I just checked: Art. 146 is still there! There’s just an insertion: Dieses Grundgesetz, das nach der Vollendung der Einheit und Freiheit Deutschlands für das gesamte deutsche Volk gilt, verliert seine Gültigkeit an dem Tage […]

    The preamble has a similar tweak.

    Linguistic addendum: the archaism of von dem deutschen Volke (still there) is remarkable. In 1949, Volke was merely old-fashioned, but uncontracted von dem instead of vom was already really archaic.

  41. UK equivalent of 911 was 999

    The actual number is 99: the use of 999 was publicized so that people in offices who need to dial 9 for an outside line would be successful. In addition, all GSM-compatible mobile phones must accept 112 as an emergency number, even in the U.S. and Australia, where the landline emergency number is 000. This code was chosen because in the most remote locations, the first 0 would obtain a line out of the local community, the second 0 would obtain a trunk line, and the third 0 would connect to an operator there.

    abolish the Senate

    Well, I suppose if all states are reduced from two votes in the Senate to zero, the equal franchise is in a sense maintained.

  42. Reminds me article 5 of the Iranian Constitution.

    The government in the Islamic Republic of Iran is supervised by rahbar (a Religious Leader) who shall assume these duties during absence of Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance)

  43. My favorites, from the Tongan Constitution of 1875:

    §68 It shall not be lawful for anyone who is insane or an idiot to vote in the election for representatives of the people to the Legislative Assembly, only those who are free in the law according to the 22nd clause.

    §28 Anyone who shall be really poor, whether arising from sickness or old age, if he cannot really pay taxes, whether a Tongaman or foreigner, shall appear before one of the high judges on a day appointed by the Government, and it shall be lawful for them to give him dispensation to be free from paying taxes; but it shall not be lawful for them to free any one holding a lease of land, as such cannot come under the class of paupers.

  44. Well, I suppose if all states are reduced from two votes in the Senate to zero, the equal franchise is in a sense maintained.

    Will it do the trick though? Zero-member Senate won’t be able to pass any legislation, nor give “advice and consent”. In this manner Congress would ultimately heed the instruction of the 1st amendment “Congress shall make no law” which it sporadically tries to adhere to with varying degrees of success.

  45. Well, of course abolishing the Senate involves removing all references to it from the Constitution (the word appears 37 times). But such an amendment could I think be passed by the ordinary process, whereas an amendment like “Any state having, by reason of its population, only one Representative, shall have only one Senator as well” cannot, because (as of today) Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming would be deprived of their equal suffrage in the Senate.

    Still, the U.S. Constitution has a remarkable degree of de facto entrenchment. Aside from the Bill of Rights, the amendments ratifying the results of the Civil War (abolishing slavery, defining jus soli citizenship, and allowing blacks to vote) and the related amendment allowing women to vote, and the mutually canceling Prohibition amendments, there have been only eleven changes to the machinery of government, all more or less marginal adjustments, in 228 years.

  46. January First-of-May says:

    You might as well count the 27th amendment in the “Bill of Rights” category – it was proposed together, it just didn’t get properly ratified until nearly 200 years later.

    That bunch actually consisted of 12 proposed amendments; the last remaining one (chronologically the first), depending on which theory you believe, was either technically ratified in 1791 or remains open today.
    It was supposed to set an upper limit on House district size of 50,000 people (about an order of magnitude below modern standards, i.e. resulting in a House of roughly 6000 seats with the current US population). Ironically, due to what appears to have been, essentially, a typo in drafting, for high populations it actually set a lower limit of 50,000, and as such would have had entirely no effect if it somehow got ratified today.

  47. David Marjanović says:

    the U.S. Constitution has a remarkable degree of de facto entrenchment

    Given how difficult the process is – 2/3 in both houses of Congress plus 3/4 of the states legislatures, or alternatively various conventions – this should have been expected.

    The other extreme (this side of the UK) may be Austria’s open-ended constitution, which has been amended so often that nobody knows its size: “minor” amendments require nothing but 2/3 in the national chamber of parliament, and the ruling coalition had that many seats for decades, lifting lots of laws to constitution rank to ensure the continued existence of those laws both after the next election and after complaints to the constitution court. “Major” amendments additionally require a referendum; “major” and “minor” are not defined. Some scholars argue that the huge mass of “minor” amendments constitutes at least one “major” amendment which has never passed a referendum and is therefore actually invalid…

    it actually set a lower limit of 50,000

    Reminds me… a few years ago, a US state (Texas?) accidentally outlawed marriage altogether.

  48. The current Constitution of Tonga has the following clause in its Chapter II:

    §35 Idiot not to succeed

    No person shall succeed to the Crown of Tonga who has been found guilty of a felony or who is insane or imbecile.

    I wonder if I should consider sending my CV to the Tonga Campus of the University of the South Pacific.

  49. The California constitution came into effect in 1879 and has been amended almost 500 times since. There are three amendment processes available. A vote of two-thirds of each house of the legislature (not the same as a two-thirds vote) can pass a specific amendment or call a constitutional convention. Alternatively (and this is the usual process), an initiative signed by a number of citizens equal to 8% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election can put an amendment on the ballot, and a simple majority vote suffices to pass it.

