Waiting to Be Arrested at Night review – the Uyghurs’ fight for survival in a society where repression is routine

From The Guardian:

A group of Uyghur friends are having a late-night chat. “I wish the Chinese would just conquer the world,” one says suddenly. “Why do you say that?” another asks, surprised. “The world doesn’t care what happens to us,” the first man replies. “Since we can’t have freedom anyway, let the whole world taste subjugation. Then we would all be the same. We wouldn’t be alone in our suffering.”

It is an understandable outburst of bitterness. The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority who live mainly in China’s north-western Xinjiang region. They have long faced discrimination and persecution. Since 2016, the repression has greatly intensified, with mass detention, forced sterilisation and abortion, the separation of thousands of children from their parents, and the razing of thousands of mosques. Yet support for Uyghurs has been equivocal, not least from Muslim-majority countries, many of which are outraged by the burning of a Qur’an in Sweden but remain silent about the detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, for fear of upsetting Beijing.

Tahir Hamut Izgil’s Waiting to Be Arrested at Night, which recounts that conversation, is not, however, a bitter book. It is suffused, rather, by a deep sense of sadness, and of despondency even amid hope. “Yet our words could undo nothing here,/even the things we brought to be”, as one of Izgil’s poems laments.

A poet and film-maker, Izgil is famed for bringing a modernist sensibility to Uyghur poetry. He did not set out to be a political activist. The very fact of being a Uyghur, though, in a country that seeks to erase Uyghur existence, both culturally and physically, turns everyday life into a political act. And for a poet living in a culture within which “verse is woven into daily life”, writing is necessarily also an act of witness and of resistance.

Despite the subtitle of the book – “A Uyghur Poet’s Memoir of China’s Genocide” – there are no depictions here of genocide, or of torture, or even of violence. We know all these things are happening, but off-page. Izgil’s memoir is a story about how to survive in, and to negotiate one’s way through, a society in which repression has become routine, and the power of the state is unfettered. The book’s restraint is also its strength. The tension in the narrative flows from the dread captured in the title – the dread of waiting to be arrested, to be vanished into detention, a dread no Uyghur can escape.

Beijing’s strategy has been, over the past decade, to cut Uyghurs off from the rest of the world and from one another, too. When censorship and surveillance made it impossible to link to the internet beyond the Chinese firewall, many Uyghurs took to keeping in touch with the outside world through shortwave radios. Until, that is, the government banned the sale of such radios and organised mass raids into people’s homes to confiscate them. “We suddenly found ourselves living like frogs at the bottom of a well,” Izgil observes.

Beijing seeks to cut off Uyghurs from their past and their traditions, too. Qur’ans are seized and history books banned, including many previously authorised by the state. Even personal names become part of the assault on Uyghur culture. Beijing’s list of prohibited names tells Uyghurs what they cannot call their children. Some names are apparently too “Muslim” – Aisha, Fatima, Saifuddin; others, such as Arafat, too political. When the list was first introduced, newspapers carried announcements such as: “My son’s birth name was Arafat Ablikim. From now on he will be known as Bekhtiyar Ablikim.”

The greatest dread is of the physical repression wreaked upon Uyghurs: mass detentions, torture, violence. We get a glimpse of the horror when Izgil and his wife, Marhaba, attend a police station to have their biometric details collected – fingerprints, blood samples, facial scans. Along a basement corridor, `they see a cell fitted out with iron restraints and a notorious “tiger chair”, used to force detainees into agonising stress positions. On the floor are bloodstains.

People start disappearing, first in small numbers, eventually up to 1 million. They are taken to “study centres” – the code for mass detention camps – though nobody knows which one. “They simply vanished,” Izgil writes.

The police knocked on the door when “your name was on the list”. There was, though, “no way to know if or when your name would show up on the list. We all lived within this frightening uncertainty.” It spawned a climate in which people feared one another as much as they feared the authorities.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PRH, Hachette, S&S Flag ‘Trashed Books’ in New York

From Publishing Perspectives:

Overnight (March 18), Kiara Alfonseca has confirmed for ABC News in New York City that the city’s department of education has opened an investigation into reports that hundreds of new books, “many that were about people of color and LGBTQ identities—were thrown into the trash at a Staten Island school after the news outlet The Gothamist first reported the discovery,” as Alfonseca writes.

The school in question is Public School (PS) 55, known as the Henry M. Boehm School, an elementary school. Staten Island is the southernmost of the five boroughs that make up New York City.

And the reports circulating on the discovery of books apparently being discarded looks to many in the US book market to be a new instance of censorious action against books.

. . . .

Some of the books reportedly discovered being discarded had what appeared to be review notes attached to them, according to Gould’s report. She writes, “A note on My Two Border Towns, about a boy’s life on the United States-Mexico border, read, ‘Our country has no room and it’s not fair.’

“A note on The Derby Daredevils,” Gould goes on, “about a girls’ roller derby team, read, ‘Not approved. Discusses dad being transgender. Teenage girls having a crush on another girl in class.’ And a note on We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know reads, ‘Negative slant on white people.’”

ABC’s Alfonseca writes that the city’s department of education has asserted that its schools “do not shy away from books that teach students about the diverse people and communities that make up the fabric of our society,” adding that the department does not condone the messages reported to be found on the books.

A group of major US publishers and others have written to the chancellor of the New York City public schools system, David C. Banks, to express their concern, calling for a return of the books that appear to have been discarded, and to ask for a meeting.A group of major US publishers and others have written to the chancellor of the New York City public schools system, David C. Banks, to express their concern, calling for a return of the books that appear to have been discarded, and to ask for a meeting.

. . . .

Dear Chancellor David C. Banks, 

On March 11, 2024, Gothamist reported that PS 55 in Staten Island has trashed hundreds of books on  ideological grounds. If true, such action amounts to unlawful censorship and violates authors’ and students’ First Amendment rights.  

“The images of the discarded books shared by Gothamist are deeply troubling, particularly the sticky notes on many titles that appear to state the reason they have been removed. On one book, My Two Border Towns, there is a note stating ‘Our country has no room and it’s not fair’ as the rationale for throwing  the book into the garbage. On another title, The Derby Daredevils, the note says the book is ‘not approved’  because it ‘discusses dad being transgender’ and includes ‘teenage girls having crushes on another girl  in class.’

“We Are Still Here! Native American Truths Everyone Should Know was flagged as having a ‘negative slant on white people.’ And on the picture book Nina: A Story of Nina Simone there is a note saying it is not approved because ‘This is about how black people were treated poorly but overcame it. (Can go both ways.).

“Such comments clearly reflect private bias that cannot be effectuated by a public school that is obligated to serve everyone in the community.  

“We recognize the outstanding work the department has done to expand literacy and access to books  across the city. Censorship threatens these efforts by diminishing our collective constitutional rights.  Students and parents have the right to make their own reading decisions for their families. Book bans  infringe on their ability to access the titles of their choosing and ultimately deprive children of the opportunity to learn from new perspectives and see themselves represented. Because school libraries play a crucial role in providing families with access to books, removing titles makes it difficult or even impossible for students to encounter information and ideas that are necessary to their intellectual development.  

“Based on the report, we are deeply concerned that silent or unacknowledged censorship may be going  on in New York City schools. We are heartened that the NYC DOE [department of education] is conducting an investigation into this incident. We hope you are able to act quickly to ensure the discarded books are returned to the shelves and respectfully request a meeting to explore ways in which we can work together to protect the First Amendment rights of NYC students in the future.  

“We firmly stand in support of educators, librarians, parents, students, and authors protecting the freedom to read here in NYC and in the rest of America.  

“Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this critical issue. We look forward to your response.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG says it’s inspiring to see what wonderful protectors of free speech major New York publishers are and how selflessly they defend the right of everybody to buy and read anything the publishers might have put on sale.

PG wonders whether any of the concerned parents of children in the New York public schools will remember which publishers brushed aside their concerns for their children’s welfare because it was bad for business.

25 Years Later, We’re All Trapped in The Matrix

From The Wall Street Journal:

It is a cinematic scene familiar to millions: A man named Morpheus sits across from another man named Neo and informs him that his entire notion of reality is a lie. If Neo wishes to know the truth of human existence, Morpheus says, all he has to do is choose one of two pills. “You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill…and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

This scene is the turning point in “The Matrix,” the sci-fi classic that was released 25 years ago this month. Of course, Neo chooses the red pill and learns the terrible truth that the advent of artificial intelligence allowed machines to take over the Earth. He believes it is 1999, but in fact it is 2199, and all human beings are perpetually asleep in vats, exploited by their AI masters as a source of energy. The world they think they experience is actually a virtual reality known as “The Matrix.”

Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, has devoted himself to freeing individuals from the Matrix and leading them to a refuge called Zion. He believes that Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, is “the One” destined to liberate humanity.

Directed by the sibling team the Wachowskis, “The Matrix” was a box office hit in 1999 and spawned two sequels in 2003 and another in 2021. It also became an important cultural influence. The term “red-pilled” is now widely used online to describe someone who has grown skeptical of the way political reality is usually depicted.

The power of the film lies in the way it adapts one of the oldest allegories in the history of philosophy. In Plato’s “Republic,” the Athenian philosopher Socrates describes prisoners who have spent their entire lives manacled in a cave. A fire behind them casts the shadows of objects on a wall in front of them, and because shadows are all they have ever seen, they assume that what appears before their eyes is reality.

One prisoner breaks free, however, and makes his way to the surface of the Earth, where he beholds the sun and the real world. Ultimately he returns to the cave, seeking to convince his fellows that reality is out there to be discovered. Plato argues that the philosopher is like this escaped prisoner. It is his job to free humanity from illusion and teach us what is truly real.

The allegory of the cave is one of the indelible images in the history of Western thought, a metaphor for the capacity of human beings to break free from falsehood. Morpheus and Neo have been widely recognized as Plato’s heirs, philosopher-kings for the digital age.

But Plato also warns that the prisoners in the cave will resist being freed and that they will hate the philosopher who tries to teach them unfamiliar truths: “If any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Who knows where inspiration comes from

Who knows where inspiration comes from. Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the muses.

Amy Tan

A Well-Contained Life

From The Paris Review:

What can’t be contained? Not much. We are given the resources, mental or physical, to contain our emotions and our belongings. Failing to do so often registers as weakness. 

The smallest container you can buy at the Container Store is a rectangular crystal-clear plastic box available in orange, purple, and green. It can contain one AA or two AAA batteries, half a handful of Tic Tacs, or a folded-up tissue. The largest container you can buy at the Container Store is a four-tiered metal shelving unit. It can contain other containers.

Containers mediate us and our stuff. They create boundaries and allow our items to exist multiple feet above the ground. Most spaces are divided by containers. These containers might then be divided by additional containers. Containers form a scaffold, or an architecture. They make walls scalable and underbeds reachable. They allow you to put something down and know where it is the next time you want to pick it up. 

One of the best ways to understand containers is to imagine a world without them. We would have piles. Bracelets, creams, stick-shaped kitchen items, fruit. Small things would get lost under big ones. Or, an alternative: a line of items that snakes through an apartment or house, up and down stairs and spiraling into the center of the room. When you want to find something, you simply walk along the line of items, confronting each individual thing. 

We use containers to solve the problem of stuff. At the Container Store, containers solve other problems, too—problems we didn’t know we had. A Parking Guide provides you with a mat on which to park. A RollDown Egg Dispenser rolls your eggs. A Stackable Sweater Drawer creates a sweater-only space for sweaters. A Cheese Keeper keeps your cheese, and a Small Cube Sleeve serves as a sleeve for your cube. 

There are plenty of analogies to choose from when describing a body, but one rather insufficient one is a container for our organs, blood, souls. The problem with this analogy is that our bodies are more than just containers. We can’t untangle our bodily experience from the feeling of existing in the world. In this case, the container is not a neutral scaffold. 

Is this true at the Container Store, too? Many containers certainly try to be as neutral as possible, made from clear, thin acrylic, or a neutral-tone rattan. They sell a promise: Once you use me to sort your trouser socks, you won’t even know I’m there. The Container Store refers to their products as “organizational solutions”—a way of dealing with something rather than a thing to deal with. The thing itself is little more than the solution it offers.

And then you come to the hampers and think, If the hamper was simply a solution to the problem of storing dirty laundry, why must I choose whether I want it in plastic, canvas, or bamboo? And then you spot the Small Scalloped Edge Faux Rattan Bin and think, What’s keeping me from buying the Small Scalloped Edge Faux Rattan Bin, even if I didn’t have anything to put in it? After spending a certain amount of time in the Container Store, the containers that are meant to organize, divide, and store look less like solutions and more like stuff. Following this line of thinking is a great way to leave empty-handed. 

The Container Store isn’t safe for the problem-less and adequately organized. The Container Store is better suited for the overflowing, the misplaced, and those lacking sectioned parts. Most of us do have a problem that the Small Scalloped Edge Faux Rattan Bin could fix. Only the bravest would buy it, place it on the table, and wait for it to find the problem for itself. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

As any visitor who has spent much time on TPV knows, PG includes excerpts with links back to the original piece/post. The only exception to this rule is when he posts poems. For PG, a well-written poem is a lovely whole from start to finish.

PG found the OP to be such an excellent short essay that he couldn’t bring himself to excise any portion of it. So The Paris Review doesn’t suffer a dearth of page views as a result of PG’s violation of TPV protocols, click HERE to check it out. If you haven’t visited The Paris Review based on PG’s previous links, you’ll find lots of interesting writing about subjects you’re not likely to encounter elsewhere.

One additional location that will interest many visitors to TPV is the publication’s Back Issues Section. The Paris Review was first published in. While you can purchase back issues, you can also browse online tables of content and see excerpts from the issue without becoming a subscriber. The first issue – Spring 1953 – included E. M. Forster on the Art of Fiction. William Styron’s Letter to an Editor. Stories by Peter Matthiessen, Terry Southern, and Eugene Walter. Poems by Robert Bly, Donald Hall, and George Steiner.

The Back Issues Section also includes an Author Index that lists the authors and, in some instances, the subjects of every interview, story, poem, essay, and portfolio published – over 5,000 – with a hyperlink to a short synopsis of the work written. Examples are Reel to Reel about Louis Armstrong:

In a typical year, Louis Armstrong spent more than three hundred days on the road, bringing his music to audiences around the world. He always traveled with a steamer trunk designed to house two reel-to-reel tape decks and a turntable, and he carried a stash of music for his own listening pleasure, to while away the hours he spent in hotels and dressing rooms before and after each gig. Tapes being less fragile than LPs, and possessing longer recording capacity, he ultimately transferred much of his collection to seven-inch reels. He also made mix tapes of his favorite tunes. He liked musicians who prized melody, and his selections range from Glenn Miller to Jelly Roll Morton to Tchaikovsky. Occasionally he added commentary over the music or played along, and he made copies of his own recordings, to which (unlike many musicians) he enjoyed listening. But often he would just turn on the recorder to capture everyday conversations, whether he was hanging out at home in his living room with his wife Lucille, telling jokes backstage with band members, being interviewed by reporters, or entertaining fans.

Here’s another excerpt from Backyard Bird Diary written by Amy Tan:

September 16, 2017
While watching hummingbirds buzz around me, I recalled a fantasy every child has: that I could win the trust of wild animals and they would willingly come to me. I imagined tiny avian helicopters dining on my palm. To lure them, I bought Lilliputian hummingbird feeders, four for $10. Hope came cheap enough, but I was also realistic. It might take months to gain a hummingbird’s interest in the feeder and for it to lose its fear of me.
Yesterday, I set a little feeder on the rail near the regular hummingbird feeders on the patio and then sat at a table about ten feet away. Within minutes, a hummingbird came to inspect, a male with a flashing red head. He hovered, gave a cursory glance, and then left. At least he noticed it. A good beginning. Then he returned, inspected it again from different angles, and left. The third time, he did a little dance around the feeder, approached, and stuck his bill in the hole and drank. I was astonished. That was fast. Other hummingbirds came, and they did their usual territorial display of chasing each other off before the victor returned. Throughout the day, I noticed that the hummingbirds seemed to prefer the little feeder over the larger one. Why was that? Because it was new and they had to take turns in claiming it?
Today, at 1:30 P.M., I sat at the patio table again. It was quiet. I called the songbirds. Each day I pair my own whistled birdsong with tidbits of food to encourage them to come. In about two minutes, I heard the raspy chitter and squeak of the titmouse and chickadee. They sounded excited to find peanuts.

