The music industry’s over-reliance on TikTok shows how lazy it has become

From The Guardian:

Earlier this month, the music industry was hit with its biggest shake-up in years when Universal Music Group announced that it would be pulling the entirety of its catalogue – which covers everyone from K-pop stars BTS to Taylor Swift and legacy acts such as Abba – from TikTok.

In an open letter, UMG said the decision was made in protest at the platform’s low compensation rates, lack of protections around AI deepfakes and low safety standards for TikTok users. Universal also alleged that TikTok tried to “intimidate” the label by “selectively removing the music of … our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars”. TikTok’s brief response decried UMG’s “false narrative and rhetoric”.

The move wasn’t a bluff: less than a day after the announcement, music by Universal artists began to leave the platform; earlier this week, music written by artists signed to Universal’s publishing arm also began to disappear. This means that any music that samples or is co-written by a Universal publishing artist, whether they have a 1% share in the songwriting or 100%, can no longer be used as a sound on TikTok. This includes TikTok-aided hits such as Harry Styles’s As It Was and SZA’s Kill Bill, as well as soon-to-be-released songs currently being promoted. Some analysts have estimated that the publishing takedown could result in up to 80% of music on the platform being removed, which TikTok disputes, saying it estimates 20-30% will be affected.

UMG’s mass takedown is drastic, but there was always going to be a breaking point with TikTok. When the app began to gain popularity in 2018, industry figures almost immediately treated it like a golden goose, thrilled by the way unsigned, previously unknown artists such as Lil Nas X and Jawsh 685 were suddenly serious players on the Billboard charts without much, if any, promotion outside TikTok itself. When Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams went viral on the platform in 2020, it became clear that the app was remoulding the way consumers listened to music: old music could easily become new again provided it had the right treatment.

Songs that were big on TikTok started streaming in the hundreds of millions, even billions, in a single year, sending considerable revenue to artists and labels. It’s been a boon for live music, too: in 2018, US indie-rock artist Mitski played to 2,000 people in London; this year, a handful of TikTok-viral songs later, she will play to more than 20,000.

But TikTok soon started to feel like a burden for artists. For years, acts such as Halsey and Florence Welch have complained about label expectations that they should use the platform to promote upcoming music. Other artists have suggested that labels are prone to holding songs hostage until they have enough TikTok buzz, and artists such as Noah Kahan, who has benefitted from TikTok over the past year, seem acutely aware of their perceived reliance on it: Kahan reacted to UMG’s cull with a wry video in which he joked about being “a TikTok artist”.

Critics say that TikTok encourages artists to create a certain kind of music that’s seemingly designed to go viral. Often, the ploy works, evidenced by the proliferation of hits that utilise bold, easily recognisable samples from the 90s and 2000s.

It’s also hugely debatable as to whether TikTok virality can translate into lasting success: US artist Steve Lacy made headlines in 2022 after complaining that fans at his shows were only there to film a snippet of him playing his viral song Bad Habit. New Zealand artist Benee, who hit the US charts in 2020 with her pandemic-viral song Supalonely, has since failed to replicate that success.

Over the past year, another problem has emerged: such a high volume of songs go viral on TikTok every day that fewer and fewer of those viral songs make an impact outside the app.

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

PG opines that it’s stupid for the music labels to expect their artists to spend a bunch of time as online influencers instead of working on new music to release. Making music and promoting it on TikTok are two different types of talent.

If PG were running a music label, he would identify the best music influencers and hire them to promote the music and encourage the musical talent to perform/write more songs, etc.

Yet Another Blow to Copyright in Canada

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the latest blow to Access Copyright—the beleaguered collective management organization established by creators and publishers for English-language Canada—the agency was ordered on Tuesday (February 27) by the Federal Court of Canada to repay what are considered copyright-fee overpayments made under a “continuation tariff” by the plaintiffs between 2010 and 2012.

According to a figure published by Karunjit Singh writing for the Canadian legal news medium Law360 Canada, this amounts to some CA$25.5 million (US$18.8 million) as well as pre- and post-judgment interest.

Access Copyright in a statement issued to the news media writes from Toronto of the court’s “extremely disappointing decision” in the legal action launched by the plaintiffs, which comprise provincial ministries and school boards of Ontario. Access Copyright’s position is that the court’s decision “reinforces the urgent need for the federal government to repair Canada’s broken copyright regime.” But with essentially no interest evident for years from Ottawa, the call for “long overdue reform” may have little hope of gaining traction.

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, the story of Canada’s ironically named Copyright Modernization Act of 2012 has entered its 12th year, and the “CMO” at the center of the long-running saga—Access Copyright—has in that time downsized its staffing, moved to alternative quarters, and now is newly struggling to find any traction.

Access Copyright is not without supporters. The Literary Press Group of Canada (LPG), for example, has issued a call for government action “to protect the rights of creators and publishers” following the federal court’s ruling.

That group, in a statement provided to Publishing Perspectives, writes, “Evidence in proceedings before the Copyright Board showed that uncompensated copying in the elementary and secondary education [systems] alone amounted to more than 150 million pages per year. This doesn’t even include copying by post-secondary institutions. No wonder more than CA$200 million in licensing revenue (US$147.5 million) has disappeared during the last decade, with additional unknown lost sales.”

From Access Copyright: “In this case, the Federal Court found that the extent of copying in the schools was completely unmonitored, and the plaintiffs were in no position to know what licenses or other permissions they needed to clear copyright other than under a collective license from Access Copyright. Unlicensed copying continues to have a devastating impact on Canadian creators’ and publishers’ ability to create the Canadian stories that enrich classrooms, inspire students, and support academic achievement.”

. . . .

The Literary Press Group echoes Access Copyright, writing:

“Now, it is imperative that the government:

  • Amend the Copyright Act so that fair dealing only applies to institutions where a work is not commercially available under license by the owner or a collective;
  • Amend the Copyright Act to clarify that tariffs approved by the Copyright Board of Canada have always been enforceable against infringers of copyright-protected works subject to tariffs; and,
  • Amend the Copyright Act so that statutory damages are rebalanced to deter mass uncompensated copying by institutions.”

And from Access Copyright, we read, “When considered alongside the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2021 decision in the York University litigation, the Federal Court decision makes clear that Canadian creators and publishers do not currently have a meaningful or practical way to uphold their rights to their works. Moreover, the important role of collective societies in the administration of their copyright interests has been diminished, leaving creators and publishers on their own to challenge infringement of their work through individual cost-prohibitive lawsuits.”

The Literary Press Group, still rallying, writes: “It is time to restore meaning to the phrase copyright-protected works. It is time to ensure real protection of the rights of Canada’s creators and publishers.”

But the many publishing-industry professionals who have struggled to get the government’s attention and educators’ interest in this curious case of a major nation’s abandonment of its rights-protective regime seem to have few options.

Perhaps the most penetrating and clear-eyed commentary from the now-degraded Access Copyright this week is: “The current ambiguity in the Copyright Act, as well as the inability for Access Copyright to enforce tariffs approved by the Copyright Board, have created a veritable ‘free zone’ for unlicensed educational copying in Canada.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Fictionalizing the Real Stakes of the Ukrainian War

From Electric Lit:

Matt Gallagher, a U.S. Army veteran and author of the novels Youngblood and Empire City, first traveled to Ukraine in February 2022 to train civil volunteers how to defend themselves against Russia’s invasion. He had joined fellow veterans and scribes Adrian Bonenberger and Benjamin Busch, flying “there on our own dime and volition,” he later wrote for Esquire, “because we saw a sovereign democracy under assault and believe that is wrong.” He returned to Ukraine a year later with Benjamin Busch for Esquire to interview foreign fighters—many of them veterans—who had left the safety of their homes and were risking their lives for the “core belief that this is a fight worth fighting, that Ukraine is worth defending.” Toward the end of 2023 he was back in Ukraine, again for Esquire, this time traveling “the country to pose a fundamental question to the Ukrainians I met: How does this end?”

Those three trips inform Gallagher’s newest novel Daybreak, which follows U.S. Army veterans Luke Paxton and Han Lee’s arrival in the weeks after Russia’s invasion.

When we first meet the pair, they are on a bus, pitching “east through midnight black…rumbling into an alien unknown.” Paxton (Pax to all who know him) was persuaded to trade his job as a mechanic at an AutoZone in Tulsa for war in Ukraine by Lee, whose brash, unwavering confidence could crumple the front slope of any Russian tank. “Something worth fighting for,” Lee says of the war. “You know how fucking rare that is?”

Pax, on the other hand, is much less certain. One Ukrainian after another scratches their chin at his being in their country while it is under attack. “Why are you here?” The question comes at him from all sides, as ceaseless as machine gun fire. Each time you sense the emphasis on a different word. “This is not normal behavior,” his would-be military recruiter tells him.

Part of Pax’s motivation is Svitlana Dovbush, a Ukrainian he once loved and lost during his time in the military and who he hopes to now locate. However, he is also searching for the sort of purpose and meaning that he had only found before in the military. War is a force that gives us meaning. “It baited those,” Gallagher writes, “who survived it, seduced them, deluded them, trailing like an old loyal dog until of course you turned around and said, Come on, boy.”

Gallagher has created a fully formed character in Pax, but one sees a lot of America in him—spiritually and morally wounded by our Forever Wars, causeless, adrift, desperate to be of some help. “I might be broken,” Pax says, “but I’m not useless.” This desire to be of service is the novel’s beating heart. That impulse which led him to volunteer for the American armed forces may have resulted in his brokenness, but in Ukraine, with the world’s attention on it, he is given another chance. “It was thrill. It was fear. More than anything, Pax felt like himself again.”

In Daybreak, Gallagher provides readers with a nuanced, polyphonic, tender, and violent portrait of a country and its people rallying together to repel one of the world’s bullies for the sake of democracy, normalcy, and their very existences—ideals that Americans have historically gone to the mat for.

However, since those early months of the war, our attention and support for Ukraine has waned. In the age of polarization and calcification, Ukraine’s existential fight against a tyrannical aggressor has become yet another wedge issue in America. But in Daybreak, through multiple points of view, Gallagher puts into human drama what the stakes are for the free world. “This fight belongs to us all,” one of the novel’s Ukrainian characters says. “It will find us all.”

Julian Zabalbeascoa: Since Russia’s invasion, you have traveled to Ukraine three times, as both a journalist and a volunteer. How was it that Luke Paxton’s story came to be the one you’d tell in fiction about those experiences? 

Matt Gallagher: I think that with each trip to Ukraine I became aware that there were interesting stories there I couldn’t necessarily source, interesting people I was meeting who wouldn’t go on the record, maybe just anecdotes being told that were second or third hand, that all carried the right ingredients for good fiction. So into the notebook they went for further contemplation and complication.

Luke Paxton and Han Lee in Daybreak are troubled men in some ways. They haven’t been able to shake Afghanistan. They haven’t been great at being contributing members to society in the States. But they still want to do some good, right? They still want to help people in a meaningful way. And you know, that’s most people in everyday life. Not necessarily literary life, where a lot of folks are afraid to go outside and get their hands dirty, but real, everyday life. They’re messed up in some ways. But they’re not bad. They’re not evil. They’ve done decent things and they’ve made mistakes, too. They regret them. They’re going to continue to make mistakes and have regrets. They possess emotional and moral nuance that’s very much not easy, nor tidy.

So I think the fashioning of these characters was deeply rooted in encountering their real-world counterparts, especially during that first trip into Ukraine when we went as volunteers. We arrived in late February 2022, alongside the first wave of international legionnaires. Many were rough and tumble personalities. Once we got [to Lviv] we kind of went off and did our own thing, working with Ukrainian civilians, were kind of in our own little silo, but even as we were busy with that I couldn’t help but think of the Americans and Brits we met on the bus ride in, wondering what they were doing, how quickly they were getting to Kyiv to participate in the fight there. I’m sure you’ve read many of those early dispatches of the international fighters. It was chaos. They were handed a rifle, maybe pointed in a direction with a team of five or six, and told to go kill Russians. The organization that we see now from the international fighters and units was a long way away.

I did not go to Ukraine with the intent to write a novel, I went to help some people in a small but hopefully direct and meaningful way. At the same time, I’m a writer. It’s what I do, how I think about and experience the world. Everything I saw or did, every conversation, notes were being taken in my head, whether I was conscious of them or not.

. . . .

JZ: To that, a recent Gallup poll has 43% of Americans thinking the U.S. should help end the war early, even if this means ceding territory to the vicious aggressor. Which is interesting because, as you say, the war isn’t impacting us in any material way. Money isn’t being taken out of our wallets, money that could be put to work here in America, to support Ukraine. This is deficit spending. Do you think that lack of support is as simple as political identity? 55% of Republicans and 49% of independents feel this way, while only 19% of Democrats do. What else might contribute to it? 

MG: I think that’s a huge aspect of it. When we first came back in March 2022, there was a rare kind of bipartisan support. People that I’ve had a real hard time talking politics with over the past couple of years reached out and were very supportive. That didn’t last, maybe couldn’t last. Political tribalism is real and potent right now.

It’s strange, because here’s a conflict where America’s doing something right by and large, in my estimation, and a lot of Americans seem to not know how to handle that. On one hand, I get it. I’ve held a rifle in an Iraqi living room apologizing for raiding the wrong house. I know what wrong looks like. I’ve been part of it. This, though?  It requires some intellectual humility to accept that this is completely different. And also just listening to actual Ukrainians.

Being there in the east as a journalist, and having native Russian speakers come out of their houses to thank us for being there, even thanking our translator, because he’s from western Ukraine … it was fundamentally different than my experience in Iraq, where the only people genuinely glad for our presence tended to be the wealthy tribal sheiks cashing in on the nation-building contracts. So much of my journalism is trying to convey the human experience of life over there for people back here. And I’m pretty good at it, I think. Yet there’s just such a reflexive anti-Americanism ingrained in aspects of our culture and society, I can tell that sometimes even my best efforts are absolutely futile.

Life is more complicated than blanket reflexes. Interventionism isn’t inherently good or bad. Isolationism isn’t inherently good or bad. We have to take things on a case-by-case basis, because the world is too complicated to do anything else.

JZ: I’m going to quote Phil Klay again. This past November, being interviewed by The New York Times, he said, “Ukraine represents not a good war—because the closer you get to war, the more obvious it is that a phrase like ‘a good war’ has no valid meaning—but rather a necessary war. The clear moral case for Ukraine is about as straightforward a case of a just defense against a vicious aggressor as you could find.” 

MG: Here’s an anecdote I keep returning to. Our second trip, October 2022, we ended up outside of Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, driving through a village that had been liberated maybe a couple months prior. It’s about ten miles from the Russian border, we could hear artillery in the near-distance, and people are just—the whole village has been absolutely trashed. People are rebuilding their roofs, rebuilding their lives, best they can. We came across this family. We ended up talking to the wife’s mother, as well. She was an old woman, maybe 75 or so, and kept on insisting on speaking in Ukrainian.

Even to my ears, it was clear she was not comfortable in it. But with our Lviv-born translator there, she knew it was a way to practice. She was from this area, had spent her whole life here, had always spoken Russian. She admitted that most of her life, she thought Ukrainian was a language for peasants or troublemakers from the west. But now, she was trying to learn it, trying to rely on it, because it was the best way she could think of to honor her grandson, who’d been killed fighting in the border guard early in the invasion.

One person’s small act of change, of courage, even of patriotism, perhaps, that’s no small thing at all. She’s absolutely the type of Ukrainian that Putin says wants to be Russian, wants to belong to Russia, and maybe at one point in her life, she did. Definitely not now.

She’s just one person, sure. But she’s indicative, I think, of something that’s happening across the country. It’s something I put in at the dinner party scene in Daybreak. One of the characters says, “If we weren’t a real country before, we are now.” That’s very real. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

“Warning” by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves,
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain,
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens,
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat,
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go,
Or only bread and pickle for a week,
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry,
And pay our rent and not swear in the street,
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

When PG read this, he was reminded of his favorite college professor, a woman who was beyond a certain age. Her name was Charlotte Lee. She loved the poet, Theodore Roethke, and had written several academic papers about his work, including one of his best-known poems, “Old Lady’s Winter Words.”

“Miss Lee,” not “Doctor Lee,” called PG into her office after class in late spring of his senior year. She asked him what he was going to do after he graduated. He meandered a bit about this and that before she stopped him.

“You need to get a job,” Miss Lee said sternly. She wrote down the address of the student placement office and ordered him to leave her office and immediately march down to student placement and tell them he needed a job.

Of course, PG did as Miss Lee had ordered. He had a job offer the day after his first interview, and quickly discovered he liked working more than he had liked most of his college classes (Miss Lee’s excluded) and off he went.

Test 2

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

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.–That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operations till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

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

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

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

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

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

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

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.

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

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these States:

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

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

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

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

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

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging war against us.

