Monday, February 27, 2012

Debit Cards, Definitions and Door Mats

In 1997, my husband fell down a flight of steps. He fastened one likely broken toe to its neighbor with a bit of duct tape and went back to work. Three weeks later, he complained to a friend his skin had  a prickly feeling on the left side of his body, similar to the one you get when Novocain wears off, a pins and needles sensation and the odd feeling the affected area doesn’t quite belong to you. The friend suggested Hubby see his chiropractor.
I’ll spare you the long, pathetic tale, but as it turned out, the chiropractor adjusted a ruptured disc in Hubby’s neck until the disc exploded.
Did you just blink? I know I did, when the neurosurgeon said those words to me. He went on to tell me a cervical disc isn’t filled with water. It has a gooey substance inside, and there are bits of grit he likened to blackberry seeds. Those seeds had been driven into Hubby’s spinal cord, leaving irreparable damage in their wake.
The neurosurgeon performed a cervical fusion but Hubby never walked again. After torturous months of rehab, he regained partial use of his right arm and hand.
Did you just demand to know whether we sued? Why yes, we did consult an attorney. He ascertained the chiropractor Hubby saw was an instructor at a local chiropractic college, and Hubby visited him at their clinic for his adjustments.
After investigation, the attorney returned with a big smile. The college was chartered with the state, and state statute limited recovery in any legal action to three-hundred thousand dollars. They’d write us a check today for that amount.
Hubby’s medical bills were more than that. Not to mention, he’d never work again. At thirty-five.
I wiped the smile off his face in a red-hot hurry. I told my attorney, a man I’d known for years, to find a way around that statute. He told me it was impossible, the statute was very clear. I pointed out I felt I was also faced with the impossible, but wasn’t choosing to walk away. Our children were nine and six, and I’d had to auction off the assets of the business we owned together in order to stay home and look after Hubby, who would need a round-the-clock caregiver for the rest of his life.
Our lawyer went to work. He dug into the language of the statute and discovered one word he needed defined. That word was ‘doctor’.
Long, grim months later, as it turned out, the court said a chiropractor was not a ‘doctor’. ‘Doctor was interpreted to mean a ‘physician’.
Why didn’t state lawmakers use the word ‘physician’ when they wrote the statute? I haven’t the slightest idea, but that one imprecise use of language cost the state Victim’s Recovery Insurance Fund seven figures.
That covers the definitions portion of this story, as well as the doormat portion. Don’t be a doormat. When something that matters to you is at stake, and you believe you’re right, don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Don’t let someone use imprecise language to wipe their feet on you.
I had over 1,160 hits on my blog post about PayPal over the weekend. Thank you. I’m honored, and whether you agreed or disagreed, having you read what I had to say was the reason I wrote it. I saw the link reposted in any number of places. And I saw some dissent. Not a problem, those who know me know I have hide like an alligator, but I do want to address a couple of comments posted elsewhere.
We are writers; no one should know the value of precise language better than we do. Another profession that’s really into definitions and precise language is the legal profession. A legal definition is not always identical to a commonly accepted definition. If you’re talking law, use a legal dictionary
Words like obscene. Words like rape-as-titillation. Words like barely legal.
I’ll begin with barely legal, as it’s the easiest. Legal, as used in this PayPal controversy, means of legal age to consent to have sex. Barely, according to Webster, means : scarcelyhardly <barely enough money for lunch>. And yet, in this example, we know the guy had the ability to eat lunch if he chose. And we therefore know barely legal can mean  ‘turned eighteen an hour ago’, but if this character wants to knock boots with Joe Hunk next door, there’s no legal entity in her jurisdiction which may use the law to prevent her from agreeing to celebrate in the most basic fashion by allowing Joe Hunk to give her a happy ending.
Now, how did barely legal become obscene? I’ll stipulate the porn industry uses the term in promoting images of legal adults who have the appearance of being much younger, and for all I know, this market caters to pedophiles. And I will assume, and so can you, it’s legal. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to suck it up and deal…unless, of course, you’re PayPal, or you sue in some Federal court and get the legal age of consent moved up—way up. Those same actors will still be working if the courts move the legal age of consent to nineteen. Or twenty. But you may go to sleep tonight assured no minor is being penetrated. The fantasy catered to by the barely legal porn market is breaking no law.
But damn it, erotica is not porn. It’s sexual exploration on a written page. The definition of erotic is of, devoted to, or tending to arouse sexual love or desire. No matter how you cut it, erotica is about sex, sexual love and sexual desire.