Resistance is Futile

From studiomcah:

Yes, it’s true: after much gnashing of teeth and a token resistance to the inevitable, I decided it was time to do serious experimentation with AI, especially after hearing multiple reports, all good, about Anthropic’s Claude. To be clear, I continue to think the legal repercussions of the training of AI models on unlicensed intellectual property (whether that’s visual art, fiction or nonfiction, music, etc) need to be hashed out… and we need to decide now who owns a person’s voice, face, and personality to protect against the use of deepfakes to defame people or defraud their loved ones.

            None of that, however, changes that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) and LLMs (Large Language Models) are not going anywhere, and are already changing things. I would rather not be drowned by the tidal wave of revolution, so for once I’m trying to surf the initial waves. “What can AI possibly do for me, if I don’t want it to write my books or draw my pictures?” I wondered, and my loved ones said, “Why don’t you find out instead of guessing?” (I am surrounded by smart people.)

            This ended up being a perfect time to experiment because (by accident!) I had a problem that needed solving: I want to set up a sales website so people can shop from me directly instead of buying from Etsy or Bandcamp or Amazon. I’d just read a book that broke down the tiers of products you want to offer, from freebies to lure in new readers, all the way to premium purchases that will only be attractive to superfans. Since my book catalog alone is over 70 titles, brainstorming what things to put in what categories sounded less like fun and more like shoveling the Augean stables. I had just signed up for Claude, so I figured: why not see if it can figure these things out for me?

            Its initial suggestions were generic based on the information I gave it—that I was an author, of 70 books, mostly science fiction, but some fantasy, children’s, romance, and nonfiction. I was also a painter. I was intrigued by the fact that it knew that ebooks made good low tier products based on price, and that premium offerings should involve autographs, special editions, or bundling with themed art or merchandise… but it was too non-specific for me.

            Which is when I fell down the rabbit hole. I discovered I could feed it my list of published works. Then my book catalog with all the covers and descriptions and tags. I gave it all-time sales data from my retailers… and then bandcamp… and then etsy… and then all my kickstarter data. I even gave it website traffic information, patreon and locals stats, and social media follower counts. With every file I fed it, I asked it to refine its ideas on how I should be positioning, bundling, and marketing my products. I asked it what underperforming books might be promising if presented to some new audience. I even asked it to find recurring themes across all my books and use that information to create marketing copy for new readers.

            Every so often I’d stop to ask it ancillary business questions, like “My large backlist can be intimidating to new readers. How do I attract them despite that?” or “I write in diverse genres, which makes my work difficult to market. How can my broad writing range be used as a strength, instead of a weakness, and how can I make new readers interested in all my offerings?” And it continued to give me sensible ideas, many of which I had already thought of, along with a few I hadn’t.

            Already I had to stop and marvel at how bizarre it was that a computer was just spouting off all this stuff in response to questions. Where does it get these answers? How does it construct them? How does it know what words mean?? It is completely inscrutable, but the interaction feels so normal that you keep going. So I did.

            By the end of that conversation, Claude knew not only which of my books and settings were bestsellers, it gave me excellent guesses on which of my themes or tropes were doing best in the market, and had used that information to craft a set of offerings for my (as yet unrealized) shop that would not only attract people with the tried-and-true series, like Dreamhealers and Her Instruments, but also tempt people with the promising but underselling ones, like Thief of Songs. “Narrow that down to ten initial offerings,” I told it, “because I want to launch my store with a limited number of items to get my feet wet.” Which it did, and they were all reasonable ideas. And I went to sleep (or tried), feeling like I’d completely underestimated the utility of LLMs. I had started the day with a tedious task I hadn’t wanted to do that required knowledge of my entire product catalog and how my art and writing interacted over the 25+ years I’d been making things, and Claude had learned enough to do it for me.

Link to the rest at studiomcah

Studiomicah is the home of author M.C.A. Hogarth, whom PG met a very long time ago. (Maggie was probably a child at the time.)

She writes science fiction, fantasy, and anthropomorphic animal genres and struck PG as a very nice woman. He expects she hasn’t changed.

Here’s a link to Maggie’s books on Amazon. If you like to read books written by nice people, check out Maggie’s work. If you would like to read books by nice people who are talented authors, Maggie will deliver you a twofer.

Take Yourself Out of It

From Writer Unboxed:

When Emma Stone told director Yorgos Lanthimos that she was nervous about possibly winning an Oscar for her performance in Poor Things and having to give a speech, Yorgos said, “Take yourself out of it.” It comes at a time in our contemporary culture where so many of us are supposed to be cultivating a brand, engaging in self-promotional campaigns—not just around an event, but constantly racking up views and followers, as if we’re all jockeying for Biggest Cult Leader, and not coincidentally, anxiety rates are spiking.

We’re told, in so many ways, to put ourselves into it.

Yorgos’ advice is counter-cultural and, I believe, primal, and may be the smartest antidote to anxiety I’ve ever heard.

It’s also great writing advice—for creatives and entrepreneurs.

First of all, Emma Stone has talked about her relationship with anxiety openly. She panics. She even mentions panic in her Oscar speech, which is where she tells the story with Yorgos’ advice. From previous things she’s said, I take it that she realizes anxiety is powerful and instead of trying to erase it, she works with it. That’s also my take. I can’t make a team of horses disappear, but I can try to guide them in a direction. Fuel is fuel, even anxious fuel is precious.

But what does it mean to “take yourself out of it.” I’ve found that one of the best ways to feel less anxious—when I approach the page as a writer or touring or all the other stuff that comes with it—is to tell myself: Just be of use. Be helpful to someone else. In this way, I take the pressure off of myself to be someone and to perform. Instead, I’m there to help solve a greater problem. I’m there for the small moment when I connect with another human being. It’s no longer about me. It’s about others. That grounds me.

It also, I think, makes people want to work with me. I’m here to help. How can I help?

Does this sound like internalized sexism?

Because I think there’s a case to be made that, as a woman, I’ve absorbed the notion that my selfhood is more comfortable being erased and then replaced with something like servitude. And, raised Catholic, I always have to check myself against dogma and patriarchy. Last thing I want is to do the patriarchy’s work for them.

If I’m to absorb wisdom from the best life coaches out there, I should be stepping into my power, not hiding my light under a bushel, and shining—brightly and publicly—because in doing so I can inspire others.

Got it. Absolutely. I’m checking myself.

But at the same time, I’m also doing a gut-check, and self-promotion—which has been a big part of my job as a writer—still feels awful.

And what if that’s not just me or the patriarchy or sexism but something imprinted on my DNA? What if, hear me out, Look at me! feels awful because, on an evolutionary level, it separates you from the herd? And that separation makes you vulnerable and that vulnerability means you’re more likely to be killed.

Now, this is when, in my head, I cue Orna from Couples Therapy who wants to know about my childhood. I tell her it was a happy childhood. She leans in. “Tell me more,” Orna says.

Well, I was the youngest of four after a notable five-year gap. I was adorable and charming and, just by the function of my birth, I stole the spotlight a little. And I learned that stealing the spotlight was an act of theft and wouldn’t go unpunished. In high school, I had three close friends, all of us were youngests. In my neighborhood growing up, I had three close friends, all youngests. By chance and design, I found other thieves to hang out with and we passed the spotlight around.

My family was a herd. I needed to be inside of the herd to be protected and I was careful not to do too much Look at me!

I went into a career that promised solitude and then I succeeded into the publishing industry and learned to turn that public self-promotional part on and then, mercifully, off—because I needed to reserve my focus for the work itself.

Everything changed. And just as the internet and social media democratized so many aspects of our lives, it also effectively blurred everything seasonal about self-promotion. It no longer required a costly multi-city tour, which was great in many ways. It could be done anywhere, anytime, which could mean: all the time. The way the invention of the washing machine did away with hand-washing, which was a huge reduction of labor, and went from being done once a week on a single day to a never-ending demand with no sense of completion; I should nod here to Marxist Alienation of Labor.

Now, writers are supposed to be putting themselves into the public eye, showing readers more of the lives of the writers behind the books. We can see what poets had for lunch and know when our favorite novelist’s dog has gotten back from the groomers.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Legal Vineyards: Cultivating Rich Connections For A Bountiful Harvest

PG Trigger Warning: The following post appears because PG thought it suitably over the top to be a subject of derision.

From Above the Law:

In the intricate world of law, the strength of your professional network can be likened to a well-cultivated vineyard.

Just as the finest wines are the product of time, care, and the gentle nurturing of grapevines, so too are the most fruitful professional connections grown from the seeds of past associations.

Reconnecting with old law school friends, past clients, and former colleagues is not just a walk down memory lane; it’s an investment in your career’s future bounty.

This article explores the art of networking on how to nurture these connections for a harvest rich in opportunities and referrals.

Planting the Seeds

For attorneys, each connection — whether an old classmate, a former client, or a professional peer — represents a potential avenue for growth, a seed sown in the rich soil of your career path.

In the legal field, where opportunities and referrals can significantly impact success, nurturing these seeds is not just beneficial — it’s strategic.

Recognizing and cultivating your existing network goes beyond simple relationship maintenance.

It’s about building a robust foundation for future opportunities, enhancing your reputation, and opening doors to new avenues for collaboration and client acquisition.

By investing in these relationships, you’re effectively laying the groundwork for a professional ecosystem that can yield an abundant harvest of success, setting you apart in a competitive legal landscape.

Watering With Interactions

In the same way that vines require consistent watering to flourish, your professional relationships thrive on regular, impactful interactions.

However, this doesn’t entail overwhelming your contacts with messages. Instead, focus on the quality of your engagements.

Leveraging commonalities can significantly deepen these connections. Whether it’s a shared interest, a mutual alma mater, or a common professional challenge, touching base on these shared experiences or values can forge stronger bonds.

Additionally, blending professional courtesies with personal touches — such as congratulating them on personal milestones, or sharing insights on mutual interests — can seamlessly intertwine the professional with the personal.

This approach not only keeps your “relationship vine” vigorous and growing but also cultivates an environment where professional and personal spheres enrich one another, creating a network that’s both robust and genuinely connected.

Fertilizing With Value-Added Exchanges

Link to the rest at Above the Law

PG had to cut this off before the fertilizer covered everything else.

If he were still making presentations to other lawyers, PG would include excerpts from the OP as laugh lines. Here are a couple of illustration for PG’s Powerpoint via OpenArtAI

What is Suno? The ‘ChatGPT for music’ generates songs in seconds

From ZD Net:

Several text-to-music generators are now on the market, including offerings from Meta and Google. However, the Suno AI music generator is becoming increasingly popular — likely because it creates original lyrics and vocals, and because it leverages the power of ChatGPT.

So, what is Suno and how does it work?

Suno is an AI music generator that generates a song with original lyrics and beats from a text prompt. The tool can be accessed via its free standalone website or via Microsoft Copilot by enabling Suno’s third-party plug-in.

What makes Suno stand out from other music-generating models? In addition to creating the music, which you can do with Meta’s AudioCraft and Google’s MusicFX, Suno also produces original lyrics and vocals. This is a reflection of the company’s mission to help everyone create music, regardless of background or musical knowledge.

“Whether you’re a shower singer or a charting artist, we break barriers between you and the song you dream of making,” Suno says on its website. Suno’s intuitive interface makes it easy to use, and the only requirement is you need to create a free account.

In Rolling Stone’s deep dive into Suno and its potential impact on the music business, the AI startup explained that Suno uses its own AI models to generate the music and then relies on ChatGPT to create the song’s title and lyrics.

If you have ever used ChatGPT, you know it’s capable of generating great text outputs, such as essays, thanks to its advanced natural language processing. The fact that Suno uses ChatGPT should tell you all you need to know about its text quality output.

. . . .

Who owns songs made with Suno?

The emergence of AI music generators has alarmed music labels and artists because of how easy it is to create music that uses artists’ voices without their consent. How is Suno navigating this copyright issue?

According to the Rolling Stone report, Suno refuses to generate any music in the style of real artists’ voices. 

Since all the music generated is original and not lifted from other artists’ work, paying subscribers own the songs generated by Suno, as well as the artwork that accompanies the songs. However, Suno retains all ownership of songs created by free users, as well as the artwork.

As a result, if you are a paying subscriber, you can use the music you generate for commercial use, including posting the songs on YouTube, Spotify, or Apple Music. Free users can only post on social media with attribution and are not allowed to use the songs commercially. Regardless of which version you use, if you input your own lyrics, you retain ownership of those.

Are the songs subject to copyright protection? Here’s what Suno says on its website:

“The availability and scope of copyright protection for content generated (in whole or in part) using artificial intelligence is a complex and dynamic area of law, which is rapidly evolving and varies among countries. We encourage you to consult a qualified attorney to advise you about the latest development and the degree of copyright protection available for the output you generate using Suno.”

Link to the rest at ZD Net

PG decided to see how Suno could help people to remember that they should read and understand a contract before they sign it. So he headed over to the site and entered his prompt about reading contracts.

He chose Synthpop Upbeat for the song style. The song was created very quickly, far faster than AI text generators he’s tried.

From Suno

In the Fine Print

Lyrics (generated by Suno):

[Verse]
Every time before I put my name on that line
I gotta make sure it's all clear, no hidden design (design)
They say it's just a formality, nothing to fear
But baby, I've learned the hard way, gotta be sincere

[Verse 2]
Pages and pages of words that they want me to agree
But I won't be caught in a trap, I gotta be free (be free)
They may try to rush me, put pressure on my soul
But I won't be fooled, gotta maintain control

[Chorus]
In the fine print, secrets lie
Gotta read between the lines, oh, oh (oh, oh)
In the fine print, don't be blind
Take your time, don't let them blow your mind (oh, oh)

Here’s a link to PG’s Song on Suno- In the Fine Print

A new generation of music-making algorithms is here

From The Economist:

IN THE dystopia of George Orwell’s novel “1984”, Big Brother numbs the masses with the help of a “versificator”, a machine designed to automatically generate the lyrics to popular tunes, thereby ridding society of human creativity. Today, numerous artificial-intelligence (AI) models churn out, some free of charge, the music itself. Unsurprisingly, many fear a world flooded with generic and emotionally barren tunes, with human musicians edged out in the process. Yet there are brighter signs, too, that AI may well drive a boom in musical creativity.

AI music-making is nothing new. The first, so-called “rules-based”, models date to the 1950s. These were built by painstakingly translating principles of music theory into algorithmic instructions and probability tables to determine note and chord progressions. The outputs were musically sound but creatively limited. Ed Newton-Rex, an industry veteran who designed one such model for Jukedeck, a London firm he founded in 2012, describes that approach as good for the day but irrelevant now.

The clearest demonstration that times have changed came in August 2023. That is when Meta, a social-media giant, released the source code for AudioCraft, a suite of large “generative” music models built using machine learning. AI outfits worldwide promptly set about using Meta’s software to train new music generators, many with additional code folded in. One AudioCraft model, MusicGen, analysed patterns in some 400,000 recordings with a collective duration of almost 28 months to come up with 3.3bn “parameters”, or variables, that enables the algorithm to generate patterns of sounds in response to prompts. The space this creates for genuinely new AI compositions is unprecedented.

Such models are also getting easier to use. In September Stability AI, a firm based in London at which Mr Newton-Rex worked until recently, released a model, Stable Audio, trained on some 800,000 tracks. Users guide it by entering text and audio clips. This makes it easy to upload, say, a guitar solo and have it recomposed in jazzy piano, perhaps with a vinyl playback feel. Audio prompts are a big deal for two reasons, says Oliver Bown of Australia’s University of New South Wales. First, even skilled musicians struggle to put music into words. Second, because most musical training data are only cursorily tagged, even a large model may not understand a request for, say, a four-bar bridge in ragtime progression (the style familiar from Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”).

The potential, clearly, is vast. But many in the industry remain sceptical. One widespread sentiment is that AI will never produce true music. That’s because, as a musician friend recently told Yossef Adi, an engineer at Meta’s AI lab in Tel Aviv, “no one broke its heart”. That may be true, but some AI firms reckon that they have found a way to retain and reproduce the “unique musical fingerprint” of their musician users, as LifeScore, a company founded near London, puts it. LifeScore’s AI limits itself to recomposing the elements of a user’s original recordings in ways that maintain the music’s feel, rather than turning them into something radically new.

