The Tory’s Wife

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Revolutionary War liberated Americans from the oppressive colonial rule of the British, but as the postwar era began, it wasn’t clear how much women benefited from the hard-won freedoms accorded to men. Wives were still subject to the English common law of coverture, which gave husbands control of their property; women had next-to-no political rights. Had the Revolution changed anything?

Cynthia Kierner, a professor of history at George Mason University, examines this question in “The Tory’s Wife.” Her short, readable volume recounts the story of Jane Welborn Spurgin, a farm wife and mother of 13, in the backwoods of North Carolina. Other than the fact that she was literate, there was nothing particularly notable about Jane. She didn’t move in elite circles, and she certainly wasn’t famous. Yet she publicly claimed her rights as a citizen of the new American republic in a series of petitions to the state legislature. Ms. Kierner’s focus on Jane stems from her scholarly interest in how the war drew ordinary women into the political sphere.

Jane was a Whig, a patriot who supported the American uprising. She courageously put her patriotism into action when, in early 1781, she provided food and shelter to the American commander in the South, Gen. Nathanael Greene, who set up camp on her family’s property in the North Carolina town of Abbotts Creek. If the British attack, Greene told her, grab the kids and run for the basement. When the general sought her advice in finding a trustworthy person to spy on British Gen. Charles Cornwallis, who was camped nearby, she recommended one of her sons for the dangerous job.

Jane’s husband, William, did not share his wife’s fidelity to the cause of liberty. While Jane was aiding the Continental Army, he was fighting against his fellow North Carolinians as an officer in the Tory militia, for which he had recruited like-minded Loyalists. Before the war, William was a moderately prosperous landowner and a justice of the peace. As war broke out, he was deemed “an Enemy to his Country” by a local political committee, and he spent much of the war in hiding. He disappeared after the American victory, eventually turning up in Canada with a woman he called his wife. The crown rewarded his loyalty with a generous gift of acreage in what is now Ontario.

Jane was not so fortunate. Back in North Carolina, the postwar state legislature passed a bill confiscating Tory property, thus putting her, the wife of a traitor, in danger of losing her family’s home. She refused to move out and set about asserting her ownership rights in three petitions. Referring to herself in the third person, she wrote: “She has always behaved herself as a good Citizen and well attached to the government. She thinks it extremely hard to be deprived of the Common rights of other Citizens.” The “other Citizens” were, of course, men.

For most women, Ms. Kierner writes, “the right to petition was the only political right they formally possessed” under the law. It wasn’t unusual for women to petition for state support for themselves and their children, couching their requests in humble and ingratiating language. Their husbands were dead or missing, and they wanted the state to take on the role of their protector.

In contrast, Jane’s petitions were more direct and less deferential. Ms. Kierner characterizes them as “bold” and distinctive for their “legalism and clarity.” Jane even secured the support of 78 neighbors, who co-signed her second petition in 1788. It is noteworthy, the author says, that Jane “framed her own claim to citizenship in terms of the right to own and protect her family’s property.” That is, she based her case on a traditional understanding of citizenship “as deriving from one’s material stake in society.”

As “The Tory’s Wife” opens, Ms. Kierner warns readers not to expect a conventional biography. Official records yield little information about ordinary women like Jane. The author paints a fuller portrait of William, who had a public role as a justice of the peace and a notorious Tory.

In noting the paucity of sources that document Jane’s life, Ms. Kierner observes that much of the material is “necessarily contextual and sometimes speculative.” The author turns the lack of factual information to her readers’ advantage, providing often fascinating details about life in rural North Carolina—especially about women who struggled to survive the upheavals of war. She cites the grim punishment of a mother for the crime of teaching her children to support the revolution. A son recalled that she was “tied up and whipped by the Tories, her house burned and property destroyed.”

The Whig-Tory divide wasn’t found only in the Spurgins’ marriage. It was prevalent in the wider society, and Ms. Kierner deftly describes North Carolinians’ bitter and often violent struggles. She quotes Gen. Greene, who wrote: “The whole Country is in danger of being laid waste by the Whigs and the Tories, who pursue each other with as much relentless Fury as Beasts of Prey.” There were times when the divided populace seemed to be fighting a civil war, not a war of independence.

And what of Jane, the book’s putative heroine? The North Carolina legislature eventually awarded her a portion of the land she had demanded without acknowledging the legitimacy of her claims. The settlement delivered security for her and her children if not support for her argument on her rights as a citizen. Ms. Kierner concludes that “the Revolution led Jane, like many other Americans, to confront authority and to reimagine her relationship to the polity and the men who ran it.”

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

Times When Commas Have Been Critical

From diyMFA:

It may appear to be a tiny little mark, barely bigger than a period. YET, the usage or omission of a comma can make a huge difference in your meaning and maybe even your wallet. Let’s take a look at three times when a comma could have or did change the course of history.

Tariff Act of 1872

I think we all hate paying taxes, but fruit importers got a break from theirs when a clerk misprinted a hyphen as a comma instead. The early United States began imposing tariffs (taxes) on imported goods as far back as 1789. Over time, these laws were modified and had to be copied into new documents.

Well, maybe they didn’t have their coffee that day, but a poor clerk writing up the new tariff made a boo-boo and added a comma where it shouldn’t have been. The original law (from 1870) had exempted “fruit plants, tropical and semi-tropical for the purpose of propagation or cultivation.” But in 1872, a stray comma came in after “fruit,” which made importers argue that all fruits (not just full fruit plants) should be exempt.

People made arguments and debated on both sides. Congress eventually changed the comma, but not before refunding over $2 million ($40 million with inflation) to importers they had taxed while the comma was in place.

Maine Dairy Deliveries

Big corporations will do anything to save a buck—except check their commas. In 2014, five drivers for a dairy company sued the company for overtime pay, which they claimed stemmed from the lack of the Oxford (serial) comma in their contract.

The contract said that overtime did not apply to workers involved in the “canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of” perishable foods. 

Notice how this list does not have a comma before the “or”? Well, that lack of the serial comma in this sentence implies that the overtime exemption doesn’t apply to those who ONLY distribute and do not pack the items.

The courts officially agreed with this reading of the document and awarded a $5 Million settlement covering 127 drivers. So, before you go arguing for or against the Oxford comma, make sure your meaning comes first and your preference comes second.

Link to the rest at diyMFA

The Timeless Power of Universal Themes in Fiction

From C.S. Lakin:

As avid readers and writers of fiction, we often find ourselves drawn to stories that leave an indelible mark on our hearts and minds. Have you ever wondered what makes certain stories stand the test of time, resonating with audiences across the globe, regardless of cultural or geographical differences?

The answer lies in the artful incorporation of universal themes—the bedrock upon which the most enduring and impactful stories are built.

What Are Universal Themes?

Universal themes are timeless, fundamental ideas that are shared by humans collectively and individually. They are the threads that connect the human experience, delving into emotions, beliefs, and values that resonate with people from all walks of life.

Whether it’s the exploration of love, the quest for justice, or the enduring human spirit, themes speak to the heart of storytelling in a truly universal language. I like how Michael Hauge, Hollywood story consultant, puts it: Theme is the character’s inner motivation made universal. It’s what drives your character toward her goal that resonates with readers.

Infusing Theme Strategically

Incorporating universal themes into fiction is not merely a stylistic choice; it is a strategic move that elevates a story from being entertaining to becoming emotionally resonant and thought-provoking.

These themes serve as the glue that binds the narrative together, providing depth and meaning to the characters’ journeys and the plot’s twists and turns. When readers connect with a universal theme, they see themselves in the characters, fostering empathy and understanding across diverse backgrounds and experiences.

You don’t have to create a general setting or situation that everyone can relate to. In fact, the more specific and narrow the milieu of your story, the more the universality can resonate. Take a novel like The Kite Runner, a blockbuster book set in Afghanistan. The cultural setting might have been unfamiliar to the majority of readers, but the moral dilemma and thematic issues the characters face are extremely relatable—the humiliation, shame, and fear explored are all emotions people everywhere have experienced.

Another novel that highlights universal themes is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Whitehead’s powerful book reimagines the historical Underground Railroad as a literal network of trains, offering a harrowing portrayal of slavery and the quest for freedom. The themes of resilience, the pursuit of justice, and the human spirit’s capacity to endure in the face of oppression simmer through the pages.

Universal themes enrich the narrative tapestry by delving into fundamental aspects of life – love, loss, redemption, justice, and the human condition. By tapping into a shared reservoir of human experience, writers create stories that resonate profoundly. These themes serve as a bridge between the characters and the audience, fostering empathy and connection.

The Profound Impact of Universal Themes

Beyond emotional resonance, universal themes provide a platform for exploring complex and meaningful ideas within the framework of a narrative. They allow writers to delve into societal issues, moral dilemmas, and philosophical questions, inviting readers to ponder and reflect.

Link to the rest at C.S. Lakin

The 50 Best Books of the 20th Century

From The Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

Earlier this year, the Modern Library published a list styled The Hundred Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century. A list of significant books can make a compelling statement about how we are to understand an age. In judging the quality of a book, one necessarily judges the perception and the profundity which the book displays, as well as the character of the book’s influence.

Yet many were dissatisfied with the several “Best” lists published in the past year, finding them biased, too contemporary, or simply careless. So the Intercollegiate Review (IR) set out to assemble its own critically serious roster of the Best—and the Worst—Books of the Century. To assist us in this task, we relied on the advice of a group of exceptional academics from a variety of disciplines.

To make the task more manageable, our lists include only nonfiction books originally published in English, and so certain giants of the century such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn will not be found here, on two counts. We left the definition of “Best” up to our consultants, but we defined “Worst” for them as books which were widely celebrated in their day but which upon reflection can be seen as foolish, wrong-headed, or even pernicious.

There was broad agreement about a majority of titles, but there were also fierce disagreements. Several titles appeared on both “Best” and “Worst” lists. We have tried to be faithful to the contributions of our consultants, but the responsibility for final composition of the list lay with the editors of the IR.

What, then, do these lists reveal about the character of the Twentieth Century?

Our “Worst” list reveals a remarkable number of volumes of sham social science of every kind. The attempt to understand human action as an epiphenomenon of “hidden” and purportedly “deeper” motives such as sex, economics, or the Laws of History is a powerful yet hardly salutary trend in our century. The presumed “breakthrough” insight that professes to reveal the shape of some inevitable future has time and again proven to be profoundly misguided. And with human life reduced in these theories to a matter for technological manipulation, our century also reveals a persistent attraction to a dehumanizing statist administration of society.

Prominent on the “Best” list, on the other hand, are many volumes of extraordinary reflection and creativity in a traditional form, which heartens us with the knowledge that fine writing and clear-mindedness are perennially possible.

1. Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams (1907)

Pessimism and nostalgia at the bright dawn of the twentieth century must have seemed bizarre to contemporaries. After a century of war, mass murder, and fanaticism, we know that Adams’s insight was keen indeed.

2. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1947)

Preferable to Lewis’s other remarkable books simply because of the title, which reveals the true intent of liberalism.

3. Whittaker Chambers, Witness (1952)

The haunting, lyrical testament to truth and humanity in a century of lies (and worse). Chambers achieves immortality recounting his spiritual journey from the dark side (Soviet Communism) to the—in his eyes—doomed West. One of the great autobiographies of the millennium.

4. T. S. Eliot, Selected Essays, 1917–1932 (1932, 1950)

Here, one of the century’s foremost literary innovators insists that innovation is only possible through an intense engagement of tradition. Every line of Eliot’s prose bristles with intelligence and extreme deliberation.

5. Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (1934–61)

Made the possibility of a divine role in history respectable among serious historians. Though ignored by academic careerists, Toynbee is still read by those whose intellectual horizons extend beyond present fashions.

Link to the rest at The Intercollegiate Studies Institute

The 50 Worst Books of the 20th Century

From The Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

Our lists include only nonfiction books originally published in English. We define “worst” as books that were widely celebrated in their day but that upon reflection can be seen as foolish, wrongheaded, or even pernicious.

Our “worst” list reveals a remarkable number of volumes of sham social science of every kind. The attempt to understand human action as an epiphenomenon of “hidden” and purportedly “deeper” motives such as sex, economics, or the Laws of History is a powerful yet hardly salutary trend in our century. The presumed “breakthrough” insight that professes to reveal the shape of some inevitable future has time and again proven to be profoundly misguided. And with human life reduced in these theories to a matter for technological manipulation, our century also reveals a persistent attraction to a dehumanizing statist administration of society. 

1. Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (1928)

So amusing did the natives find the white woman’s prurient questions that they told her the wildest tales—and she believed them! Mead misled a generation into believing that the fantasies of sexual progressives were an historical reality on an island far, far away.

2. Beatrice & Sidney Webb, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (1935)

An idea whose time has come . . . and gone, thank God.

3. Alfred Kinsey, et al., Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)

So mesmerized were Americans by the authority of Science, with a capital S, that it took forty years for anyone to wonder how data is gathered on the sexual responses of children as young as five. A pervert’s attempt to demonstrate that perversion is “statistically” normal.

4. Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (1964)

Dumbed-down Heidegger and a seeming praise of kinkiness became the Bible of the sixties and early postmodernism.

5. John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)

Dewey convinced a generation of intellectuals that education isn’t about anything; it’s just a method, a process for producing democrats and scientists who would lead us into a future that “works.” Democracy and Science (both pure means) were thereby transformed into the moral ends of our century, and America’s well-meaning but corrupting educationist establishment was born.

Link to the rest at The Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Big Publishing Killed the Author

From The New Republic:

The suggestion that Beloved, Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel about slavery and its afterlives, is also a parable about the publishing industry would be bizarre, even offensive—if, that is, Morrison herself hadn’t explicitly suggested it. For years, Morrison had felt not merely penned in by her career as an editor at the publishing giant Random House; she had felt indentured, “held in contempt—to be played with when our masters are pleased, to be dismissed when they are not,” as she declared in a speech six years before publishing Beloved. Upon leaving her job at Random House to focus on writing full-time, she felt “free in a way I had never been, ever.… Enter Beloved.” It was, she continued in the novel’s preface, “the shock of liberation”—liberation from the world of corporate publishing—“that drew my thoughts to what ‘free’ could mean.” In the novel itself, Morrison has Baby Suggs, the protagonist’s mother, describe freedom from slavery in strikingly similar terms.

In despairing of the modern publishing industry, even comparing it to bondage, Morrison was far from alone. Indeed, as Dan Sinykin, an assistant professor of English at Emory University, argues in his revelatory new book, Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature, the increasing consolidation and corporatization of the publishing industry—a process Sinykin calls “conglomeration”—profoundly changed not merely the way novels were published but also the content of those novels. As publishers grew far larger—and ever more concerned with the bottom line—the lives of editors and authors transformed. More than ever before, they became cogs in a corporate machine, responsible for growth and returns on investment, necessarily responsive to the whims and demands of capital—and these pressures increasingly showed up in their output.

It’s a compelling thesis, albeit one that fits easily into a fast-growing literature on the forces shaping the art and media we consume. A decade ago, the critic Mark McGurl argued that the postwar relocation of American fiction writing to the campus—and especially to university creative writing programs—resulted in novels that follow now-familiar rules (show, don’t tell; write from your experience, etc.). Another influential critic, James English, pointed to the rise of an “economy of prestige”—and especially to the Booker and Pulitzer prizes—to explain the reputational ascendancy of certain genres (e.g., historical fiction) and those genres’ consequent scarcity on bestseller lists. More recently, McGurl reentered the fray to assert that the behemoth of all behemoths—Amazon—has single-handedly reshaped contemporary fiction, and still another scholar, Laura McGrath, has shone a light on the significant role played by literary agents in determining the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is marketable for the modern novelist.

