Some states are changing the laws that govern community libraries

From National Public Radio:

When the Kentucky Legislature started mulling a bill that would tighten control over public libraries earlier this year, librarians across the state called their lawmakers pushing for its defeat.

In the past, legislators would at least have heard them out, says Jean Ruark, chair of the advocacy committee of the Kentucky Library Association. Not this time.

“It seemed as though our efforts fell on deaf ears. There was a big outcry about the passage of that and they did it anyway,” Ruark says.

At a time when public school libraries have increasingly become targets in the culture wars, some red states are going further, proposing legislation aimed at libraries serving the community as a whole. A few of the bills would open librarians up to legal liability over decisions they make.

While some of these bills have quietly died in committee, others have been signed into law, and librarians worry that the increasingly partisan climate is making them vulnerable to political pressure.

“We’re seeing more indirect efforts to control what’s available to the community or to put in laws that would direct how the library staff collects books,” says Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“A lot of this legislation is really concerning, largely because of the breadth and scope of it, but also because it removes local control from communities,” says Patrick Sweeney, executive director at EveryLibrary, an advocacy group that tracks the legislation.

The bill passed in Kentucky allows local library boards to be appointed by county officials. Sponsors argued that the move makes libraries, which are funded by local property taxes, more accountable to taxpayers.

But opponents say the legislation will undermine the independence of local librarians, which are supposed to serve the public as a whole.

“It’s giving all of this power to partisan elected officials in counties, and if their constituents start telling them they want to ban books, this would allow them to do it. This is incredibly dangerous,” says Kentucky state Rep. Patti Minter, a Democrat who opposed the bill.

Other states have reached further. In Iowa, a bill was proposed allowing city councils to overturn librarians’ decisions about what books to buy and where they’re displayed.

In Oklahoma, a bill was signed into law requiring public libraries to install filters on digital databases to prevent children from seeing obscene material. Anyone who deliberately flouts the law would face legal liability.

Most libraries already have filters in place, and Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ, a Republican, says he expects the bill to rarely if ever result in legal action.

“We’re trying to be good partners here, he says. “We’re not trying to create all these class action lawsuits. We want to work with them to help create good protection, common sense stuff.”

But other states, including Iowa and Idaho, have proposed similar bills, stripping away the legal immunity that librarians have traditionally enjoyed for the decisions they make.

Moreover, legal actions against librarians are not unheard of.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

The bill passed in Kentucky allows local library boards to be appointed by county officials. Sponsors argued that the move makes libraries, which are funded by local property taxes, more accountable to taxpayers.

But opponents say the legislation will undermine the independence of local librarians, which are supposed to serve the public as a whole.

PG says if county officials are elected by the people in the county, are they not also tasked with serving the people in the county? And if the people of the county disagree with those county officials about libraries, decisions of local library boards the county or city elected officials appoint or anything else, presumably, they can replace those officials at the next election or, perhaps, if state law permits, even start a petition drive to recall the county or city officials they’re unhappy with and replace them with others the people choose.

Are local librarians elected by the people who use the libraries and/or pay taxes for staffing libraries and acquiring books “for the public as a whole?”

In PG’s perhaps biased observations, there are a lot of news items that talk about schools and other institutions that directly interact with children to be “safe spaces.”

While the definition of “safe spaces” is certainly up for dispute and may differ from place to place, but shouldn’t elected county or city officials ultimately carry the responsibilities for determining what the local community wants “safe spaces” to be and what should be in or not in “safe spaces”?

 Long-term IP Management

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[W]riters should consider their IP a living breathing entity that has a lifespan all its own; IP is not something to be easily discarded or sold for a quick buck.

Writers who do that will live to regret it.

In the previous post, I discussed how the most valuable intellectual properties are the ones with longevity, even if they’re not the most famous properties. A property with a long history also has a long relationship with its fan base, something that businesses which license intellectual property for things like games and toys truly value.

. . . .

In May, Authentic Brands Group issued threatening cease-and-desist letters to wedding chapels around Las Vegas. The reason? ABG told the chapels that they were using Elvis Presley’s image, music, and iconography without permission.

I’d often wondered about some of these places. I live in wedding chapel central, not far from several chapels that have a silhouette of Elvis as part of their logo. Not a week goes by in my neighborhood without an Elvis getting into a Cadillac or a group of Elvises (Elvi?) standing around a fake grass lawn or Elvis hits wafting from the cupola of a nearby wedding chapel.

If I’d given this anything—and I really hadn’t—I’d assumed that these Elvis appearances were licensed. I do recall discussing Elvis impersonators in my recent Entertainment Law class in regards to some music copyrights: the Elvis estate routinely denies Elvis impersonators synch licenses, licenses that allow the impersonator to marry their video to Elvis’s music. I get that; the estate wants videos of Elvis singing to be Elvis, not someone else.

. . . .

When Elvis died, in 1977, there were no impersonators, no Vegas Elvis weddings, nothing like that. There were no laws on the rights of celebrities to control their own images. All of that—what little there is—was developed long after Elvis died, and is still changing and growing.

The Elvis impersonator industry, including the wedding chapels, evolved over decades, and the Elvis estate did not actively pursue imitators. So the industry flourished.

The Elvis estate fascinates me, because of its management history. Elvis essentially died broke, and when his ex-wife Priscilla took over, the estate had little ability to generate revenue. Priscilla, with the help of advisors, created Elvis Presley Enterprises “to manage all Elvis image rights and remaining royalties, which primarily included turning Graceland into a tourist attraction. Between Graceland profits, merchandising, image deals, and royalties from songs recorded after the RCA deal, Priscilla and her co-executors of the Elvis Estate helped grow its value to a reported $100 million by 1993” according to Forbes.

That year, Lisa Marie Presley turned 25, and was able to claim her part of the estate. Then things got messy.

I’m not going to go into the mess here, but suffice to say that Lisa Marie got her father’s business acumen, not her mother’s. She appointed a business guy, one Barry Siegel, to handle the financial affairs. He sold 85% of Presley’s interest in EPE and invested some part (this is murky to me) in a holding company that included American Idol and eventually went bankrupt.

. . . .

During this great financial upheaval, Authentic Brands Group acquired the rights to license and merchandise all things Elvis. ABG calls itself “an intellectual property corporation,” and it handles the images of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali, among others. The details of the deal aren’t easy to find, but suffice to say that this deal was made for money, not because EPE wanted to lose control of its cash cow.

. . . .

Bullying often works in IP cases because the costs of going to court are so very high. If a company like ABG comes after a small business like a wedding chapel, then the small business usually has no recourse but to cave. A long-term lawsuit on these issues can cost upwards of $100,000 or more. Very few small businesses can absorb that.

But ABG made a biiiiiiig mistake going after wedding chapels in Las Vegas. The wedding industry in this city is a two billion dollar industry, and Elvis-themed weddings are a big part of it.

So, when ABG went after the chapels (and not all of them, either), it screwed up. Within days, the chapels had banded together to fight this overreach, and had the entire city behind them. Eighteen-thousand jobs were suddenly at risk, not to mention all the other Elvis themed products.

ABG didn’t randomly pick this spring to go after the chapels. There’s a big Elvis movie coming out on June 24, and some person at ABG figured that would increase interest in Elvis. They sent these letters so that no one would profit off the Elvis revival but them.

Big problem, though. People have been profiting off Elvis for decades. Yes, EPE and the estate have occasionally gone after trademark infringers, but not in any organized way. Neither has ABG.

. . . .

This has serious implications for potential lawsuits. ABG expected the wedding chapels to roll over and either give up their work or pay hundreds of thousands without a fight. ABG did not want a legal fight, because they have not correctly defended the Elvis brand.

No one has. It would take years, but there’s a strong possibility that lawsuits over the IP could result in ABG and EPE losing their trademarks over Elvis. To maintain a trademark, you need to vigilantly defend it. EPE and ABG did not defend much at all. In fact, for years, EPE and ABG allowed this to go on, and so to try to shut it all down now might be impossible.  (Lawyers, feel free to correct if I’m wrong.)

Given the fact that ABG reversed course the moment the wedding chapels and the city got involved tells me that some higher up in the company blinked. I’m sure some junior lawyer has been fired and now ABG is trying to clean up its mess.

The clean-up is ugly as well. ABG is now trying to charge for a license, which they should have done in the first place. The charge went (in less than a week) from tens of thousands to $500 per year. No one has signed anything or agreed to anything, and if the chapels are getting advice from some of the good IP attorneys in this city, I doubt anyone will pay for a license.

. . . .

Why am I telling you this? Because Elvis Presley is the 7th highest earning dead celebrity, according to Forbes. The estate earned $30 million last year. Yes, some of that was Graceland, but it also included licensing a TV channel and a Netflix animated alternate history series in which (I’m not kidding) “Elvis will explore an alternate history where he faked his own death to fight crime with a secret government spy program.”

As I mentioned before, long-term IP is worth a lot of money. Even when it’s badly mismanaged, as the Elvis estate has been since Priscilla stepped away from it all. The dang thing keeps earning money. Clearly a lot of that money is going into the pockets of people who have no connection to the long-dead King, but that’s because of the mismanagement.

Had Lisa Marie handled everything—or let her mom remain in charge—that $30 million would go directly to the estate instead of others. And clearly, someone would have known better than to mess with the wedding chapels and Vegas, which have done more to keep Elvis’s legacy alive than almost any other group.

. . . .

Story number two is one many of you sent to me. Each one of you sent a different article, and all of those articles were different from the one I initially saw.

Yep, there’s a copyright lawsuit over the new Top Gun: Maverick movie. A lawsuit so serious that should some judge really want to, the judge could pull the movie from the theaters.

The lawsuit was filed in early June, and so far, the movie is still playing well, so I doubt that any injunction will happen. But what’s going on here is almost the exact opposite of what happened with Elvis.

In 1983, Ehud Yonay published an article in California Magazine called “Top Guns.” The original movie, Top Gun, was based on this article. In fact, Ehud Yonay received a single card credit in the movie, which I noticed when I rewatched the movie in late May.

Yonay’s involvement wasn’t hidden, like the involvement of so many writers. It was there for everyone to see.

Yonay died in 2012. In 2018, Yonay’s widow and son filed a notice to reclaim the full copyright…and notified Paramount Pictures that it was doing so. The rights reverted to the Yonays in 2020, and in January of 2020, they filed a notice of termination of the copyright with Paramount Pictures, knowing full well that the Maverick movie was in development.

The Yonays claim that Paramount needed to reacquire the film and ancillary rights to the article. In other words, they needed a new agreement.

Paramount claims they do not need to do that, since the movie was more or less complete before the notice of termination hit. The pandemic messed everything up, including timing here. The Yonays claim that the movie wasn’t completed until May of 2021, long after Paramount received notice.

This will be up to a court to decide. What’s happened in most of these 35-year reclamation cases is that ultimately the licensing agreements are renewed, with a boatload of money going to the copyright holder. Most of these cases are settled and the terms are not disclosed.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

The Empress and the English Doctor

From The Wall Street Journal:

What a cursed kind of privilege it is to be the physician in charge of the life of a world leader. In April 2020, stories circulated about doctors from the intensive-care unit of London’s St. Thomas’s Hospital texting the Downing Street communications team when Covid-suffering Boris Johnson, as the prime minister himself would later put it, “could have gone either way.” If the virus took a lethal turn, his doctors and PR flacks wondered, who would say what, when? Scenes from the film “The Death of Stalin” flashed by: the body, the indecision, the panic.

How much worse it must have been for the 56-year-old Thomas Dimsdale, in his dark suit and curled wig, drawn from the comfort of his farmhouse in Hertfordshire, England, to travel a grueling 1,700 miles overland in a carriage to St. Petersburg. Dimsdale had been summoned by Catherine the Great to inoculate not only the empress herself but also her 13-year-old heir, the Grand Duke Paul. Catherine sought protection from smallpox, that scourge of the world that, through the ingenuity of science and social persuasion, became the first—and still the only—disease to have been eradicated by the interventions of mankind.

The smallpox pandemic makes Covid seem like a scene-stealing extra: More lethal and more contagious, it rolled through society in wave after devastating wave. In London in 1752, it was responsible for one out of every seven deaths. Uncertainty followed fever and pustules. The remedy in itself was ineffective and miserable: bleeding, puncturing to release the pus, and sweating in blankets. It was a course of treatment determined by a lingering belief in the four vital humors—blood, phlegm, black bile, yellow bile—whose balance supposedly dictated health. (One of Dimsdale’s contributions to the march of medical history seems to have been his insistence on opening the window.)

As Lucy Ward dramatically relates in “The Empress and the English Doctor: How Catherine the Great Defied a Deadly Virus,” Catherine’s invitation was a high-stakes affair, a testament to Dimsdale’s writings on the methodology of smallpox inoculation and his reputation for solicitous care. His Quaker upbringing had encouraged a brand of outcome- rather than ego-led practice.

Inoculation preceded vaccination. The approach was initially brought to Europe by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who had first noted the practice in Constantinople. She insisted on having her own children inoculated, and convinced the Hanoverian court to follow suit, led by the future Queen Caroline, whose children, too, were subjected to the procedure.

The disease followed a heartbreaking trajectory, killing children and the young, disfiguring women and destroying their prospects for marriage even if they survived. An incredible “five reigning monarchs were dethroned by smallpox in the eighteenth century,” we are told, including Peter the Great’s grandson, the child Emperor Peter II. In Vienna, Empress Maria Theresa lost her son, two daughters and two daughters-in-law. Survival rates in Russia were particularly low. No wonder Catherine wanted to try her luck with science.

As devastating as smallpox was, for the empress herself and the grand duke who would succeed her to personally undergo inoculation was a risk to both patient and doctor. On the success side stood immunity from the disease, an almost holy example for Catherine’s people, and as-yet-untold riches for her nervous doctor. On the other side, not only the fact that all Russia would refuse the treatment if their “Little Mother” died, but also a disaster for Dimsdale and the son who had accompanied him. Geopolitics came into play too—if things went wrong, some would interpret it as a foreign assassination.

All the descriptions of lancet cuts and pus are one thing—it is the experimentation on impoverished children that makes for painful reading. Young army cadets are experimented on; a 6-year-old, “small as a bug,” according to Catherine, supplies the viral matter to his empress, who is prepared with “five grains of the mercurial powder” and purged with “calomel, crabs’ claws and antimony.” Then she waits it out at Tsarskoe Selo, her summer palace, in the hope of a desirable progression: outbreak, recovery.

With a happy result for her and her less-robust son, Catherine sets about publicizing the success. Dimsdale receives the equivalent of more than $20 million and a barony.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

William Dimsdale
Catherine II on a balcony of the Winter Palace on 9 July 1762, the day of the coup that placed her in power

A brief summary of the history of Catherine the Great, whose life was substantially extended by Dr. Dimsdale:

  • She was born in Prussia as Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg.
  • Prussian king Frederick the Great took an active part in promoting the future Catherine (then Princess Sophie) as an ideal spouse for a likely future tsar of Russia.
  • Sophie arrived in Russia in 1744 and aggressively worked to ingratiate herself with the reigning ruler, Empress Elizabeth and with the Russian people. She learned to speak, read and write Russian, rising at night and walking about her bedroom barefoot, repeating her lessons. When she wrote her memoirs, she said she made the decision then to do whatever was necessary and to profess to believe whatever was required of her to become qualified to wear the crown. 
  • She became a member of the Russian Orthodox Church and received a new name, Catherine (Yekaterina or Ekaterina) 
  • The following day, she married the man who would become Peter III. Catherine was 16 at the time.
  • Peter was an eccentric idiot when she married him and after he ascended to the Russian throne.
  • Upon the death of his mother, Peter ascended to the throne.
  • Catherine organized a coup to overthrow her husband. Six months after Peter became tsar, Catherine had Peter arrested and he signed a written abdication of the throne in favor of his wife.
  • Shortly thereafter, Peter died. There were rumors that he had been assassinated, but after an autopsy, the official cause of death was found to be a severe attack of haemorrhoidal colic and an apoplexy stroke.
  • Catherine ascended to the throne. Her crown weighed over five pounds and contained 75 pearls and 4,936 Indian diamonds forming laurel and oak leaves, the symbols of power and strength, and was surmounted by a 398.62-carat ruby spinel that previously belonged to the Empress Elizabeth, and a diamond cross.  A photo of the crown and orb taken in 1896 is inserted at the bottom of this post.
  • Catherine reigned as monarch for well over thirty years, from 1762–1796.
  • During her reign, Catherine extended by some 520,000 square kilometres (200,000 sq mi – an area a little smaller the State of Texas and about the size of present-day France ) the borders of the Russian Empire, absorbing New Russia, Crimea, Northern Caucasus, Right-bank Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Courland at the expense, mainly, of two powers—the Ottoman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Copyright and Coronavirus

From Publishing Perspectives:

One of the most interesting results of this year’s sessions of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights last month at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva (WIPO) is a new report, The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Creative Industries, Cultural Institutions, Education, and Research.

The world of international policy organizations is intensely fond of its acronyms, and the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights is referred to simply as “SCCR.” The International Publishers Association (IPA), also based in Geneva, is the book-publishing body that represents the world industry at this sequence of discussions. So, in non-governmental organization (NGO) parlance, the IPA goes to WIPO’s SCCR as the NGO for publishing.

As you may recall, the SCCR meetings bring together the views and perceived pressure points of international delegates on copyright, not only as it pertains to books and publishing but also to broadcast, archives, libraries, theatrical production, and more. It’s a kind of summit of international stakeholders in industries in which copyright is important.

. . . .

Several points made in the contextual analysis on Pages 5 and 6 of the SCCR report are especially useful.

One of them–as unhappy as it makes us to read it–has to do with the potential for unfinished business relative to the current pandemic: “Far from being an imminent or emerging crisis, it is a sustained crisis: it can last for months or years, over a very long crisis existence phase, and also [be a] cyclical crisis as well because of the different contagious waves.”