It takes about a day to plug into LifeScore’s model the dozens of individually recorded vocal and instrumental microphone tracks, or stems, that go into producing an original song. Once that’s done, however, the software, developed at a cost of some $10m, can rework each stem into a new tempo, key or genre within a couple of seconds. The song’s artists, present during the process, choose which remixes to keep. Manually remixing a hit track has traditionally taken one or more highly paid specialists weeks.

LifeScore, says Tom Gruber, a co-founder, is “literally swamped with requests” from clients including Sony Music, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. An original release is typically turned into anywhere from a handful to a dozen remixes. But one client aims to release a dizzying 6,000 or so AI versions of an original track, each targeting a different market. Artists including Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and Tom Gaebel, a German pop singer, use LifeScore’s AI to power websites that allow fans to generate, with a few clicks, new remixes adapted to personal tastes.

The beat of a different drum

If this seems like dizzying progress, it’s worth noting that AI’s impact on music is still in its early days. Legal uncertainties over the use of copyrighted recordings to train models have slowed development. Outfits that have coughed up for licensing fees note that this can get expensive. To save on that cost, MusicGen’s training set mostly sidestepped hits, says Dr Adi. Though output is pretty good, he adds, the model is not yet “artistic enough” to generate narratively complete songs. Harmonic misalignments are common. OpenAI, a San Francisco firm, for its part, says its MuseNet model struggles to pull off “odd pairings”, such as a Chopin style that incorporates bass and drums.

In time, bigger training sets of better music will largely overcome such shortcomings, developers reckon. A Stability AI spokesperson says that while Stable Audio’s top duration for coherently structured music—“intro, development and outro”—is now about 90 seconds, upgrades will produce longer pieces with “full musicality”. But judging music AI by its ability to crank out polished tracks mostly misses the point. The technology’s greatest promise, for now at least, lies elsewhere.

Part of it is the empowerment of amateurs. AI handles technical tasks beyond many people’s capabilities and means. As a result, AI is drawing legions of newbies into music-making. This is a boon for experimentation by what Simon Cross, head of products at Native Instruments, a firm based in Berlin, calls “bedroom producers”.

Consider RX, a Native Instruments AI “assistant” that corrects errors in things like pitch and timing. For the latter, software time-shifts notes by cutting out or inserting slivers of sound with matching timbre, a process called “dynamic time-warping”. The company’s AI also determines what mixing and mastering processes were performed on a song of a user’s choosing. It then replicates, or at least approximates, the same expensive processing on the user’s own creations. Boomy, an online “music automation” platform for what Alex Mitchell, its ceo, describes as “low-friction” song production with text prompts, has more than 2m users. The company, based in Berkeley, California, uploads users’ (vetted) creations to streaming services and collects a cut of revenues.

AI serves professionals, too. The soundtracks to “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” were cleaned up in post-production with RX, for example. Another application area is “style transfer”, in which models transform music recorded with one instrument into sounds that seem to come from a different one, often with a twist or two requested by the user. Style transfers are also used for voice. A model developed by a startup in London called Voice-Swap slices up sounds sung by (remunerated) professional singers and rearranges the slivers into lyrics written by the service’s users, who pay licensing fees for the rights to sell the resulting tracks. And AI tools already exist to recreate singers’ voices in other languages. Vocaloid, a voice-synthesising tool from Yamaha, a Japanese instrument manufacturer, is one of many that can use a translation sung by a native speaker as a template for an AI to imitate as it rearranges, modifies and stitches together tiny snippets of the original singer’s voice.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The world’s most misunderstood novel

From BBC:

The Great Gatsby is synonymous with parties, glitz and glamour – but this is just one of many misunderstandings about the book that began from its first publication.

Few characters in literature or indeed life embody an era quite so tenaciously as Jay Gatsby does the Jazz Age. Almost a century after he was written into being, F Scott Fitzgerald’s doomed romantic has become shorthand for decadent flappers, champagne fountains and never-ending parties. Cut loose by pop culture from the text into which he was born, his name adorns everything from condominiums to hair wax and a limited-edition cologne (it contains notes of vetiver, pink pepper and Sicilian lime). It’s now possible to lounge on a Gatsby sofa, check in at the Gatsby hotel, even chow down on a Gatsby sandwich – essentially a supersize, souped-up chip butty.

Incongruous though that last item sounds, naming anything after the man formerly known as James Gatz seems more than a touch problematic. After all, flamboyant host is just one part of his complicated identity. He’s also a bootlegger, up to his neck in criminal enterprise, not to mention a delusional stalker whose showmanship comes to seem downright tacky. If he embodies the potential of the American Dream, then he also illustrates its limitations: here is a man, let’s not forget, whose end is destined to be as pointless as it is violent.

Of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Misunderstanding has been a part of The Great Gatsby’s story from the very start. Grumbling to his friend Edmund Wilson shortly after publication in 1925, Fitzgerald declared that “of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one had the slightest idea what the book was about.” Fellow writers like Edith Wharton admired it plenty, but as the critic Maureen Corrigan relates in her book So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, popular reviewers read it as crime fiction, and were decidedly underwhelmed by it at that. Fitzgerald’s Latest A Dud, ran a headline in the New York World. The novel achieved only so-so sales, and by the time of the author’s death in 1940, copies of a very modest second print run had long since been remaindered.

Gatsby’s luck began to change when it was selected as a giveaway by the US military. With World War Two drawing to a close, almost 155,000 copies were distributed in a special Armed Services Edition, creating a new readership overnight. As the 1950s dawned, the flourishing of the American Dream quickened the novel’s topicality, and by the 1960s, it was enshrined as a set text. It’s since become such a potent force in pop culture that even those who’ve never read it feel as if they have, helped along, of course, by Hollywood. It was in 1977, just a few short years after Robert Redford starred in the title role of an adaptation scripted by Francis Ford Coppola, that the word Gatsbyesque was first recorded.

Along with Baz Luhrmann’s divisive 2013 movie extravaganza, the book has in the past decade alone spawned graphic novels, a musical, and an immersive theatrical experience. From now on, we’re likely to be seeing even more such adaptations and homages because at the start of this year, the novel’s copyright expired, enabling anyone to adapt it without permission from its estate . Early calls for a Muppets adaptation may have come to nothing (never say never), but a big-budget TV miniseries is already in the works, and author Min Jin Lee and cultural critic Wesley Morris are both writing fresh introductions to new editions.

If this all leaves Fitzgerald purists twiddling their pearls like worry beads, it’s quite possible that while some such projects may further perpetuate the myth that throwing a Gatsby-themed party could be anything other than sublimely clueless, others may yield fresh insights into a text whose very familiarity often leads us to skate over its complexities. Take, for instance, Michael Farris Smith’s new novel, Nick. The title refers, of course, to Nick Carraway, the narrator of Gatsby, who here gets his own fully formed backstory. It’s the tale of a Midwesterner who goes off to Europe to fight in World War One and comes back changed, as much by a whirlwind love affair in Paris as by trench warfare. There’s room for an impulsive sojourn in the New Orleans underworld before he heads off to Long Island’s West Egg.

. . . .

Like many, Smith first encountered the novel in high school. “I just completely didn’t get it”, he tells BBC Culture, from his home in Oxford, Mississippi. “They seemed like a lot of people complaining about things they really shouldn’t be complaining about.” It was only when he picked it up again while living abroad in his late twenties that he began to understand the novel’s power. “It was a very surreal reading experience for me. It seemed like something on almost every page was speaking to me in a way I had not expected,” he recalls.

Reaching the scene in which Carraway suddenly remembers it’s his thirtieth birthday, Smith was filled with questions about what kind of a person Gatsby’s narrator really was. “It seemed to me that there had been some real trauma that had made him so detached, even from his own self. The thought crossed my mind that it would be really interesting if someone were to write Nick’s story,” he says. In 2014, by then a published author in his forties, he sat down to do just that, telling neither his agent nor his editor. It was only when he delivered the manuscript 10 months later that he learned copyright law meant he’d have to wait until 2021 to publish it.

Maybe it’s not the champagne and the dancing, maybe it is those feelings of wondering where we are, the sense that anything can crumble at any moment, that keep Gatsby meaningful – Michael Farris Smith

Smith points to a quote from one of Fitzgerald’s contemporaries as having provided the key to understanding Carraway. “Ernest Hemingway says in [his memoir] A Moveable Feast that we didn’t trust anyone who wasn’t in the war, and to me that felt like a natural beginning for Nick.” Smith imagines Carraway, coping with PTSD and shellshock, returning home to a nation that he no longer recognises. It’s a far cry from the riotous razzmatazz of all that partying, yet Carraway is, Smith suggests, the reason Fitzgerald’s novel remains read. “Maybe it’s not the champagne and the dancing, maybe it is those feelings of wondering where we are, the sense that anything can crumble at any moment, that keep Gatsby meaningful from one generation to the next.”

William Cain, an expert in American literature and the Mary Jewett Gaiser Professor of English at Wellesley College, agrees that Nick is crucial to understanding the novel’s richness. “Fitzgerald gave some thought to structuring it in the third person but ultimately he chose Nick Carraway, a first-person narrator who would tell Gatsby’s story, and who would be an intermediary between us and Gatsby. We have to respond to and understand Gatsby and, as we do so, remain aware that we’re approaching him through Nick’s very particular perspective, and through Nick’s very ambivalent relationship to Gatsby, which is simultaneously full of praise and full of severe criticism, even at some moments contempt,” he says.

Like Smith, Cain first encountered the novel as a student. It was a different era – the 1960s – but even so, little attention was paid to Nick. Cain recalls instead talk of symbolism – the legendary green light, for example, and Gatsby’s fabled automobile. It’s a reminder that, in a way, the education system is as much to blame as pop culture for our limited readings of this seminal text. It may be a Great American Novel but, at fewer than 200 pages, its sublimely economical storytelling makes its study points very easy to access. Ironically, given that this is a novel of illusion and delusion, in which surfaces are crucial, we all too often overlook the texture of its prose. As Cain puts it, “I think when we consider The Great Gatsby, we need to think about it not just as a novel that is an occasion or a point of departure for us to talk about big American themes and questions, but we have to really enter into the richness of Fitzgerald’s actual page-to-page writing. We have to come to Gatsby, yes, aware of its social and cultural significance, but also we need to return to it as a literary experience.”

Cain re-reads the novel every two or three years but frequently finds himself thinking about it in between – last summer, for instance, when US President Biden, accepting the Democratic nomination at the DNC, spoke of the right to pursue dreams of a better future. The American Dream is, of course, another of Gatsby’s Big Themes, and one that continues to be misunderstood. “Fitzgerald shows that that dream is very powerful, but that it is indeed a very hard one for most Americans to realise. It feeds them great hopes, great desires, and it’s extraordinary, the efforts that so many of them make to fulfil those dreams and those desires, but that dream is beyond the reach of many, and many, they give up all too much to try to achieve that great success,” Cain points out. Among the obstacles, Fitzgerald seems to suggest, are hard-and-fast class lines that no amount of money will enable Gatsby to cross. It’s a view that resonates with a mood that Cain says he’s been picking up on among his students – a certain “melancholy” for the American Dream, the feeling fanned by racial and economic inequalities that the pandemic has only deepened.

. . . .

To an impressive degree, however, the renewed attention brought by the change in law shows not just how relevant and seductive the text of Fitzgerald’s novel remains, but how very alive it’s always been. Pick it up at 27, and you’ll find a different novel to the one you read as a teenager. Revisit it again at 45, and it’ll feel like another book altogether. Copyright has never had any bearing on the impact of the words it governs.

Link to the rest at BBC

Another “buy” button lawsuit over digital licenses continues

From Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log:

This putative class action alleged that Amazon overcharged and “[d]eceived consumers by misrepresenting that it was selling them Digital Content when, in fact, it was really only licensing it to them[.]” Plaintiffs brought claims under California, New York, and Washington consumer protection law, and common law claims for unjust enrichment.

Plaintiffs alleged that Amazon offers cheaper “rent” options for some of its content, but more expensive “buy” options as well. When consumers “buy” digital content, it’s stored in a folder called “Video Purchases & Rentals.”

But, in fact, Amazon does not cannot pass title of any of this content to consumers. “If the licensing agreement for any of the Digital Content is terminated, Amazon has to pull the Digital Content from not only its site but from all consumers’ purchased folders, ‘which it does without prior warning, and without providing any type of refund or remuneration to consumers.’”

Amazon argued that Article III standing was absent because plaintiffs haven’t lost access to their digital content, and that their claims of overpayment also rested on the mere threat of future unavailability. The court disagreed: there’s a plausible difference in value between owning outright versus purchasing a revocable license.

“Buy” was also plausibly deceptive. Amazon argued that “buy” didn’t mean perpetual ownership, and that it sufficiently disclosed the risk of losing access. Plaintiffs pointed out that Amazon also allows real, non-repossessable purchases with the “Buy” button for tangible goods.  Again, the court agreed with plaintiffs: it was plausible that “buy” could be materially misleading. The court hypothesized a consumer who paid nearly $40 for Barbie and Oppenheimer, but whose Barbenheimer (first judicial appearance?) weekend was ruined because Amazon suddenly lost one license. “Understandably, this consumer ‘might feel a little miffed [or go nuclear] if she were told that she received exactly what she paid for.’”

Link to the rest at Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log and thanks to C. for the tip.

In former days, PG had the occasion to deal with Amazon’s in-house attorneys regarding various matters relating to his clients. He found these lawyers to be intelligent, competent and reasonable (a trifecta that not all lawyers/legal departments can pull off).

PG speculates that the mess described in the OP originated with the marketing department’s decision to proceed on a path contrary to the legal department’s strong recommendations.

In most businesses with which PG has dealt, in such battles, the marketing department often wins. After all, marketing and sales are how a company makes money, and legal is always a cost item that invariably slows down the release of new products and services (often deeply resented within corporate middle management).

Intellectual property in digital form is always licensed, not sold. One of the primary reasons for this legal/practical decision is that digital property is almost always easily duplicated—bits can multiply extremely rapidly in a digital device and thereafter be sent digitally anywhere in the world at the speed of light.

Yes, physical books can be duplicated and shipped anywhere in the world, but a printing press and lots of paper is required to do so. Therefore, you own the single printed copy of a book you purchased at Barnes & Noble (or Amazon), but you license the ebook you receive from Amazon or Barnes & Noble because they are operating under the terms of a license they have received from the indie author or a publisher which has the author’s consent to print, publish, license or sell the book.

But Marketing said, “Customers will be confused if we have, ‘License now with 1-Click®‘”

End of license v. sale discourse.

When I stand before God

When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’

Erma Bombeck

Without leaps of imagination

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.

Gloria Steinem

Hachette gender and ethnicity pay gaps widen despite some progress

From The Bookseller:

Hachette has reported a rise across both its mean and median gender pay gaps for the whole company group between 2022 and 2023, while the bonus pay gap for ethnicity has also deepened, though progress in other areas has been made.

The group – which encompasses Hachette UK Ltd (staff in publishing divisions and central departments) and its distribution workforce – has published its latest Ethnicity Pay Gap and Gender Pay Gap reports as part of “Changing the Story”, its programme to improve diversity and inclusion. Kim Kidd, diversity and inclusion manager at Hachette UK, conceded that “the whole picture is not a reflection of our ambition”.

The company reports on three entities: Hachette UK Ltd, which comprises staff in publishing roles; Hachette Distribution; and the whole group, which includes those in Hachette UK Ltd and Hachette distribution.  

The whole group’s mean and median gender pay gap increased compared with 2022’s figures. The mean is now 17% (compared to 14.5% previously) and the median is 8% (up from 6%). This continues the trend from last year’s figures (the 2021 figures were about 13% and 5.6% respectively)  

The publisher said: “One of the reasons for this shift in the whole group’s results is that the distribution team is comparatively small, so minor changes in the number of employees can affect the pay gap significantly. In addition, at Hachette UK Ltd there has been a drop in the number of men in the lower quartile, where 15.6% of the workforce is male.” 

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

‘Copyright, Not Infringement, Serves the Public Interest’

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Friday . . . four major publishers—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Wiley—filed a brief that opposes the Internet Archive‘s appeal of its loss on March 24, 2023, in the copyright case Hachette Book Group, et al, v. Internet Archive.

The original lawsuit was filed by the publishers in June 2020 and argued that the Internet Archive had digitized “millions of print books and [distributed] the resulting bootleg ebooks free of charge from its site, without the consent of the publishers and their authors or the payment of any license fee.”

In his grand of summary judgment of almost a year ago, the judge, John G. Koeltl of the United States district court in the Southern District of New York, wrote, “The publishers have established a prima facie case of copyright infringement,” and his opinion included a firm rebuke to the controversial concept of “controlled digital lending.”

