Amazon Reportedly Has Lord of the Rings Writers in a Locked Office with a Guard and Fingerprint Scanner

20 February 2019

From Gizmodo:

Amazon has a lot riding on its secretive, $250 million deal with The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien’s estate, publisher HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema to produce a streaming show in the franchise’s Middle-Earth setting, with expectations that the budget could cross one billion dollars.

LOTR fans still don’t know an awful lot about the show—initial reports in 2017 suggested that Amazon’s production would primarily deal with “previously unexplored stories,” of which there is a lot to find in Tolkien’s massive fantasy universe. Later in 2018, other reports indicated that the show had signed a deal could use “material” from Peter Jackson’s film series, but it wasn’t clear what that meant. Amazon onboarded talent from Star Trek 4, and rumors proliferated it would involve fan favorite Aragorn. Unsurprisingly, the lack of info is probably due to Amazon’s efforts to keep details from leaking—and Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke said as much in a interview this week with the Hollywood Reporter.

Salke told THR that she, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Senior Vice President of Business Development Jeff Blackburn had scheduled a meeting with members of Tolkien’s estate in New York to “see some art, some creative work that they haven’t shown the world yet.” She added that the room where the writers are working is kept under “lock and key,” with windows kept taped closed and a security guard manning a checkpoint outside with some kind of fingerprint-based security system:

There’s a fantastic writers room working under lock and key. They’re already generating really exciting material. They’re down in Santa Monica. You have to go through such clearance, and they have all their windows taped closed. And there’s a security guard that sits outside, and you have to have a fingerprint to get in there, because their whole board is up on a thing of the whole season.

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

PG notes that stories like the OP are a wonderful way of gaining the attention of a large LOTR fanbase and stirring up interest in the project.

If the story hadn’t happened by accident, Amazon should have started it on purpose. 😉


20 February 2019

Talisman, Talisman, show me your secrets,
Helmsman, Helmsman, turn me for home.

― Robert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

The Investment Firm That Commissioned Wall Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ Is Suing the Artist for Making Replicas

20 February 2019

From ArtNet News:

Fearless Girl, the bronze statue that immediately went viral after it was installed in downtown Manhattan two years ago as a symbol to promote gender diversity on Wall Street, is now at the heart of a trademark and breach of contract lawsuit.

State Street Global Advisors, the Massachusetts-based investment company that commissioned Fearless Girl, filed a lawsuit against its creator, Delaware-based artist Kristen Visbal, on February 14 in New York State Supreme Court.

State Street says that the artist has made at least three unauthorized reproductions of the statue so far: one for Maurice Blackburn, an Australian law firm that specializes in personal injury, class actions, and financial services; one for real-estate investor Christian Ringnes, who is the owner of the Grand Hotel in Oslo; and a third statue that Visbal brought to the Women’s March in Los Angeles last month.

. . . .

State Street wants to “safeguard its interests” in the Fearless Girl statue and uphold the message it stands for, the company says in its complaint, alleging that Visbal’s unauthorized reproductions could damage its status in a global campaign to support corporate gender diversity and female leadership.

Link to the rest at ArtNet News

A word on State Street’s behalf – The owner of a trademark can lose its rights to exclusive use of the mark if it fails to defend the mark when it is improperly used by others. Trademark infringement is fairly self-explanatory. Trademark dilution permits the owner of a mark sue someone who is using the mark in a manner that dilutes the distinctive quality of that mark, either through “blurring” or “tarnishment” of that mark.

Here’s a photo of Fearless Girl:

The full meaning of Fearless Girl also includes the statue’s location vis-à-vis another famous Wall Street statue, Charging Bull.

Meet Your New Favorite Poet

20 February 2019

From The Paris Review:

I like to tell poetry students about pleasures that are “on reserve” for them—meaning pleasures they’re too little to have now, but which they will have, someday, if they just stick with it. Good example of this: owning other poets.

How can you own a poet? Simple. You have to find a poet whom no one has read in a long time, a poet with no living fans. Then you have to sincerely love that poet’s work. That’s the hard part. But if you love the poet’s poems, and no one else has even read them, there’s your opportunity to plant your flag. That poet is now your private property. Your interpretation of that poet’s work is by definition correct. Your right to be there is indisputable.

. . . .

