The only people for me

The only people for me are the mad ones: the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who… burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles.

Jack Kerouac

I So Love Being Old and Not Married

From The Paris Review:

In the early seventies, Helen Garner, a newly single mother, found herself in the first of several “hippie houses” she lived in that decade in the suburbs of Melbourne. She read and made up songs with her daughter and fell in love with a heroin addict—an affair she documented daily in her diary. The writing deepened as her life became more complicated. Soon, she began to see an outline. “Story is a chunk of life with a bend in it,” Garner told Thessaly La Force in her Art of Fiction interview, published in the Fall issue of the Review, “and I could feel this one coming.” Every day for a year, after she had dropped her daughter off at school, she sat in the state library working on her first novel, Monkey Grip.

The book was a hit, although several critics (“almost always men”) accused Garner of simply publishing her personal journals. The truth is, she confesses, the novel really was closely based on her diary—and why not? “Underlying the famously big gap between fiction and nonfiction there’s a rather naïve belief that fiction is invented—­that it’s pulled out of thin air,” Garner says. “All those comments I’ve had to cop about my novels not being novels—­they rest on that idea that the novel is mightier than every other form.” When we asked Garner—­who is also an accomplished journalist who has covered criminal trials for decades—­whether she might share with us something from her recent journals, she sent us a true “chunk of life,” at once artfully sculpted and uncompromisingly honest.

. . . .

In the winter of 2017, when I wrote these entries, three things were dawning on me: first, that if my hearing continued to fade I would have to stop writing about criminal trials; second, that although I was probably burned-out, I would miss the courts terribly; and third, that I would be saved from boredom and despair by the company of my young grandchildren, who live next door.

*

Took the 17-year-old to the city to buy a pair of Doc Martens for her birthday. We walked past the Supreme Court. “Nanna, is this where you go to those trials?” “Yes. That big brown building.” “Can we go in and have a look?” At the door of the first courtroom we come to, a murder trial is rolling. I show her how to bow and we creep into the media seats. Young guy in the dock, pale, rigid, in a dark blue suit. The witness on the stand is giving a graphic account of what happens inside a skull when a head is smashed against a concrete curb. Oh God. I glance up at the judge. I know her. What will she think of me, bringing a schoolgirl in here? The girl is very still, straight-backed, bright-faced, watching and listening. I sit there gritting my teeth. Court rises and I hustle her on to the street. “Are you okay? Are you upset? Was it too much?” She wakes from a reverie. “No. I’m fine. It wasn’t upsetting. Because it was scientific.”

*

In the post office throwaway bin I find a CD of Glen Campbell’s Greatest Hits. Secretly in the car I play over and over Jimmy Webb’s three works of genius: “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” and “Galveston.” On the freeway my ten-year-old grandson digs out the Campbell from the mess in the glove box: “Who’s this?” I flinch, but he puts it on, and soon we’re singing along, him in his breaking voice, me in my old woman’s one which has dropped to a tenor. He loves all the songs, even the revolting ones like “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife.”

*

Court 4, pale pink with high, looped plaster garlands that glistened like ivory. The sentencing of the African refugee who’d killed three of her children. The judge read out the sentence. I was straining to hear, fighting my hearing loss and the muffled acoustic of the courtroom. Her husband was shot dead in front of her? They burned his body? They raped her? She began to weep and couldn’t stop. Her two robed lawyers approached the huge old timber dock, they had to reach up and hook their fingers at shoulder level over its high edge, I saw their pale hands grip the rim, like kids at a lolly-shop counter. She got 26 years, 20 before she can apply for parole. Even the tough-looking woman security guard was wiping her eyes. Walked away, walked and walked through the city, crying and raving to myself, bought a pair of black trousers and a T-shirt, went up the stairs to Gopal’s and ate a bowl of carrot and beetroot salad for $4. I’ll be dead by the time she gets out. What will she do, in prison, each day for 20 years? What will become of her other kids? It seemed the first time I’d ever seriously asked myself: Why do we put people in jail?

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Bill C-18, the Online News Act: Does it Violate Canada’s Trade Agreement Obligations?

From Hugh Stephens Blog:

As Bill C-18 continues its deliberate journey down the Canadian Parliamentary legislative track on its way toward enactment, the Bill’s prime targets (Alphabet, in the form of Google Search and Meta in the form of Facebook) continue to deploy the full force of their lobbying efforts to derail the legislation. Their most recent effort is a White Paper released earlier this month by Washington DC-based tech industry lobby group, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA). In a valiant but scarcely credible effort the CCIA attempts to argue that if enacted, C-18 would violate Canada’s international trade obligations, specifically commitments it made in the recently updated NAFTA accord (USCMA/CUSMA) and those required by virtue of its membership in the international copyright treaty, the Berne Convention.

In the process, the paper rolls out a number of other arguments against the legislation, such as claiming that it will benefit only a “select few large and powerful media companies” and will “do little or nothing to support sustainable or quality journalism in Canada”, while claiming that it will promote disinformation and content from untrusted third parties. The paper’s authors even claim that any payment from the digital intermediaries, who have scooped up the lion’s share of ad revenues (largely through leveraging content produced by others, usually without any payment), will “jeopardize the long-term viability of the (media) sector”. How will this happen? I guess it is supposed to make them fat and lazy. I will give the authors an “A” for creativity in terms of the range of objections they manage to roll out, but an “F” for making a convincing argument.

What readers should know is that the legislation is currently targeted primarily at two major US-based internet platforms, “digital news intermediaries” in the words of the legislation, just as Australia’s recent legislation to enact a News Media Bargaining Code aimed at the same two companies (Google and Facebook). However, they are not named in the Bill which, if passed, will apply to a;

“…digital news intermediary if, having regard to the following factors, there is a significant bargaining power imbalance between its operator and news businesses: (a) the size of the intermediary or the operator; (b) whether the market for the intermediary gives the operator a strategic advantage over news businesses; and (c) whether the intermediary occupies a prominent market position.”

Intermediaries have to self-designate, and the definition is generic, but it is clear who we are talking about. The CCIA paper goes to great lengths to quote Canadian politicians to show that Google and Facebook are the main targets although there are also references to “GAFAM”. (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft). If the shoe fits, wear it. No one has ever denied where the problem lies. And yes, they happen to be all US companies—for the moment.

The CCIA paper argues that if Alphabet and Meta are the only companies captured by the legislation, this amounts to a denial of national treatment (treating entities of your trading partners in an equivalent manner to domestic entities) and would be a USMCA/CUSMA treaty violation. But is this true? Hardly. Unless a measure is proven to be a disguised barrier to trade, as long as it applies to all companies, domestic or foreign, it will be difficult to substantiate a national treatment violation even if at the moment it affects only certain companies because of their size, market dominance or some other reason. Just because the affected companies happen to be headquartered in the US, it does not follow that this is an action targeted exclusively at US or foreign companies. For example, given the growing use of its platform for news distribution, it is possible that a platform like TikTok could fall within the ambit of the legislation.

C-18 is no more a violation of the national treatment principle than the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), which targets the anti-competitive behaviour of “internet gatekeepers”, who happen to be prominently represented among the GAFAM US-based companies. 

. . . .

Just as the Bill contains a definition for digital intermediaries that are subject to the legislation, so too it defines an “eligible news business”. An eligible business, one that can enter bargaining with the platforms for compensation for use of Canadian news content, is any entity producing news content that receives the journalism tax credit or which has a minimum of two journalists in Canada and operates and edits material in Canada. That hardly limits the benefit to “large and powerful media companies”. The CCIA paper goes on to argue that the definition of an eligible news business will make it difficult for Canada to avoid a charge of unjustified discrimination against US media organizations. This argument must truly be galling to US news producers, none of whom belong to the CCIA and most of whom are engaged in trying to bring about the same legislation in the US as Canada is proposing.

Link to the rest at Hugh Stephens Blog and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG is certain that Canadians are regularly and justifiably aggravated by their southern neighbor, its businesses and citizens.

However, the internet and information flowing on it are not the easiest things to legislate. This is by design. As PG has mentioned before, one of the fundamental characteristics of the internet’s structure is that it’s pretty much impossible to prevent information from flowing wherever consumers want to use it.

For instance, without moving from his keyboard at Casa PG, PG can log onto the internet from a whole bunch of locations from Albania to Vietnam using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service, of which there are many.

China has spent a large amount of money and effort to create what is generically called, “The Great Firewall of China,” to prevent internet access to non-Chinese websites, but there are reportedly several ways of circumventing the Great Firewall for those who really want to do so. PG won’t speculate about how dangerous such circumvention may or may not be.

Iron and Blood

From The Economist:

According to a remark attributed to Voltaire, in the late 18th century Prussia was an army with a state rather than a state with an army. Its standing force of 200,000 men was vast for its relatively small population. A century or so later, the belief that Prussia and subsequently imperial Germany were uniquely militarised European powers was reinforced by Otto von Bismarck’s famous address to the Prussian Diet in 1862. “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided,” he declared, “but by iron and blood.”

Peter Wilson, a military historian at Oxford, does not dispute how integral militarism has been to Germany’s past. But by providing centuries of context, he sets out to show that its history could have been different, and sometimes was.

Because of a focus on the two world wars, with perhaps a glance back to the Franco-Prussian war of 1871, a myth has evolved of a specifically German way of war, the author argues. In this telling, Germany’s position in the heart of Europe, encircled by hostile neighbours, meant it needed a first-strike capability that could only be achieved by a “power state”, an authoritarian system able to mobilise the necessary resources. This in turn has led to a further myth: of a unique German genius for war based on superior technology, skill and martial spirit. Even today, Hitler’s Wehrmacht is admired by many military types, especially in America. For Blitzkrieg, read “shock and awe”.

Much of the book is taken up with conflicts within or involving that strange entity, the Holy Roman Empire, the collection of mostly German-speaking states dominated by Habsburg Austria that, as Voltaire also quipped, was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire. At least until the middle of the 18th century, this alone made the German way of war quite different from those of unitary states such as England or France. The quasi-autonomy of the component parts, which nearly all maintained their own armies, required a decentralised and collaborative approach—the antithesis of the authoritarian model that emerged later with such awful consequences.

Despite the horrors of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), which was largely fought within the empire’s borders, and the fearsome reputation of its pike and musket formations, it was not much more prone to violence than other parts of Europe, and enjoyed long periods of relative peace. Even after the empire’s collapse following defeat to Napoleon at Jena in 1806, and its metamorphosis into the German Confederation in 1815, peace held until the revolutionary uprisings of 1848 and the war with Denmark that began in the same year. But in 1864 a second war with the Danes forged the template for future conflicts.

The chief of the general staff, Helmuth von Moltke, was charged by Bismarck with achieving a quick, decisive victory before other powers could intervene. He did so, but more by luck than good judgment. The army had triumphed, in its view, because of its freedom from political supervision, an inference that led Prussia’s rulers to place their faith ever more blindly in the top brass. That faith appeared to be vindicated when Prussia routed France in 1871, thanks to efficient mobilisation, brutally effective tactics and French mistakes. But, as Mr Wilson observes, these and other successes embedded “flaws ever deeper into the country’s institutions, only to be repeated with ever more disastrous results in the subsequent two world wars”.

Doomed to repetition

Before 1914, the unquestioned assumption of the general staff (under the leadership of Moltke the Younger, nephew of the original) was that, since a major war in Europe was inevitable, it should prepare for one. The possibility that politics or diplomacy might be more productive was barely considered. Thus the constant reworking of the notorious Schlieffen plan, which required the encirclement of French forces by racing to the coast via Belgium.

This was, says Mr Wilson, an “opening gambit rather than a strategic plan”. Everything rested on a successful first strike, with little thought for the consequences if it failed—as it did. Not only was Germany unprepared for a war of attrition against foes with advantages such as greater resources and the Royal Navy’s blockade power; it did not even start with clear and achievable aims.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG didn’t plan to take yesterday off

But it happened. Everyone is alive and well at Casa PG. As usual, Mrs. PG is figuring out how to murder more people for her next book and PG makes the odd suggestion from time to time.

1935 was a helluva year.

Inside Penguin Random House’s play to reach avid readers on TikTok’s BookTok

From Digiday:

Much has been written about how the almighty algorithm shapes our taste in everything from food and music to movies and books, but Penguin Random House is leaning into TikTok’s major #BookTok trend to help users discover titles and engage with fellow readers.

On Tuesday, the publishing giant announced a new deal with TikTok that lets people link to books in videos using the popular #BookTok hashtag while also working with various creators to curate content. The feature will direct users to a page that has additional info about the book and the other videos about it created by various TikTok users. According to Penguin Random House chief marketing officer Sanyu Dillon, BookTok provides an “emotional journey” that is driving more successful videos compared to those that merely provide a book synopsis.

“It’s very powerful that BookTok is driven by real people, making real recommendations,” Dillon said. “And because the best videos kind of capture that feeling of a book, this, in turn, gives viewers and users more confidence in their book discovery in their path to purchase.”

For years, curated recommendations inside of bookstores have helped guide readers toward new titles they might be interested in. But does relying on a social platform like TikTok to serve up relevant content expand or limit potential readers from broadening their horizons?

It’s not necessarily just one or the other, Dillon said. She pointed out that the footprint of many bookstores often limits how many titles can be sold or how various titles are promoted on shelves. For example, she said TikTok communities within BookTok might help people to read more books in a certain category than before, provide a greater group of related authors to choose from, or help someone discover more books by their favorite authors.

Much of BookTok’s adoption has been driven by organic content from everyday users, but Penguin is trying to approach its role by co-creating content for TikTok with creators and users. Although Penguin works with thousands of creators across its various subsidiaries, it’s also hired three micro-influencers in-house, including two for TikTok and one for Instagram.

“We do understand that an algorithm can be absolutely effective, but you can kind of stay in your lane once you’re in that algorithm,” she said. “We want to kind of expand the awareness of the various categories that we publish and the authors that we are publishing every year.”

To do that, the company has recently created other tech-driven initiatives. Last year, it created a tool called Today’s Top Books which scraped data across every online platform where Penguin titles are talked about and shares those popular titles at any given moment. Penguin has also begun other more curated initiatives on other social platforms such as All Ways Black, a community on Instagram that highlights Black authors and books.

Link to the rest at Digiday

Color PG skeptical. He doesn’t claim to be an expert about TikTok or BookTok, but he does know that online communities can change directions and attitudes in a flash.

PG has doubts that Big Publishing can keep up with anything that moves very fast. And he has his doubts about cool BookToc videos are likely to spring forth from an organization that hasn’t actively engaged with ebooks (a very old technology, relatively speaking). Whenever PG imagines a world in which Amazon never existed, he wonders if TradPub would have changed at all.

Our Editors Remember Hilary Mantel

From The Paris Review:

At school, Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety was recommended by the history teacher I, a hateful teenager, liked least (pedantic; prone to raptures over seemingly arcane points of fact). He proclaimed it the best book we could read on the French Revolution; since it was the only novel on the list, I opened it anyway, and was reluctantly entranced. (Robespierre, self-conscious, trying to muster something better than his usual thin, cold smile for Danton—“But it was the only one available to his face.”) Mantel’s imagination was uncannily sinuous: it seemed she could absorb and reinvent her revolutionaries without bending or avoiding any of the established facts, and dance her way through the countless disputed ones. By the time of Wolf Hall, she could conjure a Thomas Cromwell faithful to the historical record whose thoughts ran quick and vital, with no whiff of the antique. Those intricately researched and constructed books are animated throughout by the thrill it evidently gave Mantel to inhabit a mind like Cromwell’s—to imagine its unusual intelligence, the dark jokes it might tell itself even in extremis. There’s a moment when our man, believing he may die, is reluctant to give confession, to relinquish those sins “that others have not even found the opportunity of committing … they’re mine.” He goes on: “Besides, when I come to judgment I mean to come with a memorandum in my hand: I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here, possibly more.”