Nonetheless, Big Fiction is a fresh intervention, principally due to the richness of the context Sinykin provides and the impressively broad array of evidence he marshals. In his first book, American Literature and the Long Downturn, Sinykin drew on archival material and close reading to argue that the distinct economic miseries of the last half-century—deindustrialization, deregulation, the decimation of organized labor, and widening inequality—led a great many late-twentieth-century American novelists to turn to apocalyptic fiction, imagining escape or salvation in the form of “total annihilation.” Now, wielding many of the same analytical tools, Sinykin retells that same story—but with a larger cast of characters. The same economic forces that led authors to write about the end of the world led to the corporatization of publishing, which in turn compelled authors to turn inward, to obsess over self-reflexive concerns, to create stories of individuals struggling against the end of their world.

Before the 1960s, U.S. publishing was a family affair. Small, privately held “houses” (as they’re still anachronistically called) decided what to acquire based mainly on their relationships and references. If a favored author didn’t sell, oh well, an editor might sigh, hopefully, he (and it was usually a “he,” almost always a white “he”) would do better next time. While mass-market paperback publishers brought “genre” fiction (Westerns, mysteries, romance) to the masses, the houses strove to put out literary fiction (more challenging, more aesthetically interesting, or so the prevailing wisdom dictated)

Then everything changed. In 1960, the newspaper Times Mirror Company purchased the mass-market publisher New American Library, inaugurating what Sinykin calls “the conglomerate era.” That same year, Random House went public and, flush with newfound capital, acquired Knopf and, a year later, Pantheon. Conglomeration spread rapidly, with well-capitalized behemoths gobbling up mass-market houses and old family-run firms with equal fervor. Over the next decade and a half, the electronics company Radio Corporation of America acquired Random House, a Canadian communications firm nabbed Macmillan, the Italian conglomerate that owned Fiat swallowed Bantam, and Gulf + Western bought Simon & Schuster. Ultimately, conglomeration consolidated more and more imprints under single roofs, with the German conglomerate Bertelsmann seizing Doubleday in 1986, Random House in 1998, and Penguin (via a merger) in 2013.

The economic downturns of the late twentieth century, starting in the 1970s, did nothing to halt the rise of conglomerate publishing; in fact, they accelerated the process. Management consultants arrived, and they contributed to a fundamental shift in the way U.S. publishers did business. Editors, who had previously enjoyed considerable freedom and made decisions based on their personal preferences and gut instincts, now had to do so by reference to a balance sheet; they had to prove that each title they wished to procure would be a moneymaker. “Editors,” Toni Morrison claimed in her 1981 speech, “are now judged by the profitability of what they acquire rather than by what they acquire.” This led editors to take fewer risks and go out on fewer limbs; it led literary novelists to adopt the techniques of their lower-brow counterparts, turning to what sold.

Sinykin points to the illustrative example of Cormac McCarthy, who was lucky enough to start publishing under the old regime. For 28 years, starting in the mid-1960s, he put out dense, difficult novels with Random House without ever selling well enough to get a single royalty check. When his old-school editor retired in 1987, McCarthy—aware he was navigating a new world—hired a literary agent for the first time. Fortunately for him, he piqued the interest of rising super-agent Amanda “Binky” Urban, who moved him over to Knopf, where his next novel would be overseen by editor Sonny Mehta and others, the new generation. Relocated to a new imprint, with a new editor and an agent, McCarthy changed his style; he abandoned his abstract plots and instead wrote a Western, the story of a young cowboy mourning the death of his world, embracing many of the techniques of genre novelists as he did so. That novel, All the Pretty Horses, soared to the bestseller lists upon its publication in 1992; it sold 100,000 copies and was adapted into a blockbuster movie. Cormac McCarthy became and remained a star.

Link to the rest at The New Republic

PG says that times change, businesses change and people change. The Good Old Days didn’t always feel very good for the people who were living there.

New Authors Guild Survey Examines State of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions

From The Authors Guild:

The Authors Guild is pleased to announce the results of its Survey of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions in 2022. According to Mary Rasenberger, CEO of the Authors Guild, the survey was conducted to shed light on the labor conditions of those who work in one of our most cherished and undervalued art forms. “The impact of translation resonates far beyond the page,” she said. “It fosters understanding and connection among people with other lives from around the world. By challenging our perspectives, translated literature reminds us of the universality of human aspirations and creative expression.”

This survey was conducted online by the Authors Guild in October 2022, in collaboration with the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), the American Translators Association, PEN America, and other groups, and was widely promoted across social media platforms. Unlike the 2017 survey, which was open to all translators, our 2022 survey asked only translators residing in the United States to respond, since our primary objective was to assess the viability of literary translation as a livelihood with respect to the U.S. cost of living. Nearly 300 people responded to the survey. (The number of literary translators in the United States is likely much higher; ALTA currently counts almost 900 members.)

Over the past five years, the Authors Guild, in collaboration with ALTA, has been engaged in advocacy and education efforts on behalf of literary translators. One notable achievement was the release of the Literary Translation Model Contract in 2021, designed to raise awareness of translators’ rights and support their efforts to secure fair terms from publishers. Despite these initiatives and increased visibility for translators, the survey results reveal stagnation and, in some cases, a decline in the economic status of literary translators working in the United States.

. . . .

Key findings from the survey include:


  • Respondents ages were spread fairly evenly over all adult age groups, with the most (26 percent) aged 65 and above.
  • Racial/ethnic identity remained overwhelmingly white, though the number of Black/African American translators doubled from our 2017 survey, and the number of those who identified as Asian or Asian American was five times as high.
  • Gender identity showed a more diverse representation compared to the 2017 survey, reflecting evolving awareness.
  • Sexual identity saw a significant increase in LGBTQ+ representation.

Education and Experience

  • A high percentage of translators hold advanced degrees.
  • More newcomers have entered the translation field, likely due to increased educational opportunities and support networks.

Languages Translated

  • Respondents displayed a high level of multilingualism, representing translators to and from 50 different languages.

Translation Genres

  • Respondents translate a variety of genres, including fiction, nonfiction, theater, and poetry. The largest portion, 68 percent, are translators of fiction.
  • The report focuses principally on the responses from translators of prose (i.e., both fiction and nonfiction), since they are the ones most likely to report that they are earning, or seek to earn, a living from their translation work.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Work as Translators

  • Only 11.5 percent of respondents reported earning 100 percent of their income from literary translation.
  • A significant portion of translators held other jobs alongside translation work.


  • A concerning 63.5 percent reported an annual income of less than $10,000 from literary translation in 2021, twice as many as in 2016.
  • Regardless of full-time or part-time status, translators’ incomes have not kept pace with inflation.

Translation Rates

  • The average rate increased slightly, to $0.13 per word, but still lags behind the rising cost of living.
  • Rates varied based on gender, sexual identity, and racial/ethnic identity.


  • Approximately 46 percent of respondents reported having royalty clauses in their contracts.
  • Differences in royalty structures and payment timing were noted.


  • A majority of respondents (73 percent) retained the copyright to their work.
  • 44 percent of those who did not hold the copyright reported publisher refusal as the primary reason.

Name on Cover

  • More than half of prose translators reported having their names on the book cover.
  • Male translators had a slightly higher likelihood of having their names on the cover.
  • Publisher refusal remained the most common reason for exclusion.


  • A substantial 36 percent of respondents reported that their payment depended on the publisher receiving a grant.

While efforts have been made to improve translator rights and visibility, the economic outlook remains challenging for the vast majority of literary translators. The Authors Guild emphasizes the need for sustainable livelihoods for literary translators and encourages ongoing dialogue between translators and publishers to achieve fair terms and compensation.

According to Jennifer Croft, Booker Prize winning translator, “Translation is the bedrock of a rich and varied literary ecosystem, and every translator’s contribution is essential and unique. While the new Authors Guild survey shows some increase in racial and ethnic diversity among practicing translators, it continues to show inordinate discrepancies in fees, royalties, and cover credits. We must all fight to ensure a full flourishing of literature in the English-speaking world by demanding fair terms and improved compensation for translators, in the hopes of making translation a viable and accessible career.”

Proper compensation is not merely an act of fairness but an investment in enriching the literary art form and our collective human experience. By valuing translation and enabling its practitioners to earn a viable living from their craft, we invest in a future where our world is more interconnected, vibrant, and compassionate.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so

I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.

Anne Lamott

What’s the Future of Books?

From Esquire:

The publishing industry is in flux. One major publisher has been acquired by a private equity firm, editors are departing (and getting laid off) from others, there are fewer book media outlets than ever, and most literary discourse is happening online. But what does it all mean for the books themselves, and the ways that readers are discovering them? Here, we make some predictions about the future of books.

It’ll be even harder to launch debut fiction.

“Celebrities and tastemakers are becoming the new medium for discovery,” says Ariele Fredman, a literary agent at United Talent Agency who previously launched eight #1 New York Times bestsellers as a publicist. As a result, it will be more important than ever for debut novels to land on book club rosters.

A Reese Witherspoon, Oprah, or Jenna Bush endorsement can be enough to not only secure a spot on the bestseller list, but anoint an author with a fanbase that lasts. “If you don’t get one of those coveted spots, it becomes even harder to break a new voice,” Fredman adds.

Outside of those chosen debuts, “we’re going to see a continued investment in bigger-name authors” from publishers, says former editor Molly McGhee, the author of Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind, “because they have guaranteed returns on investment.”

Literary genre fiction and autofiction will still be the most popular modes of storytelling.

According to Dan Sinykinthe author of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literaturethe biggest trend on the page—also thanks to celebrity book clubs—will continue to be “literary genre fiction,” where “writers who are more artistic than they are entertaining” riff on genre tropes like dystopias, apocalypse tales, detective novels, and space operas. Think

It’ll be even harder to launch debut fiction.
“Celebrities and tastemakers are becoming the new medium for discovery,” says Ariele Fredman, a literary agent at United Talent Agency who previously launched eight #1 New York Times bestsellers as a publicist. As a result, it will be more important than ever for debut novels to land on book club rosters.

A Reese Witherspoon, Oprah, or Jenna Bush endorsement can be enough to not only secure a spot on the bestseller list, but anoint an author with a fanbase that lasts. “If you don’t get one of those coveted spots, it becomes even harder to break a new voice,” Fredman adds.

Outside of those chosen debuts, “we’re going to see a continued investment in bigger-name authors” from publishers, says former editor Molly McGhee, the author of Jonathan Abernathy You Are Kind, “because they have guaranteed returns on investment.”

Literary genre fiction and autofiction will still be the most popular modes of storytelling.
According to Dan Sinykin, the author of Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature, the biggest trend on the page—also thanks to celebrity book clubs—will continue to be “literary genre fiction,” where “writers who are more artistic than they are entertaining” riff on genre tropes like dystopias, apocalypse tales, detective novels, and space operas. Think Colson Whitehead, Marlon James, Emily St. John Mandel, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyeh.

. . . .

Book clubs and indie publishers will continue investing in multiplatform storytelling—especially audio.

“Stories are commodities now,” says Julie Grau, editor and publisher of Spiegel & Grau. “They’re not tied to a specific format.” These days, a story can take shape across print, audio, ebooks, film, and live events, which means readers who may not connect with a book might love it as an audio project. For this reason, “it’s actually never been a better time to be a creator,” says Michelle Weiner, co-head of the books department at Creative Artists Agency. Plus, she adds, there has been a surge in live book events since the pandemic. She foresees a new wave of “bespoke” book programming, with more interactive events like Channing Tatum’s live art launch party at Brooklyn’s Books Are Magic.

. . . .

People will pick up books not because of the plot, but because they want to *feel* a certain way (i.e. hopeful).

BookTok “prioritizes emotional release, storytelling, and romance,” McGhee says. As a result, TikTok has created a new way of talking about books. If you watch Today Show book segments, you might see Isaac Fitzgerald or Qian Julie Wang say that a book made them laugh! or cry! or feel alllllll the feelings. Influencer Zibby Owens has organized her Santa Monica bookstore around the feelings that books are intended to elicit, rather than topic or genre.

Publishers are thinking this way, too. In marketing language and jacket copy, One World senior editor Nicole Counts says, “what we have to communicate to the reader is how they’re going to feel.”

Link to the rest at Esquire

Fixing Racism in the Book Business

From Publishers Weekly:

Publishing attracts people who love books, reading, and ideas. But for many Black professionals in publishing, there’s a disconnect between the love of the medium and their work experiences, which can be rife with isolation, exclusion, and stalled routes to leadership.

The challenges these workers face reflect the central argument I make in Gray Areas: How the Way We Work Perpetuates Racism and What We Can Do to Fix It (Amistad, out now): that key aspects of hiring, organizational culture, and advancement are structured in ways that maintain racial inequality.

Organizational culture refers to the norms, values, and expectations that characterize a company. Aspects of organizational culture are usually implicit, so they may not be apparent until they are violated. Furthermore, they vary widely between companies and industries.

Many publishing houses can be characterized by clan culture, wherein staff are expected to work collaboratively. This type of organizational culture might seem benign—how could working closely create problems for Black employees?

Constance, one of the workers I interviewed for my book, provides an instructive example. A professor of chemical engineering, she found that the clan culture in her academic unit encouraged close collaborations and connections. But it also left colleagues unable to see or rectify the chilly climate she experienced as one of very few Black women in a white-male-dominated space. A clan culture in publishing might encourage workers to view each other as family, but if companies aren’t paying attention to racial dynamics, Black workers may end up feeling more like distant cousins at best.

Many companies try to rectify these issues with diversity training. These trainings have become nearly ubiquitous. But despite their prevalence, mandated trainings can, according to a 2021 piece in the Economist, actually do more harm than good.

Researchers found that mandating diversity training can make white workers resentful and less interested in and sensitive to racial discrimination at work. Perhaps surprisingly, as shown in the anthology Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience, Black workers, too, are often uninterested in diversity training, which seems more intended to achieve regulatory compliance than address the real issues Black workers encounter in the workplace.

I found this to be the case for Amalia, a journalist I interviewed. She worked for an outlet that encouraged her reporting on race and culture. But she also noted systemic barriers to hiring Black journalists and experienced extreme racist harassment online. Diversity trainings aren’t designed to address these issues. Black workers in publishing may experience similar situations and feel that diversity training does little to offset the challenges they encounter.

Finally, my research shows that advancement isn’t just shaped by skill and success but through networks and connections, especially with mentors and sponsors who can aid career advancement. For Kevin, who worked in the nonprofit sector, being a Black man surrounded by mostly white women colleagues made finding mentors and sponsors difficult. He usually felt pigeonholed by his supervisors’ perceptions of him, which he felt were shaped by racial and gendered stereotypes. The 2019 study Being Black in Corporate America, from nonprofit thinktank Coqual, found that Black workers have less access to managers and supervisors than colleagues of other racial groups. For Black workers in publishing, this can adversely impact routes to promotion and help explain underrepresentation in leadership roles.

So, what can publishing do differently? Fortunately, there are evidence-based solutions, as demonstrated in Getting to Diversity: What Works and What Doesn’t by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev. Instead of mandating diversity training, publishing houses can institute diversity task forces that identify and rectify racial issues related to hiring, work environment, and advancement.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Perhaps a boycott of traditional publishing is in order.

The Stories of William Faulkner: Mississippi’s Talebearer

From The Wall Street Journal:

William Faulkner told all sorts of tall tales about his life and work. During World War I he enlisted in the Royal Air Force in Toronto (having given his birthplace as Middlesex, England). He returned home to Mississippi sporting RAF wings to which he was not entitled, his experience having amounted to six months of ground training. The notion that becoming a novelist was some kind of literary consolation prize is another fabrication. Faulkner said that he began his literary career writing poetry. “I’m a failed poet,” he told the Paris Review in 1956. He then turned to the short story, “the most demanding form after poetry,” and only after failing at that, too, he said, did he resign himself to the novel.

