Non-Fiction

Business Of Books 2018: Digital Models Favor Subscriptions and Streaming Over Purchases and Ownership

5 July 2018

From No Shelf Required:

Business of Books 2018New tunes for an old trade” explores “the underlying trends shaping the transformation [of the publishing industry] and takes a closer look at a number of case studies that show how new actors are managing to innovate in the business of books.” The paper aims to identify the principles governing “how the publishing industry is pushing back its horizons in an age of platform-based interactions, community-driven business dynamics, and cross-media exploitation of intellectual property.”

. . . .

The hybridization and simultaneous combination of new and old practices that is so characteristic of this transformation can be seen at all levels of publishing:

  • In the role and reach of authors, as well as the empowerment of the recipients, the consumers, as they define the public space – the agora – in which publishers work
  • In the very concept of “storytelling”, which no longer has a privileged connection to books, but has once again become detached from formats as the boundaries blur between different media and channels
  • Content is created across formats and media, by any participant in the community, by professionals and by amateurs, by industrial companies and by lone individuals
  • The power of digitization has been unleashed through mobile devices, bringing reading, movies, games and social interactions seamlessly and coequally to the attention of consumers

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

When in the Course of human events

4 July 2018
IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

1 July 2018
Comments Off on Rome: A History in Seven Sackings

From The Wall Street Journal:

Rome is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Three thousand years or so of history take us down beneath the modern streets, past Mussolini’s imperial city, on through the capital of Risorgimento Italy, past Baroque palazzos and churches, through the castles of medieval militias, and on to the Romes of Constantine, Trajan, Augustus, Caesar and their republican predecessors. Deepest of all is the archaic age, where mythology locates Romulus and Remus and their Trojan ancestor Aeneas, and archaeology finds clusters of wooden huts on hilltops around the boggy forum.

Notoriously the modern city preserves traces of nearly all these ancient Romes, often incongruously juxtaposed. An ATM pokes out of a wall right next to the columns of an ancient temple opposite a Baroque church. A trattoria shelters in the substructures of Pompey’s theater. Christian basilicas cannibalize the column capitals from pagan temples; gardens planted in the 16th century spread among the ruins of imperial palaces. The manhole covers in the streets read SPQR, a Latin abbreviation for “Senate and People of Rome,” echoing ancient coins. Freud used the city of Rome as a metaphor for the human mind, an accumulation of material from all ages still in some sense accessible if we just refocus our gaze.

Rome makes concrete our sense of a deeply layered past, but not one formed by gentle sedimentation. The city’s geological stratigraphy has been repeatedly convulsed, metamorphosed under spectacular pressures. It is an accumulation of urban wreckage, some put to new uses, the rest a sober reminder that no city can become eternal except through constant demolition and reconstruction.

In “Rome: A History in Seven Sackings,” Matthew Kneale, a British novelist whose works reveal a deep understanding of the tangled human life of cities, has had the good idea of writing the biography of Rome not as a study in longevity but as a tale of disaster. Disaster after disaster, in fact, as the city faced invasions of Gauls and Goths, Byzantines and Normans, Catholic and Protestant armies in the wars of religion, Napoleon and the Nazis, and somehow survived each trauma. The effect is rather like that of a biologist telling the story of life on earth in terms of mass extinctions. The sacks of Rome were nowhere near as traumatic. Before gunpowder it was not that easy for armies to do serious damage to cities built of stone and brick, but invaders could steal treasures, commit rape and murder, terrify residents and generally make them doubt the power of their gods or god.

. . . .

The cutting off of the aqueducts in the sixth century during the Gothic Wars meant that the carrying capacity of the city was dramatically reduced. For generations Romans lived in a largely abandoned city. Areas that had been densely populated became part of the disabitato, areas of vineyards and gardens within the ancient wall circuit. The loss of the aqueducts and changing mores, Mr. Kneale notes, also meant the end of Rome’s hundreds of public baths: “In Christian eyes water was for drinking, not bathing, while it was certainly not for pleasure bathing, which smacked of licentiousness.”