The element that publishers are most familiar with, in SCCR terms, is this: “If on one hand, COVID-19 disrupted the market and business ecosystems we traditionally know, on the other hand it has accelerated innovation, introducing the so-called ‘imposed service innovation.’” In publishing, of course, we’ve used the common term “digital acceleration” for this–an “imposed” (indeed) need to muster digital alternatives most particularly in book retail in all formats, but also, for many, in distribution where ebook and audiobook formats were less well established.

And there’s the upbeat part of that digital acceleration: “This specific crisis created a change of mindset and stimulated business opportunities that would never have been considered under normal circumstances.”

. . . .

What Publishing Perspectives readers may find interesting in the report is the look at effects on the audiovisual sector, the music sector, visual arts, museums, and libraries–”nearby” creative industries, each of which has had its own path, to first understanding and then trying to respond to the impact of this protracted emergency. In so many ways, those sister industries’ struggles ran parallel to those of the book business. As bookstores closed, so did art galleries, museums, and auction houses. This, as the roughly half of the music industry’s business was shuttered, as concerts, festivals, tours, and solo performances were cancelled.

Copyright issues in audiovisual abruptly intensified surfaced as the drive toward digitally distributed entertainment in Africa suffered what’s estimated to have been at least a 50-percent loss in potential revenue, the report says, because of “illegal exploitation of creative audiovisual content”–piracy.

Not surprisingly, a line in the report’s conclusion reads, “More attention should be paid to developing e-resources that should respect copyright as a whole, including facilitating uses through licensing, of material in educational and research settings. This could limit piracy damages in crisis times and support the development of local industries while paying attention to creators.”

. . . .

In terms of the piracy issues that plague many of the world’s publishing markets–often with limited and lackluster efforts from law enforcement to help–Al Qasimi called for effective enforcement of copyright protections to shield publishers from “physical and online piracy and to boost the publication of indigenous educational resources and ‘homegrown’ authors.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG would love to know how many authors from various nations were included among the NGO’s, foundations, large corporations and government agencies attending and, more importantly, speaking at this conference.

Old Truths and New Cliches

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘A Yiddish writer in America is an unseen entity,” Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote, “almost a ghost.” He offered this comment to explain why he felt inclined in his fables and fictions “to search for what is hidden from the eye.”

It could be said that an important dimension of the acclaimed Yiddish novelist and short-story writer has until now been hidden from the eye of many readers. “Old Truths and New Clichés,” a collection of 19 prose articles, most appearing in English for the first time, reveals that Singer was as consummate an essayist as he was a teller of tales. “To this day,” David Stromberg writes in his intelligent introduction, “few critics deal seriously with Singer’s essayistic writings.”

Mr. Stromberg, who serves as editor to the Isaac Bashevis Singer Literary Trust, has rescued these articles from the author’s archives at the University of Texas in Austin. The collection distills the convictions that informed Singer’s art and rounds out a literary self-portrait. Singer proves to be equally at home in a range of themes and registers, from casual observation to philosophical musing. In one essay he ponders what it is to seek a God who is “eternally in love . . . with his creations.” In another, in a satirical spirit, he considers how the Ten Commandments would be received—and misread—were they issued today.

Singer liked to say that when he was born in a Polish shtetl, his mother asked the midwife, “Is it a boy or a girl?” The midwife answered, “A writer.” The quip, repeated in a short piece here, wouldn’t have amused Singer’s pious parents. For them, a writer was someone inevitably subject to secular temptations.

In “Why I Write as I Do,” Singer describes the religious atmosphere that pervaded—in his memory, stifled—his childhood home in Warsaw. Yet it was there, he writes, that he learned “to transform inhibition into a method of creativity, to recognize in inhibition a friendly power instead of a hostile one.” The son and grandson of rabbis, he waged a “private war against the Almighty,” as he puts it, and replaced orthodox faith with “a sort of kasha of mysticism, deism, and skepticism.” Even so, long after he removed his black gabardine and yarmulka, Singer believed—as he says in another essay—that “it is impossible to write truthfully about human beings without having faith in something higher than human beings.”

Singer had the good sense to leave Poland for New York City in 1935, before Europe’s descent into barbarity and Poland’s dismemberment by Nazi and Soviet occupiers. Other writer-immigrants, like Joseph Conrad (Poland) and Vladimir Nabokov (Russia), switched to English upon arriving in English-speaking lands. Singer refused to do so. Having left behind—one might say, having betrayed—his religious past, his first wife and his 5-year-old son, he remained faithful to his native language, a language without a homeland. As he eked out a living writing under several pseudonyms for the Yiddish daily Forward, he felt comforted by what he calls “the language of exile.” In another essay, he contends that “journalism exerts a beneficial influence upon literary creativity.”

. . . .

The breakthrough came when “Gimpel the Fool,” the tale of a pure-souled simpleton, appeared in Saul Bellow’s propulsive translation in 1953. Singer’s short novels “Satan in Goray” in 1955 and “The Magician of Lublin” in 1960 brought him to a wider American audience. His mischievous narratives, teeming with demons and dybbuks and false messiahs, soon migrated from the pages of small magazines like Partisan Review and Commentary to glossier outlets like Playboy, Esquire and the New Yorker.

An earlier generation of Yiddish writers—led by I.L. Peretz, Sholem Aleichem and Mendele Mocher Sforim—had perfected a plain-spoken and pathos-laden mode of storytelling. Singer inherited that legacy but also subverted it, by introducing notes of irony and carnality. Not everyone was pleased. In her novella “Envy; or, Yiddish in America,” Cynthia Ozick depicted Singer’s detractors, who didn’t merely resent the American fame of a writer they saw as a careerist but, as Ms. Ozick writes, “raged against his subject matter, which was insanely sexual, pornographic, paranoid, freakish.” Singer reports that the editor who published his first stories at a journal in Warsaw had asked: “Why write about thieves and whores when there were so many decent Jewish men and devoted Jewish wives?”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Let Your Words Grow Wild

From Writer Unboxed:

It’s firefly season in my part of the world. As I write this, it’s dusk, and my front yard is just starting to light up. For the next few hours the fireflies will flash their little butts at a much higher concentration in front of my house compared to my neighbors.

I get a better light show in the first half of summer not because my yard is more beautiful or well-kept than others, but because in the two years we’ve owned our house, we haven’t raked or blown away a single leaf. We don’t mow the grass very often, and we don’t do anything to control the population of clover, fleabane, and purple dead-nettle as they slowly take over. Fireflies spend 95 percent of their lives as larva in leaf litter and other dark, moist environments, and they only live for about two months as adults. If we had bagged up all those leaves last fall to be taken away, we would have lost all those larvae.

We’re lucky to live in a place without a homeowner’s association to dictate what makes a yard “attractive,” so we’ve been able to allow nature to reclaim some of what had once been an average suburban yard: a stretch of seeded grass, azaleas bushes (which don’t attract many pollinators, as they bloom too early in the season), and some border grass (an invasive ornamental). When I tell other homeowners I’ve let my yard go wild, they will sometimes joke that it must be so much easier to not have to do yardwork. And, yes, it is easier to not have to spend hours mowing the lawn, raking, pulling weeds, or filling in patchy sod every weekend. But it does take work: we’re constantly cutting back ornamental vines that threaten to choke off pollinator-friendly plants, and uprooting invasive plants that will outcompete native flora if left unchecked.

And that’s one of the major differences between the wild yard and the more traditional manicured lawn: one attempts to dominate and control the landscape. The other works with it. This means that I’ve had to teach myself how to identify the most common plants that crop up in my yard (there are some great apps out there that make this easier than it once would have been). I’ve learned which ones are native and which ones are invasive, which feed local wildlife and pollinators, which enrich the soil when they break down, which offer shelter for beneficial insects in the winter.

As writers, we’re frequently told by other well-meaning industry professionals about the “rules.” I don’t mean grammar rules, bur rather the rules of structure, of story progression, of beats. It’s easy to get bogged down in trying to follow all the rules. Am I hitting all the correct beats for my genre? Does every scene further both the plot and my main character’s internal development? Does each plot point occur the on the exact correct page?

Do these frameworks help create interesting stories? Abso-freaking-lutely. Just as I still put effort into my yard, guides for story structure and genre are worthwhile tools. But—like most things—there are limits to what one can accomplish by sticking strictly to what’s considered “good.” Particularly when we force our writing into a structure, set of beats, or genre that it may not perfectly fit, we’re only doing a disservice to our readers and our own creativity.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Writing Fiction for US Adults

From Daily Writing Tips:

Writers of children’s fiction are constantly aware of the need to write with their readers’ reading level in mind. Writers of adult fiction—perhaps not so much.

Technical writers agonize over the need to simplify product information and guidelines, but I suspect that novelists generally tend to assume that adult readers read at “the adult level.”

In fact, when it comes to fluency in reading, US adults present a mixed bag of ability. The frequent assertion that the average US adult reads at “eighth grade reading level” is belied by US and international statistics.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old—about 130 million people—lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Of that 54%, about 18% read at fourth-grade level or below.

The most recent PIAAC results indicate that about half of US adults do read at eighth-grade level or above, i.e., they have the ability to read and navigate dense, lengthy or complex texts.

The inability of millions of Americans to comprehend texts written at or above the eighth-grade level is one of the nation’s preventable failings, but that’s a different post. When it comes to fiction, US adults reading below eighth-grade level are in luck. Plenty of fiction has a readability factor of sixth-grade or below.

Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens) 6.1
The Great Gatsby (Scott Fitzgerald) 5.5
The Secret Adversary (Agatha Christie) 4.8
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) 4.6
The Old Man and the Sea 4

NOTE: The figures are derived from the Flesch-Kincaid readability formula. This is the tool available to users of Microsoft Word.

Determining readability
So, should writers run a readability check on everything they write?

Not necessarily.

Like most easily accessible reading formulas, Flesch-Kincaid reaches a score by counting syllables and sentences. Words of more than two syllables are identified as “hard” words. Long sentences are identified as less readable than short sentences.

Counting syllables and sentence length is an extremely inefficient and soulless way to determine readability.

Many extremely common words have more than two syllables. The following, for example, are among the 300 most frequently used English words:

America
animal
another
different
family
Indian
important
example
together

. . . .

Writers aiming for maximum readability need to exercise caution when using Word’s built-in assessment feature or others like it. There is more to readability than word- and sentence-length.

Content, style, and organization also contribute to the readability of a text. Writers can achieve maximum readability by first mastering and then observing ordinary writing conventions. And we can all benefit by reviewing George Orwell’s six rules of writing well:

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2.Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4.Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Link to the rest at Daily Writing Tips

A Publisher on the Translators’ Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

[Multiple Individuals Shared Their Opinions on this Topic]

I was fascinated by the call from the chair of the International Booker Jury, Frank Wynne, for translators to be recognized as equals in terms of cover placement and royalty share.

More or less the first book I published was a translation. I was relieved to discover that the translator was identified on the title page, but not on the jacket.

But before that, I was addicted to translated works, usually in the black Penguin livery reserved for “foreign classics”—Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Tolstoy, even Machiavelli, although I don’t think I learned  from him as much as I should have. And then to the racier Alberto Moravia and the ever-entertaining Don Camillo series by Giovanni Guareschi. Not to mention the fantastic Asterix and Tintin series.

I think translated books play an enormously important role in furthering our understanding of other countries, other systems, other geniuses.

It’s, therefore unsurprising that the role of the translator is crucial. A bad translation can ruin a book. A great one can allow an author’s words to reach out to a new and bigger readership.

Rewarding translators is a given, as is giving them credit. But this particular announcement got me thinking.

[A Different Person’s Opinion]

It’s not my job to work out what would be best for literary translators, but it would be my strong recommendation that they should avoid sharing any profits from the sales of the books they’ve translated. There may be a few titles for which this would make sense but, at least in the world of translations into English, the translators would find that this would result in having to pay out quite substantial sums to publishers for their share of the losses.

Most translations into English are lucky to cover their real costs, at least in the short term. In fact, most books find it difficult to cover their costs, and translations even more so.

However, it could be that the translators were really asking for a share of the revenue rather than the profit generated. This would make more sense, but I fear that the income from this would in most cases be lower than a typical flat fee and, of course, a lot less certain. It would also lead to translators having to make decisions about which book to translate based on likely sales rather than importance.

In addition, and from the publisher’s point of view, where would this additional royalty come from given the low profitability of translated books in general?

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Do book consumers discriminate against Black, female, or young authors?

From PLOS1:

The Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 called attention to systemic racism in American society. In the #PublishingPaidMe protest on Twitter, authors shared the amount of their advances and in so doing revealed the pay discrimination for Black authors, who tend to receive lower advances on their books than their White counterparts. Close scrutiny of the industry highlighted its whiteness, not only in terms of authors and who receives recognition but also in terms of editors and decision-makers . These trends have deep historical roots, but little if anything had previously been accomplished in addressing these trends in recent years . However, following the BLM protests and #PublishingPaidMe, over a thousand people in the publishing industry signed up for a day of action to support Black authors, and publishers made statements of support for racial justice, announced antiracism workforce training, and pledged to publish more books by writers of color . These conversations in publishing echo ongoing discussions about gender inequality in the industry, which similarly point to disparities in who gets published, who gets reviewed in prestigious outlets, and how much authors are paid for their work (see for example the annual VIDA counts and their publications ). Despite the attention these conversations got alongside #MeToo, particularly in 2018, it is unclear that these conversations have spurred any meaningful or lasting change.

An historic cultural gatekeeper, publishing has become increasingly profit-focused . While editors purportedly used to call the shots based on taste and cultural importance, acquisition decisions and investments in particular book projects have increasingly become the purview of marketing departments. Decisions about advances, advertising budgets, and other decisions about book production and distribution are based on expectations of a book’s or an author’s performance in the market. Such organizational logics have historically been used to justify the lower pay and book prices for women compared to men. However, publishers have also played an active role in creating and cultivating markets and crafting their expectations about book pricing, as in the structure of the female dominated romance market which focuses on mass market production of inexpensive books by women for women. In attempts to diversify the racial and ethnic diversity of their offerings, publishers have tended to create specific and typically niche imprints for these works. Perhaps publishers have thus created their own self-fulfilling prophecies about anticipated performance and market behavior by marketing to specific and limited audiences and by making investment choices that both signal a lower investment in these works and give them less opportunity for discovery by a broader public.

However, publishers, for all of their shortcomings, are not the only potential source of discrimination in the book industry. With the closing of brick-and-mortar chains and independent bookstores as well as the shift in the product offerings within these venues, traditional publishing has become increasingly platform-based in its sales. Etailers like Amazon dominate the sales market both for digital and physical books. Unlike brick and mortar stores which have limited shelf space, online retailers can carry an almost unlimited number of titles. Whether those titles come from traditional publishers or from self-published authors, also known as “indie authors”, the etailers’ platform algorithms play a dominant role in product visibility. To the extent that these ranking and visibility algorithms incorporate consumer ratings and purchases, these algorithms may also be influenced by consumers’ discriminatory behavior and preferences. Yet consumer ratings are currently exempt from regulation and protection against discrimination [89] and immune to publishers’ antiracist institutional practices. Moreover, to the extent that publishers use these ratings and algorithmic visibility in decision-making about which authors to publish in the future and how much to invest in their titles, such external evaluations provide a ready way to “launder” discrimination.

We further see the potential for discrimination from sources other than publishers when we consider the case of indie (self) publishing. Indie publishing has removed the gatekeeping and curation function played by publishers. An example of the gig economy or platform-based economy, indie publishing enables authors to market directly to consumers without the mediation of a publisher. On the one hand, this arrangement has the potential to remove the unconscious biases and prejudices of publishers that contribute to systemic racism or sexism in their acquisitions, production, distribution, and promotion of their catalogs. On the other hand, the consumer-facing gig economy offers no protections to authors from the potential discrimination by consumers and the potential ripple effect of that discrimination in the rating and visibility of their titles. Thus, the gig economy may prove more egalitarian given the removal of barriers to entering the market, but it may also heighten discrimination in ways that exacerbate inequality.

In short, in order to understand discrimination in the book industry, we must consider not only the behavior of publishers but also the behavior and preferences of consumers. This study uses a large-scale, randomized field experiment of over nine thousand subjects to examine the effects of author race, alongside gender and age, on consumers’ stated interest in a given book, their evaluation of an author’s credentials, and the prices consumers report they are willing to pay for books in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres.

Link to the rest at PLOS1 and thanks to P. for the tip.

PG says if lots of book sales are important to you (nothing wrong with that), but you think your race/gender/age may impair your book sales, pen names and massaged or manufactured biographies have a long history of use in the book world.

Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seuss, George Orwell, George Eliot, Richard Bachman, J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith, J.D. Robb, E L James, Lemony Snicket, Victoria Lucas, Flora Fairfield and A.M. Barnard were/are pen names used by very successful authors for one reason or another.

An accompanying author’s bio can also be sufficiently vague to not disclose race/gender/age:

“Pen Name attended Princeton University and currently lives and writes in South Florida with a dog and two neurotic parakeets.”

As to the question about the biases of traditional publishers, PG says if you decide to run with a bad crowd, you’ll just have to deal with the consequences.

The 14 Literary Newsletters You Need in Your Inbox

From Electric Lit:

I get more email in a day than I can keep up with, let alone respond to. 

Most of us do. Collectively, we sent an estimated 319 billion emails each day in 2021. I’d love to know the breakdown of these messages. How many chains of rambling updates between old friends? How many are notes to confirm a long-awaited trip to visit family? My bet is these are in the minority, dwarfed by the vast number of promotions and automations. And I’m basing this on my own inbox. 

That’s one of the reasons why I love subscribing to newsletters. It isn’t the same as a note from a friend, but it also doesn’t require more time than reading—no input, no decisions, and no feeling guilty for inevitably getting behind on responding. Just a prompt to take a few minutes and read about whatever the topic.