The Faulkner oeuvre is vast, and not all of it bears revisiting, but between 1929 and 1936, he produced a body of work unmatched in American literature for inventiveness in form and content. His fourth published novel, “The Sound and the Fury” (1929), introduced this catalog, followed by “As I Lay Dying” (1930), then “Sanctuary” (1931), “Light in August” (1932), and “Absalom, Absalom!” (1936), one of the most astonishing novels in the English language.

The high period was also filled to the brim with short stories: 16 in 1931 alone, published in journals such as the Saturday Evening Post, the American Mercury and Harper’s. The year before, the Post paid $750 apiece for two stories, “a better price than he had received for any novel,” according to the substantial chronology in “Stories,” the sixth and final volume in the Library of America’s splendid Faulkner edition. Edited by Theresa M. Towner, it largely follows Faulkner’s own arrangements, using his “Collected Stories” of 1950 as a backbone. The six stories of “Knight’s Gambit,” focused on the lawyer Gavin Stevens, are also included, as well as miscellaneous works.

Faulkner’s poetry has scarcely made it out of the bottom drawer, but short stories are integral to his achievement. As with the novels, the majority are set in Yoknapatawpha County, his fictionalized corner of Mississippi, with the town of Jefferson standing for Oxford. One of the pleasures of reading this book is seeing how certain stories shimmer as invisible chapters from familiar novels. “That Evening Sun,” published in 1931, links “The Sound and the Fury” to a later one, “Requiem for a Nun” (1951), yet the events it describes feature in neither. In the story, the black servant Nancy passes an anxious evening in her cabin at the Compson place, anticipating the return of a violent man. The three children with her, Caddie, Jason and Quentin, understand little of the situation and concentrate on making popcorn. In “Requiem for a Nun,” Nancy is on trial for the murder of the infant child of Temple Drake and Gowan Stevens, whose appearance whisks the reader back 20 years to “Sanctuary.”

 Another much-anthologized story, “Barn Burning” (1939), provided the seed for “The Hamlet” (1940), the first volume of Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy. In the novel, Ab Snopes’s arson habit is merely suggested, while in the story, written earlier, it is, so to speak, fully lit.

The Compsons and the Stevenses are among Yoknapatawpha’s prominent families, a grouping that also includes the Sutpens, the McCaslins and the clan of Ikkemotubbe, chief of the Chickasaw tribe that occupied the territory when the first white settlers arrived. “A dispossessed American king,” Faulkner called him. Among several good stories involving Indians are “Red Leaves” and “Mountain Victory.” There are no prominent “Negro” families, to use Faulkner’s preferred word, unless we count the indomitable figure of the sharecropper Lucas Beauchamp and his brood—Lucas features in the interconnected stories of “Go Down, Moses” (1942), included in an earlier Library of America volume—or the Compsons’ servant and moral compass, Dilsey Gibson.

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

PG remembers one of his college professors mentioning”Yoknapatawpha, ” but can’t recall what the word sounded like. However, that didn’t prevent PG from being a big fan of Faulkner’s work in high school and college. As I Lay Dying was PG’s favorite.

Why Activism Leads to So Much Bad Writing

From The Atlantic:

When artists turn to activism or introduce politics into a work of art, it’s usually taken as something virtuous, an act of conscience on behalf of justice. But artistic and political values are not the same; in some ways they’re opposed, and mixing them can corrupt both. Politics is almost never a choice between good and evil but rather between two evils, and anyone who engages in political action will end up with dirty hands, distorting the truth if not peddling propaganda; whereas an artist has to aspire to an intellectual and emotional honesty that will drive creative work away from any political line. Art that tries to give political satisfaction is unlikely to be very good as either politics or art.

Last month, 92NY, a Jewish cultural center in New York, canceled a long-scheduled event with the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen after he and 750 other writers and artists signed an open letter in the London Review of Books calling for “an end to the violence and destruction of Palestine.” The organizers insist that the event was only postponed, but that’s not how it looked. The cancellation was part of a wave of suppressed speech following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel: Pro-Palestinian student groups have been banned, speakers disinvited, and employees fired; a ceremony honoring a Palestinian writer was canceled and an Islamic art exhibit withdrawn; the only Palestinian American member of Congress was censured. All of these acts are hostile to the values of free expression in a liberal democracy.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Jesmyn Ward returns with an evocative tale of slavery

From The Economist:

On nights when the moon shines brightly, Annis’s mother takes her to a secret clearing and teaches her to fight. “You the grand-daughter of a woman warrior,” she says, as she teaches sparring skills learned from her own mother. These lessons strengthen Annis but confuse her. As a slave on a plantation in North Carolina, she knows she must absorb blows, not parry them. “It’s a way to recall another world,” her mother explains, eager to pass on something, anything, that grants a sense of her West African history, of power, of potential. “It wasn’t a perfect world,” Annis’s mother adds, “but it wasn’t so wrong as this one.”

Jesmyn Ward has earned two National Book Awards and a MacArthur “genius” grant for novels that animate the poverty and violence experienced by black families living on America’s Gulf Coast. In “Let Us Descend” she returns to this southern American landscape, but centuries earlier, for a visceral chronicle of one young woman’s bondage. The novel’s title comes from Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem, “The Divine Comedy”, in which he describes a journey through hell.

A longtime resident of rural Mississippi, Ms Ward has observed how the legacy of slavery still haunts the region. She has noted that the state waited until 2013 to ratify the 13th amendment to abolish slavery and had a Confederate battle emblem on its state flag until 2020. She is in good company in using fiction to contemplate America’s brutal history. Novelists are offering slave narratives, perhaps to help counter state crackdowns on efforts to teach children about the country’s racist past. Recent books by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Marlon James, Zadie Smith, Colson Whitehead and others connect the dots between the degradations of slavery and the current hardships for many African-Americans.

When the book opens, Annis’s life seems hard enough: she works long hours cleaning and polishing the home of her master, who is also her father. . . . Yet time steals what little Annis has, including her mother, her lover, her strength and her hope. She toils in sugar-cane fields among children who “breathe in sobs”, and she looks for relief from spirits, having lost faith in people.

This is a sensual book, full of humming bees, brackish water, “undulating mud” and “ground-down bones, breaking dusty at the joints”. It is also often a sluggish book, trudging despairingly forward—like Annis herself when she is forced to walk hundreds of miles, “stooped, bleeding”, to the slave markets of New Orleans. The novel sometimes succumbs to its misery. The grief is palpable, often uncomfortable, perhaps because Ms Ward wrote much of the book after the sudden death of her partner in 2020.

Link to the rest at The Economist

When Getting It Wrong Makes It Better

From Writer Unboxed:

In the late ‘70s, when I was a freshman at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, a film crew descended upon our quirky little town to shoot a movie. At the time I believe it was called “Bambino,” but that would change. The movie focused on an annual bicycle race the university hosted, called the Little 500 (a reference to the famed Indianapolis 500, the big annual auto race held 50 miles to the north). The Little 500 was the event of the year for students and townspeople alike, and to this day it draws crowds of 25,000 whenever April rolls around.

When you live in smalltown central Indiana, it’s not every day that Hollywood comes calling, and both the city and the university greeted the film project with open arms. It was the talk of the town, and soon we began seeing sections of the campus and surrounding area cordoned off while a cafeteria, courtyard or local street was commandeered to film some scene.

What was the movie about? Nobody really knew, other than that the climactic moment would be a reenactment of our big bicycle race. And – most thrilling of all – there was an open call to attend said reenactment as an extra, since they needed the stadium in which the race was held to be full of people. As a bonus, they also needed a ton of competitive bike riders, and since my dormitory floor had a team that had qualified to compete in the real race, the guys on that team were hired to ride in the reenactment, while the rest of their loyal floormates fake-cheered them on from the stands, hoping to be captured forever on film.

Suffice to say, we were stoked.

It didn’t take long for some of the novelty to wear off. The film crew seemed to be everywhere, and they showed no signs of ever being done. It became tiresome to have to walk around to a rear entrance of an academic hall, because the front of the building was being used for some scene they were shooting.

Even more troubling, we began to notice what they were getting WRONG. We heard talk that the movie would highlight rivalries between students and “cutters” – a derogatory name the filmmakers were using for the local townspeople, harkening back to a bygone era when Bloomington was home to a large workforce of limestone cutters. The problem was, the limestone quarries had been closed for years, there was little or no actual rivalry, and nobody called them “cutters.” “Townies,” maybe. A few called them “stonies” (for “stone cutters”). But what was all this “cutters” nonsense? No, this did NOT bode well.

And then there were the race scenes. Despite the initial surge of interest, it quickly became evident that there was no way to actually fill the stadium where the race was being filmed day after day, because nowhere near enough people were showing up. So the film crew would direct us (yes, yours truly was in some of the crowd scenes) to all shuffle back and forth to different parts of the stadium and sit together in crowded clumps of people. After one shot was completed, we would be ushered to some other section of the stands, and we began to understand that they would somehow stitch together the footage to make the stadium appear full, when in reality you were likely seeing the same much smaller group of people over and over again, sitting in whatever section of the stadium the camera was capturing at a given moment. Although this was long before the advent of CGI, even then we were skeptical of such a low-tech approach. (You’d be surprised how quickly a bunch of 19-year-old Midwestern punks become experts in critiquing filmmaking techniques.)

The movie didn’t come out until the following year, by which time it had been renamed “Breaking Away.” Back in Bloomington, we all flocked to the movie theater to see it, hoping to catch a glimpse of ourselves in the bike-racing scenes.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for the finished result. A film that we had assumed would be about our famous bike race was instead more of a buddy movie with a side order of romance, tacking on a trumped-up rivalry between students and townspeople that in no way represented the real dynamic of the artsy little town we all knew and loved. The verdict was swift and unanimous:

Clearly, this movie sucked.

So imagine our surprise – and righteous indignation – when the film became a hit, earning not one but four Academy Award nominations, and actually winning for best screenplay!

How could this be? The lead actor had skinny legs, and everybody knew that the best competitive cyclists had legs like sequoias. And during the “cute meet” when the male and female romantic leads first crossed paths, the girl rode away on a motor scooter (which nobody rode on that campus), and – wait for it – drove the wrong way up what any self-respecting Bloomingtonian knew was a one-way street! And in what had to be the worst blow of all, during the race scenes, the cameras swept past the crowds far too fast for any of us to recognize ourselves.

This was an outrage. How could Hollywood have gotten our world so wrong?

It wasn’t until many years later, when I began harboring serious thoughts about becoming a storyteller, that I realized that with little or no exception, nearly everything that movie got wrong actually made it a better story. More on that in a moment, but examining the success of Breaking Away made me start to realize that getting the facts right is not always the goal in fiction. Getting the story right is.

A hard lesson from a bitter pill

Still, that can be a bitter pill to swallow. I think most of us get bugged when a book or movie gets something wrong – particularly when it’s something about which we have highly specialized knowledge or experience. In my case, as a professional musician, I can tell you that music is something that they almost NEVER get right in books or movies. This can happen whether the music is the focal point, or merely a side detail.

Because I’m a drummer, people always ask me what I thought of the movie Whiplash, and I have to carefully temper my response in order not to go full Ebenezer Scrooge on them. I mean, sure: the film might have provided a platform for some powerful drama – and okay, some damn good acting – but it was utter nonsense in terms of realism, basically amounting to nothing more than a thinly disguised sports movie where a ball was swapped out for some drumsticks. Two thumbs down from The Keithster.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Of Hamas and Historical Ignorance

PG Note: This OP is a little closer to politics than PG usually strays. What caught his eye is a significant problem with literacy/reading and the consequences arising therefrom.

From The Dispatch:

In the wake of Hamas’ brutal assault on Israel, campuses across the United States have been home to rallies and demonstrations that are nominally pro-Palestinian but effectively celebrations of the terrorist group. Students at George Washington projected slogans such as “Glory to the Martyrs” on a campus building, a Cornell student was arrested for threatening to rape and kill Jewish students, and numerous campuses have been home to antisemitic assaults and vandalism.

The reaction has highlighted the degree to which we’ve left a generation of youth vulnerable to ludicrous doctrines, social media manipulation, and genuinely bad actors. The shocking support among young adults for Hamas’ assault draws on historic ignorance and crude postmodern notions of justice and victimhood, in which torture and kidnapping were rebranded a justifiable response to “colonial privilege.”

The problem starts well before students arrive at college. The average high school student knows little about American history, and even less about the world. A 2018 survey found that 41 percent of adult Americans couldn’t identify Auschwitz as a Nazi concentration camp. Among millennials specifically, two-thirds couldn’t identify Auschwitz and 22 percent had never heard of the Holocaust. So much for “Never forget.” 

Such findings are of a piece with the abysmal performance of younger students in history and geography on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In the most recent assessment, of a nationally representative sample of eighth-graders, just 13 percent of students were judged “proficient” in U.S. history and just 22 percent in civics. These results continue a decade-long decline.

As Natalie Wexler, author of The Knowledge Gap, has aptly put it, “You can’t think critically about what you don’t know.” This problem isn’t new. But it’s taken on added urgency in a time of intense polarization, declining academic achievement, ubiquitous social media, and rapidly advancing deepfake technology. 

In 1978, alarmed by test results from poor, minority students at a Richmond community college who were ignorant of foundational historic figures and events, scholar E.D. Hirsch began researching the role of background knowledge in reading comprehension. His 1987 book Cultural Literacy became a surprise bestseller and sparked a push for a more rigorous curriculum. 

But teacher training and schools of education largely rejected Hirsch and clung fast to a progressive consensus that children should learn self-confidence and “skills,” not dates and names. Those engaged in preparing a new generation of teachers rejected Hirsch’s belief in the importance of knowledge as “elitist, Eurocentric and focused too heavily on rote memorization,” as a Virginia magazine profile of the famed UVA professor described. Indeed, a decade later, one of us taught alongside the genial, soft-spoken Hirsch, only to see fellow UVA education school faculty quietly steer their students away from this dangerous figure.

The internet supposedly made learning all those “mere facts” unnecessary, anyway. As scholar Mark Bauerlein recounted in his 2009 book The Dumbest Generation, education professors and advocates enamored of “21st century skills” insisted that we needed to move “beyond facts, skills, and right answers” and that students could always just look up all that other stuff.

The skills-over-facts trend paralleled a push to jettison traditional historical narratives and moral certainties in favor of critical theories. Beginning in the 1980s, Howard Zinn’s enormously influential (if oft-inaccurate) People’s History of the United States recast America’s story as one of unbroken villainy and oppression. It was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1980 and was added to high school curricula across the land.  

The unapologetic aim of Zinn’s work—and that of its latter-day, award-winning imitator the 1619 Project—was not to explore our simultaneously wonderful and woeful history but to impress on young people that America and its allies are oppressive colonial powers (that the U.S. is, according to the architect of the 1619 Project, a “slavocracy”).

As a teacher said to one of us recently regarding developments in Israel and Gaza: “Many kids have little to no understanding of the historical context. I feel overwhelmed trying to explain things to them in a side comment here or there.” This teacher lives 10 miles from the state capital, in a town where the average household earns $130,000. This community, filled with educated parents and well-regarded schools, sends the vast majority of its high school graduates on to four-year colleges.

This teacher knows that geography, history, religion, economics, and philosophy are essential to understanding the context of these attacks. But these are subjects that too few schools teach coherently or consistently. Last year K-12 teachers told RAND that it’s more important for civics education to promote environmental activism than “knowledge of social, political, and civic institutions.” 

Teachers who hold these beliefs are unlikely to give students the knowledge or grounding they need to make sense of the world around them. Indeed, the same teachers told RAND their top two priorities for civics education are “promoting critical and independent thinking” and “developing skills in conflict resolution.” What’s striking is that these responses are strikingly content-free. 

In 2020, RAND surveyed high school civics teachers about what they thought graduates needed to know. Just 43 percent thought it essential that they know about periods such as “the Civil War and the Cold War.” Less than two-thirds thought it essential for graduates to know the protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Critical thinking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There’s no way for anyone to form meaningful independent judgments on what’s unfolding in Israel and Gaza if they haven’t learned much about history, geography, economics, or political systems. 