—Lidija Haas, deputy editor

Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost is one of my favorite memoirs—a book about illness without sentimentality, let alone self-pity; about the supernatural, without the woo-woo; about motherhood without children:

You come to this place, midlife. You don’t know how you got here, but suddenly you’re staring fifty in the face. When you turn and look back down the years, you glimpse the ghosts of other lives you might have led. All your houses are haunted by the person you might have been. The wraiths and phantoms creep under your carpets and between the warp and weft of your curtains, they lurk in wardrobes and lie flat under drawer liners. You think of the children you might have had but didn’t. When the midwife says, “It’s a boy,” where does the girl go? When you think you’re pregnant, and you’re not, what happens to that child that has already formed in your mind? You keep it filed in a drawer of your consciousness, like a short story that wouldn’t work after the opening lines.

—Emily Stokes, editor

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Note: When PG checked Amazon’s Wolf Hall page, the Kindle version had been reduced to $2.99

Google Sees Russia Coordinating With Hackers in Cyberattacks Tied to Ukraine War

Not really anything to do with books, but PG found this interesting.

From The Wall Street Journal:

A growing body of evidence suggests that pro-Russian hackers and online activists are working with the country’s military intelligence agency, according to researchers at Google.

Western officials and security experts are interested in the possible Kremlin links because it would help explain Moscow’s intentions both inside and outside Ukraine despite recent military setbacks that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin this week to announce a mobilization push.

Officials in the U.S. and Europe have warned throughout the war that Russian hackers could lash out against Ukraine’s allies by targeting critical infrastructure and governments with cyberattacks, but so far that has largely failed to materialize.

Over the past few months, Google’s Mandiant cybersecurity group has observed apparent coordination between pro-Russian hacking groups—ostensibly comprising patriotic citizen hackers—and cyber break-ins by Russia’s military intelligence agency, or GRU. In four instances, Mandiant says it observed hacking activity linked to the GRU in which malicious “wiper” software was installed on a victim’s network.

The initial wiper software caused disruption by destroying computer systems across the organization. Then, the hacktivists entered the picture. After each of these hacks—within 24 hours of the wiping—the hacktivist organizations have published data stolen from the same organizations.

Three pro-Russian hacktivist groups have been involved, according to Mandiant, which was acquired by Google in a deal that closed earlier this month. They are called XakNet Team, Infoccentr and CyberArmyofRussia_Reborn.

Combined with the other activity related to the war, this has created an unprecedented situation, Mandiant said, in a report on the hacktivists set to be released on Friday. “We have never previously observed such a volume of cyberattacks, variety of threat actors, and coordination of effort within the same several months,” the report states.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Subscribe to Comments

PG just received an email from D. about a plugin on TPV that allows registered visitors to subscribe to comments so they will be notified if someone makes a new comment on a post of interest.

PG tweaked the plugin and couldn’t find a specific problem, but hopes his tweaking has fixed the problem.

Today’s book bans might be more dangerous than those from the past

From the Washington Post:

Last year, Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R) made national news when he released a list of more than 800 books that he wants to prohibit schools and libraries from carrying, inspiring conservative school districts across the nation to step up their own efforts. The majority of these books feature characters who, like many young Americans, are people of color, LGBTQ or both. Nationally, we are experiencing what many educators, librarians and journalists accurately have dubbed an unprecedented wave of censorship.

Of course, this is not the first time politicians and citizens have mobilized to ban books. During the Cold War, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) and his allies waged a variety of censorship campaigns, with some Americans even participating in book-fueled bonfires. Political officials and mobilized parents, with conservative organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion, pulled “subversive” books from library and store shelves in the late 1940s and early 1950s and intimidated librarians, teachers and store managers to keep them from stocking them.

But beyond a shared tenor of anxiety, Cold War book-banning campaigns and those of today differ substantially in strategy and effect. McCarthy-era book censorship was part of a much larger, coordinated campaign that used the federal and state governments to restrict other “subversive” art, including film and television. And, such efforts were international. In fact, one of the most successful efforts was the removal of books from Overseas Libraries, a network of American libraries under the jurisdiction of the State Department that served as an arm of cultural diplomacy.

But through it all, young people’s literature often escaped the attention of censors and, in fact, grew more diverse and more focused on young adolescents as an audience, anticipating the genre that we now call “young adult literature.”

This is because McCarthy-era book bans often focused on mass-adopted textbooks as the easiest way to control what students read. They cared most about two issues: anti-communism and race. Often, the two went hand in hand as civil rights activists were accused of holding communist beliefs. Textbooks, particularly social studies textbooks, that critiqued capitalism, economic equality or the health of American democracy were withdrawn from the classroom throughout the 1950s, and their publication was stopped entirely at times.

. . . .

Everywhere, parents were less likely to object to books that were part of their own education than recently published textbooks written by liberal college professors they had never heard of. And so, students in grades seven through 12 continued to read novels in English classes (“Silas Marner,” “Great Expectations” and “The Red Badge of Courage” were the three most commonly taught), along with plays and poetry. High school students read “Macbeth” and “Julius Caesar” more than any other literary works. Adolescent literature instruction, in other words, consisted of literary classics steeped in familiar civic and ethical messages — about industry, integrity and self-sufficiency — that many students’ parents had also read when they were in school.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG notes that the Left Wing is just as liable to ban books and authors of which they disapprove as the Right Wing is.

See here and here for a discussion.

Making an Enemy of Luxury

From Lapham’s Quarterly:

Following the English Revolution and a puritanical cultural interlude, the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 under Charles II commenced an age of excess. The new commercial wealth that began to be more widely dispersed by the century’s end set off a veritable explosion in the emulation of courtly and aristocratic styles. A much more indulgent attitude toward vice soon prevailed, and satirizing luxury thus became a leading theme in the literary utopias of this period. Memoirs Concerning the Life and Manners of Captain Mackheath (1728) comments on the epoch that:

There arose among us a general and uncommon desire of money, and after this an extraordinary appetite for power; the two great fundamentals of every evil. Avarice immediately overthrew all probity, and trust, and mutual confidence;…After this extraordinary change of property, virtue seemed to become vice, and vice, virtue; and all men inclined to think that if they had wealth, they had a right to everything;…and this poison having thus mixed with the blood and spirits of the people, they became weak and enervated: the desires of mankind after wealth being insatiable, were not to be diminished either by want or abundance. After this followed rapine, injustice, a general dissolution of morals; and in each man was found a desire after the goods of his neighbor, and the rich oppressed the poor without modesty or moderation.

Similarly, Memoirs of the Court of Lilliput (1727) laments that “wherever luxury and idleness presides, there will be room for pride, for vanity, and lust; and that led me to a reflection how much an elevated station is an enemy to virtue; and how greatly we deceive ourselves in believing that riches are the source of happiness.”

Another satire from 1744 contrasts the dissolute manners of Europe to those of Madagascar, and notes that “it is our own luxurious effeminacy that has stripped us out of our natural simplicity, and clothed us with the rags of dissimulation.” By contrast were the “happy people, unto whom the desire of gold hath not yet arrived,” for modern times “may be truly called the Age of Gold, / For it, both honor, love, and friends are sold.”

Link to the rest at Lapham’s Quarterly

Strangers to Ourselves

From The Wall Street Journal:

When Rachel Aviv was 6, she stopped eating. Psychiatrists diagnosed her with anorexia nervosa, a disorder typically brought on by reading magazines that present thinness as the ideal of femininity. But young Rachel was only just learning to read; she didn’t yet have a concept of ideal femininity. Her case was the earliest recorded onset of anorexia in America. During her hospitalization, she met other girls in the anorexia unit, including Hava, a 12-year-old whose circumstances mirrored her own. Both girls came from Jewish families (Rachel got the idea of fasting from Yom Kippur); had parents engaged in a long, hostile divorce; and heard derogatory jokes about obese people. But while Rachel soon began eating again and returned to normal life, Hava became a “career” anorexic—in and out of hospitals her entire life until her premature death in her early 40s.

Why do some people recover from mental illness and others don’t? Why doesn’t having insight into one’s condition provide a cure? By all accounts, Hava at 12 had excellent insight, precociously recorded in her journals; at 6, Rachel had none. In “Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us,” Ms. Aviv, now a staff writer for the New Yorker, draws on her own brush with mental illness to explore the limits of psychiatric frameworks for understanding minds in crisis.

The book unfolds in what are effectively case studies of subjects suffering from different disorders—depression, schizophrenia, psychosis—but these cases are not closed. They do not lend themselves to neat, scientific conclusions. Though the subjects come from different times and cultures, they all occupy what Ms. Aviv calls the “psychic hinterlands, the outer edges of human experience, where language tends to fail.” Ms. Aviv wanders out to these far reaches, reporting with deep empathy and nuance on a category of experience that, she acknowledges, she might not have recognized “if I hadn’t been there myself.”

The case of Ray Osheroff is notorious in psychiatric circles. In the late 1970s, Osheroff, a successful physician, was sent into a debilitating depression when his once-thriving dialysis company failed. Consumed by regret and thoughts of the parallel life in which “he could have been a great man,” Osheroff received psychoanalytic therapy at an institution called Chestnut Lodge. The ethos of Chestnut Lodge was that no cure was possible without self-knowledge—but self-knowledge did not cure Osheroff. It wasn’t until he left for another institution, which prescribed antidepressants, that he began to feel restored. In 1982, Osheroff sued Chestnut Lodge for negligence and malpractice. The case set up a conflict between two models of treatment—the psychoanalytic and the neurobiological.

In the end, though, medications failed Osheroff, too. In an unpublished memoir, he struggled to resolve the different theories of his illness. Which approach was correct? As Ms. Aviv writes, “he also sensed that any story that resolved his problems too completely was untrue, an evasion of the unknown.”

. . . .

In Minnesota, a young black mother named Naomi is terrified that her children’s lives will be blighted by racism. But her astute sociological observations bleed into psychosis. She believes she is being watched, and that the government is out to kill her children. During a July 4 celebration, she throws her 1-year-old twins off a bridge, then jumps, too, shouting, “Freedom!” Following Naomi’s years in prison for second-degree murder, Ms. Aviv examines the intersection of racism and mental illness, shining a light on the social forces that are often ignored in the treatment of black, brown and poor patients. “Mental-health institutions,” she writes, “were not designed to address the kind of ailments that arise from being marginalized or oppressed for generations.”

While Naomi is undertreated, a privileged white woman in Connecticut named Laura is overtreated. Diagnosed first with bipolar disorder, then later with borderline personality disorder, Laura is on 19 different medications over the course of 14 years until, suffering from emotional and sexual numbness, she decides to find out who she is without them. Her struggle, like the struggles of Osheroff, Bapu and Naomi, is not simply with mental illness but with narrative. “There are stories that save us, and stories that trap us,” Ms. Aviv writes, “and in the midst of an illness it can be very hard to know which is which.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Why Do We Do Kickstarters?

From Dean Wesley Smith:

First off, surface reasons.

1… It gets new books to readers ahead of the publication date and at a discount. Fans of a series or a writer enjoy that. I know I do, which is one of the reasons why I back so many campaigns.

2… It gets our work out to readers we might never find and they might then buy more of our work. This is called discoverability.

3… It is amazing promotion and advertising and you don’t have to pay for it. In fact, if you do it right, you get a lot of promotion and make some money in the process. Sort of like selling a story to a top magazine.

4… Money does not hurt. These are book sales. We hope to do about $150,000 in 2022 in this form of book sales, about the same as last year.

5… We also add in workshops to help writers and help people become aware of the vast resource of writing information we have built on WMG Teachable.

Larger reason…

This is 2022, no matter how many writers still want to live in 1990s. The modern world of publishing is that writers become their own publishers, start their own publishing businesses, and explore all the new ways to get their writing out to readers. And wow, in 2022 there are a lot of ways. Kickstarter is one way.

And right now, at this point in time, it should be the first way.

Here is how it works. 

1… Finish a new book, put the publication date out 4-6 months to take advantage of free promotions during that time.

2… Put the book up for preorder in as many places as you can as soon as you can (after it is finished).

3… Do a Kickstarter campaign for the book giving the backers the book months before it publishes.

(and then go from there…)

Kickstarter is promotion, it is book sales, and it makes you money if you do it right.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

A Cautionary Tale

PG was working in his yard yesterday and took a tumble, bruising both his body and his ego.

Nothing was broken, but he felt like a fool. Fortunately, there were no witnesses.

He was a bit sore afterwards and not in a blogging mood, but he’s much improved today.

Queen Elizabeth II Dies at 96 After 70 Years on the Throne

For British and Commonwealth visitors to TPV, the American press and television stations have made this the Number One story with virtually continuous coverage since the news was released.

She was only British Sovereign almost all Americans have ever known and many here feel someone good and true has left this world.

From the front page of The Wall Street Journal:

LONDON—Queen Elizabeth II, who defined the monarchy for generations of Britons, died on Thursday, plunging the U.K. into mourning and giving the country its first new head of state in 70 years, her son, King Charles III.

Buckingham Palace said the 96-year-old queen—who ascended the throne when Winston Churchill was prime minister and the country was recovering from World War II—died at her residence in Balmoral, Scotland.

King Charles was in Scotland with his family and was expected to return to London after spending the night in Balmoral. “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

The queen’s death marks a watershed moment for the U.K. Britons under the age of 70 have grown up knowing only one monarch. She was the most visible link to the country’s imperial past and the embodiment of national identity. “We mourn profoundly the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother,” said King Charles III in a statement. “I know her loss will be deeply felt throughout the country, the Realms and the Commonwealth, and by countless people around the world.”

For the U.K., the queen’s death adds to a growing feeling of gloom at a time of high inflation, a looming recession, falling real wages and skyrocketing energy prices from the war in Ukraine.

Tributes poured in from world leaders. President Biden hailed the late queen as “the first British monarch to whom people all around the world could feel a personal and immediate connection.”

Within minutes of the news, crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace. Many hoisted cameras and phones in the air. In one corner of the crowd, some attendees broke out in song, singing “God Save the Queen.” Palace officials dressed in black posted the official notice of her death at the palace gates.

“We are all devastated,” said British Prime Minister Liz Truss. Queen Elizabeth was “the rock on which modern Britain was built,” she added.

The House of Windsor is the last European monarchy to continue the practice of coronation. Marking her departure and the anointment of her successor will now be critical to that transition and to maintaining the pageantry vital to sustaining the monarchy’s role and power. The new king is expected to be in London tomorrow to swear an oath. He is also expected to tour the nation to mark his mother’s passing.

Queen Elizabeth II’s historic reign spanned a period of deep social and economic change, from a nation of empire that pioneered globalization to a country that chose to pull out of the European Union, from a society with rigid class divisions to a diverse and more equal country.

“There will never be another monarch like her,” said Sarah Bunting, a child care professional who lives in west London. “She has been a rock for so many years and millions of people throughout the United Kingdom and the world will miss her.”

Britain will begin Friday a 10-day mourning period that will culminate in Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral. Within minutes of the announcement of her death, the British Broadcasting Corp. went dark and played the national anthem. Flags on government buildings flew half-staff. The government’s website featured a black banner to commemorate her passing. Given her death took place in Scotland, she is expected to lie in state there before her body is moved to London for a state funeral in Westminster Abbey.

