Light Posting

PG apologizes for light posting yesterday and this morning. All is well at Casa PG. He was just busy with a variety of tasks.

Researchers Figure Out How to Interpret Pig Grunts as Pig Emotions

Tangentially relating to writing, but don’t forget Wilbur.

From c|net:

If you’ve heard one porcine grunt, you haven’t heard them all. There’s a lot of communication happening through pig sounds, if you know what to listen for. A team of researchers has come up with a translator of sorts for pigs. It’s a computer algorithm that interprets all those different pig grunts as emotions.

Understanding animal emotions can help with improving animal welfare and care. Animal behavior researcher Elodie Briefer of the University of Copenhagen is the lead author of a study on the classification of pig calls published in the journal Scientific Reports on Monday.

To build the equivalent of a grunts-emotions dictionary, the researchers recorded over 7,400 sounds from 411 pigs, tracing their life experiences from birth through death. The team correlated the different calls with the pigs’ activities and body language.

. . . .

“There are clear differences in pig calls when we look at positive and negative situations. In the positive situations, the calls are far shorter, with minor fluctuations in amplitude. Grunts, more specifically, begin high and gradually go lower in frequency,” Briefer said in a statement. “By training an algorithm to recognize these sounds, we can classify 92% of the calls to the correct emotion.”

The study is part of the SoundWel project, which aims to help professionals “monitor and improve pig welfare by minimizing stress and encouraging positive emotions.” Briefer said the next step could involve developing the algorithm into an app for farmers. Perhaps it could be called Instagrunt…

Link to the rest at c|net

Based on his experiences growing up with a variety of farm animals, PG can assure one and all that pigs are the most intelligent.

‘Nothing to See Here’: the Evolution of a Catchphrase

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

These quotes all appeared in the last week:

“Nothing to see here: Man casually puts on deodorant; officers find meth in deodorant.” –Headline in Northwest Florida Daily News.

“A U.S. Steel spokeswoman said the discharge wasn’t serious enough to report to the feds and did not pose a threat to public health. In other words, move along. Nothing to see here.” –Chicago Tribune, on a chromium spill in Lake Michigan.

“This time around, Mayak [nuclear plant] authorities have similarly denied being responsible for the leak, and Rosatom, the state-run body that oversees Russia’s nuclear industry, also says there’s nothing to see here.” –Science Alert, on a mysterious radiation cloud over Russia.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Skeletons in the Closet

From The American Scholar:

As autumn ushers in longer, cooler nights and the sound of crunching leaves, it also calls forth stories of ghosts and haunted houses. Especially this year, as increased time at home makes these earlier sunsets and colder days feel particularly dispiriting, the escapism of a fictional house rattling and creaking with secrets feels strangely welcome. There are, of course, classics like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw or Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but the following literary haunted houses are ghostly in less straightforward—but equally uncanny—ways.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s novel is best known for its meditations on truth and beauty, along with her portrayal of Mrs. and Mrs. Ramsay’s internal lives as a means of exploring gender and marriage. But the novel is as much about the disappointments of midlife, legacy, and loss. Its middle section, “Time Passes,” depicts the Ramsays’ summer home on the Isle of Skye as ravaged by year after year of summer storms, neglect, and decay. We learn of World War I, and the deaths of Mrs. Ramsay and two of her children, each in a single sentence. Abstract concepts like “loveliness” and “stillness” move actively through the empty house. When the family returns to it years later, these deaths and the war’s enormous destruction haunt the house and the surviving Ramsays.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

The house in Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just as haunted—at least metaphorically speaking—as her more famous Hill House. Here, main character Merricat lives with her sister Constance and their uncle Julian in their family’s once-grand estate. Readers gradually come to understand that Constance was accused and acquitted of murdering her parents, brother, and aunt with arsenic-laced blueberries, and also that while she delights in long taxonomies of the many poisonous plants in her garden, she is not the one responsible for the family’s death.

Link to the rest at The American Scholar

The Sci-Fi Crime Novel That’s a Parable of American Society

From The Atlantic:

A few weeks ago, a long-ago conversation with a friend came to mind as I tried to bring some order to my bookshelves. My friend was not yet of a certain age, but he had, he confessed, crossed a line: He had made a transition from the curating stage of life to the editing stage. He was no longer collecting; he was deaccessioning. I lack his wisdom and maturity, and rather than editing as I sorted, I instead paused to thumb through and scan. And then I came across a book that made me stop and reread: The City & the City (2009), by the British writer China Miéville. It is a police procedural novel with a background environment that recalls Philip K. Dick. A crime needs to be solved in a society where two different cities—two separate polities, with separate populations, customs, alphabets, religions, and outlooks—coexist within the same small patch of geography. The names of the overlapping cities are Besźel and Ul Qoma.

When you engage with a book, personal circumstance is always your companion. John Gunther’s Death Be Not Proud is a knife to the heart of any parent. James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man might as well be scripture if you’re 18. And not just with a book. My mother took me to see Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead when it opened in New York in the late 1960s—her idea. Part of the thrill was realizing that she knew me and understood I would like it.

I first read The City & the City during the time of Obama. The novel was always a parable, but it could be enjoyed simply as a clever, at times mind-bending fantasy, and as a fantasy it earned many awards. When I reread the book a few weeks ago, the fun was gone. The moment—my zeitgeist companion—was one of deepening and well-founded worry over the cohesion of American society. “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams” (The New York Times). “2022 Is the Year America Falls Off a Cliff” (Globe and Mail  ). “79 Percent of Americans Say U.S. Is Falling Apart” (Futurism). If the traditional life cycle of commentary holds, the next stage will urge a long view of history. And it is true that perspective can provide a dulling comfort. There is a moment in Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending when Marshall, an apparently dimwitted student, is asked by his history teacher, “How would you describe Henry the Eighth’s reign?” Marshall, Barnes writes, “searched for possible hidden complexities in the question before eventually locating a response.

“‘There was unrest, sir.’”

Pressed to elaborate, Marshall summons his powers to the maximum: “I’d say there was great unrest, sir.”

But societies do fall apart, and there is no single reason why. One historian, years ago, decided to collect and enumerate all the scholarly explanations for the fall of Rome. He counted upward of 210 specific theories. Sometimes the dissolution of a society is rapid and startling—think of Yugoslavia after Tito. Sometimes it is so slow—as with imperial Rome—that entire lifetimes go by without anyone’s being aware. Centuries may elapse before someone gives dissolution a name and a date.

To turn the lens around, one can ask how cohesive some societies really were before they were seen to fail. The “United” Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland today shows signs of unraveling, but many Scots, Welsh, and Irish have opinions about how raveled it ever was. As for the United States, all the talk about exceptionalism doesn’t in itself make us exceptional. The colonies that formed the original union were protective of their autonomy and suspicious of federal power; in the 21st century, some of these states might as well be thought of as nations and are charting their own distinct directions. But separation isn’t only about lines on a map. Michael Harrington called his 1962 book about rural and urban poverty The Other America, implicitly acknowledging that it wasn’t about the America occupied by most of those who would buy and read his book. The Texas hill country known to Lyndon Johnson in the 1930s, as described in Robert Caro’s The Path to Power, has almost nothing in common with the urbane, martini-swilling world of The Thin Man, but they are exactly contemporaneous. A rhetorical question: Do most Black Americans and white Americans think of American history and experience in the same way? Do both feel they walk an equal distance toward one another to achieve a shared sense of ownership? Cohesion is easier to assert when questions like these are not asked, or even thought of.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

When Science Fiction and Fantasy Envisions Life Beyond Capitalism

From Counter Craft:

In 2014, the legend Ursula K. Le Guin was given a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation and delivered what I’ve heard (accurately) described as a barn burner of a speech. Perhaps the most memorable part was her call for imaginative literature that envisions other ways of living:

Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.

[…]

We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.

I know I’m not the only writer who has had these lines stuck in their head ever since. How can we create new ways of living in this world if we can’t imagine them on the page? Literature has many goals, of course, but one of them—especially in science fiction—has always been imagining new possibilities. Le Guin devoted her work to this, perhaps most notably in the 1974 novel The Dispossessed that imagines an anarcho-syndicalist society on the moon. But it is a theme throughout her oeuvre.

And a theme throughout all of science fiction. Star Trek is an obvious model, a show that pushed boundaries in progressive ways while imagining a more noble future. Iain M. Banks’s Culture novels famously take place in a post-scarcity anarchist utopia. The examples are really limitless.

And I think it is fair to combine the utopian impulse with the dystopian one. The writer of dystopias (which Le Guin was as well) is looking to display the cracks in the system. Certainly this was a goal of my novel The Body Scout, which imagines our current system running full steam ahead until the whole machine is at the point of bursting with steam shooting out of the seams and the gears beginning to break.

Utopia and dystopia are two sides of the same coin in this way. The flaws in the system and the possible ways forward. They are complimentary impulses that are often combined in the same work. See Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven for example. Of course, a novel is never going to bring down a system. Fiction is not activism really. Or at least not only that. Still, a first step to creating new society is being able to imagine it. “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings,” as Le Guin said.

Link to the rest at Counter Craft

PG has always been a big fan of capitalism, mostly because it seems to work and continues to work over a long period of time. He would argue that this economic system has generated more material well-being for more people than any alternate system he is aware of.

When a good friend told PG a long time ago that “Socialism always fails,” he didn’t believe it but has come to regard that statement as accurate.

Some point to Sweden as an exception, but Sweden is a relatively small, culturally cohesive society. Yes, it has had socialized medicine for a long time, but it also has capitalist wealth-producing businesses like Volvo, Ericsson, and Skanska. According to Wikipedia, Sweden has 41 billionaires.

Out of a population of 10.5 million, that doesn’t sound a lot like, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” the slogan Karl Marx was so please with.

PG also suggests that during the 20th Century, socialism had a certain habit of turning into communism, which has not only generated great income inequality, but also widespread poverty in a great many segments of its populations.

For PG, the biggest problem with socialism is that somebody has to enforce it, impose it on people who don’t necessarily like the idea. Suppose everybody is given the same amount of land. In that case, somebody will get the idea of planting tomatoes instead of potatoes and swapping them for some of his neighbors’ potatoes. Given enough plots of land, someone will discover gold, either actually or metaphorically.

Absent strict political or social controls, somebody will start hiring others to do things or purchase his neighbor’s potatoes and sell them for a profit before the next crop ripens. Then somebody else will figure out how to make vodka from potatoes and refuse to tell his neighbors how he did it but offer to sell them vodka for their celebrations.

Human beings are just so non-standard in their propensities, abilities, behavior and desires that treating them like machines is pretty dumb. It’s way easier to create identical machines, using some individual’s unique mechanical ability and rewarding them for their ingenuity.

Some Practical Notes for Publishers on Readers with ALS

From The Literary Hub:

I’m an avid reader with ALS—a bad combination. My reading was turned upside-down in 2008 by a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Without cure, its symptoms vary among patients, often including loss of finger dexterity. My symptoms began primarily as unexplained falls and growing inability to button shirts and coats. Only later did my wife, Deirdre, and I appreciate Lear’s deathbed plea: “Pray Sir, undo the button.” It’s now one of our favorite Shakespearian lines.

Much has happened since then. I’ve been writing all my life, but for half of my 86-year life, formal writing took a back seat to my 40-year library career, which included higher degrees in English (Wheaton College, Illinois); Library Science from Rutgers University; and a Ph.D. in History from Northwestern University. Along this journey I was fortunate to be appointed to increasingly responsible posts at The New York Public Library (clerk-typist to Assistant Editor of Library Publications); Librarian of Marlboro College (Vermont); Associate Librarian of the Newberry Library (Chicago); Milton S. Eisenhower Librarian, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore); a return to New York Public Library as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries of NYPL (1978-86), and finally before retirement, University Librarian of Syracuse University from 1986-98.

Significant before that time was two years’ service in the US Navy as a journalist, including many voyages in and about the Atlantic, a compelling visit to Antarctica, and a final assignment as librarian of the USS Galveston ashore in Philadelphia. The result was a lifetime obsession with the history of polar exploration, often in remission but seldom far from the surface. Retirement in 1998 brought liberation to read and write about what most mattered to me. With Deirdre’s collaboration, our work on reading in polar settings, Adventures in Polar Reading, was published by the Grolier Club in 2019, following our 2005 exhibition and catalog, Books on Ice. With many polar centennials occurring early this century, interest in the “Heroic Age” of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, and others mushroomed among the public and specialists in all aspects of polar history.