This is pretty instructive when it comes to understanding, for instance, how Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America” has recently gone viral on TikTok. It’s not obvious that Gen Z is eagerly searching for wisdom from mass murderers. But as they spend hours casting about social media, youth who know little about the events or aftermath of 9/11 are encountering a long-dead figure who promises to provide the history and moral clarity they’re not getting elsewhere. We’re sending ill-equipped, confused youth out into the wilds of social media, and we’re reaping the unsurprising result.

As academic rigor and traditional norms have retreated, the space has increasingly been filled by moral relativism and contempt for Western civilization. The result is progressive students who hail Hamas as an ally—an odd way to regard theocratic ideologues who are cavalier about rape, murdering homosexuals, and treating women as chattel.

Writing from a Jerusalem university emptied of students by the present conflict, economist Russ Roberts recently observed, “Open societies are going to have to come to terms with the reality” that some citizens “want to live in a very different kind of society and are willing to use violence and the threat of violence to intimidate and harm people they disagree with.”

Link to the rest at The Dispatch

Stability AI exec leaves amid concerns over ‘fair use’ disagreement with $101m startup

From Yahoo Finance – UK:

A top exec at a British artificial intelligence (AI) startup has resigned because he is opposed to the company’s method of using copyrighted work to train its model without payment or permission from the owner.

Stability AI head of audio, Ed Newton-Rex said in a lengthy post on X he is stepping down because he disagrees “with the company’s opinion that training generative AI models on copyrighted works is ‘fair use’”.

The London-headquartered startup uses generative AI to create text, images, music and video from descriptive prompts typed in by a human.

However, it has sparked controversy because it sweeps data indiscriminately to train its open-source model.

Newton-Rex, who says he is also a music composer, continued: “For those unfamiliar with ‘fair use’, this claims that training an AI model on copyrighted works doesn’t infringe the copyright in those works, so it can be done without permission, and without payment.

“This is a position that is fairly standard across many of the large generative AI companies, and other big tech companies building these models — it’s far from a view that is unique to Stability. But it’s a position I disagree with.”

He is not the only one to disagree. Getty Images has accused Stable Diffusion, a generative AI model developed by Stability AI, of unlawfully scraping over 12m images owned by Getty to train its models.

The media company has asked Delaware’s federal court to order Stability to stop using its pictures and wants what could amount to $1.8 trillion in damages, according to Fortune.

Stability AI is the brainchild of Oxford graduate Emad Mostaque and has raised $101m (£82.3m) in a funding round led by Coatue, Lightspeed Venture Partners and O’Shaughnessy Asset Management.

In reply to Newton-Rex on X, Mostaque wrote: “Was great working with you & this is an important discussion. The considered input we gave to the Copyright Office on why we believe fair use supports creative development is here.“

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance – UK

Why People Read Books? Statistics on Consumer Behavior of Readers

From WordsRated:

This report will focus on the consumer behavior of book buyers and avid readers in the United States. We will cover the process of book discovery, factors readers consider when choosing the next book, as well as why people like to read and engage with books across all formats.

Why do people like to read books?

Reading has multiple benefits for people’s overall well-being, development, and knowledge generation. However, the single most important reason why adult readers (over 18 years of age) decide to engage with books is pure entertainment and leisure:

  • 50.10% of readers (people who engage with at least one book per year) say that the most important reason why they engage with books is for entertainment and leisure. Also, 82.90% of readers stated this as one of the reasons why they read books.
  • For 25.00% of readers, self-improvement is the most important reason why they read books, and 41.40% of them say this is one of the reasons why they engage with reading.
  • 12.80% of people who engage with books do so for the purpose of buying gifts for their friends, family, and colleagues, and 21.20% of people say this is one of the reasons why they engage with books.
  • 11.10% of readers engage with this activity for the sake of education and work, while 18.40% of them state work and school as one of the factors of engaging with books.
Why people buy booksAll reasonsMain reason
Work or school18.40%11.10%

Factors readers consider when buying books

  • The most important factor for readers when choosing their next book is the category/genre of the book – 39.80% of readers consider it to be the most important factor, and over 66.50% of readers consider it to be one of the factors.
  • 23.20% of readers primarily choose the book based on its author, while 61.50% of them consider the book’s author as one of the factors when picking the next read.
  • 15.00% of readers lean on book reviews as the most important factor for the next read, with 43.00% of them having this as one of the factors they consider.
  • Price is the most important factor for 9.20% of readers when it comes to choosing the next book, and 44.00% consider price, among other things.
  • It’s interesting that 3.90% of readers think that the book’s front cover is the most important thing for them to choose the next book, while 23.50% of readers consider the front cover design among other things.
Factors when buying booksThe most important factorAll factors readers consider
Front cover3.90%23.50%
Back cover2.60%13.80%
Publication date0.80%2.30%

There are differences among genders when it comes to factors considered when choosing the next book to read. Men find a book’s genre/category and price more important in the process, while women value their favorite authors and publishers more than men:

Factors when buying booksMenWomen
Front cover4.00%3.00%
Back cover3.00%2.00%
Publication date0.80%1.20%

Link to the rest at WordsRated

Can trials heal the wounds of war?

From The Economist:

The world is still haunted by 20th-century crimes so grave that any attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice seems feeble. The trials at Nuremberg in 1945-46 did little to salve wounds left by the Holocaust. And the Tokyo trials of alleged Japanese war criminals, which lasted two and a half years from 1946-48, have not stopped outpourings of anger across Asia whenever, for example, a senior Japanese politician visits Yasukuni, a Tokyo shrine to the war-dead, including convicted war criminals.

The aftermath of wars has taken on fresh significance with conflicts raging in Israel, Sudan and Ukraine. In much of Asia, the second world war, which was followed by tribunals that tried to dispense justice, is still unfinished business. Japan’s trials concluded 75 years ago. In a meticulously researched history, Gary Bass, a professor at Princeton (and former journalist for The Economist), looks at why attempts to produce a shared sense of justice failed.

Like Nuremberg, Japan’s tribunal was for the most serious war criminals, those guilty not just of breaking the laws of war but, in addition, of “crimes against peace” (ie, planning the war). This was controversial then and remains so. For America the greatest crime was the attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii and elsewhere in December 1941. But, as aggressors always do—think Vladimir Putin in Ukraine—the accused pleaded that they and Japan acted in self-defence. Even some of the 11 judges from different Allied countries disputed whether Japan’s aggression was actually a crime. Radhabinod Pal from India, for example, argued the law lets each country decide what counts as self-defence.

Few doubted that Japanese troops had been guilty of outrageous war crimes, exhaustively covered at the trials, which heard months of harrowing testimony, including about the “rape” of Nanjing, China, in 1937 and the Bataan death march of prisoners-of-war in the Philippines in 1942. The issue with these and other horrors was not whether they were crimes, but where responsibility lay—with the individual soldier, his immediate commander, his general, the prime minister or the man who had appointed the prime minister, Emperor Hirohito.

Before the tribunal convened it had been decided not to indict the emperor. This led to a feud between the bibulous chief American prosecutor, Joseph Keenan, and the court’s president, Sir William Webb, a pompous and cantankerous Australian. Webb found himself at odds with most of the other judges. They failed to reach unanimous verdicts.

Of the 25 defendants who survived the trial, all were convicted and seven were hanged, including the prime minister, Tojo Hideki. But some of the judges dissented, including Pal, who argued in a 1,230-page objection that all the defendants were innocent. Pal became a hero to many Japanese for saying the trials represented “formalised vengeance” and could bring “only an ephemeral satisfaction, with every possibility of ultimate regret”.

His dissent also covered events beyond the scope of the trial: what he called the “inhuman blasts” at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The killing of tens of thousands of civilians in these attacks, seen by many as militarily unnecessary, was not a war crime. That will always make the Tokyo trials seem lopsided to many Japanese.

Link to the rest at The Economist

An irregular life

From TLS:

In 1796 a young law clerk called William Henry Ireland published a book under the modestly antiquarian title Miscellaneous Papers and Legal Instruments Under the Hand and Seal of William Shakespeare. Ireland’s cache included a letter from Elizabeth I praising the Sonnets, amorous verses written by Shakespeare to “Anna Hatherrewaye”, a usefully explicit “Profession of Faith”, a manuscript of King Lear and promise of books from Shakespeare’s library, “in which are many books with Notes in his own hand”.

Of course Ireland had made it all up, snaffling old bits of parchment, concocting a dark brown ink and reverse-engineering Shakespeare’s handwriting from the facsimile signatures that Edmond Malone had reproduced in his 1790 edition of the plays. If a Shakespearean document is too good to be true, it almost certainly isn’t, but, as the scams prevalent in our own day show us, many of us are still willing to be tricked by impossible promises of what we most desire. The appeal of Ireland’s con was the promise of explanation, its manufactured archive the means fully to understand the works and their author. His genius was to recognize the biographical itches in Shakespeare studies that need a good scratch: his relationship with his wife; his religion, politics and reading; his methods of working. Little new evidence about Shakespeare’s life has come to light since this brilliant attempt to short-circuit the search: the questions remain unanswered. Ireland’s Miscellaneous Papers were themselves a kind of biography, in which speculation and documentation had become confused.

For Margreta de Grazia, in her lapidary book Shakespeare Without a Life, Ireland’s forgeries embody a new energy around documenting the author and symbolize the disappointments of the era’s hunger for new evidence. Malone’s biographical researches also ended in frustration. His posthumously published Life of Shakespeare listed with icy regret many of the antiquaries, actors and others who might have gathered information about the playwright during the seventeenth century. William Dugdale, Anthony Wood, John Dryden, William Davenant and Thomas Betterton are all fingered for their carelessness, even as Malone acknowledges that “the truth is, our ancestors paid very little attention to posterity”.

Link to the rest at TLS

Google Arts & Culture

PG discovered the Google Arts & Culture site earlier this morning. It’s quite an extensive site and a definite threat to suck away a lot of time, but is nicely-done.

One of the site’s interesting features is listed as experimental. It’s called Poem Postcards. This location allows you to select a postcard based upon a classic painting, then use an AI to write a poem about it, then email the painting/poem to a friend.

Here’s a link to a poem postcard PG just created.

One Well-Chosen Detail: Write Juicy Descriptions Without Overwhelming Your Reader

From Jane Friedman:

Have you ever read a description in a book and actually stopped to say to yourself, “Dang, that’s good.” And then maybe read it again?

If so, you’ve probably also read a book where you found yourself mumbling, “I really don’t need to know every detail about this guy’s library/tools/muffin recipe” as you flip a few pages to find where the story picks up again.

It takes practice to write immersive descriptions that draw readers in, without going overboard so that we bore them and lose their attention. It’s one of the more delicate elements of craft.

Let’s start with how to write lush prose.

Writing engaging descriptions

I was reading Moonglow, by Michael Chabon, recently and came across this description of an ominous figure:

His close-cropped skull was indented on one side as by the corner of a two-by-four. In the crevice formed by his brow and cheekbones, his eyes glinted like dimes lost between sofa cushions.

The specificity of the description just floored me. I can absolutely see this guy in my head and I wouldn’t want to bump into him in a parking lot staircase. It got me thinking about great descriptions, and their opposite: clichés.

The dreaded cliché

A cliché is any turn of phrase that you’ve ever heard before: fire-engine red, soft as a pillow, robin’s egg blue, fast as a speeding train. You get the idea.

Basically, a cliché is a symbol. It’s the literary equivalent of clipart. 

. . . .

Characters can be cliché too. If you’re writing an elderly lady and you tell us she has gray hair and wrinkles around her eyes, an image will form in the mind of the reader, sure, but an opportunity has been missed to create a specific character, one unlike any other.

As an example, consider this description from Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping:

… in the last years she continued to settle and began to shrink. Her mouth bowed forward and her brow sloped back, and her skull shone pink and speckled within a mere haze of hair, which hovered about her head like the remembered shape of an altered thing. She looked as if the nimbus of humanity were fading away and she were turning monkey. Tendrils grew from her eyebrows and coarse white hairs sprouted on her lip and chin. When she put on an old dress the bosom hung empty and the hem swept the floor. Old hats fell down over her eyes. Sometimes she put her hand over her mouth and laughed, her eyes closed and her shoulder shaking.

The difference is in the details. Specific details are what lift descriptions out of cliché. But digging deep for details is difficult because our brains are inherently lazy. We see something pale blue. We check our mental files for ways of describing it and come up with “sky blue.” Accurate, yes, but you’ve missed the chance to describe the object as only you can.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

7 Keys to Writing the Ultimate Spy Thriller

From ScreenCraft:

What does it take to write a great spy thriller?

From the James Bond franchise to every Mission Impossible installment — and everything around and in between — the spy thriller has long been one of the most intriguing genres in film and television.

We’ve had spy thrillers based on true stories (Bridge of Spies and Argo), slapstick comedies (Spy, the Austin Powers Trilogy, Top Secret!), action comedies (True LiesMr. and Mrs. Smith), slow-burn thrillers (Tinker Tailor Soldier SpySyrianaThe Third Man), compelling television series (Homeland24Jack Ryan), and so many more.

While there are many obvious variances of what makes a great spy thriller — due primarily to the popular subgenre that is often blended with other genres — here we feature seven essential elements to great contemporary spy thriller scripts.

Screenwriters can mix and match these keys to apply to their spy thriller scripts, depending on the genre they are blending it with.


If you’re not hired to write the latest James Bond, Jason Bourne, or Ethan Hunt blockbuster, you have to do your best to find a killer logline that will force Hollywood decision-makers to take notice.

It’s not enough to tell your version of those types of spy thrillers. You can’t simply create your own Bond, Bourne, or Hunt, give them a new name or gender and pass them off as your own. That’s not going to be enough to sell the script on spec.

You need to create a unique and original spin on the popular subgenre.

A logline is the expression of the intriguing concept you’ve conjured, answering the question of who, what, when, where, how, and why.

A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive. (North by Northwest)

Retiring CIA agent Nathan Muir recalls his training of Tom Bishop while working against agency politics to free him from his Chinese captors. (Spy Game)

A desk-bound CIA analyst volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer and prevent diabolical global disaster. (Spy)

A fearless, globe-trotting, terrorist-battling secret agent has his life turned upside down when he discovers his wife might be having an affair with a used car salesman while terrorists smuggle nuclear warheads into the United States. (True Lies)

A spy organization recruits an unrefined, but promising street kid into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program, just as a global threat emerges from a twisted tech genius. (Kingsman: The Secret Service)

A bookish CIA researcher finds all his co-workers dead and must outwit those responsible until he figures out who he can really trust. (Three Days of the Condor)

In the bleak days of the Cold War, espionage veteran George Smiley is forced from semi-retirement to uncover a Soviet Agent within MI6. (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)

A 1960s secret agent is brought out of cryofreeze to oppose his greatest enemy in the 1990s, where his social attitudes are glaringly out of place. (Austin Powers: Internation Man of Mystery)

What’s your spin on the subgenre?

Is there a way to weave a spy thriller concept into the horror genre? Is there a MacGuffin that is intriguing enough to center your spy thriller around?

Whatever the concept may be, it has to stand out from the already ingrained spy thriller franchises. Hollywood has read so many versions of those stories. It’s up to you, the writer, to take the subgenre in a new direction or center it around something unique and different.


While some may believe that the big thrilling spy movie opening has become a cliché, you can’t deny the expectation that audiences (and studios) have when they sit down to watch a spy thriller.

But remember that there are many different versions of a big opening.

You can go the James Bond route, and focus on action spectacles.

. . . .

You can take a cue from the original Mission Impossible and focus on early twists, turns, and intrigue.

. . . .