. . . .

Seven sackings is, as Mr. Kneale frankly admits, an arbitrary total. Arguably Rome has been sacked on many more occasions. His story is of constant external threats and repeated recoveries. An alternative narrative might have explored the violence that Romans did to their own city, and each other, over the millennia. That was a theme that would have appealed to the historians and poets of classical Rome who found in the story of Romulus’s killing of his brother Remus the archetype of multiple acts of civil violence. The republican general Sulla, when his lucrative command was threatened by political enemies, turned his army around and marched on the city. Coriolanus in myth had nearly done the same. Constantine seized the city from his rivals after a battle at the Milvian Bridge. A bitter rivalry between the papacy and the liberal state dominated the history of the city from Italy’s unification in 1871 until the 1930s. What Mussolini did to the medieval city to make space for his grandiose triumphal Road of the Imperial Forums was a different kind of civil sack.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Archipelago: Italy Since 1945

24 June 2018

From The Guardian:

Italy’s pro-fascist King, Victor Emanuele III, abdicated in disgrace in the spring of 1946. Mussolini was dead – but not quite departed. Neo-fascists had stolen the dictator’s corpse from its grave in Milan: the unburied body became a potent symbol of totalitarian resurrection. On 2 June that year, Italians were asked to decide by referendum if they wanted to become a republic. A clamour of books, films and newspapers exhorted them to join the democratic world. Raised under fascism, many Italians had never seen a ballot box before. For the first time, Italian women were allowed to vote. Armoured cars stood outside the polling stations in anticipation of violence; there was none.

John Foot’s lively history of Italy since 1945, The Archipelago, describes how the referendum divided the nation grievously. The impoverished south remained monarchist; the prosperous north, republican. All across Italy at this time, Rita Hayworth’s raunchy hit Amado Mio (from the Hollywood blockbuster Gilda) boomed out from bars and cafes. In the north, the Hayworth anthem seemed to crystallise the republican spirit. The Duce and his cohorts had gone for good; the nationalist myopia of fascism was no more.

Needless to say, Italy is unrecognisable today from the nation that ousted the royal family in 1946, says Foot. With high levels of political corruption and tax evasion, the nation-state is under immense strain.

. . . .

“Italy had never been an entirely mono-cultural or mono-ethnic country,” he writes. Albanians, Normans, Arabs, Greeks and Germanic langobardi (“long-beards”, later Lombards) have intermarried to form an indecipherable blend of Italic peoples.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

And here’s Rita Hayworth singing Amada Mio:

resistentialism, n.

21 June 2018

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

 resistentialism, n.

. . . .

The theory that inanimate objects are hostile to humans; hostility manifested by inanimate objects.

. . . .

1948   P. Jennings in Spectator 23 Apr. 491/1   Resistentialism is a philosophy of tragic grandeur… Resistentialism derives its name from its central thesis that Things (res) resist (résister) men… Resistentialism is the philosophy of what Things think about us.

. . . .

1996   C. H. Elster There’s Word for It! (2005) 246   Even my daughter..is well aware of the sinister power of resistentialism… Not long ago I heard her crying from another room. I ran to her aid and found her frowning at a chair. ‘That chair bumped me.’

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

PG notes that in the average home or office, computers are the major source of resistentialism.

3 in 4 Americans Have Trouble Discerning Between Fact and Opinion

20 June 2018

From Intellectual Takeout:

A few years ago, the ACT released a study showing that K-12 teachers and college instructors believe discerning between fact and opinion is one of the most important things students can learn. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of first-year college students are able to tell the difference between these two items.

As it turns out, discerning between fact and opinion doesn’t appear to be the sole problem of millennials. According to a recent Pew report, other Americans struggle with this task as well. Pew explains:

“A new Pew Research Center survey of 5,035 U.S. adults examines a basic step in that process: whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it.”