My passion for reading such books remains, but reading them has become increasingly difficult. ALS is an auto-immune disease which interrupts the nerve commands that flow through the spinal cord to the appropriate muscles. My case has primarily involved the upper body—the pervasive atrophy of the arm muscles and the loss of strength in muscle activity, especially in the fingers and arms. I can’t lift heavy books and I have difficulty turning pages, lifting my arms to turn off reading lamps, and shifting to more comfortable positions.

. . . .

Almost everything with ALS takes more time, often twice as much as before: bathing, drying, dressing, eating, walking, exercising, writing, typing, sleeping itself, even reading. The assault on our reading ability is insidious: it distracts our attention, harms our concentration, destroys the rhythm of the prose and poetry, and the frequent involuntary nap requires re-reading to find the place to resume after falling asleep. There are a number of other factors that affect my reading of words in physical form. It’s a personal list, though I suspect several factors are widely shared.

Weight: In this era of mega-tomes, weight is an obvious problem. I need help positioning some books, usually with a homecare aide resting the book on a pillow. My four devices for holding books open don’t work with heavy books. Contributing to the problem is glossy calendared paper, often used for lustrous illustrated books. Reflections on the page require constant adjustment of the head, the page, and often the book itself, depending on weight, binding, and openability. None of this makes any kind of note taking easy or possible. I am currently being introduced to the technology of eye control to compose both written and spoken speech. After two training sessions I confess to feeling overwhelmed but hopeful of speeding up a slow process.

Openability: I divide books into three categories: one-, two-, and three-fisted. The first can lie flat, or open on a reading device, with easy page turning. The pages remain open while taking notes by hand (if possible) or a computer, on which I can still type. The second requires two hands to hold the work open, and turning pages is harder. The third, and most typical book format, is impossible for people with my kind of physical disability: a tightly bound perfect binding. “Perfect” is a euphemism for books whose sections (signatures) are evenly cut at the inner margins by guillotine. Then the pages are reattached by adhesives at the reduced inner margins, creating a strong but unreadable volume.

Notes: Endnotes in two- and three-fisted books go unread. Footnotes are preferable and needn’t always follow the convention of smaller font.

Margins: For disabled readers who retain handwriting ability, wider inner margins are a boon.

Type size: For people with visual disabilities and older readers, type size affects readability. Presses increasingly want more words per page, using smaller typefaces with tight line spacing.

Technology: In this case, the eBook is no salvation. Having spent much of my life reading in bed, I now find my arms too weak to hold a Kindle for more than a few seconds. More important is that digitized works don’t facilitate citations for retrieval purposes, lacking pagination amidst their changeable fonts and type sizes. The exception is the immense data bases of the HathiTrust and similar collections with page images and digitized equivalents of millions of books, easily read and copied on the desktop. They have enabled me to continue work long after my personal “Use By date.”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG went through the long decline associated with ALS a number of years ago. It’s a terrible disease that slowly removes muscle control and strength from a sufferer’s body. When PG’s friend was in the hospital, he required help to do everything. He couldn’t adjust his pillow or move his hand where he wanted it to be.

The ALS Association is an excellent charity focused on finding a cure for this disease.

Out of the Blue, Too Good to Be True: Beware Soliciation Scams

From Writer Unboxed:

When I do presentations and Q&As, I’m often asked to name the most common scheme or scam writers need to watch out for.

Usually, I have to think a moment before I answer—not just because the universe of writer-focused predation is constantly evolving (for instance, there are far fewer fee-charging literary agents now than there were when Writer Beware was founded), but because the ways in which writers can be tricked and exploited are so many and various that it’s hard to choose.

These days, though, I can respond without hesitation. By far the most prevalent writer-focused scams are solicitation scams.

Solicitation scammers contact writers out of the blue with publishing-related offers that seem too good to be true. A literary agency is interested in your work! A prestigious publisher wants to acquire your book! A film producer wants to turn your novel into a movie! A marketing company can expose you to millions of potential fans!

You know the old adage, though: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. In reality, these offers are not about boosting your career or raising your profile. Whatever enticing carrot a solicitation scammer may dangle before you, the real aim is to get your money.

Solicitation scams and schemes are not new. Back in the days of snail mail, costly print vanity publisher Dorrance Publishing was notorious for soliciting submissions from copyright registration and magazine subscription lists. (Dorrance has re-tooled itself for the digital age, so its solicitations now come via email.)

Profiteering contest and awards programs have also long been prolific solicitors (for instance, J.M. Northern Media, which runs multiple high-entry-fee “festivals”), as have bogus Who’s Who registries. Predatory author mill Omniscriptum regularly solicits submissions to its many imprints, and if you write nonfiction, you may have been contacted by Close-up TV News, a pay-to-play “news” program that has been chasing customers for nearly two decades.

Over the past three years, though, the volume of solicitations has exploded, driven by a huge rise in publishing-related scams from overseas, and also by the pandemic, as in-person networking and marketing opportunities for writers have dwindled and online activity has increased. Self-published and small press authors are the solicitors’ favorite marks. But any writer can be a target.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

PG says, in the era of the internet, if you don’t write a solicitation similar to ones mentioned in the OP, search for the publisher/author/festival/etc. online. If they don’t show up anywhere, you have your answer.

If you want to go further search on the name of the enterprise+scam or +beware or +warning, etc.

If you’re self-published and your book has a Best Sellers Rank on Amazon in seven digits, you especially need to hold on to your money.

Only 27% Of Texans Trust Politicians’ Judgement of School Books

From Book Riot:

Following Texas lawmaker Matt Krause’s circulation of a list of 850 books he would like to see removed from schools, the Dallas Morning News and University of Texas at Tyler conducted a February 2022 survey of 1,188 registered voters (33% Democrat, 41% Republican, 26% neither) about various topics of Texas politics, including book bans.

In response to the question “How much do you trust the judgement of elected state leaders in reviewing what books are controversial and should be removed from K-12 schools?”, 27% replied that they either had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust. 27% said they had “not too much,” 38% had “no confidence,” and 8% said they didn’t have enough information.

In contrast, 45% had either a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in librarians and school officials in this same review process. 24% said “not too much,” 23% said “no confidence,” and 7% said they didn’t know enough to answer.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

For visitors from outside the United States, there is more than a little turmoil in some US schools about new curricula that teach American history in ways substantially different than has been customary in the past. The primary motivation for the changes in curriculum materials in many cases is to teach about slavery in a different way than it has been taught before.

Traditionally, American history traditionally acknowledged that the principal cause of the American Civil War (1861-1865) was the attempt by the elected national representatives of states that prohibited slavery (Maine, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, California, Nevada, and Oregon, collectively, the “Union”) to force the states that permitted slavery (Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, collectively, the “Confederacy”) to abolish this practice.

In addition to the Northern States and the Southern States, there were also Border States (Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri). The Border states were located between the Northern and the Southern States and included some slaveholders, but also many residents who opposed slavery. None of the border states supported President Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election, but none seceded from the Union as did the Confederate States.

Many of the battles between the North and the South were fought in the Border States, particularly early in the war. In some of the border states that did not have North/South battles between the armies of the two combatants, there were extensive and destructive armed clashes between those who supported one side or the other. At times, these clashes were effectively a guerilla war that made little distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

The Northern states had a combined population of 22 million people. The Southern states had a combined population of about 9 million. The Northern states also included most of the industry in the country at the time while the Southern states were generally agrarian.

The disparity of wealth between the North and South was substantial. Farming which utilized slaves generated a great deal of wealth for the relatively small percentage who were slave-owners, but whites and former slaves who had been freed by their owners. While the Northern states had plenty of farmers, they were well along a path to employing a great many people in industrial companies.

The average per capita income in the North was about double the average per capita income in the South.

In short, if a non-involved individual from another country clearly understood the relative strengths of the Union and Confederacy prior to the war, there would have been little doubt about the military outcome.

As PG has mentioned before, the disproportionate cost in wealth and both military and civilian casualties resulted in the impoverishment of the Southern states and a significant share of their residents. This impoverishment continued for over one hundred years after the war and still remains in significant parts of the Southern and Border states.

Out of the 15 poorest states (ranked by the percentage of the population living in poverty) in 1999, 13 were former members of the Confederacy. Out of the 15 wealthiest states, 14 were former members of the Union and one, Maryland, was a deeply-divided border state which did not secede from the Union but did permit slavery.

While the definition of “racism” has become much more fluid during the past several years, PG suggests that the Civil War, which resulted in far, far more deaths and non-death causalities than the US suffered during the great wars of the Twentieth Century, is, ultimately, a definitive statement that the roots of the nation are built upon the idea than no persons, by virtue of their race, should be discriminated against or oppressed.

Artificial intelligence challenges what it means to be creative

From Science News:

When British artist Harold Cohen met his first computer in 1968, he wondered if the machine might help solve a mystery that had long puzzled him: How can we look at a drawing, a few little scribbles, and see a face? Five years later, he devised a robotic artist called AARON to explore this idea. He equipped it with basic rules for painting and for how body parts are represented in portraiture — and then set it loose making art.

Not far behind was the composer David Cope, who coined the phrase “musical intelligence” to describe his experiments with artificial intelligence–powered composition. Cope once told me that as early as the 1960s, it seemed to him “perfectly logical to do creative things with algorithms” rather than to painstakingly draw by hand every word of a story, note of a musical composition or brush stroke of a painting. He initially tinkered with algorithms on paper, then in 1981 moved to computers to help solve a case of composer’s block.

Cohen and Cope were among a handful of eccentrics pushing computers to go against their nature as cold, calculating things. The still-nascent field of AI had its focus set squarely on solid concepts like reasoning and planning, or on tasks like playing chess and checkers or solving mathematical problems. Most AI researchers balked at the notion of creative machines.

Slowly, however, as Cohen and Cope cranked out a stream of academic papers and books about their work, a field emerged around them: computational creativity. It included the study and development of autonomous creative systems, interactive tools that support human creativity and mathematical approaches to modeling human creativity. In the late 1990s, computational creativity became a formalized area of study with a growing cohort of researchers and eventually its own journal and annual event.

. . . .

Soon enough — thanks to new techniques rooted in machine learning and artificial neural networks, in which connected computing nodes attempt to mirror the workings of the brain — creative AIs could absorb and internalize real-world data and identify patterns and rules that they could apply to their creations.

Computer scientist Simon Colton, then at Imperial College London and now at Queen Mary University of London and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, spent much of the 2000s building the Painting Fool. The computer program analyzed the text of news articles and other written works to determine the sentiment and extract keywords. It then combined that analysis with an automated search of the photography website Flickr to help it generate painterly collages in the mood of the original article. Later the Painting Fool learned to paint portraits in real time of people it met through an attached camera, again applying its “mood” to the style of the portrait (or in some cases refusing to paint anything because it was in a bad mood).

. . . .

During this era, Colton says, AIs began to look like creative artists in their own right — incorporating elements of creativity such as intentionality, skill, appreciation and imagination. But what followed was a focus on mimicry, along with controversy over what it means to be creative.

New techniques that excelled at classifying data to high degrees of precision through repeated analysis helped AI master existing creative styles. AI could now create works like those of classical composers, famous painters, novelists and more.

One AI-authored painting modeled on thousands of portraits painted between the 14th and 20th centuries sold for $432,500 at auction. In another case, study participants struggled to differentiate the musical phrases of Johann Sebastian Bach from those created by a computer program called Kulitta that had been trained on Bach’s compositions. Even IBM got in on the fun, tasking its Watson AI system with analyzing 9,000 recipes to devise its own cuisine ideas.

But many in the field, as well as onlookers, wondered if these AIs really showed creativity. Though sophisticated in their mimicry, these creative AIs seemed incapable of true innovation because they lacked the capacity to incorporate new influences from their environment. Colton and a colleague described them as requiring “much human intervention, supervision, and highly technical knowledge” in producing creative results. Overall, as composer and computer music researcher Palle Dahlstedt puts it, these AIs converged toward the mean, creating something typical of what is already out there, whereas creativity is supposed to diverge away from the typical.

. . . .

True creativity is a quest for originality. It is a recombination of disparate ideas in new ways. It is unexpected solutions. It might be music or painting or dance, but also the flash of inspiration that helps lead to advances on the order of light bulbs and airplanes and the periodic table. In the view of many in the computational creativity field, it is not yet attainable by machines.