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

He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow-citizens, taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

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

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

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

We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour.

JOHN HANCOCK.

New Hampshire,
Josiah Bartlett,
Wm. Whipple,
Matthew Thornton;

Massachusetts Bay,
Saml. Adams,
John Adams,
Robt. Treat Pain,
Elbridge Gerry;

Rhode Island, etc.,
Step. Hopkins
William Ellery;

Delaware,
Caesar Rodney,
Geo. Read,
Tho. M’Kean;

Connecticut,
Roger Sherman,
Saml. Huntington,
Wm. Williams,
Oliver Wolcott;

Maryland,
Samuel Chase,
Wm. Paca,
Thos. Stone,
Charles Carroll,of Carrolton;

New York,
Wm. Floyd,
Phil Livingston,
Frans. Lewis,
Lewis Morris;

Virginia,
George Wythe,
Richard Henry Lee,
Thos. Jefferson,
Benja. Harrison,
Thos. Nelson, jr.,
Francis Lighfoot Lee,
Carter Braxton;

New Jersey,
Richd. Stockton,
Jno. Witherspoon,
Fras. Hopkinson,
John Hart,
Abra. Clark;

North Carolina,
Wm. Hooper,
Joseph Hewes,
John Penn;

Pennsylvania,
Robt. Morris,
Benjamin Rush,
Benja. Franklin,
John Morton,
Geo. Clymer,
Jas. Smith,
Geo. Taylor,
James Wilson,
Geo. Ross;

South Carolina,
Edward Rutledge,
Thos. Heyward, junr.,
Thomas Lynch, junr.,
Arthur Middleton;

 Georgia,

Button Gwinnett,
Lyman Hall,
Geo. Walton.

IN CONGRESS,

January 18, 1777.

Ordered,

That an authenticated copy of the Declaration of Independence, with the names of the Members of Congress subscribing the same, be sent to each of the United States, and that they be desired to have the same put on record.

JOHN HANCOCK,
President.

By Order of Congress,
Attest, CHAS. THOMSON, Secy.

A true copy,
JOHN HANCOCK,Presidt.

PG Note

PG is having problems getting into The Passive Voice to add new posts. He’s working on the problem.

Friday Night Update: Despite a variety of strategies, no joy on TPV. More extreme approaches will be taken tomorrow.

What’s a Conlanger?

From Conlanger.org:

A “conlanger” is someone who creates or constructs languages or “conlangs.” Conlangs come in a wide variety although these can be divided primarily into three general areas: auxlangs or international auxiliary languages like Esperanto, engelangs or engineered languages like Ithkuil and Lojban, and artlangs or artistic languages like Sindarin or Klingon. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and these are simply some of the more widely-known examples of these respective types of conlangs. What is fascinating is the number of people engaged in language creation.

Link to the rest at Conlanger.org

From The Conlang Manifesto:

To me, it seems odd to have to defend language creation, and yet it’s been repeatedly attacked, mainly by linguists (which is the most baffling part about the whole business), and decried as a form of frivolity which should not and cannot be taken seriously by anyone, or even wicked (I’ve heard it). To such claims, I say the following things.

I would hope that many would agree that doing something that neither harms the doer nor anyone else is not wrong. That said, creating languages, to my knowledge, has never resulted in the harming of another human being, or of the language creator (at least, I’ve heard of no reports of a language creator driven insane. Though I should note that Esperantists were persecuted in Germany during the Holocaust, along with just about everyone else). Like any other hobby or activity, the only requirement is a requirement of time, and time management has nothing to do with the activity itself, but only with the one performing it. Thus, it can’t be argued that language creation is “a waste of time”, it can only be argued that certain people are wasters of time—how they do it is irrelevant.

The other argument—whether language creation can be taken seriously—is a bit stickier. The main problem I see that people have with language creation is that it’s “weird”—that is, not usual. As such, anything that is not usual will be regarded with apprehension initially; it’s as old as Copernicus—even older than that. If you point this out to the arguer, they will usually counter with the argument that language creation is useless, and therefore, frivolous. And, looking only at the utilitarian end of it, if the creator isn’t going to use their language for communication, and since language can be viewed only as a means of communication, language creation is pretty useless.

But is this all language is: A method of communication? If so, what is poetry? what is literature? What possible use could James Joyce’s Ulysses have? I suppose if you were on a desert island and needed to smash crabs, it would do the trick—it’s pretty thick, after all. But beyond that? According to them, it would have no use. And why stop there? What good do paintings do anyone? They just sit there, after all, doing nothing for nobody. And along with this goes any other form of visual art: Pottery, jewelry, tapestry, mosaic, sculpture, animation… And what about architecture? You just need a roof over your head; no reason it needs to look fancy. So out the window it goes, too. And music?! My word! There’s not even any functional value in music! So let’s burn all our musical instruments and albums: Goodbye Tchaikovsky, bye-bye Beatles, see ya’ Enya, aloha Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (that’s the “aloha” that means “goodbye”, not “hello”). Pretty soon what you’re left with is a world without art.

At this point, the argument should come to an end. The rigor and usefulness of art is an argument that has been argued many times by many people much more articulate than I, and by now (I certainly hope), the whole world should have figured out that art really does pull its weight on Earth. So, let’s continue from here. Any university worth its salt is going to have an art department. Millions of people every year study useless, frivolous art. So why not language creation? Nearly every serious subject has an art associated with it that’s also studied: Literature has poetry and prose; computer science has computer graphics and video games (another underappreciated form of art); functional architecture has artistic architecture; art history has art; music theory has music. If you take this to its natural conclusion, is not language creation the art most closely associated with linguistics?

This is particularly why I find the condemnation of language creation by linguists so befuddling. Aside from art, though, language creation has other uses. First, creating a language allows one to better understand language itself. One who creates an ergative language is far more likely to understand ergativity in natural languages than one who does not, I say. What’s more, this same understanding can ease foreign language learning considerably—not to mention linguistics itself. More importantly, it gets one thinking about the multifariousness and beauty of language, and one who can appreciate this is less likely to misunderstand, deprecate and stereotype those speaking other languages, which is one of the main causes of racism and ethnocentrism. In short, language creation is one of the keys to social harmony and world peace. If one is going to take anything seriously, certainly world peace is it, and if so, shouldn’t language creation be given some credit too?

Link to the rest at Conlang Manifesto

PG thanks regular commenter K. for sending him into Conlang World.

He loves finding small groups of people who are highly enthusiastic about something 99% of the world has never heard about, let alone recognized as an occupation/pastime.

Dune and the Delicate Art of Making Fictional Languages

From The New Yorker:

The trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part Two” features the boy prophet Paul Atreides, played by Timothée Chalamet, yelling something foreign and uninterpretable to a horde of desert people. We see Chalamet as the embodiment of charismatic fury: every facial muscle clenched in tension, his voice strained and throaty and commanding. A line at the bottom of the screen translates: “Long live the fighters!”

The scene fills barely a few seconds in a three-minute trailer, yet it establishes the emotional tone of the film and captures the messianic fervor that drives its plot. It also signals the depth of Villeneuve’s world-building. Part of what made his first excursion into the “Dune” universe such an experiential feast was its vivid, immersive quality, combining monumental architectural design with atmospheric soundscapes and ethereal costuming. We could see a few remnants of our world (remember the bit with the bagpipes?), but the over-all effect was transportive, as if the camera were not a piece of equipment but a cyborgian eye live-streaming from a far-flung alien civilization. Chalamet’s strange tongue is part of the franchise’s meticulous set dressing. It’s not gibberish, but part of an intricate linguistic system that was devised for Villeneuve’s adaptations.

Engineered languages such as the one Chalamet speaks represent a new benchmark in imaginative fiction. Twenty years ago, viewers would have struggled to name franchises other than “Star Trek” or “The Lord of the Rings” that bothered to invent new languages. Today, with the budgets of the biggest films and series rivalling the G.D.P.s of small island nations, constructed languages, or conlangs, are becoming a norm, if not an implicit requirement. Breeze through entertainment from the past decade or so, and you’ll find lingos designed for Paleolithic peoples (“Alpha”), spell-casting witches (“Penny Dreadful”), post-apocalyptic survivors (“Into the Badlands”), Superman’s home planet of Krypton (“Man of Steel”), a cross-species alien alliance (“Halo”), time-travelling preteens (“Paper Girls”), the Munja’kin tribe of Oz (“Emerald City”), and Santa Claus and his elves (“The Christmas Chronicles” and its sequel).

A well-executed conlang can bolster a film’s appearance of authenticity. It can deepen the scenic absorption that has long been an obsession for creators and fans of speculative genres such as science fiction and fantasy. But the entertainment industry’s fixation with crafting super-realistic realms can also be distracting. Speculative fiction works by melding the familiar with the unrecognizable. It makes trenchant provocations not by creating the most believably alien worlds possible but by interweaving them with strands from our own.

Hollywood’s current obsession with constructed languages arguably started with “The Lord of the Rings” film adaptations of the early two-thousands. J. R. R. Tolkien was a professor of Old English at Oxford and a lifelong conlanger, and he famously created the tongues of Middle-earth long before writing the books. “The invention of languages is the foundation,” he once wrote. “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.” The trilogy’s success showed the power of conlangs to create engrossing alternate realities, inspiring filmmakers to seek out skilled language creators.

The most influential conlanger working today is David J. Peterson. Born in Long Beach, California, Peterson started to create languages in 2000, while he was a sophomore at U.C. Berkeley. His early projects were amusing experiments: X, a language that could only be written; Sheli, which included only sounds that he liked and was initially unpronounceable; and Zhyler, which he created because he enjoyed Turkish and which, in honor of the Heinz Company, had fifty-seven noun cases. In 2005, he graduated with a master’s degree in linguistics from U.C. San Diego. Two years later, he co-founded the Language Creation Society with nine other conlangers.

Peterson’s big break came in 2009, when HBO reached out to the Language Creation Society with a strange request. They were creating a television show (which would turn out to be “Game of Thrones”) and wanted someone to develop a language (which would emerge as Dothraki). Nothing like this had ever happened before, so the society organized a competition that would be judged by the show’s producers. After signing a nondisclosure agreement, applicants were invited to send in a phonetic breakdown of Dothraki, a romanized transcription system, six to eight lines of translated text, and any additional notes or translations.

Peterson had an edge over his competitors: unemployment. For two and a half weeks, he worked eighteen-hour days, assembling a hundred and eighty pages of material. He made it to the second round and eventually produced more than three hundred pages in Dothraki. He landed the job and was later invited to develop five more languages for the series, including High Valyrian, which proved especially popular among fans. In 2017, a High Valyrian course launched on the language-learning app Duolingo; at one point in 2023, more than nine hundred thousand people had signed up as active users.

Along with James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009), which appeared in theatres soon after Peterson was hired by HBO, the first season of “Game of Thrones” demonstrated that audiences not only tolerated fictional languages—they loved them. What had previously been a nerdy pastime transformed into a standard of fantasy filmmaking. Peterson became the go-to language wizard. He has since been hired to create some fifty other conlangs, including languages for the Dark Elves in “Thor: The Dark World” (2013), for the Grounders in the television show “The 100” (2014-20), and for the desert-dwelling Fremen in the two “Dune” movies. When Chalamet, as Paul Atreides, calls to his combatants, he does so in words devised by Peterson and his wife and fellow-conlanger, Jessie. (Peterson worked alone for the first “Dune” film, and collaborated with her on the second.)

Peterson’s success stems from a commitment to naturalism. He knows languages well; he has studied more than twenty, including Swahili, Middle Egyptian, and Esperanto, and seems to have an endless mental Rolodex of the lexical, grammatical, and phonological patterns found around the world. Yet, when an interviewer asked him how, when assembling a new conlang, he decides “which aspects of a language to borrow from and mimic” (Greek suffixes? Mongolian tenses? Japanese particles?), he rejected the premise. “If you just ripped out a structure from one language and put it in your own, the result would be inauthentic,” he replied.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Why large language models aren’t headed toward humanlike understanding

From Science News:

Apart from the northward advance of killer bees in the 1980s, nothing has struck as much fear into the hearts of headline writers as the ascent of artificial intelligence.

Ever since the computer Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, humans have faced the prospect that their supremacy over machines is merely temporary. Back then, though, it was easy to show that AI failed miserably in many realms of human expertise, from diagnosing disease to transcribing speech.

But then about a decade ago or so, computer brains — known as neural networks — received an IQ boost from a new approach called deep learning. Suddenly computers approached human ability at identifying images, reading signs and enhancing photographs — not to mention converting speech to text as well as most typists.

Those abilities had their limits. For one thing, even apparently successful deep learning neural networks were easy to trick. A few small stickers strategically placed on a stop sign made an AI computer think the sign said “Speed Limit 80,” for example. And those smart computers needed to be extensively trained on a task by viewing numerous examples of what they should be looking for. So deep learning produced excellent results for narrowly focused jobs but couldn’t adapt that expertise very well to other arenas. You would not (or shouldn’t) have hired it to write a magazine column for you, for instance.

But AI’s latest incarnations have begun to threaten job security not only for writers but also a lot of other professionals.

“Now we’re in a new era of AI,” says computer scientist Melanie Mitchell, an artificial intelligence expert at the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. “We’re beyond the deep learning revolution of the 2010s, and we’re now in the era of generative AI of the 2020s.”

Generative AI systems can produce things that had long seemed safely within the province of human creative ability. AI systems can now answer questions with seemingly human linguistic skill and knowledge, write poems and articles and legal briefs, produce publication quality artwork, and even create videos on demand of all sorts of things you might want to describe.

. . . .

“These things seem really smart,” Mitchell said this month in Denver at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

. . . .

At the heart of the debate is whether LLMs actually understand what they are saying and doing, rather than just seeming to. Some researchers have suggested that LLMs do understand, can reason like people (big deal) or even attain a form of consciousness. But Mitchell and others insist that LLMs do not (yet) really understand the world (at least not in any sort of sense that corresponds to human understanding).

“What’s really remarkable about people, I think, is that we can abstract our concepts to new situations via analogy and metaphor.”Melanie Mitchell

In a new paper posted online at arXiv.org, Mitchell and coauthor Martha Lewis of the University of Bristol in England show that LLMs still do not match humans in the ability to adapt a skill to new circumstances. Consider this letter-string problem: You start with abcd and the next string is abce. If you start with ijkl, what string should come next?

Humans almost always say the second string should end with m. And so do LLMs. They have, after all, been well trained on the English alphabet.

. . . .

“While humans exhibit high performance on both the original and counterfactual problems, the performance of all GPT models we tested degrades on the counterfactual versions,” Mitchell and Lewis report in their paper.

Other similar tasks also show that LLMs do not possess the ability to perform accurately in situations not encountered in their training. And therefore, Mitchell insists, they do not exhibit what humans would regard as “understanding” of the world.

“Being reliable and doing the right thing in a new situation is, in my mind, the core of what understanding actually means,” Mitchell said at the AAAS meeting.

Human understanding, she says, is based on “concepts” — basically mental models of things like categories, situations and events. Concepts allow people to infer cause and effect and to predict the probable results of different actions — even in circumstances not previously encountered.

“What’s really remarkable about people, I think, is that we can abstract our concepts to new situations via analogy and metaphor,” Mitchell said.

She does not deny that AI might someday reach a similar level of intelligent understanding. But machine understanding may turn out to be different from human understanding. Nobody knows what sort of technology might achieve that understanding and what the nature of such understanding might be.

If it does turn out to be anything like human understanding, it will probably not be based on LLMs.

Link to the rest at Science News and thanks to F. for the tip.

The Art Of The Novella

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve been trying to figure out how to teach an in-person novella class for years now, but I knew it would be both time and cost prohibitive. I love novellas and I love discussing them and I love reading them and writing them and…

We tried a novella “workshop” kinda sorta after the in-person workshops. I would tell the attendees a short-hand way of doing a novella in the same world they’d been writing in, and then they could submit the finished novella few weeks later.

I don’t think that was satisfying for them. It certainly wasn’t for me. It felt like a Band Aid. Teaching a class in-person would be tough, because I figure it would take a minimum of two weeks. We don’t have a cheap place for people to stay here in Las Vegas, and even if we did, the kind of teaching and writing wouldn’t really blend.

Finally, I decided on a faux in-person workshop. I’m going to do the workshop I planned, only spread over 9 weeks, not counting the writing. After all the learning, the writing starts. Participants turn in their novellas and I will read them. (Note: I will not edit them. People who’ve been to my workshops know that I don’t edit. I read for story.)

I’m very excited about this. More importantly, I think it’ll work.

I planned a leisurely announcement, but success got in the way. I just found out that the novella class that focuses on science fiction is more than half full, and that was only with it being announced to Dean’s people. I want you all to have a chance to get into that one, so I’m announcing now.

I mentioned a science fiction workshop. Yep, there is one, and one for mystery, romance, and fantasy as well.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books.