James Thomson (1700–1748) is my private property. I keep him in my pocket and take him out and look at him sometimes. He always looks good. There are many James Thomson poems that I have never read. Consequently, those pieces do not exist. The ones I have read I have read many times. I’m talking about The Seasons, a 5,500-line poem that used to be approximately as famous as the Aeneid or whatever. It was translated into a bunch of different languages, Goethe revered it, it was imitated all over the place. People used to sit there, stunned or rocking back and forth, muttering “Oh man, oh man, oh man!” about The Seasons. These days, however—2019—the sun has quite gone down on this great poet.

It’s not hard to see why. His stuff doesn’t sound like it’s going to be good AT ALL. Number one, it was written in the eighteenth century. Nobody likes that century’s poetry. Number two, it’s in twisted-up Miltonic blank verse. In other words, it’s hard. Number three, it’s 5,500 lines of nature imagery. There’s no plot, no characters—it’s nature imagery, floor to ceiling.

Do not adjust your laptop. That sound you hear is fleeing multitudes.

. . . .

Exhibit A: This is just to give you an idea what kind of diction-syntax we’re talking about. This is really early 0n in the poem, and Thomson has been talking about how the coming of spring affects the air and the wind; now he draws your attention to the soil and leaves:

Nor only through the lenient air this change
Delicious breathes: the penetrative Sun,
His force deep-darting to the dark retreat
Of vegetation, sets the steaming power
At large, to wander o’er the vernant earth
In various hues …

For God’s sake, look at the word lenient there; the word penetrative; the word retreat. And the construction “sets the steaming power at large.” But, more subtly, consider the strange way that this:

Nor only through the lenient air this change delicious breathes,—

is so much better than:

Not only does this delicious change breathe through the lenient air,—

This latter point instantiates a deep mystery. In 2019, no one would dare Latinize their syntax like that. It would look like if you went to school one day in an Elizabethan ruff. And even in the eighteenth century, this wasn’t always done with grace and élan. Thomson, however, has the touch. He always knows when it would be better to say “Something wicked this way comes” rather than “Something wicked comes this way” (which, incidentally, has the exact same scansion).

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

During college, PG spent a lot of time analyzing poems and other literary work for class assignments. (He might have been better off if he had studied computer programming, but that field was pretty gross before personal computers. At any rate, his résumé got him a good first job out of college, then a good second job, which is about all you can expect from an undergraduate degree. During his second job interviews, nobody asked him about his undergraduate studies).

At any rate, while PG liked a lot of things about the OP, he must take exception to the author’s slander of 18th-century poets and poetry. Here’s a short list of poets PG thinks did fine work during that era:

William Blake
Robert Burns
Lord Byron
Samuel T.Coleridge
John Keats
Percy Shelley
William Wordsworth

Here’s the opening of Endymion by Keats:

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

The entirety of Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by Wordsworth:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

And, by Robbie (pronounced Rabbie) Burns, “The National Poet of Scotland,” John Anderson my jo:

(The poem’s narrator is an old Scottish women speaking about her husband of many years and their life together.)

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!

For those who are a bit rusty on Gaelic and its effect on 18th-century Scottish pronunciation of English words, here’s a cheat sheet:

jo – darling
acquent – acquainted
brent – smooth
beld – bald
pow – crown of your head
clamb – climb
thegither – together
cantie – happy
maun – must


Australian Author Sees Similar Plot to His in Trailer for New Danny Boyle Film

20 February 2019

From The Guardian:

When Nick Milligan decided to self-publish his speculative fiction novel, Enormity, he knew it was going to be a hard slog to find an audience. But seeing a similar plot play out in the trailer for Danny Boyle’s new film, Yesterday, came as a shock.

“I had high expectations for Enormity’s success,” Milligan said. “I wrote it with a movie in mind.”

That goal seems even more out of reach now.

Written by Richard Curtis and starring Himesh Patel and Lily James, Yesterday follows a character called Jack (Patel) who has a bicycle accident during a worldwide blackout. According to the trailer, which was released last week, when Jack wakes up, he finds himself in an almost identical version of Earth in which The Beatles never existed. He passes off their music as his own, and havoc ensues.

It’s a plot that bears remarkable resemblance to the Australian Milligan’s novel, which also follows a character called Jack who, after a journey into deep space, finds himself on a planet that’s almost identical to Earth, with a few exceptions – including that its people have never heard of The Beatles.

“He passes off classic music as his own material, including that of The Beatles, and the story then explores the consequences of that lie,” Milligan told Guardian Australia.

. . . .