In just the past few years, creative AIs have expanded into style invention — into authorship that is individualized rather than imitative and that projects meaning and intentionality, even if none exists. For Colton, this element of intentionality — a focus on the process, more so than the final output — is key to achieving creativity. But he wonders whether meaning and authenticity are also essential, as the same poem could lead to vastly different interpretations if the reader knows it was written by a man versus a woman versus a machine.

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

PG suggests that it may be difficult for many individuals to distinguish between “true creativity” and derivative works based on prior creative projects.

7 Unlikely Love Stories in Literature

From Electric Lit:

In the early stages of writing Castaway Mountain, I recall the narrative taking shape very slowly. My book is set in a world made of Mumbai’s garbage, one that may seem unreal, but is very much rooted in reality. I had written up to the moment when fires burned on the vast Deonar garbage mountains at the edge of Mumbai in 2016. At the center of this story was Farzana Shaikh, a spirited waste picker who was born at the feet of the towering mountains. She grew up on their slopes, getting singed, her life ravaged in the aftermath of the epic fires, months before she turned 18. I wondered if anyone would read ahead, past the fires. Partway into writing my book, I worried about whether I should stop.

But then, I remembered the young man who had entered Farzana’s life like the shimmering pompadour he styled with his hair—filled with style, light and life. The two had met on the mountain tops, as she sorted through the city’s waste that tumbled out of the garbage truck he rode in. The two had fallen in love, keeping their affair secret, shrouded by the smoke from the fires. Even in the absurd landscape of this vast graveyard of belongings, love found a way.

I wondered if it was the darkness and blight of the garbage mountains that made their love appear to shine particularly bright. It was as if the fires, the opposition of their families, and other hurdles had made their love more unforgettable—like so many love stories I had read and treasured.

. . . .

Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Informed by his experience as a journalist, Marquez writes of a teenage girl bitten by a dog and is said to be possessed by African slave spirits. Hearing the dire prognosis, her wealthy father offers her up for an exorcism at an abbey. The young priest set to perform the exorcism falls in love with her. We see the battle between colonial Catholicism and Latin American folkloric tradition waged on her body, and then the immensely healing power of love.

. . . .

Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Atwood unravels a story about the interweaving and interchanging lives of two Canadian sisters, Laura and Iris Chase. The novel begins with Laura dying in a car accident and Iris revisiting their lives through Laura’s autobiographical novel, Blind Assassin. Their father, an industrialist, married Laura off to save the family fortune. The marriage was predictably an unhappy one and Laura yearned for Alex Thomas, an old flame and a communist sympathizer who was involved in their father’s factory. Amidst the stories of the Chase sisters’ catering to the needs and whims of the men in their lives, are the memories of Alex recounting science fiction tales about a planet called Zyrcon where anything at all can happen.

. . . .

The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

A love so unlikely it may not have existed at all and yet so undying that the main character sets out to find it, and himself, decades later. Working as a butler, Mr. Stevens dutifully spent years holding up the vestiges of a mansion and with it, Britain’s declining post-war power and nobility. Miss Kanton, the housekeeper, waited for Mr. Stevens to tire of his efforts of keeping up with this slipping world and to turn to building a life of his own with her. Was the unarticulated and unexamined self even there? Years later, Stevens leaves on a road trip, in a rapidly transforming Britain, to reclaim himself and a love that had stayed unspoken and nearly unfelt.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Book Editor Strove to Bring Literature to the Masses

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jason Epstein spent a career in publishing trying to make great books readily available to the masses—and never lost his hope that more of them would share his enthusiasm.

As a young editor at Doubleday & Co. in the early 1950s, he launched Anchor Books, a line of paperbacks devoted to literature and serious nonfiction rather than the usual romances and crime stories lurking between soft covers.

In 1963, he helped found the New York Review of Books. Mr. Epstein later was a founder of the Library of America, a nonprofit that publishes new editions of books deemed classics.

He edited books by writers including V.S. Pritchett, Jane Jacobs, W.H. Auden and Norman Mailer. “I wasn’t used to working with someone who might be a lot brighter than I am,” Mr. Mailer once said of his experience with Mr. Epstein.

In the mid-2000s, Mr. Epstein co-founded On Demand Books to supply Espresso Book Machine printers that can produce paperbacks in minutes at the point of sale. He predicted the service would transform publishing by cutting out middlemen. Usage of the machines has been meager, partly due to resistance from publishers.

Mr. Epstein, who died Feb. 4 at age 93, remained optimistic. “I’ve never been wrong about the future of the business,” he told the New York Times in 2001. “It sounds boastful. But it’s not boastful to tell the truth.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Men going their own way: the rise of a toxic male separatist movement

From The Guardian:

The men of the MGTOW movement aim to live their lives with no female contact. The idea began on the fringes of the internet – so how has it made it all the way to the White House?

here has been an awakening … changing the world … one man at a time.” These are the dramatic words that appear when you visit mgtow.com. In a video that looks a lot like an action-movie trailer, the words are soon followed by five more that appear to smash through the screen, smouldering fiery red: “Men … going … their … own way.”

If you stumbled across this website and had never heard of “men going their own way” (MGTOW) before, you would probably assume this was a tiny, extreme movement. But you would be only half right.

The views of MGTOW are indeed unorthodox, even within the sprawling web of groups, lifestyles and cults known as the “manosphere”, where women-haters mobilise against a supposed gynocratic conspiracy. While incels plot violent revenge on women, and pickup artists (PUAs) deploy predatory tactics to “game” women into having sex with them, the men of the MGTOW attempt to eschew relationships with women altogether. They are, literally, going their own way. Far, far away from any women. At all.

Although some MGTOW maintain platonic relationships with women and others have one-night stands or visit sex workers, many prefer to abstain from sex, a process referred to as “going monk”. This is too much for some members of the wider manosphere. The blogger Matt Forney, notorious for posts such as “Why fat girls don’t deserve to be loved” and “The necessity of domestic violence”, wrote that “men going their own way is no way for men to go” and mocked MGTOW as “a cult for lonely virgins”.

But this isn’t an obscure internet cul-de-sac; mgtow.com alone has almost 33,000 members. Its forums (“for men only”) contain conversations on more than 50,000 topics, with more than 790,000 replies, which range from advice on divorcing as cheaply as possible to lurid stories about women who have found particularly inventive ways to murder their husbands. The site also lists 25 video channels; between them, these have more than 730,000 followers, and their videos have been viewed a total of 130m times.

Over on YouTube, one of the best-known MGTOW vloggers, who goes by the name of Sandman, has racked up more 90m views for videos with titles ranging from “Smart men don’t get married” to “Criticise her and she will destroy your career”.

The MGTOW philosophy is elaborately laid out on the mgtow.com website, which summarises it as “a statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else”. Drawing on snippets of quotes and newspaper clippings, the site claims that MGTOW dates back to great men, including Schopenhauer, Beethoven, Galileo and “even Jesus Christ”.

Women are essentially portrayed as parasites riding on the coattails of men, who have, throughout history, been responsible for “far greater miracles of science, discovery and human endeavour”. By shaking women off, it is explained, men will be free to pursue ever higher achievements.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

7 Novels About All-Women Households and Communities

From Electric Lit:

Depictions of women living without men can be found in literature since the advent of the novel. From Sense and Sensibility to The Golden Notebook to Bridget Jones’ Diary, such women are often unconventional, either unwilling or unable to fit the mould prescribed to them by society. They’re threats, failures, outcasts, but they can also be trailblazers—women who want to determine their own paths.

. . . .

The following books are all about women who are, in different ways, living without men—either out of choice, or because they’ve been compelled to, or simply because, unintentionally, that’s how their lives have turned out. Their situations are used contrastingly by each writer to explore women’s position in the world, their relationship to men and to society.

. . . .

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

In Sophie Mackintosh’s fairy-tale-like dystopia, three girls—Grace, Lia and Sky—live alone on an island with their parents, Mother and King. The girls were too young when they moved to now remember the outside world, but they know that it’s filled with toxins, and that the main source of these toxins are men. The girls have always relied on King for survival, but one day he leaves to get supplies and doesn’t come back, and the women are left alone. An exploration of toxic masculinity and patriarchy, Mackintosh creates a closed world which is meant to prioritize the safety of women, but where a sadistic man—King —remains entirely in charge. Only when he disappears, and three young men unexpectedly arrive on the island, do the girls start acting with autonomy and questioning what they’ve been told.

. . . .

To the North by Elizabeth Bowen

To the North, Bowen’s 1932 novel, tells the story of two young women who live together—Cecilia, recently widowed after less than a year of marriage, and Emmeline, the sister of Cecilia’s late husband. The novel follows Cecilia’s reluctant move towards a second marriage, and Emmeline’s destructive love affair with the selfish and predatory Markie. Set during the interwar period, a time of much debate about the position of the single or “surplus” woman after the deaths of so many men in World War I, Bowen’s novel explores the predicament of unconventional women pursuing independent lives. The cohabitation of Emmeline and Cecilia is treated with great suspicion by the other characters in the novel, a sign of the women’s dislocation from society, in a world where “home” for a woman means the home you find with your husband. As Emmeline reflects, when she discovers that Cecilia will remarry, “houses shared with women are built on sand.”

. . . .

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Set in a 12th-century English convent, Matrix is a reimagining of the life of Marie de France, a visionary poet about whom not much is known. Groff has creatively filled in the gaps, opening the novel with the 17-year-old Marie arriving at an English nunnery. She’s been thrown out of her beloved Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court because she’s too unattractive to be married, and has been sent to an impoverished royal abbey to become prioress. Initially, Marie is lonely and depressed, but then she decides to take charge of the nunnery, becoming prioress and then abbess. In the creation of an all-women utopia, men are expelled from the lands surrounding the convent, and a labyrinth is constructed to protect the nuns from attack. Matrix is a beautiful and profound novel about visionary leadership and the addictive nature of power.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Pottermore heralds ‘exceptional’ year as profits soar by 150%

From The Bookseller:

Pottermore Publishing, the digital content company for J K Rowling’s Wizarding World, saw revenues rise by around a quarter to £40.4m while pretax profits rocketed 150% to £9.5m.

The company reported details of its financial results on 31st January covering the period for the 12 months to 31st March 2021. It has not yet made its accounts public at Companies House.

Revenues saw an uplift of 23% from £32.5m in 2020 to £40.4m while pretax profits soared from £3.8m to £9.5m.

The company said: “Pottermore Ltd had an exceptional year benefitting from a significantly increased appetite for digital reading during the pandemic, strong sales performance of the Harry Potter e-books and digital audiobooks and continued investment in franchise planning in partnership with Warner Bros.

“The Harry Potter At Home campaign, delivered by Wizarding World Digital LLC, further supported reading during the lockdown of 2020. This saw celebrities from the Wizarding World and beyond read from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Bloomsbury Children’s). The chapter reads were made available free of charge on www.wizardingworld.com. Pottermore Publishing also worked with partners such as Audible and Overdrive during this time to allow free access to the audio book and e-book of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in multiple languages.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

‘Maus’ Tops Amazon Bestseller List After Tennessee School Board Pulls Graphic Novel

From The Wall Street Journal:

Maus,” a graphic novel about the Holocaust published decades ago, reached the top of Amazon.com Inc.’s bestsellers list after a Tennessee school board’s decision to remove the book spurred criticism nationwide.

“The Complete Maus,” which includes the first and second installments of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel, sat at the top of Amazon’s bestseller list Monday morningIt later moved to the No. 2 spot. Separate copies of the installments, published in 1986 and 1991, respectively, were also among the top 10 bestselling books on the retail giant’s website.

Attention to the graphic novel was renewed this month when the McMinn County Board of Education in Athens, Tenn., voted unanimously to remove “Maus” from its eighth-grade curriculum. The 10-member board cited “vulgar” words that appeared in the book as well as subjects they deemed inappropriate for eighth-graders.  

The school board’s Jan. 10 decision sparked widespread criticism. In an interview with CNBC last week, Mr. Spiegelman said he was baffled by the move, calling it “Orwellian.” A representative for Mr. Spiegelman said he wasn’t available for further comment Monday.

. . . .

In “Maus,” Mr. Spiegelman examines the horrors of the Holocaust and his parents’ journey of survival, depicting Nazis as cats and Jewish people as mice. The nearly 300-page graphic novel received a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992.