Nevertheless, the Internet Archive made good on its promise to appeal, arguing that Judge Koeltl didn’t understand the facts of the case and was wrong in his decision.

. . . .

The United States’ publishers’ association has announced the filing of the new brief, highlighting these points from the new brief:

  • “Controlled digital lending is a frontal assault on the foundational copyright principle that rights holders exclusively control the terms of sale for every different format of their work—a principle that has spawned the broad diversity in formats of books, movies, television, and music that consumers enjoy today. “…
  • There is no resemblance between the Internet Archive’s conversion of millions of print books into ebooks and the historical practice of lending print books.  Nor does the Internet Archive’s distribution of ebooks without paying authors and their publishers a dime conform with the modern practices of libraries, which acquire licenses to lend ebooks to their local communities and enjoy the benefits of digital distribution lawfully.
  • The Internet Archive operates a mass-digitization enterprise in which it copies millions of complete, in-copyright print books and distributes the resulting bootleg ebooks from its site to anyone in the world free. Granting summary judgment, the district court properly held that the Internet Archive’s infringement is not saved by fair use as each of the four factors weighs against the Internet Archive under longstanding case law.
  • “In sum, the Internet Archive distributes the publishers’ copyrighted material in a market that the publishers, as the copyright owners, are exclusively entitled to exploit, and the Internet Archive looks to replace the publishers as the supplier of ebooks to its customers.  ‘This is precisely the kind of harm the fourth factor aims to prevent.’
  • “’There is nothing transformative about the Internet Archive’s controlled digital lending practices because it does nothing ‘more than repackage or republish’ the works. ‘The Internet Archive does not reproduce the works in suit to provide criticism, commentary, or information about them.’  Rather, the Internet Archive admits that controlled digital lending serves a ‘similar’ purpose to licensed library ebooks—i.e., to make books available to be read—which precludes transformativeness ‘even if the two were not perfect substitutes.’
  • “The Internet Archive’s flawed policy argument is that the law must change to ‘ensure that technological innovation allows libraries to improve access to books…’ But public libraries practicing ‘traditional library lending’ across the country have already implemented this ‘technological innovation’ via the publishers’ authorized library ebooks—which serve ‘people of diverse geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds,’ ‘individuals with disabilities,’ and ‘residents of rural and urban areas,’ as well as facilitating research.  In other words, the publishers have realized the innovation [that] the Internet Archive belatedly champions; the Internet Archive is merely usurping it.
  • “The authorized library ebook market is thriving—readers have never had more access to free, licensed ebooks than they do today…  The number of ebooks and audiobooks checked out via OverDrive in 2020 was 430 million, a more than 500-percent increase from 2012.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Shelf Life Books in Richmond Unionizes

From Publishers Weekly:

Workers at Shelf Life Books in Richmond, Va., have joined the United Food & Commercial Workers Local (UFCW) 400 Union, making them the first booksellers in the city to unionize.

All five eligible workers at the at the store, located at 2913 W. Cary Street, signed union authorization cards in support of the effort, according to the UFCW, and the store’s owners, Chris and Berkley McDaniel, voluntarily recognized the union. Contract negotiations, the union added, will begin later this week.

“We’re proud to be the first booksellers in Richmond to unionize,” the Shelf Life organizing committee said in a statement. “As we look forward to negotiating our first union contract, we won’t be starting from scratch thanks to the work of our union siblings at Politics and Prose and Solid State Books, who have negotiated groundbreaking contracts that inspired us to unionize in the first place.”

The shop is the latest to organize in a series of labor efforts across many sectors of the book business in recent years, but especially in bookselling.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Making sense of the gulf between young men and women

From The Economist:

Men and women have different experiences, so you would expect them to have different worldviews. Nonetheless, the growing gulf between young men and women in developed countries is striking. Polling data from 20 such countries shows that, whereas two decades ago there was little difference between the share of men and women aged 18-29 who described themselves as liberal rather than conservative, the gap has grown to 25 percentage points. Young men also seem more anti-feminist than older men, bucking the trend for each generation to be more liberal than its predecessor. Polls from 27 European countries found that men under 30 were more likely than those over 65 to agree that “advancing women’s and girls’ rights has gone too far because it threatens men’s and boys’ opportunities”. Similar results can be found in Britain, South Korea and China. Young women were likely to believe the opposite.

Unpicking what is going on is not simple. A good place to start is to note that young women are soaring ahead of their male peers academically. In the European Union fully 46% of them earn degrees, versus 35% of young men, a gap that has doubled since 2002. One consequence is that young women are more likely than men to spend their early adulthood in a cocoon of campus liberalism. Meanwhile, boys outnumber girls at the bottom end of the scholastic scale. Across rich countries, 28% of them fail to learn to read to a basic level. That is true of only 18% of girls.

Another big change is that, to varying degrees across the developed world, immense progress has been made in reducing the barriers to women having successful careers. College-educated men are still thriving, too—often as one half of a double-high-income heterosexual couple. Many men welcome these advances and argue for more. However, those among their less-educated brothers who are struggling in the workplace and the dating market are more likely to be resentful, and to blame women for their loss of relative status. And young women, by and large, are glad of past progress but are keenly aware that real threats and unfairness remain, from male violence to the difficulty of juggling careers and children. In short, most young women and worryingly large numbers of young men complain that society is biased against their own sex.

. . . .

There is no easy solution to any of this. But clearly, more should be done to help boys lagging behind at school to do better. Some policies that might work without harming their female classmates include hiring more male teachers (who are exceptionally scarce at primary schools in rich countries), and allowing boys to start school a year later than girls, to reflect the fact that they mature later.

Link to the rest at The Economist

YouTube now requires creators to disclose when realistic content was made with AI

From TechCrunch:

YouTube is now requiring creators to disclose to viewers when realistic content was made with AI, the company announced on Monday. The platform is introducing a new tool in Creator Studio that will require creators to disclose when content that viewers could mistake for a real person, place or event was created with altered or synthetic media, including generative AI.

The new disclosures are meant to prevent users from being duped into believing that a synthetically-created video is real, as new generative AI tools are making it harder to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake. The launch comes as experts have warned that AI and deepfakes will pose a notable risk during the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Today’s announcement comes as YouTube announced back in November that it was going to roll out the update as part of a larger introduction of new AI policies.

YouTube says the new policy doesn’t require creators to disclose content that is clearly unrealistic or animated, such as someone riding a unicorn through a fantastical world. It also isn’t requiring creators to disclose content that used generative AI for production assistance, like generating scripts or automatic captions.

Instead, YouTube is targeting videos that use the likeness of a realistic person. For instance, creators will have to disclose when they have digitally altered content to “replace the face of one individual with another’s or synthetically generating a person’s voice to narrate a video,” YouTube says.

They will also have to disclose content that alters the footage of real events or places, such as making it seem as though a real building caught on fire. Creators will also have to disclose when they have generated realistic scenes of fictional major events, like a tornado moving toward a real town.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

‘Authors Against Book Bans’ Mobilizes

From Publishers Weekly:

A group of children’s authors is rallying against the rising number of book bans and challenges nationwide, speaking out about the erasure of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices. Under the leadership of Samira Ahmed, Joanna Ho, Gayle Forman, Andrea Davis Pinkney, Alan Gratz, David Levithan, Sarah MacLean, Ellen Oh, Christina Soontornvat, and Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Authors Against Book Bans has already made an impact in the ongoing battle for the freedom to read.

Levithan told PW that the coalition evolved organically from a shared sense of urgency. “Over the past couple years, whenever I would talk to other authors, a number of us expressed extreme frustration and concern about what was going on. And it was always a conversation about ‘what can we do?’ The side that was banning books was organized—both on a national and state level. So it became really apparent that we, as authors, could be the spine to the body that was organizing to fight book bans.” Discussions began in earnest at the end of 2023, and AABB launched this past January.

Levithan had previously been working with PEN America on its lawsuit in Escambia County, Fla., along with other advocacy groups, and thought, “Now is the time for it all to come together. It’s a single-issue group. Our name is not very subtle: we are authors against book bans. And we can do a lot of things because we’re so micro-focused.” The ball got rolling quickly, he said. “In terms of the leadership group, I basically contacted a lot of my friends or other authors whom I’d had conversations with about this issue, including Maggie, and said, ‘Let’s all get together and solve this in a very organized fashion.’ ”

For her part, Tokuda-Hall said, “I came to this the way a lot of us do, by watching with horror as the news unfolds constantly and the number of book bans rises exponentially every year.” She recalled the eye-opening moment when she knew she had to get involved. “I visited Idaho in conjunction with the Idaho Library Association, and I gave a keynote there about the dangers of censorship and book banning. During that trip, I got a really intimate and terrifying view of what it looks like on the state level, where these conversations are being had and where this fight is happening.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“Dune” is a warning about political heroes and their tribes

From The Economist:

Frank Herbert, the author of the science-fiction novel “Dune” on which a new blockbuster film is based, would have been amused to learn that ecologists along the Oregon shore are ripping invasive European beachgrass out of the ground. As a young journalist in the late 1950s, Herbert derived his inspiration for a tale about a desert planet from watching ecologists plant the grass to control encroaching sand dunes. The scheme worked, maybe too well: residents of the coastal towns that the grass helped prosper now long for the beauty of the dunes and regret the unintended consequences for native flora and fauna.

“They stopped the moving sands” was the title of the article Herbert never wound up publishing about the Oregon dunes. He admired the ecologists and their project. But as much as he prized human intelligence he feared human hubris, credulousness and other frailties. One character in “Dune” is a planetary ecologist, who, for complicated reasons—the novel has no other kind—finds himself overcome by natural processes he has been trying to manipulate, to help the native population by changing the climate. “As his planet killed him,” Herbert writes, the ecologist reflects that scientists have it all wrong, and “that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error.”

The persistence of “Dune” itself is a marvel. Some 20 publishers turned the manuscript down before a company known for auto-repair manuals, Chilton, released it in 1965. The editor who took the risk was fired because sales were slow at first. But popular and critical acclaim began to build, eventually making “Dune” among the best-selling and most influential of science-fiction novels, some of its imaginings, with their edges filed down, surfacing in “Star Wars”.

No doubt the novel’s endurance owes in part to Herbert’s success, like Tolkien’s, in wrapping an epic yarn within a spectacular vision given substance by countless interlocking details. He published appendices to his novel: a glossary, a guide to the feudal houses that jostle over his imperium, a study of the galactic religions and, of course, a paper on the ecology of his desert planet, Arrakis, known as Dune. That ecology yields a substance called spice that prolongs life and also supplies psychic powers, enabling navigators to guide ships among the stars: think potable petrol with the properties of Adderall and Ozempic. It is the most precious stuff in the universe.

The young hero, Paul Atreides, arrives on Arrakis when his father, a duke, is awarded control there. It is a trap set by the emperor and a rival house. His father dead and his surviving allies scattered, Paul flees with his mother into the desert and finds haven among its fierce people, the Fremen. As the spice unlocks latent mental powers in Paul, the natives recognise him as their messiah and—spoilers!—he leads them not just to avenge his father but, via control of the spice, to seize the imperial throne. Then comes a bit of a bummer, galactic jihad. More on that in a moment.

Herbert was thinking partly of T.E. Lawrence, oil, colonial predation and Islam, and the success of the novel may owe also to those echoes (along with the giant sandworms). But the novel’s enduring popularity suggests more timeless resonances. There are nifty gizmos in Herbert’s galaxy, but clever conceits keep them from stealing the show and making his future either too alien or, like other decades-old visions of the future, amusingly outdated. Personal force-fields have rendered projectile weapons harmless. Soldiers and nobles alike fight with swords, knives and fists.

A more provocative gambit by Herbert was to set his tale thousands of years after the “Butlerian Jihad” or “Great Revolt”, in which humans destroyed all forms of artificial intelligence. (Herbert once worried to an interviewer that “our society has a tiger by the tail in technology.”) “Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind,” has become a core injunction, resulting in a race to develop the mind’s potential. Paul’s mother is a member of a female sect, the Bene Gesserit, whose own hubristic enterprise is to manipulate the imperium’s politics, and who for scores of generations have conducted a breeding programme to engender a superhuman intelligence—which, to their consternation, arrives in the form of Paul, whom they cannot control.

The new Dune movie is the second of two in which the director, Denis Villeneuve, has told the story with breathtaking imagery and, for the most part, with fidelity to the novel. The films deal elliptically with Herbert’s themes of technological, economic and ecological change to zero in on his main matter, the dangers of political and religious power and of faith itself, secular or spiritual.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Why “Show Don’t Tell” Can be Dangerous Advice for New Writers

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

It’s been said that if writing advice were classic rock, “Show Don’t Tell” would be “Stairway to Heaven. But is it always good advice?

Of course nobody wants to read a novel that tells a series of incidents. That can sound like a four-year-old recapping his day. “I had Froot Loops and then Dad took me to preschool and I played with blocks and ate a bologna sandwich and then I went to the bathroom and did number two…”

You want to show us the action in a series of scenes not tell us what happened. (Well, maybe we really don’t need the author to show the bathroom scene. )We know a “telling” sentence like “Veronica was beautiful,” is bland. It’s better to say something more like “Veronica’s flowing auburn hair and voluptuous figure had a powerful effect on Nigel and Clive.” That way we can show what she looks like and let the reader in on the emotional reactions of the other characters.

But a whole lot of writers, especially newbies (and the dreaded “writing rules police” ) take the “Show Don’t Tell” thing way too far and turn it into an unbreakable rule. That can make for some murky, slow, and downright boring fiction.

Here are some ways that following the Show Don’t Tell rule to the letter can interfere with good storytelling.

Too Much “Show Don’t Tell” Slows the Pace.

If you spend ten pages describing the shabby apartment of the murder witness, and we hear the screaming children and the blaring TV and smell the unemptied cat litter box and overflowing garbage can, you have a vivid description, but no story.

A writer should only dwell on the key scenes where important action is occurring. It’s perfectly okay to tell the reader your detective can see the witness is a harried single mom who is barely able to cope so her testimony may be useless. Then he can move on with the investigation and the story the reader cares about.

Some newbie writers confuse descriptions of violence with conflict. If you describe every blow and scream of pain in a fight scene, your story is not moving forward. The story stops until we know how the characters react to what’s going on and how the fight alters the trajectory of the plot. The carnage needs to do something to the characters and contribute to the plot, or it’s no more interesting than a description of the sofa cushions.

“Camera’s Eye” Showing Skimps on Information

When we write as if we’re a camera simply recording the physical events of the story, we are showing, but we’re also cheating the reader. This is when we simply say, ‘She winced’, ‘He smiled’, or ‘He took her hand,’ but we don’t say how the characters feel about this action.

When we fall into this pattern, we ignore the fact that the reader has no idea what the wincing, smiling, or handholding means. Writers who use this style may refuse to tell the reader what the actions mean, because they are convinced it will violate “Show Don’t Tell.”

This happens partly because most of us have been brought up on television. We have the conventions of the screenplay hardwired to our brains, because we saw TV shows before we could read. But what we see on the screen isn’t a screenplay. It’s the interpretation of the script by actors, directors, cinematographers, composers, and a whole host of other creative people.

When a screenwriter says a character clenches his fist, this clench will be interpreted by a director and actor to show a whole spectrum of emotion. Lighting and music and camera angle will enhance them.

But when a novelist tells us a character clenches his fist, he is not letting us in on much.

Is the character angry and about to punch somebody? Trying to keep from crying?  Suffering from a painful intestinal ailment? We’ll never know if the author won’t tell us.

You’re not a camera. You’re a novelist. And it’s your job to give us as much information as possible to tell your story.

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

Exploring the structure of Freytag’s Pyramid

From NowNovel.com:

Storytelling is at the heart of our human interactions. We tell stories when we talk to each other, explaining what has happened in our lives. We also pay money to consume stories in the form of movies, theatre, books and so on. So many stories use the Freytag’s Pyramid (or Triangle) method, and it’s worth looking at it in detail to see how you can use it in your own writing. Understanding the plot structure is a good way of engaging readers and creating compelling narratives.

So, what is Freytag’s Pyramid (or Triangle) and how can you use it to write fiction? Let’s explore this in more detail. You may have heard of it, as it’s a literary analysis mode that is spoken of often when exploring creative writing. It was named after Gustav Freytag, a 19th century German novelist and playwright who first devised it.