. . . .

During her last year of life, the queen was dogged by ill health and used a cane to get around, gradually reducing in-person meetings, especially after the passing of her husband Prince Philip last year. Even so, she kept up her constitutional duties. On Tuesday, she appointed Ms. Truss during a meeting in Balmoral.

While Britons had braced for the queen’s death, her demise came quickly. At around noon London time, minutes before palace officials released a statement saying doctors were concerned about her health, British politicians were passed notes in the House of Commons. As word spread, lawmakers asked each other to borrow black ties.

As news of the queen’s ill-health spread, crowds began to gather outside Buckingham Palace and people across the country began checking their phones for news.

“I have been on this earth since 1975 and she has just always been there,” said Karl Weeks, a 47-year-old from east London.

The queen was born in 1926 and her life stretched from the Roaring 20s through World War II, the Cold War, the collapse of communism, the rise of the internet and China and finally a return of war to Europe with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Her reign spanned 15 prime ministers and 14 U.S. presidents, starting with Harry Truman. Despite the crumbling of the empire during her reign, her popularity endured and she remained the head of state of 15 countries.

“She was the last real European monarch, the last link to the world of the Romanovs, the Habsburgs, and probably the last European monarch to be revered. I don’t think there will be another one again,” said Ben Judah, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in London.

“It’s hard to explain the depth of connection between the British and the queen,” he added. “She’s on our coins, our stamps, she was the face of our diplomacy for as long as anyone remembers. She appeared at key moments on Christmas Day and sporting events. She’s almost a spiritual grandmother that transcends politics and class.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Apologies

PG has been hard at work over the past couple of days pulling together tax info for his accountant because his extensions to file will be expiring shortly.

He’ll be sending corporate info to the accountant in a couple of hours, then will finish up personal stuff later today or tomorrow, so things will be less crazy and he can get back to dealing with words instead of numbers.

Artificial intelligence is breaking patent law

From Nature:

In 2020, a machine-learning algorithm helped researchers to develop a potent antibiotic that works against many pathogens. Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used to aid vaccine development, drug design, materials discovery, space technology and ship design. Within a few years, numerous inventions could involve AI. This is creating one of the biggest threats patent systems have faced.

Patent law is based on the assumption that inventors are human; it currently struggles to deal with an inventor that is a machine. Courts around the world are wrestling with this problem now as patent applications naming an AI system as the inventor have been lodged in more than 100 countries1. Several groups are conducting public consultations on AI and intellectual property (IP) law, including in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.

If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge. Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions.

Rather than forcing old patent laws to accommodate new technology, we propose that national governments design bespoke IP law — AI-IP — that protects AI-generated inventions. Nations should also create an international treaty to ensure that these laws follow standardized principles, and that any disputes can be resolved efficiently. Researchers need to inform both steps.

Machines that are able to invent were not a consideration for drafters of the world’s first patent legislation, the Venetian Patent Statute of 1474. Nor were they contemplated in the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, which established the foundations of the international patent system. Even by 1994, AI-generated inventions were still almost unheard of when the World Trade Organization finalized its Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The 1883 and 1994 treaties mandate international patent standards today.

The TRIPS agreement protects “any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are capable of industrial application” . In its wording, ‘inventions’, ‘new’, ‘inventive step’ and ‘capable of industrial application’ are terms of art, each with a legal definition. In essence, an object is not patentable if any of these requirements is not met (see ‘What is patentable?’).

What is patentable?

Generally, an invention must meet each of the following requirements before it can be patented.

• An invention made by one or more inventors. This includes products, processes or methods in almost all fields of technology.

• Novel. The invention does not already exist.

• Inventive step or non-obvious. The invention would not be obvious to a ‘person skilled in the art’ who has ‘common general knowledge’ in that field.

• Capable of industrial application or utility. The invention can be made or used in industry, does as is claimed and/or has economic significance.

All 164 World Trade Organization members must comply with these principles, standardized by the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

. . . .

New technologies have challenged the system before. High-profile cases have tested whether genetic sequences, human-made living organisms and other objects could be patented. The central legal question in these cases was whether they were inventions at all. For example, after a years-long court battle between the US Association for Molecular Pathology (among others) and molecular-diagnostics firm Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah, the US Supreme Court concluded in 2013 that isolated human gene sequences were unpatentable because genetic information is a product of nature rather than a human invention.

Inventions generated by AI challenge the patent system in a new way because the issue is about ‘who’ did the inventing, rather than ‘what’ was invented. The first and most pressing question that patent registration offices have faced with such inventions has been whether the inventor has to be human. If not, one fear is that AIs might soon be so prolific that their inventions could overwhelm the patent system with applications.

Another challenge is even more fundamental. An ‘inventive step’ occurs when an invention is deemed ‘non-obvious’ to a ‘person skilled in the art’. This notional person has the average level of skill and general knowledge of an ordinary expert in the relevant technical field. If a patent examiner concludes that the invention would not have been obvious to this hypothetical person, the invention is a step closer to being patented.

But if AIs become more knowledgeable and skilled than all people in a field, it is unclear how a human patent examiner could assess whether an AI’s invention was obvious. An AI system built to review all information published about an area of technology before it invents would possess a much larger body of knowledge than any human could. Assessed against all knowledge, almost everything would seem obvious4. If everyone has access to such AI tools in future, then the ‘inventive step’ criterion of patentability would be close to impossible to achieve, and almost nothing would be patentable. A complete rethink would be required.

Illustration by Ana Kova

In 2020, a machine-learning algorithm helped researchers to develop a potent antibiotic that works against many pathogens (see Nature https://doi.org/ggm2p4; 2020). Artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used to aid vaccine development, drug design, materials discovery, space technology and ship design. Within a few years, numerous inventions could involve AI. This is creating one of the biggest threats patent systems have faced.

Patent law is based on the assumption that inventors are human; it currently struggles to deal with an inventor that is a machine. Courts around the world are wrestling with this problem now as patent applications naming an AI system as the inventor have been lodged in more than 100 countries1. Several groups are conducting public consultations on AI and intellectual property (IP) law, including in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.

If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge. Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions.

Rather than forcing old patent laws to accommodate new technology, we propose that national governments design bespoke IP law — AI-IP — that protects AI-generated inventions. Nations should also create an international treaty to ensure that these laws follow standardized principles, and that any disputes can be resolved efficiently. Researchers need to inform both steps.

Who, not what

Machines that are able to invent were not a consideration for drafters of the world’s first patent legislation, the Venetian Patent Statute of 1474. Nor were they contemplated in the 1883 Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, which established the foundations of the international patent system. Even by 1994, AI-generated inventions were still almost unheard of when the World Trade Organization finalized its Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The 1883 and 1994 treaties mandate international patent standards today.

The TRIPS agreement protects “any inventions, whether products or processes, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are capable of industrial application” (see go.nature.com/3n4khc2). In its wording, ‘inventions’, ‘new’, ‘inventive step’ and ‘capable of industrial application’ are terms of art, each with a legal definition. In essence, an object is not patentable if any of these requirements is not met (see ‘What is patentable?’).

What is patentable?

Generally, an invention must meet each of the following requirements before it can be patented.

• An invention made by one or more inventors. This includes products, processes or methods in almost all fields of technology.

• Novel. The invention does not already exist.

• Inventive step or non-obvious. The invention would not be obvious to a ‘person skilled in the art’ who has ‘common general knowledge’ in that field.

• Capable of industrial application or utility. The invention can be made or used in industry, does as is claimed and/or has economic significance.

All 164 World Trade Organization members must comply with these principles, standardized by the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

New technologies have challenged the system before. High-profile cases have tested whether genetic sequences, human-made living organisms and other objects could be patented. The central legal question in these cases was whether they were inventions at all. For example, after a years-long court battle between the US Association for Molecular Pathology (among others) and molecular-diagnostics firm Myriad Genetics in Salt Lake City, Utah, the US Supreme Court concluded in 2013 that isolated human gene sequences were unpatentable because genetic information is a product of nature rather than a human invention.

How artificial intelligence is changing drug discovery

Inventions generated by AI challenge the patent system in a new way because the issue is about ‘who’ did the inventing, rather than ‘what’ was invented. The first and most pressing question that patent registration offices have faced with such inventions has been whether the inventor has to be human3. If not, one fear is that AIs might soon be so prolific that their inventions could overwhelm the patent system with applications.

Another challenge is even more fundamental. An ‘inventive step’ occurs when an invention is deemed ‘non-obvious’ to a ‘person skilled in the art’. This notional person has the average level of skill and general knowledge of an ordinary expert in the relevant technical field. If a patent examiner concludes that the invention would not have been obvious to this hypothetical person, the invention is a step closer to being patented.

But if AIs become more knowledgeable and skilled than all people in a field, it is unclear how a human patent examiner could assess whether an AI’s invention was obvious. An AI system built to review all information published about an area of technology before it invents would possess a much larger body of knowledge than any human could. Assessed against all knowledge, almost everything would seem obvious4. If everyone has access to such AI tools in future, then the ‘inventive step’ criterion of patentability would be close to impossible to achieve, and almost nothing would be patentable. A complete rethink would be required.

Test case

These issues have been brought into focus by an AI system called DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience), created by Stephen Thaler, president and chief executive of US-based AI firm Imagination Engines. Thaler claims that DABUS invented a new type of food container and a flashing light for attracting attention in emergencies.

The inventions are not remarkable. The fallout from them is. In 2018, Thaler’s international legal team, led by academic Ryan Abbott at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK, started submitting applications to patent offices around the world, naming DABUS as the inventor. These cases are thought to be the first to test whether an AI system can be recognized as an inventor under existing laws. Patent offices and courts have had to rule on this question, and have started to flag gaps in the law.

Patent registration offices have so far rejected the applications in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe (in both the European Patent Office and Germany), South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia. Challenges to these decisions have for the most part failed, with courts concluding that inventors are presumed to be human. In Germany, a court accepted that the inventions could potentially be patented if Thaler was named as the inventor who prompted DABUS to create the inventions — a compromise that acknowledged the AI system’s input. But at this point, the tide of judicial opinion is running almost entirely against recognizing AI systems as inventors for patent purposes.

Link to the rest at Nature

Professional AI Whisperers Have Launched a Marketplace for Dall-E Prompts

From The Verge:

In the past few years, art made by programs like Midjourney and OpenAI’s DALL-E has gotten surprisingly compelling. These programs can translate a text prompt into literally (and controversially) award-winning art. As the tools get more sophisticated, those prompts have become a craft in their own right. And as with any other craft, some creators have started putting them up for sale.

PromptBase is at the center of the new trade in prompts for generating specific imagery from image generators, a kind of meta-art market. Launched earlier this summer to both intrigue and criticism, the platform lets “prompt engineers” sell text descriptions that reliably produce a certain art style or subject on a specific AI platform. When you buy the prompt, you get a string of words that you paste into Midjourney, DALL-E, or another system that you’ve got access to. The result (if it’s a good prompt) is a variation on a visual theme like nail art designs, anime pinups, or “futuristic succulents.”

The prompts are more complex than a few words of description. They include keywords describing the intended aesthetic, the important elements for a scene, and brackets where buyers can add their own variables to tailor the content. Something like the nail art design might include the positions of the hands, the angle of the pseudo-photographic shot, and instructions for tweaking the prompt to produce different manicure styles and themes. PromptBase takes a 20 percent commission, and prompt writers retain ownership of their work — although the copyright status of AI art and prompts is largely untested waters.

Paying $2 to $5 for a paragraph of text might seem like a strange purchase, and the idea of paid prompts doesn’t sit right with everyone using these systems. But after buying the nail art design mentioned above, I was curious about what it took to make a good commercial AI prompt — and how much money was actually in it. PromptBase put me in touch with the designer, Justin Reckling, to talk about it.

How and when did you get into prompt engineering? Did you have particular skills that made you good at it?

I got into prompt engineering in April of 2022 when I was able to get my hands on OpenAI’s GPT-3 text generation tool. I quickly found that I had a knack for it and was able to create some great text-to-image prompts with it. My related skills include programming and software quality assurance. Plus, I have a good eye for aesthetics which helps me create prompts that are visually appealing.

Do you come at prompt writing primarily from the perspective of being an artist, being a coder or engineer, or something else?

I see prompt writing from the perspective of an artist, coder and engineer. I use my programming experience to help me understand how the service may interpret my prompt, which guides me to more effective tinkering with it to coax the results I’m after. Every word in a prompt has a weight associated with it, so trying to work out what works best and where becomes a core asset in the skillset. My background in software quality assurance is a pretty big driver in that “what happens if” style of thinking. Being overly verbose growing up has been a sort of blessing in disguise as well. It feels very liberating to have that as an asset now.

How many prompts do you sell in a typical day / week? Do you have a sense of what people buy them for?

I typically sell between three and five prompts per day, with each prompt averaging two to three sales within a month or two. I currently have an inventory of 50 prompts, with new ones being added regularly. The majority of prompts that have sold seem to be for pleasure rather than business purposes.

Link to the rest at The Verge and here’s a link to Promptbase, the online marketplace for buying and selling prompts for various online ai art generators. You’ll find Featured Prompts, Newest Prompts, Most Popular Prompts, etc., etc.

An Epidemic of Delusions

From Commonweal:

Something is seriously wrong. An alarming number of citizens, in America and around the world, are embracing crazy, even dangerous ideas.” So claim Steven Nadler and Lawrence Shapiro in their recent book, When Bad Thinking Happens to Good People, a work that seeks to diagnose our contemporary “epistemological crisis” and to offer some tools with which we can combat the scientifically unfounded and conspiratorial thinking that is on the rise, especially in the United States. Formerly fringe movements, such as the anti-vax movement and QAnon, are increasingly prominent in American public discourse. Such movements have been the basis of political campaigns and have inspired a swath of protest movements across the country. As a recent PRRI poll has shown, a “nontrivial 15 percent of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that ‘the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.’” These and similar beliefs are certainly not morally innocent: anti-vax misinformation has led to unnecessary suffering and death, and the climate-change denial endorsed by some of our most prominent politicians has left the United States remarkably unprepared for a crisis that is already upon us.

Nadler and Shapiro argue that the kind of “bad thinking” we see on display in climate-change denial and QAnon fanaticism is a special kind of intellectual failing, distinct from ignorance, miseducation, and stupidity. This kind of bad thinking is instead a kind of “epistemic stubbornness,” a refusal to give up one’s beliefs in the face of countervailing evidence. The epistemically stubborn are guilty of confirmation bias: they ignore any evidence that doesn’t help their case and glom on to any information that does—or seems to. Epistemically stubborn people may be intellectually gifted. They may understand the “canons of good reason” but refuse to abide by them (one of the authors’ examples: a professional philosopher who promoted the conspiracy theory that the Sandy Hook massacre was a false-flag operation). The key words in this analysis are “stubborn,” “ignore,” and “refuse.” While epistemically stubborn people are making intellectual mistakes when they uphold beliefs contrary to readily accessible evidence—beliefs that are often based on nothing more than hearsay and that conflict with other truths the stubborn thinker holds—they are also making moral mistakes. And not only because epistemic stubbornness can lead to morally bankrupt action (as when a parent refuses to vaccinate a child out of the baseless fear that vaccines cause autism). According to Nadler and Shapiro, epistemic stubbornness is morally fraught even when it doesn’t produce harmful consequences. Whatever its practical effect, it is a “character flaw deserving of blame.” Luckily, they tell us, “bad thinking is always avoidable.”