The McMinn County Board of Education said the graphic novel “was simply too adult-oriented” and cited the use of profanity, nudity, and depictions of violence and suicide. In a statement last week, the board said it doesn’t dispute the importance of teaching students about the Holocaust and said it asked administrators to find more age-appropriate texts to “accomplish the same educational goal.”

“The atrocities of the Holocaust were shameful beyond description, and we all have an obligation to ensure that younger generations learn from its horrors to ensure that such an event is never repeated,” the board said in a statement last week. “We simply do not believe that this work is an appropriate text for our students to study.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

Subscriber List Cleaning

PG did a bit of cleaning of the subscriber list for TPV after filtering through a bunch of comments that were clearly spam that sneaked past the TPV spam plugin.

This included consulting a list of internet country codes known for generating lots of spam.

He noted one domain on the list – bunkbedsforsale.com and a lot of Gmail addresses that looked something like girls.x.4.d.g.9.0.8.1.c.z.sex.y.b.3@gmail.com.

If you’ve been improperly cleaned, sign up to subscribe to the daily TPV email again.

China isn’t our only intellectual piracy problem

From The Deseret News:

The U.S. economy runs on startups. For all of America’s brand-name mega-corporations, it’s young firms that create most of our new jobs during periods of economic growth.

Those startups, in turn, depend on America’s famously strong laws protecting their patented inventions and other intellectual property. The only way someone with a big idea but minimal resources can outcompete established firms is through proper government protection of their innovations.

Today, we are failing in that responsibility. Instead, our laxity is empowering predators foreign and domestic — endangering not only the next Apple, Microsoft, or Facebook, but our entire economy.

For years, the greatest threat to American intellectual property has been China. As our economy became more globalized and digitized, Chinese IP piracy became endemic — totaling an estimated $600 billion in costs to the U.S. economy per year. In 2019, a CNBC survey of American corporations found that nearly one-third of respondents had experienced IP theft by Chinese pirates in the past decade. Testifying before Congress in 2020, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, “I think it’s well documented that the Chinese government steals technology from American companies.”

More telling than Zuckerberg’s acknowledgment, however, was the strange but unmistakable equivocation by the other Big Tech executives at the hearing. When asked the same question, the CEOs of Apple, Amazon and Google — individuals famous for their breadth of knowledge and laser focus on their businesses — all shrugged and testified only that they hadn’t personally seen any Chinese IP piracy.

While many, including the U.S. Attorney General, slammed them for “kowtowing” to Beijing, there is another reason those firms might not want to shine too bright a light on IP theft: it’s become a valuable part of their own business models.

. . . .

Early this month, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued a final ruling finding that Google infringed on five patents belonging to Sonos, a company that makes smart speakers. The story is a worst-case scenario for a startup innovator. Over a decade ago, Sonos developed one of the most advanced wireless audio systems in the market — a product so impressive that Google wanted to partner with the company on it. Sonos alleges that early in the partnership, Google lifted Sonos-patented technology for Google’s own audio equipment — and continued doing so for future products despite Sonos calling the tech giant out for infringement.

Sonos’s experience was no fluke. Google faced 48 patent infringement lawsuits in 2021.

That’s more than any other company, but Google is certainly not the only alleged perpetrator.

Sonos has accused Amazon of stealing the same technologies for use in its Echo audio systems. Additionally, in 2020, a federal jury ordered Amazon to pay $5 million to Texas-based Vocalife for infringing on its patents to make Echo. Meanwhile, Apple was recently ordered to pay $300 million in damages to Optis Wireless Technology for patent infringement.

It’s no accident, then, that the number of IP lawsuits rose in 2020 for the first time since 2015, and court awards rose to $4.67 billion from just $1.5 billion in 2019.

It also makes holding China to account much harder. After all, if the richest and most powerful businesses in America are ignoring our intellectual property laws — supposedly some of the strongest in the world — why shouldn’t our global adversaries?

The real issue here isn’t complicated: When laws against theft aren’t vigorously enforced, thieves are going to steal. That’s true as much for sophisticated IP infringement as it is for the wave of organized shoplifting in California today. With billions of dollars at stake, slaps on the wrist or gentle nudges aren’t going to deter highly motivated pickpockets in Beijing, Silicon Valley, or anywhere else. Congress has to tighten up our IP laws and stiffen penalties, and the Justice Department needs to ramp up enforcement while there are still innovative American startups left to save.

Link to the rest at The Deseret News

PG says authors shouldn’t rest easy because the OP talks about patents instead of copyrights. Ebook piracy is at a significant level. Overpricing of ebooks by traditional publishing is certainly a motivation, but pirates aren’t known for staying away from indie authors as well.

When a friend talks about a great new website where all sorts of ebooks are marked way down from the prices Amazon charges, don’t hesitate to explain that it’s likely a pirate site. In addition to preventing authors from being paid for their works, piracy destinations are also known as great places to get your computer or tablet infected with malware. Then, it’s possible your friend will share the malware with all of her friends as well.

If you have to trash a computer or even a hard drive due to malware, a new one will cost you much more than any number of ebooks would have on Amazon. If you have to hire someone to come in to remove the malware, that’s also going to cost a lot of money. If you lose all your tax information or your manuscripts, that’s another potentially expensive consequence. If your friends get infected from your computer and have to spend money cleaning up their problems, you may not get invited out to lunch in the future.

And if you find a copy of a NYT bestseller that usually costs $19.95 that only costs 99 cents, conveniently payable by credit card, you may find your life gets a lot more complicated as well. Think of how your significant other will respond to $5,000 in new charges on your joint credit card.

Yes, you may be able to get some or all charges reversed, but, depending on the circumstances, you may not. At a minimum, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time explaining to some suspicious credit card employees how you were so stupid as to fall for a well-known scam.

To be clear, PG isn’t saying that every pirate site for free ebooks is infected with malware, but enough are that it’s a good idea to stay away from all of them because the potential for an expensive loss is greater than any money you might save in the short run. Besides, cheating authors whose books you like is really low.

Pulling back to a longer philosophic perspective, PG has learned that life will be more pleasant and easier for a person who doesn’t act like a jerk.

Artists use frauds

Artists use frauds to make human beings seem more wonderful than they really are. Dancers show us human beings who move much more gracefully than human beings really move. Films and books and plays show us people talking much more entertainingly than people really talk, make paltry human enterprises seem important. Singers and musicians show us human beings making sounds far more lovely than human beings really make. Architects give us temples in which something marvelous is obviously going on. Actually, practically nothing is going on

Kurt Vonnegut

Film Adaptations Of Books Earn 53% More At The Worldwide Box Office

From Forbes (2018):

Film adaptations of books gross 44% more at the U.K. box office and a full 53% more worldwide than films from original screenplays, according to research commissioned by the Publishers Association and produced by Frontier Economics. 

The report also found that 43% of the top 20 highest-grossing films in the U.K. from 2007 to 2016 were book-based and another 9% were based on comic books. Data for the report was compiled from a variety of sources, publishing industry magazine The Bookseller notes, incorporating case studies and publically available information alongside contributions from the BBC, UK Theatre and Nielsen BookScan.

“In short, published material is the basis of 52% of top U.K. films in the last 10 years, and accounts for an even higher share of revenue from these leading performers, at 61% of U.K. box office gross and 65% of worldwide gross,” says the report, adding later that “Across any of the common measures of viewership, book adaptations on average outperform shows based on original scripts or on comic books and other sources.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Saving Classics From Identity Politics

From The Atlantic:

Early in Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation, Roosevelt Montas describes an intellectual origin story that I found strikingly familiar. Montas, a fatherless teenager who had recently immigrated to the Bronx from the sticks of the Dominican Republic and was still learning to read in English, found himself on a winter evening faced with a pile of discarded books, some ornately decorated with gold-edged pages, waiting for the garbage collectors. “I wanted to take them all, but there were too many, and we had no bookshelves,” he writes. “In the end, I grabbed only two hardbacks. One of them was a volume of Plato’s dialogues.” That fortuitous selection—and his dogged efforts to learn what was between those covers—would fundamentally change him.

Half a century earlier, in a provincial and segregated Texas community, my own fatherless Black father had a chance encounter with the very same text. And as it freed Montas, it liberated him. It allowed him to build his sense of himself as a reader and thinker, and to forge a connection to a tradition that could not be severed by the accident of his skin or the deprivations his immediate ancestors had suffered.

I suppose, then, that I was primed to admire Montas’s earnest defense of the humanities, which is also a personal testament to the power of a liberal education. And I was primed, as well, by my own experiences and observations to agree with his argument that minority and underprivileged students would have at least as much to gain as their more advantaged peers from entry into the larger intellectual culture that has molded the Western societies we must navigate.

“Every year, I witness Socrates bringing students—my high school students as well as my Columbia students—to serious contemplation of the ultimately existential issues his philosophy demands we grapple with,” Montas writes. “My students from low-income households do not take this sort of thinking to be the exclusive privilege of a social elite. In fact they find in it a vision of dignity and excellence that is not constrained by material limitations.”

This position may have once seemed obvious (think of how W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass stressed the importance of universal, humanistic education), but today it is radical and contested. In the all-consuming culture wars, Western customs and habits of thought, which are ever more conflated with oppressive “whiteness,” have been pitted against oversimplified understandings of diversity and group identity. The latter are ascendant. But as Montas’s book and life make clear, ideas and identity needn’t ever be a question of either/or.

Identities, resonant as they may feel, are almost always too narrowly drawn in the contemporary pedagogical discourse, particularly when even those with the best of intentions take the interests of Black and brown and otherwise marginalized students into account.

“Representation of the cultural backgrounds of a diverse student body as an organizing principle in general education necessarily leads to incoherence, essentialism, and tokenism,” Montas argues. “The criterion of democratic representation—appropriate for politics—is not appropriate for selecting common curricula; to adopt it as such is to abandon the very idea of education and to turn students into interest groups, each lobbying for their own special curricular accommodations.” Yet in this era of seemingly limitless racial reckoning, elite academic institutions have made a devil’s bargain with group identity, in many cases at the expense of the elevating notion that some ideas have withstood the test of time and shaped the contemporary world for a reason. Many academics have stopped arguing that certain ideas are worth understanding no matter the standpoint from which any one individual might approach them.

Last year, in a much-discussed article in The New York Times Magazine, Rachel Poser chronicled Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s fervent mission to “save classics from whiteness.” Padilla’s origin story is quite like Montas’s: A child prodigy also from the Dominican Republic, he drew attention and admiration in the New York City homeless shelter he inhabited with his family. There, he fell in love with a textbook titled How People Lived in Ancient Greece and Rome. He excelled in every elite space in which his gifts and drive landed him. Each institution he encountered—from Manhattan’s Collegiate School, to Princeton, to Oxford, to Stanford, to Columbia and then back to Princeton—enacted the principles of a liberal education and catapulted him upward.

He distinguished himself early in his career as an authority on the Roman senatorial classes and published original research into the interior and religious lives of the empire’s enslaved population. Nonetheless, even as his star rose, he “began to feel that he had lost something in devoting himself to the classical tradition,” Poser wrote in the Times article. “Padilla sensed that his pursuit of classics had displaced other parts of his identity, just as classics and ‘Western civilization’ had displaced other cultures and forms of knowledge. Recovering them would be essential to dismantling the white-supremacist framework in which both he and classics had become trapped.”

Here’s Poser describing the revolution in Padilla’s thinking and his intense ambition to excavate his authentic self from the scaffolding of his education, which led him far away from Montas’s universalist worldview.

Padilla has said that he “cringes” when he remembers his youthful desire to be transformed by the classical tradition. Today he describes his discovery of the textbook at the Chinatown shelter as a sinister encounter, as though the book had been lying in wait for him. He … now sees the moment of absorption into the classical, literary tradition as simultaneous with his apprehension of racial difference; he can no longer find pride or comfort in having used it to bring himself out of poverty. He permits himself no such relief. “Claiming dignity within this system of structural oppression,” Padilla has said, “requires full buy-in into its logic of valuation.” He refuses to “praise the architects of that trauma as having done right by you at the end.”