You can’t just have a great hero go up against a cookie-cutter villain. It works in spy thriller franchises at times because of the fan base. But you also can’t just have a cookie-cutter protagonist go up against a unique and compelling villain either.

They have to be equally strong in your script — and they have to compliment each other through their characterizations and those character traits that are constantly being put up against each other.

If it’s just another spy or secret agent going up against just another leader of some faceless evil organization, Hollywood isn’t going to take notice. The studios have their own franchise for that.

What makes your protagonist and antagonist different than what we’ve seen before already?

Is your protagonist a disgraced spy rotting in a prison for a crime they did not commit? Have they assumed a new identity after leaving the CIA, now working as a kindergarten teacher to atone for the terrible things they’ve done in their past? Or maybe they are a spy hired by a spy organization because of their multiple personality disorder — thus able to beat any lie detector test.

Is your antagonist the thought-to-be-dead twin of your protagonist?

These are all horrible (or brilliant) ideas maybe, sure. But the point is that you have to think outside of the box.

Link to the rest at ScreenCraft


The reality is regulation often lags behind innovation.

Bill Maris

FTC calls out consumer protection and competition intersections in Copyright Office AI proceeding

From JD Supra:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staked out its role in policing the potential competition and consumer protection implications of generative AI technologies’ use of copyrighted materials in comments submitted in the U.S. Copyright Office’s proceeding on AI and copyright. The proceeding seeks information on the use of copyrighted works to train AI models, levels of transparency and disclosure needed regarding copyrighted works, and the legal status of AI-generated outputs, among other things. In its comments, the FTC reiterated its expertise addressing competition and consumer protection issues involving AI, identified copyright issues related to generative AI that implicate competition and consumer protection policy, and introduced testimony from an October 2023 FTC roundtable with creative professionals. The FTC also promised vigorous efforts to protect consumers in the rapidly evolving AI marketplace.

The FTC’s AI Enforcement

The FTC’s mandate – under the FTC Act and other statutes – to promote competition and protect consumers gives it the power to address unfair or deceptive acts or practices and unfair methods of competition. The FTC has characterized AI as the latest in a series of new technologies that pose novel and important challenges for consumers, workers, and businesses, which falls within the purview of the FTC’s “economy-wide mission.” According to the FTC, as companies deploy AI-enabled systems across a wide range of industries and people incorporate AI-powered products and services into their daily lives, the potential for harm to consumers increases.

The FTC has experience applying its existing legal authority to address alleged unlawful practices and unfair competition involving AI. Prior actions and guidance have addressed a variety of consumer protection allegations, such as algorithms that rely on consumer’s personal information, algorithm-driven recommendations communicating deceptive claims, and algorithms making biased decisions. The FTC has also called attention to potential advertising concerns relating to AI, and has highlighted the risk of fraud stemming from the use of chatbots, deepfakes, and voice clones.

Consumer Protection, Competition, and Copyright

In its comments to the Copyright Office, the FTC highlights important intersections across consumer protection, competition law and policy, and copyright law and policy.  The Commission’s comments note three areas of interest where the FTC might seek to address unfair or deceptive practices to ensure a competitive marketplace.

First, the FTC notes that decisions about where to draw the line between human creation and AI-generated content may cause harm to both creators and consumers. Creators may be harmed by their work being used to train an AI tool without their consent. Consumers, on the other hand, may be harmed if there is a lack of transparency about AI authorship.

Second, the FTC argues that questions about how to address liability for AI-generated content can implicate consumer protection and competition policy. These questions include what liability principles should apply, assigning and apportioning liability, treatment of pirated content, and the role of disclosures, among other issues. As policymakers seek answers to these questions, there may be overlap and potentially some conflict with consumer protection or competition interests. For example, as the FTC notes, “the use of pirated or misuse of copyrighted materials could be an unfair practice or unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act.”

Third, the FTC argues that consumer protection and competition principles may call for policy protections that “go beyond the scope of rights and the extent of liability under the copyright laws.” There may be times when consumer protection or competition policy and copyright policy are aligned, as in the example above where misuse of copyrighted materials would likely violate both the FTC Act and copyright law. The FTC raises the possibility, however, that there may also be circumstances where companies run afoul of Section 5 with their AI-generated content even if that content would not violate copyright law.

Impact of Generative AI on Creative Economy

The FTC also seeks to highlight impacts on content creators. Along with its written remarks, the FTC submitted the transcript of its October 4, 2023, “Creative Economy and Generative AI” roundtable, which featured musicians, authors, actors, artists, software developers, and other creative professionals discussing the impact of generative AI on their work. The FTC transcript noted views shared by participants on topics such as: (1) works being used to train generative AI without participants’ consent; (2) insufficient or ineffective mechanisms for obtaining consent, including reliance on opt-out approaches; (3) lack of transparency and disclosure about training data and authorship of AI-generated content; (4) the ample use cases of AI for creative professionals but the need for better guardrails to protect creators; and (5) the putatively great power imbalance between the creators and the generative AI companies.

Link to the rest at JD Supra

PG is anything but an expert on the FTC’s jurisdiction, but color him skeptical about whether the agency has jurisdiction over Generative AI programs.

PG did some quick and dirty research and found the FTC has about 1000 people on its payroll, about two-thirds of whom are attorneys. As PG has mentioned on multiple occasions, he’s a retired attorney and has high regard for the general intelligence of his fellow attorneys.

However, with the exception of patent attorneys, who must have an undergraduate degree in the science or engineering fields, a large portion of the bar members anywhere PG knows about have non-science or engineering or math degrees as undergraduates. Indeed, law school is one of the few options for a humanities major who would like to be able to support a family in a reasonably comfortable manner.

In short, the people working at the FTC undoubtedly have a lot of opinions about artificial intelligence, but little ability to understand how it works or what dangers are real and what dangers are imaginary. The fact that judges are all attorneys gives PG another reason to worry about involving AI research in the US legal system.

Here’s a statement from the FTC website about the agency’s mission:

The FTC enforces federal consumer protection laws that prevent fraud, deception and unfair business practices. The Commission also enforces federal antitrust laws that prohibit anticompetitive mergers and other business practices that could lead to higher prices, fewer choices, or less innovation.

Whether combating telemarketing fraud, Internet scams or price-fixing schemes, the FTC’s mission is to protect consumers and promote competition.

Perhaps PG missed something, but telemarketing fraud, internet scams or price-fixing schemes don’t sound like the main features of large language models.

What are the best ways for an author to use AI to write a book?

From ChatGPT:

Prompt: What are the best ways for an author to use AI to write a book?

ChatGPT Response:

Incorporating AI into the book writing process can be a great asset for an author. Here are some of the best ways to use AI in this creative endeavor:

  1. Idea and Concept Generation: AI can help brainstorm ideas for your book, including themes, plot elements, character concepts, and settings. Feeding the AI specific genres or themes can yield creative and unexpected suggestions, which can inspire or enhance your own ideas.
  2. Outline and Structure Development: AI can assist in structuring your book. By providing a basic plot or concept, AI can suggest a detailed outline, helping to organize the narrative flow and ensuring a cohesive structure for your story.
  3. Character Development and Dialogue: AI can generate character profiles, including backstories, traits, and motivations, based on initial inputs. It can also suggest dialogue, offering different styles and tones to match the characters and situations.
  4. Writing and Editing Assistance: AI can be used for drafting certain sections or chapters. You can provide a brief and let the AI generate a draft, which you can then refine. AI tools are also helpful for grammar checking, style improvement, and suggesting alternative phrasings.
  5. Research Support: For books requiring extensive research, AI can quickly sift through large volumes of data to find relevant information, saving time and ensuring accuracy.
  6. Genre-Specific Assistance: Depending on the genre of your book, AI can provide genre-specific assistance. For instance, in science fiction, it can generate futuristic technology or alien species; for historical fiction, it can provide historical details and context.
  7. Feedback and Revision: Some AI tools can analyze your writing and provide feedback on aspects like pacing, tension, and character development. This can be particularly useful during revisions.
  8. Interactive Elements: For more experimental authors, AI can help create interactive or branching narratives, particularly for digital formats where readers choose different paths through the story.
  9. Title and Blurb Creation: Coming up with a compelling title and blurb can be challenging; AI can generate multiple options based on your book’s content and themes.
  10. Market Research and Publishing Strategy: AI can analyze market trends and reader preferences, helping you position your book effectively in the market.

While AI can greatly assist in the book writing process, it’s important to remember that it serves as a tool to augment the author’s creativity and vision, not replace it. The unique voice, perspective, and imagination of the author remain irreplaceable in crafting a compelling and meaningful story.

AI Prompt/Response of the Day


In a time when information is instantly available and content creation is a few clicks away, academic integrity can easily become a gray area for students. Explicitly teaching skills and concepts associated with academic integrity and providing feedback throughout the research and writing process can build a culture of academic honesty in classrooms.

ChatGPT Response:

You’re absolutely right. In the digital age, where information is abundant and easily accessible, maintaining academic integrity has become both more challenging and crucial. Here are some strategies educators can employ to foster a culture of academic honesty:

  1. Educate About Academic Integrity: Clearly define what constitutes plagiarism, cheating, and other forms of academic dishonesty. Ensure students understand the importance of citing sources and the proper ways to do so.
  2. Use Technology Wisely: Employ plagiarism detection software to check student work. This not only helps in identifying potential issues but also acts as a deterrent against dishonest practices.
  3. Encourage Original Thought: Design assignments and assessments in a way that encourages students to think independently and apply their understanding, rather than just repeating information found online.
  4. Provide Resources for Research and Citation: Offer students access to resources on how to conduct research ethically and cite sources correctly. This could be through workshops, guides, or online tools.
  5. Model Academic Integrity: Teachers and faculty should lead by example, demonstrating integrity in their own work and interactions.
  6. Create a Supportive Environment: Build a classroom culture where students feel comfortable asking for help and understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process. This can reduce the pressure to achieve perfection through dishonest means.
  7. Personalize Learning: Tailor assignments to individual student interests where possible. Personal connection to a topic can motivate students to engage deeply and honestly with the material.
  8. Frequent Feedback and Drafts: Incorporate multiple stages of feedback and revision in assignments. This process helps students improve their work and understand the value of iterative learning, reducing the temptation to submit dishonest work.
  9. Discuss the Consequences: Make students aware of the academic and professional consequences of academic dishonesty. Understanding the long-term impact can discourage them from taking such risks.
  10. Collaborative Learning: Encourage group work and peer reviews. Collaboration can build a community of learning and integrity among students.

By integrating these strategies, educators can help create an academic environment where integrity is understood, valued, and practiced.

‘It is a beast that needs to be tamed’: leading novelists on how AI could rewrite the future

From The Guardian:

Bernardine Evaristo

ChatGPT seems to have blindsided us all. In less than a year it has proved that it can make writers redundant, which is one of the reasons why the Writers Guild of America recently went on strike, and why a group of novelists, including Jonathan Franzen, Jodi Picoult and George RR Martin, are pursuing a lawsuit against OpenAI, the company that owns the chatbot. The worry is that its monster brain is rapaciously, unscrupulously scanning the internet and suctioning up all the knowledge and writing contained therein, including copyrighted works, which it then metamorphoses into its imitations of creative writing – poems, novels, scripts, essays, you name it. Imitation that appears to be original writing.

From my experiments, it’s obvious that ChatGPT’s current level of literary sophistication is weak – it is cliche-prone and generally unconvincing – but who knows how it will develop? Copyright issues aside, we have to ask ourselves: what will be lost when algorithms replace human creativity?

Writers like stretching our imaginations, coming up with ideas, working out storylines and plots, creating believable characters, overcoming creative challenges and working on a full-length piece of work over an extended period of time. Most of us write our books ourselves and while we are influenced by other writers, we’re not a chatbot that has been trained on hundreds of thousands of novels for the sole purpose of mimicking human creativity.

Imagine a future where those who are most adept at getting AI to write creatively will dominate, while we writers who spend a lifetime devoted to our craft are sidelined. OK, this is a worst‑case scenario, but we have to consider it, because ChatGPT and the other Large Language Models (LLMs) out there have been programmed to imagine a future that threatens many creative professions. ChatGPT is already responding to the questions I ask it in seconds, quite reliably. It is an impressive beast, but one that needs to be tamed. We cannot afford to ignore it.

Jeanette Winterson

In my book of essays about life with AI – moving from Mary Shelley’s 1818 vision of a man-made humanoid to the possibilities of the metaverse – I describe AI not as artificial intelligence but alternative intelligence.

I am not thrilled with where Homo sapiens has landed us, and I believe we are at the point where we evolve or wipe out ourselves, and the planet. There is no reason to believe that the last 300,000 years mark us out as a species that is fully evolved. Our behaviour suggests the opposite. I would like to see a transhuman, eventually a post-human, future where intelligence and consciousness are no longer exclusively housed in a substrate made of meat. After all, that has been the promise of every world religion.

I was brought up in a strict religious household, and it intrigues me that for the first time since the Enlightenment, science and religion are asking the same question: is consciousness obliged to materiality? Religion has always said no. Scientific materialism has said yes. And now? It’s getting interesting.

As a fiction writer, I know we should avoid apocalyptic thinking. The way we live is not a law, like gravity; it is propositional. We make it up as we go along. We can change the story because we are the story. This is freedom. It is also responsibility. What story shall we tell about who humans are? Warlike, violent, dishonest, wasteful? That’s part of us, certainly. It’s not the whole story – and I don’t want it to be the story that ends life on Earth. The last thing I am worrying about right now is whether AI will write better fiction than humans. I don’t care.

I would love to work with AI on a piece of fiction. We could share the royalties, and the AI money could fund more women to get involved in AI research and application. The real problem is not that AI is writing, or will write, or can write. The problem is who is writing the AI programs and designing the algorithms. Who is setting the terms of the research? Who is deciding what matters? Mainly men. That’s a problem because the world is not made up of mainly men.

For centuries men wrote our literature, our history, our travelogues, our philosophy. Virginia Woolf was not on the curriculum for my Oxford degree because she was not deemed to be of sufficient merit.

The great thing about AI is that it need not be gendered – why should it be? It has no biological sex. This could be the start of a true non-binary, non race-based, faith-wars-irrelevant world, where we humans could realise how trivial are our divisions and discriminations. At present, AI is a tool. I doubt that will always be the case. An alternative intelligence will make art of all kinds – with us, and without us. I am ready for a different world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

On Bei Dao’s Visual Art

From The Paris Review:

In April 2012, while with his family on a beach in Hong Kong, Bei Dao suffered a stroke that severely affected his language abilities. After a month of trying to learn how to read all over again, he was assessed by a speech-language pathologist to be at only 30 percent equivalency. Daily conversation was difficult; the words he depended on for his life and art would possibly never return. It was an unprecedented crisis that he later compared in an essay to being “like an animal trapped in a cage.” (I’m reminded of these lines Bei Dao’s friend Tomas Tranströmer wrote after a paralyzing stroke, translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton: “I am carried in my shadow / like a violin / in its black case.”) While recovering in the hospital, Bei Dao started to doodle and brush calligraphy, and when he returned home, he started to paint, channeling the lyric impulse from the void of words into physical images. Thirty years had passed since he’d last painted a picture.