The cure for the “virus” of bad thinking lies in a humanistic education, especially one that teaches us the “canons of good reasoning” as made available through philosophy. More broadly, the “antidote” is the examination of life promoted by Socrates, which seeks to cultivate a deep intellectual humility: I must come to recognize what I do and do not know, and I must never act as if I know when I do not know. If the conspiratorial, epistemically stubborn person can come to recognize what counts as good reasoning (valid deduction, statistically sound induction) and then begin asking herself, “Why do I believe this? Do I really have good and compelling evidence to support this claim?” then she can set forth on the road to recovery. When she learns to approach each of her beliefs with the same humility and demand for sound reasoning and evidence, then she will become wise.

There is much to commend in Nadler and Shapiro’s account. It is a remarkably clear and accessible introduction to critical thinking, some of the basic tools of logic, and contemporary epistemology (especially as practiced in the Anglo-American “analytic” tradition). Anyone who needs an introduction to or refresher on these topics would be well served. Likewise, the careful clarification of “epistemic stubbornness” as both an intellectual and moral failing—as distinguished from non-moral intellectual failings and non-intellectual moral failings—is helpful for thinking about contemporary forms of bad thinking. Moreover, their basic theses are right: the kind of “bad thinking” operative in QAnon circles, anti-vax campaigns, and climate-change denial is well-described as “epistemic stubbornness,” and an education in the humanities, and especially in philosophy, would help stem the tide of this “epidemic” of bad thinking. An otherwise insightful review of Nadler and Shapiro’s book in the Wall Street Journal is wrong when it claims that the authors think too highly of philosophy. The real problem is that they think of philosophy too restrictively. As a result, their description of the epidemic doesn’t go deep enough and their solution to it isn’t expansive enough. What’s missing is something else we can learn from Socrates.

Link to the rest at Commonweal

PG hadn’t read anything from Commonweal for a long time. Since Commonweal is an American Catholic publication, he was a bit surprised that he didn’t find religion mentioned as a well-established institution that has been teaching moral thinking and behavior for quite a long time.

PG has extensive personal experience with two Christian religions and feels he has a bit more than a passing understanding of Judaism due to quite a number of extensive discussions with Jewish friends who are serious about their religion. All of his experiences and discussions of religion is that it generates quite a lot of moral behavior among its adherents.

PG has less direct experience with philosophy, but his exposure leads him to believe that it is less effective at encouraging moral thinking and behavior than religion (taken as a whole) is.

But, of course, PG could be wrong about that.

Labor Day

Labor Day is next Monday in the United States.

Labor Day has been a national holiday since 1894, when President Grover Cleveland signed the law that Congress passed designating the first Monday in September a holiday for workers. Labor unions pressed and activists sacrificed to gain recognition of both the contributions and the mistreatment of workers at the time. The origins of the holiday are in parades to celebrate trade and labor unions, whose members strengthened the country with their work.

For a great many Americans, Labor Day has become the last major holiday of the summer, a time to lock up weekend cabins and put a small boat into storage.

Depending on where one lives, it presages autumn chores like raking dead leaves off the lawn or ploughing up the garden.

In northern climes, if one is very cautious, Labor Day may signal an occasion to fire up the snow blower to make certain it’s ready to do its job when the first flakes appear.

In many parts of the country, Labor Day signals a return to public schools and the beginning of the high school and college football seasons.

Needless to say, the literary world, both indie and traditional slows way, way down over Labor Day weekend, so PG may not be able to locate quite as many interesting items to post on TPV for the next couple of days.

On Cary Grant, Darryl Pinckney, and Whit Stillman

From The Paris Review:

During the COVID confinement and afterward, I watched around sixty films starring Cary Grant. What a comfort to have him in my mind before I slept. No matter if he is comic or desperate, self-possessed or wounded, romantic or cool, he is ridiculously good-looking and seems never to know this. I love it when he puts his hands on his waist and pushes his hips forward as if about to dive or perform some acrobatic trick. His slim, athletic torso and long arms are always tanned. Sometimes he wears a fine shimmering gold medal around his neck. I love his dark eyes that have not forgotten his youthful suffering. He makes me laugh when he rolls his eyes around with his own special brand of sophisticated nonchalance. Though he isn’t aggressive, he doesn’t seem weak either. I find him buoyantly masculine. I can’t resist watching him. A few days ago, on a flight to Los Angeles, I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s hugely entertaining thriller North by Northwest again. Grant was fifty-five when he made this film and long past his box office peak in the screwball comedies that made him famous. In the Hitchcock film he wears a nice-fitting, light gray suit with a gray silk tie and cuff links. The suit gets dirty, sponged off and pressed, then dirty again. Grant’s hair is a little gray, too. I don’t wear ties anymore, but I would wear a tie worn by Cary Grant. North by Northwest appeared in 1959, around the time that he was experimenting with medical LSD and searching for more “peace of mind,” as he called it. I don’t really know what a great actor is, but I think Grant is sensational.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Seven, Seven, Seven: A Week in Cambridge, Massachusetts

From The Paris Review:

DAY ONE

I sit at the long blond pine table I use for a desk. Nothing happens. Maybe I can make something happen.

A few years ago there was a popular self-help book called How To Make Sh*t Happen, never mind that peristalsis is involuntary. I eat some mango slices and a green apple and a banana. I drink twelve ounces of whole milk with a scoop of whey protein. I find a leftover fried artichoke in the fridge, wrapped in aluminum foil.

I listen to Michael Gielen conducting Anton Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, but it’s not loud enough.

“Have you seen the ghost of John?” we used to sing at my elementary school. “Long thin bones with the skin all gone. Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?” It would be red. My inner life is none of my business.

Now I’m listening to Otto Klemperer conducting Bruckner’s Seventh, turned up loud enough that it’s antisocial.

*

In the beginning was the plan, and my plan for this culture diary was seven days of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.

Seven different conductors: Böhm, Klemperer, Gielen, Sanderling, Haitink, Barenboim, and Celibidache.

Seven friends: Barry, Andy, James, Hank, Michael, Billy, and Mark, all of them Bruckner hounds.

“Seven, Seven, / Seven is my name,” as Glenn Danzig howled when I was in high school in Kentucky. But the plan failed, as plans do. I thought it might.

*

My first full-time job was on an assembly line. We made furniture-moving pads: quilted them, sewed their edges shut, pressed them flat and packed them in clear plastic bags, and loaded tractor trailers full of the bags. One day the kid at the next machine asked if he could listen to the cassette I had in my Walkman. He pressed Play and he made a face. “What is this?” he said. “Classical music, like Beethoven or some shit?”

The job paid minimum wage, and it wasn’t safe. One day my machine jammed and kicked and spat needle fragments at me that cut my face near my right eye. But I liked throwing the bags into the trailers. It made me feel strong. At lunch I could walk across the train tracks to Xpressway Liquors—which was run by flinty, mulleted twins who kept a pair of bratty cockatoos in big cages in the store—and buy a box of fried chicken livers and be back at my machine on time.

. . . .

My interest in Bruckner’s symphonies comes from the scroungiest source possible, a 1969 science fiction novel by Colin Wilson called The Philosopher’s Stone:

I came across Fürtwangler’s remark that Bruckner was a descendant of the great German mystics, and that the aim of his symphonies had been to ‘make the supernatural real’ … I put on Fürtwangler’s recording of the Seventh Symphony, and immediately understood that this was true. This music was slow, deliberate, because it was an attempt to escape the nature of music—which, after all, is dramatic; that is to say, it has the nature of a story … Bruckner, according to Fürtwangler, wanted to suspend the mind’s normal expectation of development, to say something that could only be expressed if the mind fell into a slower rhythm.

The book’s hero develops supernatural powers of focus and attention, beginning by listening to Fürtwangler conduct Bruckner’s long symphonies. He uses his insight to rip the veil, to see through the mask, to penetrate our world’s inner life. Wilson wrote the story on a bet, having mocked H. P. Lovecraft until August Derleth, executor of Lovecraft’s estate, dared Wilson to produce something superior.

Most of us know how a Lovecraft-style story goes. A terrifying secret exists. The secret is a secret by virtue of its being unnameable. Are words adequate to the task? This permanent secret can be called God, and God, an unknowable creator-origin, is generative to the point of being unsanitary and self-contradictory, perceptible only as a flickering, disjunct, climactic-orgasmic list of characteristics. The cost of a revelation of God is a shattering insanity and a need to escape from life, whether into institutionalization or through death, but in any case to no longer exist in an unmasked world. A Lovecraft story is the discovery of an insight that brings only unhappiness and terror.

All this to say that twenty-five years ago, I set out to develop my own powers of insight by listening to Bruckner symphonies. Dumb.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Reading fiction early in life is associated with a more complex worldview, study finds

From PsyPost:

Research has demonstrated that people who read more fiction tend to have better perspective-taking abilities. Now, new research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has found that reading more fiction early in life is associated with a more complex worldview and increased empathic abilities.

“By introducing readers to difference, even if that difference is not expressed as a different cast of mind, we argue that fictional experience can nevertheless remind readers that the world is complex, not simple; with powerful psychological effects,” explained study author Nicholas Buttrick and colleagues. “Fiction, in other words, does more than just give people social practice—by presenting difference, novelty, and even confusion, it underlines the idea of the world as a radically complicated place.”

People have differing levels of attributional complexity, which is one’s comfort with ambiguity and willingness to understand behavior in the context of a complex system. Readers of literary fiction, which is characterized by the introduction of a problem or difficulty in a world, may then have differing worldview complexity compared to non-readers.

For Study 1, researchers recruited a final sample of 369 American adults from Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online research platform. Participants completed measures assessing the genres they read early in life, attributional complexity (i.e., how much participants prefer complex explanations for social behavior over simple ones), and psychological richness (i.e., a sense that one’s life is interesting, and one is gaining wisdom).

Results showed that reading more overall was not associated with differences in attributional complexity; however, reading more romance novels, specifically, early in life was associated with lower attributional complexity. Frequency of reading fiction overall in early life, on the other hand, was associated with more psychological richness.

For Study 2, researchers wanted to extend these findings to understandings of systemic injustice to explore whether early life reading of fiction is related. They recruited a final sample of 2,243 American university students to participate.

Participants completed measures of both their current and early life reading habits and system justifying beliefs (i.e., how much one believes in the legitimacy of the current social order). The latter measure contained 4 sub-sections assessing participants’ belief in a just world, belief in the importance of hard work, belief that people can climb the social ladder, and belief that status differences in a society are appropriate.

Results showed that reading more literary fiction (both currently and in early life) was associated with a lower belief in system legitimacy.

Link to the rest at PsyPost

PG says if you’re not familiar with Mechanical Turk, you can learn more here.

Publishing will never be fair

From UnHerd:

When I worked in publishing in the early Noughties, “nobody is going to buy a book with a black girl on the cover” was a thing that people still said, out loud, in professional settings. The received wisdom was that books by and about marginalised people wouldn’t sell. At another meeting (a friend in marketing reported), a male sales rep scoffed that he’d never be able to sell a book because the cover model, a young woman with a Kardashian-esque physique, was “too fat” to be relatable.

That the industry had a diversity problem was impossible to argue with: “an analysis” of the gender makeup of the New York Times list shows how heavily it once skewed male — and how, in the last decade, a massive push to diversify publishing has enjoyed no small amount of success.

But God help any writer bold enough to say so.

When James Patterson noted in an interview last month that older white men weren’t getting writing jobs as easily as they used to, outrage ensued. After being savaged for a week online and in the media, Patterson apologised (not that this mollified his critics). This week, Joyce Carol Oates kicked the same hornet’s nest, writing on Twitter that “a friend who is a literary agent told me that he cannot even get editors to read first novels by young white male writers, no matter how good; they are just not interested”. This state of affairs, she added, was “heartbreaking for writers”, particularly those with the self-awareness to be duly aware of “their own privilege”. But the response from within the literary community was not sadness, but fury.

The outpouring of replies were split between people who argued that Oates’s assertion was false and people who argued that it was true but not heartbreaking, and in fact a real and unmitigated good. And then there were the people who argued both of these things simultaneously, sometimes even within the same breath. For whatever reason, this type of self-refuting argument is particularly ubiquitous on Twitter; the fallacy, which some have termed The Law of Salutary Contradiction, is best summed up as: “this isn’t happening, and also it’s good that it’s happening”. One representative reply read: “I am a literary agent. This is not so. And why ever would we invest our hopes in the continued success of white men in an industry which persists in shutting out queer and BIPOC authors?!”

Is it happening? With more than one extremely high-profile person flat-out accusing Oates of lying, it’s worth surveying the statistics. This is only an informal snapshot of the data, but one that still tells a story: of the 100 most recent debut book deals listed on Publisher’s Marketplace, 83 went to women. Of the remaining 17, 12 went to white men — ten of whom appear to be under the age of 40, and thus young by literary standards. It’s not a total shutout, of course, but it’s also not parity. And the same trend can be observed in terms of not just who’s published, but who’s celebrated; for instance, of the 13 books on the Booker longlist, released this week, three are by white men, none of whom are under 45 (one is the oldest ever recipient of a Booker nomination).

Link to the rest at UnHerd

Would PG be completely wrong if he regarded Wokeness as just another form of bias against persons based upon a characteristic they cannot change?

Looking back at his personal observations of bias over the years, biases come and go.

When PG was a tiny little chappie, in more than a few places in the United States, bias towards Negroes (an obsolete term now, but not then) was a common standard in many parts of the United States. Some states had explicit laws restricting Negroes from engaging in certain activities open to Whites. Moe than a few colleges and universities prevented Negroes from enrolling.

It was quite common both in areas regarded as part of the South and elsewhere for deed covenants and restrictions to prevent Negroes from purchasing homes in a residential neighborhood.

However places not usually considered as Southern also had covenants and restrictions that prevented Negroes from living in a subdivision or neighborhood.

Here’s an example of such a covenant from Prairie Village, Kansas, a wealthy suburb of Kansas City:

“None of said land may be conveyed to, used, owned, or occupied by negroes as owners or tenants.”

Here’s another from a suburb of St. Louis:

“… no part of said property nor any portion thereof shall be for said term of fifty years occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, it being intended thereby to restrict the use of said property for said period of time against the occupancy of owners or tenants of any portion of said property for residence or other purpose by people of the Negro or Mongolian race.”

And from El Cerrito, a neighborhood in San Diego:

“(15) That neither said lots nor portions thereof or interest therein shall ever be leased, sold, devised, conveyed to or inherited or be otherwise acquired by or become property of any person other than of the Caucasian Race.
“(16) That neither said lot nor any portion thereof shall ever be lived upon or occupied by any person other than of the Caucasian strictly in the capacity of servants or employees actually engaged in the service of such occupant, or in the care of said premises for such occupant, such circumstances shall not constitute a violation of this condition.”

PG has mentioned before that, among those who came of age in the United States during World War II, more than a few ended up being racially biased against Japanese and, in some cases, anyone who looked as if they might be Japanese.

Back to Wokeness today, quite a lot of elite colleges and universities display bias towards Asian-American students in their admissions decisions.

From The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper at Harvard University:

Over an 18-year period stretching from 1995 to 2013, Asian-American students admitted to Harvard scored higher on the SAT than did their peer admits from other racial groups, according to data released in the admissions trial last week.

A Crimson analysis of the previously confidential dataset — which spans admissions cycles starting with the Class of 2000 and ends with the cycle for the Class of 2017 — revealed that Asian-Americans admitted to Harvard earned an average SAT score of 767 across all sections. Every section of the SAT has a maximum score of 800.