What is Freytag’s Pyramid?

Simply put the Freytag Pyramid is a narrative structure that breaks down a story arc into five sections or five acts. The five-act structure looks like this:

  • exposition
  • rising action
  • climax
  • falling action
  • resolution/denouement 

Freytag’s Pyramid is so called as it falls into a pyramid structure.

It’s a helpful way to order the series of events and plot your stories, and will ensure you have a recognisable beginning, middle and end in your story. It’s super useful to consult it. So many stories naturally follow this pattern anyway, as we’ll see in the examples below, and it’s good to have to it to hand and make a study of it. It’s an excellent way to figure out how a story unfolds. Using it helps you create a logical progression of events, and gives readers a sense of familiarity and satisfaction. 

It’s important to note that although Freytag’s Pyramid is an extremely useful tool to use, be aware of the fact that it might not fit every story structure.

First, though, it’s important to note that although Freytag’s Pyramid is an extremely useful tool to use, be aware of the fact that it might not fit every story structure. Freytag devised his pyramid by looking at classical Greek tragedy and Shakespearean drama and observing how these plays were constructed. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was the first person to say that the structure of drama is shaped like a pyramid with a beginning, middle and end, what is known as the three-act story structure. 

The downside is well explained on Reedsy:

Make no mistake: Freytag’s pyramid is not a one-size-fits-all structure. It identifies story elements that are common to classical and Shakespearean tragedies, including a revelation or plot twist that changes everything — resulting in catastrophe for the hero. As a result, the pyramid is less applicable to non-tragic narratives in which the protagonist usually wins out in some way, or when writing more upbeat genres like comedy.

Exposition

This is where the stage is set: the author introduces the main characters, setting and milieu of the story. It’s here that the characters’ backgrounds, motivations and circumstances are introduced. This is also where, most likely, you will show the reason for the story. In other words, in this section the writer will establish the central conflict or problem that the protagonist will face in the story.

Thematic concerns will be introduced here as well, as well as hints of what character development might occur in the narrative.

Your exposition should end with the ‘inciting incident’ – that’s what will start the ball rolling in the narrative, or set off the events of your story.

Rising action

The inciting incident occurs in this section. Ideally this section should occur quite early in your story. You don’t want to have reams of exposition here. You can always weave in backstory and more as the story progresses. The inciting incident is the event that disrupts the status quo and sets the main conflict of the story in motion. The protagonist is now faced with a problem, challenge or dilemma that they must solve.

Link to the rest at NowNovel.com

Under the Weather

PG has a bad cold and has spent most of the day trying to sleep it off.

He’s hoping he’ll be back to normal sometime tomorrow.

Academic Writing

One thinks about modern academics, especially philosophers and sociologists. Their language is often voiceless and without power because it is so utterly cut off from experience and things. There is no sense of words carrying experiences, only of reflecting relationships between other words or between “concepts.” There is no sense of an actual self seeing a thing or having an experience… Sociology—by its very nature?—seems to be an enterprise whose practitioners cut themselves off from experience and things and deal entirely with categories about categories. As a result sociologists, more even than writers in other disciplines, often write language which has utterly died.

Peter Elbow

Harvard Probe Finds Honesty Researcher Engaged in Scientific Misconduct

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Harvard University probe into prominent researcher Francesca Gino found that her work contained manipulated data and recommended that she be fired, according to a voluminous court filing that offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at research misconduct investigations.

It is a key document at the center of a continuing legal fight involving Gino, a behavioral scientist who in August sued the university and a trio of data bloggers for $25 million.

The case has captivated researchers and the public alike as Gino, known for her research into the reasons people lie and cheat, has defended herself against allegations that her work contains falsified data.

The investigative report had remained secret until this week, when the judge in the case granted Harvard’s request to file the document, with some personal details redacted, as an exhibit.

The investigative committee that produced the nearly 1,300-page document included three Harvard Business School professors tapped by HBS dean Srikant Datar to examine accusations about Gino’s work.

They concluded after a monthslong probe conducted in 2022 and 2023 that Gino “engaged in multiple instances of research misconduct” in the four papers they examined. They recommended that the university audit Gino’s other experimental work, request retractions of three of the papers (the fourth had already been retracted at the time they reviewed it), and place Gino on unpaid leave while taking steps to terminate her employment.

“The Investigation Committee believes that the severity of the research misconduct that Professor Gino has committed calls for appropriately severe institutional action,” the report states.

HBS declined to comment.

The investigative report offers a rare look at the ins and outs of a research misconduct investigation, a process whose documents and conclusions are often kept secret.

Dorothy Bishop, a psychologist at the University of Oxford whose work has drawn attention to research problems in psychology, praised the disclosure. “Along with many other scientists, I have been concerned that institutions are generally very weak at handling investigations of misconduct and they tend to brush things under the carpet,” Bishop said. “It is refreshing to see such full and open reporting in this case.”

Harvard started looking into Gino’s work in October 2021 after a group of behavioral scientists who write about statistical methods on their blog Data Colada complained to the university. They had analyzed four papers co-written by Gino and said data in them appeared falsified. 

. . . .

Academic Misconduct

Dorothy Bishop, a psychologist at the University of Oxford whose work has drawn attention to research problems in psychology, praised the disclosure. “Along with many other scientists, I have been concerned that institutions are generally very weak at handling investigations of misconduct and they tend to brush things under the carpet,” Bishop said. “It is refreshing to see such full and open reporting in this case.”

Harvard started looking into Gino’s work in October 2021 after a group of behavioral scientists who write about statistical methods on their blog Data Colada complained to the university. They had analyzed four papers co-written by Gino and said data in them appeared falsified.

An initial inquiry conducted by two HBS faculty included an examination of the data sets from Gino’s computers and records, and her written responses to the allegations. The faculty members concluded that a full investigation was warranted, and Datar agreed.

In the course of the full investigation, the two faculty who ran the initial inquiry plus a third HBS faculty member interviewed Gino and witnesses who worked with her or co-wrote the papers. They gathered documents including data files, correspondence and various drafts of the submitted manuscripts. And they commissioned an outside firm to conduct a forensic analysis of the data files.

The committee concluded that in the various studies, Gino edited observations in ways that made the results fit hypotheses.

When asked by the committee about work culture at the lab, several witnesses said they didn’t feel pressured to obtain results. “I never had any indication that she was pressuring people to get results. And she never pressured me to get results,” one witness said.

According to the documents, Gino suggested that most of the problems highlighted in her work could have been the result of honest error, made by herself or research assistants who frequently worked on the data. The investigative committee rejected that explanation because Gino didn’t give evidence that explained “major anomalies and discrepancies.”

Gino also argued that other people might have tampered with her data, possibly with “malicious intent,” but the investigative committee also rejected that possibility. “Although we acknowledge that the theory of a malicious actor might be remotely possible, we do not find it plausible,” the group wrote.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

BBC 500 Words Story Competition

From The Oxford Owl:

As part of an ongoing programme of language research, the department of Children’s Dictionaries & Children’s Language Data at Oxford University Press has analysed children’s creative writing submitted to the BBC 500 WORDS story competition in 2023 and the results are out today!

Key Findings from the Report

• Themes around contemporary conflicts feature more prominently in the stories than in previous years.
• There is a shift away from the topic of Brexit, with very few mentions of this word (and none in a political context).
• There is a substantial increase in the frequency of AI in the stories – often in relation to a dangerous entity that could take over the world.
• The stories indicate an increasing awareness of neurodiversity, and conditions are often portrayed as a strength.
• Barbie occurs twice as frequently in stories from 2023 than 2020.
• TikTok is seen as a more established app and part of everyday life in 2023.
• Lioness(es) increased in frequency compared with 2020, and over half of the mentions were in reference to football. In 2020, almost all mentions of lioness(es) were references to the animal.
• The 2023 stories are the first to demonstrate a lived experience of Covid in the UK, and the pandemic is evidently still a reference point for children.

Insights from the 2023 stories

• The proportion of boys and girls who submitted a story in 2023 was 39% and 61%respectively. Excluding names, words that are used much more frequently by boys than girls include: Madrid, titan, league, Godzilla and champions. Meanwhile, words that are used much more frequently by girls than boys include: gymnastics, pony, foal, makeup and tiara.
• Words that appear much more often in stories from the 5-7 age category than the 8-11 age category include: mammy, baddy and teddybear. Meanwhile, words that are used much more frequently in stories by children in the older age group than the younger age group include intrigue, commander and murder. Adverbs, including practically, seemingly and sincerely, are also used more frequently in this age group.
• Words which had much higher frequency in stories from 2023 than 2020 include seasonal trends such as pumpkin and Halloween, footballers such as Haaland and Raya, and animals such as capybara and axolotl. Camilla is also used much more often in stories from 2023 – both in reference to the Queen and as a general character name.
• Meanwhile, words which had much higher frequency in stories from 2020 than 2023 include ps4, bushfire, trump, Brexit and coronavirus

Link to the rest at The Oxford Owl

7 Novels About Women on a Journey to Figure Out Who They Are

From Electric Lit:

As an identity crisis just par for the course as human beings? Does it happen to everybody? I wondered this to myself as a friend told me that her brother-in-law had decided, in his late thirties, to hit the pause button on his life. He was going to Bali for two months, she said, to “find himself.” This was shocking not in the least because he had a family he would be leaving behind in order to go off and conduct this search, but also, because he wasn’t entirely clear about whether he would be coming back. A search for self on a paradise island free of responsibility. Only in a man’s world, I thought, enviously. A woman would never go about it like that.

I didn’t set out to write a story about a woman in search of herself. My original intention was to generate some acting work. If I could write a great play (or even just an okay one, I acquiesced, whenever I had writers block), produce it and perform it myself, then the “right” (whatever that means) people would see it, which would lead to more scripts—ones I hadn’t had to write myself—flooding my way. Then, I’d be in. I’d be a busy actor having no choice but to turn down parts and I would never have to write anything ever again.

. . . .

This is a reading list about women who, at any one time, have had their doubts about who they are and who they present themselves to the world as. In these stories, they are piecing together the puzzle of their own identities. For them, the importance of this notion waxes and wanes, it is not necessarily their primary preoccupation, but bubbles to the surface in varying degrees. The question of their own essence and what it means in a fast-paced world where it feels like everyone else is so sure of themselves and what they stand for, may not always be the point of these stories but it is certainly an essential by-product. To someone not in that questioning, contemplative place themselves, it may well be missed. For me, however, they became the parts of these books which spoke the loudest. Read these books for their keenly observed female protagonists’ exploration of the world around them—through language, location, love, politics, and friendship—and for the ways in which the lives they are leading or the new ones they are seeking out, speak to their essence. And as for my friend’s brother-in-law, he came back in the end. But, just as with the characters in these novels, finding yourself back where you started doesn’t make it all for nought. It’s in the journeying that we find our essence, not necessarily at the destination.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Two mixed-race best friends who meet as youngsters at dance class, find themselves on divergent paths as one (the unnamed narrator) watches the other—Tracey—achieve their shared childhood dream becoming a dancer. Through her teens, twenties and thirties, we see the narrator going through the motions: university, first job, short lived love affairs, the allure of orbiting a celebrity when she lands a job as assistant to a pop star the girls idolized growing up. She watches on as Tracey’s career fizzles out, replaced by the challenges of  motherhood on the same council estate they were raised on. Smith’s thought-provoking insights on race, trauma, aging and the choices we make in life and where they lead us subtly force the reader to consider these things in relation to themselves at every turn. On reading the last page, I thrust the book into the hands of the nearest person in my vicinity telling them to read it. I defy you not to do the same thing.

. . . .

Temper by Phoebe Walker

Purpose and identity are often inextricably linked to place for many women. We feel this in almost every line of Phoebe Walker’s debut. Infused with her characteristic poetic imagery and keenly observant eye for the world around her, she gives us yet another unnamed narrator (a theme worthy of a reading list of its own!) who has left London on the coat tails of her corporate boyfriend and his new job. Being a freelance writer, she has the freedom to work from anywhere, and the Netherlands, she reasons, is as good a place as any. But the promise of expat life, with its shiny, social media-ready exterior and the feeling of excitement in the first days and weeks, quickly fades. What our protagonist is left with is creeping isolation, loneliness and a lack of purpose. When she reluctantly befriends an untrustworthy fellow expat who has been shunned by everyone else who knows her out there, the narrator’s reflections on just how and exactly where to go about building a life for oneself in a big world, becomes all the more intriguing and absorbing. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

The Celebrity as Muse

From The Paris Review:

1. The Divine Celebrity

“There isn’t really anybody who occupies the lens to the extent that Lindsay Lohan does,” the artist Richard Phillips observed in 2012. “Something happens when she steps in front of the camera … She is very aware of the way that an icon is constructed, and that’s something that is unique.” Phillips, who has long used famous people as his muses, was promoting a new short film he had made with the then-twenty-five-year-old actress. Standing in a fulgid ocean in a silvery-white bathing suit, her eyeliner and false lashes dark as a depressive mood, she is meant to look healthily Californian, but her beauty is a little rumpled, and even in close-up she cannot quite meet the camera’s gaze. The impression left by Lindsay Lohan (2011), Phillips’s film, is that of an artist’s model who is incapable of behaving like one, having been cursed with the roiling interior life of a consummate actress. Most traditional print models can successfully empty out their eyes for fashion films and photoshoots, easily signifying nothing, but Lohan looks fearful, guarded, as if somewhere just beyond the camera she can see the terrible future. Unlike her heroine Marilyn Monroe, Phillips also observed in a promotional interview, Lohan is “still alive, and she’s more powerful than ever.” It is interesting that he felt the need to specify that Lohan had not died, although ultimately his assertion of her power is difficult to deny based on the evidence of Lindsay Lohan, which may not exude the surfer-y, gilded vibe he might have hoped for, but which does act as a poignant document of Lohan’s skill, her raw and uncomfortable magnetism.

“Lindsay has an incredible emotional and physical presence on screen that holds an existential vulnerability,” Phillips argued in his artist’s statement, “while harnessing the power of the transcendental—the moment in transition. She is able to connect with us past all of our memory and projection, expressing our own inner eminence.” “Our own inner eminence” is an odd, not entirely meaningful phrase, used in a typically unmeaningful and art-speak-riddled press release. What the artist seems to say or to imply, however, is that Lohan’s obvious ability to reach inside herself and then—without dialogue—vividly suggest her depths onscreen acts as a piquant reminder of our own complexity, the way each of us is a celebrity in the melodrama of our lives.

What makes Lindsay Lohan art and not a perfume advertisement, aside from the absence of a perfume bottle? The same quality, perhaps, that makes—or made—Lohan herself a star, as well as, once, a sterling actress. All Phillips’s talk of transcendence and the existential may be overblown, but then stars tend to be overblown, as evidenced by the superlatives so often used in descriptions of Hollywood and its denizens: “silver screen,” “golden age,” “legendary,” or “iconic.” “Muses must possess two qualities,” the dance critic Arlene Croce claimed in The New Yorker in 1996, “beauty and mystery, and of the two, mystery is the greater.” At first blush, Lohan might not have seemed like an especially mysterious muse, with her personal life splashed across the tabloids and her upskirt shots all over Google. In fact, her revelations are a trick, the illusion of intimacy possible because she has enough to plumb that we can barely touch the surface. We can see her pubis and her mugshots and the powder in her nostrils, but it is impossible for us, as regular, unfamous people, to know what it feels like to be her.

“When [Lohan] bats her eyes over the Gagosian Gallery logo at the end of Phillips’s short film, millions of art world dollars immediately alight upon our shores,” the late and cantankerous art critic Charlie Finch wrote in a review of Lindsay Lohan, later noting that the film also acts as a salute to “the cosmetology industry as treated cosmologically.” “Few beauties have (ahem) not required the surgeon’s knife as little as Lindsay,” Finch continues, “but her lips sure appear to be as (allegedly) collagen-injected as those of Melanie Griffith, Meg Ryan, or Cher. Score another point for Richard Phillips, patron saint of female models everywhere and their cutting-edge search for visual perfection.” It was certainly permissible to write about a female subject in a rather different tone in 2011, and the titillated focus on cosmetic surgery here now feels quaint. Still, whether or not Finch is being facetious, he is right about Phillips’s willingness to lavish his attention on the hard work stars do to keep themselves suitably celestial, ensuring prominent places in the firmament of fame.

. . . .