“The central premise and general exploration of the concept are the same. Both Jacks experience inner turmoil in regard to the lie they’re living and perpetuating,” Milligan said. “They’re both morality tales. Both are satires on the music industry. And the trajectory to superstardom, with Jack performing to a crowded stadium etc, appears to be in both.”

But there are differences in tone, Milligan points out.

“The tone of both, outside of the central premise, appears quite different. Yesterday is a more light-hearted family-friendly film, where Enormity is far more dark and twisted,” said Milligan. “It’s probably just a horrible coincidence and they mean me no disrespect.”

Milligan self-published Enormity in 2013, selling on Amazon. He estimates with giveaways and direct sales, he saw some 20,000 downloads of his book.

He chose to self-publish rather than trying to find a traditional publisher because he felt his idea “didn’t quite fit into a particular genre, so it might have been put in the too hard basket” by commercial publishers.

. . . .

Since speaking out over the weekend about the similarities between Enormity and Yesterday, Milligan said he has seen a modest spike in sales of his own work.

. . . .

Grant McAvaney, CEO of the Australian Copyright Council, told Guardian Australia that to prove copyright infringement, one creator would need to prove that the other had taken a material portion of their work. “So that’s not just the idea alone, but it’s the way the idea is explored … by reference to things such as structure, characters, key plot points and language used,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

In answer to questions that may come into the minds of TPV visitors, the OP doesn’t tell enough for PG to come to any conclusions about copyright infringement. Additionally, PG is not an Australian attorney, so he doesn’t know enough to comment on the application of Australian copyright law.

The quote from the representative of the Australian Copyright Council sounds similar to PG’s initial reaction about a similar circumstance occurring under US law.

At any rate, PG thought that Mr. Milligan’s self-published work deserved a link. It’s also available via Kindle Unlimited.

Boom Time for Used Booksellers?

19 February 2019

As PG was opening a couple of packages of hardcopy books for Mrs. PG (she does read a lot of ebooks, but, in some cases, used books are less expensive and some books she wants in hardcopy to share with family and/or friends), it occurred to him that Amazon has almost certainly given used booksellers an opportunity to reach a far wider group of prospective purchasers than were ever available to them in physical used bookstores.

Most of the hardcopy used books that arrive in the mail come well-packaged and most are clearly packed by more sophisticated equipment than a roll of stamps and a stack of envelopes.

So, is PG correct about Amazon and used booksellers?

Has the ability to sell to a much wider online audience affected the pricing of used books?

Has the used book business undergone consolidation with small used bookstores closing and selling their inventory to large, online-focused used booksellers?

Are there people who are paid by larger used booksellers to be scouts for large quantities of available used books?

Digitized Images of Works in the Public Domain: What Rights Vest in Them?

19 February 2019

From IPKat:

A few days ago the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) released the full text of its recent judgment concerning protection of digitized versions of public domain images. The IPKat is delighted to host, in two posts, the analysis provided by Tobias Lutzi (Research Fellow at the University of Cologne), and John Weitzmann(General Counsel at Wikimedia Deutschland e. V. in Berlin), respectively.

Here’s what John writes:

Note: The German Wikimedia Chapter had also been defendant in this case, but was acquitted by the court of first instance, while parallel proceedings against the US-based Wikimedia Foundation as service provider of the Wikimedia Commons platform are still on-going at the High Court of Berlin. 

. . . .

From the perspective of the Wikimedia Movement, the most disappointing aspects of the judgment are its treatment of § 72 UrhG, putting additional means of control over public domain works in the hands of those cultural heritage institutions, that regard control as an integral part of their public mission. As mentioned by Tobias here, it is highly questionable whether publicly funded museums should even consider using injunctions to go after digital copies of public domain works they hold in their collections.

If private owners of artworks are involved, there might be an argument for control on behalf of such private interests, in order to get the respective works into museums and before the public’s eye in the first place. But to limit the visibility of publicly owned works of art in any way, to leverage related rights in photographic depictions even with public domain works, can hardly be anything but a gross misunderstanding of the role and mission public cultural heritage institutions have. Such institutions must do anything within their power to hold as much of our cultural heritage in the public’s awareness, including on the internet, and therefore must not hide or withdraw public domain works from the public’s conscious perception.

. . . .