Padilla slaps the sins of slavery, racism, colonialism, fascism, and the production of whiteness on his discipline and told Poser that he “suspects that he will one day need to leave classics and the academy in order to push harder for the changes he wants to see in the world. He has even considered entering politics.” This is extreme, but Padilla is not alone in his refusal to separate ideas from the flawed and compromised men and women through whom they have been transmitted. Even rudimentary educational pursuits such as basic literacy and numeracy have in recent years—and especially since the George Floyd protests of the summer of 2020—been combed over in search of latent and structural anti-Black and -brown biases. A vocal and growing number of people in the knowledge economy now purport to believe, some genuinely and some no doubt expediently, that there is no such thing as an idea devoid of the historical power imbalances inscribed in contemporary identity designations.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

‘The collapse of humanity is deathly funny’: Gary Shteyngart on writing comedy in difficult times

From The Guardian:

do not write historical fiction. But I envy those who do. I can picture them sitting in the lamp-lit halls of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, thumbing through fraying, early 20th‑century telephone directories or spinning the roulette of the microfiche machine, or meeting at a nearby coffee dispensary with fellow history-minded wordsmiths in the wee hours of the day, like hunters getting ready to put a bullet through the heart of a wildebeest. The best are able to address the current moment through deft metaphysical journeys between the present and the past, to illuminate our wayward realities by reminding us that it has ever been so, that the past is not even the past, or whatever Faulkner said.

Personally, I have trouble building a literary time machine. A decade ago, when I wrote a memoir set primarily in the 1980s, all I could remember of that era was Michael J Fox running around in a varsity jacket. The rest of my memories were just volumes of mist that sometimes trickled out of my minor brain holes, tantalising but highly suspect emissions that bore news of events which may or may not have been. When one’s teenage years are a distant Greek island, imagine trying to write a novel about the romantic entanglements of the Italian futurists or the political cataclysms of Meiji-era Japan, or anything at all about the ancient Egyptians.

As a child of two failing superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, I have always found myself in a maximal historical position. The headlines of the newspapers, whether Pravda or the New York Times, were always screaming about events on a global scale. There was no “Local Drive-In Theater to Feature Annual Jaws Marathon” or “Piggly Wiggly 5k Marathon Nets Hearts and Dollars for Muscular Dystrophy Research”. It was all “The Struggle Continues, Angola Will Win”, or our Marines lying dead in the rubble of Beirut. For as long as I’ve been alive, I have been, like the character of John Self in Martin Amis’s Money, addicted to the present. And writing about the perfidy, the hubris, the insanity of these two large, imploding imperial suns, the US and USSR, in something like real time has been my mandate from the start. My first novel, written as a five-year-old and paid for in pieces of glossy Soviet cheese by my literature-obsessed grandmother, concerned Lenin meeting a magical socialist goose and conquering Finland. The rest of my work has pretty much followed suit.

When the pandemic first hit, I had been writing a humour-forward dystopian novel in which New York University had taken over most of Manhattan, building walls and checkpoints round the island, and deputising its own military force, the Violet Helmets (violet is one of the school’s colours), to keep out the non-matriculated. Come March 2020, reality rushed over the draft of my funny dystopia in waves. Once people started dying and our president continued lying, I realised the smallness of my attempted novel, the way the academic satire seemed much too easy and glib. I had undershot my historical mandate and had to make amends immediately. I trashed 240 pages of NYU conquering Manhattan and began to write a tight Chekhovian take on the disaster at hand, a novel with the simple title Our Country Friends.

The importance of the moment presented itself right away. My first novel looked at the world through the prism of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the immigrants who had washed ashore on the other side of the Atlantic; my second through the prism of oil politics and American foreign policy. My third examined the advent of tech as the ultimate arbiter of American society (and the death of its democracy); my fourth the way America had become fully financialised by a class of useless and clueless meritocrats. I had always hovered around the present moment, a few years behind it or, in the case of my third novel, Super Sad True Love Story, slightly ahead of it. That book was recently mentioned in the pages of this newspaper in an article about how banks such as Lloyds and NatWest have demanded the firing of faculty staff at London’s Goldsmiths art college – in Super Sad, the school has been rebranded as HSBC-Goldsmiths and offers double qualifications in finance and art.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

How to Reach Out to Someone Beyond “How Are You?”

Apropos for the Covid years.

From the Grammarly Blog:

With so many uncertainties stemming from the current pandemic, you might be looking for more human connection and comfort from friends and family. And while it’s good to check in with loved ones more regularly, simply asking how they are doing might not be enough to show true empathy.

There are alternative ways to inquire about how someone is doing that can be more helpful and supportive—especially during a challenging time. The most important thing is to ask a genuine question that invites a genuine answer.

If there’s someone in your life that really needs your support and compassion, here are 10 ways to ask how someone is doing that are empathetic and open-ended.

1. How can I support you? 

If your friend or family member is dealing with something particularly stressful, ask them how you can help. Sometimes, it can be comforting just to know that you are ready to support them. Even if they don’t actually allow you to do anything special for them, like cooking them dinner or babysitting their new puppy, it’s good to express that you are there for moral support and are willing to help if need be.

2. What’s been on your mind lately?

Allowing your colleague to vent about whatever has been on their mind will likely lead to a deeper, more honest conversation. They’ll feel like you really care about their inner thoughts and feelings. By asking such a direct question, you’re letting them know that the floor is theirs and you are ready to listen to anything that’s been bothering them.

Link to the rest at the Grammarly Blog

Politics

PG has received a couple of private messages that are concerned that he has steered TPV into overly-political areas that have generated more heated disagreements than are usually the case at this location.

When PG reviewed the last few weeks of posts, he decided he agreed with with those who shared their concerns with him.

Henceforth, PG will endeavor to avoid posts containing politics of the elected-officials and government bureaucrats genre and stay closer to the author/book world. He does not, however, intend to bridle his scorn at idiots and predators in the publishing business, however.

Chapter House Is Turning A New Page For Indie Book Publishing

From Forbes:

The merger of indie presses Black Ocean and Not a Cult into a new publishing group offers new path for competitive small-press publishing in the digital era.

As debates about the metaverse rage on, a new development in publishing is proving that digital transformation is core to the future of one of the most legacy media formats in existence: books.

Today, two prominent indie presses — Black Ocean and Not a Cult — officially announced a merger, forming the Chapter House Publishing Group.

The move is intended to be greater than the sum of its parts: in addition to the two aforementioned presses, Chapter House will also stand up a raft of additional imprints: Psychonaut Press for speculative fiction and non-fiction (with editor-at-large Sheree Renée Thomas); Tetra House for self-publishing services and strategy; Kin Garden for children’s books and books for parents; Sauce Press for cookbooks and other food-related books, and an as of yet unnamed imprint for esoteric arts & ideas (with discussions of bringing on writer, curator, and host of The Witch Wave podcast, Pam Grossman, as editor).

. . . .

With this merger, Chapter House becomes one of the few U.S. indie publishing groups with a presence on both coasts, and has earned a new deal with prominent indie book distributor Consortium.

Not a Cult Founder Daniel Lisi and Black Ocean Founder Janaka Stucky see this new chapter as an assertion that independent publishing is more vibrant than ever — in contradistinction to the increasing homogeneity they perceive resulting from “Big Five” major book publishing (likely soon to be Big Four).

“As systems become more homogenous, it is necessary to diversify not only backgrounds but also a diversity of thought that isn’t sponsored by corporations beholden to their shareholders or investors,” Lisi said in an interview with the author. “You don’t want to read books 100% from one place. You want to have many sources, many voices, a chorus of information to explore.”

. . . .

Contrary to what some might expect, book sales have actually increased in the 2020s — seeing a rise of 8.2% in 2020 and an 18.5% increase in the first half of 2021 (compared to the first half of 2020). But like any medium, when book publishing is determined by the choices of a select few, authors and readers suffer.

Chapter House is combining the new possibilities of digital publishing with an emphasis on quality to become a publisher that makes the best of new and established practices. Major book publishing emphasizes volume; the more books a press prints at once, the cheaper the price per book. But this means that publishers are often implicitly seeking reliable hits to justify large print runs.

. . . .

Chapter House will continue to emphasize a small-team focus for each imprint, with accessible “unagented” submission periods continuing for both Black Ocean and Not a Cult (both of which received over 500 submissions during their open calls). In collaboration with art curator Alan Weiner, Chapter House opened up a new base of operations in Aero Salon in downtown Los Angeles and hired staff to handle fulfillment, with the goal of creating a sustainable, scalable, and transferable framework for indie presses to compete with big presses — while retaining an emphasis on boundary-pushing books — using streamlined digital tools and practices.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG doesn’t know anything about either small publisher, but unless both are consistently profitable, he’s reminded of the old story of two drowning men who see one another as potential means of mutual buoyancy.

Book bans in schools are catching fire. Black authors say uproar isn’t about students.

From NBC News:

Nearly six months ago, celebrated Black children’s author and illustrator Jerry Craft received a message saying some of his books were being pulled from a school library in Texas.

“I was caught off guard,” Craft, the Newbery Medal-winning author of the 2019 graphic novel “New Kid,” told NBCBLK. “I felt bad for the kids because I know how much they love ‘New Kid’ and ‘Class Act.’ I know what my school visits do. … I felt bad if there was going to be some kids that would not be able to take advantage of that.”

The person who sent the message to Craft is from Katy, Texas, a town near Houston that has been under fire for attempts to limit the public’s access to books that teach about racism. In October, the Katy Independent School District made headlines for temporarily yanking two of Craft’s books, which tell the stories of Black boys who experience racism in schools, from school libraries and postponing his virtual visit. A now-deleted petition with more than 400 signatures showed parents calling for Craft’s visit to be canceled.

At the time, Craft tweeted that he was shocked by the accusations.

“Apparently I’m teaching critical race theory,” Craft wrote in response to a parent confused about the ban, citing the decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America.

. . . .

While the Texas school district reinstated the book and rescheduled his visit, Craft is among dozens of Black authors whose works are being pulled from school libraries under the pretext that they’re teaching critical race theory. (Most of the books that are targeted for bans don’t teach critical race theory but are written by and about people of color.). The American Library Association said its Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, many with content that highlighted race, gender and sexuality. Since September alone, there have been at least 230 challenges, the organization said in an email.

Link to the rest at NBC News

For visitors from outside the United States, the teaching of what is usually called Critical Race studies/lessons/etc., has been causing a great deal of uproar during the last couple of years.

PG doesn’t know whether Critical Race Theory is a “decades-old academic and legal framework that teaches about racism in America” or not.

He does know the the latest uproar concerning Critical Race Theory began with an August, 2019, New York Times initiative titled “The 1619 Project,” with the following introduction:

In August of 1619, a ship appeared on this horizon, near Point Comfort, a coastal port in the English colony of Virginia. It carried more than 20 enslaved Africans, who were sold to the colonists. No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed. n the 400th anniversary of this fateful moment, it is finally time to tell our story truthfully.

The 1619 date is significant because late in 1620, a group of English pilgrims, dissenters from the Church of England, arrived in Massachusetts to establish a new settlement that would allow them to practice their religion without being persecuted.

In November, 1620, prior to leaving the ship which carried them to the United States, The Mayflower, this group of immigrants approved what has since been titled, “The Mayflower Compact.”

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great BritainFrance, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of EnglandFrance, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.

Prior to departing, the Pilgrims signed an agreement with The Virginia Company, a British commercial venture chartered by James I, to be industrious in Virginia after they arrived.

The 41 male Pilgrims aboard the ship signed the Mayflower Compact. They concluded that they hadn’t landed in the British Colony of Virginia, their intended destination (established by representatives of The Virginia Company as part of a commercial enterprise in 1607). Instead they had landed in present-day Massachusetts, about 600 miles North of Virginia and well outside of any jurisdiction or sphere of influence of The Virginia Company. PG doesn’t know exactly when anyone in Virginia learned about the Pilgrims, but it was certainly well after they and those who followed them to the Plymouth Colony were well-established and prospering.

The Mayflower Compact is significant because it established a framework for the majority of the male residents of The Plymouth Colony to create rules and laws by which all would be governed. Today, it is generally regarded as the first document setting forth a basis for a self-governing settlement anywhere in the English-speaking world and, perhaps in many other worlds as well.

[To} covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony;

More specifically, the male Pilgrims (including two indentured servants) agreed:

  • the colonists would remain loyal subjects to King James, despite their need for self-governance
  • the colonists would create and enact “laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” for the good of the colony, and abide by those laws
  • the colonists would create one society and work together to further it
  • the colonists would live in accordance with the Christian faith

The principles reflected in The Mayflower Company would be utilized and expanded upon elsewhere in North America and continue to be fundamental to federal and state governments in the United States. Principles embodied in the US Constitution has been copied and included in the constitutions of a number of democratic nations around the world.