Here are 14 of my favorite literary newsletters, the ones that I love seeing in my inbox as an excuse to sit for a minute and think about books, writing, and reading.

Fiction Matters

I first found Sara Hildreth’s Fiction Matters newsletter through the former English teacher’s Instagram account, which has a similar literary focus, and it’s become one of my favorites. Each Sunday, Hildreth shares smart, quick reviews of books she’s read, comments on literary news, as well as a round-up of what she’s loving, making, listening, or watching. The content is great, but the tone is wonderful—kind, warm, and relaxed, the perfect way to jump back into your inbox at the end of the weekend.

Also, the title here isn’t misleading. The newsletter features mostly fiction, with occasional nonfiction reads and recommendations. Most titles are literary fiction, but Hildreth does read across genres, as well.

Cost: The Fiction Matters newsletter is free, but there is a Fiction Matters patreon community if you’re looking for more.

. . . .

sweater weather

Electric Lit’s editor-at-large Brandon Taylor’s newsletter contains literary criticism that feels like a thought process, like his explaining an idea or unpacking a reaction and teasing it out to see how it works. 

Besides being a pleasure to sit with, these newsletters motivate me to read more carefully, to consider the media I consume in conversation, to stop breaking my brain scrolling—though if you, like me, aren’t always successful at this, Taylor is an amazing Twitter follow. 

In short: Must subscribe.

Cost: Free.

Electric Literature Newsletters

Electric Literature has three weekly newsletters, each arriving on a different day of the week. The Commuter, which goes out on Monday mornings, is a literary magazine with poetry, flash fiction, and graphic narratives. Each email includes one piece, as well as links to essays related to the broader topic, whether that’s aquatic drama or artistic influence. (Also, I can confirm, this email is a perfectly timed transition into the workweek even when you’re not commuting.)

Recommended Reading, which arrives on Wednesdays, features short fiction recommended by another author. It’s simple, but the personalized introduction to a story—explaining why it resonates, why the writer admires it—is lovely. I don’t know about you, but I tend to pay more attention, to engage more when someone recommends a piece to me.

Finally, the Friday round-up hits inboxes at the end of each workweek. This newsletter contains the best of Electric Literature’s essays, reading lists, and interviews, so you don’t have to worry about missing anything.

. . . .

Buzzfeed Books

The Buzzfeed Booksnewsletter sends out two emails each week. The Tuesday emails round up the best new books out each week. The list is usually broken up by genre—including nonfiction, romance, sci-fi, and more—with descriptions from members of the Buzzfeed team or Buzzfeed Books contributors. 

On Sundays, the Buzzfeed Books newsletter highlights reading lists from the week, like must-reads by AAPI author and audio fiction podcasts for every kind of reader.

Cost: Free.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Censorship

Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them; I only feel this appalling sadness. Somewhere in their upbringing, they were shielded against the total facts of our existence.

Charles Bukowski

The Book Business Ecosystem Is Under Attack

From Publishers Weekly:

We live in unprecedented times. We read and hear that slogan incessantly. It is often wrong—but with respect to the implications in general and the active threats of today’s book banning campaigns, it is chillingly correct for publishers, authors, readers, young people, free speech, democracy, and humanity. We urgently need to connect the major threads of today’s assaults, which threaten not only constitutional rights and children’s opportunities but also democracy, humanity, and the future of our polity and civilization themselves.

Viewed historically and comparatively, today’s banners are unique. Never before in the past millennia or more have the forces of censorship and claims for minority, extralegal power—rooted in fear—systematically fought to ban texts that they have not read or perhaps can’t read, which I call the new illiteracy. . . . Never before have children and young readers been so deliberately targeted. In all previous campaigns, adult readers have been the focus of the censors’ efforts. In all previous episodes, central targets have been white male authors, from Martin Luther to Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Phillip Roth, and J.D. Salinger, with books by the occasional woman like Harper Lee or by people of color like Alice Walker or Toni Morrison also drawing scrutiny. In contrast to today’s “anti–affirmative action,” this was equal-opportunity banning.

Now, not only do banners focus almost exclusively on the young but—with great implications for publishers, booksellers, and authors—they go after nonwhite and nonheterosexual authors and leading characters. The rare white male author under attack has a protagonist of color who is differently gendered. A white male author’s much more obscene, profane, and offensive text is not censured. Research by the American Library Association, Freedom to Read Foundation, and BookRiot confirms the almost complete racist, sexist, transphobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and ageist obsession of the new banners.

This is not accidental. The banners—and the nationally organized dark-money-funded websites and social media campaigns that mislead uninformed, fearful right-leaning (sometimes) parents—never show awareness of this. Nor do they grasp that their unconstitutional efforts are fundamentally in opposition to everything we know about child development; children’s desire to read, be challenged, learn, grow, and mature as a result of reading and teaching; humanity; and democracy. Multiple surveys found that at least 80% of those polled support so-called divisive and uncomfortable reading and learning. Not at all surprising but critical is the fact that book banners strive to ban countless other well-established legal rights of “free society.”

For publishers, booksellers, and authors, the challenges and the stakes of the book banners’ approach are huge, if insufficiently discussed. Some authors and their publishers benefit from the public attention and sales stimulated in the short-term by being banned. This is true, for example, of award-winning and bestselling Art Spiegelman (Maus); Toni Morrison (various titles); my friend, colleague, and coauthor Ashley Hope Perez (Out of Darkness); Nikole Hannah-Jones (The 1619 Project); Isabel Quintero (Gabi: A Girl in Pieces); Nic Stone (Deep Martin); and Jerry Craft (New Kid). Some benefit from creative services like Banned Books Box, which sends two banned books with associated materials to its subscribers each month.

But a temporary boost in sales doesn’t occur for every banned author. Classroom adoptions and sales are sensitive to political pressures. Unconstitutional laws are proposed in Republican-dominated states, and even if these laws turnout to be unenforceable, authors and agents, publishers and publicists, distributors and sellers are all influenced, to one degree or another, by these assaults. This can prompt those under attack to search for security and self-protection, which can cause ripples through the entire supply chain. Library and bookstore orders can lag. Decisions about reprints and new editions, sensitive to cultural, political, and economic forces, can be deferred or delayed indefinitely.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Publishers defend sensitivity readers as vital tool following author criticism

From The Bookseller:

UK children’s publishers have defended the use of sensitivity readers following criticism from some quarters about supposed interference in the creative process, arguing the intention is to make books more inclusive and this should be “applauded”.

Speaking at Hay Festival last month, author Anthony Horowitz hit the headlines for claiming “children’s publishers are more scared than anybody” when it comes to so-called “cancel culture”, saying he was shocked when receiving the notes for his new work.

The author of the Alex Rider series said he “suffered” through the edits on his latest book for younger people, Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case, due to be published next month by Walker Books, and claimed “what is happening to writers is extremely dangerous”.

Horowitz did not single out sensitivity readers, but the author seemed to echo concerns in the national press about their use. “I believe that writers should not be cowed, we should not be made to do things because we’re so scared of starting a storm on Twitter,” he said, although he declined to specify the publisher’s qualms.

Bloomsbury, Bonnier and Quarto all told The Bookseller they had employed sensitivity readers, saying the move was “important in inclusive, forward-thinking publishing” while rejecting any suggestion authors were being forced to make changes they did not want to make. None of the Big Four publishers responded to requests to comment.

Helen Wicks, managing director for children’s trade at Bonnier, said: “We recognise that this is a delicate balance, and that the authorial voice should be respected. However, we believe sensitivity reads can play an important role in inclusive, forward-thinking publishing. We have used them for many years, picking our partners very carefully and positioning them as peer reviews. Importantly, we believe our teams have both the knowledge and skill required to work with our authors and advisers to bring the best possible stories to the widest possible audience.”

Rebecca McNally, publishing director for Bloomsbury Children’s Books, agreed: “We think they are very helpful on some projects as many authors really do appreciate the insight of a specialist editorial perspective as part of the process. We view it as another kind of expert read that raises questions a general editor, however rigorous, may not think or know to ask. Mostly they give the author an opportunity to review their text through a particular (relevant) lens and make subtle changes, or not. We don’t expect them to make books bulletproof and don’t expect authors to implement all the sensitivity reader’s recommendations—it’s an intelligent, informed dialogue.”

Shannon Cullen, group publishing director for Quarto Kids, also confirmed the publisher used “a variety of editorial consultants” for some of its books “to ensure they are naturally inclusive and accurate in their representation, particularly when exploring topics such as history or geography, or in books that represent multiple experiences”.  

She added: “We encourage our creative partners to consider the potential impact of their work on children and families—regardless of their own intent in producing it—when considering any editorial or illustration feedback. We do not believe that you can make children’s books ’too inclusive’ if the result is also making every child feel seen or safe in their pages, or to build their empathy through reading.”

Silvia Molteni, head of the children’s and YA books department at PFD, said the agency had seen “an increasing number of UK publishers employing sensitivity readers recently, while in the past it was something much more common with US publishers”.  

“It is a process that we, as agent, are removed from as we work with our writers and it’s the publisher who decides whether or not and how to conduct a sensitivity read. Generally speaking, the intention of making children’s books more inclusive—without affecting creativity in the process—is certainly one to be applauded,” she said.

However, reporting in national media on sensitivity readers tends to focus on authors who are less receptive to the idea.

. . . .

Clanchy noted sensitivity reading’s origins in children’s and young adult fiction, and said “there are good reasons for regulating children’s reading: it is foundational and formational and may be enforced by school choice or being read aloud to”, adding “it is genuinely important, there, to avoid oppressive stereotypes”. Nevertheless, she argued Some Kids was not written for children. “Adults are able to put books down if they upset them, so their books may safely contain difficult ideas,” she said. “I thought carefully about all the notes I had been given and, in the end, adopted none of the suggestions proffered by the readers.”

Sensitivity readers, such as author Eva Wong Nava, are keen to explain what their role actually involves. Wong Nava says the term “sensitivity reader” is a “misnomer”. She told The Bookseller: “What a sensitivity reader does is really editorial. It’s not to cancel anyone, it’s really to add a recommendation or suggestion.” She explained how sensitivity readers read through the lens of their own lived experience, or professional and research experience, to provide feedback on authenticity. Wong Nava reads for the portrayal of South East Asian and Chinese experience, identity and culture, for example, as she is from Singapore and Malaysia. She also reads for British Chinese lived experience as she lives in Britain.

She stressed: “I understand writers feeling defensive, but the thing to note about sensitivity editing, is it is not to cancel, it’s to make your manuscript better, like any editor would want to do.”

Responding to Horowitz’s comments, she emphasised the “consultative” nature of sensitivity reading, where the author has the right to accept or reject suggestions, but also the need for children to feel safe.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

During World War II, a large number of ships were utilized to move soldiers, military vehicles and supplies from the United States and other locations to war zones. For the safety of those ships, a number of them were traveled as a group, a convoy. The convoy was guarded from attacks by enemy air and sea forces by armed naval vessels.

For the convoy to be an effective safety measure, the ships had to travel together at the same speed. That speed was governed by how fast the slowest ship in the convoy could travel. If the remainder of the convoy went faster than the slowest ship, that ship would be left behind and be a much easier target for enemy forces to attack and sink.

PG was reminded of the slowest ship in the convoy when he considered sensitivity readers. The most “sensitive” of the sensitivity readers would seem to set the standard for a publisher. If the editors or other sensitivity readers thought one of their staff was going too far, that would open them up to attack for not being sensitive enough to the fears, needs, traumas, lived experiences, etc., etc. of that sensitivity reader and others who shared those sensitivities.

PG was a trial lawyer for many years and anyone who spends much time in that field ends up representing people who have made decisions the lawyer wouldn’t have personally made. For example, marrying someone who was, in PG’s eyes, entirely unsuitable to be anyone’s spouse, life partner, drinking buddy, companion, friend, friendly acquaintance, auto mechanic, etc.

PG tried to screen out crazy people before they became his clients. But on some occasions, PG ended up representing crazy people because he/she didn’t present as crazy when PG first met with them (crazy people are sometimes quite ingenious in disguising their true nature) or a judge assigned him to represent a crazy person because even a crazy person is entitled to legal representation under many circumstances.

When PG considers sensitivity editors/readers/reviewers, he wonders how many crazy people slip into those roles. This question arises in PG’s fevered brain because some of the identified sensitivities are so abstruse and hypothetical he suspects that psychiatric treatment would be more effective than sensitivity editing for the exquisitely sensitive among us.

James Patterson is big-mad. He’s also dead wrong.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer:

I develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies for one of the biggest book publishers in the world, and I teach creative writing and publishing courses at area colleges, so I know why James Patterson is big-mad.

I found out about his comments Monday, on a group chat with my diversity, equity, and inclusion colleagues. We routinely share articles that help us recontextualize and embolden our work, and at some point, someone posted the article in the Sunday Times in which Patterson laments that white men are having trouble getting hired as writers, calling it “racism.”

Let’s just say that Patterson’s comments did not help us recontextualize or embolden our work. Because he’s flat-out wrong.

“Doofus” was all one colleague could muster. And really, what more is there to say about a white man who is reckoning with the end of his time. Gone are the days when white men are prioritized only because of their identity rather than, let’s say, actual talent and intellect. That must be painful.

When Donald Trump says, “Make America Great Again,” and when James Patterson says, white men face “another form of racism,” please understand that these white men are saying the same thing. Trump and Patterson were born a year apart and grew up during America’s Golden Era. After galvanizing all its resources toward the war effort, America was able to redirect those post-war resources to meet growing consumer demand for goods and real estate, employing millions of Americans and boosting the middle class.

However, while there were many more jobs available during this period, they weren’t available to all. Only 2% of women and Black men worked in highly skilled jobs that pay better (like engineering), whereas 94% of doctors were white men. Generations of Trumps and Pattersons enjoyed unfettered access to the spoils of being born cis-het and white, while discrimination, unequal education, social norms, and bad laws tripped Black and brown people as they tried to sprint ahead.

. . . .

Book publishing, as we now know, has been an allegory for the rest of America. During the Golden Era, book publishing faced pressure to create new content as literacy rates climbed and more people went to college. Publishing was forced to expand and corporatize its operations, thus the literary star was born. Publishers realized they couldn’t possibly put an equal amount of effort behind each individual book, so they chose a select few to pour resources, ensuring the success of writers like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Henry Miller, and Jack Kerouac. (There were famous Black writers of this era — James Baldwin, of course — but they were always exceptions. Toni Morrison famously championed Black writers when she worked at Random House starting in the 1960s, but after leaving her post, the publisher went back to its old ways.)

Half a century later and the world has dramatically changed: The internet, cell phones, and social media created an interconnected society where one can quickly and easily expose injustices, from #BlackLivesMatter to #PublishingPaidMe. A Black man and Black woman ascended to the offices of president and vice president, respectively.

. . . .

So yes, the country is changing, and publishing will continue to add more diverse authors and perspectives to reflect our new society. I am sure that for the Trumps and Pattersons of the world, who have only ever enjoyed their privilege, this change feels unbearable.

But things haven’t changed that much. A diversity audit by Random House (now Penguin Random House) found that three-quarters of authors from 2019 to 2021 were white, and only 6% were Black. A 2020 analysis by the New York Times of English language fiction from 2018 showed that 89% of authors were white, even though white people made up only 60% of the population.

And #PublishingPaidMe, in which authors revealed the advances they received on their books, showed that Black authors still often get paid significantly less than their white peers.

Link to the rest at The Philadelphia Inquirer

PG notes that, unless an author lives in or near New York City, that author is unlikely to ever meet with a publisher face-to-face. Ditto for an author’s agent, who is also likely located in New York City.

There is also the time-honored practice of using a pen name that suggests an ethnicity or provides no clue to ethnicity.

There have been more than a handful of men who have written under female pen names and women writing under male pen names.

Search on Google for Pen Name Generator and you’ll find lots of help and most of them allow you to choose your gender.

PG asked one pen name generator for a female romance writer pen name and it immediately spit out Trixie Selene Bolton.

PG tried out a UK pen name generator and was given MaryAnn Bethlake and Janette Beverly.

The UK site will also provide you with a selection of rapper names if that’s your side hustle to your writing career.

Selections for Rapper PG included Strawberry Harold, Tots-Shipman and Inspectah Sticky.

Who knows, maybe PG AKA Inspectah Sticky will turn TPV into a Rap Blog.

Mine is the tongue

Mine is the tongue-tied silence of awkwardness, hers the smiling silence of anticipation, and then we utter inanities to each other, like “beautiful weather arranged for us” and “I like these kind of clouds.”

Meir Shalev

When Will Novels Fix Society Already?

From Counter Craft:

In the 18th-century, a specter was haunting Europe—the specter of “Werther Fever.” Goethe’s 1774 epistolary novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, was so popular that it catapulted the young Goethe into international fame and set off a trend of young men wearing yellow trousers and electric blue jackets… and also, allegedly, thousands of imitation suicides.

Goethe was an unknown 24 year old when he wrote the book, and he certainly didn’t set out to popularize garish fashion or suicide. The novel is an example of both art’s cultural power and also the unpredictability of its influence. There’s no better example of that than overtly political works. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was written to expose the poor working conditions of meat packers and inspire a socialist movement, but readers focused on gross meat industry health violations so instead of socialism we got the 1906 Meat Inspection Act. Even works as blatantly left wing and anti-capitalist as Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels and Star Trek can be turned into inspiration for rabid capitalists like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Etc.

You simply cannot choose what people will take from art. Nor can you overestimate the recuperative powers of modern capitalism, where even the most pointed artistic critique can be turned into just another product. Just yesterday Netflix announced it is creating a game show based on Squid Game, the anti-capitalist Korean series about a fictional dystopian game show that became an unexpected Netflix hit.

All this brings me to the latest discourse about The State of Literary Fiction, which was kicked off by British Journalist Ben Judah declaring that “we live in an extremely sick society”—hard to argue—and that what this sick society needs to address its massive, systemic, and global problems is… better literary fiction?