Oh hell, guess it’s time to define obscene: abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically : designed to incite to lust or depravity.
I’ll stipulate erotica is designed to incite lust. I’ll die and burn in Hell before I’ll stipulate lust is a bad thing. Several million bored married folk who barely fornicate once a month would probably agree with me. And, I’d bet some PayPal minion is tapping his censorship pen at the word depravity. Depraved: marked by corruption or evil; especially : perverted. I can reel off a list of definitions, because at this point, good and easy Webster’s Online becomes vague. They use another word-perverted, and if you look that one up, you get the sense perversion is of those things that everyone knows when they see it, but the English language doesn’t have a precise word for.
Ah. The grey areas. I feel as if I’m trying to see through smoke. Wait. Legal language is very precise, right? Let’s check's definition for obscene
Are you laughing yet? I know I am. This IS the grey area. Obscenity means one thing to me, and something else to you. And clearly, another thing to PayPal. But here’s the rub. Barely legal is not obscene.
“Okay, Eden,” you say, “but the bottom line here is PayPal has the right to set any TOS they choose, and they choose to make barely legal a category they won’t provide payment for. It’s their right.”
Only until someone decides their rights are being infringed upon and demands a court decide. See, the story here is not about PayPal’s rights, but mine, yours and any other writer or reader who gets fed up with the way this debit card company decides to tell you what you may and may not do with your money that is perfectly legal AND uses imprecise language in the process.
PayPal isn’t being merely imprecise. PayPal is stretching the limits of the word obscene, twisting it like taffy to suit their own agenda. They’re ignoring the definition in many instances, and re-writing the definition to make it broader—and that’s where they infringe on my rights, your rights and every cardholder’s rights who wants to download and read a LEGAL, not-obscene story PayPal won’t authorize payment for.
And to those who said I was well-intentioned yet wrong, well, now chew on that for a bit. The fact this egregious overstep has yet to be brought to court and ruled on doesn’t make me wrong. It makes you complacent.
There’s a word. Complacency. Back to check in with good old Daniel: self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.
Some of you are satisfied this is all a waste of breath, you know you’d never be caught dead crossing a line into obscenity. You know where the line is, and your work doesn’t cross it. Therefore, this issue is unimportant to any other than some nasty old purveyors of porn.
The actual danger in this case is that too many of our peers are complacent on this matter. I don’t write anything remotely close to being banned. YET.  I might start writing it tomorrow, but that’s not what I meant by yet. I do write ménage stories, and PayPal has dictated if I write a ménage story where two of the participants are siblings, they may not touch each other in a sexual manner. Incest is illegal where I live. I doubt I’d let my characters do that. BUT—remember barely legal? What’s to stop PayPal from deciding tomorrow or next week or next year that if I have siblings in my ménage, they can’t get naked in the same room at the same time?

Oh, then it would matter.
The thing about being a doormat is it’s damn hard to stop being one when someone’s already standing on you. I’d argue in order to avoid becoming a door mat, the thing to do it to stop lying outside the door, and get on your feet. And I’d prefer not to wait until my voice as an author is as paralyzed as Hubby.
Ah, time to tackle the white elephant in the room. Rape-as-titillation.
I cannot say this as eloquently as my fellow writer did, on a third writer’s blog this morning. But I can link the awesome post by Raymond Frazee  for you, and repost her comment.

Remittance Girl: “No one supports RAPE. Or pedophilia. Or bestiality. Or incest. But we support the right to allow artists to explore the darker sides of our nature in the safety of words on the page. It’s why Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, with his incestuous mother and his murdered father. It’s why Oedipus Rex still has the power to make us ponder on the meaning of fate. It’s what good literature is about.
Let me be clear and honest. I write transgressive erotica. I have written a number of stories that eroticize rape. They’re not ALL ABOUT RAPE, but it’s in there. I wrote them because I am one of the 40% (or more) of women who have rape fantasies. (don’t believe me? – it’s a landmark study)
So when Mark Coker says that ‘rape for titillation has no place anywhere’, I say:
Men have been fucking telling me what my sexuality should be like for the past 4,000 years. I’m fucked if I’ll take it NOW. I will have the fantasies I want. And I will explore them in my writing. I will do it with literary merit and integrity, BUT I WILL DO IT.”

I’m standing up and cheering, RG. Dancing with you in the smoke. Because that’s what this gray area is, smoke. Every step PayPal takes that’s above and beyond any legally accepted definition of obscenity is just as harmful as the gritty matter inside a cervical disc, when it leaves it’s clearly-defined and intended area, and wanders off to make inroads where it should not be.


  1. Interesting that you bring up lawyers use of the language - back in my younger years I went through law school, the precision it taught me in the use of language is something I bring to my now-banned books.

    I applaud you and everyone else who is standing and screaming about this. After all, the works in question would not fail the obscenity test if they were in print, why should we be forced to a different standard simply because of a newly available format for delivery?

    1. I believe they'd potentially deny the sale if you ordered a print version, but that's as clear as the rest of their policy. Lots of alternatives have been put forth, No Boundaries Press is selling 'pressing points' now. They're a G-rated widgit--a credit, and customers may buy those via Paypal and use them to buy what they damn well please. It's ingenious, and yet, something her still sticks on my gut. I dislike the overall complacency on issue. I'm older than dirt, I'm no wide-eyed kid, I've lived in a conservative part of the US all my life--and if I'm calling bullshit, why in the world are so many remaining mute. I see more complaints about the disruption of business than about the get-level issue.