Over an 18-year period stretching from 1995 to 2013, Asian-American students admitted to Harvard scored higher on the SAT than did their peer admits from other racial groups, according to data released in the admissions trial last week.

Wrongheaded heroines

From The Austen Connection:

Let’s talk about Jane Austen’s heroines. First of all, they’re some of our best friends, are they not? We know their intimate histories and we celebrate and agonize over them and with them all day long, those of us electing to hang out in this Jane Austen universe. 

And one of our favorite things about these heroines, from Lizzy Bennet and Catherine Morland to Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse, is how Austen gives them intelligence, strength, and expectation-defying agency, yet at the same time allows them to be oh-so-wrong about various things, or everything, sometimes for the entire length of a long novel. (Looking at you, Miss Woodhouse). 

And when you think about it, every heroine of Jane Austen – with one exception that proves the rule – is wrong about something. 

And usually our heroines are not only wrong, but wrong in a way that drives the entire enterprise – challenging our assumptions and expectations (this is always happening, as we’re always pointing out!) in ways that reveal the philosopher, humanist, and artist in its creator: Jane Austen, ladies and gentlemen.

[O]ur heroines are not only wrong, but wrong in a way that drives the entire enterprise – challenging our assumptions and expectations … in ways that reveal the philosopher, humanist, and artist in its creator: Jane Austen, ladies and gentlemen.

So after a recent post about anti-heroines and Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland and some wildly indulgent (thank you for indulging us) parallels to Alia Shawkat’s character in the TV series Search Party, we asked about heroines and anti-heroines on the twitter, and received a storm of a reply, friends! 

So we’re providing a parade of your answers in this post – below – and feel free to skip through to the end if that’s what you’re after!  Also, it’s not too late to weigh in: What is your favorite example of a wrong heroine from Jane Austen? You can let us know here, and also at the end of this post.

Here we go – let’s look at the Wrongness of Austen’s heroines and what Austen’s doing with that Wrongness, because, as we always point out, she’s doing something – of that you can be sure!

First up: 

Lizzy’s snap judgments

Elizabeth Bennet is, of course, wrong about Mr. Darcy. And she’s even more wrong about Mr. Wickham, which in its essence is being wrong about Mr. Darcy. This is what the whole Pride vs. Prejudice is about. She makes a snap judgment, understandably, based on Wickham’s direct lies but also on Darcy’s own arrogance, but then she is quite slow to discover either his true character, or her own feelings, which lucky for us readers requires the entire length of a novel.

It’s a little difficult to catch Elizabeth in her wrongness because she is otherwise so self-assured, lively, and clever – not to mention judgmental, a trait both she and her future husband share and with fairly good reason.

Because it’s easy to miss, we’re including here an entire wonderful passage that exhibits both Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s play of mind that is so wonderful and smoldering, but also exhibits how wrong Elizabeth is in her judgment.

To set it up: They are dancing-while-arguing in a scene that ignites the spark that will smolder for the rest of the novel as Lizzy jibes at Darcy about the necessity of making conversation while dancing, a scene we love in the adaptations, where Elizabeth says, “It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy.”

And it’s easy to overlook the way that this scene deepens, to move on to Elizabeth observing in a way that connects the two of them in our minds immediately and forever: “I have always seen a great similarity in the turn of our minds …”

But it goes on, and deepens further into a conversation about Wickham, where Elizabeth accuses Darcy of rejecting Wickham “and in a manner which Wickham is likely to suffer from all his life.”

So as they dance, Lizzy is throwing up not only Wickham, but also the suffering of Wickham! LOL.

But it gets worse, to a degree we did not remember until we went looking for the Wrongness of Lizzy. Here’s the ultimate wrongheaded exchange, as Elizabeth frankly interrogates Darcy about his attitudes toward humanity, with Wickham as the background subject of this interrogation – take it away, Lizzy:

“I remember hearing you once say, Mr. Darcy, that you hardly ever forgave, that your resentment once created was unappeasable. You are very cautious, I suppose, as to its being created.”
“I am,” said he, with a firm voice.
“And never allow yourself to be blinded by prejudice?”
“I hope note.”
“It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.”
“May I ask to what these questions tend?”
“Merely to the illustration of your character,” said she, endeavouring to shake off her gravity. “I am trying to make it out.”
“And what is your success?”
She shook her head. “I do not get on at all. I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly.”
“I can readily believe,” answered he gravely, “that report may vary greatly with respect to me; and I could wish, Miss Bennet, that you were not to sketch my character at the present moment, as there is reason to fear that the performance would reflect no credit on either.”
(Volume I, Chapter XVIII)

Here we have Darcy, and Austen through him, basically requesting that Elizabeth not rush to judgment and prejudice or pride, and to hold back from a complete “sketch” of his character – and the irony that is so brilliant and funny here is that of course he’s explicitly asking Elizabeth to not do what she’s actually accusing him of doing to Wickham: rushing to judgment. And both of them throughout this conversation are struggling – both are attempting to shrug off “gravity.”

The smartest thing Elizabeth says in this entire exchange is: “I am trying to make it out.” She should continue trying, as Darcy is asking her to. And the discerning reader sees the seriousnesss in the background, and can sense the confused wrongness of Lizzy’s point of view.

All this wrongness might be one of the most enjoyable things about Pride and Prejudice. The ways that Elizabeth is wrong – even as, again, she is smarter and righter than her mother, her father, Mr. Darcy, the clergyman Mr. Collins, her smart, loving friend Charlotte Lucas, and most everyone around her – she’s still wrong about the true nature of not only Mr. Wickham but also Mr. Darcy and she’s especially wrong, and oblivious, to that glorious thing that the reader is quickly let in on: Darcy’s “bewitched” feelings for her. 

And so we get to sit, ringside, as this smart, lively human figures it out – and we get to wonder whether or not it’ll happen. (Spoiler alert: it happens!) And so when Darcy and Elizabeth come together, it’s that wrongness being made into empowerment, improvement, and evolution of character through love, communication, and connection – all of which makes their coming-right so spectacularly wonderful. 

At the heart of this story is a young human finding not only love but finding herself. 

Swoon. Worthy. 

Link to the rest at The Austen Connection

The Best Book Covers of 2021

From The New York Times:

I spent more time browsing in actual bookstores in 2021 than in any year prior, for no reason other than that I could. The preceding stretch of absence felt like a dress rehearsal for an unsavory timeline in which brick-and-mortar shops ceased to exist. I did not like it. But after a year of lockdown, my family rallied to the collective thrill of leaving our home to visit some other place for an extended period of time, and the joy of browsing was real.

Such was my mind-set upon holding books in my aggressively sanitized palms, whenever a cover caught my interest. Left unconsidered, it’s easy for books to look like dressed-up bricks. Online, it’s easier still for a great book cover to vanish in the clamor of everything else vying for attention. But in their natural habitat, on the shelf or on a bookstore table, these covers called to be held and explored even more than the other appealing possibilities stacked nearby. They radiated mystery and devotion to their subjects, and I was grateful just to see them in a physical space, to be standing in front of books again — well apart from the detached confines of a screen. And so I did. Because I could.

. . . .

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Rethinking Libel for the Twenty-First Century

From the Tennessee Law Review via SSRN (footnotes omitted and paragraph breaks added for readability):

Today, many institutional arrangements reached in the mid-twentieth century are being rethought and renegotiated. One such arrangement involves libel, and the responsibility of publishers for harm they cause via defamation. In his recent concurrence to the denial of certiorari in the case of McKee v. Cosby, Justice Clarence Thomas called for the Supreme Court to revisit the constitutional protections for publishers of libelous material, arguing that the existing arrangement, dating to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan and its progeny, is out of date and unsupported by the Constitution. As even some left-leaning scholars note, he may have a point, and it seems likely that the Supreme Court will revisit the issue of libel in the near future. In this short Essay, I will discuss Thomas’s critique, the broader
problem of fairly adjudicating libel cases in an era of widespread publishing and social media, and the impact of the Sullivan regime over the past half-century. I will then suggest some remedies to the
problems identified.

Under the common law of libel, which was applied throughout the United States with minor variations prior to the Sullivan decision, publishers were liable for damages for publishing material that was false and defamatory (i.e., tending to injure the subject by lowering him or her in the opinion of society or of peers). This was true across the range of speakers and of subjects, whether it was newspapers writing about the president or publications regarding private citizens. Public figures did not have to satisfy any sort of heightened standard for liability, malice was presumed unless some common law privilege or right applied, and both general and special damages were recoverable, plus punitive damages upon a showing of malice. Truth was a defense, but if the publication was false, a plaintiff was entitled to at least nominal damages even if he or she could show no actual injury. At common law, false and defamatory stories about public figures were seen as actually more damaging, because of their targets ‘roles in the community, than libels of private figures.

Protection of reputations was seen as very important. In an era before credit scores and online background checks, reputational capital was an essential part of social and financial relations, especially among the elite. People were thus willing to go to great lengths to preserve reputations, as the prevalence of the custom of dueling around the time of the framing of the U.S. Constitution illustrates—one who was insulted but did not issue a challenge, or who refused a challenge, was likely to face ostracism, resulting in social and financial disaster at the very least.

In fact, one bit of fallout from the famed Hamilton/Burr duel was an effort, initially unsuccessful, to persuade the defamed to seek their remedies in court via libel actions, rather than on the field of honor. By the twentieth century, for better or worse, the libel action had taken the place of pistols at dawn as a way of seeking redress for reputational harm, and the common law of libel managed to coexist with a free press quite handily, and with little perceived conflict.

That all changed with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, when the Supreme Court decided to subject libel law to an unprecedented degree of First Amendment control. The Court had its reasons for doing so, and they were not bad ones, but the state of current libel law suggests that the changes that have been made far outstrip the justifications for the Sullivan ruling.

The Sullivan lawsuit was an action brought by a government official against an out-of-town newspaper, to be tried in a local court before a sympathetic local jury.

This was not an isolated event. Unhappy with northern news organizations’ coverage of segregation and civil rights marches, southern officials had formulated a plan of asymmetric warfare: while civil rights marchers had the sympathy of powerful national media organizations, those organizations were subject to the jurisdiction of local courts and juries in the south, courts and juries that could be expected to be unsympathetic toward hostile out-of-state media. Sullivan’s was just one of many such lawsuits filed against national news outlets, and the strategy was, until the Sullivan decision, a highly successful one.

The Court recognized this reality. Justice Hugo Black called these libel suits a “technique for harassing and punishing a free press” in his Sullivan concurrence. He explained:   

There is no reason to believe that there are not more such [suits] lurking just around the corner for the Times or any other newspaper which might dare to criticize public officials. In fact, briefs before us show that in Alabama there are now pending eleven libel suits by local and state officials against the Times seeking $5,600,000, and five such suits against the Columbia Broadcasting System seeking $1,700,000. Moreover, this technique for harassing and punishing a free press . . . can be used in other fields where public feelings may make local as well as out-of-state newspapers easy prey for libel verdict seekers.

By 1964, when the Sullivan case came before the Court, “government officials had filed at least $300 million in libel actions against newspapers, news magazines, television networks, and civil rights leaders.” These lawsuits were intended to chill or banish negative coverage. As Anthony Lewis wrote, the libel campaign was a “state political weapon to intimidate the press. The aim was to discourage not false but true accounts of life under a system of white supremacy . . . . It was to scare the national press—newspapers, magazines, the television networks—off the civil rights story.”

A private communication between Birmingham Commissioner J.T. Waggoner, a plaintiff in another libel suit, and his attorney James A. Simpson “casts some doubt on whether Waggoner felt defamed personally. Simpson told Waggoner the suit would help deter newspapers such as the Times from committing ‘ruthless attacks on this region and its people. I am sure this is the primary motive which has prompted you to embark on this troublesome litigation.’”

And, until the Sullivan opinion was handed down, this approach worked. As Harrison Salisbury wrote, news media outlets had to “think twice about reporting the facts, harsh and raw as they often were.” And the Montgomery Advertiser called the libel suits a “formidable club to swing at out-of-state press,” and observed that “[t]he recent checkmating of the Times in Alabama will impose a restraint on other publications.” Lawyers for the Times went as far as encouraging reporters to avoid Alabama, to avoid generating more libel suits or risking being served with a subpoena. Stories were even killed for fear of these suits:

On the advice of their lawyers, Times editors killed a Sunday story Sitton wrote in late 1962 about a change in the Birmingham city government that might “depose Commissioner Eugene (Bull) Connor, whom negroes regard as one of the South’s toughest police bosses.” Times lawyer Tom Daly advised editors that the story “might indicate malice” in the pending Sullivan suit before the Supreme Court. It did indeed appear that “public officials had achieved their objective, [and] Jim Crow could return to its good old days, operating with virtually no scrutiny.”

Against this background of a concerted effort to encumber or impair First Amendment rights through strategic litigation—aimed at affecting the behavior of the news industry as a whole, rather than compensating a discrete injury—the Supreme Court created what Andrew McClurg denotes as a “right to be negligent,” by limiting libel claims against public officials and public figures to cases where the plaintiff could show “actual malice.” The Court concluded that otherwise, the tort system might be used by powerful interests to undermine the First Amendment, an important part of the Bill of Rights.

. . . .

Turning this around was not easy for Justice William J. Brennan, writes Lewis, who reviewed the multiple draft opinions and notes of the justices’ clerks:

Justice Brennan had great difficulty marshaling a majority and holding it. He wrote eight different drafts
of the opinion. Until the last moment there was a real possibility, even a probability, that it would not
command a majority. Not until the evening of March 8, the night before Justice Brennan announced the
decision, did Justice Harlan agree to join him without reservations.

The eventual formula which, according to Lewis, Harlan joined as much out of a desire to maintain the Court’s institutional authority as because he was intellectually persuaded, is the one we have all come
to know: to recover for libel, a public official must show actual malice, that is, publication of information that the publisher knows to be false, or which they published with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity. One may suggest—as Justice Thomas’s recent remarks did—that this departure from prior law was motivated more by political concerns than by constitutional doctrine or history. As written, the Sullivan decision was a comparatively narrow response to an entirely novel litigation campaign. But subsequent decisions suggested that the Court was more concerned with protecting the institutional press in general than with merely reining in the excesses of a cabal of segregationist politicians.

The first evidence of this concern involves the replacement of the comparatively narrow and limited “public official” category with the much larger and less well-defined category of “public figure.” And in very short order, the Court left the “public official” limitation behind.

. . . .

The issue is no longer public officials’ collusion against a free press; instead, it is the supremacy of press freedom over other issues, such as privacy. The traditional role of libel law, in fact, was precisely to demonstrate that in a civilized society there are limits to the “exposure of the self.”

. . . .

What is a public figure? As the newspaper attorney in the motion picture Absence of Malice observes, “If I knew that I should be a judge. They never tell us until it’s too late,” adding, “I must admit I’d be more comfortable if he were a movie star or a football coach—football coaches are very safe.” Well, yes. It also seems to be about thrusting.

. . . .

Sullivan was a response to government officials’ use of friendly local courts to harm out-of-state publishers, in the name of promoting free speech. Gertz, however, essentially approved a sort of “tax” on free speech—if you “thrust” yourself into a public debate (a phrasing that suggests that there is something vaguely inappropriate about your involvement somehow), then you pay a price: People may now libel you with much less fear of consequences. Rather than protection for free speech, the Gertz formulation looks more like an admonition to the peasantry to know its place. The “thrust” language from Gertz was echoed in Time, Inc. v. Firestone, where Justice William Rehnquist held that people do not count as public figures unless they have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.” Nice reputation you’ve got there. Shame if something were to happen to it.