Bei Dao’s first paintings in this period were composed of repeating lines that formed an abstract landscape resembling surging hills or waves. Feeling he lacked the necessary skill and technique to manipulate the plastic line, he abandoned it and turned to one of the most fundamental elements of Chinese painting: the ink dot. A longtime photographer, he compares the ink dot to the pixel of a photograph. In his book-length poem Sidetracks, which will be published in English by New Directions in 2024, he describes the creative process of ink-dot painting like this:

nebular ink dots on rice paper—in accord with the cosmos painting pictures makes me euphoric ink dots cluster disperse depending on the flow of random scattering forest beyond the borders of language good fortune depends on disaster / disaster conceals good fortune I am aimless freedom listening closely to the whispers of snowflakes guarding the vortex of day and night at the center of the mysterious river

Four years after his stroke, Bei Dao’s Chinese language abilities had improved dramatically, and a new medical assessment showed a recovery of over 80 percent. He continued his painting practice, though, and started to write poetry again. In 2018, a year before he turned seventy, Bei Dao had his first-ever painting exhibition at the Galerie Paris Horizon, located just north of the Centre Pompidou. In the essay he wrote for the exhibition, he contrasts the oil-based pointillism of an artist like Seurat with the watery ink dots of the East, where the tones and textures of the so-called five shades of ink in traditional Chinese painting must be naturally integrated with the brush and the rice paper to form a single whole. And as the water evaporates, the ink colors change, creating unexpected effects.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

How AI could change computing, culture and the course of history

From The Economist:

Among the more sombre gifts brought by the Enlightenment was the realisation that humans might one day become extinct. The astronomical revolution of the 17th century had shown that the solar system both operated according to the highest principles of reason and contained comets which might conceivably hit the Earth. The geological record, as interpreted by the Comte de Buffon, showed massive extinctions in which species vanished for ever. That set the scene for Charles Darwin to recognise such extinctions as the motor of evolution, and thus as both the force which had fashioned humans and, by implication, their possible destiny. The nascent science of thermodynamics added a cosmic dimension to the certainty of an ending; Sun, Earth and the whole shebang would eventually run down into a lifeless “heat death”.

The 20th century added the idea that extinction might not come about naturally, but through artifice. The spur for this was the discovery, and later exploitation, of the power locked up in atomic nuclei. Celebrated by some of its discoverers as a way of indefinitely deferring heat death, nuclear energy was soon developed into a far more proximate danger. And the tangible threat of imminent catastrophe which it posed rubbed off on other technologies.

None was more tainted than the computer. It may have been guilt by association: the computer played a vital role in the development of the nuclear arsenal. It may have been foreordained. The Enlightenment belief in rationality as humankind’s highest achievement and Darwin’s theory of evolution made the promise of superhuman rationality the possibility of evolutionary progress at humankind’s expense.

Artificial intelligence has come to loom large in the thought of the small but fascinating, and much written about, coterie of academics which has devoted itself to the consideration of existential risk over the past couple of decades. Indeed, it often appeared to be at the core of their concerns. A world which contained entities which think better and act quicker than humans and their institutions, and which had interests that were not aligned with those of humankind, would be a dangerous place.

It became common for people within and around the field to say that there was a “non-zero” chance of the development of superhuman ais leading to human extinction. The remarkable boom in the capabilities of large language models (llms), “foundational” models and related forms of “generative” ai has propelled these discussions of existential risk into the public imagination and the inboxes of ministers.

. . . .

But the lack of any “Minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic [drawing] their plans against us”, to quote H.G. Wells, does not mean that the scale of the changes that ai may bring with it can be ignored or should be minimised. There is much more to life than the avoidance of extinction. A technology need not be world-ending to be world-changing.

The transition into a world filled with computer programs capable of human levels of conversation and language comprehension and superhuman powers of data assimilation and pattern recognition has just begun. The coming of ubiquitous pseudocognition along these lines could be a turning point in history even if the current pace of ai progress slackens (which it might) or fundamental developments have been tapped out (which feels unlikely). It can be expected to have implications not just for how people earn their livings and organise their lives, but also for how they think about their humanity.

For a sense of what may be on the way, consider three possible analogues, or precursors: the browser, the printing press and practice of psychoanalysis. One changed computers and the economy, one changed how people gained access and related to knowledge, and one changed how people understood themselves.

The humble web browser, introduced in the early 1990s as a way to share files across networks, changed the ways in which computers are used, the way in which the computer industry works and the way information is organised. Combined with the ability to link computers into networks, the browser became a window through which first files and then applications could be accessed wherever they might be located. The interface through which a user interacted with an application was separated from the application itself.

The power of the browser was immediately obvious. Fights over how hard users could be pushed towards a particular browser became a matter of high commercial drama. Almost any business with a web address could get funding, no matter what absurdity it promised. When boom turned to bust at the turn of the century there was a predictable backlash. But the fundamental separation of interface and application continued. Amazon, Meta (née Facebook) and Alphabet (née Google) rose to giddy heights by making the browser a conduit for goods, information and human connections. Who made the browsers became incidental; their role as a platform became fundamental.

The months since the release of Openai’s Chatgpt, a conversational interface now powered by gpt-4, have seen an entrepreneurial explosion that makes the dotcom boom look sedate. For users, apps based on llms and similar software can be ludicrously easy to use; type a prompt and see a result. For developers it is not that much harder. “You can just open your laptop and write a few lines of code that interact with the model,” explains Ben Tossell, a British entrepreneur who publishes a newsletter about ai services.

And the llms are increasingly capable of helping with that coding, too. Having been “trained” not just on reams of text, but lots of code, they contain the building blocks of many possible programs; that lets them act as “co-pilots” for coders. Programmers on GitHub, an open-source coding site, are now using a gpt-4-based co-pilot to produce nearly half their code.

There is no reason why this ability should not eventually allow llms to put code together on the fly, explains Kevin Scott, Microsoft’s chief technology officer. The capacity to translate from one language to another includes, in principle and increasingly in practice, the ability to translate from language to code. A prompt written in English can in principle spur the production of a program that fulfils its requirements. Where browsers detached the user interface from the software application, llms are likely to dissolve both categories. This could mark a fundamental shift in both the way people use computers and the business models within which they do so.

Every day I write the book

Code-as-a-service sounds like a game-changing plus. A similarly creative approach to accounts of the world is a minus. While browsers mainly provided a window on content and code produced by humans, llms generate their content themselves. When doing so they “hallucinate” (or as some prefer “confabulate”) in various ways. Some hallucinations are simply nonsense. Some, such as the incorporation of fictitious misdeeds to biographical sketches of living people, are both plausible and harmful. The hallucinations can be generated by contradictions in training sets and by llms being designed to produce coherence rather than truth. They create things which look like things in their training sets; they have no sense of a world beyond the texts and images on which they are trained.

In many applications a tendency to spout plausible lies is a bug. For some it may prove a feature. Deep fakes and fabricated videos which traduce politicians are only the beginning. Expect the models to be used to set up malicious influence networks on demand, complete with fake websites, Twitter bots, Facebook pages, TikTok feeds and much more. The supply of disinformation, Renée DiResta of the Stanford Internet Observatory has warned, “will soon be infinite”.

Link to the rest at The Economist


PG watched a Grammarly for Business Webinar earlier today and was very impressed by what the company showed with respect to AI writing.

Per the demos, Grammarly has taken AI to a higher plane than PG has seen before. Features that impressed him were:

  • Analysis of the user’s writing voice to help Grammarly be more helpful in shaping future creations for a variety of purposes.
  • The ability to have Grammarly go through a document you or someone else has written, summarize it, and use it as a sort of electronic style guide in the future
  • The ability to assist in quick creation of documents for a wide variety of purposes, blog posts, text messages, emails, etc. In at least some uses, Grammarly will create the appropriate format for the written message, for example by creating and inserting bullet points from a longer text.

For the moment, it looks like the super AI will be limited to Grammarly for Business, which is an enterprise-scale program.

PG looked for an online link to a recorded version of the webinar but was unable to find it. If visitors to The Passive Voice can locate one, feel free to include a link in the comments to this post.

It seems to me we can never give up longing

It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them.

George Eliot

The birth and life of an American classic: ‘Our Town’

From The Pulitzer Prizes:

Shortly after 8 p.m. on January 22, 1938, the veteran actor Frank Craven appeared on stage at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J., and began to speak. “This play is called ‘Our Town,’” he said. “It was written by Thornton Wilder.” It was the first time the character called the Stage Manager had delivered these lines before an audience, the first time Wilder’s classic play about life, love and death in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, had ever been performed publicly.

For some audience members, the show’s lack of scenery and episodic narrative may have seemed odd or puzzling. But, in time, the observations and emotional impact of “Our Town” would be felt and enjoyed by legions of theatergoers around the world. Eventually acknowledged as a classic American drama, it would win Wilder his second Pulitzer Prize, the first of two he received for playwriting. (His first prize was for the novel “The Bridge at San Luis Rey”; his third was for “The Skin of Our Teeth.”) To this day he is the only author who has won Pulitzers for both fiction and drama.

“Our Town’s” significance was not immediately obvious, nor did it have an easy birth. The play’s long journey to Princeton, and the genesis of Wilder’s mythical town, began in 1920, in Rome. Wilder, 23, was a student at the American Academy, studying Italian, Latin and, notably, archaeology.

While visiting a local dig, a first-century tomb, he was struck by the vivid juxtaposition of past and present. In a letter to his parents, cited by Penelope Fitzgerald in her biography of Wilder, he described the formative experience: “… while by candle-light we peered at famous paintings of a family called Aurelius, symbolic representations of their dear children and parents … the street-cars of today rushed by over us. We were clutching at the past to recover the loves and pieties and habits of the Aurelius family, while the same elements were passing above us.”

He quickly realized that, although separated by thousands of years, ancient and present-day people were perhaps not very different at all. That realization, his idea that human lives across centuries are universally conjoined by certain personal moments and milestone events, became a foundation of “Our Town.”

“Our Town’s” unusual form evolved gradually. Its pantomimed actions and leaps in chronology, as well as the Stage Manager who, breaking “the fourth wall,” talks to the audience, may have seemed wildly radical to audiences in 1938. But Wilder had been writing plays that experimented with untraditional and surreal stage techniques for some time, even as he published the novels that established his reputation.

In “The Long Christmas Dinner,” from 1931, a family’s life over 90 years, including its births and deaths, is portrayed in an uninterrupted series of scenes at a single table, an effect later used by Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane.” A stage manager appears in “The Long Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden,” whose central activity is a car trip depicted without scenery. Most significantly, “Pullman Car Hiawatha,” set on a train, again features a stage manager but also includes a mention of Grover’s Corners (this time in Ohio), and a central character who reflects on her transition from life to death. In “Our Town,” Wilder incorporated all these devices and used them to their fullest, most memorable effect.

While the play sprung completely from Wilder’s creative imagination and aesthetic beliefs, “Our Town’s” creation was aided immeasurably by the catalytic involvement of Jed Harris, a hotshot Broadway producer and director of the era. (His other career credits include the first productions of “The Front Page” and “The Crucible.”) Wilder met Harris by chance in 1927, on a train returning north from Florida; by the end of the trip he was sufficiently impressed to offer the producer his first full-length play — whenever Wilder got around to writing it.

The promise took years and miles to keep: “Our Town” was conceived in successive residencies at New Hampshire’s MacDowell Colony (in Peterborough, the model for Grover’s Corners), begun in earnest in 1936, and further refined in a hotel outside Zurich. When two acts were complete, Wilder, true to his word, offered them to Harris in 1937. “I saw it as a director’s dream come true,” said Harris, who wanted the play so urgently that he sequestered Wilder in a house on Long Island until he finished writing the third act.

But as “Our Town’” moved from page to stage, the two men clashed. Harris could be unyielding and cavalier, and Wilder, perhaps uncomfortable with the collaborative nature of commercial theater, became frustrated and angry about cuts and adjustments in his script. As late as the afternoon of opening night in Princeton, a doubtful Wilder wrote and sealed a letter listing many last-minute reservations. “The following elements in the production of ‘Our Town’ are likely to harm and perhaps shipwreck its effectiveness,” he began, striving to have the last word, if only in private.

Despite his concerns, the production was solid. Frank Craven had returned from Hollywood and films to play the Stage Manager, and the cast (which included Craven’s son, John, as George Gibbs) had wept the first time they read through the script. Lighting and sound glitches marred the sold-out premiere. But if Wilder was troubled, he deferred to the audience’s reaction. In a letter to Alexander Wolcott he wrote, “A great packed house in Princeton was deeply absorbed.  Applause interrupted scene after scene. Laughter swept the house.”

First critical reaction to the play was mixed. D.X. Parreno, theater critic for The Princetonian, didn’t “know whether ‘Our Town’ was a great play,” but it was “rich, stimulating, often quite inspired.” The first national review, in Variety, was unabashedly negative and memorably wrongheaded: “It is not only disappointing but hopelessly slow,” it said. “It will probably go down as the season’s most extravagant waste of fine talent.” The reviewer also took a swipe at Jed Harris: “It’s hard to see what the erstwhile wonder boy of Broadway saw in this disjointed, bitter-sweet affair of small town New Hampshire life.”

Some early audiences were equally mystified. After Princeton, the troupe moved to Boston’s Wilbur Theatre for more previews. Due to poor ticket sales Harris pulled the show after five performances. Typical of some responses, Eleanor Roosevelt later said the work “moved and depressed” her “beyond words.”

Yet word of the play’s special power had reached New York ahead of its opening there. In a great risk, Jed Harris invited Brooks Atkinson, theater critic for The New York Times, to a rehearsal, hoping early exposure would give the critic extra time to savor and reflect on the play. The risk paid off. When the play opened on February 4, 1938, Atkinson’s review called it “one of the finest achievements of the current stage,” celebrating Grover’s Corners as “a green corner of the universe.” Atkinson noted that Harris had “about the best script of his career in his hands.”

The Broadway success of “Our Town” launched its trajectory as an American classic. “It’s already broken a house record,” a thrilled Wilder wrote to a friend. “Imagine that! Isn’t it astonishing, and fun, and exhausting?” The 1938 Pulitzer jury unanimously recommended it for the Drama prize, which was conferred on May 2, the first time that the prizes were announced live on the radio.

. . . .

Yet the play’s classic status was confirmed far away from Broadway. It was first licensed for amateur production in 1939. “Over the next twenty months,” writes Penelope Fitzgerald, “ ‘Our Town’ was produced in at least 658 communities across the United States and in Hawaii and Canada.”

To this day, it remains one of the most performed plays anywhere. While part of its appeal to theater companies may be economic (no costly scenery), Wilder’s plain-spoken philosophical observations about living and dying and his gently lyrical portrait of young love seem to resonate with audiences across decades, just as the Aurelius family of ancient Rome resonated with him. In its ideal of a common humanity, the play also strikes an understated nationalistic chord, suggesting that small-town America might take its place alongside other “civilizations” in history.

Link to the rest at The Pulitzer Prizes

“Arguments on a daily basis”: How couples who disagree politically navigate news

From Nieman Lab:

If you have a significant other in your life, chances are they probably share your politics: you both lean Democratic or Republican (or independent) together.

Romantic partnerships have long grown out of shared values and attitudes, but polarization has amplified these tendencies. These days, more than ever in the U.S., political sorting is happening more readily across neighborhoods, friendships, and dating and marriage relationships. And as political identity increasingly becomes synonymous with many people’s larger sense of social identity, the stakes for political disagreement seem higher than they once were: Partisan zealots are now more likely to wish the worst on their perceived foes on the other side.

But many couples are not politically in sync with each other, and there has been surprisingly little research about what such “cross-cutting” relationships mean for news consumption and political discussion in such politically mismatched pairings.

Emily Van Duyn of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a first-of-its-kind analysis of this issue in her article “Negotiating news: How cross-cutting romantic partners select, consume, and discuss news together,” published last month in the journal Political Communication.

She sought to address three questions: How do romantic partners in cross-cutting relationships influence each other’s selection and consumption of news? How do those patterns of news selection and consumption shape the conversations about politics and political news that happen between partners? And, ultimately, what does the role of news mean for these cross-cutting couples — is it helpful or harmful to their relationship?

To answer these questions, she conducted in-depth interviews with 67 U.S. residents in cross-cutting relationships. She chose to interview just one individual from each couple, in part because people might not be so candid with their comments if they knew their partner was being interviewed, particularly in cases where people strategically avoid talking about politics to maintain the relationship. Of the 67 interviewees, slightly less than half were married while the others were dating or cohabitating. All but five participants were in opposite-sex relationships.