2. The Decaying Celebrity

In 1974, in Florence, a Californian hippy couple were visiting the Uffizi when a strange thing happened to the heavily pregnant wife: as she stood admiring a da Vinci, she began to feel her baby moving, as if he too had been struck by the genius of the work. “Allegedly, I started kicking furiously,” Leonardo DiCaprio told an interviewer at NPR in 2014. “My father took that as a sign, and I suppose DiCaprio wasn’t that far from da Vinci. And so, my dad, being the artist that he is, said, ‘That’s our boy’s name.’ ” That I first encountered this origin story as a child at the height of Leo-mania in the nineties, in an unofficial souvenir book about the then-twenty-one-year-old actor and heartthrob, feels entirely apposite: it is a clever bit of mythmaking, an anecdote that might just as well have belonged to classic Hollywood and the era of Photoplay or Screenland as to the first, faltering days of the online age. DiCaprio’s father, an underground comics publisher who associated with both Timothy Leary and the graphic artist and world-renowned macrophiliac Robert Crumb, foresaw Leonardo’s future status as an artist even if he was not certain of the medium he would work in. Many of us who were prepubescent when Leonardo DiCaprio first rose to real prominence are eminently aware of his nineties image as the ultimate nonthreatening (very nearly nonsexual) sex symbol, so rosy-faced and champagne-haired and softly pretty that that he might as well have been a handsome girl, but the ardor of his swooning fanbase did not cancel out his reputation in adult critical circles as a genuine early master of his craft. Consider the cool, casual way he delivered Shakespeare in Romeo + Juliet (1996), Baz Luhrmann’s loony, technicolor adaptation of the play: young, alive, unmistakably Californian, he spoke all his thee’s and thou’s with the throwaway inflection of a person fluently communicating in a second language they had practiced all their lives.

As it happened, DiCaprio ended up with a more literal link to art in later life, becoming a collector of such scale and (to use Phillips’s word) eminence that, in spite of his being a supposedly frivolous Hollywood A-lister, the art world takes him fairly seriously. Unlike, say, collecting classic cars or couture clothing, the maintenance of an art collection has the dual benefit, for a celebrity, of conferring cultural cachet and trumpeting their tremendous wealth (provided, of course, that their selections knowingly and tastefully run the gamut from aesthetically desirable to conceptually rigorous, haute-contemporary to historical). DiCaprio—who does not seem to have an art buyer in his employ, and who therefore presumably actually cares about the pieces he acquires—is catholic in his tastes, collecting works by artists like Basquiat and Picasso as well as other, much newer works by relative unknowns.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

When PG read the OP, the term, “overcooked prose,” came to his mind.

American Flannel

From The Wall Street Journal:

Many years ago, during a reporting trip to Copenhagen, I met an economist for the Danish labor federation. I had just visited a company that was transferring production of hearing aids abroad, and I asked him about this move. To my surprise, the economist was entirely in favor. “We want to be a wealthy country,” he said, “and we can’t be a wealthy country with low-wage jobs.”

That conversation came back to me as I read a pair of books about people committed to reviving U.S. garment manufacturing. Both Steven Kurutz’s “American Flannel” and Rachel Slade’s “Making It in America” follow entrepreneurs who have dared to produce American-made apparel at a moment when the domestic supply chains for such products barely exist. Both books are interesting to read. The human stories are moving, the founders’ determination admirable. But neither book finally provides a convincing answer to a question that lurks in the background: Should we even want apparel manufacturing to rebound in the U.S.?

Mr. Kurutz introduces Bayard Winthrop, a descendant of the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He grew up in Greenwich, Conn., and spent two years on Wall Street before deciding to seek more meaningful work. After stints selling snowshoe bindings and marketing messenger bags, he created American Giant in 2011 to manufacture clothing in the U.S. Labor costs precluded products that would have required extensive sewing. Instead, Mr. Winthrop settled on cotton hoodies with heavier fabric and better construction than most others. A favorable news article brought a flood of orders, enabling American Giant to buy sewing plants and inspiring Mr. Winthrop to attempt a far more complicated product: the flannel shirts to which the title of Mr. Kurutz’s book alludes.

For guidance, Mr. Winthrop turned to James McKinnon, the head of Cotswold Industries, a family-owned textile company. “Flannel is an art and an art form,” Mr. McKinnon explains. He introduced Mr. Winthrop to small companies that had survived the textile industry’s contraction and that might have the skills and equipment to dye yarn and finish cotton fabric the way Mr. Winthrop wanted it. Mr. Kurutz’s on-the-scene reporting provides a ground-level view of what it means to reassemble a domestic supply chain for flannel, colorfully illustrating why “reshoring” is so complicated a task.

Mr. Kurutz’s other main character is Gina Locklear, who grew up around her family’s sock mill in Fort Payne in Alabama’s DeKalb County. At the start of the 1990s, the author tells us, “there was hardly a man or woman in all of DeKalb County who didn’t have a connection to the hosiery business.” But as imports gained ground, the self-proclaimed “sock capital of the world” lost its kick. Many mills closed. In 2008 Ms. Locklear used spare capacity in her parents’ factory to start Zkano, a company that knits high-fashion socks from organic cotton spun and dyed domestically. The socks sold well. The challenge, she found, was finding workers. As Mr. Kurutz writes: “You could create new business. You couldn’t invent someone with thirty years of experience in the hosiery industry.”

Rachel Slade presents a similar story in “Making It in America,” featuring Ben Waxman, a former union official and political consultant who decided in 2015 to start a business with his then-girlfriend (and now wife), Whitney Reynolds. They mortgaged their home in Maine to fund American Roots. “Together, they would bring apparel manufacturing back to America,” Ms. Slade writes. “They would be uncompromising in their commitment to domestic sourcing and the welfare of their employees.” They began with a hoodie designed to fit large men doing physical jobs in harsh weather, a product whose manufacture required 54 operations on six different kinds of sewing machines. At $80, it was too expensive for the retail market, but Mr. Waxman sold it to labor unions that were delighted to offer members a garment made by union workers in the U.S.

I have no criticism of the individuals Mr. Kurutz and Ms. Slade profile. If these entrepreneurs can make a profit and create jobs by producing clothing in the U.S., congratulations are in order. They are well-intentioned people committed to doing right, and it’s hard not to admire them. But it’s disingenuous to pretend that a handful of mom-and-pop companies sewing hoodies and socks point the way to the revival of manufacturing in the U.S. Apparel is fundamentally different from most other manufacturing sectors; its factories still rely heavily on sewing machines, usually operated by women stitching hem after hem or attaching collar after collar. The U.S. has no great productivity advantage when it comes to making hoodies.

The authors present gauzy portraits of the industrial past. Fort Payne, Mr. Kurutz writes, was “a Silicon Valley for socks” where the annual Hosiery Week “bonded the community together” before the U.S. government lowered barriers to sock imports. That’s not exactly true: Silicon Valley is notorious for ample paychecks, Fort Payne’s sock mills less so. In 1993, the year before apparel and textile makers received what Mr. Kurutz calls a “death blow” from the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 5,478 hosiery workers in DeKalb County were paid, on average, 11% less than the average private-sector employee in the same county. In North Carolina, where American Giant does its sewing, the gap was even wider: The average private-sector worker was paid $22,000 in 1993, the average apparel worker $14,649. People took jobs in garment factories not for bonding but because that was all they could find.

The American garment industry was in decline for decades before Nafta. That it survived as long as it did was due to strict import quotas and high tariffs on both textiles and apparel, fought for by an unholy alliance between garment-workers’ unions and virulently antiunion textile manufacturers. The result was that U.S. consumers were forced to pay high prices for linens and clothes to keep those industries alive.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

A very long time ago, PG practiced law in a small town located in a part of the United States not known for its wealth.

One of his clients was a small garment manufacturing business owned and operated by a husband and wife. As per expectations, the business employed mostly women and paid minimum wage or something close to it.

The jobs offered provided important income for families, including single mothers, but nobody expected to get rich working there. Had the garment manufacturer closed its doors, the result would likely have been an increased number of families relying on welfare payments for their survival.

In some circles, low-wage jobs are regarded with disdain, but they can play an important economic role in small communities as a first job or an emergency job in the event of a change in family structure or injury to a working member of a family.

In PG’s observations during this time period, while government welfare was sometimes necessary for families with no ability to support themselves, having a job-holder in the family made a positive overall improvement to the family’s long-term stability and happiness.

You don’t come to live here

You don’t come to live here unless the delusion of a reality shaped around your own desires isn’t a strong aspect of your personality. “A reality shaped around your own desires” —there is something sociopathic in that ambition.

Zadie Smith, Find Your Beach, The New York Review of Books, October 23, 2014

ALA Reports Record Spike in Book Titles Challenged in 2023

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association announced today that the number of unique titles targeted for censorship surged 65% in 2023 compared to 2022, once again hitting record levels.

In a release, ALA officials said that 4,240 unique book titles were reported challenged in schools and libraries in 2023, a sharp increase over 2022, when 2,571 unique titles were targeted for removal. ALA also reported 1,247 tracked challenges in 2023, which is down slightly from 1,269 challenges in 2022. But ALA officials stressed that the number does not reflect decreasing challenges, noting that prior to 2021, the vast majority of tracked challenges to library resources came from individuals seeking to remove or restrict access to a single book. Now, as result of an organized political movement and sharing book lists compiled by various groups, the overwhelming majority of tracked challenges come from groups and involve multiple titles.

“The reports from librarians and educators in the field make it clear that the organized campaigns to ban books aren’t over,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “Each demand to ban a book is a demand to deny each person’s constitutionally protected right to choose and read books that raise important issues and lift up the voices of those who are often silenced.”

In addition to the surge in unique titles challenged, ALA also reported:

  • The number of titles targeted for censorship at public libraries increased by 92%, while school libraries saw an 11% increase.
  • Titles representing the voices and experiences of LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC individuals made up 47% of those targeted in censorship attempts.
  • There were attempts to censor more than 100 titles in 17 states in 2023: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly (located at 49 West 23rd Street, Ninth Floor, New York, NY)

While some of this is wrong-headedness on the part of parents, in other instances, parents may have reasonable objections about their children being exposed to highly-offensive content purchased with funds that originate with their tax dollars.

Who owns the community or local school library?

Are the librarians automatically entitled to decide what local children should read and what they should not read? If so, who granted librarians this entitlement?

On those occasions when PG checked books that were controversial as part of a community or school library, such books were invariably published by companies headquartered in New York City.

Is it surprising that Manhatten opinions about what children should read may differ from Omaha opinions or Boise opinions or Nashville opinions?

Is there a sense of entitlement among New York school book publishers that they know better or that they’re smarter than people who live elsewhere?

Book store owners across the nation certainly understand that just because New York trade publishers agree a new title is wonderful doesn’t mean that the book store’s customers will like it or will want to spend their own money to purchase the latest thing from NYC.

New York Disbars Infamous Copyright Troll

From Above the Law:

For years, Richard Liebowitz ran a very successful operation mostly sending threatening letters to companies claiming that they had infringed upon copyrights held by his photographer clients. Under the best of circumstances it’s a niche practice area that’s… kinda shady. But Liebowitz gained a degree of infamy across a number of matters for high-profile missteps in cases that sparked the ire of federal judges. Now, finally, New York has disbarred him.

Liebowitz wasn’t alone in the copyright trolling practice. A number of entities scour the internet looking for photographs that they can claim are “unlicensed” and demanding thousands of dollars to settle the matter knowing that between statutory damages for copyright infringement and the cost of litigation, most companies will just pay it. Many times, the photo in question actually is legally licensed through an agency like Getty Images, but the plaintiff photographer has, for whatever reason, pulled the image since the license was granted.

This runs the risk that some plaintiff might do this on purpose hoping to catch some legal licenseholder unawares and bank on the target just settling to avoid bringing any lawyers into the situation. Which is why, for example, a judge in one case cited by the disbarment opinion ordered Liebowitz “produce to the defendant records sufficient to show the royalty paid the last three times that the picture at issue was licensed, and the number of times the picture was licensed in the last five years; if the picture was never licensed, the plaintiff was to certify that fact as part of the plaintiff’s production.” In this case, Liebowitz “did not timely produce the required royalty information to the defendant” per the disbarment opinion.

Though most of the opinion describes more fundamental case management problems. From a case brought in 2017:

The respondent stated under penalty of perjury that he did not and had never made a settlement demand in this matter. In fact, the respondent had sent the defendant’s counsel an email in which the respondent proposed settling the matter for the sum of $25,000.

And another case brought in 2017:

On January 13, 2018, the respondent submitted a letter (hereinafter the January 13, 2018 letter) to the District Court, requesting an adjournment of the pretrial conference scheduled for January 19, 2018, and stating that the defendant “had yet to respond to the complaint” and that the plaintiff intended to file a motion for a default judgment. Judge Cote granted the request and ordered the motion for entry of default due on January 26, 2018.

The respondent’s statement in his January 13, 2018 letter that the defendant “had yet to respond to the complaint” was false and misleading, and the respondent knew that it was false and misleading when he made it. The January 13, 2018 letter failed to advise the court of the months-long history of communication between the parties, beginning in July 2017, as mentioned above.

. . . .

From yet another matter:

The plaintiff admitted in a deposition and in other documents that the Photograph had been previously published on numerous occasions. To prevent the defendants from learning that the plaintiff did not hold a valid registration, the respondent stonewalled the defendants’ requests for documents and information. The respondent also failed to comply with an order by Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman to obtain and produce Copyright Office documents to demonstrate a valid registration. After it came to light that the Photograph was not registered, and despite the record stating otherwise, the respondent argued, without evidence, that the lack of registration was merely a mistake.

If there’s a lesson to take away from these and the many, many more examples included in the opinion, it’s that copyright trolling outfits are largely unprepared for someone to push back on their demands. Firing off demand letters, memorializing boilerplate licensing agreements, and collecting cash is a tidy business model right up until a firm has to juggle hearings and discovery requests and experts and “not committing perjury.”

But perhaps the most bizarre story involves Liebowitz missing an April 12, 2019 hearing, explaining that his grandfather had passed. When Judge Seibel directed Liebowitz under penalty of contempt to furnish evidence or documentation regarding the date of his grandfather’s death, Liebowitz shot back that the order “likely constitutes a usurpation of judicial authority or a breach of judicial decorum.”

On November 7, 2019, the respondent retained counsel to represent him in the contempt proceedings, and on November 11, 2019, the respondent sent a letter to Judge Seibel admitting that he failed to carry out his responsibilities to the District Court and to his adversary. The respondent also admitted that his grandfather died on April 9, 2019, and was buried that same day.

Link to the rest at Above the Law

While most lawyers don’t engage in this sort of behavior, either because they regard it as intrinsically dishonest or worried they’ll get caught, as the OP demonstrates, somebody is going to call their bluff. That’s easier to do in places that are not so clogged with cases like New York, Chicago, etc.

In less massive and chaotic court systems where a lawyer is likely to encounter opposing counsel in another case sooner or later, the rule of living by the sword/dying by the sword comes into play as an effective deterrent to not being a jerk.

Federal Court Suspends Florida Attorney Over Filing Fabricated Cases Hallucinated by AI

From LawNext:

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about two more cases of AI-hallucinated citations in court filings leading to sanctions, and now comes the case of a Florida lawyer suspended from practice after filing cases that were “completely fabricated.”

On March 8, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida suspended attorney Thomas Grant Neusom from practicing in that court for one year, after which he will be eligible to apply for reinstatement.

In ordering the suspension, the court adopted the report and recommendation of its grievance committee, which issued a report in January finding that Neusom violated rules of the court and Florida’s Rules of Professional Conduct through a series of actions, including having filed pleadings that contained frivolous legal arguments based on fabricated cases.

The matter was brought to the attention of the disciplinary committee after Neusom’s opposing counsel, Nabil Joseph, was unable to find the cases and asked Neusom to furnish text versions. Neusom “provided non-responsive and evasive answers to the request for the cited authorities,” according to the committee.

When the committee asked Neusom about the pleadings during a telephone interview, he said that “he used Westlaw and Fastcase and may have used artificial intelligence to draft the filing(s) but was not able to check the excerpts and citations.” In a subsequent written response, he failed to offer any explanation for the fabricated cases “or provide any sense of understanding of the seriousness of the situation.”

Based on this, the committee found that Neusom had not only failed to exercise the reasonable due diligence required of an attorney, but that his conduct went “beyond a lack of due diligence as some of his legal authorities were completely fabricated.”