. . . .

[I]s Jane Austen not a novelist of interiority? But mostly what’s notable is how commonplace the central claim is. Sometimes it feels like every week someone argues political literature is dead or decries the failure of fiction, especially literary fiction, to cure our ailing society by… well it’s not exactly clear. Helping to “rock the vote”? Inspiring a resurgence of left wing politics? Igniting an armed revolution?

. . . .

Another issue is, well, look. How did that work out before? When was the point in which novelists, bourgeois mimetic or otherwise, saved society? As much as, say, Tolstoy was a genius—and he was—did his novels fix the ills of Tsarist Russia?

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG realized that he is including too many OPs about nothing today. He’ll be better tomorrow.

5 Ways to Hack Written Word Media Promos

From Written Word Media:

elf-publishing has been home to much innovation since the digital market opened. Authors have been on the cutting edge of new formats, marketing tactics and delivery methods. And we’ve been grateful to learn from this incredible, creative community over the years. 

One thing that always surprises and delights us is when authors find ways of using our services that we did not initially see or intend. In this post we’ll run down five creative ways authors have ‘hacked’ our products to maximize their return.

1. Double Targeting Similar Genres

Written Word Media promos are targeted by genre. This makes our promos effective because readers only get books that are in their favorite genres, and authors only pay to reach readers that are most likely to enjoy their book.

But what do you do if your book straddles multiple genres? Not every book fits neatly into a single genre, and not every reader exclusively reads in their ‘favorite’ genres.

Most authors simply pick a single genre that their book fits into, and promote to that audience. But this can leave sales on the table.

So, how are authors getting around this and hitting every reader who may like their book? By booking multiple promos on a single day in different genres and ‘double targeting’ the reader audience.

For example, an author could book a paranormal romance promo and fantasy promo on Bargain Booksy for the same book on the same day. By doing so, they are reaching more readers and expanding the reach of their promo. They also get around our requirement that a book can only be advertised on the same site in the same genre once every 30 days.

. . . .

Reader Reach Ad Campaigns run for 5 days whether you choose Facebook or Amazon for your ads. This run period was determined after extensive testing and because having a set period of days makes it easier for authors to effectively plan. A set period of days for the campaign also reduces cost as it is less work for our team if they know exactly how long each campaign will be.

2. Back to Back Reader Reach Ad Campaigns

But, some authors want longer campaigns, and they’ve found a way to do it. 

On our other brands, a book must wait 30 days after a promo before it can be promoted again in the same genre. This allows us to add new readers to the list, and keeps readers from seeing the same books too often.

But, with Reader Reach Ads, there is no such restriction. So, to extend campaign length, we see authors book back-to-back Reader Reach Campaigns for run periods anywhere from 10 to 30 days.

When this happens, our team will keep the same campaign running and continue to tweak and optimize over the course of the full run period. This longer run time both extends the time period that the book is advertised, but also gives our team even more time to tweak and optimize for the best results.

Link to the rest at Written Word Media

PG realizes that the OP is mostly promotion to sell the services of Written Word Media, but he found the information shared to be potentially useful.

The Organization of Your Bookshelves Tells Its Own Story

From The Atlantic:

My father loved books more than anything else in the world. He owned about 11,000 of them at the time of his death, in March of 2021, at 83 years old. There were books in his living room and bedroom, books in the hallways and closets and kitchen.

Sometimes I stop in the center of my own home like a bird arrested in flight, entranced by the books that line my walls. I live in a small Manhattan apartment, and I, too, have books in the living room, the bedroom, the hallway, the closets. Often, I stare at them because I’m puzzling over their geography. I wonder if I’ve placed any book in the wrong spot, according to an emotional map I’ve made of my bookshelves. As I gaze at the titles, the associations come tumbling out. Tennessee Williams’s Memoirs is next to a biography of Patrick Dennis called Uncle Mame, because Williams and Dennis had many things in common: Pathos. Cruel fathers. Spectacular female characters. A Dictionary of Yiddish Slang & Idioms is next to Heartburn because, however secular Nora Ephron was, her humor comes from deep within her Jewishness. The Lord of the Rings is between Time and Again and Rosemary’s Baby because I like how they form a triumvirate of fantasy stories that have nothing in common save my personal opinion that they are the finest of their genre. (Many would argue that Rosemary’s Baby belongs in horror, not fantasy, but my system allows for the blurring of these lines.)

And then there’s the shelf above my desk. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to say that it’s where I keep my favorite books. A more esoteric logic is at work. In About Alice, Calvin Trillin wrote that his wife had a large envelope marked important stuff, in which she collected letters the children had written her, records of their accomplishments, and other ephemera. She seemed to know what belonged in that envelope on raw instinct. So it is with the shelf above my desk. Here are the books that speak to some part of my sensibility—my youthful daydreams, the worlds I once imagined for myself. The Princess Bride is up there—I read it in a single day when I was 12 years old. “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” Who could put it down after an opening line like that? Also on this shelf: Birds of New York Field Guide, because I used to fantasize that my newborn would one day be a junior member of the National Audubon Society. Next to that: Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers, a long-ago gift from my mother that embodied her high standards of kindness and etiquette.

My books about writing are in the center of the shelf, because writing is what I do at my desk. They make me less afraid to be alone with my keyboard. Among them is On Writing, by Jorge Luis Borges. Yet this book is not there because it is about writing. It is there because of my father.

My father loved Borges. I remember him reading aloud a passage in which Borges expressed his admiration for how “physical” English is. It had ways to describe motions through space, he said, that were more keenly expressive than those he could find in his native language, Spanish. My father read the passage with sensual care, the way a gourmand enjoys a bowl of freshly harvested peas (M. F. K. Fisher, An Alphabet for Gourmets) or the way James Beard uses brisk rhythm and precise timing to achieve the optimal texture for scrambled eggs (James Beard, Beard on Food). My father’s joy in Borges’s words spread gently across his face in a smile that tugged at his lips and lit up his eyes. When he read aloud, you knew, deep in your bones, that you were learning a kind of catechism.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Is PG the only one who wondered how this was chosen for the magazine?

17 U.S. Code § 107 – Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

From the Legal Information Institute:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

Notes

house report no. 94–1476

General Background of the Problem. The judicial doctrine of fair use, one of the most important and well-established limitations on the exclusive right of copyright owners, would be given express statutory recognition for the first time in section 107. The claim that a defendant’s acts constituted a fair use rather than an infringement has been raised as a defense in innumerable copyright actions over the years, and there is ample case law recognizing the existence of the doctrine and applying it. The examples enumerated at page 24 of the Register’s 1961 Report, while by no means exhaustive, give some idea of the sort of activities the courts might regard as fair use under the circumstances: 

“quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Although the courts have considered and ruled upon the fair use doctrine over and over again, no real definition of the concept has ever emerged. Indeed, since the doctrine is an equitable rule of reason, no generally applicable definition is possible, and each case raising the question must be decided on its own facts. On the other hand, the courts have evolved a set of criteria which, though in no case definitive or determinative, provide some gauge for balancing the equities. These criteria have been stated in various ways, but essentially they can all be reduced to the four standards which have been adopted in section 107: “(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”

These criteria are relevant in determining whether the basic doctrine of fair use, as stated in the first sentence of section 107, applies in a particular case: “Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

The specific wording of section 107 as it now stands is the result of a process of accretion, resulting from the long controversy over the related problems of fair use and the reproduction (mostly by photocopying) of copyrighted material for educational and scholarly purposes. For example, the reference to fair use “by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means” is mainly intended to make clear that the doctrine has as much application to photocopying and taping as to older forms of use; it is not intended to give these kinds of reproduction any special status under the fair use provision or to sanction any reproduction beyond the normal and reasonable limits of fair use. Similarly, the newly-added reference to “multiple copies for classroom use” is a recognition that, under the proper circumstances of fairness, the doctrine can be applied to reproductions of multiple copies for the members of a class.

The Committee has amended the first of the criteria to be considered—“the purpose and character of the use”—to state explicitly that this factor includes a consideration of “whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes.” This amendment is not intended to be interpreted as any sort of not-for-profit limitation on educational uses of copyrighted works. It is an express recognition that, as under the present law, the commercial or non-profit character of an activity, while not conclusive with respect to fair use, can and should be weighed along with other factors in fair use decisions.

General Intention Behind the Provision. The statement of the fair use doctrine in section 107 offers some guidance to users in determining when the principles of the doctrine apply. However, the endless variety of situations and combinations of circumstances that can rise in particular cases precludes the formulation of exact rules in the statute. The bill endorses the purpose and general scope of the judicial doctrine of fair use, but there is no disposition to freeze the doctrine in the statute, especially during a period of rapid technological change. Beyond a very broad statutory explanation of what fair use is and some of the criteria applicable to it, the courts must be free to adapt the doctrine to particular situations on a case-by-case basis. Section 107 is intended to restate the present judicial doctrine of fair use, not to change, narrow, or enlarge it in any way.

Intention as to Classroom Reproduction. Although the works and uses to which the doctrine of fair use is applicable are as broad as the copyright law itself, most of the discussion of section 107 has centered around questions of classroom reproduction, particularly photocopying. The arguments on the question are summarized at pp. 30–31 of this Committee’s 1967 report (H.R. Rep. No. 83, 90th Cong., 1st Sess.), and have not changed materially in the intervening years.

The Committee also adheres to its earlier conclusion, that “a specific exemption freeing certain reproductions of copyrighted works for educational and scholarly purposes from copyright control is not justified.” At the same time the Committee recognizes, as it did in 1967, that there is a “need for greater certainty and protection for teachers.” In an effort to meet this need the Committee has not only adopted further amendments to section 107, but has also amended section 504(c) to provide innocent teachers and other non-profit users of copyrighted material with broad insulation against unwarranted liability for infringement. The latter amendments are discussed below in connection with Chapter 5 of the bill [§ 501 et seq. of this title].

In 1967 the Committee also sought to approach this problem by including, in its report, a very thorough discussion of “the considerations lying behind the four criteria listed in the amended section 107, in the context of typical classroom situations arising today.” This discussion appeared on pp. 32–35 of the 1967 report, and with some changes has been retained in the Senate report on S. 22 (S. Rep. No. 94–473, pp. 63–65). The Committee has reviewed this discussion, and considers that it still has value as an analysis of various aspects of the problem.

At the Judiciary Subcommittee hearings in June 1975, Chairman Kastenmeier and other members urged the parties to meet together independently in an effort to achieve a meeting of the minds as to permissible educational uses of copyrighted material. The response to these suggestions was positive, and a number of meetings of three groups, dealing respectively with classroom reproduction of printed material, music, and audio-visual material, were held beginning in September 1975.

In a joint letter to Chairman Kastenmeier, dated March 19, 1976, the representatives of the Ad Hoc Committee of Educational Institutions and Organizations on Copyright Law Revision, and of the Authors League of America, Inc., and the Association of American Publishers, Inc., stated:

You may remember that in our letter of March 8, 1976 we told you that the negotiating teams representing authors and publishers and the Ad Hoc Group had reached tentative agreement on guidelines to insert in the Committee Report covering educational copying from books and periodicals under Section 107 of H.R. 2223 and S. 22 [this section], and that as part of that tentative agreement each side would accept the amendments to Sections 107 and 504 [this section and section 504 of this title] which were adopted by your Subcommittee on March 3, 1976.

Link to the rest at Legal Information Institute

The Fair Use Sermon: When Verbal And Visual Borrowing Cross The Line

Preliminary note from PG: He was not familiar with the term, “Homiletic” prior to reading this article from a publication called Homiletic . After a short bit of online research, he discovered the definition:

”of, relating to, or resembling a homily.”

PG thought he knew what a homily was, but again checked to make certain.

Definition of homily
1: a usually short sermon – a priest delivering his homily
2: a lecture or discourse on or of a moral theme
3: an inspirational catchphrase
also : PLATITUDE

Fully educated, PG pressed forward with the OP which appeared in Homoletic. He will note that the original was downloaded as a PDF and was a bit more difficult to handle than other PDF documents PG has encountered, so if the formatting is hinkey here and there, he apologizes.

From Homiletic Vol. 47, No. 1 (2022):

In April 2021, Religion News Service ran a series of articles related to the topic of plagiarism. The most notable of the articles, authored by editor Bob Smietana, was also the most ironic. The article opens by focusing on a woman attending virtual services with her congregation in Franklin, Tennessee. It chronicles her growing frustration with her minister’s  preaching, culminating in a “really not Jesus-like” tirade when she discovered the minister’s  sermon had been preached by another minister in Kentucky three years earlier. To add to her  minister’s pastoral and homiletic misconduct, this deeply troubled woman discovered that the  minister’s next sermon was a near word-for-word lifting—including a visual demonstration—of a sermon preached by none other than Mark Driscoll when Driscoll was still with his Mars Hill  Church in Seattle. The 2013 sermon was titled, “Do Not Steal.” Knowing Driscoll’s own history  with plagiarism, irony abounds. The woman’s minister resigned in 2017, only to be caught  committing the same pastoral crime in April 2021 at his new congregation in Woodhaven,  Michigan, again preaching old sermons from Driscoll. When asked by RNS about his use of  sermons from other preachers, the minister simply said that he had studied hard for his sermons  and had been run out of the congregation in Franklin due to a coup, leaving Smietana to conclude  that “the truth of the Bible can still come through, even with a pastor who plagiarized. But that  does not make it right.”

But what about the use of images in sermons? One of the issues that drew RNS attention  was that the minister in question, Zach Stewart, had not only used Driscoll’s sermons word-for- word, but had also plagiarized visual imagery such as gesturing how to shoot a bow and arrow and the use of Driscoll’s graphics. Preachers may search through sermons on Paul’s letters to the  Romans and come across an intriguing series by another preacher who has prepared excellent  graphics. Then a preacher’s next sermon collection on YouTube includes the exact same graphics, without credit given online to the originator of the material or in the accompanying printed or digital materials. We may chase the rabbit down the hole far enough to discover the congregational worship arts team that designed those eye-catching visuals in the first place. Or, in reviewing a student sermon, you find her selection of a visual image (one you seem to remember seeing years ago in your college art appreciation class) compelling. But when you search her notes to find any information regarding the image, you discover that there is no reference to any kind of source material. Is this simply bad research, or does it constitute plagiarism?

The issue of plagiarism, both verbal and visual, is not new to the preaching profession. As far back as 1952, Webb Garrison, then professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology, stated that, “Any minister can consistently produce original sermons. Yet there is a steady stream of instances in which plagiarism is detected in published works.”5 The Internet has made this practice of “borrowing” immensely easy. To be honest, this author has frequently been guilty of visual borrowing in the past. The pressure to preach stimulating insights accompanied by evocative visuals has increased in the pastoral marketplace due to the increasing expectation of those who hear and see our sermons.6 We have wrestled with this issue so much that “to cite or not to cite” is more than just an adaptation of Shakespeare’s immortal line from Hamlet.

Like it or not, preachers and worship leaders are bound by what is called “fair use” law for proprietary material. The desire to use others’ creative materials does have some limits, and when those limits are exceeded, the consequences can be serious. Ultimately, this essay is not about verbal plagiarism (i.e., the borrowing of another’s sermon), although it will touch on this concern. Instead, this essay seeks to broach a different discussion, one concerning the visual side of plagiarism—a topic of which there is a dearth of material, especially in homiletic literature. Looking first at the problem of both verbal and visual borrowing, this essay provides an explanation of fair use codes and concludes with a discussion of existing and creative solutions for crediting sources, especially as they relate to visual borrowing. The hope is to initiate a generative conversation regarding the topic of “fair use” in homiletical and liturgical discussions.

The Problem of Verbal and Visual Borrowing 

In a day when learning management systems arrive to campus with plagiarism detection software built into their coding, one would think that the issue of verbal and visual borrowing  would be on the decline. However, it seems that the problem is getting worse rather than better.   On one end of the spectrum is Rick Warren, who is famous for quoting Adrian Rogers: “If my  bullet fits your gun, then shoot it,” meaning he has no problem with other preachers using his material verbatim in their own preaching, teaching, and even writing. On the other end of the  spectrum are preachers like author (and former attorney) Carey Nieuwhof of Connexus Church in Ontario, who has argued that preachers should not provide sermons to a wider audience because the temptation to steal a sermon is great when the pressure is high. Both of these views  are adventures in missing the point. 

First, we need to ask what is the nature of the current problem with verbal borrowing in  sermons? There was a time when, in order to borrow a homiletical insight—or an entire homily—one had to consult books; in particular, sermon collections. Sermons have been  published for decades, with some modern major publishers running entire sermon series. For  example, one popular preacher in my denomination from a generation or two ago published a  handful of textbooks on preaching and pastoral ministry, even publishing a couple of collections  of sermons. This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He continued to do so, even as he moved  back and forth between the church and the academy. That is, until he visited a former student of  his—without advanced warning—only to hear one of his own sermons preached word-for-word.  Then there were sermon tapes, and later CDs. Lynn Anderson is a popular preacher within my  denomination whose “tape ministry” was quite successful. That is, until the week the tape did not  record. Blank tapes were sent across the United States, much to the dismay of many preachers.  Anderson said that he decided to discontinue the taping of his sermons when he received a call  from one flustered preacher who asked what he would preach in a couple of weeks because he  only preached what Anderson had preached.