  50. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of proposals to improve the “machinery of government” through changes in the US constitution. Some of the proposals are not “politically neutral” (that is, they will benefit one party), like giving full representation to DC; some are being opposed on substantive grounds (electoral college); some are sensible, but very minor (allowing naturalized citizens become president). The only substantive, neutral, and consequential amendment of the “machinery of government” variety I am familiar with, is term limits for the Supreme Court, but somehow there is very little interest from the politicians.

    American tradition is to amend the constitution through re-interpretation by the Supreme Court. Which, honestly, makes mockery of the rule of law, representative government and such.

  51. SFReader says:

    The best part in the US Constitution – refreshingly honest, I’d say.


    Section 9
    1: The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

  52. David Marjanović says:

    Abolishing the Electoral College, as we just saw, wouldn’t be politically neutral at all – not as long as the issue doesn’t become moot through Internet vote exchange (which has existed since 2000) or that “interstate compact” to give the electors of all participating states to the winner of the popular vote. There’s really very little that could be changed in the machinery of government in a politically neutral way – and not just in the US, of course.

    The only substantive, neutral, and consequential amendment of the “machinery of government” variety I am familiar with, is term limits for the Supreme Court, but somehow there is very little interest from the politicians.

    That’s no longer politicially neutral! As of right now, there’s one Justice whose life expectancy in office is twice as high as everyone else’s, and he’s a stark ideologist.

    American tradition is to amend the constitution through re-interpretation by the Supreme Court. Which, honestly, makes mockery of the rule of law, representative government and such.

    And puts enormous pressure on president and Congress to stack the SCOTUS with party loyalists just to counter the ones that are already there, making a further mockery of the independence of the judiciary branch, as if electing judges to non-federal positions weren’t already gut-wrenching enough.

  53. Interstate compacts require the approval of Congress to come into effect (in order to prevent the creation of sub-federations like the Swiss Sonderbund), and are generally about matters such as bridges, tunnels, rivers, parks, and fishing areas that cross state lines. There is also the Driver License Compact, by which conviction for a driving offense in one state is notified to the license bureau in the offender’s home state. The home state will only take action if the offense is also an offense at home, a few states don’t participate, and exactly what action is taken is also variable.

  54. refreshingly honest

    You know that’s about preventing Congress from suppressing the slave trade for the next 20 years, right? It was promptly suppressed by law in that year, though smuggling and the domestic trade continued. Just before the Civil War, the most valuable crop in Virginia was not tobacco but slaves for export to the Deep South.

  55. Cocobean says:

    “Reminds me article 5 of the Iranian Constitution.

    The government in the Islamic Republic of Iran is supervised by rahbar (a Religious Leader) who shall assume these duties during absence of Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance)”

    I’ve always wondered why it is that when something from the Islamic world, or even some sort of quote pertaining to Muslim religious texts, is referred to, the word “Allah” is included in the English version. It simply means God, and looks stupid. In this case, it would not be Allah, but Khoda خدا. The Iranian constitution is in Persian, not Arabic.

    Reminds me of all the right-wing nutjobs who make vacuous references to “Allah”…

    Even Arabic-speaking Christians in the Middle-East use Allah, it simply means God.

  56. Perhaps it’s because anglophones first heard of Allah in India, where it would be bizarre to call him by any Hindi/Urdu name. Before that, we thought with the rest of the West that Muslims worshipped “Mahound” (i.e. Muhammad).

    Even Sikhs, who are monotheists but not Abrahamic, use Allah.

  57. in India, where it would be bizarre to call him by any Hindi/Urdu name.

    Really? I’ve read that Xudā is the traditional name used in Urdu and among Muslim South Asians generally, and that only in recent years have Arabizers (“Bakistanis”) been pushing for the regular use of Allāh.

    (Also, according to Wikisource, the Iranian constitution does use “الله” in that passage, though that’s not too surprising.)

  58. Well, okay, a Persian word rather than an Arabic one. I meant that it would be unthinkable for a Muslim to use bhagavān or the like, much less Ram or Shiv, though in English the originally pagan word god and some of the pagan epithets like All-father were adopted by Christianity. Names with Allah+participle.

  59. Cocobean says:

    Yep – I’ve followed this issue before and it seems that traditionally the word would have been Khoda, but this has now slowly changed to Allah over the past 40 years or so. I remember reading an article recently on this phenomenon in Pakistan. I even asked a few Pakistani friends who are in their 20s and most knew that, for example, Khoda hafez (خداحافظ) means goodbye, and yet all I ever hear from Pakistanis speaking Urdu is Allah hafez. This has been part of the same change. Don’t know how it is with Urdu-speakers in India, though.

  60. David Marjanović says:

    what 326 legislators [in Westminster] agree on is THE LAW, without further checks of any kind.

    Then I dove into Wikipedia and emerged too tired to post here about it. It turns out there are checks:

    – To become law, bills that have passed Parliament require royal assent. However, royal assent hasn’t been withheld since 1708, and apparently there are legal scholars who question whether the monarch even has the right to withhold assent.

    Before a bill that touches on royal prerogatives can even be discussed in Parliament, it requires royal assent. Similarly, bills that concern the Duchy of Cornwall can only be brought up if the Duke of Cornwall ( = Prince of Wales) agrees. In 2012 it came out that these assents are routinely withheld even today.

    So, the monarchy is not going to be abolished unless Elizabeth II becomes really, really horrified of leaving it to Charles.

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