Link to the rest at LawNext

PG’s immediate response was that the penalty was not severe enough. He would have added a sizeable fine on top of the suspension.

PG wouldn’t be surprised if the attorney’s malpractice carrier had voided his policy, based on intentional idiocy.

I Always Knew I Was Different. I Just Didn’t Know I Was a Sociopath.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Whenever I ask my mother if she remembers the time in second grade when I stabbed a kid in the head with a pencil, her answer is the same: “Vaguely.”

And I believe her. So much about my early childhood is vague. Some things I remember with absolute clarity. Like the smell of the trees at Redwood National Park and our house on the hill near downtown San Francisco. God, I loved that house. Other things aren’t so clear, like the first time I sneaked into my neighbor’s house when they weren’t home.

I started stealing before I could talk. At least, I think I did. By the time I was six or seven I had an entire box full of things I’d stolen in my closet. Somewhere in the archives of People magazine there is a photo of Ringo Starr holding me as a toddler. We’re standing in his backyard—not far from Los Angeles, where my father was an executive in the music business—and I am literally stealing the glasses off his face. I was not the first child to ever play with a grown-up’s glasses. But based on the spectacles currently perched on my bookshelf, I’m pretty sure I was the only one to swipe a pair from a Beatle.

To be clear: I wasn’t a kleptomaniac. A kleptomaniac is a person with a persistent and irresistible urge to take things that don’t belong to them. I suffered from a different type of urge, a compulsion brought about by the discomfort of apathy, the nearly indescribable absence of common social emotions like shame and empathy.

I didn’t understand any of this back then. All I knew was that I didn’t feel things the way other kids did. I didn’t feel guilt when I lied. I didn’t feel compassion when classmates got hurt on the playground. For the most part, I felt nothing, and I didn’t like the way that “nothing” felt. So I did things to replace the nothingness with…something.

This impulse felt like an unrelenting pressure that expanded to permeate my entire self. The longer I tried to ignore it, the worse it got. My muscles would tense, my stomach would knot. Tighter. Tighter. It was claustrophobic, like being trapped inside my brain. Trapped inside a void.

Stealing wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do. It just happened to be the easiest way to stop the tension. The first time I made this connection was in first grade, sitting behind a girl named Clancy. The pressure had been building for days. Without knowing exactly why, I was overcome with frustration and had the urge to do something violent.

I wanted to stand up and flip over my desk. I imagined running to the heavy steel door that opened to the playground and slamming my fingers in its hinges. For a minute I thought I might actually do it. But then I saw Clancy’s barrette. She had two in her hair, pink bows on either side. The one on the left had slipped down. Take it, my thoughts commanded, and you’ll feel better.

I liked Clancy and I didn’t want to steal from her. But I wanted my brain to stop pulsing, and some part of me knew it would help. So, carefully, I reached forward and unclipped the bow. Once it was in my hand, I felt better, as if some air had been released from an overinflated balloon. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t care. I’d found a solution. It was a relief.

These early acts of deviance are encoded in my mind like GPS coordinates plotting a course toward awareness. Even now, I can recall where I got most of the things that didn’t belong to me as a child. But I can’t explain the locket with the “L” inscribed on it.

“Patric, you absolutely must tell me where you got this,” my mother said the day she found it in my room. We were standing next to my bed. One of the pillow shams was crooked against the headboard and I was consumed with the urge to straighten it. “Look at me,” she said, grabbing my shoulders. “Somewhere out there a person is missing this locket. They are missing it right now and they’re so sad they can’t find it. Think about how sad that person must be.”

I shut my eyes and tried to imagine what the locket owner was feeling, but I couldn’t. I felt nothing. When I opened my eyes and looked into hers, I knew my mother could tell.

“Sweetheart, listen to me,” she said, kneeling. “Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is stealing. And stealing is very, very bad.”

Again, nothing.

Mom paused, not sure what to do next. She took a deep breath and asked, “Have you done this before?”

I nodded and pointed to the closet. Together we went through the box. I explained what everything was and where it had come from. Once the box was empty, she stood and said we were going to return every item to its rightful owner, which was fine with me. I didn’t fear consequences and I didn’t suffer remorse, two more things I’d already figured out weren’t “normal.” Returning the stuff actually served my purpose. The box was full, and emptying it would give me a fresh space to store things I had yet to steal.

“Why did you take these things?” Mom asked me.

I thought of the pressure in my head and the sense that I needed to do bad things sometimes. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Well… Are you sorry?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. I was sorry. But I was sorry I had to steal to stop fantasizing about violence, not because I had hurt anyone.

Empathy, like remorse, never came naturally to me. I was raised in the Baptist church. I knew we were supposed to feel bad about committing sins. My teachers talked about “honor systems” and something called “shame,” which I understood intellectually, but it wasn’t something I felt. My inability to grasp core emotional skills made the process of making and keeping friends somewhat of a challenge. It wasn’t that I was mean or anything. I was simply different.

. . . .

For more than a century, society has deemed sociopathy untreatable and unredeemable. The afflicted have been maligned and shunned by mental health professionals who either don’t understand or choose to ignore the fact that sociopathy—like many personality disorders—exists on a spectrum.

After years of study, intensive therapy and earning a Ph.D. in psychology, I can say that sociopaths aren’t “bad” or “evil” or “crazy.” We simply have a harder time with feelings. We act out to fill a void. When I understood this about myself, I was able to control it.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Microsoft Reading Coach is now available as a stand-alone app for schools

From Neowin:

In March 2022, Microsoft first introduced Reading Coach as an app available in Microsoft Teams. The app became available later for individual users outside the classroom. Today, the company has announced that Reading Coach is now available as its own Windows stand-alone app, or via its website at coach.microsoft.com, specifically for school use.

In a blog post, Microsoft says that schools that want to access the new stand-alone app can access it with a Microsoft Entra ID. School admins must enable support for Reading Coach via a signup page.

. . . .

Microsoft stated the apps will help students with their reading skills in a number of ways. The biggest feature is the app’s ability to create a unique story via AI for each student. The company said:

Create a story puts the story in reader’s hands by giving them the choice of a character, setting and reading level to create a unique AI generated story each time.

The blog post adds that the AI stories follow Microsoft’s AI guidelines, and are moderated for the story’s content quality and safety, along with setting up stories for specific age groups.

The app also lets students read from previously written content from its library. Teachers can also add their own story content as well.

Reading Coach lets students read stories out loud. The app’s speech recognition technology, combined with AI features, allows it to analyze how students read, and detect if they find specific words hard to read. After each session, the app shows an overall score and can also generate word practice sessions with those challenging words.

Link to the rest at Neowin and thanks to F. for the tip

What is tolerance?

What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.

Voltaire

Tolerance

The highest result of education is tolerance.

Helen Keller

Classical Culture and White Nationalism

From BookBrowse:

The hands of history have reshaped the Greek past for centuries, sculpting it into an idealized version credited with birthing a myriad of ideas and concepts, notably identity. Certain contemporary political currents claim that Hellenic identity was what we would today consider white, although Greece was a multiethnic society that did not have our modern concepts of race.

Groups promoting racist ideology have pushed the interpretation that the apparent lack of color and ornamentation in Greco-Roman classical sculpture, which is in fact due to the erosion of pigments over time, is indicative of a more advanced and sophisticated culture resulting from the supposed superiority of white Europeans. As Lauren Markham writes in A Map of Future Ruins, “classical iconography continues to be a touchstone of white supremacy today, building off the myth that ancient Greece is the taproot of so-called Western culture.”

. . . .

The former president has also drawn on classical imagery. In 2020, a draft of an executive order titled “Make Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” was leaked. It sought to establish neoclassical architecture as the preferred style for federal buildings. The draft argues that in designing Washington D.C. buildings, the founding fathers embraced the classical models of “democratic Athens” and “republican Rome” because they symbolized “self-governing ideals.”

. . . .

Classicists are pushing against this misuse of antiquity’s ideas and symbols. According to Curtis Dozier, founder of Pharos and assistant professor of Greek and Roman studies at Vassar College, these views “all depend on the widespread assumption that Greco-Roman antiquity is admirable, foundational and refined. Thus any presentation that promotes uncritical admiration for the ancient world, by presenting it as a source of ‘timeless’ models and wisdom, has the potential to be complicit in white supremacy.”

As classics and black world studies professor Denise McCoskey explains, the “idea that the Greeks and Romans identified as ‘white’ with other people in modern-day Europe is just a complete misreading of ancient evidence.

Link to the rest at BookBrowse

PG reminds one and all that he doesn’t necessarily agree with items he posts on TPV.

He also asks that any comments to this or other posts avoid any disparagement of anyone on the basis of race or any other characteristic that is inherent to an individual’s personhood.

It’s Time for Publishers to Tell the Truth About Posthumously Published Books

From Book Riot:

This week saw the publication of Until August by Gabriel García Márquez, a work that was incomplete at the time of his death in 2014 and which he expressly stated should not just be kept private but completely destroyed. The novella, which is being marketed as a “rediscovered” work, was published with the permission of García Márquez’s sons, the executors of his literary estate. 

The reasoning goes like this: their father worked doggedly on the book until memory loss due to dementia required him to stop writing in 2004. At the time, he had amassed nearly 800 pages of drafts, fragments, and notes and even once submitted a draft to his agent before ultimately declaring, “This book doesn’t work” and instructing his sons to destroy it upon his death. Now here’s where it gets tricky. 

It was only when he was suffering severe memory loss from dementia that he decided it wasn’t good enough.

When they revisited the last draft, García Márquez’s sons found it was better than they remembered. Had dementia clouded their father’s judgment of his own work? Fearing that they had made a mistake by honoring his wishes and holding back what could be a meaningful addition to his legacy and literary history, the brothers decided to reverse course. They told the New York Times’s Alexandra Alter that they know it might look like a cash grab.

His sons acknowledge that the book doesn’t rank among García Márquez’s masterpieces, and fear that some might dismiss the publication as a cynical effort to make more money off their father’s legacy.

I’m deciding to take García Márquez’s sons at their word and assume that they are trying to do the right thing in a very complicated situation. 

I’m not asking literary executors and publishers to do something different because I’m not sure they should, and I know better than to think they will. What I am asking is for them to do better

As scholar Álvaro Santana-Acuña notes, having to weigh your loved one’s last wishes against Global Literary History (especially when your loved one was a Nobel Prize-winning author) is an impossible position to be in. From my comfortable perch as an armchair ethicist in this debate, the answer to “Should you publish work your loved one expressly instructed you to destroy?” is “It depends.” 

What it depends on is largely how you do it. 

Like many readers, I am of two minds about posthumous publication that defies a writer’s wishes. The financial, reputational, and historical incentives are compelling. I get it, and I understand that for those reasons, posthumous publication of lost/incomplete/etc work will continue to be a thing. Fine. I’m not asking literary executors and publishers to do something different because I’m not sure they should, and I know better than to think they will. What I am asking is for them to do better

. . . .

Go Set a Watchman wasn’t a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird; it was an early draft Harper Lee wanted to keep out of the public eye for good reason. Until August is not a rediscovered Gabriel García Márquez novel; it’s a 144-page construction Frankensteined together from the author’s working material. And there’s nothing wrong with that! What is wrong is the profit-driven decision to package and market these books as something that they aren’t. 

. . . .

Publishers do readers and authors alike a disservice when they misrepresent the nature of posthumously published work to make it more commercially appealing, and literary executors fail their charges when they agree to this packaging. There are plenty real reasons for readers to be interested in a posthumously published work, publishers and estates don’t need to fudge the backstory.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Does generative artificial intelligence infringe copyright?

From The Economist:

GENERATIVE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) will transform the workplace. The International Monetary Fund reckons that AI tools, which includes ones that produce text or images from written prompts, will eventually affect 40% of jobs. Goldman Sachs, a bank, says that the technology could replace 300m jobs worldwide. Sceptics say those estimates exaggerate. But some industries seem to be feeling the effects already. A paper published in August 2023 on SSRN, a repository for research which has yet to undergo formal peer review, suggests that the income of self-employed “creatives”—writers, illustrators and the like—has fallen since November 2022, when ChatGPT, a popular AI tool, was released.

Over the past year artists, authors and comedians have filed lawsuits against the tech companies behind AI tools, including OpenAI, Microsoft and Anthropic. The cases allege that, by using copyrighted material to train their AI models, tech firms have violated creators’ rights. Do those claims have merit?

AI generators translate written prompts—”draw a New York skyline in the style of Vincent van Gogh”, for example—into machine-readable commands. The models are trained on huge databases of text, images, audio or video. In many cases the tech firms appear to have scraped much of the material from the internet without permission. In 2022 David Holz, the founder of Midjourney, one of the most popular AI image generators, admitted that his tool had hoovered up 100m images without knowing where they came from or seeking permission from their owners.

Generators are supposed to make new output and on that basis AI developers argue that what their tools produce does not infringe copyright. They rely on the “fair-use doctrine”, which allows the use of copyrighted material in certain circumstances. This doctrine normally protects journalists, teachers, researchers and others when they use short excerpts of copyrighted material in their own work, for example in a book review. AI tools are not entitled to that protection, creatives believe, because they are in effect absorbing and rearranging copyrighted work rather than merely excerpting small pieces from it.

Generative AI is so new that there is almost no case law to guide courts. That makes the outcome of these cases hard to guess. Some observers reckon that many of the class-action suits against AI firms will probably fail. Andres Guadamuz, an expert in intellectual-property law at the University of Sussex, reckons that the strength of the fair-use doctrine is likely to trump claimants’ concerns.

One case will be particularly closely watched. On December 27th the New York Times sued Microsoft and OpenAI after negotiations failed. It alleges that the tech companies owe “billions of dollars” for using copyrighted work to train ChatGPT. The newspaper’s lawyers showed multiple examples of ChatGPT producing New York Times journalism word for word. This shows that AI tools do not substantially transform the material they’re trained on, and therefore are not protected by the fair-use doctrine, they claim.

On January 8th OpenAI responded, saying that it had done nothing wrong. Generative AI tools are pattern-matching technologies that write responses by predicting the likeliest next word based on what they have been trained on. As in other cases of this kind, OpenAI says that is covered by fair use. It claims that the New York Times overstates the risk of “regurgitation”, which it blames on a bug that produces errors only rarely. In a filing submitted on February 26th, OpenAI claimed that the New York Times cherry-picked answers from “tens of thousands” of queries it sent to the chatbot. Some of these were “deceptive prompts” that violated its terms of use, it alleged.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG still thinks the use of materials protected by copyright to train AI systems qualifies as fair use. Those who use an AI system to create written material cannot, to the best of PG’s knowledge, call up an exact copy of a New York Times story.

PG is going to see if he can make his way through the various contentions, but he was immediately reminded of the Google Books case that was ultimately resolved in favor of Google in 2015.

The basis for the Google Books decision was the transformative nature of Google’s use of the content of the books to populate a huge online database with millions of books.

PG suggests that there is a much greater degree of transformation involved in AI usage of the texts involved in the New York Times’s Lawsuit Against Microsoft and OpenAI than there is in Google’s use of the text of 40 million books in 500 languages.

Trust Your Intuition: The Writer’s Sixth Sense

From Writers in the Storm:

Just as martial artists trust their instincts, writers must trust their intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t dismiss it. Whether it’s a subtle discomfort or a gut feeling, your intuition is a valuable tool for detecting potential threats. Trust it and take appropriate action to protect your safety.

Writing in public places, such as coffee shops and libraries, offers a unique blend of inspiration and potential challenges. As both a martial artist and author, the combination of creativity and personal safety comes naturally. However, for others, safety may not be a major consideration. Drawing from my experience as a black belt and self-defense seminar instructor, I offer these tips for writers to balance safety and creativity.

The Art of Location Selection: Choose Well-Lit and Crowded Spots

Just as a martial artist assesses their environment for safety, writers should be discerning about their chosen writing spaces. Select well-lit and populated areas where the flow of people ensures a reasonable level of security. Avoid secluded corners or dimly lit spots that might pose safety risks. Your writing sanctuary should inspire creativity without compromising your well-being.

Strategic Positioning: Sit Facing Entrances for Enhanced Awareness

In martial arts, practitioners learn the significance of positioning themselves for optimal defense. Similarly, when writing in public places, sit facing entrances and exits. This strategic placement not only allows for a clear view of your surroundings, but also enhances situational awareness. Observing who enters and exits establishes a mental map of the immediate environment, helping you to focus on your writing without neglecting your safety.