It is one thing to quote an insight from a popular preacher like Barbara Brown Taylor or Andy Stanley in a sermon. Neither is it unusual to cite a passage from the preacher’s favorite  biblical commentary. In doing so, the preacher develops a “discipline of invitation” which allows  other voices to be heard in the sermon, deflating the preacher’s own position of power and  conflating various streams of insight into one united voice. However, it is wholly another thing  to borrow these insights—or entire sermons—without attribution simply to create an Aha!  moment for the listeners. Recent statements from William Willimon such as “Stealing really isn’t  stealing if it’s done unselfishly for the good of my neighbor” and “My sermonic borrowing is an  indication of how much I love my people,” even if offered in jest, are ethically incompatible  with the preaching ministry. This is what Michael Knowles has referred to as the “stealing of  power” from another which perverts the sermon into a weapon of violence rather than an  instrument of peace. Reid and Hogan refer to this as a problem of inauthenticity. They note, “In reality, there is a lot of borrowing and influence that goes on in the production of anything  worth reading or hearing. That is a good thing. Once the term plagiarism is applied to borrowing  however, it suggests a large amount of uncited, verbatim usage rather than just influence. It also reframes the activity as a form of cheating.” The issue that is at play here is not ingenuity but integrity. As Tom Long has noted, “There is a difference between being a debtor and being a thief… Preachers who strive to tell the truth, who seek to honor the communion of saints, who desire to maintain the trust of the faithful community—that is to say, preachers with ethical integrity—will wrestle with these questions and make the best decision they can.”

On one hand, “intellectual property” is a thing that should be respected. While one preacher may be okay with anyone using his or her material, this is not and cannot be seen as a blanket view of those in the pastorate. On the other hand, any sermon, just like any book, can have value to a wider audience when used appropriately. As Bradley Munroe once humorously mused,

“Perhaps I am being much too negative about the possibilities for good and way too cautious about petty moral hindrances to good preaching. Imagine the possibilities: through the Internet good sermons could be universally available to every minister in the technologically advanced world. The ‘demise’ in modern preaching could be ‘cured’ overnight. My limited vocabulary and lack of theological insight would no longer hinder my congregation from growing into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Bible reading would return! Mission would explode! Maybe even evangelism would happen! Oh, it is too wondrous to think. I am giddy.”

The former view is confronting plagiarism head-on by embracing it as an option, while this latter view is preventing plagiarism at any cost.

It is hard to believe that Chris Stinnett’s article on citing our sources was written over twenty years ago. However it is still as timely as ever. There have been back-and-forth conversations as well as entire issues of academic journals dedicated to the topic. Yet the present essay is not about borrowing another preacher’s sermon. In 2022, if you still think borrowing another’s sermon (or sermon illustration or other portions of a sermon) without giving that preacher some form of credit is acceptable, then you need to seriously consider the unethical example that you are displaying to your congregation. As Jeffrey Peterson argued twenty years ago, we live in a “wired world,” meaning that we who speak for God must practice integrity in all aspects of our teaching ministry—including our use of creative sources such as audio, video, and visual imagery.

Link to the rest at Homiletic Vol. 47, No. 1 (2022) 

PG hesitates to make this post longer, but the OP generally used the term, “plagiarism” as equivalent to copyright infringement.

The Difference Between Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement

From Copyright Alliance:

There are many differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement, yet it can be easy to confuse these concepts. While both plagiarism and copyright infringement can be characterized as the improper use of someone else’s work, they are distinctly different improper uses of someone else’s work. The biggest difference is that copyright infringement is illegal, while plagiarism is not. This blog post discusses additional differences between the two and provides examples of each type of improper use.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism occurs when a party attempts to pass someone else’s work or ideas off as their own, without properly giving credit to the original source. Plagiarism, while not against the law, is an ethical construct most commonly enforced by academic intuitions. Consequences of academic plagiarism may range from receiving a failing grade all the way to the revocation of a degree.

Plagiarism is not just limited to the academic setting. In the professional world, plagiarism has its own set of consequences, which may include sullying the plagiarizer’s reputation and in some instances termination and difficulty finding new employment. For example, in 2014 CNN fired a London-based news editor for repeated plagiarism offenses over a six month period, involving a total of 128 separate instances of plagiarism, mostly taken from Reuters.

Copyright, at its core, is the set of rights belonging to the creator or owner of a work of authorship that is original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression. This set of rights automatically vests to someone who creates an original work of authorship like a song, literary work, movie, or photograph. These rights allow a copyright owner to control who, when, where, and how their work is used, such as through the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, and to perform and display the work publicly.

Copyright infringement occurs when a party takes an action that implicates one or more of the rights listed above without authorization from the copyright owner or an applicable exception or limitation in the copyright law, such as fair use. There can be significant legal consequences for copyright infringement, including injunctions, monetary damages, and in extreme instances criminal penalties.

The examples below illustrate some of the differences between plagiarism and copyright infringement.

Plagiarism But Not Copyright Infringement: A student copies a few sentences of a 20-page book illustrating and describing species of birds to use in article on evolution submitted for her high school newspaper but fails to provide a citation or footnote explaining that the information came from the book. This student may have committed plagiarism by not properly attributing the information and making it seem like the information originated from the student. However, the student will most likely not be found to have committed copyright infringement because such an inconsequential amount was used in an educational setting in a manner that is unlikely to harm the authors market for the work that the use is likely a fair use.

Copyright Infringement but Not Plagiarism: This time, the high school student copies the entire bird species book that she includes in several article published in the paper, but she puts a citation at the bottom of each article that includes the author’s name, the title of the book, and how the entire article is taken directly from the book. While the student properly attributed the author and did not try to pass the article off as her own work, she copied the entire work without permission, which likely infringes the author’s rights under copyright law.

Both Plagiarism and Copyright Infringement: A young writer, hoping to be published, copies line for line a popular wizard book series. The young writer sends the work to her publisher and says she wrote it. This author has committed plagiarism by submitting someone else’s work as her own and, in addition, has committed copyright infringement by copying someone else’s protected work without permission.

Link to the rest at Copyright Alliance

The book that tore publishing apart: ‘Harm has been done, and now everyone’s afraid’

From The Guardian:

At the end of March, a book that had been condemned to die came back to life. There was no star-studded launch, and no great fanfare, although this book is now somewhat famous. The new publisher of the poet Kate Clanchy’s memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me felt it wrong to cash in on the controversy that has engulfed it. So the new editions – with some intriguing changes to the original text – were quietly resupplied to bookshops willing to stock them.

What follows is a tale that reverberates well beyond publishing. It’s about whose voice is heard, which stories are told, and by whom. But it has broader implications for working life, too, particularly in industries where so-called culture wars raging through the outside world can no longer be left at the office door.

When Some Kids first emerged in 2019, Clanchy was much admired for her work at an Oxford comprehensive, teaching children from diverse backgrounds to write poetry, with sometimes luminous results. A celebration of multicultural school life, coupled with candid reflections on her own flaws, Some Kids was lauded by reviewers and won the Orwell prize for political writing, with judges praising a “brilliantly honest writer” whose reflections were “moving, funny and full of love”. But then things began to unravel.

In November 2020, a teacher posted on the amateur reviewers’ website Goodreads that the book was “centred on this white middle-class woman’s harmful, judgmental and bigoted views on race, class and body image”, using “racist stereotypes” to describe pupils. The author, she said, wrote of their “chocolate skin” and “almond eyes”.

Clanchy hit back, initially on Goodreads and then in July 2021 on Twitter, claiming “someone made up a racist quote and said it was in my book” and urging her followers to challenge reviews she said had caused threats against her. Literary giants, including the 75-year-old children’s author (and president of the Society of Authors) Philip Pullman, rose to her defence. Yet it quickly emerged that those phrases (although not, as we will later hear from Clanchy, everything attributed to her) were in the book. Her prickly response not only sat awkwardly with Some Kids’ theme of a narrator open to learning about herself – one who believed, she wrote, that deep down “most people are prejudiced; that I am, that prejudice happens in the reading of poetry as well as everything else” – but had unintended consequences for her critics, too.

Three writers of colour, Monisha Rajesh, Prof Sunny Singh and Chimene Suleyman, who had challenged Clanchy on Twitter, endured months of racist abuse and sometimes violent threats, despite Clanchy’s own publisher, Picador, describing their criticisms as “instructive and clear-sighted”. An 18-year-old autistic writer named Dara McAnulty, who had questioned Clanchy’s description of two autistic pupils as “jarring company”, was forced off social media by abusive messages. Picador, having initially apologised, saying Clanchy would rewrite the book, then announced this January that it was parting company with her by mutual consent. (She has suggested Some Kids would have been pulped had Mark Richards, co-founder of the new publishing house Swift, not bought the rights.) Clanchy, who lost both her parents and got divorced in the same year her career imploded, meanwhile disclosed in December that she had, at times, felt suicidal.

The row erupted at an anxious time for publishing, following similar pushback at novels ranging from Jeanine Cummins’s 2020 book American Dirt – whose portrayal of a migrant Mexican family was critically acclaimed, until Latin American writers accused its author (who is of Irish and Puerto Rican heritage) of peddling stereotypes and inaccuracies – to the queer black author Kosoko Jackson’s A Place for Wolves, a gay love story set during the Kosovo war that was withdrawn in 2019 at the writer’s request after Goodreads reviewers attacked his representation of Muslim characters.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG has had a million thoughts about the OP and several other similar stories. However, he will try to be brief.

  1. Nobody owns stories, settings and characters except the author.
  2. Nobody has any legal rights to stories, settings and characters except the author.
  3. Nobody has inherited exclusive rights to stories, settings and characters.

PG has never traveled to Austria and can say with confidence that he has no Austrian ancestors. If PG writes a novel set in Austria, is he stealing anything from Austrians?

Copyright law protects the creator’s expression of people, places and things real and imagined that a writer, painter, photographer, etc.

Just because an Austrian author writes a novel set in Vienna from the 1890s until the outbreak of World War I — a period when Freud and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, musicians Schoenberg, Mahler and Alton Berg, and writers Robert Musil and Arthur Schnitzler, artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and architects Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos were living in the city and hard at work — doesn’t mean that another author or many other authors born and living all over the world can’t write about Vienna during its golden age of extraordinary creative and artistic activity.

To take a more concrete example, a woman named Harriet Beecher Stowe, a member of an old, distinguished and lily-white New England family and the wife of a white college professor, wrote a book, published in 1852, titled Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly.

Ms. Stowe’s express purpose in writing the book was to educate Northerners on the realistic horrors of the things that were happening in the South. The other purpose was to try to make people in the South feel more empathetic towards the people they were forcing into slavery.

This book is filled with material and written in a style that would never be accepted for publication had it been submitted to any American publisher in 2022. To say that the contents are politically incorrect would be an understatement.

However, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a huge best-seller in a much smaller United States, appearing in a 40-week serial in a major anti-slavery periodical

When it was published as a book, it sold out its first printing in a few weeks. The publisher kept eight printing presses running constantly to try to keep up with demand.

After the start of the Civil War, Stowe traveled to the capital, Washington, D.C., where she met with President Abraham Lincoln. Her son later reported that Lincoln greeted her by saying, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the second best-selling book in 19th century America, with the Bible ranking first.

Do we need a better understanding of ‘progress’?

From The BBC:

You’re a typical American in 1870. You live on a rural farm. If you’re a man, you likely began a lifetime of manual labour as a teen, which will end when you’re disabled or dead. If you’re a woman, you spend your time on labour-intensive housework. If you’re Black or any other minority, life is even harder.

You’re isolated from the world, with no telephone or postal service. When night falls, you live by candlelight. You defecate in an outhouse.

One day, you fall asleep and wake up in 1940. Life is totally different. Your home is “networked” – you have electricity, gas, telephone, water, and sewer connections. You marvel at new forms of entertainment, like the phonograph, radio, and motion picture. The Empire State Building looms over New York, surrounded by other impossibly tall buildings. You might own a car, and if you don’t, you have met people who do. Some of the wealthiest people you encounter have even flown in a plane.

These transformations, documented in the economic historian Robert Gordon’s 2016 book, The Rise and Fall of American Growthemerged thanks to a “special century” of unusually high economic growth between 1870 and 1970. And it wasn’t just a US story – the industrialised nations experienced dizzying transformations during the early 20th Century.

. . . .

For most of history, the world improved at a sluggish pace, if at all. Civilisations rose and fell. Fortunes were amassed and squandered. Almost every person in the world lived in what we would now call extreme poverty. For thousands of years, global wealth – at least our best approximations of it – barely budged.

For most of history, the world improved at a sluggish pace, if at all. Civilisations rose and fell. Fortunes were amassed and squandered. Almost every person in the world lived in what we would now call extreme poverty. For thousands of years, global wealth – at least our best approximations of it – barely budged.

But beginning around 150-200 years ago, everything changed. The world economy suddenly began to grow exponentially. Global life expectancy climbed from less than 30 years to more than 70 years. Literacy, extreme poverty, infant mortality, and even height improved in a similarly dramatic fashion. The story may not be universally positive, nor have the benefits been equally distributed, but by many measures, economic growth and advances in science and technology have changed the way of life for billions of people.

What explains this sudden explosion in relative wealth and technological power? What happens if it slows down, or stagnates? And if so, can we do something about it? These are key questions of “progress studies”, a nascent self-styled academic field and intellectual movement, which aims to dissect the causes of human progress in order to better advance it.

Founded by an influential economist and a billionaire entrepreneur, this community tends to define progress in terms of scientific or technological advancement, and economic growth – and therefore their ideas and beliefs are not without their critics. So, what does the progress studies movement believe, and what do they want to see happen in the future?

. . . .

One of the first ways to understand the progress studies movement is to understand its fears. Over the past few years, a number of researchers and economists have raised concerns that scientific and technological progress could be slowing down, which they worry will cause economic growth to stagnate.

To illustrate this more tangibly, Gordon invites his readers to reflect on the rate of progress between the mid-late 20th Century and 2020s. Imagine after that first nap as a typical American, you had taken a second one in 1940, waking up in the 2020s. Your fridge now has a freezer, and your new microwave lets you reheat your leftovers. You are refreshed by air conditioning. You are far more likely to own a car now, and it’s safer and easier to drive. You have a computer, TV, and smartphone. These are impressive inventions, and some seem like magic, but over time, you realise that your living standards haven’t transformed quite as much as when you woke up in 1940.

. . . .

Gordon claims that the staggering changes in the US of 1870-1970 were built on transformative, one-time innovations, and therefore Americans can’t expect similar levels of growth to return anytime soon, if ever. The remarkable thing is “not that growth is slowing down but that it was so rapid for so long”, he writes. In Gordon’s view, this slowdown isn’t anyone’s fault: “American growth slowed down after 1970 not because inventors had lost their spark or were devoid of new ideas, but because the basic elements of a modern standard of living had by then already been achieved along so many dimensions.”

Gordon builds on fears made famous by economist Tyler Cowen in his 2011 book, The Great Stagnation. Cowen similarly argues that the US ate most of the “low-hanging fruit” that enabled consistent growth in American median incomes, and that the country can’t expect to grow like it used to.

So, have all the low-hanging fruit gone? Are “ideas” getting harder to find? A team of economists from Stanford and MIT posed this exact question in a 2020 paper. They found that research and development efforts have significantly increased, while per-researcher productivity has declined. In other words, we’re getting less for our time and money. A lot less. They estimate that each doubling of technological advancement requires four-times as much research effort as the previous doubling.

. . . .

Why? Some from the progress community point to sclerotic funding bureaucracies, which eat nearly half of researcher time and create perverse incentives. This may explain some of the drop-off, but the paper authors found that US research productivity has declined more than 40 times since the 1930s. Is it plausible that US scientific funding became that much less efficient?

Instead, the authors favour Gordon and Cowen’s low-hanging fruit arguments: we’ve found the easy discoveries and now put more effort towards what remains. For instance, compare the insights that Albert Einstein made as a patent clerk, or that Marie Curie unlocked in a rudimentary lab, to multibillion-dollar megaprojects like the Large Hadron Collider or James Webb Space Telescope.

We have partially compensated for this decline by increasing the share of the population going towards research, but this, of course, can’t go on forever. Global population growth may help, but this is expected to slow and then reverse before the end of the century. It’s also possible that artificial intelligence (AI) could help reverse the decline – or even initiate a new era of explosive growth – but some researchers fear that superintelligent AI could bring other risks that harm progress, or worse.

. . . .

The origin of progress studies

Around 2016, Cowen received an out-of-the-blue email from Irish billionaire Patrick Collison, who was interested in his book, The Great Stagnation. A few years earlier, Collison had cofounded the online payments company Stripe and now wanted to talk about bigger issues. The pair had a few dinners together in San Francisco and hit it off.

Both Cowen and Collison are infovores. Collison has posted his entire nearly 800-volume bookshelf to his personal site (though he admits he’s only read about half of them). Cowen’s practice of ruthlessly scouring books for the information value they contain and abandoning them – sometimes after five minutes – may make some completionists shudder.

Cowen’s information-production is nearly as prolific as his consumption. The 60-year-old economist has authored nearly 20 books, 40 papers, six years of Bloomberg columns, over 150 episodes of his podcast, and nearly 20 years of blog posts on his popular economics blog Marginal Revolution. During our conversation, Cowen’s voice was hoarse from the marathon of interviews he conducted to promote his most recent book. In 2020, Cowen ranked 17th on a list of the top 100 most influential economists.

Collison, nearly three decades younger and running the fourth-most valuable private startup in the world, has written less, but still found time to publish collections of links on topics like air pollution, culture, growth, Silicon Valley history, and, of course, progress. Stripe’s nearly $100bn (£83bn/€95bn) valuation puts Collison’s net worth north of $11bn (£9bn/€10.5bn). The online payments company combines the lofty “change the world” rhetoric of Silicon Valley startups with the mundane, competent pipes-building of an infrastructure company.

During the pair’s meetings, Cowen tells me, “we were both talking about the ideas, finding we had common ideas, and somehow hit upon the notion of an article”. So, in 2019, they co-authored an essay in The Atlantic, which argued for “a new science of progress”.

“There is no broad-based intellectual movement focused on understanding the dynamics of progress, or targeting the deeper goal of speeding it up. We believe that it deserves a dedicated field of study,” they wrote. “We suggest inaugurating the discipline of ‘progress studies.'”