The study posed ten statements to participants, five of which were factual, five of which were opinions. . . .  Only one in four adults were able to correctly identify all the factual statements.

. . . .

The author and educator Richard Weaver (1910-1963) offered some thoughts on this subject in his book Ideas Have ConsequencesAccording to Weaver, the continual bombardment of information, whether it be fact or opinion, is keeping us from discerning the core, root principles which can help us sort our thoughts:

“The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction. Since the time of Bacon the world has been running away from, rather than toward, first principles, so that, on the verbal level, we see ‘fact’ substituted for ‘truth,’ and on the philosophic level, we witness attack upon abstract ideas and speculative inquiry.”

Weaver goes on to explain that even those who are able to recognize their facts may be missing the deeper meaning and thoughts which underlie and support them. The trick, notes Weaver, is not just to accumulate knowledge and facts, but to really know how to use them effectively

Link to the rest at Intellectual Takeout

How to Write Across Difference

19 June 2018

From The Literary Hub:

I won’t rehash all the recent debates about cultural appropriation in literature. (A quick flashback montage would show a YA author stripped of her Kirkus star after backlash to a perceived “white savior narrative”; Francine Prose holding aloft an old racist children’s book; Lionel Shriver donning an ill-advised sombrero.) If you haven’t followed the noise, suffice it to say: Representation of the other, when done poorly, upsets many people. Other people see that upset as censorship.

These arguments put me in a constant flop sweat as I finished a novel, The Great Believers, that extends well beyond my lived experience. It’s about gay men; I’m a straight woman. It’s about HIV/AIDS; I don’t have it. The story begins in 1985 Chicago; while I’m a lifelong Chicagoan, I was born in 1978 and spent 1985 reading about dinosaurs.

I’m sympathetic to arguments that artists need to stay in their lanes. I also believe preemptive judgment of work based on its premise, not its merits, is ridiculous. I don’t need to apologize for writing across difference; I need to apologize if I get it wrong.

. . . .

1) It made me clarify what I was doing, and why.

In order to write this, I had to satisfactorily answer two questions: Was I reinforcing stereotypes, or combatting them? And was I stealing attention from first-hand narratives, or shedding light on them? The first question was a matter of good writing—something I had control over. The second was stickier.

There’s shockingly little in book or film form about AIDS in Chicago. This meant when I interviewed survivors and activists, they were often speaking for the first time in years about certain memories. I was honored by their trust, heartened by how many spoke about wanting now to write down their own thoughts. With the novel out, I’m in a position to guide readers to direct accounts of that time, or art by those who lived through it. 

. . . .

2) It made me do the legwork.

Back to that question of good writing: I was terrified of getting things wrong. Setting out to write about a real time and a real place, I knew empathy wouldn’t be enough. I couldn’t good-person myself into good writing.

In addition to hours of in-person interviews, I read every back issue of Chicago’s LGBTQ weekly Windy City Times from 1985 to 1992. I went to surviving gay bars from the era (okay, this wasn’t a hardship), I watched footage of ACT UP protests, I walked the city carrying business maps from 30 years ago. Along the way, I encountered my own ignorance.

. . . .

4) It made me tell a broader story than I would have.

I was a hundred pages into my first draft when the appropriation issue stopped me cold. At this point, my narrative was solely about the 1980s, solely from the viewpoint of one character, a gay man named Yale Tishman. The more I stewed, the more it did feel like speaking for someone else—telling stories from a life not my own. While it wasn’t a first person narrative, it still felt like an attempt at ventriloquism.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG says cultural appropriation has always sounded to him like a Marxist-style technique for silencing people whose opinions you don’t like.

Nobody owns a culture. An outsider to a culture can often comment on it with more insight and understanding precisely because he/she is not immersed in the culture, its premises and accepted truths.

What about the segregationist South during the 1930’s and 40’s? Were Northern writers guilty of some great wrong by writing critically about living conditions under such culture and the adverse impact of the culture on both African-Americans and white Americans?