In all this, the judgment in the rem case almost tragically brings to bear the fundamental flaw of the hybrid rule that the German legislator produced by legally synching the neighbouring right in photographs, § 72 UrhG, to the proper copyright in photographic works, § 2 UrhG, in the 1960s. The intention behind this synching was a well-meaning one at the time: Parliament wanted to relieve judges of the close-to-impossible task of discerning non-original photographs from those that are actual works of art. Thus, § 72 was amended to let the same rules that apply to photographic works of art simply also apply to non-original photos – with the one exception of the protection term, which is shorter for non-original photos, lasting only 50 years after publication, whereas photographic works are protected until 70 years after the death of the photographer.

. . . .

[T]he High Court of Stuttgart had argued that even the meticulous reproduction photos in question (i. e. the ones made by the museum’s photographer for a catalogue that had later then been scanned by the defendant and uploaded to the Wikipedia’s media archive Wikimedia Commons) were not “mere technical reproductions”, but represent …

[22] (…) an independent new fixation into a new work form [and are photographs] initially made with creative intention. [own translation]

Now, one does not need to share the infamous fondness of dogmatic detail present in German civil law to find it odd that a second instance court introduces terms like “work” and “creative intention” (in German: “Schöpfungswillen”) when actually speaking about a neighbouring right in photographs. Usually, under German copyright law the term work (“Werk”) is much more narrowly than in the Anglo-American tradition reserved for works of authorship. That is the very reason de être of all those neighbouring rights in “non-works” in the first place. There’s a whole universe of arguments about the special bond between the work and its creator, and why that bond is so very special and valuable, even producing unwaivable moral rights.

. . . .

[C]an there actually be such a personal intellectual contribution or achievement in a photograph if the subject of the photograph is entirely fixed?

It can’t be stated enough: The content of reproduction photos is fixed in all thinkable ways. By definition they must as exactly as possible give the same impression as the works they depict, nothing added and nothing taken away. How can those repro photographs be more than “mere technical reproductions” if all the photographer can work with are shutter time, light, aperture and such – all of which go beyond technical in nature only if and where they are tools for creative expression? It must be emphasised yet again that any kind of creative expression is forbidden for repro photographers, who in this role strictly have to limit themselves to replicating the visual impression the object reproduced makes on viewers.

. . . .

[T]he pictures are indeed limited to getting the technicalities right to carry the exact impression of their object, being repro photographs in the proper sense. In that case, however, they can’t qualify as more than technical reproductions – very elaborate reproductions, one might add, that require a lot of expertise to make, but still reproductions.

. . . .

So, how can a tech-and-expertise-only reproduction photo still be covered by a neighbouring right that does not cover mere technical reproductions? The apparent contradiction is solved by invoking an additional criterion. The Court itself, turning to legal scholarship, established in 1989 (I ZR 14/88) the notion that only the first-stage exact photographic depiction taken of any subject is legally worthy of a neighbouring right protection, while further photos taken of this first photo are not and are seen as mere reproductions. This so-called “Urbildtheorie” has no explicit foundation in the wording of the German Copyright Code. It is purely a development of the law (in German “Rechtsfortbildung”) through judicial deduction and interpretation.

. . . .

There are paintings made by artists a long time ago, and exact photographic depictions of those paintings, protected under a neighbouring right because they are taken directly from the public domain works in the museum. However, had those artists of old used photography instead of brush and canvas to express their creativity, equally exact photographic depictions of such works of photography would not be covered by related rights. In other words, an exactly matching photo of a painting is protected, while an equally exactly matching photo of a photographic work is not.

Link to the rest at IPKat

Here’s a link to the first part the IPKat summary.

PG agrees with the criticism of the decision contained in the commentary (although he claims no expertise in German law).

The fundamental structure of copyright law in the US and, via international treaties, many other places, is based upon the proposition that the creator of an original intellectual property (painting, book manuscript, sculpture, for example) should have the exclusive ability control the exploitation of that property via copying or creation of derivative works for a period of time. An author can prevent someone from replicating the contents of a manuscript without the author’s permission, for example.

Once the copyright term has expired, the creator’s rights under copyright law expire as well.

The rationale for providing an ability to prevent a non-author from simply copying the work of an author, then exploiting it commercially or otherwise is that society in general is benefitted if creators are encouraged to create and share their creations by allowing them the exclusive right to profit from those creations. If there were no effective right for a creator to profit (monetarily, through enhanced reputation, etc), he/she would have to take a job at McDonalds flipping burgers for material support and thus would have less time to create and could well give up the creative activity altogether. Or a great artist would make paintings and never allow anyone to see them so the artist would avoid having others make copies of the products of the artist’s works of genius.