. . . .

“If a matter is a subject of public or general interest, it cannot suddenly become less so merely because a private individual is involved, or because in some sense the individual did not ‘voluntarily’ choose to become involved.” As Donald Magnetti comments, “In Rosenbloom, the seed of New York Times had grown into a veritable protective thicket surrounding the media. Although the phrase ‘matter of public interest’ was left undefined, what purpose is there for the media to publish something that is of no interest to the public?”

The Court found, however, that private figures retained a right to actual damages without showing “actual malice,” and to punitive damages if such a showing of actual malice could be made. Mr. Gertz, the Court found, was a private figure, as he “did not thrust himself into the vortex of this public issue, nor did he engage the public’s attention in an attempt to influence its outcome.”

. . . .

The upshot is that most likely libel plaintiffs will be public figures who must show actual malice, and in order to show actual malice they must be able to demonstrate that the publisher entertained actual
serious doubts, something which, as a matter of proof, will often turn out to be difficult. And even private figures must show actual malice to collect punitive damages. When a University of Virginia Dean sued Rolling Stone over a fraudulent report of a gang rape at a party, she was able to demonstrate actual subjective doubts because an independent investigation by the Columbia Journalism Review,
which the Rolling Stone’s lawyers must surely have regretted, made such doubts plain. Few future plaintiffs will be so lucky.

. . . .

Thomas is an “originalist”; he believes that interpretation of the Constitution should be settled by reference to the “original public meaning” of its terms. Thomas offers considerable evidence that at the time of ratification, those who wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights were comfortable with libel actions—and that they did not mean to impose anything like the “actual malice” standard. A defamed individual (including a public figure) needed only to prove that a written publication was false and that it subjected him to hatred, contempt or ridicule. And for 170 years, the Supreme Court never held that the First Amendment forbids the states from protecting people from libel.

Thomas concludes that New York Times v. Sullivan, and the many subsequent decisions implementing it, were “policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.”

. . . .

Sunstein adds: “There are strong objections to originalism, of course. But whatever your theory of constitutional interpretation, it is hardly obvious that the First Amendment forbids rape victims from seeking some kind of redress from people who defame them.” But that is in fact the logic of existing caselaw: By accusing someone— especially someone famous—of rape, one automatically becomes a public figure, and by becoming a public figure, one becomes virtually ineligible for protection against defamation. Worse yet, thanks to Google, such defamation becomes near-permanent. Where once a defamatory headline on a Tuesday was wrapped around fish by Thursday, now it remains, evergreen, to be recalled whenever the defamed’s name is searched.

One solution, as advocated by Justice Thomas, would be to simply overturn New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. As both Thomas and Sunstein point out, the structure of public versus private figures, the actual malice test, etc., are not readily derivable from the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Indeed, it is easy to read Sullivan and its progeny, and the history of the case as recounted by Anthony Lewis, as evidence that the Court was moved more by a class-solidarity with members of the chattering classes than by constitutional doctrine.

Overturning Sullivan would effectively return us to the pre-1964 era of libel law, in which public officials and private figures were treated alike and “actual malice” was not required. This prospect produced considerable agitation in some quarters when Thomas wrote his concurrence: Thomas was accused of wanting to “crush the free press,” or of impeding the “public’s right to know,” or even of declaring war on “the very idea of a free press.”

But these criticisms are basically nonsense. To argue that overturning the Sullivan opinion would end the free press in America is to argue that the press in America, prior to the Sullivan opinion, was unfree, which seems rather extreme.

The Sullivan opinion was a response to a particular set of facts, which had not obtained in the past and which are unlikely to obtain in the future. Indeed, from the harshest of legal-realist standpoints one could justify overturning Sullivan today on that basis alone.

Link to the rest at SSRN

PG says if you have made it through this post, you might do well in law school. He hopes that his excerpt from a longer OP is understandable to someone who has never encountered a law review article before.

PG thinks this topic is relevant to authors because, if self-published, they are subject to libel laws just like the New York Times is.

Further, for self-publishers who publish via Amazon, the following excerpt from KDP’s Terms and Conditions applies:

5.4.8 Offsets, etc. We can withhold Royalties and offset them against future payments as indicated below. Our exercise of these rights does not limit other rights we may have to withhold or offset Royalties or exercise other remedies.
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• Upon termination of this Agreement, we may withhold all Royalties due for a period of three months from the date they would otherwise be payable in order to ensure our ability to off-set any refunds or other offsets we are entitled to take against the Royalties.
• If we terminate this Agreement because you have breached your representations and warranties or our Content Guidelines, you forfeit all Royalties not yet paid to you. If after we have terminated your account you open a new account without our express permission, we will not owe you any Royalties through the new account.
• If we determine in our sole discretion that deceptive, fraudulent, or illegal activity has occurred with respect to your Books or your Program account, then we may permanently withhold payments to you, and we may offset any payments previously paid against future payments or require you to remit them to us. We will use these funds to offset the costs of Amazon’s enforcement efforts and/or to compensate third parties harmed by deceptive, fraudulent, or illegal conduct.

And, from KDP’s Content Guidelines:

Illegal or infringing content
We take violations of laws and proprietary rights very seriously. It is the responsibility of authors, publishers, and selling partners to ensure their content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights. We will not accept content under copyright that is freely available on the web unless it’s provided by the owner of the copyright. In addition, we do not allow companion books based on copyrighted works (e.g., summaries, study guides, etc.) to be published outside the U.S. without written permission from the copyright holder.

It is relevant to traditionally-published authors because their publishers’ form contracts always include a representation (unless the publisher doesn’t know what it’s doing) that the author haven’t included anything libelous in the manuscript they have submitted to their publisher. Typically, such a clause is placed toward the end of the contract where many authors never tread.

While publishers may have insurance against libel claims, if someone sues them because of something the author included in a book the author wrote, the publisher will likely look to the author for reimbursement of its large insurance deductible and any uninsured expenses caused by the author’s breach of the publishing contract .

While the publisher may or may not choose to sue the author to recoup its damages, the author can certainly give up hope of receiving any further royalty payments from the libelous book that cost the publisher so much money. Depending on the contract language, the publisher may also be able to recoup its litigation expenses from royalties generated by any other non-libelous books which they have published for that author.

How Albania’s Government Kneaded Secret Documents Into Dough

Not exactly to do with books, but definitely regarding paper —

From Atlas Obscura:

IN 1990, FACED WITH THE imminent fall of a five-decade reign in Albania, the Communist government needed to destroy immense amounts of paperwork. As the country held its first democratic elections in 50 years, some 29,000 files disappeared—generally assumed to detail the crimes committed by the regime and identify those who perpetrated them. But until recently, the secret recipe of how so many documents were so quickly destroyed remained a mystery.

Unlike other nations behind the Iron Curtain, Albania did not set up a system for releasing its secret police files. Only in the last decade did the Albanian government open up the remaining archives from the Communist era—thought to be only about 10 percent of what once existed. But they reveal the secret of just how so much information disappeared so quickly: It was turned into dough.

IN ALBANIA, THE WAY YOU ask if someone is hungry translates to “Do you want to eat bread?” and hospitality is defined as “Bread, salt, and heart.” Bread is to Albanian cuisine what rice is to Chinese and tortillas are to Mexican: the staple and centerpiece. But in 1975, when Albania’s Ministry of Internal Affairs needed to destroy large amounts of paper, its leaders came up with a solution that transformed a kitchen mixer into an instrument of repression.

Using the same type of mixer one might use for kneading bread, the government created a recipe for a far less satisfying dough. Per the calculations by engineers working for the secretive government, with the addition of only water, which they piped into a specially designed room in the Ministry’s office, their mixers could obliviate almost a ton of documents each hour.

. . . .

An exhibit at Bunk’Art 2, a museum in Tirana, Albania, includes the key documents for understanding how the files were destroyed: A 1975 estimate for parts and labor for the mixers, the 1976 confirmation of purchase, and directions for how the pulping would work from the same year.

“Documents that would be annihilated were put in piles in the pastry maker, and with the addition of water, they were turned into dough,” a sign explains. The displayed documents detail the minimum of 10 liters of water per second needed for the process, and that in 60 minutes, the machine could work through up to 800 kilograms of paper. “The dough was loaded on trucks and spilled into rivers or buried underground,” explains the exhibit.

. . . .

The original target of the informational slurry was likely not evidence of the government’s crimes, says Mëhilli, but any written or printed material considered to have “dangerous ideas” that went against the regime—banned books, revolutionary pamphlets, and even something as simple as a scientific journal that contained a photo of Western civilization.

The 1970s, when the program began, represented a significant turning point for the regime: Albania’s early Communist years were defined by its ties to the Soviet Union, but dictator Enver Hoxha felt the USSR became too liberal following Stalin’s death. China took over as the country’s prime benefactor and external contact, but by the mid ‘70s, that relationship, too, began to wane. Hoxha became increasingly isolationist, and Albanian suffered economically and otherwise. Mëhilli describes 1974 and 1975 as a period with a huge crackdown on dissent and the potential for it, via outside influences entering the country. “There was so much heightened awareness about how dangerous it was to go against the regime.”

. . . .

But in 1990, with the end nigh for the regime, everything fell into the category of needing to be destroyed immediately. Luckily, the government already knew how to rapidly eliminate information using a tool in their offices—those same modified pastry-makers. A week after the start of student protests that eventually brought about multi-party elections, the Minister of the Interior sent a telegram to the internal affairs branch in each district of Albania stating: “To be destroyed without waiting for the representatives of the Ministry, all dossiers of collaborators.” The task should be performed immediately, it added, and also that this was all very normal and not at all related to “the situation.”

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

What an Englishwoman’s Letters Reveal About Life in Britain During the American Revolution

From Smithsonian Magazine:

“My whole soul … is occupied with expectation of more news from you, and tho I am told I must not be surprised if it does not arrive these ten days, I cannot help starting every time I hear the bell at the gate, or the door open.”

These lines, written a month after the United States declared its independence from Britain, evoke the letters written by Abigail Adams to her husband, John, while he was at the Continental Congress. Between 1774 and 1777, the couple exchanged over 300 letters celebrated for their poignant blending of war and politics with domestic concerns and heartfelt devotion.

Yet the words above came from the pen of Englishwoman Jane Strachey, who was separated from her husband by 3,000 miles of ocean. In August 1776, English Member of Parliament Henry Strachey was at the epicenter of the looming confrontation between the British and American armies in New York, serving on the administrative staff of Admiral Richard Lord Howe and General William Howe.

Jane’s letters, composed between 1776 and 1778, are buried in the Strachey family papers at the Somerset Archives in England. The private correspondence of a middle-class English wife, they have been virtually ignored by historians of the home front in Britain during the American Revolution. Yet they open a unique window into the experience of ordinary British women. And their intimate tone, everyday detail and authentic chronicling of wartime events provide a fascinating parallel to Adams’ letters.

Henry, like John, was on a political mission: He was secretary to Richard in the latter’s capacity as peace commissioner, a last-ditch effort by the British government to replace fighting in America with talks. Jane, like many women on both sides of the conflict, assumed sole responsibility for her family and household as she endured the protracted wait for news in an age of wooden ships and horse-drawn communication.

Jane said farewell to her husband in May 1776, when he left for America with Richard and his fleet. “I saw your concern at leaving me and your poor little ones,” she wrote a few days later, in the first of her many letters.

In the ensuing months, Jane and the rest of the nation waited in suspense for news of a battle between British and American troops. The British press heightened public fears by publishing exaggerated reports of American preparations to defend New York. The Battle of Bunker Hill a year earlier had shocked the British people, as American marksmen inflicted wholesale slaughter on redcoat troops assaulting the hill overlooking Boston; now, dread of another bloody encounter was widespread.

On August 9, not knowing that the Battle of Brooklyn was just weeks away, Jane confessed to Henry, “I have never permitted myself to think that there is a possibility of your falling into any kind of danger,” for her civilian husband was in America to assist in the event of negotiations with rival leaders. “[A]nd yet I cannot but shudder at reading an account of the prodigious armament of the enemy.”

Like the majority of Britons, Jane had little understanding of the arguments over abstract rights that had provoked the colonists to rebellion. She wrote perplexedly of the “ambitious and restless spirit of the Americans,” which has destroyed “the Domestick Tranquillity of many happy families” in the British Isles. Yet the Americans were a kindred people. With characteristic gentleness, she concluded, “how much more will you say they have hurt themselves? I am not malicious, I only wish them peace, and that my dear Harry may soon appear with the glad Tidings.”

Jane was convinced that her husband had embarked on a humanitarian errand. She believed the British war machine that carried him to New York was not intended to drive the Americans to desperation, but to force them to the negotiating table. The peace commissioners’ work could begin only when the defiant colonists ceased to challenge the British Parliament’s right to tax them.

At home in the London suburb of Greenwich, Jane found herself isolated with her children. Even the youngest Strachey understood his father’s mission. Three-year-old Edward galloped around the house on his hobby-house, crying, “Make peace in America!” Charlotte, aged 6, betrayed a sense of abandonment when she asked her mother if her father had other children in America. Middle child Harry approached a strange British officer in a park, innocently requesting news of his father.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine where you can see a portrait

Most Americans, including PG, have been taught about the American Revolution almost exclusively from the American point of view. He found the OP (which contains far more information than PG has excerpted plus photos of paintings of Ms. Strachey and some of her friends) quite interesting reading about the British Homefront and the burdens some British carried during that revolutionary war.

Light Blogging

PG had an outpatient surgical procedure this morning.

Everything went according to plan and he’s doing fine. However, but the prep for the procedure kept PG up and down last night and he is really tired today.

After a good night’s sleep tonight, he’ll be back again and better than ever.

Hundreds of authors expected to take part in mass readings of Rushdie’s works

From The Bookseller:

Authors including Andrew Solomon, Gay Talese and Paul Auster are set to gather and read from Salman Rushdie’s works in a show of solidarity with the author, who was attacked last week, with hundreds expected to take part by live-streaming the NYC event and hosting their own readings.

The Satanic Verses author, aged 75, was stabbed on stage at a literary event being held in New York on 12th August and has suffered “life-changing” injuries.

On 19th August, one week after the attack took place, PEN America, the New York Public Library and Penguin Random House have organised a gathering of Rushdie’s friends, fellow members of the literary community, and readers to share selected parts of his work.

Taking place at the Stephen A Schwarzman Building in New York as well as being live-streamed, participating authors will include Auster, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Tina Brown, Kiran Desai, Andrea Elliott, Amanda Foreman, A M Homes, Siri Hustvedt, Hari Kunzru, Colum McCann and Douglas Murray.

The description for the event reads: “Writers worldwide stand in solidarity with Salman Rushdie and celebrate his extraordinary literary accomplishments, undaunted courage, and tireless advocacy for the freedom of expression and the plight of imperilled writers everywhere.”

It has been modelled on a public reading of The Satanic Verses (Viking) held a few days after the 1989 fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death was announced. That event was attended by more than 3,000 people.

Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, said: “We at The New York Public Library were shocked to hear about the attack on Salman Rushdie. Rushdie has always been a devoted advocate for freedom of expression, and his wide range of writings, from novels to children’s books to non-fiction essays, provide the world with invaluable insight into our shared humanity… As our world grows ever more divided, it is critical that writers, like Salman Rushdie, feel safe to share their perspectives and make their voices heard.”

Link to the rest at The Book Seller

Multi-factor Authentication

Is anyone other than PG aggravated by websites that require multi-factor authentication these days?