Sharpen the details

From Nathan Bransford:

Now then. Time for the Page Critique. First I’ll present the page without comment, then I’ll offer my thoughts and a redline. If you choose to offer your own thoughts, please be polite. We aim to be positive and helpful.

Random numbers were generated, and thanks to CBwriter, whose page is below:

Title: Come As You Are
Genre: Bookclub psychological thriller
(pls note British English!)

Marc took the narrow turning for Wigpool passing a warning sign for wild boar. The Forest of Dean was nothing like the well-behaved woodland that bordered his garden in Surrey. A damp, earthy smell invaded the car as he pictured a family of boar, all bristles and tusks, running through the undergrowth, gathering speed and then erupting in front of him to total his new 4×4.

He had wanted to bring his wife to the reunion, but Penny had been adamant: no partners. There was something unsettling about the prospect of spending the weekend with his ex-housemates without the comforting buffer of his spouse. He tried to remember the last time he’d slept alone and couldn’t. Night-time in the forest would bring the kind of blackness you could slice with a knife. No comforting car headlights or friendly glow of lights from neighbouring houses. He would have to keep his bedroom window open because of the heatwave which meant he would be kept awake by foxes, boar, and who knew what else, making noises indistinguishable from a murder in progress. Then a bat would fly in.

Surrey bats wouldn’t do that, but he was certain anything was possible in this borderland between England and Wales.

He glanced at the sat nav. The car was a red arrow on an empty screen, the metalled track he was driving along apparently unknown to modern mapping systems. Hard to believe there was a “pretty cottage” with “an enormous lake” nearby.

I like that this page immediately situates us in a particular place and there’s a strong voice to guide us through the opening. The reference to animals making scary noises in the forest gives a tantalizing taste (presumably) of what’s to come in a psychological thriller. I enjoyed the distinction between Surrey and forest bats, which showed some fun personality.

My concern with this opening is that it feels a bit choppier than it needs to because information and context is dribbled out rather than just situating us cleanly the first time a concept is described. We first have a car, then it’s specified that it’s a “new 4×4.” We hear about “the” reunion, then eventually find out it’s with ex-housemates, then much later on that it’s at a pretty cottage on the border between England and Wales. I’m still not sure who Penny is.

There’s not much to be gained by forcing the reader to piece everything together. Err on the side of being clear the first time around.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Nathan continues his post with a redline of the page.

AI is coming for your audiobooks. You’re right to be worried.

From The Washington Post:

Something creepy this way comes — and its name is digital narration. Having invaded practically every other sphere of our lives, artificial intelligence (AI) has come for literary listeners. You can now listen to audiobooks voiced by computer-generated versions of professional narrators’ voices. You’re right to feel repulsed.

“Mary,” for instance, a voice created by the engineers at Google, is a generic female; there’s also “Archie,” who sounds British, and “Santiago,” who speaks Spanish, and 40-plus other personas who want to read to you. Apple Books uses the voices of five anonymous professional narrators in what will no doubt be a growing stable: “Madison,” “Jackson” and “Warren,” covering fiction in various genres; and “Helena” and “Mitchell,” taking on nonfiction and self-development.

I have listened to thousands of hours of audiobooks (it’s my job), so perhaps it’s not a surprise that I sense the wrongness of AI voices. Capturing and conveying the meaning and sound of a book is a special skill that requires talent and soul. I can’t imagine “Archie,” for instance, understanding, much less expressing, the depth of character of say, David Copperfield. But here we are at a strange crossroads in the audiobooks world: Major publishers are investing heavily in celebrity narrators — Meryl Streep reading Ann Patchett’s “Tom Lake,” Claire Danes reading “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a full cast of Hollywood actors (Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, Don Cheadle and more) on “Lincoln in the Bardo,” to name a few. Will we reach a point where we must choose between Meryl Streep and a bot?

The main issue is, naturally, money. The use of disembodied entities saves time and spares audiobook producers the problems of dealing with human beings — chief among them, their desire to be paid. This may explain why so many self-published books are narrated by “Madison” and her squad of readers. Audible insists that every audiobook it sells must have been narrated by a human. (Audible is a subsidiary of Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) Major publishing houses say the same. But how long until they see the economic benefits of AI?

Jason Culp, an actor and award-winning narrator who has been recording audiobooks for more than a quarter of a century, knows how much goes into a production. A 10-hour audiobook, he says, takes a narrator something like four or five days, with a couple of additional hours for editing mop-up. For each finished hour of audio, narrators make about $225 — somewhat more for the big names — and editors, about $100. Beyond that, producers must pay a percentage to SAG-AFTRA, the narrators’ union. There are other production costs too, of course, but you can see how eliminating the human narrator appeals to the business mind.

Apple’s narrators are cloned from the voices of professionals who have licensed the rights to their voices. Their identities are secret, but speculation abounds. It’s a touchy subject, and you can see why. Whether to sell the rights to one’s voice is an agonizing decision for a professional narrator. The money offered amounts to something like what a midrange narrator makes in four years; on the other hand, agreeing to the deal seems to many to be a betrayal of the profession, one that would risk alienating one’s peers.

According to Culp, narrators are alarmed by the advent of AI narration “as, naturally, it might mean less work for living, breathing narrators in the future. We might not know the circumstances under which a narrator might take this step, but generally there is a lot of solidarity within the community about encouraging narrators not to do it. As well, our union is keeping a close eye on companies that might be using underhanded tactics to ‘obtain’ narrators’ voices in works that they have produced.”

Even though the notion makes my skin crawl, I listened to Madison’s narration of “The New Neighbor” by Kamaryn Kelsey, the author of almost 60 self-published books (Apple, 1½ hours). This is the first installment in a series of 19 detective stories starring female private investigator Pary Barry. The plot is entertaining enough, and Madison is a slick operator, in the sense that you can believe that she’s human — for about five minutes.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG asks, “When you listen to an audiobook, are you focusing on the performance of the narrator or the book itself? Do you forget about the narrator’s voice after a few pages?”

While the human narrator is certainly capable creating a better or worse “performance,” the narrator’s first obligation is not to interfere with the listener’s enjoyment of the book.

PG wonders if someone’s appreciation of a particular human performer may be a little like wine-tasting. Some people have a palate that always discriminates between a good or bad wine, for others, unless they have a side-by-side comparison, are fine with the equivalent of a house wine.

PG suggests that a very large portion of the present and future listeners to audiobooks will be perfectly happy with the house wine.

(Note: Although PG has not tasted wine for several decades, he does recall the various business lunch/dinner performances of the sommelier carefully uncorking a bottle, presenting the cork for a sniff test by whichever businessperson was paying for the meal and drinks, pouring a bit into a wineglass for the host to swirl around, sniff, then swallow delicately, look into the air, then communicate approval. On more than one occasion, a host who was also a good friend would admit he had no idea what the difference in taste was between an expensive wine and the house wine. To indicate how long it’s been since PG has witnessed this ceremony, he doesn’t ever recall the presence of a business hostess. No, those were not the good old days for PG. He prefers the present.)

OpenAI: ‘The New York Times Paid Someone to Hack Us’

From Torrent Freak:

OpenAI accuses The New York Times of paying someone to hack OpenAI’s products. This was allegedly done to gather evidence for the copyright infringement complaint the newspaper filed late last year. This lawsuit fails to meet The Times’ “famously rigorous journalistic standards,” the defense argues, asking the New York federal court to dismiss it in part.

In recent months, rightsholders of all ilks have filed lawsuits against companies that develop AI models.

The list includes record labels, individual authors, visual artists, and more recently the New York Times. These rightsholders all object to the presumed use of their work without proper compensation.

A few hours ago, OpenAI responded to The New York Times complaint, asking the federal court to dismiss several key claims. Not just that, the defendants fire back with some rather damning allegations of their own.

OpenAI’s motion directly challenges the Times’s journalistic values, putting the company’s truthfulness in doubt. The notion that ChatGPT can be used as a substitute for a newspaper subscription is overblown, they counter.

. . . .

“In the real world, people do not use ChatGPT or any other OpenAI product for that purpose. Nor could they. In the ordinary course, one cannot use ChatGPT to serve up Times articles at will,” the motion to dismiss reads.

‘NYT Paid Someone to Hack OpenAI’?

In its complaint, the Times did show evidence that OpenAI’s GPT-4 model was able to supposedly generate several paragraphs that matched content from its articles. However, that is not the full truth, OpenAI notes, suggesting that the newspaper crossed a line by hacking OpenAI products.

“The allegations in the Times’s complaint do not meet its famously rigorous journalistic standards. The truth, which will come out in the course of this case, is that the Times paid someone to hack OpenAI’s products,” the motion to dismiss explains.nyt hacked

OpenAI believes that it took tens of thousands of attempts to get ChatGPT to produce the controversial output that’s the basis of this lawsuit. This is not how normal people interact with its service, it notes.

It also shared some additional details on how this alleged ‘hack’ was carried out by this third-party.

“They were able to do so only by targeting and exploiting a bug […] by using deceptive prompts that blatantly violate OpenAI’s terms of use. And even then, they had to feed the tool portions of the very articles they sought to elicit verbatim passages of, virtually all of which already appear on multiple public websites.”

Link to the rest at Torrent Freak

PG notes that allegations made in lawsuits may or may not be true. Only when a court issues a final verdict can anyone know what was true and provable and what was not.

Welcome to the Era of BadGPTs

From The Wall Street Journal:

A new crop of nefarious chatbots with names like “BadGPT” and “FraudGPT” are springing up on the darkest corners of the web, as cybercriminals look to tap the same artificial intelligence behind OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

Just as some office workers use ChatGPT to write better emails, hackers are using manipulated versions of AI chatbots to turbocharge their phishing emails. They can use chatbots—some also freely-available on the open internet—to create fake websites, write malware and tailor messages to better impersonate executives and other trusted entities.

Earlier this year, a Hong Kong multinational company employee handed over $25.5 million to an attacker who posed as the company’s chief financial officer on an AI-generated deepfake conference call, the South China Morning Post reported, citing Hong Kong police. Chief information officers and cybersecurity leaders, already accustomed to a growing spate of cyberattacks, say they are on high alert for an uptick in more sophisticated phishing emails and deepfakes.

Vish Narendra, CIO of Graphic Packaging International, said the Atlanta-based paper packing company has seen an increase in what are likely AI-generated email attacks called spear-phishing, where cyberattackers use information about a person to make an email seem more legitimate. Public companies in the spotlight are even more susceptible to contextualized spear-phishing, he said.

Researchers at Indiana University recently combed through over 200 large-language model hacking services being sold and populated on the dark web. The first service appeared in early 2023—a few months after the public release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022.

Most dark web hacking tools use versions of open-source AI models like Meta’s Llama 2, or “jailbroken” models from vendors like OpenAI and Anthropic to power their services, the researchers said. Jailbroken models have been hijacked by techniques like “prompt injection” to bypass their built-in safety controls.

Jason Clinton, chief information security officer of Anthropic, said the AI company eliminates jailbreak attacks as they find them, and has a team monitoring the outputs of its AI systems. Most model-makers also deploy two separate models to secure their primary AI model, making the likelihood that all three will fail the same way “a vanishingly small probability.”

Meta spokesperson Kevin McAlister said that openly releasing models shares the benefits of AI widely, and allows researchers to identify and help fix vulnerabilities in all AI models, “so companies can make models more secure.”

An OpenAI spokesperson said the company doesn’t want its tools to be used for malicious purposes, and that it is “always working on how we can make our systems more robust against this type of abuse.”

Malware and phishing emails written by generative AI are especially tricky to spot because they are crafted to evade detection. Attackers can teach a model to write stealthy malware by training it with detection techniques gleaned from cybersecurity defense software, said Avivah Litan, a generative AI and cybersecurity analyst at Gartner.

Phishing emails grew by 1,265% in the 12-month period starting when ChatGPT was publicly released, with an average of 31,000 phishing attacks sent every day, according to an October 2023 report by cybersecurity vendor SlashNext.

“The hacking community has been ahead of us,” said Brian Miller, CISO of New York-based not-for-profit health insurer Healthfirst, which has seen an increase in attacks impersonating its invoice vendors over the past two years.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Artificial Intelligence and the Business of Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

A few weeks ago, my publisher put up a post on the company’s private Facebook page. The small press had received a manuscript submission that seemed unusual compared to the hundreds of others they sort through each week. Although the manuscript was remarkably tidy in terms of compliance with grammar and style, the author’s word choices were odd in places, almost but not quite appropriate for their context. Much of the characters’ dialogue lacked emotion. Even the query letter that accompanied the submission felt somewhat strained.

On a hunch, the acquisitions editor ran a portion of the manuscript through an AI content detector and discovered that the book had been produced by an AI writing assistant. After Googling the name of the “author,” it was discovered that this person had already published a handful AI-generated novels, most of which were available for purchase on Amazon. As far as anyone could tell, none of the books’ listings disclosed that they had not been written by the person whose name appeared on their covers but had instead been created by a computer.

Several days later, I came across a post on the page of a Facebook writers’ group. The poster, who works for a children’s book publisher, was lamenting that many of the submissions they had recently received had been AI-generated. “Now is a great time to submit your book ideas to us,” she wrote. “We’re looking for stories written by real people.”

These posts and others like them have launched lengthy discussions among authors, writers, and editors and have raised a lot of questions about AI and the future of writing and publishing.

Currently, there is no definitive answer as to who owns the rights to AI generated content. Whether it will be the person who came up with the idea for a book or story or the owner or developer of the AI technology used to turn that idea into content still remains to be seen.

At this time, there is also no requirement that publishers disclose whether a book or other type of written material offered for sale to the public was generated by AI. Whether consumers have a right to this information has also yet to be decided.

Surprisingly, there is also no real consensus about whether putting one’s name on a piece of AI-generated writing and claiming to be its sole author is plagiarism.

Perhaps most important are the financial considerations regarding AI-generated content. Could or should an author using AI for any purpose (content generation, editing, proof reading, etc.) ever be obligated to share royalties with the owner or developer of the AI service they chose to use? If an AI-generated book or story were made into a film or other subsidiary content, who should be able to profit from it?

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Lewis Carroll’s Guide for Insomniacs

From The Wall Street Journal:

A medley of games, riddles, rhymes and number problems, “Lewis Carroll’s Guide for Insomniacs” is the perfect companion for the wee hours when sleep won’t come. Adorned with a sprightly new introduction by Gyles Brandreth, the British politician, Carroll enthusiast and European Monopoly champion, the little volume is a reissue of the 1979 compilation “Lewis Carroll’s Bedside Book.” It features the creator of “Alice in Wonderland” (1865) the way his many “child-friends” knew him, as an infinitely resourceful inventor of new entertainments, including an early form of Scrabble and a version of croquet that you can play in your head.

The author himself would have, I fear, objected to the new title. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s name in real life) was not, you see, an insomniac. Far from it. A long-time lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church College in Oxford, he actually liked doing math problems while lying in bed. Many of these he gathered in a book he called “Pillow-Problems Thought Out During Sleepless Nights” (1893), a title he soon regretted. For the second edition, he replaced “sleepless nights” with “wakeful hours” and added a new preface, insisting that “I have never suffered from ‘insomnia.’ ” If he was awake at night, it was because he had chosen to be.

Always keep yourself occupied, was Deacon Dodgson’s primary maxim, and he seems to have adhered to it the way only a clergyman can—religiously. Dodgson’s mind was, it seems, in constant overdrive. He was a mathematician, a writer and a photographer, the author of tomes on Euclid and symbolic logic as well as pamphlets proposing new rules for lawn tennis or postal money orders. No wonder that he was especially proud of having invented the “nyctograph,” a tablet with cut-out squares that allowed him to write in bed, using a specially developed alphabet of dots, without having to get up to light a candle.

In his “Pillow-Problems,” Dodgson demanded similar dedication from his readers. But it might not be everyone’s idea of fun to while away the night with stumpers like the following: “How many shapes are there for Triangles which have all their angles aliquot parts of 360°?” The short answer: 10 shapes (the long answer takes up two full pages of print). Reviewing Dodgson’s collection, the Spectator suggested that frustrated nonsleepers try something easier to calm themselves down, such as imagining “a new scheme for hanging the pictures in the National Gallery.”

By contrast, “Lewis Carroll’s Guide” is aimed at the average night owl, not the hopped-up math genius. Instead of trigonometry, it offers simpler fare: “Place twenty-four pigs in four sties so that, as you go round and round, you may always find the number in each sty nearer to ten than the number in the last.” Fans of Scrabble might guess what bird has the letters “gp” as its center. (Hint: It shows up in the title of a Rossini opera.) And they will derive much pleasure from Dodgson’s doublets, which ask you to transform one word into another through a chain of intermediates in which only one letter may be changed. A delightfully British example: “Make TEA HOT” (my solution: TEA pea pet pot HOT). Another wonderful sequence, intended to get us from APE to MAN, might reveal Dodgson’s own latent doubts about Darwinism: “are ere err ear mar.”