In exchange for a creator being permitted to prevent others who admired a work from simply making a copy of it for their own enjoyment or for commercial exploitation (a natural human instinct) and bring the creations into the public sphere for the artist’s exclusive benefit, the creator’s right to prevent the public from making knockoffs or derivative works was time-limited. Society would protect the creator’s work from reproduction for a period of time so the author could profit and society would benefit from being able to enjoy the work right away, but eventually, the creator’s exclusive rights would expire so other creators or non-creators could use the work for all sorts of new and interesting purposes.

However, intellectual property must have a meaningful element of originality to be protected. If I pick up a rock and paint it red, then seek to prevent anyone else from commercially exploiting rocks painted red, I’ve done something unoriginal and obvious, not truly new or unique or creative. The same analysis would prevent me from copyrighting the words, “and they lived happily ever after.”

With that rambling foundation, why was the German court so wrong?

The artist who created the painting that is now in a German museum owned the copyright to the original painting. The clock was ticking on the copyright’s exclusive period of protection. Presumably, when the artist sold or gave the painting to someone else, the person who acquired the painting acquired the associated copyright, including the right to exercise the rights granted under copyright law in the same manner as the original artist could.

(It is possible for the artist to retain the copyright, while only selling the painting itself, but absent some sort of clearly documented agreement to that effect, the copyright is presumed to go with the painting. This is why authors should only license their copyrights rather than assigning them to publishers unless the publishers pay a large lump sum (not an advance against royalties) up front. If the publisher fails to pay royalties and the publisher owns the copyright, the author has a more difficult time reverting rights to him/herself. An artist who creates a painting is more likely to sell a painting to someone who wants to own it and who pays to acquire the painting rather than agreeing to pay the artist a certain amount for each copy of the painting the purchaser might or might not make.)

What (in PG’s inarticulately expressed opinion) can a museum that has just acquired a painting for which the artist’s copyright has expired do if the museum wants to profit from selling copies of the painting?

The museum could do what the original artist could do, not show the painting to anyone to prevent copying.

Or, the museum could prohibit anyone from bringing a camera into the museum and search pockets/purses, etc., to make certain everyone complies. Or a museum could bind visitors to a contract under which visitors agreed they would not take photos of the painting and further agreed that they would pay the museum $1 million in damages if they violated the contract.

In the German case, the court held that the museum could make a photograph — a copy — of a painting that is no longer protected by copyright, claim a copyright in the photo, then use its copyright of the photo to prevent other people from making, publishing, selling, etc., copies of the original painting because doing so would be the same as making a copy of the museum’s photo of the painting.

In addition to the arguments cited in the OP (a perfect copy of the painting made via a camera does not include elements of creativity to sufficient for the photo to be entitled to copyright protection), PG suggests permitting a photo of an original painting that is not protected by copyright to be copyrighted as if the photo were its own separate creative work, thus starting a new period of copyright protection that prohibits copies of the painting to be made and sold without the permission of the museum is the most slippery of slippery slopes.

When the copyright on the photo is nearing expiration, could a future technology that is not like a camera be used to make another copy of the painting, thus generating a new period of copyright protection that would continue to prevent anyone other than the museum from making copies of the then way, way, way out of copyright painting?

How about using the new technology to make a new copy of the previous copy of the museum’s copyrighted photo and claim a new period of copyright protection on the same basis the court recognized a perfect copy of the original painting to form the basis for a separate copyright – that the operator of the new technology made adjustments necessary for the use of that technology to make another perfect copy?

The museum claimed all of the things the photographer did in order to make a perfect copy – setting the camera properly, lighting the painting just so, etc., represented new creativity that was incorporated in the perfect copy of the painting.

In the United States, this argument would be termed as a claim of copyright based upon “sweat of the brow” activity. See Genesis 3:19 – “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground”

From Wikipedia:

According to this doctrine, an author gains rights through simple diligence during the creation of a work, such as a database, or a directory. Substantial creativity or “originality” is not required.

Under a “sweat of the brow” doctrine, the creator of a copyrighted work, even if it is completely unoriginal, is entitled to have his effort and expense protected, and no one else may use such a work without permission, but must instead recreate the work by independent research or effort. The classic example is a telephone directory. In a “sweat of the brow” jurisdiction, such a directory may not be copied, but instead a competitor must independently collect the information to issue a competing directory. The same rule generally applies to databases and lists of facts.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

This argument was rejected by the US Supreme Court in  Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, 499 U.S. 340 (1991).