PG’s least favorite is Google, which makes PG enter his ID and Password, then insists that he pick up his cell phone, load Gmail and tap another button, except when Google requires that PG tap another button, then choose one of three numbers that he has to use his cell phone yet again.

Google offers a checkbox that is supposed to allow PG to opt out of the extra authentication process, but, although PG has checked that box many times, he’s still not opted out.

Then, of course, there are the times when PG wants to quickly check something, but has left his phone in another room on another floor of Casa PG.

PG has used long random passwords for years and none of his accounts has ever been successfully hacked via guessing his password.

FYI, he’s not a fan of various authenticator applets either. They never seem to work right the first time.

PG moved into adulthood centuries ago and has been actively using computers for longer than many Google programmers have been alive, so he demands the right to opt-out of these sorts of “improvements” in his user experience.

The Wondrous and Mundane Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay

From The Nation:

On April 3, 1911, Edna St. Vincent Millay took her first lover. She was 19 years old, and she engaged herself to this man with a ring that “came to me in a fortune-cake” and was “the symbol of all earthly happiness.” Millay had just graduated from high school and had taken charge of running the household while her mother worked as a traveling nurse. She fixed her younger sisters dinner, washed and mended all their clothes, and entertained their guests. Her lover had no name and no body; he was a figment she’d conjured up to help her get through the stress and loneliness of being a teenage caretaker. This first lover, her “shadow,” is not often recounted among the many others she later had, but Millay had various ways of making these exhausting days of her early adulthood endlessly charming and alive. In one note to her lover, she describes the chafing dish she served her siblings’ dinner on, which she called James, and jokes, “Why don’t you come over some evening and have something on ‘James’—doesn’t that sound dreadful—‘have something on James’!”

Millay’s imaginary lover is the only one mentioned in great detail in the pages of her diary, collected for the first time as Rapture and Melancholy. The editor of the collection, Daniel Mark Epstein, ventures that “few, if any, serious reputations” in American literature “have so quickly arisen and burned so brightly” as Millay’s: In 1923, only 12 years removed from her days as a surrogate mother, she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and in her highly publicized life she also became known for her many flesh-and-blood lovers in the literary world as well as her fatal addiction to morphine.

But her diary doesn’t include these things, and it often skips over the most dramatic events in her life. The Millay who emerges in these entries is not the famed poet, performer, and lover but another Millay, whose inner world helps situate the story of her life anew. She embraces the mundanity of the non-writing life, that part of every literary artist’s existence unseen by critics and readers, and finds moments of rapture in the melancholy of these pages.

. . . .

In 1912, while she was still living at home in Camden, Me., the 19-year-old Millay submitted her poem “Renascence,” which she had begun writing the year before, to a prestigious poetry competition. It was a favorite among the judges, and Millay came home from picking blueberries for supper one day to find a letter from a New York editor informing her that her poem had been selected to be published in a volume called The Lyric Year. Critics raved about her poem, and soon people began to court her.

Caroline Dow, the dean of the YWCA Training School in New York, used her connections to find Millay sponsors who would fund her studies at Vassar College; Charlotte Bannon, who knew the head of the English department at Smith College, promised to arrange for a full scholarship if Millay were accepted there. Millay chose Vassar, with a preparatory semester at Barnard College. She boarded a sleeper train and arrived in New York City at the age of 21, in pigtails, having lost her comb on the journey. Her fame, by then, preceded her.

In New York, Millay had to take English, French, and Latin courses to make up for her shortage of high school credits; she balanced her mounds of homework with high teas and luncheons and mixers at the Poetry Society (with “celebs, more or less,” as she mentions in one entry) and regular meetings with her patrons to give them updates. She was expected to keep her grades up and to continue to write her verse. For the most part, these details are mentioned only in passing, often in the same breath with more domestic matters: ironing and discussing Horace; sending out laundry and writing poems in the library.

At Vassar, Millay was untouchable. She negotiated her first book deal, which would lead to the publication of Renascence, and Other Poems in 1917, published poetry in magazines, and took part in college theater productions. She got in trouble constantly for skipping classes, smoking and drinking in the dorms and in the cemetery, and sneaking off campus to go for a drive with her friends up the Hudson River. On at least one occasion, she spent the time allotted for a geometry test writing a letter to a friend. “Perhaps I’ll be expelled,” she quips, but she couldn’t be; though she was suspended just before graduation, she was given a special exemption to receive her degree. While at college, she also developed a relationship with the poet and playwright Arthur Davidson Ficke, an affair that would lead to a lifelong friendship and more than a decade of regular letters, but he doesn’t make a single appearance in her diaries until long after the affair has ended.

Millay’s diary animates the world around her, as she turns everyday objects into a cast of characters. Her new hat is “a dear,” and the faucet in her new room gives her a “feeling of comradeship” because the hot water comes out where the cold water should. When she goes to Paris a few years later, she writes about the Seine (“a French river. It speaks no English”) and little pleasures like tavern desserts: brown pears “squat & twisted as quinces…. I wondered if they had not ripened near a wall, maybe, in a thorny garden, where in the summer-time go walking of an afternoon an old blind woman & a little boy in bright blue apron.”

These were not quiet times for her. The same day she bought her lovely new hat and expressed relief in her diary that she did not have an ulcerated tooth, she mentions offhand, in the same breath, “Saw something about me in the April Bookman.” It was a review of “Renascence” by William Aspenwall Bradley, who called the poem “a more remarkable production” than any of the other poems in the collection it originally appeared in, but Millay does not mention that. Nor does she mention that her reason for going to Paris was to get away from the tangle of her messy love life, which by then encompassed Edmund Wilson and John Peale Bishop, whose work and friendship were strained by their common romantic interest.

These diaries reveal a moment-by-moment kind of life, in which the secret history of a squat brown pear or a rogue faucet or a chafing dish may be just as significant as the public life of the writer. The Millay of these diaries, then, reveals a different kind of writer: less engaged with an audience, with her readers, editors, or fellow writers, and more engaged in the distinctly private pleasure of simply taking in the world. A famous writer’s letters are written with the knowledge that they will be read—certainly by the recipient, but also perhaps eventually by the general public. Diaries, on the other hand, are motivated by a much more ambiguous impulse. Only in diaries does a writer have the true freedom to be no one but a witness to the world, the freedom to not tell a story or make a point. It seems to me that being interested in writers’ lives necessitates being interested also in the nothingness that often fills those lives; we want excitement, but reading the private observations of a writer’s largely static surroundings can perhaps excite us about the world as it is, and not as it promises to be.

Link to the rest at The Nation

Amid a housing crisis, Chinese readers turn to a novel of 1937

From The Economist:

Published in 1937, “Rickshaw Boy” tells the story of Xiangzi, a young man trying to eke out a living in Beijing. At the beginning of the novel, he is kind and determined. He has no money and no real prospects, but reckons that with hard work he will be able to buy a rickshaw and build a life for himself. The cart would “guarantee his freedom and independence”, Xiangzi thinks. “Owning a rickshaw meant never having to suffer mistreatment or do the bidding of people who rented them out.”

By the end of the tale, he is a changed person. Each time he has bought—or come close to buying—a rickshaw, his dream has been taken from him. His loved ones have died. He has become selfish and cruel. Lao She, the author, intended the novel to be a critique of individualism; the character’s fate might not have been so dire, the story suggests, had he organised with other rickshaw-pullers and worked as part of a collective. Yet “Rickshaw Boy” seemed to warn readers that you cannot prosper in an unjust society, no matter how hard you toil.

Much has changed since the 1930s. China’s gdp has ballooned. Life expectancy has more than doubled (it was a paltry 35 years when Lao wrote the book). In 1949, after a bloody civil war, the Communist Party seized power. Yet this month the rickshaw boy returned to the country’s consciousness, invoked by angry homeowners. They had studied “Rickshaw Boy” in school to understand how weak China was in a bygone era; it has also been adapted into a film and an opera (pictured). Now people saw themselves in the story.

Tens of thousands of homeowners in China are refusing to pay mortgages on unfinished apartments. Many buy homes before they are built, often ploughing their life savings into the initial down-payment, but developer defaults and bankruptcies have stalled construction across the country, leading buyers to fear their homes will never be finished. They see no reason to keep paying for homes they cannot live in; some struggle to pay back mortgage loans on top of existing rent. “If I pay one yuan for a bottle of water and the store does not give it to me, I can report it to the police. If I pay a developer 1.5m yuan for a home and they refuse to build it for me, nothing happens to them,” one furious buyer said. “If I go on the streets I’m called a rioter.”

In Zhengzhou, a city in central China, a group of homebuyers concluded their declaration of a mortgage boycott with a quote from “Rickshaw Boy”. (“Xiangzi’s money was stolen, his rickshaw was smashed, he himself was beaten. He was not even allowed to cry out in pain, even a whimper was a mistake.”) They added that there are now “tens of thousands of rickshaw boys” in China: “We must throw off our chains, and let those who steal our money and smash our rickshaws know that the rickshaw boy is no longer a sheep to be slaughtered.” Discussions on social media often contained references to the novel. Between July 11th and July 13th, daily Weibo searches for “Rickshaw Boy” rocketed from under 500,000 to nearly 5m. The novel entered Weibo’s “newly popular” list of books.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Murder in the Family

Nobody died at Casa PG.

But someone did die in the world of the Catherine Tregowyn Mysteries, however.

Here’s how it starts:

Lostwithiel, Cornwall, England

Tregowyn Family Chapel

December, 1935

Chapter One 

“Harry! What are you doing here?” Catherine said to her bridegroom as he entered the robing room off the vestibule of the old chapel. “You’re supposed to be out at the front of the chapel! You’re not meant to see my gown!” 

“Sorry, old thing,” Harry said, looking about as though he had lost something and not paying attention to her at all. “You haven’t seen my uncle, have you?” 

“Uncle Jonathan?” 

“Yes. My best man. He’s not shown up.” 

“Oh, Harry! You’d best get back where you belong before everyone thinks you’ve got cold feet. My mother will be having vapors!” 

“Right. He must have had car trouble. Perhaps the old Hispano Suiza wouldn’t start. I’ll have the pater stand in for him.” He finally looked at her. “I say! You look devilish fine! You’re an out and out stunner, darling.” 

She grimaced at him. “Pretend you didn’t see.” 

Grabbing her about the waist, he kissed her before he left. “I’ll see you at the other end of the aisle!” he said over his shoulder.  

Where was Uncle Jonathan? Catherine tried to compose herself. She’d always dreamt of being married here in the family chapel. She loved its weathered granite walls and slate roof, now mostly green with moss. A thick Celtic cross, predating the chapel by centuries, stood nearly upright near the entrance beside an ancient stone well. There was a legend of an unnamed saint who had stopped to refresh himself on a journey and left a blessing that the well would never run dry. 


There’s more that follows.

Sharp-eyed visitors to TPV will note that PG’s other name is included on the cover below Mrs. PG’s name.

This was none of PG’s doing. Mrs. PG insisted it must be so.

PG has provided anonymous assistance to Mrs. PG with her books for quite a long time. Usually, he has been a proofreader, formatter, and general dogsbody and was quite happy to continue to act in those capacities for Mrs. PG.

For this book, Mrs. PG asked PG to write some scenes involving lawyers.

As regular visitors know, PG is a recovering attorney.

The most important thing to remember as a recovering attorney is that you’ll never be able to say that you are completely cured of attorneyism. You’re always one short step away from falling off the wagon, suing somebody, then you have to go through the seven-step detox program all over again.

So PG was a little concerned when Mrs. PG asked him to write a courtroom scene for her latest book.

He kept assuring himself that this exercise was not real. For one thing, the scene he drafted was set in an English courtroom. PG has been in English courtrooms on a couple of occasions (as an observer, not a participant) and observed the many similarities as well as more than a few dissimilarities to proceedings in American courtrooms, so that was a bit of a guardrail.

Although English and American courtrooms are not the same, they both involve human beings and, while cultures and traditions vary greatly, human nature is very much the same everywhere. That’s one reason the stories in the Bible still resonate thousands of years later to people who live much different lives than the people depicted in the Bible did. We see the same sorts of behaviors, good and bad, in the Bible as we do in contemporary society.

As a friend of PG’s once said, without human nature, lawyers wouldn’t have anything to do.

With that said, PG hopes that as many visitors who think they might enjoy Mrs. PG’s latest book, Murder in the Family.

(When PG posted this, Amazon’s Look Inside feature wasn’t working. He hopes it’s just because Zon’s computers haven’t gotten to that stage in the ebook publishing process.)

Computer Issues

PG had hard drive issues today and spent three hours on the phone to India getting things fixed.

He’s doing all sorts of reinstalls/reconfigurations of various of his programs. Fortunately, no data was lost.

The newsletter boom is over. What’s next

From Vox:

Remember when newsletters were hot?

This was all the way back in 2020 and 2021: Big Name Writers were leaving Well-Known Publications to start one-person publishing operations, and some of them were making a lot of money doing it. Serious people were asking whether Substack, the email platform of the moment, was a threat to the New York Times. Facebook and Twitter wanted in on it.

That was then.

Now newsletters are less … heated. Some writers who’ve gone out on their own have decided that they’d like a full-time job working for someone else, just like the old days. Substack has struggled to raise funding and has laid off some of its staff. Twitter doesn’t talk much about its newsletter plans anymore. And a year after launching Bulletin, its own Substack platform, Facebook has put the project on the “back burner.”

Which doesn’t mean newsletters have gone away. At all. Just some of the hype surrounding them. And in its place, there’s a more realistic attitude about the format and the business you can build around it: Newsletters, it turns out, are just like blogs and podcasts — they’re super simple for anyone to create. But turning them into something beyond a hobby — let alone turning them into a full-time job — requires talent and sustained effort.

“I don’t think it’s an easy path to fame and riches,” says Judd Legum, who has been writing his Popular Information newsletter since 2018. “But that was a thing that I never believed.”

Legum, whose muckraking newsletter focuses on the way big companies interact with public policy — he recently pressured Match Group, the dating app operator, to stop donating money to the Republican Attorney Generals Association following the demise of Roe v Wade — is doing quite well. He says he has more than 15,000 subscribers paying at least $50 a year, which means he is likely grossing more than $750,000 annually. And that revenue has given him the ability to hire two full-time employees for his micropublishing company.

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to R. for the tip.

Are Ebooks on the Decline Again?

From Book Riot:

It’s not news that ebook reading surged during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Library ebook borrowing, in particular, saw an increase in 2020 and 2021. Though ebooks have not eclipsed print for a long time, they still enjoyed an ounce of quiet popularity.

At the start of the year, however, it looks like that’s changing.

In 2020, ebook sales rose by 11%. But in 2021, sales declined by 3.7%. Ebook sales also plummeted from January to March this year, according to the Association of American Publishers. In January, it was a 10.1% fall from last year. In February, sales dropped by 6.9% as that trend continued. In March, it went down again as sales dipped by a whopping 12.2%.

Meanwhile, in the UK, ebook sales are down in 2021, the “lowest point since 2012,” according to The Bookseller. The UK magazine reported that 80 million ebooks were downloaded in 2021, which is a disappointment next to its 95 million in 2020.

. . . .

Ebook reading rose in the late 2010s when Amazon released its Kindle ereaders; ebooks back then were as low as $9.99. During that era, there were even predictions that ebooks would eventually kill print, shutter bookstores, and that ebooks would be the future of reading. But those forecasts missed the mark, obviously.

The interest in ebooks started to plateau when the drama between Amazon and the then Big 6 publishers happened in 2012. The publishers wrestled control of ebook pricing from Amazon, raising it so that people would have reasons to read in print. This led to a collusion with Apple, which got all of them sued by the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, the pricing scheme set by the publishers stayed on.