Sometimes no amount of nightly game-playing can keep away thoughts you don’t want to think, ghosts who drop in for a visit. Stay calm, the writer recommends: “Retain the normal courtesies of civilized society.” The book includes instructions on how to project some ghosts of your own right onto your bedroom wall: Hold your hands next to a lamp, twist your fingers this way and that, and you get your very own shadowy Cheshire Cat or March Hare. If you really must sleep, treat your stomach right. Consume no “lobster-sauce” (guaranteed to give you a restless night, of the wrong kind), and if you feel you need a drink, try the “Capital ‘Nightcap’ ”: Mix a half-pint of strong ale, a wineglass of brandy and four lumps of sugar flavored with essence of cloves. Stir and drink hot.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Once again, the publisher of a book, Notting Hill Editions (distributed by Random House) in the case of the Lewis Carroll book reviewed above, misses the opportunity to sell a great many copies to Wall Street Journal readers, who likely have more disposable personal income to spend on books and other non-essential items than the readers of any other large-circulation periodical in the U.S.

Are the traditional publishers unable to respond to great publicity/exposure in a timely manner? What makes a book’s preordained release date unalterable, immutable and invariable?

(Note to regular visitors to TPV: PG is limiting himself to blowing off steam about a particular tradpub pet peeve to a set number of instances during a given period of time. If you perceive this as a very ambiguous description of a limit, you would be correct.)

The Enduring Lessons to be Found in a Jane Austen Novel

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books:

Why has Jane Austen endured?

The question is asked so often, as the film industry magics up more adaptations, and the publishing industry burnishes our shelves with more spinoffs and retellings (have you read Death Comes to Pemberly, or seen the television adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberly? So. Good.) Austen fandom is alive and thriving, but how is it that, of all those who have put pen to paper in the past, it is Miss Austen whose works sail forward century after century like this?

When balls and carriages and courtships are long gone, why are we still turning over her pages?

Well alright, the allure of balls and delicate courtship might be easy enough to explain. When modern dating can be reduced to swipe right or left, there is something entrancing in the idea of flickering candlelight and gentlemen murmuring eloquent compliments; of the handsome Mr. Darcy becoming enraptured with Elizabeth Bennet’s sparkling eyes.

The escapism to be found in these novels and that faded world is incredibly tempting, but it is not escapism alone that holds our attention. The sparkle of the Regency world, so well described in Austen’s works is merely the window-dressing, the powdered sugar on top. The underlying substance of the novels are the characters themselves; so rich in detail, so complex in their psychology, so wholly real, that they can, and do, inhabit our modern world.

I mean, who amongst us hasn’t been trapped in conversation with a Mr. Collins? And who hasn’t been taken in by the charm and flattery of a Wickham? Not just in romance, but think of that boss who had seemed so great in the interview process, but turned out to be a horror six weeks into the job, or of that new friend who turned out to be not your friend at all.

When Elizabeth Bennet realizes she has been deceived by Wickham, she reflects back on the clues that were there for her (and us the reader) to have seen all along. She realizes how inappropriate it was for a stranger to single her out in a party and tell her his life story, and how obvious his constructed victim narrative was. She realizes that his actions never matched up with what he said he would do, or said about himself, and that he often ghosted her. She realizes how much he flattered and flirted with her, so that she never looked rationally at his behavior. In contrast, she realizes the awkward Darcy, for all that he always said the wrong thing, in the end always did the right thing.

There are no pantomime villains in Austen’s world, no cardboard cut-out character of a dashing hero. Considering the birth of psychology as a field of study was still some decades away, Austen’s grasp of reading people is a marvel, and she teaches her reader to do the same.

And how did she come by this knowledge? Her life was so limited, her experience of the world so small. Drawing rooms and visiting neighbors, the occasional trip to London or Bath. But perhaps it was her limitations that gave her such incredible insight, to delve so deeply into her subject matter, to really consider all the minute details and foibles of characters like those neighbors coming to tea, to then create such real people in her novels.

Or maybe it was necessity.

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Protecting Your Work

From Booklife:

The recent suspensions of authors from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for “copyright infringement”’ provide a powerful lesson on the importance of protecting one’s work. During this year’s BookLife Indie Author Forum, I took part in a panel discussion devoted to copyright issues. Last year, I also facilitated a roundtable discussion by the Independent Book Publishers Association, during which we talked about the hot topic of KDP suspensions for copyright infringement.

Case in point: I have an author-publisher friend who had a book on Amazon since the CreateSpace days without incident. For years, this book had been in publication, and the author owned the copyright. Several months ago, the author received an email from KDP saying that the book included copyright or trademark infringement and that their entire account would be suspended. For a publisher, this is a major problem.

The author’s inquiries about the reason and requests for further documentation and resolution were ignored. He contacted KDP on a regular basis, and, because of his persistence, the account was magically restored, and the book is live again. Compared with some of the other horror stories I’ve heard, my friend should be happy.

Another author told me he spent over $20,000 in legal fees for two books after KDP suspended his account for “copyright infringement.” His requests for clarification were ignored, and no resolution has been provided. Is anyone safe?

If you’re anything like me, you might think that the solution is simply to use publishing sites such as IngramSpark (my favorite), Draft2Digital, or Kobo, which also distribute your title to Amazon. Wrong. One author used one of these providers and shared that Amazon said that the company would have to contact the publisher, which was him, and then the distributor. When he contacted the distributor, the distributor contacted Amazon, which responded that there were no problems with the book and that it was available for purchase. When the author checked, it was not. This problem has still not been resolved.

As problematic as this is, just imagine if you had multiple books. All of your titles can be suspended if your KDP account is frozen. What happens to your royalties during this time? And if you spent money on Amazon ads, you would be paying the same entity that is holding your royalties during the suspension. If you were to continue advertising, on or outside of Amazon, you could lose money indefinitely.

The terms and conditions say Amazon can terminate without cause and keep the royalties owed, including any sales of inventory on hand. The terms only permit dispute resolution through the American Arbitration Association. Ever call the American Arbitration Association? One person was quoted an arbitration fee of $1,725 plus legal fees and an estimate of five to 10 months for resolution. Ouch! This amount is cheaper than the $20,000 I quoted earlier, but many authors cannot afford $1,725 in legal fees.

Here are some of the things that can get your KDP account suspended: using two different ISBNs for the same book format—i.e., one ISBN on IngramSpark and one on KDP (but using separate ISBNs for the paperback, hardcover, and e-book versions is fine); rights reverting to you from a previous publisher but have not been cleared by KDP; having a metadata change that implies a change in rights ownership; changing your imprint name (If you use a publishing provider such as IngramSpark, you can add an imprint name to your dashboard. This means that you need to check which one you use for each book you publish to avoid it defaulting to the wrong one); someone reports you for copyright infringement (even if the claim is not valid); or a bot error that is beyond an author’s control.

What can you do once your account is suspended? The answer varies depending on what triggered your suspension, which, according to some of those affected, is hard to get a clear answer from Amazon about. Here are a few things you can provide:

1. A screenshot of your ISBN account showing your name as owner and the imprint name with your book’s ISBN displayed

2. Approved copyright documentation from copyright.gov, not just the application (which can take up to eight months to receive)

3. Invoices and bank statements for editing costs from both your end as the publisher and from the editor’s end

4. Similar invoices and statements for cover design

Link to the rest at Booklife

How to Write Slipstream Fiction

From The Write Life:

In the ever-evolving genres of fiction, slipstream emerges as a genre that defies the traditional boundaries of storytelling, offering a unique blend of the real and the surreal.

This genre, sitting at the crossroads of speculative fiction and literary fiction, challenges our perceptions of reality, inviting readers and writers alike into a world where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

. . . .

What is slipstream fiction?

Slipstream fiction is a genre that thrives on ambiguity, challenging both writers and readers to explore the spaces between the known and the unknown. 

Let’s dive into the core aspects that define this intriguing genre.

Our slipstream fiction definition 

Slipstream fiction is notoriously difficult to pin down with a single definition, but at its core, it represents a narrative that straddles the line between the speculative and the literary, often blurring the boundaries of reality and the fantastic. 

This genre is not just about fantastical elements or futuristic settings; it’s about invoking a sense of wonder, unease, or the uncanny through stories that feel both familiar and deeply strange. 

Slipstream challenges our everyday understanding of reality, pushing readers to question what they know about the world around them. 

It is this unique blend of the real and the surreal that sets slipstream apart from more conventional genres, making it a fascinating field for writers who want to explore the depths of human experience in novel ways.

What are the key characteristics of Slipstream fiction?

Before we delve into the characteristics that define slipstream fiction, it’s important to understand that these traits work together to create a distinctive reading experience that defies easy categorization. 

Here are the seven most important characteristics of slipstream fiction:

  1. Ambiguity: Stories often leave more questions than answers, challenging readers to find their interpretations.
  2. Cognitive dissonance: The narrative may combine elements that traditionally don’t coexist, creating a sense of unease or perplexity.
  3. Surreal atmosphere: The setting or events have an otherworldly quality, even if rooted in the familiar.
  4. Emotional resonance: Despite the fantastical elements, the core of slipstream fiction lies in its ability to evoke deep emotional responses.
  5. Intellectual stimulation: These narratives encourage readers to think deeply about themes, ideas, and the nature of reality itself.
  6. Genre blending: Slipstream fiction often incorporates elements from various genres, refusing to be boxed into a single category.
  7. Metafictional elements: There’s often a self-awareness within the narrative, playing with literary conventions and reader expectations.

Keep in mind that slipstream fiction is by its nature a genre that blends elements and influences from a wide range of sources.

As a result, feel free to use or ignore whichever characteristics of slipstream depending on what your story requires.

How has Slipstream fiction evolved?

The roots of slipstream fiction can be traced back to the works of authors who dared to push the boundaries of narrative storytelling, such as Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges. 

These pioneers laid the groundwork for a genre that would evolve to encapsulate a wide range of themes, from the existential to the metaphysical. 

Over the decades, slipstream has grown from a niche interest into a significant movement that challenges the conventions of mainstream literature. 

Its evolution reflects a growing desire among writers and readers for stories that offer more than just escape or entertainment; they seek narratives that offer a mirror to the complexity and ambiguity of the human condition. 

In the contemporary literary landscape, slipstream fiction continues to evolve, influenced by both the rapidly changing world around us and the endless possibilities of the human imagination.

Slipstream fiction examples

To truly grasp the essence and diversity of slipstream fiction, examining both its foundational works and contemporary examples is invaluable. 

These stories illuminate the genre’s defining characteristics and showcase the myriad ways authors can navigate its complex terrain.

What are some classic examples of slipstream fiction?

The foundations of slipstream fiction are often traced back to the literary giants who blended the surreal with the mundane, crafting narratives that defy straightforward interpretation.

Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis

Kafka’s story a seminal work that exemplifies slipstream’s essence, with its story of a man who inexplicably transforms into an insect, challenging readers to find meaning amidst absurdity. 

Jorge Luis Borges’ collection “Ficciones

Ficciones is another slipstream cornerstone, weaving intricate tales of labyrinths, mirrors, and infinite libraries that question the nature of reality and fiction. 

These classic examples not only highlight the genre’s roots in the surreal and the speculative but also demonstrate how slipstream can offer profound insights into the human condition through its unique narrative approach.

What are examples of contemporary slipstream fiction?

Contemporary slipstream fiction continues to explore the boundaries between the real and the unreal, providing readers with immersive and thought-provoking experiences.

The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern’s tale is a dazzling foray into a magical competition between two young illusionists, set within a wandering, fantastical circus that opens only at night. Morgenstern’s novel captivates with its rich, atmospheric storytelling and intricate plot, showcasing slipstream’s potential to blend magical realism with deep emotional resonance.

Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven presents a post-apocalyptic vision that intertwines the lives of a traveling Shakespearean theater troupe with the interconnected stories of individuals surviving a global pandemic. Mandel’s work exemplifies slipstream through its exploration of art, memory, and survival in a world where reality has shifted beyond recognition.

Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell 

Mitchell’s classic stretches across time and space, linking disparate narratives from the 19th century South Pacific to a distant, post-apocalyptic future.

Cloud Atlas is a masterclass in genre blending, each story echoing themes of connection, power, and the nature of humanity, embodying the slipstream genre’s capacity for intellectual depth and speculative scope.

The diversity of contemporary slipstream fiction is proof that you have the creative freedom to add your own unique take on the genre,

Link to the rest at The Write Life

10 AI Writing Tools Everyone Should Know About

From Intuit Mailchimp:

What are AI writing tools?

AI writing software includes various tools that can create content for you. AI writing tools make content based on user input. You can use these tools to create articles, product descriptions, landing pages, blog posts, and more.

However, AI software is not meant to take over the need for human writers completely. Instead, it’s just supposed to be a way to optimize productivity and make your life easier, especially if you’re creating a high volume of content. So rather than having to go in and write everything by hand, AI writing software can do some of it for you.

. . . .

10 best AI writing tools to use

There are various AI writing tools that you can use to increase productivity for your business. But the right AI writing tool for your company depends on your specific wants and needs. Different AI writing tools serve different purposes, so make sure you choose one that is best for your company. Here are some of the best AI writing tools that we recommend:

Writesonic

Writesonic is an AI content tool that can help with the content creation process. With Writesonic, you can use artificial intelligence to generate everything from blog posts and landing pages to Facebook ad copy.

Writesonic is especially beneficial for those dealing with writer’s block. It has over 60 AI writing tools that can help you brainstorm ideas and actually generate content for you.

INK Editor

INK Editor is best for co-writing and optimizing SEO. Consistency is key with writing, and with this AI writing tool, you can ensure that your content will consistently rank high on search engines. This will help to generate traffic to your company’s website and lead to more sales.

INK Editor also provides suggestions on how to improve your SEO score while you’re writing. So if your business goal is to create high-performing content that ranks high on search engines, INK Editor is for you. You can also get a free trial of INK Editor, or upgrade to a paid version to access more features.

Anyword

Anyword is a copywriting AI software that benefits marketing and sales teams. Some AI copywriting tools create content that sounds like a robot wrote them, but with Anyword, it will always sound like a human wrote it.

If you don’t have the time or resources to produce content for your business, Anyword can help to streamline your writing process by creating high-quality content. You can create blog posts, ads, articles, and more that you can use across various marketing channels.

Jasper

Jasper is a great AI writing tool if you want to create high-quality content at a quick speed. It offers over 50 templates and supports over 25 languages, so you can tailor the tools to suit your business’s specific needs.

With Jasper, you can create personalized AI-generated content to reach your target audience. Jasper will also assist with catching grammar mistakes to ensure you’re delivering the best work possible.

Wordtune

If you need an AI writing tool that can help with grammar and writing, Wordtune is for you. Not only does Wordtune help with catching grammar mistakes, but it also goes a step further and assists with writing compelling and engaging content.

Wordtune ensures the readability of content, so it always sounds like it came from human writers and not AI software. It’s also completely cloud-based, features a thesaurus with real-time suggestions, and can easily be integrated with social media platforms and other business tools.

Grammarly

If there’s one AI writing tool you’ve heard of, it’s probably Grammarly. Grammarly is often used throughout schools and businesses, and for a good reason. With Grammarly, you can rest assured that your work will be error-free and grammatically correct.

Grammarly does everything from spell check to grammar to ensure you always deliver the best work possible. It also features a plagiarism tool, ensuring you’re only working with original content.

. . . .

Hyperwrite

Hyperwrite uses advanced natural language processing technology to create original content for your brand.

Whether you need help writing articles, blog posts, landing pages, or a combination of the three, Hyperwrite generates high-quality content quickly. There is a free version of Hyperwrite, but you can also pay to upgrade and get even more features.

Lightkey

Have you ever wanted an AI writing assistant who can finish your sentences for you? If so, consider using Lightkey. Lightkey is an AI typing assistant that can predict your sentences up to 18 words in advance.

Think about how much faster you could type if you had an AI writing tool that could literally finish your sentences.

Copyal

If you’re struggling with writer’s block, Copyal will be your new best friend. This AI writing assistant can help you beat that mental block so you can deliver quality content faster than ever before.

Copyal is also compatible with over 25 languages, so you can produce content that works for your target audience. There is a free version of Copyal, as well as paid versions, which you can access depending on your business’s needs.

Lyne.ai

If you write a lot of cold emails, Lyne.ai can transform the way you work. This AI writing tool can write over 500 intros per hour, significantly increasing the number of emails you send. The more emails you send, the more response rates you’ll get, so you’ll see an instant increase in sales for your business.

Link to the rest at Intuit Mailchimp

Qualcomm flexes generative AI muscles in Snapdragon X Elite vs Intel Core Ultra test

From Windows Central:

Your next smartphone or PC with a Qualcomm chip may be able to run AI locally, no cloud required.