Is there anyone alive who experienced the Holocaust and is able to write about it? If the answer is negative, does that means no one can write about the Holocaust anymore?

If all accounts of the Holocaust written today are second-hand, does someone who grew up in a Jewish household in which no one talked about the Holocaust (like several of PG’s college friends) better situated to write about this event and its impact than a non-Jew who has spent years studying this terrible time and reading the accounts of those immersed in it?

Because one person writes a book or story on her observations and reaction to a particular culture of which she is not a member doesn’t mean another person can’t also write about the same culture from the same point of view or a different one?

Again accusations of cultural appropriation strike PG like one of many methods of controlling the conversation about a particular topic rather than a morally-repugnant behavior of someone writing about a group different than the one to which the accusers assume he/she belongs and about which the accusers may know little.

Could AI Help Reform Academic Publishing?

16 June 2018

From Forbes Blogs:

As someone whose work crosses so many disciplines, I spend a fair bit of my days skimming new developments across not only computer science, but the humanities, social sciences, arts and many other fields, looking for connections and unexpected new approaches that might benefit my own work. The intensely siloed nature of academia is well known, but equally striking is just how rapidly citation standards are falling in a Google Scholar world filled with explosive growth in available knowledge, in which scholars seem genuinely unaware of developments across the rest of their own field, not to mention the rest of academia. Could machine learning approaches dramatically reform the “related work” and citation review component of peer review and academic publishing?

Perhaps the most striking element of modern scholarship is that in an era when much of our modern scholarship is available through web and academic database searches, it takes only a few mouse clicks to compile a cross-section of the recent developments in a given space. Yet, peruse the “related work” or “background” section of a typical academic paper and it is amazing just how discipline-specific and artificially circumscribed the set of references are. While scholars have always cherry picked their references to argue for why their work is novel or an advance over previous work (and thus worthy of publication), the comprehensiveness of citations even in top journals appears to be in marked decline.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see a paper in a top ranked journal make a claim about being the first to use a particular method or dataset or perform an analysis at a particular scale that I can’t point to dozens of other papers across other fields that reached that milestone long ago. Those same papers often use methods or datasets in ways that violate the assumptions that governed their creation and thus render any results immediately suspect.

. . . .

At the same time, the exponentially growing body of research relevant to new studies has grown far beyond the ability of even a small team of humans to monitor and digest. Even coauthored studies with authors spanning both the problem domain and computational and statistical experts may lack deep experience with a specific method or dataset being used and make assumptions that end up undermining the study’s conclusions.

Peer reviewers tend to do little better when it comes to evaluating specialty methods and datasets outside the traditional scope of the discipline, as they too typically lack the expertise to catch errors or raise concerns with those datasets and methods. Given that most are academics themselves, they too are frequently unaware of work happening outside their discipline and especially work published outside of academic venues, such as the blogs and social media outlets favored by startups, major companies and even independent open data researchers.

This raises the question – can machine learning and even simple automated statistical analyses help academia take a first step towards reforming the peer review process by augmenting the skills and experience of human reviewers and pointing them to things they may otherwise have missed?

. . . .

At the most basic, such tools could help verify citations, flagging that a quote or data point attributed to an article was not found in that publication. This could help immensely with the flood of incorrect citations that plague the Google Scholar copy-paste era of scholarship. An automatic review that flags every miscited quote and data point would go a long way towards cleaning up citation practices.

Moving up a level, imagine automated filtering that checks for odd statistical characteristics of each submission. Some statistical checks require deeper understanding of the paper and its methods than can be reliably parsed by current fully automated techniques, but even a semi-automated process where human reviewers parse out certain details and use automated tools to evaluate the numbers for oddities, or where reviewers enter a simple summary of the statistical workflow and the tool flags any potential methodological concerns, could go a long ways towards assisting reviewers even beyond increasing their statistical training and adding additional statistical reviewers to non-traditional journals. Similarly, image assessment algorithms could flag obvious signs of image manipulation in biomedical journals.

Link to the rest at Forbes Blogs

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