Discussing the principle that facts are not copyrightable, but that compilations of facts can be, the Court said,

Article I, § 8, cl. 8, of the Constitution mandates originality as a prerequisite for copyright protection. The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity. Since facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship, they are not original, and thus are not copyrightable. Although a compilation of facts may possess the requisite originality because the author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the data so that readers may use them effectively, copyright protection extends only to those components of the work that are original to the author, not to the facts themselves. This fact/expression dichotomy severely limits the scope of protection in fact-based works.

Applied to the German case, if the photographer’s objective and accomplishment was to make as perfect a copy of the original painting as is possible using current technology, then, if copyright protection extends, per Feist, only to those components of the photograph that are original to the photographer, not to the components of the photograph that are original to the artist who created the original painting, there is no copyright to a perfect copy of the painting.

If the photographer had used the camera to make a photo that looked different from the original painting, substituting red for blue, for example, an argument for originality might be reasonable and anyone else making a copy of the red/blue photo might be violating the museum’s copyright on the photo.

But a perfect copy of the original painting includes nothing original to the photographer. Anything the photographer might have done that isn’t reflected visually in the resulting photograph doesn’t indicate anything original to the photographer is protected in the perfect copy. PG would argue that even trivial differences between the photo and the painting that result from the transfer of the image from one medium to another don’t constitute originality necessary for copyright protection.

Following is an English version of the German Court decision (per Google translate – PG does not speak German, so he can’t vouch for any level of accuracy)


‘Long Shot’ Review: Triggering a Revolution

19 February 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

For the past seven years, in the northeast wedge of Syria abutting Turkey, Iraq and Islamic State, a band of zealous Kurds have built an unrecognized state called Rojava and tried to keep it from being overrun. Rojava is governed like a 1980s Berkeley dorm discussion whose participants have acquired automatic weapons. They are anarcho-leftist, environmentally conscious, secular, socialist and radically devoted to equality of the sexes. One manifestation of this last commitment is a coed guerrilla force, including male and female snipers (féministes fatales, if you will) who have been picking off the male jihadists of Islamic State with gusto for the past five years.

A new memoir, “Long Shot: The Inside Story of the Snipers Who Broke ISIS,” tells the story of the group’s sniper battles against Islamic State, with a heavy dose of the group’s leftism. The author, writing under the name Azad Cudi, is a Kurdish sniper now in Europe. Iranian by birth, he deserted his post in the Iranian military and fled to exile in Yorkshire, England, in 2004. There he read the work of Abdullah Öcalan, the terrorist-intellectual founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and found that man’s turgid Maoism enchanting. At the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, Rojava was founded on an Öcalanist model, and in 2013, when confrontation between Rojava and ISIS became inevitable, Mr. Cudi traveled to Syria to defend it.

He fought with great distinction. In the city of Kobani, site in 2014-15 of what may be remembered as the battle that arrested Islamic State’s expansion, he spent months punching holes in the walls of abandoned houses so he could peek out and shoot ISIS fighters in nearby buildings. He killed about 250 of them in total, he says. The number is high but plausible. Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL depicted in the film “American Sniper,” had 160 confirmed kills, more than any other American in history. Mr. Cudi claims that others tallied as many as 500—a number that would rank them next to a few World War II snipers at the top of the all-time list, world-wide.

The first thing to note about Mr. Cudi’s memoir is its prose. The genre of military memoir produces more stinkers than average, often because the authors imitate only the worst aspects of Hemingway, or cannot contain their own machismo. Mr. Cudi’s revolutionary feminist training sessions must have paid off: He is observant and restrained, and totally lacking the swaggery male insecurity that disfigures so many of these books. Instead, his is filled with practical, simple descriptions of combat and sniping. The figurative language, because it is deployed sparingly, tends to work, as when he describes the frozen face of a would-be suicide bomber (shot “through his mustache” by a female sniper) as looking “like a stopped clock.”

. . . .

Keep your index finger pampered for fine sensitivity while pressing the trigger. “After a while, I learned to recognise other snipers by their whiter, cleaner, smoother forefingers.”

. . . .

One unsettling aspect of sniping is that the sniper sees his prey up close, through a highly magnified lens—but the prey does not see the sniper at all. Sniping is an act of voyeurism and homicide all at once.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

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