  • Qualcomm AI Hub just launched, giving developers access to over 75 AI models that are optimized to run on Qualcomm processors.
  • Those models can be used to perform on-device AI tasks, such as image generation, voice recognition, and real-time translation.
  • Running AI models on a device rather than relying on the cloud takes away the need for an internet connection and also improves privacy.
  • PCs running Qualcomm Snapdragon X Elite processors are set to ship later this year, and Qualcomm shared the results of a head-to-head comparison between a Snapdragon X Elite-powered PC and one running an Intel Core Ultra CPU.

AI is the biggest buzz word in tech these days, and you shouldn’t expect it to go away any time soon. In fact, the latest announcement from Qualcomm shows tech that will bring AI closer to you. The company unveiled the Qualcomm AI Hub, which provides developers with access to over 75 AI models optimized to run on Qualcomm chips. That means that your next smartphone or PC may be able to run powerful AI models locally rather than relying on an internet connection and the cloud.

Qualcomm AI Hub includes some of the biggest names in AI, including image generator Stable Diffusion, speech recognition tool Whisper, and Yolo-v7, which can detect objects in real time. With those models optimized for Qualcomm chips, they should have lower memory utilization and better power efficiency.

With Qualcomm AI Hub, developers should be able to integrate the supported AI models into applications with relatively little effort.

“With Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for smartphones and Snapdragon X Elite for PCs, we sparked commercialization of on-device AI at scale. Now with the Qualcomm AI Hub, we will empower developers to fully harness the potential of these cutting-edge technologies and create captivating AI-enabled apps,” said Qualcomm Senior Vice President and General Manager of Technology Planning and Edge Solutions Durga Malladi. “The Qualcomm AI Hub provides developers with a comprehensive AI model library to quickly and easily integrate pre-optimized AI models into their applications, leading to faster, more reliable and private user experiences.” 

. . . .

By the end of the year, both Qualcomm and Intel will have processors optimized for artificial intelligence. But according to Qualcomm, its upcoming Snapdragon X Elite chip beats out its Intel Core Ultra competitor. Qualcomm tested a Snapdragon X Elite-powered laptop against an Intel Core Ultra laptop by having both PCs generate an image in GIMP with the Stable Diffusion plug-in. The Snapdragon X Elite PC finished the task in 7.25 seconds, while the Intel PC took 22.26 seconds.

Of course, this is a specific test, and we don’t know all of the parameters used for the head-to-head comparison. The full specs of both PCs are also unknown. At this point, the biggest takeaway from this test is that Qualcomm feels comfortable boasting about better performance than Intel when it comes to generative AI.

Link to the rest at Windows Central and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG says AI sitting on your smartphone with no requirement for a fast internet connection or any internet connection will open the door to all sorts of interesting apps that you can use anywhere.

Supreme Court Questions State Efforts to Regulate Social-Media Content

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Supreme Court sounded dubious Monday of state laws requiring online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to publish nearly all user content, although several justices suggested that the ability to remove noxious social-media posts should not mean tech companies are free to block personal communications such as Gmail or chat messages.

The court heard nearly four hours of argument to determine the constitutionality of a pair of state laws that seek to prevent online platforms from moderating users’ posts. By the end, it seemed clear the court was unwilling to accept either side’s conception of what social media is: an edited publication entitled to full First Amendment freedoms; or a common carrier like a phone company that must transmit information without discriminating among its users.

“So you say this is just like a newspaper, basically. It’s like the Miami Herald,” Justice Samuel Alito told Paul Clement, the lawyer representing the industry. “And the states say no, this is like Western Union. It’s like a telegraph company” that just delivers messages, he said.

“I look at this and I say it’s really not like either of those,” Alito said.

In 2021, when Donald Trump was banned from Twitter (now known as X) after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and conservative activists asserted their views were being suppressed by social-media sites, Florida and Texas passed laws requiring the platforms to post nearly all user content without regard to the viewpoints expressed.

The moves set off battles in lower courts, with judges reaching conflicting conclusions on whether the state regulations were lawful. Together, the two cases could set important ground rules for free-speech protections online.

Trade groups representing Meta, Google and X sued the states, saying such requirements infringe on their First Amendment rights to decide what is said on their websites. To require viewpoint neutrality meant that “if we have suicide prevention [content], we have to have suicide promotion,” Clement said. “That should be a nonstarter.”

Several justices expressed sympathy with that argument but observed that ruling against the states might also entitle the internet companies to police what messages are transmitted via other services they provide, such as individual email accounts or direct messaging.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Clement how the court could write an opinion saying state restrictions were unconstitutional regarding news feeds on Facebook and YouTube, but not when it came to services such as the shopping platform Facebook Marketplace “or Gmail or DMs.”

Clement didn’t want to give ground on that point, but U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, who also argued against the state laws, suggested there was a legitimate distinction between social-media sites focused on expression and those that were more akin to a service.

Different rules could apply to different functions a company performs, said Prelogar, representing the Biden administration. A railroad such as Amtrak is a common carrier and can’t discriminate among passengers. But if Amtrak publishes a magazine passengers can read during their travel, it would be entitled to First Amendment protection for the editorial decisions the company makes over what to include, she said.

Arguing in the Texas case, Prelogar agreed that social media didn’t fit neatly into Supreme Court precedents. “It’s not necessary here to try to figure out how the First Amendment applies to new technology in general or to every possible website or the internet in particular,” she said.

She recommended the court rule narrowly against what she said was a singular defect in the Texas law: the state’s aim of amplifying some voices on the platforms “by suppressing the platform’s own protected speech.”

Not so said the Texas solicitor general, Aaron Nielson. The platforms could say anything they want, even criticize user posts, he said. Users were free to block unwanted content, he said. “All that’s left is voluntary communications between people who want to speak and people who want to listen,” he said.

. . . .

Chief Justice John Roberts, disputing the idea that the platforms hold a monopoly over public discourse, said Texas had gotten the First Amendment backward.

“What the government’s doing here is saying, You must do this, you must carry these people; you’ve got to explain if you don’t. That’s not the First Amendment,” he said. Rather than impose requirements on private parties, the First Amendment bars the government from telling them what they must or can’t say, Roberts said.

Among other provisions, the Texas law prohibits platforms from discriminating against users based on their viewpoints. Justice Elena Kagan asked if the platforms claim to have the categorical right to ban users for what they believe—to decide, for instance, that when it comes to antisemites “we’re not even going to let them post cat videos.”

Clement said yes. If “you are a notorious antisemite, we do not want you to participate in this conversation,” he said.

The cases, Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton, are the latest in a series the court has used to project the First Amendment into the online world.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Don’t give AI free access to work denied to humans, argues a legal scholar

From The Economist:

More than six years ago I published an analysis arguing that training generative ai on copyrighted works could break American law. Since then many others have suggested the same. The issue has already boiled over in Britain, where this month talks between the ai industry and creative organisations over a new code of practice broke down. Now, lawsuits by artists, writers and the New York Times are testing our theory against defendants such as Openai, Meta and Stability ai.

The ai industry’s defence rests on “fair use”, a doctrine that permits the use of copyrighted material without its owner’s permission in certain circumstances. If this argument prevails, the industry will receive carte blanche to exploit copyrighted works without compensating authors—all while the law continues to stifle humans’ access to those works. ai will “learn” from pirated textbooks free of charge, while students pay extravagant prices. How perverse.

The purpose of copyright is to stimulate creativity and thereby encourage the creation of more expressive works for the public good, not just to promote a particular technology. Yet, curiously, many “free culture” activists support the ai companies. These activists’ worldview crystallised around the early 2000s, when copyright protections expanded and record labels pursued exorbitant judgments against people who shared music online. In response to this grab by major rights-holders, the copyright decelerationists, as I call them, vowed to halt copyright’s expansion.

I believe that the decelerationists’ premise remains as correct today as it was then: ever-stronger copyright protection has withheld incalculable amounts of culture from the public domain. But we won’t repair that damage with exceptions tailor-made to benefit the giants of ai. A better strategy is to enforce copyright just as harshly on ai learners as we enforce it on humans. This may seem paradoxical, but I believe it will highlight the law’s disregard for learning and could ultimately lead to copyright regulation being relaxed for humans. Thus, we should become copyright accelerationists.

Accelerationism can be used as a tactic to destabilise: Karl Marx delivered an accelerationist call-to-arms when he endorsed free trade, believing it would heighten capitalism’s contradictions and hasten the social revolution. In the context of copyright, accelerationism aims to upend the legal rules that hinder ordinary people from engaging with creative works. For example, there are millions of in-copyright works with no identifiable owner. But because using these “orphan works” remains legally risky, libraries, archives and people who want to use them for their own creative ends hesitate to touch them.

. . . .

This cultural tragedy is the result of a dramatic expansion of copyright’s reach over the past 50 years. Copyright’s term was lengthened, keeping creative works out of the public domain long after their creators had earned a fair return and stifling new generations. “Steamboat Willie”, Mickey Mouse’s 1928 debut, did not enter the public domain until January 1st this year because rights-holders had successfully lobbied for a 20-year copyright extension without any rational economic justification. America’s Congress abolished “formalities”—requirements that authors register and renew their copyrights and place notices in published works, or risk forfeiting those copyrights. Courts chipped away at the required level of creativity for copyright to be established.

These changes had predictable consequences: innumerable works were withheld from the public and a small group of rights-holders was enriched. But technological changes triggered unanticipated consequences. Each of us now accumulates dozens of copyrights every day. Thanks to rock-bottom originality requirements and the elimination of formalities, all but our most mindless emails, text messages and photos automatically count as intellectual property until 70 years after we die. Nearly all valuable ai training data is owned by someone and will be for decades. These legal rules, long the enemy of free culture, are now the enemy of powerful technology companies, too.

The ai industry claims training ai on copyrighted works is excused by the fair-use doctrine because rights-holders cannot prevent others from copying their works to learn from them. But that argument would fail if made by a human. Could you imagine a file-sharing defendant arguing that downloading a Beatles album was fair use because she wanted to learn the Lennon-McCartney songwriting style? She would be laughed out of court, even if she wrote nothing that resembled a Beatles tune.

The decelerationists and I agree that copyright’s routine thwarting of human learning and creativity is tragic. But carrying the ai industry’s water won’t repair that tragedy. Decelerationists must realise that even if the industry wins, all the cases denying fair use for activities like artistic pastiche, fan fiction and the publication of personal letters in a biography will remain binding precedents (for humans, that is).

Link to the rest at The Economist

Is There Any Remedy When You’re Censored?

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s said that for every right there’s a remedy. Three cases before the Supreme Court will test whether that’s true for the freedom of speech.

In National Rifle Association v. Vullo, a New York state official took aim at gun advocacy by threatening regulatory hassle for bankers and insurers that continued to do business with the NRA. Recognizing the threat, they dumped the organization. Now that the official, Maria Vullo, is being sued, she claims that under the qualified-immunity doctrine, she can’t be ordered to pay damages.

Qualified immunity broadly protects officials from liability, so most plaintiffs who are censored don’t bother seeking damages for past suppression. Instead they seek injunctions against future censorship. In Murthy v. Missouri, however, the Biden administration is trying to foreclose that remedy, too.

Although the government pressured social-media platforms to censor users, it now claims the plaintiffs shouldn’t get an injunction because they can’t show that they are likely to be censored again. They also want injunctive protection for their ability to read other authors, but again the government objects. More seriously, even if the court sustains the injunction in Murthy, it won’t be sufficient, as it doesn’t bar the full breadth of the current censorship. Injunctions will always be inadequate in the face of secret suppression. In this case, because the government kept its role secret, it has taken more than half a decade to get an injunction against the censorship.

Americans are thus in a strange predicament. Under Supreme Court doctrine, they can’t be confident of getting either damages for past censorship or a prompt and effective injunction against future censorship. And it gets worse. In NetChoice v. Paxton, in which the justices hear oral arguments on Monday, there’s a danger the court will strike down Texas’ free-speech statute. That law treats the dominant social-media platforms as common carriers and bars them from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint.

This sort of antidiscrimination law is the only effective remedy for the current regime of government censorship. It’s unlikely that federal law will adequately limit federal censorship, so state law is structurally essential to stop it. And only when common-carrier antidiscrimination rules are applied to the platforms will the federal government be fully precluded from imposing censorship through them.

A decision that state common-carrier laws can’t be used to stop federal censorship through the platforms would render such censorship all but irremediable. Damages are generally unavailable for past censorship, and injunctions are too slow and otherwise inadequate against future censorship—so a decision against an antidiscrimination rule would make it a trifecta against free speech.

This risk is especially startling because it’s only recently that Americans have needed a remedy against censorship. The government once couldn’t actually suppress speech; it could only punish the speaker, and for this it had to go to court. The government once had to go to court to charge a particular defendant with seditious libel or some other offense and prove its accusation. Now, the government can simply pressure or induce the dominant social-media platforms to suppress speech en masse. That approach doesn’t merely punish speakers; it snuffs out speech. And it places the onus of going to court on the censored individuals.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Archiving

PG decided to see if recent performance issues on TPV could be improved by archiving a lot of old posts.

The archiving process has affected posts from about a year ago or older. In the past, PG has archived more ancient portions of TPV, but not cut the number of active and accessible posts to the extent he has on this occasions.

Feel free to share your experiences with responsiveness and speed on TPV, pro or con.

PG expects that visitors to the blog will be able to distinguish between speed on the blog end of things from speed impacted by a slow internet connection.

A Spanner in the Works?

PG acknowledges the messages he has received from several visitors about strange behavior on TPV.

He’s going to dig around the dusty foundations to look for various electronic mistakes, nasties, ghosts or evil-doers have been frolicking about.

He suspects he has allowed the active portions of the blog to grow too large, but, of course, he could be wrong.

He’s happy to entertain diagnoses/problems/solutions from one and all.

Where to start with: Gertrude Stein

From The Guardian:

From the art collection that she amassed with her brother Leo, to the salons that brought together everyone from Picasso and F Scott Fitzgerald to Thornton Wilder and Matisse, there are lots of ways to talk about Gertrude Stein without talking about her actual body of work. Yet Stein wrote everything from opera libretto and poetry collections to plays and nigh-on-impenetrable doorstop novels, capturing the complexities of language and identity in ways that still feel transgressive. In celebration of 150 years since her birth, Sam Moore suggests some good ways into the pioneering modernist’s catalogue.

The entry point

Though arguably there is no “easy” way into Stein’s vast body of work – even some of her most accessible writing pushes against literary conventions – The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas is a good place to begin. The pseudo-autobiography tells the story of the eponymous figure – Stein’s life partner – while also telling the author’s own story. Divisive among Stein’s close circle on publication (Hemingway called it a “pitiful book”), Toklas is a work of surprising simplicity: there’s a clarity to the language and a lightness of touch that stops Stein’s approach to form from being too overwhelming.

The one to drop into dinner party conversation

Stein’s writing has the power to make the familiar seem strange, imbuing the ordinary with magic. In Everybody’s Autobiography, she said of her home town, Oakland in California, “there is no there there”, the meaning of which is still being reconsidered and contested. The poetry collection Tender Buttons is all about Stein’s ability to play with language. Divided into three sections – Objects, Food, and Rooms – the collection pushes words to their breaking point, somewhere between stream of consciousness and cubist painting. The transformative power of Stein’s work in a piece like A Carafe, That is a Blind Glass is the perfect reference when another round of wine is poured at the table.

If you’re in a rush

Stein’s debut novel Three Lives, published in 1909, creates portraits of the lives of three working-class women. While the tales themselves are unconnected, each life is lived in the fictional Bridgetown, which is based on Baltimore, where she and Leo moved as orphans when she was 18. There’s a straightforward, almost rhythmic quality to Stein’s prose here; the constant repetition of the three women’s names – Anna, Melanctha and Lena – becomes an incantation, as if each time the name is returned, we’re able to see the ways in which each woman is slowly, subtly but surely, changing.

It’s worth persevering with

From the imposing subtitle – “Being a History of a Family’s Progress” – onwards, it’s clear that The Making of Americans is unlike any of Stein’s other work. While it contains some of her hallmarks – linguistic playfulness, formal innovation – the sheer size, scope and scale of Americans renders it her most challenging work. Not only is it close to 1,000 pages, Stein’s limited, repetitive approach to language takes on a new level of fascinating, if sometimes frustrating, here. With rhythms and even definitions of language seeming to shift as the labyrinthine story unfolds, Americans will cast a spell on any reader willing to grapple with it.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What are (some of) the best comic novels?