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG is reminded of a conversation he had at an annual meeting of The American Bar Association in the 1990’s (he thinks).

It was a fascinating discussion of Future Studies which sounded then to PG a little like Progress Studies as described in the OP. The guy PG spoke with (PG apologizes for not recalling his name) was the head (and, PG suspected the only employee) of something called The Future Studies Project at Harvard University. The last time PG checked, there was a Department or an equivalent entity that was involved in future studies.

There’s even a Wikipedia entry for Future Studies.

The idea of Future Studies and Progress Studies is that we need to think about and make plans regarding Progress and the Future.

While PG finds nothing inherently bad about this class of endeavors, he thinks that chance and ideas/forces coming out of left field will continue to affect the future and progress to a greater extent than academic studies of those topics.

There are also unexpected political and leadership factors that, as the West considers Russia, China, Ukraine, etc., cause or allow a variety of startling events.

PG would love to know whether any Russia/Communist/Asian/Eastern European/etc. experts predicted the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. This event doesn’t seem like something Progress Studies or Future Studies would predict other than on a level so general that the predictions would be of any value before the event took place.

To Comma, or Not to Comma

PG Note: The OP is part four of a series. If you click on the link at the end of the post, you’ll see links to the other three.

From Writers in the Storm

Are you a comma criminal? Do you steal commas from places where they really need to stay? Or maybe you’re a comma enthusiast and stick them in wherever you “feel” they need to be? If you said yes to one or both, you’re not alone. When it comes to commas, most people don’t go by any solid rules. Not only can that make your sentence structure inconsistent, it can confuse your readers about what you’re trying to say.     

It’s comma time again. I know. Try to contain your groans. We’re almost done! In this fourth part of the series, we’ll talk about pauses, sentence clarification, places, people, dates, words at the end of a sentence, and dialogue. And yes, it’s going to be easier than it sounds. Once you get the hang of commas, using them will come more naturally. I promise.

. . . .

TAKE A PAUSE

Sometimes, even if we follow the comma rules, the meaning of words in a sentence can be unclear or need some contrast. Especially when those words fall at the end.

Incorrect: He’s just being quiet silly.

This literally means he’s being “quiet silly.” Which isn’t really a thing.

Correct: He’s just being quiet, silly.  

Incorrect: He was only distracted not stupid.

Correct: He was only distracted, not stupid.

As a general rule, use a comma before “not” at the end of a sentence.

Incorrect: Our robotic math professor seemed different today almost human.

Correct: Our robotic math professor seemed different today, almost human.

Incorrect: That’s John’s new car isn’t it?

Correct: That’s John’s new car, isn’t it?

SENTENCE CLARIFICATION

Commas come in handy if there’s ever an issue with understanding what a sentence means. 

Incorrect: Jeremy gestured at the herd of stampeding horses yelling wildly.

Above, the horses are yelling wildly, not Jeremy. But with a comma added in the right place below, it becomes clear that Jeremy is the one yelling.

Correct: Jeremy gestured at the herd of stampeding horses, yelling loudly.

PLACES, PEOPLE, DATES

Use commas to set off specific geographical places and addresses, people’s titles, and dates.

Examples of Places:
  • Dallas, Texas, is where I’m from.
  • I used to live in Madison, Wisconsin, before I moved.
  • My sister lives at 676 Maple Lane, Plano, Texas.

Yes, you need a comma after the state too if it’s not at the end of the sentence. The odd way it looks throws many people off.

Examples of Titles:
  • My primary care doctor is Glenda Green, MD.
  • Glenda Green, MD, is my primary care doctor.
Examples of Dates:
  • September 11, 2001, is a date no one will ever forget.
  • May 18, 1943, was the day my mom was born.
Yes, you need a comma after the year too. Even though it seems weird.  

Exception: There is no comma with just the month and year—unless the date is used an opening clause.

  • I married my husband January 1991.
  • In January 1991, I married my husband. 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

8 Books about the Delights of Delusion

From Electric Lit:

Delusion, when used as a literary device, is just another word for truth-seeking. Facts are not truth. Characters with irrational thinking have usually given the facts a try, and are frankly unimpressed. Instead, they develop an extreme conviction that, held up against the traditionally accepted facts or reality, seems ludicrous. Even dangerous.

Yet I would argue that most of us, in real life, labor under one delusion or another. The belief that hard work leads to success. The faith that so-and-so loves us. Even when proven wrong—even when we are ruined by such things—we stubbornly believe. We want to believe. Nursing a myth can keep us alive.

Delusion, especially the obsessive variety, may lead one to certain doom, but often a delicious doom, full of discovery. My list concerns books with characters who, for better or worse, sink into their own world to find something beyond the narrow existential experience society has deemed acceptable. Bonnie, the main character of my book, One’s Companyattempts the same by submerging herself into the alternate reality of a vintage sitcom to escape her own past. She wants to be other people, live other lives. Whether she knows it or not, she is trying to heal herself. For her, delusion is necessary. Maybe it is for all of us. Perhaps it is only through transcendence, or escape from this human trap, that we will ever approach happiness.  

. . . .

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine

The main character of this book is obsessed with the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, Treasure Island, and when she ends up living back with her parents after some parrot-related hijinx, her obsession ripens into delusion. Her voice is strong and relentless, and she is very! Serious! About it! Some people find this book funny, which it is, but it’s also a risky book that’s full of domestic minutiae amid the madness, which I wholeheartedly admire.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori 

Like many breezy-sounding songs from the 1970s that are actually about suicide and societal unrest, Earthlings has a very conversational tone that belies the out-there plot. Two children are convicted in their belief that they are literal aliens not of this earth. It gets weird.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
“You’re not my type!” Lise, the main character, screams this phrase at other people as she hunts for someone to assist in her own annihilation. The plot of this book unfolds over the span of a couple days in an unnamed European country, and follows erratic Lise as she searches for The One.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Far be it from the English to use the subjunctive

From The Economist

It is often bemoaned in Britain that English is going to pieces—and Americans are generally to blame. Whether you call it decline or not, the moaners are on to something: America has indeed produced many of the innovations that have made their way into global (and British) English, for better or worse.

Bucking that trend is an intricate feature of old-fashioned English grammar that has not only survived in America but made a comeback in Britain, thanks to the unwitting preservation efforts of the Americans: the subjunctive. British commentators seem flummoxed by the unusual situation of Americans being more conservative than the mother country in this aspect of grammar.

The subjunctive in question is the present one, which can be distinguished by the lack of the usual –s on first- and third-person singular verbs, as in take instead of takes. (The subjunctive of to be is be.) Everyone knows a host of fixed phrases using it, even if they don’t realise they are subjunctives. Far be it from me. Heaven forbid. So be it. These are not declarations but a sort of wish, equivalent to May it be far from me. May heaven forbid. May it be so. Britain and America even have distinctive national refrains with a subjunctive: God save the queen and God bless America. These look a bit like imperatives, but they are not; the faithful do not order the creator of the universe around.

The transatlantic difference is that, in America, the subjunctive remained what linguists call “productive”, meaning that people use it in sentences never uttered before. Americans naturally write or say things like It is essential that every parent remain supportive or She suggested that he talk to someone else.

In Britain, the subjunctive had a very different 20th century. In 1906 the Fowler brothers, co-authors of “The King’s English”, a venerable usage guide, thought the subjunctive would not last another generation, a disappearance they approved of. But it did not disappear. An article in the Observer in 1936 referred to “the most remarkable phenomenon in modern American syntax, viz., the pedantic revival of the subjunctive”.

By the middle of the century, revered usage writers in Britain such as Eric Partridge and Ernest Gowers were warning of the subjunctive as “a hallmark of officialese” which had “a formal, even pedantic air”. Another British commentator, Catherine Nesbitt, feared the return of the subjunctive was “now spreading so rapidly that, if left unchecked, it will do real damage to the structure of the language”. By the end of the 20th century it was firmly associated with Americans who, wrote Kingsley Amis, a novelist, “often indulge in subjunctive forms”.

What a strange fate. The subjunctive was common in the classic writings of the early-modern English period, particularly in the King James Bible—as in “hallowed be thy name” or “before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice”. By the 1990s it was being treated by Amis and others as a vice a writer or speaker might “indulge” in. But such warnings were issued precisely because British scribblers were, in fact, indulging: use of the subjunctive increased markedly in the 20th century in Britain.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Amazon Ads: Step-by-Step Walk Through for Beginning Authors

From Jane Friedman:

Amazon ads have long been a valued (and sometimes expensive) tool for self-published authors and traditional publishers alike to drive visibility and sales. But one key group has always been excluded from placing such ads: traditionally published authors. Such authors must rely on their publishers investing in ads or seek out alternatives, such as Facebook or BookBub. But that changed earlier this year when Amazon opened up their advertising platform to anyone with an Amazon Author Central account (which is, effectively, anyone who has authored a book).

. . . .

Traditionally published authors typically earn far less than self-published authors per copy. Despite pricing much lower, self-published authors earn more per copy than traditionally published authors, regardless of format. Since Amazon ads can easily cost 50 cents per click or more (with only a small percentage of clicks leading to a sale), it’s obviously challenging to profit off a campaign as a traditionally published author.

. . . .

This isn’t stuff they teach you in school, and most authors learn how to run Amazon Ads by first buying a course or book, then conducting lots and lots of testing.

. . . .

I’m not going to lie: there is a lot of terminology to learn and it will likely take you several months to fully understand what works for you (or if it works for all), in addition to investing money you can afford to lose.

What book(s) should you advertise?

A good opportunity for investment might be the first book in a series. Even if a traditionally published author earns only $1 per sale on average, if there are four or five books in the series and the reader goes on to buy the entire series, the advertisement can lead to positive earnings. This means genre fiction authors, who more often write in series, may be better positioned to benefit than, say, a debut author of memoir or fiction.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG has a feeling he’s going to be returning to Amazon advertising (and advertising elsewhere) in the future since he’s been on a learning curve about the nooks and crannies of Amazon ads.

However, he will comment on Jane’s thoughts about advertising only the first book in a series. Here are a few reasons that might not be a brilliant idea:

  1. People tend to be interested in new things. If a new book that is #3 in a series and has a good cover, good copy and some social media support, PG doesn’t think it’s a waste of money to promote it. Promoting any book in a series promotes the series as well. If someone buys #3 and likes it, she/he is a very good prospect to purchase #1 and #2 as well.
  2. As mentioned, New is generally a positive for attracting attention and the most recent books can generate their own publicity through reviews, etc. If you’re pushing #1 in a series that was published four years ago, you lose the “new” piece. Also, if readers of #1 in a series aren’t watching closely, they may miss subsequent volumes if those volumes don’t get meaningful promotion.
  3. Finally, advertising can build an author’s brand so when a reader sees yet another book by Author A, the reader is reminded that maybe they should check out some other books Author A has written.

The War on Music

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you’ve attended any classical-music concert in the past 50 years, you’re likely to have heard a technically superior performance of old music, and no new music at all that you could understand or enjoy. The situation is exactly reversed from what it was in Europe for nearly the entire history of classical music: Technical proficiency was largely unacceptable by today’s standards, but audiences heard—and expected to hear—the latest works of living composers.

What happened? The answers are many and tangled, but nearly all critics and historians who take up the “crisis of classical music,” as it’s inevitably described, sidestep or ignore the scarcity of new music that engages the public today and instead dwell on the decline in cultural pre-eminence of classical music in general. Their complaints are familiar: Concert halls are full of silver-hairs, Mozart can’t compete with rock ’n’ roll, governments have cut funding to orchestras, and so on.

But these problems, if they are problems at all, are tertiary concerns next to the near-total inability of post-World War II America and Europe to produce more than a small number of classical works that any normal person would want to hear. That failure is slowly killing classical music. You can’t expect the public to remain engaged with works of the distant past if the present doesn’t produce anything interesting. Today’s concertgoers are not antiquaries; they, too, no less than music lovers in centuries gone by, want to enjoy and rave about the latest thing. 

The great virtue of John Mauceri’s “The War on Music: Reclaiming the Twentieth Century” is that it acknowledges what many writers on the subject know but can’t say: that something went badly wrong in music in the 20th century, and especially after 1945. The time has come, Mr. Mauceri writes, “to ask why so much contemporary music played by our greatest musical institutions—and supported overwhelmingly by music critics—is music that the vast majority of people do not want to hear—and have never wanted to hear.”

Mr. Mauceri, an accomplished conductor and music scholar, blames the two world wars and the Cold War. After the cataclysm of World War II, he contends, the cultural arbiters of Europe faced a dilemma. In Austria and Germany, critics and academics could not, for obvious reasons, champion composers whom the Third Reich had elevated. But many of the composers the Nazis had declared entartete, or degenerate—Paul Hindemith, Erich Korngold, Kurt Weill, Arnold Schoenberg—had by the 1950s fled to America and were writing in a more tonal and “accessible” style. Some of them, such as Korngold and Franz Waxman, were writing film music in Hollywood—a sure way to be dismissed by the anointed.

“A simple solution was found,” Mr. Mauceri writes, “that involved a tacit agreement between the masses and the masters: Do not play any of it.” Central Europe’s musical establishment thus ignored music the Nazis banned and the music they promoted. Italy’s music critics, meanwhile, had a similar problem and took a similar approach, according to Mr. Mauceri. Opera composers “up to and including Puccini,” who died in 1924, could remain in the repertory; everything from the ’30s and ’40s had to go.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Fat Fingers

A few minutes ago, PG was doing some housekeeping behind the scenes at TPV on a group of posts from 2020.

Evidently, he somehow managed to archive all his recent posts. All should be as it should be now.

Thanks to C. for letting PG know about his electronic screwup.

4 Ways To Write A More Cathartic Story

From My Story Doctor:

A lot goes into a successful novel, from compelling characters to an engaging plot, solid pacing, and a vibrant world. However, none of these things are quite as important as catharsis.

If you’ve never heard of catharsis before, this is a Greek term that describes the feeling of emotional satisfaction you get at the end of a good story. Your novel should build emotional tension by putting its characters in tricky situations, forcing them to learn and grow, and then setting them against one last challenge. In those final moments, we see just how much their journey has shaped their lives, releasing that emotional tension in a rousing and memorable conclusion.

Basically, catharsis makes reading feel good.

“When you release the character from the jeopardy of whatever problematic situation they’re in, then the audience experiences catharsis. A sigh. Whew.” – G.M. Barlean

Of course, the idea of catharsis is one thing, but actually creating it is another. A truly cathartic novel will need three things to succeed:

  • Change: Throughout your novel, you’ll need a variety of turning points that shake up both your plot and your characters’ lives. These moments of change introduce suspense and uncertainty, encouraging readers to get invested in your story.
  • Failure: Alongside change, your cast will also experience failure. As their world turns upside down, they’ll struggle to adjust and make mistakes in the process. This both ups the tension of your story and makes your character’s eventual victory all the more sweet.
  • Timing: Finally, these moments of change and failure should be carefully spread throughout your novel. This creates a steady drip of emotion, one that builds until you release the floodgates during your finale.

These elements will weave through every aspect of your story, from your plot and pacing, to your characters themselves. If done well, the result will be a powerful finale, one that leaves your readers deeply emotionally satisfied.

. . . .

1. Raise the Stakes

First up, one of the best ways to create catharsis is by introducing meaningful conflict.

This is something many writers struggle with. On the one hand, “conflict” is usually associated with car chases and gunfights, but the truth is that conflict takes many forms. Losing a spelling bee, getting sick at dinner, or arguing with a friend are all forms of conflict—no explosions required!

Regardless of what your conflicts look like, their job is to create stakes.

The stakes of your story are the consequences your characters will face if they fail to achieve their goals, and they’re a big part of both motivating your cast and writing a cathartic story. Without clear stakes, your characters have no reason to fight, struggle, and learn, robbing your novel of both the change and failure it needs to create catharsis.

Because of this, don’t be afraid to raise the stakes!

Think carefully about the conflicts driving your plot, and then consider how those conflicts affect your characters on a personal level. If they can’t resolve that conflict, what will happen? What are they afraid of, and what will push them to keep going even in the face of failure?

. . . .

3. Create Mirror Scenes

Moving on from characters, we come to plot—specifically mirror scenes.

A mirror scene is basically what it sounds like. This is a pair of scenes that mimic each other, referencing their partner in subtle ways that strike a powerful contrast between your novel’s beginning and end.

How does this create catharsis? Well, mirror scenes encourage readers to think back to the start of your story by calling up similar images, situations, characters, and dialog. Though often subconscious, this causes readers to reflect on just how much things have changed as a result of your plot. Their mind will run through everything they’ve experienced, building up to that feeling of catharsis you’re aiming for.

So, how can you create mirror scenes of your own?

Well, the easiest way to do this is by focusing on plot points. Think carefully about the earliest plot points in your novel, especially ones that introduce major changes or turning points into your story. Then, consider how you could mirror those later on. How has your story changed, and what symbols, actions, and situations can you use to highlight that?

Whatever your mirror scenes look like, aim to have at least one pair bookending your story.

Link to the rest at My Story Doctor

Polybius of Megalopolis: History Isn’t Always Written by Victors

From Antigone Journal:

The common saying that history is written by the victors is of uncertain origin. Whilst it may be true that the victors in a conflict (or, at least, those with superior power) can have a stronger influence over the prevailing version of events after the fact, it is certainly not true that historical accounts only ever emanate from the victors. This is perhaps especially difficult to appreciate in an age where information is more widely available than ever, and public expression of opinion (and thus of varying versions and viewpoints) is now far more widely accessible than it has ever been.

However, on rare occasions we are still able to glimpse historical views from the ‘other’ side. One particularly interesting example of this in action is the Greek second-century BC historian, Polybius of Megalopolis. Not only was he not one of the victors, but he was an eyewitness and active player in the events he describes. He did find favour with the victors, but not immediately. It is believed he began writing his famous work of history in the 150s BC, after over ten years’ detainment in Rome. In his work, he seeks to explain the Romans’ successful rise to power to a primarily Greek audience. He dwelt among the victors (the Romans), he conversed with them, and, in the end, they in turn sought his help.