While PG does not condone or excuse slavery in the United States, PG will point out that slaves were freed in the United States more than 150 years ago. The Southern States where slavery existed took more than 100 years to begin to recover economically from the Civil War. Rural poverty, black and white, is still a significantly larger problem in the states of the former Confederacy than it is elsewhere in the US.

PG suggests that the long-term impact of the 1620 document and the people who wrote it has been and is much greater in the US than the tragedy that began in 1619.

But PG acknowledges that others may disagree.

New Tech Can Distinguish Brush Strokes of Different Artists

From Smithsonian Magazine:

A new artificial intelligence (A.I.) tool may be able to foil fraud and help art historians determine the original creator behind particular paintings. The system analyzes tiny sections of paintings, some as small as half a millimeter, for telltale differences in brushwork, reports Benjamin Sutton for the Art Newspaper.

While previous projects used a form of machine learning to identify artists based on the analysis of high-resolution images of the paintings, the new system uses topographical scans of the canvasses.

. . . .

“We found that even at the brush bristle level, there was a fair level of success in sorting the attribution,” Kenneth Singer, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University, tells the Art Newspaper. “Frankly we don’t really understand that, it’s kind of mind boggling actually when you think about it, how the paint coming off a single bristle is indicative of what we’re calling the artist’s unintentional style.”

. . . .

To test the A.I. system, four art students at the Cleveland Institute of Art each painted yellow flowers using identical brushes, paints and canvases, reports Steven Litt reports for Cleveland.com. The researchers scanned the surfaces of the paintings using a tool known as a chromatic confocal optical profilometer, creating precise 3-D surface height data showing how the paint lay on the canvases, and digitally broke them into grids. The machine-learning system analyzed randomized samples and was able to sort them by the artist with a high level of accuracy.

“We broke the painting down into virtual patches ranging from one-half millimeter to a few centimeters square, so we no longer even have information about the subject matter,” says Michael Hinczewski, another Case Western physicist and coauthor of the study, in a statement. “But we can accurately predict who painted it from an individual patch. That’s amazing.”

. . . .

In additional research not yet published, the team used the A.I. to try to distinguish original portions of the 17th-century painting Portrait of Juan Pardo de Tavera (1609) by El Greco from sections that were damaged during the Spanish Civil War and restored later.

“This is a painting we have an answer key to, because we have photos of the destroyed painting and the current painting, so we’re able to make a map of the areas that were conserved, and [the A.I.] was able to identify those areas,” Singer tells the Art Newspaper. “But there was another section of the painting that it identified as conserved that wasn’t obvious, so we’re going to have a painting conservator in Spain look at the painting to see what’s going on.”

The team’s next project is analyzing two paintings of the crucifixion of Christ by El Greco in the hopes of distinguishing portions painted by himself, by his son Jorge Manuel; by other members of his workshop; and by later conservators.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

PG has been reading a bit about Artificial Intelligence and will have more on implications for authors tomorrow.

Embracing the Mystery: Deep POV

From Writers in the Storm:

Q: What’s Deep POV?

A: I can’t tell you, but I know it when I see it.

This worked well enough—until it didn’t.  So I got busy trying to get to the bottom of it.  Nail it down. Carve it in stone. Cement it immovably amid the legendary constancy of the English language.

I’ll wait till you stop laughing.

You can sort of follow the progress of this endeavor by the history of the titles I tried out:

  • A brief definition of Deep POV
  • Deep POV: Cracking the Code
  • Deep POV: Cracking the Code. Maybe
  • Deep POV: Legend, or Myth? [wait, those are the same thing…]
  • Deep POV: Is it really a thing?

as well as some of the discarded verbiage I left behind along the way (see strikeouts).

Deep POV is all about eliminating reducing managing distance between the reader and the story, and immersing the reader in the story. I knew intuitively how to use Deep POV (see “I know it when I see it,” above), but when one of my editing clients needed me to explain it, I realized I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of it to define it universally, without resorting to customized examples every time. I wanted something that would travel well from one manuscript to another. Something I wouldn’t have to re-create for each author or student I worked with.

What I found—and didn’t find

The struggle is real: nearly every website I visited had a slightly—or sometimes not so slightly—different definition, and Deep POV has yet to be covered by the likes of The Chicago Manual of Style or merriam-webster.com.

So you can see my dilemma. Someone had to do it. (Oh, the chutzpah.) (In my defense, I had significant prodding from a writer and publisher whose idea this column was in the first place.)

So, clothed in nothing but sheer, naked hubris, I tackled this slippery eel of a question: What exactly is Deep POV?

. . . .

I took what I was thinking and turned it into an equation. (And you thought that if you became a writer, you’d never need to use algebra again.) Here was my first hypothesis:

  • third-person limited POV + Deep POV = Deep POV
  • third-person limited POV + Deep POV – Deep POV = Deep POV – Deep POV
    (Stay with me; we’re just keeping both sides of the equation balanced.)
  • third-person limited POV = 0

Highly illogical. Thank you, Dr. Spock. My hypothesis was disproven.

So I tried this hypothesis instead:

  • third-person limited + inner dialogue = Deeper POV 

And the lights came on. I’d been crediting a literary device (internal dialogue) as the sole alchemy that magically turned one point of view into the gold of another, and mentally equating the two—internal dialogue and Deep POV—as essentially one thing. But it was adding the literary device of internal dialogue to an existing point of view that took the reader deeper into experiencing the story.

So, I had gotten this far in organizing my thoughts, most of which are obvious, but bear with me; I was fighting my way out of the deep underbrush here. I needed visuals.

  • Third-person limited* is a Point of View (POV).
  • Internal dialogue** is a literary device.
  • Using both in a story creates a deeper variant of third-person limited POV.

What I was actually looking at was the convergence of one point of view with a literary device that made it deeper, thicker, like cornstarch thickens broth and turns it into gravy.

So far, so good. BUT, for those of you holding your breath or yelling at your computer that I’m just wrong, wrong, WRONG, and I wouldn’t blame you at this juncture, here it is:

My hypothesis was much too limited. I needed a new hypothesis—and a fresh perspective.

. . . .

I had been looking at only a narrow segment of Deep POV, one that utilizes internal dialogue, taking readers inside your characters’ minds to live, as closely as possible, their experience. And it’s a powerful device, the rules of which are better left for another day.

But it’s not the only POV or literary device that can bring the reader closer, deeper into the story. Look at this short (and not exhaustive) list of things that can also do that:

  • First person can bring the reader into a story and add or remove distance, depending on what the story needs at any given point.
  • Present tense can establish an immediacy that brings the reader deeper into the character’s experience.
  • The narrator in third-person limited POV brings a level of closeness as the narrator paraphrases a character’s thoughts.
  • Visceral responses, subtext of varying kinds, body language can all enhance closeness for the reader.

All these things and more create an ambience, a mood, an attitude. I am no longer even sure that Deep POV is best described as a POV.

I am increasingly convinced that Deep POV is more a state of mind. Multiple devices can bring readers closer to what a character is thinking, feeling, experiencing, and thus bring the reader deeper into the story—at a level that you, the author, can manipulate with increasing skill as you use it. You can bring the reader only as far into the story as you want them to be, at any point in your story, as it serves your purpose.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

No, PG doesn’t understand Deep POV.

Contracts: Traditional Publishing

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

Here’s a weird thing about businesses: When a business is rolling in cash, the people who run it loosen their grip on the details. Instead of solving a problem, they throw money at it. Often they don’t recognize the problem for the danger that it might be, until it comes back to bite them, years down the road.

However, when the business notices that its revenues are down, and nothing it does seems to improve them, the business tightens whatever belt it can find. It also gets draconian about the details. Before, when the business was throwing thousands of dollars at a problem, the business didn’t really care about hundreds of dollars or tens of dollars or the pocket change.

When that business realizes its revenues are down, though—and maybe down for a bunch of months or even years—then that business watches every single dollar that flows in and out. In fact, if it’s a publicly traded company and/or if it has a board of directors and/or if it has shareholders to answer to, the business also finds a way to inflate its bottom line.

Inflating the bottom line attracts investors. It also keeps the stock price up (for any publicly traded company), and it makes the folks running this slowly sinking ship look like they’re doing Just Fine.

I’ve been thinking about that principle a lot this past semester. I’ve been taking an Entertainment Law class. I love it. I really do. I was exhausted at the end of the semester from that class, from finishing a (surprise) novel, from a bunch of things, and I still find myself looking forward to the second half of the EL class in the spring, so much so that I couldn’t quite believe it when one of my classmates said she didn’t think she’d take the second part of the class, even though it has units on movies, television, and streaming, things she, as a wannabe screenwriter, needs to understand.

For me, the first two weeks of the class were a gimme—copyright law, the bedrock foundation of entertainment law here in the U.S. (and abroad). I got that stuff. But the rest of it showed me just how haphazard my knowledge is.

In class, we read a lot of cases, and that, more than anything, showed my why my book contracts morphed and changed over the years, why it became so hard to suddenly negotiate points that seemed small to me, but seemed very, very important to the person on the other side of the table.

Usually, the changes came about because copyright law changed in a major way (twice in the United States during my active career; three times in my lifetime), but sometimes the contracts changed because some publisher lost a big dramatic lawsuit, and everyone wanted to prevent the same kind of loss from happening to them.

. . . .

Case in point was the sample publishing contract in the 12-year-old edition of the textbook. I have never, in my entire career, seen a contract like that one. Not a single one. And I have read maybe close to a thousand publishing contracts.

How have I read so many when I haven’t published that many books? Early on, I was in a group with young writers who shared contracts, even though we weren’t supposed to. That was a hell of an education in levels of contracts. Later, friends shared, particularly when they got high-end deals. And in the past thirty years or so, students have sent contracts, asking for help in understanding them. Or at least, students used to. Most of the people Dean and I teach now are indie.

The book contract in that textbook had a lot of clauses that were more favorable to the writer than I had ever seen. It also had some truly bizarre clauses that publishers seemed to think they wanted.

What caught my attention, though, was the advertising section of the contract. It went on for pages, with a suggested ad budget and an advertising plan as part of the contract.

You lawyers and the contract-savvy will understand this: If the advertising budget and the proposed plan are part of the contract, and the publisher reneges or somehow cannot pull off that advertising plan, then they are in breach of contract.

All I can think is that this sample contract dated from the 1970s or was very specific to one author that the book’s authors were familiar with. Because I’ve seen contracts with a stipulated advertising section. That section is as vague as possible. (The Publisher will use all best efforts to run a full-scale advertising campaign in accordance with best practices for the period when the Work appears…)

. . . .

Over the decades since the first edition of this textbook was published in the early 1980s, writers have lost a lot of their clout. Writers also stopped relying on knowledgeable people to help them negotiate their contracts and relied on literary agents instead.

With few exceptions, literary agents do not use the services of lawyers to help negotiate a contract. Some of the larger agencies do, especially if they’re affiliated with other branches of the entertainment industry, but most of the time a traditional book contract is being negotiated by a person without a law degree whose knowledge of contract law is more haphazard than mine is.

What this has done with traditional publishing contracts is make them exceptionally inequitable. The contracts favor the publishers and, in some cases, actively harm the writers.

I’ve been shouting about this for years now. The problem is that in the years since I last got a traditional publishing book contract, the destructive nature of the contracts has grown worse, not better. Major companies are trying to license as many rights as possible for the life of the copyright. These companies have a hand-waving termination clause in the contract—something like if the book can’t be found for sale somewhere then it’s out of print—which means nothing in these days of internet sales.

Even contracts that have a good termination clause negate that clause in a different section (usually in the warranties). And within the last two or three years, some traditional book publishers have gotten smart and added a clause like this:

This contract represents the entire Agreement between the Publisher and the Writer. If any part of this Agreement is deemed unlawful or unenforceable, the rest of the Agreement shall remain in effect.

Think about that for a moment. In the past, a bad clause or two would have caused a breach of contract. I’d like to say not anymore, at least with these clauses at the very end, but I don’t know. I suspect that clause has not been challenged in court.

. . . .

But traditional publishers are using contracts for things other than swallowing and holding other people’s IP. The larger companies, particularly the Big 5, are adding morality clauses.