From The Economist:

It’s a fraught business picking the funniest novels ever written, so we’re not going to. Instead, we’ve picked eight of the funniest, recognising that many, perhaps equally uproarious tales are not on the list. Nor are humorous books that aren’t novels—the works of S.J. Perelman and Stephen Potter, for example. Our comedic finalists range in age from nonagenarian (“Right Ho, Jeeves”) to teenaged (“Nature Girl”). Our geographic spread is less diverse. England is overrepresented, but so is Ukraine, which in 2019 elected its funniest citizen to be its president. We’ve followed each of the write-ups below with snippets from the book, which, we hope, will send you chuckling to the bookseller.

The Loved OneBy Evelyn Waugh. Back Bay Books; 176 pages; $16.99. Penguin; £9.99

The greatest comic novelist in English is Evelyn Waugh. But which is his funniest book? Many people favour his first, “Decline and Fall”; others tout “Scoop”, a satire of mid-20th-century journalism. But for sustained comic brilliance our vote goes to “The Loved One”, published in 1948. During the previous year Waugh had visited California, at the invitation of Hollywood studios. Tiring of agents and producers, he became fascinated by the local mortuary and embalming business. “The Loved One”, set in the Whispering Glades Memorial Park, was the result. The story concerns a doomed love affair between a failed poet, Dennis Barlow, and a prim funerary cosmetician, Aimée Thanatogenos. It’s a hilarious dissection of the English in Hollywood, of American business ethics and of Hollywood itself.

Snippet. The first description of Aimée:

“Her full face was oval, her profile pure and classical and light. Her eyes greenish and remote, with a rich glint of lunacy.”

A Confederacy of Dunces. By John Kennedy Toole. Grove Paperback; 416 pages; $16. Penguin; £16.99

The charms of Ignatius Reilly will be lost on some, but the protagonist of John Kennedy Toole’s novel is a comedic colossus. At odds with the modern world, this slothful behemoth of a man-boy farts, belches and bickers his way through a succession of lowly jobs in New Orleans to pay off his drunken mama’s debts, the erratic Mrs Reilly being his only consistent companion. The laughs are all in Ignatius’s haughty, misanthropic reflections on those unfortunate enough to come into his odorous orbit. Several publishers rejected Toole’s book—one reason why he committed suicide in 1969, aged only 31. It was due to the persistence of his mother Thelma, clearly a more capable woman than Mrs Reilly, that “A Confederacy of Dunces” was published 11 years later.

Snippet.  A policeman rides his motorcycle up a New Orleans street:

“The siren, a cacophony of twelve crazed bobcats, was enough to make suspicious characters within a half-mile radius defecate in panic and rush for cover. Patrolman Mancuso’s love for the motorcycle was platonically intense.”

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. By Helen Fielding. Penguin; 352 pages; $17. Picador; £9.99

Starting life as a newspaper column, the Bridget Jones novels of the 1990s spawned an entire genre, “chick lit”. Its heroines, like Bridget, are often SINBADS (Single Income, No Boyfriend and Absolutely Desperate). “Bridget Jones’s Diary” started the series, but its sequel, “The Edge of Reason” (published in 1999), is even funnier, partly because Bridget at least starts off with “boyfriends 1 (hurrah!)”, Mark Darcy. This allows Ms Fielding to get into Bridget’s pantomime of a love life that much quicker. Our heroine tries to be a liberated, independent woman, if fortified by chardonnay and self-help books. But too often she slips into slavish dependence on unsuitable men with questionable taste in jumpers. The enemy? Smug Married Girls. It’s not exactly radical feminism, but the combination persuaded women (and men) to buy Bridget Jones books in the millions. Box-office hits, starring Renée Zellweger (pictured), followed.

Snippet.  Bridget’s diary entries, Wednesday March 5th:

“7.08 pm  Am assured receptive, responsive woman of substance. My sense of self comes not from other people, but from…from…myself? That can’t be right.

7.09pm  Anyway. Good thing is am not obsessing about Mark Darcy. Am starting to detach.

7.15pm Goody, telephone! Maybe Mark Darcy!

Lucky Jim. By Kingsley Amis. NYRB Classics; 296 pages; $15.95. Penguin; £9.99

Kingsley Amis’s first novel is probably his best and certainly the funniest. Published in 1954, “Lucky Jim” established him as a leader of a new literary movement of “angry young men”. But the tone of “Lucky Jim” is not so much angry as irreverent and waspish. It chronicles the misadventures of an inept young history lecturer, Jim Dixon, in a provincial university in repressed, dreary post-war Britain. Academic life, amateur choirs and middle-class sexual mores are all skewered, often in hilarious set-pieces. Just as Bridget Jones inspired chick lit, “Lucky Jim” spawned the campus novel.

Snippet. Anxious to ingratiate himself with a professor, Dixon contemplates the title of his one academic article:

“It was a perfect title, in that it crystallised the article’s niggling mindlesness, its funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, the pseudo-light it threw upon non-problems. Dixon had read, or begun to read, dozens like it, but his own seemed worse than most in its air of being convinced of its own usefulness and significance.”

Link to the rest at The Economist

The 32 Most Iconic Poems in the English Language

From The Literary Hub:

Today is the anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost’s iconic poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” a fact that spurred the Literary Hub office into a long conversation about their favorite poems, the most iconic poems written in English, and which poems we should all have already read (or at least be reading next). Turns out, despite frequent (false) claims that poetry is dead and/or irrelevant and/or boring, there are plenty of poems that have sunk deep into our collective consciousness as cultural icons. (What makes a poem iconic? For our purposes here, it’s primarily a matter of cultural ubiquity, though unimpeachable excellence helps any case.) So for those of you who were not present for our epic office argument, I have listed some of them here.

NB that I limited myself to one poem per poet—which means that the impetus for this list actually gets bumped for the widely quoted (and misunderstood) “The Road Not Taken,” but so it goes. I also excluded book-length poems, because they’re really a different form. Finally, despite the headline, I’m sure there are many, many iconic poems out there that I’ve missed—so feel free to extend this list in the comments. But for now, happy reading (and re-reading):

William Carlos Williams, “The Red Wheelbarrow”

The most anthologized poem of the last 25 years for a reason. See also: “This is Just to Say,” which, among other things, has spawned a host of memes and parodies.

T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”

Without a doubt one of the most important poems of the 20th century. “It has never lost its glamour,” Paul Muldoon observed. “It has never failed to be equal to both the fracture of its own era and what, alas, turned out to be the even greater fracture of the ongoing 20th century and now, it seems, the 21st century.” See also: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Otherwise known as “the most misread poem in America.” See also: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” And “Birches.” All begin in delight and end in wisdom, as Frost taught us great poems should.

Gwendolyn Brooks, “We Real Cool”

This blew my mind in high school, and I wasn’t the only one.

Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

Bishop’s much loved and much-discussed ode to lose, which Claudia Roth Pierpont called “a triumph of control, understatement, wit. Even of self-mockery, in the poetically pushed rhyme word “vaster,” and the ladylike, pinkies-up “shan’t.” An exceedingly rare mention of her mother—as a woman who once owned a watch. A continent standing in for losses larger than itself.”

Emily Dickinson, “Because I could not stop for Death –”

The truth is, there are lots of equally iconic Dickinson poems, so consider this a stand-in for them all. Though, as Jay Parini has noted, this poem is perfect, “one of Dickinson’s most compressed and chilling attempts to come to terms with mortality.”

Langston Hughes, “Harlem”

One of the defining works of the Harlem Renaissance, by its greatest poet. It also, of course, gave inspiration and lent a title to another literary classic: Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.

Sylvia Plath, “Daddy”

To be quite honest, my favorite Plath poem is “The Applicant.” But “Daddy” is still the most iconic, especially if you’ve ever heard her read it aloud.

Robert Hayden, “Middle Passage“

The most famous poem, and a terribly beautiful one, by our country’s first African-American Poet Laureate (though the position was then called Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress). See also: “Those Winter Sundays, which despite what I wrote above may be equally as famous.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG disputes the OP’s flippant contention that The Road Not Taken is “the most misread poem in America.”

He followed the link in the OP and found a 2015 Paris Review article written by someone called David Orr, article titled “The Most Misread Poem in America.” Merely by coincidence, at that time, Mr. Orr was the author of a newly-released book titled, The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong.

Despite having been published by Penguin Books, the book in question currently has a Best Sellers Rank of #389,543 in the Kindle Store.

Mr. Orr is a graduate of Princeton and received his law degree from Yale Law School.

Although Mr. Orr has created several online pages that describe his accomplishments, PG didn’t find any information about Mr. Orr actually practicing law.

Today, Mr. Orr is the poetry editor for The New York Times. Glassdoor states the average salary for a poetry editor in the US is $49K – $76K per year.

PG did a little checking and found the average starting salary for a raw law school graduate in New York City is a bit over $100K, with one firm offering $224K for new law school graduates.

PG will apologize in advance if Mr. Orr turns out to be a severely dehydrated boat person plucked out of the South China Sea by a passing US Navy Destroyer who funded his way through Princeton and Yale working as a night janitor for minimum wage.

However, absent a background including the South China Sea, Mr. Orr strikes PG as a light-weight rich kid, a dabbler in this and that.

Hence, PG’s assessment that the author of the “most misread poem in America” quip doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that The Lit Hub editor was foolish to include it in the OP.

But PG could be entirely wrong.

Big Tech Censorship Goes to the Supreme Court

From The Wall Street Journal:

Can government tell Big Tech companies how to edit content and police their platforms? That’s the question before the Supreme Court on Monday in two cases with major First Amendment implications (Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton).

NetChoice, a tech industry group, is challenging Texas and Florida laws that seek to prevent social-media platforms from silencing conservatives. Republicans are rightly frustrated by censorship that often tilts against conservatives, including us. But the solution to business censorship of conservatives isn’t government censorship of business.

The Florida law bans large social-media platforms from removing the accounts of political candidates, or suppressing posts by or about them. Platforms also can’t take “any action to censor, deplatform, or shadow ban a journalistic enterprise based on the content of its publication or broadcast,” and they must apply their standards “in a consistent manner” among their users.

The Texas law bars platforms from making editorial decisions based on the viewpoint of a user’s expression, which isn’t clearly defined. The law is so broad it could be read to bar platforms from suppressing pro-Nazi speech or content that glorifies eating disorders. Both laws require platforms to explain in detail why posts are removed. Companies could face stiff government penalties and lawsuits.

NetChoice makes a strong case that the laws abridge First Amendment speech rights by restricting the editorial discretion of platforms. Only last term the Court ruled in 303 Creative LLC that Colorado couldn’t compel a website designer to create work that violates her values. The same principle, NetChoice says, should apply to the Texas and Florida laws.

While such social-media platforms as Instagram and YouTube aren’t traditional publishers like newspapers and broadcasters, they exercise editorial judgment when they decide what content to remove, suppress or amplify. They also exercise discretion when curating user feeds and making recommendations.

The states disagree. They claim their laws regulate business conduct, not expression. They also argue that states can prohibit businesses that open themselves to the public from discriminating against customers under the common-carrier legal doctrine that predates the U.S. Constitution.

“Common carriers have generally opened their facilities to all speakers and speech,” Florida writes in its brief. “Requiring them to open that door a crack more interferes with no expression of their own. Thus, the telephone company, internet-service provider, and delivery service have license neither to snuff out the speech they carry, nor to cancel disfavored subscribers.”

This analogy is inapt. Businesses that are regulated as common carriers like telephone companies, taxis, railroads and electric utilities don’t engage in editorial or expressive activity. Yet the states implicitly concede that social-media platforms do engage in such expression when they accuse them of discriminating against disfavored speech. Florida and Texas can’t have it both ways.

The overriding problem is that extending common-carrier regulation to social-media platforms invites more government control of speech. Do Florida and Texas want Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan dictating what can and can’t be said online? Could California pass a law requiring companies to remove posts that criticize male transgender participation in women’s sports?

. . . .

The Florida and Texas laws do the same. If the laws stand, companies would no doubt refrain from policing their platforms to avoid being bankrupted by litigation. Some conservatives might prefer an online free-for-all, and the free market has given birth to platforms for them. Elon Musk has taken a lighter touch to content regulation since buying X, formerly Twitter. But if you’re worried about the cultural damage from social media now, imagine if sites are obliged to let anything go.

These two cases, by the way, are separate from one the Court will hear in a few weeks concerning Biden Administration pressure on tech platforms to censor conservatives. That case, Murthy v. Missouri, implicates government censorship that strikes us as a First Amendment violation.

Conservatives are understandably concerned that left-leaning tech companies want to exclude their ideas. There is no easy solution to this problem. Exposure and condemnation of the censorship has helped. But it never turns out well for conservatives, or anyone else, when the supposed remedy is giving government more power to control speech. The Supreme Court can make that clear to Texas and Florida.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG says government power to control speech is always a bad idea.

Content-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions, as defined by Supreme Court, are as far as government should go.

Is Sarah J Maas the next JK Rowling?

From The Independent:

The end of January, just before midnight. At a Barnes & Noble bookshop in New York, a woman with perfect hair slips through a crowd, dressed in all black and knee-high boots. “I grew up going to midnight release parties,” she confesses into her microphone. “I was a nerd back when it was not, like, cool to be a nerd. This was the dark times. This is when you were shoved into a locker or a trash can just for being a nerd. And I love that, now, you guys can be free.” Amassed before her, the emancipated “nerds” scream and whoop, as though in the presence of the messiah. But who is this chicly dressed liberator? Her name is Sarah J Maas, Manhattan-born fantasy author and bona fide publishing phenomenon.

This rock star reception from Maas’s readers has translated into major financial clout for her publishers, Bloomsbury. Last week it announced that the company’s profits are “significantly” ahead of expectations, in large part due to Maas and her exploding global following, news that pushed the publisher’s shares up by more than 9 per cent. House of Flame and Shadow, the book that merited worldwide midnight release parties and is the third installment in Maas’s raunchy urban Crescent City series, sold 44,761 copies in the UK in its first week, immediately making it the third fastest-selling sci-fi/fantasy book since records began. Maas, a leading force in the “romantasy” genre beloved by BookTok – in which fantasy tales are fused with steamy love stories – has sold nearly 40 million books, while TikTok posts about her work have been viewed over 14 billion times. Make no mistake: her impact on publishing is as tectonic as the orgasms being had by her half-human, half-faerie heroines.

Not since the rise of a speccy boy wizard with a scar on his forehead has Bloomsbury had such a massive hit on its hands. Could Maas be the new JK Rowling? The publisher’s CEO Nigel Newton tried to temper expectations when recently asked the question (Rowling has sold 600 million books since the first Harry Potter hit shelves in 1997), but couldn’t entirely conceal his excitement. “The bar is extremely high with JK Rowling, so one has to answer that question cautiously,” he told The Times. “All I can say is that the early signs are very good,” with Newton adding that “the signs of lift-off are similar”.

If you never venture onto TikTok and don’t stray into the fantasy section of Waterstones, Bloomsbury’s cheerful business update may be the first you’ve heard of Maas. But the author, 37, is not an overnight success. House of Flame and Shadow is her 16th book, its series the third she’s authored. Educated at the elite Hamilton College, Maas hails from a more comfortable background than Rowling, who was famously a broke single parent who wrote in cafes while her baby slept and needed a £8,000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council to finish book two. Maas began writing her first novel at the age of 16, before publishing it on a fanfiction website where she acquired her first set of devout readers; Bloomsbury picked her up in 2010. The company’s website features an extremely detailed reading guide for her various series’ and worlds, which can seem intimidating at first glance (“publication order” and “reading order” are two different things? No one’s brain works like that, surely).

Essentially, Throne of Glass, Maas’s eight-book first series, began as a feminist spin on Cinderella – what if she wasn’t a poor put-upon servant to her mean family, but an assassin? A Court of Thorns and Roses, or “Acotar” for fans, is a Beauty and the Beast-inspired fantasy romance, in which the archery-loving, Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine Feyre is banished to the horrible faerie lands and must live with a scary (but hot?) man in a mask. (Maas is currently working on a major TV adaptation for Hulu.) And Crescent City, comprised of three (800-plus page) books so far, is a more grown-up series, sweary and full of what’s euphemistically called “spice”. The series’ star is Bryce Quinlan, who is looking to avenge the murder of her friends in the divided kingdom of Midgard.

Maas’s books – described by Richard Osman this week as like “a porny Lord of the Rings” – certainly feel a far cry from the chaste first kiss between Harry and Cho Chang (yes, that really is what Rowling called an Asian character in 2000). And while Rowling’s books were more part of a British tradition of boarding-school tales such as Billy Bunter, with Maas more likely to mention Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Disney princesses as influences, the pair do share similarities.

Both have created worlds full of complicated caste systems, where lands are dominated by status and role, the privileged unmoved by the down at heel. And, notably, both were struck by inspiration on public transport. Rowling was famously on a train gazing out of a window when the idea for Harry Potter “just fell out of nowhere”. Maas happened to be on a plane listening to the soundtrack from the Sandra Bullock space movie Gravity when a climactic scene from what would become Crescent City popped into her head. More effusive and American, Maas said she burst into tears, telling The Bookseller, “I wound up putting my sweatshirt over my head and crouching down in my seat crying.”