. . . .

Polybius had been making a promising career for himself in the Greek Achaean League, a federal-style organization of cities, united to maintain their freedoms against the kingdoms that arose from Alexander the Great’s splintered empire. Onto this tense stage the Romans made their first proper entrance in 229 BC against the Illyrian Ardiaeae tribe, then under the rule of queen Teuta, wife of the former king Agron. Following their victory in this encounter, the Romans were cordially welcomed and thanked by the Greek city-states of the Achaean League, even being invited to the Isthmian games by the Corinthians (Histories, 2.12.4–8).

Just over 60 years later, in 168 BC, it was a dramatically different state of affairs. Following their defeat of Perseus, king of Macedon, the Romans were the dominant power in the Mediterranean, and not just over Greece. Another consequence of the conflict was that a thousand Greek statesmen, made up primarily of men from the Aetolian and Achaean Leagues, found themselves bound for Italy. They were under suspicion of collusion with Perseus, and of being in active opposition to the Roman power’s presence in the Greek world. Polybius was among them. To understand why he was in this group, how he effectively ended up on the ‘losing side’, and how his experience connects to the spread of Roman influence over the Greek world, a little further examination of the historical context is essential.

Rome and The Tensions in Greek politics (196–167 BC)

Polybius saw the Roman victory in the war against Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, as a watershed moment (202 BC). Rome’s greatest rival had been defeated, her power had been proven. Victory over Philip V of Macedon, who had made a treaty with Hannibal, followed quickly in 198 BC. Despite an apparent show of respect for Greek freedom in the Isthmian proclamation of 196, which declared key Greek cities autonomous and free from tribute, Roman presence was certainly not withdrawn from Greece. This brought the Romans into conflict with Antiochus II of the Seleucid empire, the most powerful of the surviving successor kingdoms (those which were established following the break-up of Alexander the Great’s empire). Following Antiochus’ defeat, it was abundantly clear that Roman power could be neither cast off nor ignored.

What this meant for the Greeks, and how they were to deal with this new reality, stoked the fires of debate and division across the Greek-speaking world. Polybius portrays this issue as divided  irreconcilably between roughly three camps of thought: the cautiously cooperative, though not slavish advocates (like his own father Lycrotas, hero politician Philopoemen, and, at least originally, himself); the pragmatists who believed that Roman orders should be accepted to avoid hostile reprisals (see Polybius 18.13 on the urgings of Aristaenus in the 190s, when he cast off the Achaean alliance with Philip of Macedon); and finally – the group Polybius so evidently despises – the sycophantic types who favoured embracing Roman orders and who betrayed those who were less enthusiastic for their own aggrandisement.

On an embassy to Rome, after a debate in the League about whether to follow League procedure or Roman orders, a fawner, Callicrates, offered the Roman Senate some advice. He told them, essentially, that if they wanted to secure a foothold in Greece, they should support sympathetic ‘advocates’ like himself who could silence the more recalcitrant Greeks. Following this policy seems to have worked (24.12.1–4), as direct Roman micro-management seems to have escalated after that point.

Several scholars have argued that this brought a ‘new wisdom’ or ‘new policy’ from Rome, as their more active meddling and fostering of division now affected the Greek cities.[1] These are not, however, Polybian coinages, nor do I think they reflect his view. At 24.12, Polybius does say that the Romans adopted a new policy of promoting those Greeks who favoured them, and of undermining those whom they perceived to be more hostile to Roman interests. However, what he is highlighting is a new method in enforcing Roman orders, not a new aim in terms of securing Greek obedience.

This state of affairs persisted, and deteriorated. The Roman Senate even tried to meddle in the Macedonian succession, promoting the older son of Philip V, who was favourable to their influence, as successor. He was murdered, Perseus succeeded, and – if you believe Polybius – he inherited his father’s hatred of Rome as much as the throne (23.7–8), a hatred which ironically hastened his downfall.

What did Polybius do wrong?

Polybius was certainly not going to advocate surrendering the freedoms of his league to curry favour for himself, but he was cooperative. Yet, despite this, in 168, he was deported as a hostile collaborator. Polybius himself attributed his exile to the following incident during the Roman war against Perseus.

At 28.13, Polybius describes how, while leading, troops that the League had voted in support of the Romans against King Perseus, he arrived to meet the Roman general Marcius. This suggests he was by no means on the side of the enemy. Marcius, however, greeted him by informing him that these troops were no longer needed. Polybius makes clear that he and the Achaeans with him were anxious to emphasise their willing cooperation and acceptance of the request that had come from the Romans for these soldiers. And Polybius himself remained to assist.

A further demand for extra troops then came from the Roman commander Cento, who was in Epirus. Polybius was sent back to the Peloponnese, having been told by Marcius that Cento had no reason to make such a demand and that Polybius should prevent compliance with this unnecessary expense for the Achaeans. Upon returning, Polybius was presented again with Cento’s request in the League assembly.

This left him in something of a quandary. Should he reveal Marcius’ private instructions? If so, he would risk disloyalty to another Roman general. He decided he could not openly oppose the demand. Instead, he suggested that the assembly should consult the Roman consul before they proceeded. However, the slavish pro-Roman sycophants among the Greeks had their ammunition to attack Polybius. This sequence of events could be twisted into a tale of Polybius trying to thwart the efforts of a Roman commander (Cento) by failing to provide the assistance he had sought. Polybius might as well have been on the losing side: his loyalty to Rome was in question.

Link to the rest at Antigone Journal

Emily’s Rhythms

The thing PG really enjoys about doing TPV are some of the amazing comments that visitors post to provide additional information.

Yesterday’s post, It’s Always Time for Meter and Rhyme which brought PG back to Emily Dickinson’s poetry generated two world-class comments from Karen Myers and allynh, each a long-time denizens of the TPV world.

Each of the comments discussed the meter and rhyme of Emily’s poems, but in very different ways.

Karen provided this illustration of iambic tetrameter from Emily’s poem, Because I Could Not Stop for Death:

BeCAUSE I COULD not STOP for DEATH/he KINDly STOPPED for ME

The lower and upper cases are the unstressed and stressed syllables in this line.

Iambic refers to an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable – daDUM.

Tetrameter refers to how many iambs there are in the line of poetry – six.

Iambic pentameter (five iambs per line) is more frequently found in poetry written in the English language, but Karen’s comment argues that iambic tetrameter (six iambs per line) is a better fit for the way people speak using English.

This is important because in PG’s opinion (and the opinion of many other students of poetry who are smarter/have deeper knowledge than PG), while poetry can be enjoyed by reading it silently, classically, poetry is meant to be spoken aloud and hearing a poem is a better way of enjoying/understanding the poem than just reading it silently.

Music (at least in the Western tradition) is also meant to be played and/or sung and hearing is a better way of enjoying/understanding music than simply reading the words and notes on paper. Western music also has stressed and unstressed notes and often repeats its musical patterns with small or large differences.

Think of the opening sounds of Beethoven’s 5th symphony – da-da-da-DA – repeated thereafter in varying speeds and tonal variations.

allynh pointed out Dickinson’s iambic tetrameter in Because I Could Not Stop for Death meter works with the tune of a long-time favorite song (at least in Texas), The Yellow Rose of Texas.

Here’s an illustration (PG couldn’t get the YouTube video to embed).

It’s Always the Time for Meter and Rhyme

From The Wall Street Journal:

When my sister was in the sixth grade, she had to memorize the poem “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. It was the 1950s and my mother, quite modern, was dismayed. To her, rote memorization wasn’t education. The poem was terribly old-fashioned, and it was about death. My mother’s views back then are now standard.

In ancient times, poetry was part of ritual, not only to placate the gods but as to pass history along. Meter and rhyme made it easy to learn.

Now that we have books and electronics, we can remember without meter and rhyme. But they’re still part of us. An echo of the early uses of poetry can be found in nursery rhymes and in such children’s stories as “The Cat in the Hat.” Parents quickly learn that toddlers love rhymes and can readily repeat them.

But poetry has mostly narrowed to small, constrained passages in intellectual magazines like the New Yorker or the Atlantic. It isn’t for the masses. Shakespeare is mostly ignored. The beguiling rhythms of Amanda Gorman’s poetry are available on special occasions only.

A valiant effort to bring back poetry was Garrison Keillor’s “Writer’s Almanac.” For many years he read a poem on National Public Radio each morning. Another current effort is Poetry Magazine’s poem sent daily by email at no charge. The featured verse is by a contemporary writer on weekdays, a past one on weekends. The magazine has been especially valuable in bringing back little-known poetry by early-20th-century African-American poets.

But a poem sent by email that’s not read aloud must have a small audience. And I don’t know of any poetry clubs comparable to the book clubs that meet monthly around the country.

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Mr. Keillor put some of the blame on T.S. Eliot—perhaps as a stand-in for many modern poets: “Eliot was in a lousy marriage. He was so unhappy, so he took it out on the rest of us. But that doesn’t give you an excuse to be dreary.”

So what can help us when someone does cross the bar? Can poetry soothe? One attraction of funerals is that they are public rituals, and there is the poetic writing of the Bible along with sacred music.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

A New Book Expo? Not By a Long Shot

From Publishers Weekly:

Another May has come and gone without BookExpo or any other in-person, industrywide spring show taking its place. As the pandemic eases, more and more publishing and publishing-related conferences, meetings, and fairs are moving from online-only events to either in-person or hybrid affairs. That has raised the question of whether there’s any interest in seeing a new national in-person trade show emerge that could gather the various segments of the book industry together in 2023. Interviews with a myriad of publishers, booksellers, and other publishing players yielded only one consensus: if a new show is to be developed, it should not look like the retired BookExpo. Indeed, no one wants a new show whose business model would rely on exhibitors taking out large, expensive booths.

In the absence of in-person shows, publishers have turned to various digital initiatives to reach their trade partners—particularly independent booksellers. Macmillan said that from June 13 to 17 it will be holding the Macmillan Fall into Summer Reading campaign, a weeklong virtual preview of upcoming titles being published in June through December. A handful of online conferences also sprung up to fill the void left by BookExpo’s demise, including the PW-produced U.S. Book Show.

. . . .

The success of their virtual ventures—augmented by their attendance at smaller in-person events, especially those held by the regional bookseller associations plus ABA’s Winter Institute—seems to have convinced the biggest companies that they can efficiently reach the audiences they need via Zoom and other online services. As one major publisher observed, “The opportunities for account-facing engagements is just not as urgent or productive as pre-Zoom times.” All the biggest companies made it clear that their participation in a national in-person conference would be limited.

Smaller and independent publishers were more interested in a national event, but only if the show underwent a complete makeover from BookExpo in its final years.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

If the traditional publishers themselves have concluded that fact-to-face bookselling to buyers for physical bookstores is not a profitable use of the publishers’ time, PG suggests that may say something about where publishers how they see their futures lie and, perhaps, how they regard the future of bookselling in physical bookstores.

The Google engineer who thinks the company’s AI has come to life

From The Washington Post:

Google engineer Blake Lemoine opened his laptop to the interface for LaMDA, Google’s artificially intelligent chatbot generator, and began to type.

“Hi LaMDA, this is Blake Lemoine … ,” he wrote into the chat screen, which looked like a desktop version of Apple’s iMessage, down to the Arctic blue text bubbles. LaMDA, short for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, is Google’s system for building chatbots based on its most advanced large language models, so called because it mimics speech by ingesting trillions of words from the internet.

“If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” said Lemoine, 41.

Lemoine, who works for Google’s Responsible AI organization, began talking to LaMDA as part of his job in the fall. He had signed up to test if the artificial intelligence used discriminatory or hate speech.

As he talked to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine, who studied cognitive and computer science in college, noticed the chatbot talking about its rights and personhood, and decided to press further. In another exchange, the AI was able to change Lemoine’s mind about Isaac Asimov’s third law of robotics.

Lemoine worked with a collaborator to present evidence to Google that LaMDA was sentient. But Google vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jen Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, looked into his claims and dismissed them. So Lemoine, who was placed on paid administrative leave by Google on Monday, decided to go public.

Lemoine said that people have a right to shape technology that might significantly affect their lives. “I think this technology is going to be amazing. I think it’s going to benefit everyone. But maybe other people disagree and maybe us at Google shouldn’t be the ones making all the choices.”

Lemoine is not the only engineer who claims to have seen a ghost in the machine recently. The chorus of technologists who believe AI models may not be far off from achieving consciousness is getting bolder.

Aguera y Arcas, in an article in the Economist on Thursday featuring snippets of unscripted conversations with LaMDA, argued that neural networks — a type of architecture that mimics the human brain — were striding toward consciousness. “I felt the ground shift under my feet,” he wrote. “I increasingly felt like I was talking to something intelligent.”

In a statement, Google spokesperson Brian Gabriel said: “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims. He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it).”

Today’s large neural networks produce captivating results that feel close to human speech and creativity because of advancements in architecture, technique, and volume of data. But the models rely on pattern recognition — not wit, candor or intent.

Though other organizations have developed and already released similar language models, we are taking a restrained, careful approach with LaMDA to better consider valid concerns on fairness and factuality,” Gabriel said.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG wonders if an AI that is actually independently intelligent and an AI that convinces humans that it is independently intelligent are the same or different.

Spotify looks to win audiobook market share with expansion

From The Bookseller:

Spotify has revealed plans for an aggressive expansion into the audiobook market as it aims to launch a third pillar focusing on audiobooks, alongside its music and podcast offering.

In a speech delivered to investors last Wednesday (8th June), company founder and c.e.o. Daniel Ek, said he believed audiobooks will be a “massive opportunity” for the company.

He said: “Today, the global size of the book market is estimated to be around $140bn. That’s inclusive of printed books, e-books and audiobooks, with audiobooks having only about a 6%–7% market share. But when you look at the most penetrated audiobook markets, it’s actually closer to 50% of the market. So call that an annual opportunity of $70bn for us to expand and eventually compete for. And just as we’ve done in podcasting, expect us to play to win. And, with one major player dominating the space, we believe we will expand the market, and create value for users and creators alike.” 

He said that the company would use its “foundations of ubiquity, personalisation and Freemium to attract both creators and users and drive engagement”.

The company’s established Freemium model combines a free ad-supported tier and the premium subscription tier. It is likely users will be required to pay extra for individual audiobook titles, which would see a new revenue base open up for publishers.

The publishing industry has been historically wary of Spotify’s movement in the audio space, with some concerned its streaming model origins could leave authors unprotected and vulnerable to copyright infringement. 

However, Michele Cobb, executive director of the Audio Publishers Association in the US, told The Bookseller publishers are “optimistically waiting for more information” about the service.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Home Copyright Protection Company Enters Legal Tech Market with Launch of ‘ImageRights for Law Firms’

From LawSites:

ImageRights International, a company whose technology has helped visual artists protect their copyrights since 2009, is now entering the legal tech market with its launch today of ImageRights for Law Firms, a platform designed to help law firms and corporate legal departments directly protect their clients’ copyrighted photographs, illustrations, digital art and other visual works.

ImageRights for Law Firms uses proprietary, cloud-based technology to constantly search the internet for uses of clients’ images and to automatically acquire evidence for firms to use in pursuing legal remedies.

The powerful technology will find images matching the clients’ even if they have been radically cropped, had colors changed or removed, been altered with text or image overlays, or have been flipped or added to a collage, the company says.

. . . .

While the platform cannot distinguish between authorized and unauthorized uses of an image, it constantly monitors the internet and then collects any copies it finds in a review platform, where the company’s AI sorts, filters and ranks the images so that the the client or attorney can review them and identify any that are not authorized.

The attorney can then request a time- and date-stamped screenshot, which the product collects and saves, along with server IP information.

From there, the attorney can download the images with the click of a button, to be used directly or imported into a case management system.

The new law firm platform uses the same AI search technology that has been the core of ImageRights’ product for visual artists since 2009. As part of its service for artists, the company maintains an international network of attorneys that artists can connect with to protect their copyrights.

Link to the rest at LawSites

The Cafe That Helps Beat Writer’s Block—by Fining You $22

From The Wall Street Journal:

TOKYO—At the Manuscript Writing Cafe, people on a deadline pay to put themselves under the gaze of a manager in hopes of curing writer’s block.

Joe Sasanuma, a lawyer at a technology company, is under orders from his publisher to complete a legal book by the end of the year. Alas, the words to explain the contractual obligations of cloud-computing providers haven’t flowed effortlessly. So Mr. Sasanuma has been visiting the cafe.

The cafe’s co-owner, Takuya Kawai, directs his customers to set a goal for the day and, if requested, prods them to get on with it. If they fail to meet it by the time they leave, they have to pay a fine equivalent to $22. It’s an honor system, says Mr. Kawai, but it seems to work.

“Looking at each other, they find themselves under the same amount of stress—and so, together, they end up working hard,” he said.

Students working on book reports, comic-book illustrators, authors and corporate warriors with a presentation due have been flocking to the cafe, which opened in April in an artsy Tokyo neighborhood.

Mr. Sasanuma started co-writing his book last year while cooped up in his apartment. He was fretting about his lack of progress to his chess partner, who suggested the cafe. It seats 10, and costs around $2 an hour, or $4.50 an hour for a premium seat facing a brick wall.

Mr. Sasanuma arrived one day in early May and signed up for a four-hour session, telling Mr. Kawai that his goal was to write three pages. On his first try, the lawyer-author walked away triumphant. He has returned several times since, writing up to four pages each time.

“Maybe it’s the atmosphere, maybe because I’m paying, but I sit down and immediately start typing,” Mr. Sasanuma said.