Van Duyn found that cross-cutting couples deal with two main difficulties when navigating news: negotiated exposure, as couples try to influence news selection and consumption in the relationship, and two-step conflict, in which issues surrounding news — what type, how much, from which sources, etc. — not only led to discussion about politics but also to significant friction between partners.

Consider first the problem of negotiating what news to introduce into the relationship — or whether to avoid news altogether. “For one, the process of selecting and consuming news was especially difficult for cross-cutting romantic partners,” Van Duyn writes, “because it presented a choice that involved recognizing political differences and finding a way to navigate these differences. In turn, who selected news, what was selected, and how those choices were negotiated over time became a political act as much as an interpersonal one.”

For one couple studied, that meant sharing control over what TV news channel was playing during the day: the conservative woman would decide in the morning, and her liberal boyfriend took charge in the afternoon. For others, that meant finding shared news rituals they could both agree on — like watching the evening news on ABC while preparing dinner each night — while allowing space for individual podcast or social media consumption that tailored to each other’s interests.

And, for others, it meant a pulling away from news and politics altogether. One respondent said that he and his Democratic girlfriend “never share articles” on social media and “never watch the news together at all.” This was not intentional at first, he said, but the avoidance arose gradually out of a worry that sharing articles would incite conflict: “I guess we’re both afraid to bring up politics…I’d say I try to avoid it. I think she does too. So, we kind of both avoid it at all costs just so we don’t get into any arguments whatsoever.”

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab

Perhaps the OP is a character prompt or “couple prompt”.

PG suggests that politicizing everything is a bad idea for society. He also suggests that people who put politics over relationships or inject politics into relationships take politics way too seriously.

PG can honestly say that he has no idea what the political beliefs his closest friends are.There was a time when injecting politics (or religion) into a social setting was considered bad manners.

Perhaps politics is the new religion for a great many people.

The Dangerous Radicalism of Longing

From The Dispatch:

In a recent episode of Daryl Dixon, the new Walking Dead spinoff, Daryl says, “You can’t miss what you never had.” And for some reason I keep thinking about it. 

According to the internet, this is originally a Hunter S. Thompson quote, though I suspect someone said it before him. This is one of those sayings that sounds profound and wise but isn’t actually true. Or at least to the extent it’s true, it really depends on context and the definitions of “can’t” and “miss.”

I think an enormous number of our problems come from people who miss things they never had. Just off the top of my head: Palestinians miss having a viable country, but have never had one. Lots of people who grew up without siblings, or fathers, or best friends miss having such people in their lives a great deal. People who had bad experiences in high school, or who never went to college, miss things they never had. 

Maybe this helps explain why I say the definitions of “can’t” and “miss” are important here. For the sorts of people described above, missing what you didn’t have is a kind of longing. And people in fact do and can have such longings. “Missing,” it seems, conveys a statement of fact. You actually had something and lost it. “I had a brother. He’s gone. I miss him.” That’s a different statement than “I always wished I had a brother.”

Regardless, such desires are very, very, common. Regret—a good word for combining both “miss” and “longing”—over what might have been, what was lost, or what you never had is one of the most powerful human emotions and one of the greatest drivers of despair. Such feelings are also one of the most powerful motivations for human action. 

The first nationalists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were full of longing for a nation that had never actually existed. Sometimes they invented an ancient past of national identity and claimed they were seeking to restore what was lost to the Romans or some other conquerors. 

The romantics, who helped create nationalism, played similar games. The idea of the “noble savage” was essentially a kind of unscientific science fiction. It was based on ideas that had no actual basis in anthropological or sociological fact. But it did have a good deal of theological support. Man, before the fall, lived in happy ignorance and harmony with nature. Knowledge or technology or modernity ripped us out of this blissful state. All that was required to return to it was the will to return to it. 

I think that in a very fundamental—and very oversimplified—way, all radicalism stems from these kinds of longings. Karl Marx was very much a romantic, and his vision for the end of history looked very much like Rousseau’s vision of the beginning of history. Once all class consciousness was swept away, once the economic aristocracy was toppled or liquidated, everybody would be able to live in an unconstrained state of natural bliss and autonomy. The Marx-influenced radicals pushing for “national liberation” in the 20th century were not as fully utopian, but they believed that all of the suffering and inequities of their lives could be erased with a cleansing purge of imperial control. The Islamic radicals of Iran and elsewhere believed that all that was required to live in spiritual harmony and happiness was to remove the decadent bulwarks of “Western” liberalism, religious pluralism, secularism, capitalism, etc. 

None of these stories ended well, and many ended horribly. 

But the radicalism such desires can inspire aren’t the problem with missing what you never had.

. . . .

 As families shrink or break down, as the sinew of local communities breaks down, the government is seen as a necessary substitute. No, I don’t think all women should stay at home and rely on their parents or husbands as providers and breadwinners. But in a society where so many biological fathers have little desire to be real fathers or actual husbands, the demand for the state to compensate for what’s missing increases. 

This isn’t just a point about the growth of the welfare state or those darn progressives. It’s just one example of how people miss what they never had—fathers, husbands, healthy families and communities—and look for cheap substitutes for them. As I’ve been saying forever, “The government can’t love you.” But when you lack people who love you, when you lack a sense of community, the hunger remains and you pursue whatever you think might satisfy it. 

Another form of longing drives this tendency: nostalgia, which might be the best rebuttal to the claim, “You can’t miss what you never had.” Nostalgia is one of the most powerful forces in politics and life. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t prone to it. Nostalgia is a neologism coined by a Swiss medical student to describe the melancholy (a medical term back then) felt by Swiss mercenaries who fought far from home. It’s a mashup of sorrow or despair and “homecoming.” It’s come to mean homesickness for the past. 

The problem with nostalgia, at least in politics and economics, is that it is a highly selective remembering—and misremembering—of the past. We tend not only to emphasize the good stuff and forget the bad stuff, we exaggerate the good stuff beyond reality. This has always been my problem with “Make America Great Again.” It’s a nostalgia-soaked misdiagnosis of the past that tells people they can have what they miss but never had, at least not in the way they remember it. 

Link to the rest at The Dispatch

A Google AI model developed a skill it wasn’t expected to have

From Yahoo Finance:

Concerns about AI developing skills independently of its programmers’ wishes have long absorbed scientists, ethicists, and science fiction writers. A recent interview with Google’s executives may be adding to those worries.

In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes on April 16, James Manyika, Google’s SVP for technology and society, discussed how one of the company’s AI systems taught itself Bengali, even though it wasn’t trained to know the language. “We discovered that with very few amounts of prompting in Bengali, it can now translate all of Bengali,” he said.

Pichai confirmed that there are still elements of how AI systems learn and behave that still surprises experts: “There is an aspect of this which we call— all of us in the field call it as a ‘black box’. You don’t fully understand. And you can’t quite tell why it said this.” The CEO said the company has “some ideas” why this could be the case, but it needs more research to fully comprehend how it works.

CBS’s Scott Pelley then questioned the reasoning for opening to the public a system that its own developers don’t fully understand, but Pichai responded: “I don’t think we fully understand how a human mind works either.”

AI’s development has also come with glaring flaws that lead to fake news, deepfakes, and weaponization, sometimes with so much confidence, in what the industry calls “hallucinations.”

Asked if Google’s Bard is getting a lot of “hallucinations,” Pichai responded: “Yes, you know, which is expected. No one in the, in the field has yet solved the hallucination problems. All models do have this as an issue.” The cure, Pichai said, is around developing “more robust safety layers before we build, before we deploy more capable models.”

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

A villain must be a thing of power

A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development.

Agnes Repplier

Beware These Big Baddies: 22 of the Best Book Villains

From Book Riot:

The Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen, the Stepsisters, Joker, Darth Vader – these iconic villains have stayed with us for a very long time. We read about them, we see them in movies, in the originals and remakes. What makes a villain iconic? What makes them timeless? For you to remember them years and years later and still know what the story is about and what the villain did so the hero couldn’t achieve their destiny. These book villains tell their story, you might even relate to them a bit, but the way they do things might not be the right one.

For me, a villain needs to have a reason. A reason for them to do what they’re doing. And for you to see it in a different light, it might be the way to change things, yes, but the villain always does it in their own way: not at all caring that they might create chaos. The hero, if you’re in a A+ story, is not at all that good. They might not follow the rules completely. So you have that gray area that you can see how easily the hero can turn into a villain. The villain also can work into that area. Take a look at these book villains.

Best Book Villains in Children’s Books

Dolores Umbridge From Harry Potter

When I first got introduced to her, I instantly didn’t like her. And with reason! Her whole story arc is to be a bad person. She tortured Harry, she was completely on Voldemort’s side, she fought with him. Through it all, Dolores Umbridge was a pain to read about whenever she was on scene.

The Grinch From How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

One of the greatest book villains. He hates Christmas and wants everyone to be completely miserable like him? So he decides to steal Christmas from the Whos. How does he do it? He dresses up as Santa, puts some antlers on top of Max’s (his dog) head, and call it a day. It’s wonderful.

Smaug from The Hobbit

A dragon who was drawn to the fortune of the Lonely Mountain? It’s pretty amazing when you meet him for the first time. Plus he pretty much doesn’t care about the world. He just wants his fortune and to lie there with it.

The Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid

You might know Ursula, the sea witch in the Disney’s retelling, but the Sea Witch from the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen is much worse and more cruel. Why is that? Well, she makes a deal with the Little Mermaid for human legs. Her tongue is chopped off, her fin is cut in half literally to make two legs, and whenever she walks on land, she will feel like she’s walking on sharp knives.

. . . .

Best Book Villains in Adult Fiction

The Wood From Uprooted

The Wood is a frightful entity. A living, dark entity that feeds constantly. If someone went inside the Wood, you probably won’t be seeing them again. Or if they did come out, they would come out changed, be it in the mind or on their bodies. The Wood ate you alive and good riddance if you so much as get neared it. That’s why everyone is afraid of it and the only one who can protect the town is the Dragon, another being that whispers fear.

Circe From Circe

If you’ve read The Odyssey, you know about Circe. The sorceress who was exiled to the island of Aiaia. Who was a very important part of Odysseus’s journey. But when you read that, you don’t stop and think about Circe’s story and upbringing. Madeline Miller’s book shows you how the stories vilify Circe, and in this love letter to her, Circe becomes a new being. There’s more than turning men into pigs, believe me.

Pennywise From It

One of the most terrifying clowns in history. Pennywise is still making people have nightmares. With the new remake, It came back into our lives. Pennywise is a shapeshifter that changes into people’s fears or loved ones in order to manipulate them and kill them. It’s a rather intelligent being that stalks the Derry kids in the form of a clown because it knows that kids love clowns so it would be easier to get to them.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

4 Paths to Redeeming Your Villain

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Have you ever fallen in love with a story villain? Or at least found yourself liking them somewhat against your will? Seems a little weird, experiencing all the happy feels for this character, but I think we’ve all been there.

When a villain is well written and well rounded, they can tug at our heartstrings just like the protagonists do. This can be cruel, since the villain is usually destined to fail. I say usually because stories can include a change of heart for the enemy.

Is this what you’d like for your bad guy or girl? Let’s take a peek at the villain’s journey and see what their path to redemption might look like.

Understanding Character Arcs: Positive Arcs

First, we need to have a basic understanding of character arc. In essence, this is the transformation a character goes through from the start of the story to the finish.

In the opening pages, she’s lacking something internally. Often, this comes out of a wounding event from the past — a trauma that was scarring. She was compelled to don emotional shielding to protect herself from the pain of that experience and any possible recurrence.

This emotional shielding comes in the form of bad habits, defense mechanisms, personality flaws, biases, and skewed beliefs. While intended to protect the character, that only creates more problems. They’re so destructive that they create a void in her basic human needs. This void leads her to pursue a story goal (outer motivation) that will fill that need. But her emotional shielding cripples her, keeping her from succeeding and becoming fully realized.

Throughout the course of a positive arc, the character recognizes those internal problems and begins to address and change them. This enables her to grow and deal properly with her past, eventually ensuring that she meets her goal and achieves fulfillment.

Understanding Character Arcs: Negative Arcs

That transformation is the essence of a change arc. It’s the one most protagonists follow. But there’s another, lesser-used arc form that’s common for villains.

In a failed arc, the character is unable to overcome their issues and the demons of the past. She fails to make the necessary positive changes that would enable them to achieve satisfaction and fill their inner void. Characters following this arc end the story either back where they started or worse off than they were to begin with.

Very often, this is where you’ll find the villain in your story. She may be aware of the wounding event from her past, but she’s already tried to deal with it and has failed. Now she’s embracing her dysfunctional behaviors, believing they’ll make her stronger. Or she may never have faced her past and is living in denial, refusing to address it. Either way, she’s destined to continue living an unfulfilled life that lacks closure — unless she’s given the opportunity to try again, and this time, succeed. Then…redemption.

How To Go About Redeeming Your Villain?

So as an author interested in redeeming your villain, you first must know her backstory, which will tell you what she’ll have to overcome to succeed.

  • What wounding event from the past profoundly impacted her?
  • How did her view of herself or the world change because of it?
  • What new behaviors, beliefs, habits, and responses developed as a means of protecting herself from a recurrence of that event and the negative emotions associated with it?

There’s a lot of backstory to explore, but questions like these will get you started. 

. . . .

Once you’ve got a clear vision of your villain’s history, you can use one of the following techniques to get her back on the road to healing.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

SEO Killed The Internet

From Medium:

Keywords! Keywords! Keywords! Make sure your article is 2 pages long. Make sure to write a readable SEO friendly way. Don’t mess with the format too much because we won’t rank, son! Don’t use too many fancy words that people don’t google. Lists! Lists! Lists! Pad it out, boy! Keywords!

SEO has killed the internet. SEO has killed creativity. I am not even joking here. How many times in the last 5 years have you googled something and actually found what you were looking for without appending “Reddit” to the end of the query? The worst part is, even when you do find something, you have to sift through a boring, long article about something completely different until you find what you were looking for. If you ever do, that is.

Google is basically a search engine for finding Reddit posts nowadays. Intellectual writing is gone, there is a template for everything now. Writers end up horribly depressed or worse, give up writing altogether. Writing in today’s day and age is less about engaging in intellectual discourse, birthing a new world, and telling a story. Now it is all about selling a narrative, product, or service.

Think about it. Even fantasy writers have to write out an SEO-friendly blog post in order to sell their book.

Now, I can already see the comment: “You’re just angry because you don’t know how to write good SEO.” To you dear commenter, all I have to say is that it’s not about the SEO it’s the fact that all we read is SEO. There is a science to it and as always formulas ruin creativity. Sure, you can play around in the bounds of the template, but is that really what you want from an artform? It’s like Picasso using a coloring book and just choosing the colors.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG thought he was the only one seeing Reddit in all his online search results.

The dawn of the omnistar

From The Economist:

Computers have spent decades disrupting humdrum jobs. Now artificial intelligence (ai) is coming for the most glamorous ones. Hollywood has been at a standstill for half the year, until studios agreed on November 8th to offer striking stars protection from robotic rivals. Living artists were nudged down this week’s music charts by a dead Beatle, resurrected by ai. Actors like Scarlett Johansson and authors like John Grisham are suing tech firms over the unauthorised use of their image and words.

Stars may worry that ai is stealing their work and giving less talented performers the skills to snatch their audience. In fact, the famous folk complaining the loudest about the new technology are the ones who stand to benefit the most. Far from diluting star power, ai will make the biggest celebrities bigger than ever, by allowing them to be in all markets, in all formats, at all times. Put your hands together—or insert your earplugs if you prefer—for the rise of the omnistar.

. . . .