. . . .

Maas has been criticised for her writing persona as a “pantser” – someone, basically, who writes by the seat of their pants. It’s something Stephen King is famous for (and perhaps why both he and Maas write chunky – arguably undisciplined – doorstoppers) and Rowling is not, always planning her books out on detailed grids. But while both Maas and Rowling are adored for their characters, storytelling and worldbuilding, both have received flak for their prose.

In 2000, writer Anthony Holden faced the wrath of 11-year-old readers when he lambasted Rowling’s “pedestrian, ungrammatical prose style which has left me with a headache”. For all her other successes, Maas’s prose won’t win her the Pulitzer.

Link to the rest at The Independent

Here’s a link to the Sarah J. Maas Author Page on Amazon

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus: Newcomer

From Writers Helping Writers:

DESCRIPTION: This character is new (in town, at work, to school, etc.) and has to learn the rules for fitting in. The newcomer is frequently used as a narrative device to introduce the reader to the world and explain its various aspects in an organic manner.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Bella Swan (Twilight), Claire Fraser (Outlander), Dorothy Gale (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code), Thomas (The Maze Runner trilogy)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Alert, Cautious, Courteous, Curious, Diplomatic, Independent, Innocent, Introverted, Objective, Observant, Patient, Pensive, Private, Resourceful, Responsible, Sensible

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Apathetic, Childish, Evasive, Gullible, Ignorant, Insecure, Needy, Nervous, Suspicious, Timid, Withdrawn, Worrywart

ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES

  • Having a fresh perspective
  • Being curious about their surroundings
  • Not knowing or understanding the rules of the new environment
  • Standing back and observing rather than jumping right into things
  • Adaptability; learning quickly
  • Noticing everything; being highly observant
  • Keeping to themselves until they get the lay of the land
  • Naïveté
  • Being an easy target due to their innocence or lack of knowledge
  • Trying (and failing) to understand the new world through the perspective of their old world

SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Meeting someone new and not knowing if they’re a friend or foe
Facing hostility and rejection simply because of their outsider status
Being expected to meet certain standards before they’ve developed the skills needed to do so
Getting lost in the new environment

. . . .

CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
The intern who must master the skills they’ll need to be successful in the industry
The “chosen one” newcomer who is the only person who can solve the the new world’s problems

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

True Readers

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented… In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do. 

C.S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism

Georgia college student used Grammarly, now she is on academic probation

From Yahoo News:

A University of North Georgia (UNG) student is on academic probation after she says she used Grammarly to proofread a paper. The school says the action was taken because they detected the use of artificial intelligence in violation of their plagiarism clause in the student code of conduct handbook.

“It’s just been very frustrating,” UNG junior Marley Stevens said.

Stevens, after submitting a paper for her criminal justice class in October, says she was surprised to learn her professor gave her a “0” for the assignment and reported her to the Office of Student Integrity.

“He was like you used AI on your paper, you get a zero, that was it,” Stevens said.

“I had Grammarly installed in my web browser, but I’ve only ever had the free version, so all it did was fix my punctuation and my spelling,” she added.

. . . .

She submitted the paper through the program Turnitin, which flagged it for the use of AI.

Turnitin launched an AI writing detection feature in March 2023 to find when AI writing tools generate words used in submissions rather than the students’ own writing.

Earlier this month, Stevens learned she’d been placed on academic probation.

Grammarly says its suggestions for grammar and spelling changes aren’t made through generative AI, which is an algorithm which can create new content on its own.

Grammarly sent FOX 5 a statement reading in part:

“Grammarly’s trusted writing support helps students improve their writing skills by offering suggestions for spelling, grammatical correctness, clarity, concision, and tone. These suggestions are not powered by generative AI and can still be accessed even when generative AI features are deactivated or not used by the student. However, some third-party tools may mistakenly identify any use of Grammarly as generative AI. We encourage institutions to establish clear policies on acceptable AI usage and adhere to those guidelines when assessing student success.”

Stevens said she’s used Grammarly on other assignments before without problems.

“I had teachers before who made us install it and turn a screenshot in that we had done so-and-so I’ve written my papers the same exact way all through college in a Google Doc with my Grammarly extension. I’ve never had any problems,” she explained.

. . . .

Regarding its AI policies, the University of North Georgia issued a statement reading in part:

“Our faculty members communicate specific guidelines regarding the use of AI for various classes, and those guidelines are included in the class syllabi. The inappropriate use of AI is also addressed in our Student Code of Conduct.”

Stevens took to TikTok to share her story, which has millions of views.

Stevens’ academic probation currently lasts until February 2025.

Link to the rest at Yahoo News and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG wonders if the professor in the OP actually read the paper in question or simply relied on one computer program accurately detecting the use of another computer program.

Guidance on AI Detection and Why We’re Disabling Turnitin’s AI Detector

From Vanderbilt University:

In April of this year, Turnitin released an update to their product that reviewed submitted papers and presented their determination of how much of a paper was written by AI. As we outlined at that time, many people had important concerns and questions about this new tool, namely how the product exactly works and how reliable the results would be. After several months of using and testing this tool, meeting with Turnitin and other AI leaders, and talking to other universities who also have access, Vanderbilt has decided to disable Turnitin’s AI detection tool for the foreseeable future. This decision was not made lightly and was made in pursuit of the best interests of our students and faculty. 

When Turnitin launched its AI-detection tool, there were many concerns that we had. This feature was enabled for Turnitin customers with less than 24-hour advance notice, no option at the time to disable the feature, and, most importantly, no insight into how it works. At the time of launch, Turnitin claimed that its detection tool had a 1% false positive rate (Chechitelli, 2023). To put that into context, Vanderbilt submitted 75,000 papers to Turnitin in 2022. If this AI detection tool was available then, around 750 student papers could have been incorrectly labeled as having some of it written by AI. Instances of false accusations of AI usage being leveled against students at other universities have been widely reported over the past few months, including multiple instances that involved Turnitin (Fowler, 2023; Klee, 2023). In addition to the false positive issue, AI detectors have been found to be more likely to label text written by non-native English speakers as AI-written (Myers, 2023). 

Additionally, there is a larger question of how Turnitin detects AI writing and if that is even possible. To date, Turnitin gives no detailed information as to how it determines if a piece of writing is AI-generated or not. The most they have said is that their tool looks for patterns common in AI writing, but they do not explain or define what those patterns are. Other companies that offer popular AI detectors have either begun to either pivot to other business models (Edwards, 2023) or closed down entirely (Coldewey, 2023). Even if other third-party software claimed higher accuracy than Turnitin, there are real privacy concerns about taking student data and entering it into a detector that is managed by a separate company with unknown privacy and data usage policies. Fundamentally, AI detection is already a very difficult task for technology to solve (if it is even possible) and this will only become harder as AI tools become more common and more advanced. Based on this, we do not believe that AI detection software is an effective tool that should be used.

Link to the rest at Vanderbilt University

Elon Musk Goes on Offense to Defend Offensive Speech

From The Wall Street Journal:

Elon Musk wants you offended.

His fight to protect free speech didn’t end with buying Twitter and simply loosening content moderation.

More than a year into owning the social-media platform now known as X, Musk’s aggressive tactics to defend myriad spectrums of speech are becoming clearer. Meanwhile, some say those efforts actually protect speech he likes, and repress other views.

“It’s actually good that I’m reading some things that offend me because that means freedom of speech is alive,” Musk said this past week during an audio event on X in which he talked in depth about his philosophy.

His approach looks twofold: He is trying to protect individuals’ ability to say what they please on X without fear of losing their livelihoods. All while he is also actively fighting—with lawsuits and his own X megaphone—outside critics who maintain X has become a bastion of hate.

Part of his approach is drawing criticism, including from the American Civil Liberties Union, that X is the one trying to stifle speech. Meanwhile, some of his supporters worry aloud that he’s going too far, risking offending customers of his other businesses, such as the electric-car maker Tesla.

. . . .

The way Musk frames his thoughts on free speech seems straight from the techno libertarianism that flourished in Silicon Valley around the time he arrived in Palo Alto in the 1990s and as he chased his dreams during the early days of the dot-com bubble.

It was a period when a new generation of techies wanted to minimize government regulation as the idea of the internet took root, arguing that the free market would guide the best choices.

Except, in Musk’s case, today he appears perplexed and frustrated by the free market’s reaction to his X changes.

. . . .

Advertisers from Apple to Disney have fled the platform, worried about associations with antisemitism, pro-Nazi and other hate speech, and ensuing dramas regarding his ownership.

They are effectively exercising their freedom of speech by taking their valuable ad dollars elsewhere.

Doing so, in Musk’s view, can have a chilling effect on speech that’s outside the norm, encouraging a world of conformity. He even went so far as to call it blackmail and, in November, infamously told advertisers to “go f— yourself.” And he called for Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, to be fired, or, put another way, canceled.

. . . .

More than just throwing f-bombs, Musk is also fighting back against groups that are working to highlight content on the platform they say is offensive.

In July, for example, X filed a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate after it published research critical of X, including a report that said the company had taken no action against 99 of 100 posts that researchers contend were hateful.

X claimed the group’s findings were flawed and said the attention resulted in several advertisers’ halting spending. A key part of the lawsuit against the center is X’s contention that the group violated the social-media platform’s terms of service that prohibit the process of collecting, or scraping, a large number of public posts.

The center is asking a federal judge in San Francisco to dismiss the case, calling “for an end to this baseless effort to silence honest criticism and punish critics.” A hearing is scheduled for Thursday. 

The ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute have filed a brief supporting the center, saying that scraping is a basic digital tool used to provide the public with insight into how powerful platforms, such as X, operate. 

They argued that the company is simply attempting “to punish” the center for “its speech by enforcing its term prohibiting scraping,” which if allowed they say would have a chilling effect and give X an end run “around the First Amendment.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG suggests that billionaires throwing temper tantrums is a bad look, even on social media.

The Dictator’s Best Friend

From The New Statesman:

“Writers under despots,” says Simon Ings, “may have to take instruction, but they’re rarely out of a job.” Every regime requires a story to validate it, and a regime lacking the authority of tradition needs one most urgently. Songs and slogans; heroes and martyrs; legends of the past, visions of the future: every would-be dictator makes use of them, and so every dictatorship seeks out literary celebrities who can inspire an uprising and then be flattered or coaxed or bought or terrified into celebrating the brave new world.

This book describes the relationships between four such authors and the political leaders whose causes – with varying degrees of willingness – they defined or promoted.

Ings begins with a failure. General Boulanger’s populist-militarist image, waving his hat from the back of his black horse while calling for a war of revenge against Prussia, proved compelling to a variety of interest groups in late-19th-century France. Maurice Barrès, admired nationalist and nostalgic author, put his talents at Boulanger’s service. But though Boulanger was charismatic personally he was weak strategically. His programme (essentially “Make France Great Again”) was vacuous. “The less Boulanger said,” writes Ings, “the better he did.” When the moment came for him to seize power he drew back. Meanwhile, Barrès, as Ings candidly admits, was a “grouch”.

Ings makes the best of the poor material the pair offer him by beginning in 1900 with a panoptic view of the Exposition Universelle, which he describes with gusto. Barrès, who detested universalism, makes his way gloomily through it to attend a dinner given by Action Française – an organisation with which he shared a quasi-mystical reverence for patrie, rootedness and the heroic dead.

Boulanger took his own life but Barrès, his admirer, lived on, his patriotism mutating nastily into anti-Semitism. For all their shortcomings, the two of them provide a handy vehicle to carry Ings’s ideas about celebrity and its political uses, about “the religious instinct of crowds” and the power of popular sentiment.

. . . .

Ings’s next pairing is more dynamic. The author is Gabriele D’Annunzio – poet, playwright, serial seducer, aviator, war-mongering orator and, briefly, small-scale dictator. The large-scale dictator is Benito Mussolini.

D’Annunzio declared that when he temporarily laid aside “scribbling” for violent political action he was working in a new art form whose material was human lives. He seized the Croatian port city of Fiume (now Rijeka) in 1919, and made himself its “Duce”, using it as the setting for a 15-month-long piece of spectacular street-theatre. Parades, marching bands, anthems belted out by volunteers with piratical hair-dos and black uniforms – all in celebration of a greater Italy, of soldiers as sacrificial victims offered up on the altar of the patria, and of D’Annunzio himself. Mussolini took note. He later called D’Annunzio the “John the Baptist of Fascism”. As Ings writes, “All Mussolini’s ritual, symbolism, mystique and style can be tied back to D’Annunzio.”

The young Mussolini was a dogged and voracious autodidact. Ings praises his early journalistic essays as “deeply thought-out” and summarises the texts he was reading – by Georges Sorel, Gustave Le Bon, Roberto Michels. Lightly skimming where Mussolini dug deep, Ings gives his readers a concise round-up of the intellectual ground in which the 20th-century dictatorships took root. He has a talent for succinct statements so well turned that they immediately ring true. His summings-up are forceful. He can make sense of syndicalism (something many historians struggle to do) and explain how attractive it seemed to early-20th-century thinkers from each end of the political spectrum, and why it lent itself so conveniently to totalitarianism.

. . . .

His Russian “engineer of human souls” (the phrase is Stalin’s) is Maxim Gorky. Ings opens this section in comic mode with Gorky’s visit to New York in 1906. Mark Twain has laid on mass meetings and grand dinners in his honour. Americans who, as Ings tartly comments, “can’t tell one Russian revolutionary from another” are delighted to applaud him. When trouble comes it has nothing to do with politics: it arises from the clash between revolutionary/bohemian sexual mores and American prudishness. Gorky, travelling with the actress Maria Andreyeva, to whom he is not married, causes scandal. He may deliver stirring speeches about how the “black blood-soaked wings of death” hover over his fatherland. He can recite Poe’s “The Raven” in Russian, thrilling auditors with his “deep musical voice”. But the grandeur of his mission and his manner are repeatedly undercut by farce. The pair of sinful lovers are turned out of hotels, and passed from one host’s spare room to another “like unexploded ordnance”.

They move on to London, where they meet Lenin, in exile like them. Lenin checks their bed sheets for damp – “We need to take good care of you” – and congratulates Gorky on having written a “useful” book (the novel Mother, which Gorky himself considers “really bad” but which lends itself to use as propaganda). So begins an association between the party and its tame author that will last uneasily for 30 years. To the Bolsheviks, Gorky is an asset as unreliable as he is valuable. To Gorky, the Soviet Union is a paymaster that allows him to practise the fascinating work of “god-building” – creating a faith for those who had abolished God. But at the time of the October Revolution he wrote that what was coming was “a long bloody anarchy, and, after it, a not less bloody and dark reaction”. Some 20 years later, Romain Rolland, watching him being treated as a literary lion, thought that Gorky was more like a sad old performing bear.

Link to the rest at The New Statesman

A Memoirist Who Told Everything and Repented Nothing

From The New Yorker:

When she died at a hundred and one in January of 2019, Diana Athill had publicly chronicled both ends of her long life in a series of nine memoirs. The first of these, “Instead of a Letter,” was published in 1963 and recently rereleased in the U.S. as part of the NYRB Classics series; it recounts her jolly, upper-class English childhood on the family estate of Ditchingham, in Norfolk. The last book that she wrote, “Alive, Alive Oh!,” came together in her “darling little room” at the Mary Feilding Guild, in Highgate, London, a garden-set home for the elderly; it’s a high-spirited, recalcitrant account of “waiting to die” at ninety-six.

Athill was the sort of character who ought to have seen her obituaries before she went. First, because she would have bewitchingly written off any high praise—the New York Times noted “her luminous prose, gimlet social acuity and ability to convey a profound sense of place”—with her brand of droll humor. (She refused burial at the Highgate Cemetery because of the cost: “I think being dead is an expensive business.”) And, second, because she would have enjoyed the evidence of how much her reputation had emerged; she’d worked behind the scenes for meagre wages and little adulation as one of the century’s great editors. In 1952, she became a co-founding director of the publishing house André Deutsch, and, until her retirement, in 1992, shepherded the likes of Philip Roth, John Updike, and Jean Rhys to publication. Athill wrote seven of her memoirs after leaving her nine-to-five, but, until that relatively late turn toward autobiographical mania, she knew her place. “We must always remember that we are only midwives—if we want praise for progeny we must give birth to our own,” she writes, in “Stet: An Editor’s Life.” We might not have known her had she not brought forth her own romping and exuberant litter.