I couldn’t find a good example of these clauses in the handful of contracts I have at my fingertips, but The New York Times a few years ago gave two good examples. The first is from Penguin Random House, which is poised to control even more of the traditional publishing industry.

At the time this article was written, four years ago, Randy Penguin’s clause read like this:

These clauses release a company from the obligation to publish a book if, in the words of Penguin Random House, “past or future conduct of the author inconsistent with the author’s reputation at the time this agreement is executed comes to light and results in sustained, widespread public condemnation of the author that materially diminishes the sales potential of the work.”

As of February, Randy Penguin did not require the author to repay all monies paid in that instance.

The 2017 article pointed out Condé Nast’s morality clause in its annual contract for regular magazine contributors, a clause which is infinitely worse than Randy Penguin’s was. The article says,

If, in the company’s “sole judgment,” the clause states, the writer “becomes the subject of public disrepute, contempt, complaints or scandals,” Condé Nast can terminate the agreement.

Um, what? What?  “Contempt”? “Complaints”? What do those things even mean? And does it matter, since those are determined only by Condé Nast, not by any objective (if there is one) source?

. . . .

Again, clauses like this are designed to chill behavior, not to punish it. Sure, it will give the publishing company an out if the writer goes from, say, being the doctor to an entire gymnastics team to being outed as a serial rapist, but the morality clause could just as easily be frivolously used to break a contract with a prickly author who the replacement for the acquiring editor does not like.

Or as PEN America said in its opposition to the morality clause:

While the necessity of such clauses may be understandable where an author with a signed book contract is convicted of a crime or publicly admits to immoral behavior, PEN America is concerned that some clauses pave the way for publishers to cancel publication on the basis of speech that is controversial, offensive, or provocative, but legally protected. If writers are on notice that a provocative comment, quote, or social media post that stokes uproar may prompt the cancellation of a book contract, they may constrain their expression for fear of harming their careers. Morality clauses thus risk chilling speech and narrowing discourse among writers who fear a loss of livelihood based on their publisher’s response.

The morals clause and the copyright license are big issues in current contracts. A smaller, telling issue shows yet again how traditional publishers are trying to control the behavior of the writers they bring on board.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG’s first rule of business relationships is:

Don’t do business with crooks.

This is PG’s shorthand vernacular for advice not to deal with people or organizations which are dishonest. Some publishers and some agents fall into this category.

PG regards some of the contract provisions described in the OP as substantial overreaching, an indication for him that whatever organization inserted them in its “standard” contract is, at a minimum, overreaching and not to be trusted.

Morals clauses or morality clauses originated, like a great many other one-sided contract provisions, in Hollywood contracts between movie studios and their major stars. Morals clauses first appeared there in response to a scandal involving silent screen star, Fatty Arbuckle.

Fatty was charged with the rape and killings of an actress in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in 1921. He was tried for these alleged crimes three times. The first two trials resulted in a hung jury and the last resulted in an acquittal of Arbuckle on all charges.

Despite the acquittal, the official motion picture censor banned all of Arbuckle’s films and Arbuckle’s career was over for a period of time. He never regained his former stature or compensation level.

Universal Studios placed the first morals clause in its contracts for talent in 1921:

The actor (actress) agrees to conduct himself (herself) with due regard to public conventions and morals and agrees that he (she) will not do or commit anything tending to degrade him (her) in society or bring him (her) into public hatred, contempt, scorn or ridicule, or tending to shock, insult or offend the community or outrage public morals or decency, or tending to the prejudice of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company or the motion picture industry. In the event that the actor (actress) violates any term or provision of this paragraph, then the Universal Film Manufacturing Company has the right to cancel and annul this contract by giving five (5) days’ notice to the actor (actress) of its intention to do so.

Morals clauses are most commonly found in contracts for actors or other performers, including television personalities and newscasters. Stars of reality television shows are also likely to have these clauses. Morals clauses are also common in professional sports contracts between players and team owners.

One way that PG has used to help deal with unfair contract provisions is to ask the other party for a reciprocal provision in the agreement that obligates them in the same manner as PG’s client is obligated.

If PG’s client is obligated to pay money to the other party on a certain date and the other party has the right to terminate the contract upon the failure to pay that money on that date, PG might suggest a similar provision that allows his client to terminate the contract if the other party fails to complete its promised actions at the time(s) set forth in the agreement.

This doesn’t always work but, when it’s rational, it’s a great way to cause the other side to become more realistic in its contract language.

The same strategy has been used in response to morals clauses. If an organization wants an individual to sign a contract including a morals clause that allows the organization to terminate its agreement if the individual commits certain acts, including saying or writing something offensive, a reciprocal morals clause could be proposed for the officers, directors and major shareholders of the company asking for the morals clause.

If a performer’s or author’s contract with an organization will be terminated for saying or doing something offensive, the officer or director’s relationship with the organization will also be similarly terminated if the officer or director says or does the same sort of thing and the performer wishes to exercise this contractual power. Major shareholders could be be required to divest themselves of their ownership interests in the company or put them in a blind trust with a large bank as trustee.

If you would like to read more about morals clauses, PG located a 2016 law review article on the subject that seems to be free of paywalls. You can find it here.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Change is hardest

Change is hardest at the beginning, messiest in the middle and best at the end.

Robin S. Sharma

What Is a Book?

From Public Books:

nyone who remembers making the transition from typewriting to word processing has probably thrown away a fair number of floppy disks and jettisoned more than a few computers since then. Bad for the planet, yes. But it also poses particular challenges for the stewards and denizens of archives. We are still learning what it means to consult the “papers” of an important entity or individual when that becomes a metaphor for digital materials. A presidential library with its collection of tweets? A corporate archive with its residuum of labors in the so-called cloud?

Consider the “papers” of Toni Morrison at Princeton, which can be accessed on a dedicated terminal in the reading room. To do so is an occasion to ponder the traces that remain of the becoming of Morrison’s masterpiece Beloved, as well as the conditions of its creation. One finds an archive of documents scanned from paper, along with carefully curated versions of old word-processing files. Everything is there on the terminal, except the labels on the original floppy disks, which you’ll have to request from storage to examine. The becoming of Beloved survives in bits and bobs, not to say BLOBs (binary large objects). It reveals itself to inquiring minds only if they take exquisite care to parse the surviving of that becoming.

What, then, is a book? Examining the “papers” like those of Morrison at Princeton allows Matthew G. Kirschenbaum to offer bibliographical answers in Bitstreams: The Future of Digital Literary Heritage. The “bitstreams” of Kirschenbaum’s title refer to the data that preservation archivists extract from outdated storage media—your floppy disks and hard drives, for example—in the hopes of salvaging materials created with now-obsolete software and saved in now-obsolete file formats. Watery metaphors abound: Kirschenbaum sees bitstreams rippling through today’s publication workflow, the multiple steps and agencies by which an author’s digital files get turned into finished, saleable items. To the extent that these items now include so many one-click purchases and e-books for download, ours is indeed an age of “digital liquidity,” as Mark McGurl writes in Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon.

Like mirror-image twins separated at birth, Kirschenbaum and McGurl bring bibliographical and sociological methods to bear on contemporary American literature. In 2009, McGurl’s The Program Era completely re-envisioned postwar fiction in connection with the rise of university creative writing programs. Then Kirschenbaum’s Track Changes arrived in 2016 to like effect, re-envisioning literary history in connection with the advent not of curricular programming but of computer programming and the killer app that we have all learned to euphemize as “word processing.”

. . . .

Kirschenbaum’s book is an enhanced version of his 2016 A. S. W. Rosenbach Lectures in Bibliography. The lectures are named after an American book collector and philanthropist, who might have defined a book as the surprisingly intricate outcome of more and less coordinated human labors. Following this definition, the first folios of Shakespeare that Rosenbach purchased would be among the most complicated. Rosenbach had to account for the work of authors and compositors, pressmen and booksellers. Today, thoughKirschenbaum’s remit includes computers—how they work, as well as the oversized roles they have come to play in the culture and business of books.

Morrison’s “bitstreams” seem bewildering enough. But those of William H. Dickey and Kamau Brathwaite each present additional wrinkles for literary history. Toni Morrison had an assistant who did the word processing, but these poets went further, using first-generation Macintosh computers themselves. Dickey created an oeuvre of hypertext poems that went unpublished during his lifetime. Brathwaite, meanwhile, used desktop publishing to create what he called his signature Sycorax Video Style, a font-and-page design that he had trouble getting his publishers to even attempt reproducing in print.

. . . .

Not all readers will have the patience to follow the specific steps between Dickey’s long-ago Macintosh and today’s JavaScript versions at archive.org, but they are hardly immaterial. Likewise the steps by which books and e-books arrive in our hands today.

A book nowadays is likely to have left its author’s computer to become a bunch of digital assets in Adobe InDesign. These digital assets are then published to e-book formats and onto paper, Kirschenbaum explains, in a globe-spanning process that might involve a specialized logistics firm, designer, and distributor in the United States, plus a paper mill and printer somewhere in Asia.

A book contains multitudes, Kirschenbaum has it. And, so it seems, to multitudes a book returns: as readers take it up within an effulgent media landscape where it shares “deep ontological commitments and compatibilities with other media” and participates in “the same technologies and infrastructures and economy.” Books in this sense are becoming “bookish media,” part of a transmedia complex native to our era of platform capitalism.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG is reminded of a statement from a semantics class that occurred centuries ago, “The word is not the thing.”

Books are whatever a group of people say they are. When little Suzie shows up with a bunch of free-form coloring that she has stapled together, she and her mother may both identify it as a book.

What constitutes a “book” has certainly changed over time. PG expects that all but the most muddle-headed individuals would recognize that an ebook is a book even though it can’t be perceived without the assistance of a smart phone, ereader, electronic tablet or some similar device that would be completely useless in perceiving a physical book.

PG can’t read either a printed book or an ebook without wearing his glasses these days. Is there something about requiring one or more intermediary devices to accurately perceive what has been written that determines what the author is attempting to communicate from being a real “book”?

The definition or meaning of a word is what a group of people agree it is at a given time and place.

Take “crimes” as an example. When PG was a sprout, there were no computer “crimes” and you couldn’t be arrested for surreptitiously hacking into someone’s computer. PG doesn’t even know if it was physically possible to access a computer from a meaningful anonymous distance or steal information except in the form of a voluminous printout.

The first computers were glorified calculators which could perform actions on numbers that were entered into them, but didn’t really contain any information worth stealing unless you were planning to load a room-full of giant metal cabinets on a fleet of trucks and leave nothing but an empty room behind. Stealing trade secrets would be the closest you could come to criminalizing then what a hacker does now.

Legislatures across a wide range of democratic nations around the world create new “crimes” all the time and the definition of a “crime” is of far more importance to most people than the definition of a “book”.

What is The Economist’s word of the year for 2021?

From The Economist:

If 2020 was the year of the covid-19 explosion, 2021 will go down as the one in which the world struggled to get back to normal. The words of the year—chosen by dictionary publishers, other linguistic outfits and sometimes this column—reflect the disconcerting mix of familiarity and strangeness.

Getting back to business meant, for some, returning to the dreariness of politics. Dictionary.com chose allyship as its word of the year, to describe the practice of people outside oppressed groups aiding and trying to understand those in them. Some have detected and decried woke-washing, the ruse of polishing a brand—usually a company’s—by talking allyship while doing the opposite. Woke-washing is a mutation of the older virtue-signalling. Signalling virtue is no bad thing, but the phrase has come to mean merely parading purity and doing little.

For others, “back to business” was more literal. The economy generated several contenders for the word of 2021. In the traditional economy, inflation was the talk of central bankers and commentators, and transitory became the buzzword associated with it—until America’s Federal Reserve abruptly stopped reassuring people that it would soon pass. People who had never thought much about supply chains began doing so as they were disrupted worldwide.

. . . .

But nontraditional finance produced more new words—or new uses for existing ones—than the boring old economy. DeFi, or decentralised finance, is the widest term for a group of phenomena including blockchainscryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens or nfts, a kind of title deed over a digital asset such as an artwork. (Collins, a dictionary publisher, chose nft as its word of the year.) When the parent company of Facebook changed its name to Meta, the metaverse, a parallel digital reality in which users play and work—and can buy and sell in cryptocurrencies—shot up in online searches.

. . . .