Since then, ebooks have enjoyed a decent popularity. Sales are down, and sometimes up. But they have never killed print. People moved on from the digital and went back to physical eventually, for the most part.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic froze everything, preventing people from easily buying physical books. This made many readers turned to ebooks once again. But as the world is opened up again in 2022, people are going out and dropping by the bookstores again. And so starts the dipping sales of ebooks.

. . . .

By the looks of it, the future of ebooks looks grim. However, one important thing unbeknown to many is that the AAP’s reports don’t include Kindle sales, “so the data might be skewed,” as Kozlowski put it. Amazon’s Kindle obviously has a larger market share than its competitors such as Kobo and Barnes & Noble, and so it leaves a lot of numbers on the table.

Mark Williams, the editor of the publication The New Publishing Standard that covers publishing news, said that AAP’s 2021 report fails to account for tens of millions of dollars in ebook revenue. “We simply don’t know the true scale of the impact ebooks have on the U.S. and global book markets, either in revenue terms or in consumer engagement, but we can say with absolute certainty that the AAP numbers only paint a partial picture,” he wrote in May 2021.

He also said that many of the uncounted participants do not report to the AAP, including Amazon Publishing, a slew of small presses, and thousands of self-published authors. That definitely leaves a lot of figures, and it suggests that ebooks may not be in a nosedive after all. AAP’s 2021 report, according to Williams, “warps the picture in favor of print.”

. . . .

So are ebooks losing their shine again? Are they in decline thanks to the “disappointing” sales, and maybe, because of the extreme dislike by many?

Data suggests that the ebook market may actually be a lot bigger.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes this is a near-perfect model of a clickbait title.

The traditional publishers who report ebook sales to the AAP (Association of American PUBLISHERS) say their ebook sales may be falling.

Traditional publishers have always held an irrational prejudice against ebooks even though ebook sales don’t entail a great many expenses that physical books require: printing costs (including set-up costs), warehousing expenses, shipping expenses, the fact the publishers need to sell pbooks at a wholesale price that allows physical bookstores to cover their expenses and persuade customers to pay a lot more than they would if they bought the very same content in ebook form from Amazon. (long sentence, PG acknowledges)

The cost of creating ebooks for traditional publishers includes overpriced real estate, starvation wages (by New York standards), but they don’t include the costs of a bunch of employees that deal with the complexities and inevitable inefficiencies and screw-ups of print publishing.

Once the ebook manuscript is received as a bunch of bits from an author, all that happens to it is digital – reviewing the digital manuscript to see if they want to publish it, editing it on computers, formatting it on computers and shipping those refined bits over the internet to Amazon and other e-tailers for publication. (PG understands that Ingram gets involved with distribution of ebooks and takes its percentage, which is Exhibit 2 demonstrating the overwhelming technology cluelessness of major publishing.)

Of course other publishers (located in much lower-cost locations without New York taxes, etc.) and self-publishers don’t have all those overhead and staff costs. They also don’t “have to” protect their relationships with traditional bookstores by selling at wholesale prices, etc., etc.

PG says the Association of American Publishers is reporting sales problems with overpriced ebooks, not ebooks that are priced intelligently. What does PG mean by overpriced?

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, published by Simon & Schuster and a New York Times Bestseller is priced at $14.99 for the ebook.

Per Amazon, used copies of the hardcover can be purchased for less than the ebook.

PG suggests that Simon & Schuster could sell way more ebooks if they dropped the price to $4.99 instead of trying to help Barnes & Noble make money selling hardbacks. If Big Publishing priced ebooks for optimum sales and profits, there wouldn’t be any “decline” in ebook sales to write clickbait stores about.

Sparse Posting

PG apologizes for the limited posting in the last few days. He’s been helping Mrs. PG with some details on her next book.

Lowering my expectations

I deal with writer’s block by lowering my expectations. I think the trouble starts when you sit down to write and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent — and when you don’t, panic sets in. The solution is never to sit down and imagine that you will achieve something magical and magnificent. I write a little bit, almost every day, and if it results in two or three or (on a good day) four good paragraphs, I consider myself a lucky man. Never try to be the hare. All hail the tortoise.

Malcolm Gladwell

Diagnosing Writer’s Block

From Writer Unboxed:

Raise your hand if you’ve ever visited one of those well-known medical “information” websites, only to become convinced within minutes that you have a rare, incurable cancer. (Raises hand.)

There have been times when I’ve wished that there was a WebMD for writers, where I could type in symptoms like “this scene feels slow” or “I don’t know how to ratchet up the stakes” and be offered a list of possible diagnoses, followed by a step-by-step list of cures.

When I struggle to write, it usually feels less like a roadblock and more like a slow wade through a river of molasses. Delicious? Maybe. Good for you? Decidedly not. It feels like the opposite of the flow state, or that feeling of being fully and energetically immersed in the act of writing. Instead, each word starts to feel like a slog, each sentence like I’m painstakingly carving them out of stone.

But I’ve only recently realized that this feeling isn’t something that’s wrong with me, but rather that writing starts feeling agonizing when something isn’t working in the writing itself. Figuring out exactly what that is, of course, is a challenge that depends a lot on the author’s own style and quirks. It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get to where I can recognize the symptoms of “something isn’t working here.”

There are an endless number of reasons that writer’s block (“writer’s river of molasses” just doesn’t flow as well, pun intended) can crop up. This post only deals with one of those reasons: when you know something isn’t working, but you aren’t sure what.

There are a few tests that I’ve landed on as helpful tools for figuring out what that something is. They are geared toward fiction writing, but your tests will probably look different at any rate. While they’re in no particular order, I hope they can at least serve as a starting point.

Take a break.

How is “take a break” a test? Sometimes I look at a scene for so long that I lose the forest for the trees. Sometimes I’m just having a day of brain fog. I’ll take some time away from the story—sometimes just for a few hours, but often for a few days—and when I return, the words come easily.

But when I say “take a break,” I really mean take a break, not “work on something else,” not “write a different scene” or “do research” or “outline the rest of the book.” Stop, entirely, and give your brain a chance to recover. I know our society rewards constant work, but every time I’ve grumpily, reluctantly taken a few steps back from writing, I’ve returned with a clearer head, feeling better about everything. Sometimes I can see clearly what’s not working, and other times I don’t even remember what was bothering me, and other times I can at least think more clearly about what might not be working.

I know I said these tests were in no particular order, but I would recommend trying this one first because sometimes, as the IT team at one of my old jobs used to say, the problem is PICNIC: “problem in chair, not in computer.” If you feel stuck, sometimes what’s wrong is in our heads, not in our stories.

Revisit the purpose of the scene.

Once I’ve taken a break and returned to find that I’m still stuck, I’ll start the actual diagnostic tests. I start at the spot where I’ve gotten stuck with the smallest unit of space in a story—the scene—and I ask myself whether it is working as intended: What is the goal of this scene from a story perspective? Does it push the plot forward? Is at least one character being forced to grow or change? If I can’t provide a clear, tangible answer to any of these questions, then I know this is likely where the problem lies.

Most often, I’ve unintentionally slowed down the pace of the story by getting lost in the logistics of getting characters from Point A to Point B, or that I’ve simply started having too much fun watching the characters go off and do their own thing and I’ve forgotten who’s in charge here.

But with a tangible scene goal in mind, I can start to refocus my writing. I emphasize tangibility because I often found myself defining the “goal” as something like “introduce the protagonist’s strained relationship with her older brother.” This is not tangible. Tangible is “protagonist’s older brother bails on their plans again, and she decides she’s had enough of his irresponsibility.”

If I can’t come up with a tangible goal for the scene, that I take that as a sign that this scene can probably be chucked out or merged with another one.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Have people stopped reading books?

From KBoards:

I started publishing ebooks at Amazon in 2011. That was before Select and you weren’t allowed to give books away. You had to charge at least $.99. I started making money since I had a backlog of books that I had written. The golden years came, and everyone was happy and made money. A few writers found a way to give away books and that helped them. Then Select let everyone give books away and our sales went up.

A point was reached when sales started going down. So, lots of people starting advertising to help their sales. That helped the ones that advertised so many people started doing it. Then sales started dropping again.

Each year sales continued to drop regardless of what we did.

The number of book stores and publishing companies went out of business. We weren’t the only one’s suffering.

That makes me wonder if people have stopped reading books or reading less.

Link to the rest at KBoards

PG notes there is quite a discussion responding to this post on KBoards.

PG’s opinion is that traditional publishing is mostly flat while indie publishing, while much more competitive than it was ten-fifteen years ago, is growing.

In 2010, Amazon announced that it was selling more ebooks than printed books. PG sees no reason to suspect that the ebook/printed book sales ratio for Amazon has become more and more larger for the ebook side of the house. He would be interested in seeing any credible estimates of Amazon’s ebook vs. POD sales numbers, however.

Another source estimated that there were about 9 Million ebooks in the Kindle store in 2021. That same source estimated that there were 12 Million ebooks in the Kindle store in May of 2022.

Wikipedia estimates that the United States has issued a total of 3,485,322 ISBN numbers for books. The UK is in second place with 185,721 ISBN numbers issued. That said, it is PG’s understanding that few indie authors publishing on Amazon bother getting an ISBN number, especially for their ebooks since ISBN service is used primarily by physical bookstores and libraries for ordering traditionally-published books.

PG’s bottom line is that the number of authors on Amazon is growing rapidly. The number of authors who earn a significant sum of money from their books on Amazon is growing, but less rapidly.

Traditional publishing numbers are pretty flat. PG hasn’t seen any inflation-adjusted numbers showing year-by-year sales of traditional publishers, however.

When Arthur Conan Doyle showed up at his own memorial service. (Maybe.)

From The Literary Hub:

On July 13, 1930, some six thousand people crammed themselves into London’s Royal Albert Hall. They had come to hear a missive from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the spiritualist, physician, and creator of Sherlock Holmes—who had, as it happens, died six days previous.

The hall had been rented out by the Spiritualist Association to hold a seance for the writer, an event so enticing that hundreds of people had to be turned away at the door. On the stage, a row of chairs had been set out for the Conan Doyle family: Lady Conan Doyle, her sons Denis and Adrian, her daughter Jean, her stepdaughter Mary, and of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself. His chair was marked with his name, presumably to avoid confusion.

The night began like any typical memorial service, with tributes from friends, passages from scripture read, and hymns sung. But soon it was time for 41-year-old Estelle Roberts—a well-known London medium, and one of Conan Doyle’s favorites—to take the stage.

“The mesmerizing presence that had so impressed Conan Doyle was not immediately apparent,” writes Daniel Stashower in Teller of Tales, his biography of the writer.

For some time, Mrs. Roberts did nothing more than rock back and forth on her heels, and soon the sounds of coughing and restless movement could be heard from the audience. At this, she appeared to gather her resolve. Shielding her eyes like a sailor on lookout, Mrs. Roberts swept her eyes over the gallery, tiers, and boxes. Her attention fixed not on the faces of the expectant crowd, but on the empty space above their heads. “There are vast numbers of spirits here with us,” she announced. “They are pushing me like anything.”

She communed with these spirits for about a half an hour before the audience became restless, and then, as people began to leave, she shouted out “He’s here!”

“The skeptics stopped in their tracks,” writes Stashower. “All eyes locked on the empty chair.” Time for the headliner, then.

“There could be no doubt who she meant,” writes Russell Miller in The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, his biography of the writer.

Everyone switched their attention to the empty chair and Lady Conan Doyle jumped to her feet, eyes sparkling. The medium appeared to be following with her eyes an invisible figure moving towards her. “He’s wearing evening clothes,” she said, inclining her head as if to listen to something being said very quietly. Only those sitting nearby overheard the exchange that followed. “Sir Arthur tells me that one of you went into the hut this morning. Is that correct?” Lady Conan Doyle, beaming, agreed it was so. “I have a message for you,” the medium said. At this point someone signaled for the organist to strike up. Estelle Roberts could be seen whispering urgently to Lady Conan Doyle, who was smiling and nodding, for several minutes. She was still smiling broadly as the service broke up with a closing hymn and benediction.

The medium told reporters after the service that she had seen Sir Arthur Conan Doyle walk across the stage and take a seat in the empty chair before giving her a message for his wife and family. “It was a perfectly happy message,” she said.

Whatever it was, it was good enough for his widow. “I am perfectly convinced that the message is from my husband,” she said. “I am as sure of the fact that he has been here with us as I am sure that I am speaking to you. It is a happy message, one that is cheering and encouraging. It is precious and sacred. You will understand that it was secret to me.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Will “work from hotel” catch on?

From The Economist

As summer descends with a vengeance on the northern hemisphere, you may be fantasising about the promise of “working from anywhere”. A colleague’s PowerPoint presentation would go down better by the poolside, washed down with a mojito. For most office grunts such fantasies remain just that—“anywhere” boils down to the discomfort of the sweaty kitchen table, a noisy café or the office hot desk.

That has not stopped venues offering to combine the liberty of the home office (minus the offspring and the dirty dishes) with the climate control of the corporate hq (minus the boss looking over your shoulder). “Third spaces”, neither office nor home, are not a new idea. Soho House, a chain of fashionable clubs, pioneered 30 years ago the concept of work while mingling with other professionals in an elegant setting. Now hotels are getting in on the action. Your columnist, a guest Bartleby, tried out two recent London offerings.

She first headed to Birch, a hotel in a Georgian manor on 55 acres of Hertfordshire just north of the city. The venue invites you to “come work miracles” at its Hub co-working area, “set strategies” in spaces “ready to fit 5 or 50” or “connect and create” with classes in pottery, sourdough baking, “foraging with our farmer” and other structured activities. Men, women and gender-fluid people in their 20s and early 30s hunch over laptops and glasses of red wine on the terrace. Some digital nomads pay a monthly membership fee and enjoy special discounts to stay in the property and work remotely, but you can, like Bartleby, come as an overnight guest.

Her second destination was the Shangri-La hotel in the Shard, which now offers stays from 10am to 6pm. The pass grants access to a room with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on central London, and to Western Europe’s highest infinity pool. It is aimed at those wishing to work and relax by offering a “change of scenery to inspire and invigorate”.

Both Birch and the Shangri-La have their virtues. Birch’s Wi-Fi was excellent and the workspaces had enough sockets to avoid undignified tussles for the last place to plug in your chargers. The “Gentle Flow” stretch class in which Bartleby enrolled, in the spirit of going native, was perfectly pleasant (notwithstanding the instructor’s insistence on starting with an astrological update and reciting a poem at the end). So were laps in the Shangri-La’s infinity pool and the view of St Paul’s Cathedral from her room on the 38th floor.

Yet problems soon became apparent. The first is price. An overnight stay at Birch sets you—or, if you are lucky like Bartleby, your employer—back £160 ($192). The Shangri-La charges £350 for a standard room. Cities have plenty of cheaper “third spaces” these days; a co-working space costs a fraction of that.

The second problem is: how productive can workers be with all the distractions that are designed to make work not feel like work? The spectacular view from the Shard is less conducive to dreaming up a sales pitch (or a column) than it is to daydreaming. At Birch, boardgames occupy every horizontal surface, ready to draw out the procrastinator in you. And once you are done stretching, that sourdough-baking class is a recipe to keep putting work on the back burner.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Here’s a photo of Birch. You can book your reservation Here. If you don’t wish to spend the night, they have a restaurant as well.

Definitely dissimilar to any B&B where PG has stayed in Britain, however.