Engage and Disengage: Knowing When to Look Up

Immersing yourself in your writing is crucial, but so is periodically disengaging to assess your surroundings. Establish a rhythm—write for a set period, then take a moment to look up and scan your environment. It’s a dance between creativity and vigilance, ensuring you remain connected to both your work and the world around you. Designate breaks in your writing session to focus solely on your surroundings. Use these moments to reorient yourself and ensure your safety protocols are intact.

Make a habit of being mindful of those around you and any unusual behavior. Trust your instincts—if something feels off, it probably is. Being mindful of your surroundings helps protect your creative flow from unexpected disruptions.

Guarding the Arsenal: Keep Valuables Secure

Martial artists safeguard their weapons, and for writers, the laptop or tablet is a formidable tool. Be mindful of your belongings—keep your laptop, bags, and personal items within reach. Avoid leaving them unattended, as distraction can provide an opportunity for opportunistic individuals. By maintaining control over your possessions, you safeguard both your creative work and personal safety.

Digital Fortifications: Use Lock Screen Features and VPNs

Just as martial artists fortify their defenses, writers should fortify their digital presence. Enable lock screen features on your devices to protect your work and personal information. Use strong passwords or biometric authentication for an added layer of security. When working on public Wi-Fi, avoid accessing sensitive financial or personal information. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) for added security, ensuring that your digital activities remain shielded from potential threats.

Strategic Alliances: The Buddy System for Writers

In martial arts, strength often lies in alliances. Likewise, writers can benefit from the buddy system. If possible, work with a writing partner or a friend when venturing into public spaces. Having someone by your side not only deters potential threats but also provides a safety net, allowing you to immerse yourself in your writing without undue worry.

. . . .

Trust Your Intuition: The Writer’s Sixth Sense

Just as martial artists trust their instincts, writers must trust their intuition. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t dismiss it. Whether it’s a subtle discomfort or a gut feeling, your intuition is a valuable tool for detecting potential threats. Trust it and take appropriate action to protect your safety.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

The corny over-extension of martial arts wisdom would normally have caused PG to pass the OP by.

However, he was concerned about authors, perhaps mostly female authors, having problems finding safe public spaces in which to write.

In ancient college times, PG would often walk to the library to write if things were a little chaotic around the apartment he shared, checking only on how much longer the library would remain open. He relied on library staff to kick him out at closing time. He would then walk home, without a second thought, seldom seeing anyone else on his way.

Thinking back, he almost never saw any female students during his close-the-library trips. To be fair, the campus was regarded as quite safe, even after dark.

But in those ancient times, a gentleman or would-be gentleman or guy who didn’t want to be excoriated by persons of both genders (there were only two back then), would always walk his date to the door of her dormitory, sorority, apartment, etc., and wait until the door locked behind her before leaving, regardless of what substances he had taken into his body during the preceding hours.

The Case for Pursuing a Traditional Publishing Deal Without an Agent

From Jane Friedman:

Securing the services of a literary agent has long been the gold standard for authors pursuing a long and successful career in publishing.

It’s easy to understand why. At the turn of the twentieth century, the so-called “author’s representative” emerged as the figure who would help authors cut a better deal with publishers. Most publishers were unhappy about this since agents who skillfully leveraged their clients’ hot properties forced publishers to shell out more money on better terms.

By mid-century, the agenting game was well established. Legendary agents like Sterling Lord (Jack Kerouac and Doris Kearns Goodwin were among his clients) and Robert Gottlieb (Toni Morrison, Robert Caro) impressed writers with their ability to champion talent, nurture genius, and land lucrative publishing deals. Needless to say, authors couldn’t accomplish half so much on their own behalf. The gatekeepers had won—and were here to stay.

Fast forward to today. Agents still function as gatekeepers, especially to the Big Five publishers and many top-tier smaller publishers, such as Tin House (whose open-reading periods are limited to a few days a year). Breakout debuts by authors like Jessica George (represented by David Higham) and stratospheric careers like Bonnie Garmus’ (repped by Curtis Brown) would not be possible without agents in the mix.

But, dear authors, securing an agent is not the only path to getting happily published (outside of self-publishing).

One big reason to consider other strategies (especially with a first book) is that the agenting business model is showing serious signs of wear-and-tear. Many agents readily admit the industry is in flux.

According to the latest member survey by the Association of American Literary Agents, an overwhelming majority of agents report feeling burned out and are working too much uncompensated overtime. And no wonder, as roughly a fifth of them receive 100 or more queries per week. Many also feel underpaid, given that roughly two-thirds depend in part or entirely on commissions—and making a sale can take months, if not years. (Do you imagine this is an elite group? Roughly 30 percent of American agents earn less than $50,000 annually.)

There’s no need to put all your editorial eggs into this one (turbulent) basket.

Scores of traditional small presses operating professionally and ethically in North America (and the UK, Australia, and elsewhere) are open to reviewing manuscripts year-round or seasonally without charging a fee.

Before getting into nuts and bolts on this, let me anticipate some objections that I know are out there, because the lure of agent-magic is strong:

But going directly to a publisher is less prestigious than going with an agent!

Even if that were objectively true, by the time your book is out in the world, readers have no idea how it got there and aren’t thinking about who reps you. The means justify the ends.

But an agent will fight for a better contract, or a bigger advance, than I’d get by negotiating with the publisher myself!

There may be some truth to this, but the tradeoffs are worth considering. For one thing: you’re getting published! A small advance, or no advance, may be offset by your efforts to successfully market your book when it comes out. Secondly, consider spending a few hundred dollars for an attorney to review your contract. The Authors Guild does this for free, and some states (such as Maryland) offer pro bono legal services to artists.

But a small press can’t market my book effectively!

It’s true that the Big Five publishers have bigger marketing budgets for ads and other forms of publicity. But will they put any of that money behind your book? And even big-name authors are increasingly expected to help market their own books and participate on social media.

The best small presses will submit reviews to the same outlets as the Big Five, from Kirkus to Publishers Weekly, and will engage in guerrilla marketing techniques to get you noticed. The gap in marketing efforts is not as wide as you think—and you’ll be expected to self-market with any publisher.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG says 99 out of 100 small presses have most of the drawbacks of large publishers with even more downside risk.

A large publisher will generally offer to pay a respectable advance. Most small publishers can’t afford those kind of up-front expenditures.

A small press, by definition, doesn’t sell very many books. A small press has to really fight to get one of its titles selected by a major reviewer with lots of readers.

Yet, the terms of a typical small press publishing contract almost always follows New York publisher patterns of demanding everything without a binding commitment to generate a respectable number of sales.

None of the small presses PG has examined vary from large publisher results of an occasional blockbuster, but mostly books that get launched, then flame out.

Why it’s hard to write a good book about the tech world

From The Economist:

When people ask Michael Moritz, a former journalist and prominent tech investor, what book they should read to understand Silicon Valley, he always recommends two. “They are not about Silicon Valley, but they have everything to do with Silicon Valley,” he says.

One is “The Studio” (1969) by John Gregory Dunne, an American writer who spent a year inside 20th Century Fox watching films get made and executives try to balance creativity with profit-seeking. The other, “Swimming Across” (2001) by Andy Grove, the former boss of Intel, a chipmaker, is a memoir about surviving the Holocaust. It shows how adversity can engender grit, which every entrepreneur needs.

That Sir Michael does not suggest a book squarely about the tech business says a lot. Silicon Valley has produced some of the world’s most gargantuan companies, but it has not inspired many written accounts with a long shelf life. Wall Street, on the other hand, claims a small canon that has stood the test of time, from chronicles of meltdowns (“Too Big to Fail”), to corporate greed (“Barbarians at the Gate”) to a fictionalised account (“The Bonfire of the Vanities”) that popularised the term “masters of the universe”.

Why not the masters of Silicon Valley? Part of the problem is access, as is often the case when writing about the powerful. Tech executives may let their guards down at Burning Man, but they have been painstakingly trained by public-relations staff to not get burned by writers. This has been the case for a while. When John Battelle was writing “The Search” (2005), about online quests for information, he spent over a year asking to interview Google’s co-founder, Larry Page. The firm tried to impose conditions, such as the right to read the manuscript in advance and add a footnote and possible rebuttal to every mention of Google. He declined. Google ended up granting the interview anyway.

Journalists who manage to finagle access can feel they owe a company and its executives and, in turn, write meek and sympathetic accounts rather than penetrating prose. Or they cannot break in—or do not even try—and write their book from a distance, without an insider’s insights.

Two new books demonstrate how hard it is to write well about Silicon Valley. “Filterworld” is an outsider’s account of the Valley’s impact, which reads as if it was entirely reported and written in a coffee shop in Brooklyn. The book laments how “culture is stuck and plagued by sameness” and blames Silicon Valley’s algorithms, “the technological spectre haunting our own era of the early 21st century”.

This is the sort of tirade against tech that has spread as widely as Silicon Valley’s apps. It is not wrong, but nor is it insightful. The author, Kyle Chayka, who is a journalist for the New Yorker, never reconciles the tension between the cultural “sameness” he decries and the personalisation everyone experiences, with online users possessing individual feeds and living in separate informational bubbles. Nor is this a wholly new phenomenon. People have been complaining about globalisation eroding local culture since “recorded civilisation” began, the author concedes. In 1890 Gabriel Tarde, a French sociologist, lamented the “persistent sameness in hotel fare and service, in household furniture, in clothes and jewellery, in theatrical notices and in the volumes in shop windows” that spread with the passenger train.

Burn Book” is a better, though imperfect, read. Kara Swisher, a veteran chronicler of Silicon Valley, is both an insider and an outsider. She has attended baby showers for tech billionaires’ offspring, and even hosted Google’s top brass for a sleepover at her mother’s apartment. But she has a distaste for the Valley’s “look-at-me narcissists, who never met an idea that they did not try to take credit for”.

In delicious detail, she offers her verdict on the techies who have become household names, such as Facebook’s founder: “As sweat poured down Mark Zuckerberg’s pasty and rounded face, I wondered if he was going to keel over right there at my feet.” (That was in 2010,before he had gone through media-training galore.) Much as Truman Capote, an American writer, was willing to skewer the socialite swans of New York, Ms Swisher delights in prodding some of her subjects to make readers smile and squirm, such as media mogul Rupert Murdoch (“Uncle Satan”) and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (“a frenetic mongoose” with “a genuinely infectious maniacal laugh”).

Link to the rest at The Economist

Catastrophe Ethics

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s getting harder and harder to be a decent person. You wake up hankering for a coffee. But hold on! Before you order one, better make sure that a fair-trade producer supplied the beans. And then: a drop of milk? Cows have such a huge carbon footprint. Almond milk? Growing almonds requires copious quantities of water. Soy? Don’t even think about it.

Time to walk to work. That’s how you’ve been getting there since learning, last week, that your electric car’s cobalt comes from mines that engage in unacceptable labor practices. Now you’ve arrived but—can you believe it?—a co-worker just made a deplorable comment about the presidential campaign. Cut ties? A busy day of discussion ensues.

At last you’re home for the evening. Perhaps watch a comedian on your favorite streaming service? Not till you’ve checked whether he’s uttered something offensive in the past 15 years.

Modern life, Travis Rieder declares in “Catastrophe Ethics,” is “morally exhausting.” Everything we do “seems to matter,” he notes, and yet “nothing we do seems to matter.” The term “catastrophe” might seem to apply more to climate change than offensive comedians, but Mr. Rieder is speaking generally of collective problems that lie beyond the capacity of any of us to affect individually. They’re catastrophic in that they involve large social matters—the comedian, say, might be contributing to public prejudices by ridiculing a particular group—even though our own role in affecting them is vanishingly small. You’re not going to stop climate change on your own—you are, after all, one person in a global population of eight billion. Nor will the comedian you cancel even notice. What to do?

The great moral theories, Mr. Rieder tells us, are of little help. His prime target is utilitarianism, which holds that the right thing to do is whatever will maximize benefits and minimize costs for all concerned. Such counsel is useless, though, when our individual actions will neither yield any measurable benefit nor reduce any perceptible cost.

Other doctrines are explored as well. “Deontology” argues that we should not treat other human beings manipulatively, simply as means to our own ends. But its prohibitions seem better suited to acts like lying or promise-breaking, Mr. Rieder notes, than buying coffee or watching a comedian.

Then there is virtue ethics, which advises us to cultivate morally good character traits like temperance or moderation. Because the development of such traits takes place over time, though, it can’t really tell us whether our taking a joyride in our Hummer next Tuesday is right or wrong, since it’s unlikely to affect our character one way or another. Virtue ethics is not, Mr. Rieder concludes, particularly action-guiding.

Mr. Rieder, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins, advises that the best course is simply to follow our own sense of personal “integrity,” an idea he derives from the philosopher Bernard Williams. For example, you might drink only fair-trade coffee because the proper treatment of workers is central to your sense of right and wrong, but you’re OK with listening to a comedian who offends particular groups. I, on the other hand, might cancel the comedian because his humor crosses some non-negotiable lines in my moral core, but I don’t get particularly worked up over where my coffee comes from.

We can’t, Mr. Rieder says, do everything. But we can be a person of integrity, as long as we “walk the walk” of our deepest values. There is a gentle wisdom here, reminiscent of the rabbinical saying: “You are not obliged to complete the work of the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Even so, Mr. Rieder might be too quick to dismiss utilitarianism and too sanguine about personal integrity.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Catastrophe Ethics

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s getting harder and harder to be a decent person. You wake up hankering for a coffee. But hold on! Before you order one, better make sure that a fair-trade producer supplied the beans. And then: a drop of milk? Cows have such a huge carbon footprint. Almond milk? Growing almonds requires copious quantities of water. Soy? Don’t even think about it.

Time to walk to work. That’s how you’ve been getting there since learning, last week, that your electric car’s cobalt comes from mines that engage in unacceptable labor practices. Now you’ve arrived but—can you believe it?—a co-worker just made a deplorable comment about the presidential campaign. Cut ties? A busy day of discussion ensues.

At last you’re home for the evening. Perhaps watch a comedian on your favorite streaming service? Not till you’ve checked whether he’s uttered something offensive in the past 15 years.

Modern life, Travis Rieder declares in “Catastrophe Ethics,” is “morally exhausting.” Everything we do “seems to matter,” he notes, and yet “nothing we do seems to matter.” The term “catastrophe” might seem to apply more to climate change than offensive comedians, but Mr. Rieder is speaking generally of collective problems that lie beyond the capacity of any of us to affect individually. They’re catastrophic in that they involve large social matters—the comedian, say, might be contributing to public prejudices by ridiculing a particular group—even though our own role in affecting them is vanishingly small. You’re not going to stop climate change on your own—you are, after all, one person in a global population of eight billion. Nor will the comedian you cancel even notice. What to do?

The great moral theories, Mr. Rieder tells us, are of little help. His prime target is utilitarianism, which holds that the right thing to do is whatever will maximize benefits and minimize costs for all concerned. Such counsel is useless, though, when our individual actions will neither yield any measurable benefit nor reduce any perceptible cost.

Other doctrines are explored as well. “Deontology” argues that we should not treat other human beings manipulatively, simply as means to our own ends. But its prohibitions seem better suited to acts like lying or promise-breaking, Mr. Rieder notes, than buying coffee or watching a comedian.

Then there is virtue ethics, which advises us to cultivate morally good character traits like temperance or moderation. Because the development of such traits takes place over time, though, it can’t really tell us whether our taking a joyride in our Hummer next Tuesday is right or wrong, since it’s unlikely to affect our character one way or another. Virtue ethics is not, Mr. Rieder concludes, particularly action-guiding.

Mr. Rieder, a bioethicist at Johns Hopkins, advises that the best course is simply to follow our own sense of personal “integrity,” an idea he derives from the philosopher Bernard Williams. For example, you might drink only fair-trade coffee because the proper treatment of workers is central to your sense of right and wrong, but you’re OK with listening to a comedian who offends particular groups. I, on the other hand, might cancel the comedian because his humor crosses some non-negotiable lines in my moral core, but I don’t get particularly worked up over where my coffee comes from.

We can’t, Mr. Rieder says, do everything. But we can be a person of integrity, as long as we “walk the walk” of our deepest values. There is a gentle wisdom here, reminiscent of the rabbinical saying: “You are not obliged to complete the work of the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Even so, Mr. Rieder might be too quick to dismiss utilitarianism and too sanguine about personal integrity.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Well first of all

Well first of all, tell me, is there some society you know of that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed?

Milton Friedman