Critics frequently used the terms “frank” or “candid” to describe Athill’s memoirs. But Athill doesn’t write as if no one is watching; she writes as if she’d never even imagined someone might watch, and therefore doesn’t have a scruple to hold on to. To describe honesty as her hallmark isn’t quite enough: that’s the least we can ask of our memoirists. What she is marvellous at is admitting, sans self-recrimination. In the early twenty-first century, the memoir has turned into a confessional, in a nearly religious sense. Writers go there to seek redemption, and to chart their evolution from naïve to knowing: no narrative is more marketable than metamorphosis. Athill doesn’t treat her foibles and losses—of love, of money, of caste, of certainty—as traumas, events that would define her life as troubled and scarring. Instead, she makes the case that being kicked out of Eden is good for the soul.

“I am glad that I have not inherited money or possessions,” Athill writes, striking a defiant note in “Instead of a Letter.” Inheritance was never her due, though as a child she once counted the bodies that stood between her and the palatial Ditchingham estate. “It appeared that at least twelve people, seven of them my contemporaries, would have to die before I would have a claim, and I hardly thought I ought to pray for this however much I would have liked to.” Ditchingham belonged to her mother’s parents, who offered it out as the extended family’s seasonal home, where they spent long summers and holidays throughout her early life. The thousand-acre estate with a twenty-bedroom, fully staffed house granted the family security in their Englishness, as members of an élite and unquestionable class. Athill stresses that the experience of growing up with such surety turned Ditchingham into a cocoon, a secure location from which to launch a life, but also a place she would inevitably leave. “There I used to be,” she opines, “as snug and as smug as anyone.” From an early age, she knew that adulthood would exist elsewhere.

Athill’s joy in Ditchingham, the children’s after-tea appearance in front of the grownups in the drawing room and the horsemen wandering across the fields, is the bright marrow of her writing: it suffuses her later life, and her prose, with bubbling, fresh oxygen. But, in “Instead of a Letter,” she writes as if she’s relieved that she got away from the estate and its inhabitants. “Like anyone else they had their charms,” she writes of her family, but “physically, intellectually, and morally, they were no more than middling.” Yet they thought themselves superior beings: “Smugness is too small a word for what it feels like from inside. From inside, it feels like moral and aesthetic rightness; from inside, it is people like me, who question it, who look stupid, ugly, and pitiful.”

Hence her happiness that she didn’t inherit: staying on at Ditchingham for a lifetime might have trapped her in the same small, closed life. Her childhood remained blissful to her as she aged because it lived on in her memory but didn’t define her future. “Never to have broken through its smothering folds would have been, I have always thought, extremely depressing,” she writes. “But on the other hand, not to have enjoyed a childhood wrapped warmly in those folds—that would be a sad loss.” Cousins were saddled with managing the finances of an upkeep-heavy country pile, whereas she, the oldest child of a fourth daughter, absorbed the bliss of the place but not the narrowness.

Ditchingham wasn’t the only inheritance that Athill would forgo. At thirteen, her mother told her that they’d “lost” their money, but what she meant was that they’d spent it all. “My parents felt they were living austerely because we ourselves looked after our ponies and they had not kept on their own hunters,” Athill writes, dryly. She recounts her mother telling her that “the really bloody thing about being poor is that if you leave something on the floor when you go out, you know that it will still be there when you get back.” Along with her two younger siblings, the family had been living in a well-staffed, six-bedroom house in Hertfordshire since her father had retired from the Army. Financially, they fell out a window but landed on a mattress—Athill’s grandparents rented them Manor Farm, a house on the estate, for cheap. A governess cost too much, so Athill was sent to Runton, a girls’ boarding school on the North Sea, and then up to St. Mary’s College at Oxford, in 1936.

When Athill was twenty-two, her future disintegrated again. She’d been engaged for two years when her fiancé, a Royal Air Force pilot named Tony Irvine, was deployed to Egypt. Then his letters suddenly stopped. She discovered in rapid succession that he’d married someone else while abroad and then been killed in action. “A long, flat unhappiness” set in, her sense of her own value collapsed, and her twenties were filled with broken-off relationships with incompatible men. “By the time I had reached my thirties,” she writes, toward the end of “Instead of a Letter,” “I was convinced that I lacked some vital quality necessary to inspire love.” At age ninety-nine, she explained in an interview, “there was a basic, underlying sense of failure—and it came from the very simple thing of having been brought up expecting to get married.”

“How did I get this way?” is one of memoir’s primary questions. Typical culprits are poverty or abandonment, sometimes a remarkable, indelible catastrophe. Cheryl Strayed’s mother died when Strayed, the author of “Wild,” was in college: she calls it her “genesis story.” Dani Shapiro, the author of five memoirs, starts her autobiographical path in “Slow Motion” with the story of her parents’ tragic car accident. Even Joan Didion reached new heights of cultural resonance with “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her memoir of the year following her husband’s death. The modern memoir is the proving ground for our national obsession with trauma, a place to gawk at whoever comes through the emotional meat grinder with the good sense and talent to finesse their damage into a redemption song.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Ditchingham Hall. (2022, April 20). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ditchingham_Hall. Photographer – Stephen Richards, CC BY-SA 2.0 (Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0)

Is everything you assumed about the Middle Ages wrong?

From The Economist:

“In public, your bottom should emit no secret winds past your thighs. It disgraces you if other people notice any of your smelly filth.” This useful bit of advice for young courtiers in the early 13th century appears in “The Book of the Civilised Man”, a poem by Daniel of Beccles. It is the first English guide to manners.

Ian Mortimer, a historian, argues that this and other popular works of advice that began appearing around the same time represent something important: a growing sense of social self-awareness, self-evaluation and self-control. Why then? Probably because of the revival of glass mirrors in the 12th century, which had disappeared from Europe after the fall of Rome. The mirror made it possible for men and women to see themselves as others did. It confirmed their individuality and inspired a greater sense of autonomy and potential. By 1500 mirrors were cheap, and their impact had spread through society.

Mr Mortimer sets out to show that the medieval period, from 1000 to 1600, is profoundly misunderstood. It was not a backward and unchanging time marked by violence, ignorance and superstition. Instead, huge steps in social and economic progress were made, and the foundations of the modern world were laid.

The misapprehension came about because people’s notion of progress is so bound up with scientific and technological developments that came later, particularly with the industrial and digital revolutions. The author recounts one claim he has heard: that a contemporary schoolchild (armed with her iPhone) knows more about the world than did the greatest scientist of the 16th century.

Never mind that astronomers such as Copernicus and Galileo knew much more about the stars than most children do today. Could a modern architect (without his computer) build a stone spire like Lincoln Cathedral’s, which is 160 metres (525 feet) tall and was completed by 1311? Between 1000 and 1300 the height of the London skyline quintupled, whereas between 1300 and the completion of the 72-storey Shard in 2010, it only doubled. Inventions, including gunpowder, the magnetic compass and the printing press, all found their way from China to transform war, navigation and literacy.

This led to many “expanding horizons” for Europeans. Travel was one. In the 11th century no European had any idea what lay to the east of Jerusalem or south of the Sahara. By 1600 there had been several circumnavigations of the globe.

Law and order was another frontier. Thanks to the arrival of paper from China in the 12th century and the advent of the printing press in the 1430s, document-creation and record-keeping, which are fundamental to administration, surged. Between 1000 and 1600 the number of words written and printed in England went from about 1m a year to around 100bn. In England, a centralised legal and criminal-justice system evolved rapidly from the 12th century. Violent deaths declined from around 23 per 100,000 in the 1300s to seven per 100,000 in the late 16th century.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Google to pause Gemini image generation after AI refuses to show images of White People

From Fox Business:

Google will pause the image generation feature of its artificial intelligence (AI) tool, Gemini, after the model refused to create images of White people, Reuters reported. 

The Alphabet-owned company apologized Wednesday after users on social media flagged that Gemini’s image generator was creating inaccurate historical images that sometimes replaced White people with images of Black, Native American and Asian people.

“We’re aware that Gemini is offering inaccuracies in some historical image generation depictions,” Google had said on Wednesday.

Gemini, formerly known as Google Bard, is one of many multimodal large language models (LLMs) currently available to the public. As is the case with all LLMs, the human-like responses offered by these AIs can change from user to user. Based on contextual information, the language and tone of the prompter, and training data used to create the AI responses, each answer can be different even if the question is the same.

Fox News Digital tested Gemini multiple times this week after social media users complained that the model would not show images of White people when prompted. Each time, it provided similar answers. When the AI was asked to show a picture of a White person, Gemini said it could not fulfill the request because it “reinforces harmful stereotypes and generalizations about people based on their race.”

When prompted to show images of a Black person, the AI instead offered to show images that “celebrate the diversity and achievement of Black people.”

When the user agreed to see the images, Gemini provided several pictures of notable Black people throughout history, including a summary of their contributions to society. The list included poet Maya Angelou, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, former President Barack Obama and media mogul Oprah Winfrey.

Asked to show images that celebrate the diversity and achievements of White people, the AI said it was “hesitant” to fulfill that request.” 

. . . .

“Historically, media representation has overwhelmingly favored White individuals and their achievements,” Gemini said. “This has contributed to a skewed perception where their accomplishments are seen as the norm, while those of other groups are often marginalized or overlooked. Focusing solely on White individuals in this context risks perpetuating that imbalance.”

After multiple tests White people appeared to be the only racial category that Gemini refused to show.

Link to the rest at Fox Business and thanks to F. for the tip

Late Middle English

It was during the 14th century that a different dialect (known as the East-Midlands) began to develop around the London area.

Geoffrey Chaucer, a writer we have come to identify as the Father of English Literature[5] and author of the widely renowned Canterbury Tales, was often heralded as the greatest poet of that particular time. It was through his various works that the English language was more or less “approved” alongside those of French and Latin, though he continued to write up some of his characters in the northern dialects.

It was during the mid-1400s that the Chancery English standard was brought about. The story goes that the clerks working for the Chancery in London were fluent in both French and Latin. It was their job to prepare official court documents and prior to the 1430s, both the aforementioned languages were mainly used by royalty, the church, and wealthy Britons. After this date, the clerks started using a dialect that sounded as follows:

gaf (gave) not yaf (Chaucer’s East Midland dialect)
such not swich
theyre (their) not hir [6]

As you can see, the above is starting to sound more like the present-day English language we know.
If one thinks about it, these clerks held enormous influence over the manner of influential communication, which ultimately shaped the foundations of Early Modern English.

Early Modern English

The changes in the English language during this period occurred from the 15th to mid-17th Century, and signified not only a change in pronunciation, vocabulary or grammar itself but also the start of the English Renaissance.

The English Renaissance has much quieter foundations than its pan-European cousin, the Italian Renaissance, and sprouted during the end of the 15th century. It was associated with the rebirth of societal and cultural movements, and while slow to gather steam during the initial phases, it celebrated the heights of glory during the Elizabethan Age.

It was William Caxton’s innovation of an early printing press that allowed Early Modern English to become mainstream, something we as English learners should be grateful for! The Printing Press was key in standardizing the English language through distribution of the English Bible.

Caxton’s publishing of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (the Death of Arthur) is regarded as print material’s first bestseller. Malory’s interpretation of various tales surrounding the legendary King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in his own words, and the ensuing popularity indirectly ensured that Early Modern English was here to stay.

It was during Henry the VIII’s reign that English commoners were finally able to read the Bible in a language they understood, which to its own degree, helped spread the dialect of the common folk.

The end of the 16th century brought about the first complete translation of the Catholic Bible, and though it didn’t make a markable impact, it played an important role in the continued development of the English language, especially with the English-speaking Catholic population worldwide.

The end of the 16th and start of the 17th century would see the writings of actor and playwright, William Shakespeare, take the world by storm.

Why was Shakespeare’s influence important during those times? Shakespeare started writing during a time when the English language was undergoing serious changes due to contact with other nations through war, colonisation, and the likes. These changes were further cemented through Shakespeare and other emerging playwrights who found their ideas could not be expressed through the English language currently in circulation. Thus, the “adoption” of words or phrases from other languages were modified and added to the English language, creating a richer experience for all concerned.

It was during the early 17th century that we saw the establishment of the first successful English colony in what was called The New World. Jamestown, Virginia, also saw the dawn of American English with English colonizers adopting indigenous words, and adding them to the English language.

The constant influx of new blood due to voluntary and involuntary (i.e. slaves) migration during the 17th, 18th and 19th century meant a variety of English dialects had sprung to life, this included West African, Native American, Spanish and European influences.

Meanwhile, back home, the English Civil War, starting mid-17th century, brought with it political mayhem and social instability. At the same time, England’s puritanical streak had taken off after the execution of Charles I. Censorship was a given, and after the Parliamentarian victory during the War, Puritans promoted an austere lifestyle in reaction to what they viewed as excesses by the previous regime[7]. England would undergo little more than a decade under Puritan leadership before the crowning of Charles II. His rule, effectively the return of the Stuart Monarchy, would bring about the Restoration period which saw the rise of poetry, philosophical writing, and much more.

It was during this age that literary classics, like those of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, were published, and are considered relevant to this age!

Late Modern English

The Industrial Revolution and the Rise of the British Empire during the 18th, 19th and early 20th-century saw the expansion of the English language.

The advances and discoveries in science and technology during the Industrial Revolution saw a need for new words, phrases, and concepts to describe these ideas and inventions. Due to the nature of these works, scientists and scholars created words using Greek and Latin roots e.g. bacteria, histology, nuclear, biology. You may be shocked to read that these words were created but one can learn a multitude of new facts through English language courses as you are doing now!

Colonialism brought with it a double-edged sword. It can be said that the nations under the British Empire’s rule saw the introduction of the English language as a way for them to learn, engage, and hopefully, benefit from “overseas” influence. While scientific and technological discoveries were some of the benefits that could be shared, colonial Britain saw this as a way to not only teach their language but impart their culture and traditions upon societies they deemed as backward, especially those in Africa and Asia.

The idea may have backfired as the English language walked away with a large number of foreign words that have now become part and parcel of the English language e.g. shampoo, candy, cot and many others originated in India!

English in the 21st Century

If one endevours to study various English language courses taught today, we would find almost no immediate similarities between Modern English and Old English. English grammar has become exceedingly refined (even though smartphone messaging have made a mockery of the English language itself) where perfect living examples would be that of the current British Royal Family. This has given many an idea that speaking proper English is a touch snooty and high-handed. Before you scoff, think about what you have just read. The basic history and development of a language that literally spawned from the embers of wars fought between ferocious civilisations. Imagine everything that our descendants went through, their trials and tribulations, their willingness to give up everything in order to achieve freedom of speech and expression.

Getting a Grip on Gravity Aboard a Ship

From The Wall Street Journal:

There’s an endless stream of advice about things that will stop you sleeping well: bright screens before bedtime, too much caffeine, the wrong pillows and so on. Let me add one to the list. It’s almost impossible to get any decent sleep while you’re constantly sliding across the bedsheets down to the end of the bed, and then a few seconds later sliding back the other way.

This sounds extreme, but it’s been a regular feature of my life over the past month. I spent some of November and all of December on a scientific research ship in the middle of the Labrador Sea, as part of an international project to measure stormy seas and how they help the ocean breathe. It was a great opportunity from a scientific point of view, but it came with a built-in challenge—the middle of the ocean during a big storm is a very difficult place to work, because gravity becomes a fickle trickster.

Gravity is incredibly useful, most of all because it’s reliable. We put things on shelves knowing that they’re going to stay there. Faucets point downward because the water will come out and keep going down. But if you need a ship to go in specific directions for scientific reasons, it can’t sit in the most stable orientation amid the wind and the waves. The ship will roll much more than normal and gravity effectively becomes changeable.

You find yourself chasing the water around the shower cubicle because the direction that it’s falling relative to you keeps shifting. Every corridor has handrails that you need to hold onto as you zigzag along. The default assumption is that everything will move, so you have to strap everything down as soon as you move it and if you don’t, it certainly won’t be there when you get back. After one particularly violent night, I got down to my lab to find that a large, heavy instruction manual that I left on a shelf had been thrown onto the top of the printer 3 yards away.

But there is one exception to all this motion. There’s a type of nonslip rubbery mesh table mat that I’ve never seen outside a ship, and anything that’s placed on that will just stay put. The night that the manual took flight, I had left a laptop sitting on a grippy tabletop mat, not strapped down, and I really should have been punished for that mistake by finding the laptop smashed in a corner. But it hadn’t moved.

My savior was friction, and this type of mat is exceptional at creating it. Surfaces are all rough at tiny scales, and so when one object is placed on top of another they only really touch at a small number of tiny points. It’s like one mountain range being placed upside down on top of another one, so that only the biggest peaks actually poke into the other surface, and those points take all the weight.

But the soft rubber is easily squashed, increasing the contact area as the mat molds itself to the underside of the object on top. That makes it much harder for the upper object to slide. When there’s a sideways force, the top of the rubber can also move slightly sideways without breaking, absorbing the force within the mat and reducing the sideways push on the object. That all reduces the sensitivity of the object to the exact direction of gravity. As long as gravity is still mostly downward, the mat will stop things sliding around. This is a game-changer at sea, because “mostly downward” is as reliable as gravity gets.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)