This is not the first time that technology has changed the rules of the fame game. People began to talk of stars in the 18th century, after the spread of reading made it possible to be truly famous within your lifetime. Film and radio initially seemed like a threat to stars, who worried that their live performances would be devalued. In fact, those technologies ushered in the era of the superstar, a term that caught on in the 1920s. A similar panic greeted the invention of television (and led to the last big Hollywood strike, in 1960). But again, the new tech made the famous even more so, bringing them into every living room. By the 1960s people were talking of megastars.

As ai-generated content floods into the entertainment business, the hardworking folk of Malibu are worrying once more that their fame will be diluted—and again, the outcome is likely to be the opposite. One of the paradoxes of the internet age is that, even as uploads to YouTube, TikTok and the like have created a vast “long tail” of user-made content, the biggest hits by the biggest artists have become even bigger. The number of musicians earning over $1,000 a year in royalties on Spotify has more than doubled in the past six years, but the number earning over $10m a year has quintupled. Even as niche content thrives—sea shanties, whistling and all kinds of eccentricities—Taylor Swift is marching through the most lucrative concert tour in history. It is the mid-ranking artists who have suffered.

Similar patterns hold across entertainment. The number of feature films released each year has doubled in the past two decades, but the biggest blockbusters have simultaneously doubled their share of the total box office. A tide of self-published books has not eroded the sales of star writers. In a sea of choice audiences rely more on recommendations, both algorithmic and human, which funnel them towards the most popular content. ai promises even more choice, and thus even higher search costs for audiences, who will continue to gravitate to the handful of stars at the top.

ai will give these megastars the ability to be truly omnipresent for their fans. ai-powered dubbing is already allowing actors and podcasters to speak to foreign audiences instantly and in their own voice. It will soon be standard for video to be edited so that their lips match the new language, too. In-demand actors may get more work because ai removes the perennial Hollywood problem of crowded schedules, allowing stars to perform alongside each other while not being together at all. Digital Botox will increase actors’ shelf-life and even enable them to perform posthumously. Disney has acquired the rights to the voice of James Earl Jones, 92, so that Darth Vader can scare children for generations to come.

Everything, everywhere, all at once

Stars will also be able to perform for fans in formats that are only beginning to emerge. The abba avatars that sell out a London arena seven times a week, and the celebrity-voiced chatbots recently launched by Meta, are just a taste of the ways in which the biggest stars will be able to satisfy—and monetise—their fans.

These opportunities come with strings attached. Artists are right to worry about copyright, which must be protected if ai is not to become a legalised form of piracy. Past technologies were no different: the printing press led to the first copyright laws in the 18th century; royalty payments were rejigged in the 1960s to compensate big-screen actors whose work was shown on tv; the musical free-for-all unleashed by companies like Napster at the turn of the century eventually gave way to deals between streamers and record companies. Content creators have legitimate questions about permission and payment (we declare an interest here). Until those are answered, ai will be a legal Wild West.

The bigger question is how the age of the omnistar will suit audiences. The risk is boredom. ai is brilliant at remixing and regurgitating old material, but less good at generating the pulse-racing, spine-tingling stuff that is, for now, a human speciality. ai output may nonetheless appeal to film studios, record labels and other creative middlemen, who prefer to minimise risk by sticking to tried-and-tested ideas. Hollywood already favours franchises over new work: witness the rash of sequels and reboots at the box office. ai will let studios apply the same principle to actors. A de-aged Luke Skywalker stars in Disney’s latest “Star Wars” spin-off. At present, audiences are wowed by such trickery. They may grow tired of it long before “Fast and Furious 94”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

What to do when you go blank during a public speaking engagement

From Medium:

Ever faced the dreaded combination of stage fright and an unexpected challenge?
Well, I have, and let me tell you, it involved a sneeze attack and a surprise speech.
As the head girl of my high school, I thought public speaking was a breeze – until one day in 9th grade.

The Speech Ambush:

Just the day before a school assembly, I was handed a speech to memorize. Simple, right? Not when you’re battling a sudden dust allergy.
Cue uncontrollable sneezing – not the ideal prep for a speech. I popped anti-allergy pills like candy, but my nose had other plans.
It turned into a warm waterfall, and reading the speech made it worse. I became a master at reading through a runny nose.

Sleepless Night Drama:

Mugging up a speech was never my cup of tea, especially with a leaky nose. Despite high-dose medication, sleep eluded me.As the dawn approached, an exhaustion set in. Sleep-deprived, sniffly, and with puffy eyes, I had a choice, give the speech or face the wrath of my teachers. Duty called, and so did my need for sleep.

On Stage:

Mic in hand, half-asleep, I began with confidence. But halfway through, I blanked out. Panic? Yes. The audience staring? Definitely. What did I do? I confessed. “None of this was my idea; blame the internet!”as I confidently said,further continuing the speech I deviated from the script, shared my perspective on Women’s Day, and finished the speech my way. Applause ensued.

. . . .

Our political science teacher came to my rescue, my unexpected hero, praising my brilliance. As they argued, I made a swift exit, vowing never to memorize a speech again.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG has given quite a number of speeches of various types.

  • In college, he had many classes which required him to interpret various types of literature, including everything from folk tales to Shakespeare to lengthy poems by Vachel Lindsay.
  • He has spoken to quite a number of judges and juries, attempting to further the cause of clients admirable and disreputable.
  • He has delivered more than a few church sermons.
  • He has spoken to groups fellow attorneys from Hawaii to Beverly Hills to Chicago to Manhattan to London about how to use technology to improve the management and operations of their offices.

Allow PG to make a few suggestions about dealing with the unexpected when giving a speech:

  • Don’t memorize if you can get around doing so by hook or by crook.
  • If you have to memorize, slip a copy of what you’re supposed to memorize into a pocket or some other easy-to-reach place on your person, so you can refresh your recollection or read a bit until your memory kicks into gear.
  • An outline of your presentation is a much better idea than having a verbatim written speech. This gives you the option to let bright thoughts to pop up off your head or, if you will be speaking following other speakers, comment on some of the things they have said.
  • If you have the option of using a PowerPoint for your speech (with a large monitor or projector so your audience can properly view it), your PowerPoint can substitute for an outline. Please don’t read from your PowerPoint, however. You can sometimes use a printed version of a PowerPoint as an outline of your presentation.

If you are not familiar with Vachel Lindsay’s poetry, he was a popular performer of some of his best-known works in the late 19th and early 20th centures. Below, you’ll hear him recite (perform is a better description) his most famous epic poem, The Congo.

PG warns one and all that Lindsay, who died in 1931, reflected the times during which he lived in his attitudes and writing about African-Americans.

Skip the performance if exceedingly out of date and offensive attitudes towards descendants of African slaves may offend or upset you.

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Lady of Adventure

From Writers Helping Writers:

DESCRIPTION: This self-sufficient and tenacious woman seeks out adventure and new discoveries, often breaking with the conventions of her time to do so.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Arya Stark (Game of Thrones), Eowyn (the Lord of the Rings trilogy), Mulan (Mulan), Dolores Abernathy (Westworld), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)

COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Adventurous, Alert, Bold, Confident, Courageous, Curious, Decisive, Efficient, Enthusiastic, Focused, Independent, Industrious, Passionate, Perceptive, Persistent, Resourceful, Spontaneous, Spunky

COMMON WEAKNESSES: Cocky, Impatient, Impulsive, Irresponsible, Obsessive, Pushy, Rebellious, Reckless, Self-Destructive, Self-Indulgent, Stubborn, Uncooperative, Volatile

Being street smart
Restlessness; needing to be on the move
Lacking patience
Thinking for herself
Rejecting the conventions that don’t suit her
Persistently pursuing her goals; seeing things through
Disregarding people in authority—specifically those who would try to force her into a specific role or keep her from certain activities
Avoiding long-term commitments (in case a better offer comes along)
Believing that romantic entanglements will slow her down

A romantic partner wanting to settle down
Sustaining an injury that affects her mobility
Getting pregnant
Rules changing that restrict women’s freedoms
Being saddled with additional responsibilities at home or work, making travel and adventure less possible

Has a stable home life, with children
Is elderly
Has an atypical trait: indecisive, nature-focused, sentimental, verbose, whiny, vain, etc.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

For more information about various character tropes, check out the Thesaurus Description Database which you can find via the Writers Helping Writers Home Page.

When American Words Invaded the Greatest English Dictionary

From The Wall Street Journal:

Most people think of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary as a quintessentially British production, but if you pore carefully over the first edition, compiled between 1858 and 1928, you will find thousands of American words.

There are familiar words describing nature particular to the U.S., like prairieskunkcoyote and chipmunk, but also more recondite ones, like catawba (a species of grape and type of sparkling wine), catawampous (fierce, destructive) and cottondom (the region in which cotton is grown). Today, Americanisms are easy for modern lexicographers to find because of the internet and access to large data sets. But all of the American words in that first edition found their way to Oxford in an age when communication across the Atlantic was far more difficult.

The OED was one of the world’s first crowdsourced projects—the Wikipedia of the 19th century—in which people around the English-speaking world were invited to read their country’s books and submit words for consideration on 4-by-6-inch slips of paper. Until recently, it wasn’t known how many people responded, exactly who they were or how they helped. But in 2014, several years after working as an editor on the OED, I was revisiting a hidden corner of the Oxford University Press basement where the dictionary’s archive is stored, and I came across a dusty box.

Inside the box was a small black book tied with cream-colored ribbon. On its pages was the immaculate handwriting of James Murray, the OED’s longest-serving editor. It was his 150-year-old address book recording the names and addresses of people who contributed to the largest English dictionary ever written.

There were six address books in all from that era, and for the past eight years I have researched the people listed inside. Three thousand or so in total, they were a vivid and eccentric bunch. Most were not the scholarly elite you might expect. The top four contributors globally, one of whom sent in 165,061 slips, were all connected with psychiatric hospitals (or “lunatic asylums” as they were called at the time); three were inmates and one was a chief administrator. There were three murderers and the owner of the world’s largest collection of pornography who, yes, sent in sex words, especially related to bondage and flagellation. 

You can’t go a page or two in Murray’s address books without seeing a name that he had underlined in thick red pencil. These are the Americans: politicians, soldiers, librarians, homemakers, booksellers, lawyers, coin collectors and pharmacists. They ranged from luminaries like Noah Thomas Porter, who edited Webster’s Dictionary and became president of Yale University, to unknowns such as 21-year-old Carille Winthrop Atwood, who loved the classical world and lived in a large house with several other young women in a fashionable area of San Francisco. The most prolific American contributor was Job Pierson, a clergyman from Ionia, Mich., who owned the state’s largest private library and sent in 43,055 slips featuring words from poetry, drama and religion. 

Murray marked Americanism with a “U.S” label, including casket (coffin),  comforter (eiderdown), baggage (luggage), biscuit (scone) and faucet (tap). He was often at pains to add details: For pecan tree, he included that it was “common in [the] Ohio and Mississippi valleys.” He noted that candy, not quite an Americanism, was “in [the] U.S. used more widely than in Great Britain, including toffy and the like.”

. . . .

Some American contributors involved in certain causes sought to make sure that their associated words got into the dictionary, like Anna Thorpe Wetherill, an anti-slavery activist in Philadelphia, who hid escaped slaves at her home. Her contributions included abhorrent and abolition.

Others turned to their hobbies. Noteworthy Philadelphian Henry Phillips, Jr., an antiquarian and pioneer of the new language Esperanto, ensured that the dictionary had a generous coverage of words relating to coins and numismatics: electrum (coins made of an alloy of gold and silver with traces of copper) and gun money (money coined from the metal of old guns). 

Francis Atkins, a medical doctor at a military base in New Mexico, read books relating to Native American cultures and sent in sweat-house (a hut in which hot air or vapor baths are taken) and squash (the vegetable), a word borrowed from the Narragansett asquutasquash. He also contributed ranching words: rutting season (mating season), pronghorn (an antelope) and bison (a wild ox).

Others had their favorite authors. Anna Wyckoff Olcott, one of 27 contributors from New York City (she lived on West 13th Street in Manhattan), took responsibility for providing entries from the works of Louisa May Alcott. Those included the term deaconed, from “Little Women,” defined in the OED as “U.S. slang” meaning the practice of packing fruit with the finest specimens on top. (“The blanc-mange was lumpy, and the strawberries not as ripe as they looked, having been skilfully ‘deaconed.’”)

In Boston, Nathan Matthews advised the OED for six years before becoming the city’s mayor and the person who spearheaded Boston’s subway system, the first in the U.S. But it was his brother, the historian and etymologist Albert Matthews, who was the second-highest ranking American contributor, sending in 30,480 slips from his reading of American historical sources including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Washington Irving. 

Albert Matthews in particular enabled the OED to include words that no Brit would have ever have heard or needed to use. He sent in stockadedwhitefish and a rare American use of suck, meaning “the place at which a body of water moves in such a way as to suck objects into its vortex.” His reading of Daniel Denton’s “A Brief Description of New York” (1670) provided evidence for persimmonpossum, raccoon skinpowwow (spelled at the time “pawow”) and the first time that huckleberry ever appeared in print: “The fruits Natural to the Island are Mulberries, Posimons, Grapes great and small, Huckelberries.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

First Sale Doctrine in Trademark and Copyright Law

From BonaLaw:

Federal law allows owners of copyrights or trademarks to file suit for alleged infringement of their exclusive rights. Through a lawsuit, they can recover damages or ask a court to enjoin further unauthorized use of their protected materials. Certain uses of copyrighted or trademarked materials are allowed by law, even without the owner’s permission.

The first sale doctrine allows the resale of products that constitute or contain someone else’s intellectual property without the owner’s permission, as long as the person lawfully owns the product. The first sale doctrine is codified in U.S. copyright law, and court decisions have applied it to trademarks. It can serve as a defense to a copyright or trademark infringement lawsuit in certain situations.

The First Sale Doctrine in Copyright Law

The first sale doctrine states that a copyright owner cannot prevent someone who has lawfully purchased a copyrighted work, such as a book, from selling, loaning, or giving that item to someone else. This allows the distribution of copyrighted materials beyond the initial sale by the copyright owner. Without the first sale doctrine, no one would be able to sell or otherwise dispose of books, CDs, DVDs, or other tangible works that they have purchased without the copyright owner’s authorization. Bookstores and libraries would need permission every time that they sold or loaned a book.

Federal copyright law has codified the first sale doctrine at 17 U.S.C. § 109. Limits apply to the doctrine when a copyrighted work is in digital rather than physical form. Section 109 also contains exceptions for certain types of media.

Limits on Resale of Digital Copies

The first sale doctrine pre-dates the digital era. It assumes that copyrighted materials exist in physical form. People now buy mp3 files instead of CDs, digital movies instead of DVDs, and ebooks instead of books. Digital media files are not distinct, tangible items that can literally change hands after a sale. The process of copying a digital file is simpler than copying a CD or DVD, and much simpler than copying a book.

The U.S. Copyright Office has concluded that the first sale doctrine does not apply to the unauthorized resale of copyrighted materials in digital form. In a report issued in 2001, it stated that transmitting a digital file from one user to another creates a new copy of the copyrighted work.

Several court decisions have adopted the Copyright Office’s conclusions. For example, in 2018, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a New York federal court’s ruling against a company that allowed consumers to sell digital music files that they had purchased through the iTunes store.

Sale vs. Licensing of Work

For the first sale doctrine to apply, the person attempting to sell their copy of a copyrighted work must actually own that copy. A person who buys a book from a bookstore owns the paper on which the book is printed. They can sell that item to someone else. The same can be said for a CD purchased at a music store. That said, not all exchanges of money for copyrighted materials constitute a “sale.”

Many software companies include end-user license agreements (EULAs), stating that the consumer is only purchasing a license to use their software. If the EULA states that the license is not transferable, the consumer cannot legally sell or otherwise convey the software to anyone else.

Link to the rest at BonaLaw