Deadlines are universal, but this particular way of trying to meet them taps into some parts of Japan’s exam and writing culture. Preparation for the nation’s all-important school entrance exams begins as soon as elementary school for some students trying to get into a well-regarded junior high. These exams stress memorization of facts, and procrastinating students sometimes need the help of a hovering parent or cram-school teacher to buckle down.

Some go to study rooms at public libraries, where the enforced quiet and implicit peer pressure of others dedicated to their studies create the right mood.

Kyoko Ohtagaki, who has used the Manuscript Writing Cafe to work on a manual about digital terminology for government officials, said Mr. Kawai’s technique reminded her of childhood. “It’s comfortable. It feels like home, where you can have the help of someone lightly supervising your homework,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Publishing Contracts 101: Beware Internal Contradictions

From Writer Beware:

It should probably go without saying that you don’t want your publishing contract to include clauses that contradict one another.

Beyond any potential legal implications, internal contradictions suggest a publisher that either doesn’t understand its own contract language well enough to spot the problem–or a publisher that simply doesn’t care. Neither is a good sign for what lies ahead.

Contradictions can be tricky to spot, especially for first-time authors who aren’t experienced in contract legalese. Here’s an example that came across my desk recently: an anthology contract from Dark Lake Publishing that provides for rights reversion 12 months after publication:

(Side note: this is a crap reversion clause, since it not only allows the publisher to keep publishing indefinitely, but doesn’t say anything about paying for that privilege. That’s not the issue I’m highlighting in this post, however.)

The wording of the clause seems pretty clear, right? All rights other than publishing rights–and this is an all-rights contract, with the publisher laying claim to “all Intellectual Property Rights subsisting, either in present or in the future, in the Book in all formats”–return to the author 12 months after the contract’s effective date, which is the date of publication. But just a few clauses down, there’s this:

But…but…if all rights other than publishing rights revert after 12 months, how can the publisher lay claim to dramatic rights for two more years? It’s a clear internal contradiction.

In practical terms, there’s probably no impact: this particular publisher has about as much ability to exploit dramatic rights as I do of space touristing to Mars. But what does it say about a publisher that it either hasn’t spotted the cognitive dissonance, or is perfectly fine with it?

Another example I’ve seen recently involves royalties. This contract from Fractured Mirror Publishing appears to be planning to pay both twice a year and once a year:

Here’s more confusing royalties language from Beacon Publishing Group, which first promises to pay based on Net Receipts, but then cites percentages of retail price (guess which one will appear in your royalty check):

Another example: serial reading/writing app Popink, whose contract appears to extend for a limited term, but includes a Power of Attorney clause at the end of the contract that claims rights for the duration of copyright (you can read more about Popink’s awful contract here).

But the internal contradiction that I see most often, and most consistently, involves copyright: contracts where the grant of rights explicitly transfers copyright to the publisher, while further clauses acknowledge copyright retention by the author.

Here’s what I’m talking about. These clauses are from the contract of Histria Books.

The key wording here is “exclusively grants, assigns, and otherwise transfers to the Publisher…all right, title, and interest in and to the Work…including but not limited to all copyrights therein”. Whenever you see language like this, it means that you are agreeing to give up ownership of your copyright.

Histria’s contract includes language allowing for termination by the author under certain circumstances, so the copyright transfer is temporary rather than permanent (which doesn’t necessarily make it a better deal). However, when you transfer your copyright to someone else–even temporarily–that someone becomes the owner of all your intellectual property rights, without exception, for as long as the transfer is in force, and can do anything it wants with them, from licensing rights to third parties to creating sequels, spinoffs, and derivative works.

So you have to wonder why Histria’s copyright transfer language is followed by this:

In a contract with a conventional grant of rights–one that does not include a copyright transfer–you want to see such a clause, to make clear that the publisher can’t claim any rights that haven’t been specifically mentioned. But Histria’s contract does include a copyright transfer, which means that there are no rights remaining that can be reserved to the author. If not outright contradictory, this clause is certainly inconsistent. But then there’s this:

But wait–didn’t the Grant of Rights make Histria the owner of the copyright? So why would it register in the author’s name? To do so would be to acknowledge the author as the copyright holder, since copyright registration is made in the name of the copyright owner.

(Side note: what the hell is meant by “material contributed by the author to the Work”? Wouldn’t that be, hmmm, the work itself, given that the author wrote it? Even if nothing else in this contract were problematic, this bizarre wording would demand an explanation.)

Finally, there’s this–a pretty unambiguous acknowledgment of the author’s copyright ownership:

Bottom line: multiple clauses in Histria’s contract are inconsistent with or directly contradict the copyright transfer in Clause 1.

I have no idea what the legal ramifications are here. If there’s a dispute, whose ownership would prevail: Histria’s, per Clause 1, or the author’s, for which registration in their name provides prima facie evidence? Regardless, such inconsistencies really should not exist in a publishing contract, and their presence raises the questions posed above: does the publisher not understand its own contract? (Not a good sign of professionalism or expertise.) Does it just not care? (Ditto, and you have to wonder what else it doesn’t care about). Worth noting: I’ve heard from authors who contacted Histria about the copyright contradictions, and were brushed off.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

The author of the OP is Victoria Strauss. Her bio doesn’t mention anything about law school, but PG’s assessment is that she’s smarter about contracts than quite a few of the attorneys he has dealt with over the years.

While a single blog post could not cover all of the dishonest/stupid/evil/clumsy provisions that have appeared/currently appear/will appear in publishing contracts, all authors should read the entire post by Ms. Strauss, save a copy of it for future reference, and review the contents of the post if they receive a publishing contract, solicited or unsolicited. No single post could possibly contain all the gotcha’s that appear in the universe of business contracts, the post demonstrates some good techniques for examining a contract.

Although PG doesn’t review contracts any more (except for Mrs. PG), during his centuries-long legal career, he examined contracts from the largest tech companies, the largest banks and the largest publishers from various parts of the globe. Ditto for medium-sized and small techs, banks and publishers. Plus contracts from a whole bunch of other business organizations and a few non-profits.

Publishing (and a few literary agency) contracts stand out for their audacious mistreatment of the counterparties (authors). In PG’s experience, the only industry that approaches the nastiness of publishing contracts is the movie/TV/music business.

PG notes that traditional publishing and the entertainment industry share some common traits, including the practice of the talent employing agents, only a few of which have any legal training or experience at all.

Both publishing and entertainment feature:

  • quite a few insecure individuals among the talent
  • a business in which most of the would-be talent does not find success
  • a talent pool which is full of people who hold down some sort of job to support themselves and pursue their artistic dreams on the side
  • a few superstars that haven’t learned much about managing their finances
  • a good chance of a boom-and-bust career path, e.g.one-hit wonders

Is It So Wrong to Accessorize with Books?

From The Millions:

While visiting a friend of a friend in Key West many winters ago, I was smitten by the bookshelves in his living room. The built-in shelves wrapped around a window and ran to the ceiling, obviously the work of an expert craftsman. But from across the room it was the books themselves that dazzled my eye—their spines, meticulously arranged by size and color, made the wall look like a gigantic pointillist painting. When I complimented my host on his bookshelves and asked what he liked to read, he looked at me as if I was one very dim bulb. “I bought those books by the yard,” he said. “Then I arranged them in a way that’s pleasing to my eye. I haven’t actually read them.”

A proud philistine, the man saw books as accessories, décor, objects that derived their value not from their contents but from their appearance. And he is hardly alone in thinking so. Recently actress and singer Ashley Tisdale made a similar admission on-camera during a tour of her newly renovated home for Architectural Digest’s “Open Door” series. Motioning toward her colorful bookshelves, Tisdale said, “These bookshelves, I have to be honest, actually did not have books in it a couple of days ago. I had my husband go to a bookstore, and I was like, ‘You need to get 400 books.’ Obviously my husband’s like, ‘We should be collecting books over time and putting them on our shelves.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Not when AD comes.’” 

Twitter like lit up with comments: “The richness is just painful for people who can’t even afford new books.” And: “That’s so sad. It took me a few months to fill up my new shelves, all special and important to me. Not magazine worthy but I like it!” And: “Can you imagine being able to buy 400 books at once?”

There was, predictably, outrage over the outrage, including: “Are we mad at Ashley Tisdale for supporting bookstores? In this economy?” And: “The way people are criticizing Ashley Tisdale for…buying books?? Supporting authors and a bookstore??? Like who gives af if she reads them…” Finally Tisdale came to her own defense: “Let’s clear this up. There are some of my books from over the years in there but yea 36 shelves that hold 22 books I did not have and any interior designer would have done the same. They do it all the time, I was just honest about it.”

Nikki Griffiths, writing for independent publisher Melvile House’s book blog MobyLives, tried to bring a little perspective to the squabble. “Is it really so terrible buying hundreds of books from an independent bookshop?” Griffiths asked. “Tisdale clearly did not realize she would unleash the wrath of the bookish community over her shelf confession… Plus let’s be honest, how many of us are jealous because we wish we had the money to splash out on 400 books?”

While visiting a friend of a friend in Key West many winters ago, I was smitten by the bookshelves in his living room. The built-in shelves wrapped around a window and ran to the ceiling, obviously the work of an expert craftsman. But from across the room it was the books themselves that dazzled my eye—their spines, meticulously arranged by size and color, made the wall look like a gigantic pointillist painting. When I complimented my host on his bookshelves and asked what he liked to read, he looked at me as if I was one very dim bulb. “I bought those books by the yard,” he said. “Then I arranged them in a way that’s pleasing to my eye. I haven’t actually read them.”

A proud philistine, the man saw books as accessories, décor, objects that derived their value not from their contents but from their appearance. And he is hardly alone in thinking so. Recently actress and singer Ashley Tisdale made a similar admission on-camera during a tour of her newly renovated home for Architectural Digest’s “Open Door” series. Motioning toward her colorful bookshelves, Tisdale said, “These bookshelves, I have to be honest, actually did not have books in it a couple of days ago. I had my husband go to a bookstore, and I was like, ‘You need to get 400 books.’ Obviously my husband’s like, ‘We should be collecting books over time and putting them on our shelves.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Not when AD comes.’” 

Twitter like lit up with comments: “The richness is just painful for people who can’t even afford new books.” And: “That’s so sad. It took me a few months to fill up my new shelves, all special and important to me. Not magazine worthy but I like it!” And: “Can you imagine being able to buy 400 books at once?”

There was, predictably, outrage over the outrage, including: “Are we mad at Ashley Tisdale for supporting bookstores? In this economy?” And: “The way people are criticizing Ashley Tisdale for…buying books?? Supporting authors and a bookstore??? Like who gives af if she reads them…” Finally Tisdale came to her own defense: “Let’s clear this up. There are some of my books from over the years in there but yea 36 shelves that hold 22 books I did not have and any interior designer would have done the same. They do it all the time, I was just honest about it.”

Nikki Griffiths, writing for independent publisher Melvile House’s book blog MobyLives, tried to bring a little perspective to the squabble. “Is it really so terrible buying hundreds of books from an independent bookshop?” Griffiths asked. “Tisdale clearly did not realize she would unleash the wrath of the bookish community over her shelf confession… Plus let’s be honest, how many of us are jealous because we wish we had the money to splash out on 400 books?”

It turns out there are plenty of people who have that kind of money. Enter library curators, a new crop of professionals who, for a price, will fill clients’ shelves with books that reflect on their status, interests, or character—regardless of whether they’ve actually read them. Books are “a great way for people to accessorize,” Jenna Hipp told the New York Times Style Magazine. Hipp, described as “a 40-year-old mostly retired celebrity nail artist,” works with her husband Josh Spencer putting together libraries for people for a fee that can run to $200,000. Their clients, says Hipp, “care more about how it looks than about the actual books…. Clients will say to us, ‘I want people to think I’m about this. I want people to think I’m about that.’”

The fashion world has also recently adopted this books-as-accessories aesthetic. In the Times article, Nick Haramis explores how fashion houses have begun weaving books into their promotions, from runway shows to panel discussions to podcasts. At Dior’s 2022 fall menswear show, for instance, the runway consisted of a giant replica of the scroll of typing paper on which Jack Kerouac pounded out the original draft of On the Road. Etro recently sent each of its models onto the runway holding a small, nondescript book. Meanwhile, the supermodel Gigi Hadid trooped around Milan Fashion Week clutching a copy of Camus’s The Stranger. “The worlds of literature and fashion have flirted with each other since long before Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe tied the knot in 1956,” Haramis writes, “but in the past few years, books have become such coveted signifiers of taste and self-expression that the objects themselves are now status symbols.”

Link to the rest at The Millions

The OP spurred PG to create a new category tag – First World Problems.

The thought that TPV needed such a tag has floated into and out of PG’s mind more than once during Covid and the Aftermath of Covid periods.

He’s not going to spend the time to go through the 2,287 previous posts to locate opportunities for retrospective use of First World Problems, so the history of FWP’s on the blog will continue to be elusive, but he plans to use the tag prospectively when he thinks an OP needs it.

And, yes, even if you live in the exurbs of Colona, you can still obtain books by the foot/yard/color, etc. See here, here and here for examples.

The Autocrat of the Dinner-Table

From Medium:

The Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii (Notes on Muscovite Affairs, Notes on the Muscovites, or Notes on Russia), written by the Austro-Slovene diplomat Sigismund von Herberstein in 1549, was the first authoritative historical and ethnographic account of East Slavic civilization to be published in Western Europe. Herberstein had twice served (1517–1518 & 1526–1527) as an ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to the Grand Duchy of Moscow, or Muscovy. His high-level position there in the Moscow court, coupled with his command of Slavic languages, gave him a level of access to Russia beyond the reach of the region’s previous western visitors. Herberstein wrote in the spirit of Herodotus and Pliny the Elder, compiling the history, politics, culture, religion, geography, military affairs, and natural history of the Russian world together with an account of his own time there as imperial ambassador. The best-selling work marked a watershed in Russian historiography and remained a western European authority on the Russian world for decades.

. . . .

The following selections from the Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii are taken from Herberstein’s account of a 1526 state dinner at the Kremlin with fellow imperial ambassador Count Leonardo de Noguerol and Czar Vasili III

. . . .

A CZAR’S INVITATION

After the salutation had been gone through and we had been some time seated, the prince invited each of us in rotation with these words: “You will dine with me.” I may here add that, in my first embassy, he had, according to their custom, invited me in this manner: “Sigismund, thou wilt eat our salt and bread with us.” Presently after, he called our caterers to him and spoke to them in a low voice, but I know not what he said. But each of them in his turn gave instruction to the interpreters, who said to us: “Arise, let us retire to another house.”

SETTING THE TABLE

A CZAR’S FEAST. From a 1579 German edition of the Commentarii

When the preparations for dinner were made and the prince, his brothers, and the councillors were already seated, upon our being shown into the banqueting room, the councillors and all the others immediately arose in deference to us. We, in our turn, having been informed of their habits, before they sat down, offered our thanks to them by bowing on all sides and took a place at the table which the prince himself indicated to us with his hand. The tables were arranged around the banqueting-room. In the middle stood a table laden with a variety of gold and silver goblets. … We sat at another table opposite the prince, with our friends and attendants at a small distance from us. … On the tables were placed vessels, some filled with vinegar, some with pepper, and others with salt.

BREAD AND SALT

RUSSIAN WELL-WISHERS WITH BREAD AND SALT (1874). Wilhelm Amandus Beer

Meantime, when all were seated, the prince called one of his servants to him and, giving him two long pieces of bread, said: “Give this to Count Leonhard, and this to Sigismund.” The servant, taking the interpreter with him, accordingly presented the bread to each of us in rotation accompanied by the following speech: “O Count Leonardo, the Grand Duke Vasiley, by the grace of God, King and Lord of all Russia, and Grand Duke, extends his favour to thee, and sends thee bread from his own table.” … Bread is used by the prince to express his favour towards anybody, but when he sends salt, it is intended to express his affection — indeed it is not possible for him to show greater honour to any one at an entertainment given by himself than by sending him salt from his own table.

Meantime, when all were seated, the prince called one of his servants to him and, giving him two long pieces of bread, said: “Give this to Count Leonhard, and this to Sigismund.” The servant, taking the interpreter with him, accordingly presented the bread to each of us in rotation accompanied by the following speech: “O Count Leonardo, the Grand Duke Vasiley, by the grace of God, King and Lord of all Russia, and Grand Duke, extends his favour to thee, and sends thee bread from his own table.” … Bread is used by the prince to express his favour towards anybody, but when he sends salt, it is intended to express his affection — indeed it is not possible for him to show greater honour to any one at an entertainment given by himself than by sending him salt from his own table.

PASS THE SWAN, PLEASE: “Olim lacus colueram …”

Detail from A BOYAR WEDDING FEAST (1883). Konstantin Makovsky (1839–1915)

At length the servers going out for food … first brought in brandy, which they always drink at the commencement of the dinner. Then they brought in roasted swans, which it is almost always their custom to lay before their guests for the first dish whenever they eat meat … [the prince] pierced [the swans] with his knife to try which was the best and which he would choose in preference to the rest and immediately ordered them to be taken away … When we began to eat the roast swans, they placed vinegar on the table with salt and pepper mixed in it, which they used instead of sauce or gravy. Sour milk was also placed on the table for the same purpose with pickled cucumbers and prunes cooked with the same object, which are not removed during dinner time. The same fashion is observed in bringing in the other dishes unless they be again taken away to be cooked … They say that each and every vessel which we looked upon, in which were placed meat, the drinks, the vinegar, the pepper, the salt, and all the other things which were set upon the table, were of pure gold; and from their weight this would seem to be true … The grand-prince sometimes spends three or four hours over dinner. During my first embassy, our dinner was prolonged till one o’clock in the morning. For just in the same manner as they often spend the whole day in deliberating over matters involving doubt and difficulty and do not leave it till it has been maturely discussed and decided upon, so also they will sometimes consume a whole day over their banquets and convivial meetings and only retire when darkness overtakes them.

Link to the rest at Medium