Those who don’t get it are right-clickers: failing to grasp the worth of things like nfts, they think they can right-click and save a digital image on their computer with the same value. Crypto-adepts revel in obscurity. Take one website’s welcome: “ $wagmi embodies the heart and soul of diamond handed apes. No plebs, no jeets, and no rugs—just moon, ser.”

But the year’s most significant words were once again covid-related. A pingdemic, unleashed by Britain’s track-and-trace app notifying countless people that they had to self-isolate, showed the frustrating shortcomings of technological fixes. Variant made its way into everyday parlance, as the world started learning the Greek alphabet. Delta rampaged in the middle of the year, and the highly contagious Omicron was on everyone’s lips as it ended—albeit with some confusion about how to pronounce it. While some English-speaking classicists put the stress on the second syllable, most people converged on the first syllable favoured by the media (which is closer to how modern Greeks say their 15th letter).

. . . .

But the most important word of the past year came right at the start. It is not a new word, but unquestionably 2021’s most resonant. Derived from the Latin vacca for cow, and named after an early example used to treat cowpox, vaccines finally bent the curve of the covid pandemic.

With frequent use comes change: vaccine was shortened to vax. That can be used as a verb, especially in participle form (vaxxed), and has spawned variations including double-vaxxed and anti-vax, and portmanteaus like vaxophobia or vaxication (for people’s first trip after getting their jabs). 

Link to the rest at The Economist

A bit of a surprise

Late yesterday, PG checked the stats on TPV, something he typically forgets to do.

He was pleasantly surprised to learn that in the 30 days ending yesterday, TPV had visitors from 109 countries.

To be clear, a great many countries in non-English-speaking nations had only one or two visitors, but it was interesting to see such a long list.

An economist

An economist is someone who has never met a real person but once had one described to him.

Source Unknown

A Christmas Perspective

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

“Snowd all night & snows yet rapidly. Great difficulty in getting wood. Offerd our prayers to God this Cherimass morning. The prospect is appalling but hope in God.”

—Patrick Breen, December 25, 1846

So wrote Donner Party survivor Patrick Breen as he and his family of nine holed up in a windowless cabin on the shores of Truckee Lake on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains over the harrowing winter of 1846-47.  The Breens had left Independence, Missouri the previous May bound for a new life in California, wagons filled with supplies and hearts filled with hope. A deadly combination of weather extremes, uncharted geography, and poor decisions resulted in 81 men, women, and children becoming trapped for the winter just 60 miles shy of their destination near present-day Sacramento. Half of them would not survive.

In my second novel, Answer Creek, fictional character Ada Weeks joins the Breen family on the journey. In Chapter 24, I conjure the scene inside the cabin on Christmas Day. 

Ada’s breath forms icy clouds with each exhale. She rearranges her cloak so her shoulders relax, and then shoves the garment down to cover her near-frozen feet. She wiggles her toes to make sure they are still attached. Her toenails need clipping, and she pulls on the corner of a nail to shorten it. She yanks so hard she draws blood, which she stanches with her sock. Ada hasn’t washed her socks in so long she’s grown immune to the stench. She makes a fist, first with her right hand, counts to ten, and releases. Then she repeats with her left. Her stomach rumbles with hunger. She holds her midsection to ease the pain. Her head aches. As Ada rubs her head, a clump of hair comes out in her hand.

The scene screams desolation and despair. And on Christmas.

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

Our Favorite Essays And Stories About the Holidays

From Electric Lit:

The holiday season—which I (arbitrarily!) define as beginning in mid-November and continuing through the first of the year—is a minefield. If you’re lucky, the bombs are carbohydrate- or confetti-filled. If you’re not, you’re facing roughly two months of celebratory gatherings and realizing that alcohol, while perhaps a helpful social lubricant, does not actually have the power to silence your mother’s unsolicited opinion about your ticking biological clock. However full or empty your cup of holiday cheer, these essays, stories, and lists are perfect for “the most wonderful time of the year.”

. . . .

Please Do Not Give Me Another Freaking Bookmark” by Carrie V. Mullins

As any voracious reader knows, the only thing you really want for Christmas is a book, which also happens to be the only thing your loved ones refuse to give you (in their defense, it’s not their fault, you’ve read everything). Unfortunately, this dilemma often results in the purchase of book-related garbage—and do you really need another bookmark? No, no you do not. If you’re worried about being on the receiving end of yet another pillow embroidered with a literary quote, I recommend sharing this list of alternative ideas with your friends and family this year. 

This Christmas Is Unlike Any Other, and Exactly the Same” by Tabitha Blankenbiller

The holiday season can often feel like a one-dimensional menagerie of glee, as enthusiasts fail to ask important questions like: just how many Christmas lights does this desiccated evergreen actually need? In her thoughtful essay, Blankenbiller discovers a book on Christmas in midcentury America that prompts her to unpack her own holiday traditions in the context of her own unusual cultural moment.

This collection I’m now surrounded with for the remainder of my quarantine holiday is the answer to a question I wouldn’t have dreamed to ask. How did you know it would get better? This sparkling, melancholy, fading world is its own reply. We didn’t. But we celebrated anyway. As you do. As people always have.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

The Gift of a Good Book Gush

From Writer Unboxed:

Tonight, many of us will celebrate Christmas Eve. I’m one of them. I’ll gather with my parents and brother and our spouses and mostly-grown children for dinner and maybe some games. My parents have downsized and we no longer have a table large enough for all of us to do the traditional hot oil fondue (why, yes, I grew up in the 70s). But it will be good to be together, especially after last year’s Zoom situation.

Even those of us who don’t do the Christmas thing can’t avoid it–advertisers make sure everyone knows that this is the month for giving and getting gifts.

In the U.S., after a month of being told gratitude makes us happy so we must be grateful for what we have, we have a month of being told gifts make us happy so we must buy the absolutely right hot gifts for all the people we know and plenty of them or they and we will be unhappy.

Why, yes, it does make me roll my eyes.

But it does feel good to give and to receive. So let’s lean in to that good feeling in the next year: let’s give the gift of excitement about stories.

I’m talking about a piece of writing that’s short and easy to finish (unlike novels, which are neither, or short stories or poems, which are only short):

A review.

It doesn’t have to be a formal review in an actual publication. It should be nowhere near a school book report. Just a simple, “I LOVED THIS,” and why. Gushing about a book you loved on social media or Goodreads or bookseller site is a gift to the author and to the readers who pick it up based on your recommendation. If you know the author it’s even better, because you’re giving that gift to a friend.

. . . .

So what do you get out of writing a review for someone else?

Besides the pleasure of having read something really good,

  • you get to encourage another writer,
  • you may get to help them make a sale or rise in those sales algorithms,
  • you get more people who can talk with you about that great story,
  • you get a reputation as a booster of fellow writers
  • which may, in turn, get you people willing to gush about your projects.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Sometimes History

Sometimes history repeats itself. And sometimes it doesn’t.

Adam Curtis

On the Most Adapted Ghost Story of All Time

From The Literary Hub:

Ghost stories are about seeing. If their earnest intention in simplistic terms is to scare, then that fear first and foremost arises from witnessing. Seeing becomes séance in tales of the supernatural. In the history of the literary ghost story, several writers have taken the form to its zenith through terrifying temporal lapses of perception. Those glimpsed stories of M.R. James’s or those witnessed horrors of Charles Dickens; all stories in which the act of seeing becomes the spine of the narrative.

With this in mind, it’s clear to see why several of the strongest ghost stories of the last two hundred years or so have found their way onto screens in various forms. With the act of seeing so pivotal to their narrative arcs, there is an obvious visual quality within them that renders their potential for screen adaptation irresistible. It could almost be argued that the most adapted of writers and their stories are those that convey this visual terror most effectively.

M.R. James is likely the most adapted of ghost story writers (perhaps with some competition from Algernon Blackwood), in terms of the sheer number of different stories that have made it onto the screen. An upcoming adaptation of his story The Mezzotint is due to be screened at Christmas this year on the BBC. In terms of singular stories, one of the most adapted is arguably Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, partly (like James) due to its firm position within Christmas tradition.

One story above all is returned to again and again by filmmakers across countries and eras, suggesting that it may be the most visually alarming of all English language eerie tales. That story is Henry James’s 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw.

The novella follows the haunted and disturbing events at a manor in Bly, Essex. A group of men are being read a manuscript authored by a governess who was charged with the care of the children of the manor, Miles and Flora. Miles has been mysteriously expelled from school and returns home. The governess becomes increasingly unnerved by their behavior and the presence of a man and a woman seen variously around the property. They are said to be the spirits of the previous governess Miss Jessel and her lover Peter Quint. Soon, the governess suspects liaisons between the ghosts and children, her investigations resulting in horror and tragedy.

James’s heady novella is arguably the most successful ghost story ever written, at least in terms of creative responses to it. A cursory glance over IMDb entries reveals over two dozen screen adaptations, and that’s before including filmed versions of the chamber opera of the story by composer Benjamin Britten.

In particular, the last two decades have seen a slew of television adaptations, 2020 itself boasting no less than six screen versions of various kinds. Even this year, there have already been two adaptations, and filmmakers seem to sleepwalk into recreating it in the same somnambulist fashion as the children of the narrative; possessed of spirits older and darker than themselves.

Out of the many adaptations, Jack Clayton’s 1961 version is considered the benchmark. The film celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, having premiered in London on the 24th of November, 1961. Considering the sheer number of competitors to Clayton’s version, it is telling of the film’s qualities that it still stands far and above its many peers. In fact, it is difficult to see James’s story without those stark black-and-white images of the film coming to mind, as well as its stunning central performance by Deborah Kerr. Suffice to say, 60 years on, Jamess’ screen ghosts still haunt.

. . . .

The Turn of the Screw has the sort of ambiguous ghostly heritage expected of such a celebrated tale. James was acquainted with another noted exponent of the English ghost story, E.F. Benson. Benson’s father Edward White Benson was the Archbishop of Canterbury and, on a visit to his house in 1895, the archbishop purportedly told James a story. The story was one vaguely similar to the narrative he was soon to produce, in which two children were left in the care of ill-suited servants, both of whom died and haunted the children, corrupting them even from the grave.

Roger Clarke, the author of The Natural History of Ghosts, has researched the story’s history thoroughly and highlighted the murky contradictions within its possible inspirations. “The general scholarly view is that The Turn of the Screw is not based on any known story but,” he writes, “in fact, the story recounted one January evening at the archbishop’s house in Addington…” Clarke sees some connection to the famous haunting of Hinton Ampner and its occupant Mary Ricketts, perhaps passed down through the upper echelons of society to the archbishop. He does stress, however, that E.F. Benson, along with the archbishop’s wife, could never recall the man recounting such a ghost story.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Non-Posting

PG has had offspring and grand-offspring running around the house for the past several days.

The offspring have definitely captured PG’s attention during that time and PG has missed a couple of days of posting.

Today, the male grand-offspring are otherwise occupied and the female offspring and grand-offspring will be joining Mrs. PG for High Tea at a local establishment.

Mrs. PG has experience with High Tea from visits with English friends some years ago and assures PG that the local version is true to the original even if it takes place in a location far-removed from England.

(If High Tea is also traditionally observed in Scotland and/or Ireland, PG apologizes. He didn’t mean to exclude you from his reference to locations where High Tea is traditionally observed. Having never partaken of High Tea himself, he is quite without knowledge of much beyond its existence and that sweets are involved.)

Do the Humanities Need Experts or Skeptics?

From Public Books:

How should cultural critics regard claims about the artistic value of literary works in the European traditions? Should such arguments be taken seriously, as experts offering essential information for living a human life well? Or should they be regarded skeptically, as the ideological counterpart of two centuries of Western hegemony? There are, after all, an uncountable number of artistic practices in human cultural history. And if, in a quiet moment, critics are unable to explain why, say, twentieth-century Anglophone novels are more worthy of attention than Ottoman shadow puppetry or the art of knot tying, then perhaps skeptics of the contemporary humanities have a point. Perhaps the prominent scholars of this particular practice are simply the pretentious snobs of an unjustly privileged elite, and perhaps this particular literary-artistic tradition should not play a significant role in education.

Answering this challenge involves first getting clear on what could even count as an answer, and a contention of two recent books is that critics and philosophers have been confused about what it means to deny aesthetic value. Michael W. Clune’s A Defense of Judgment and Dominic McIver Lopes’s Being for Beauty: Aesthetic Agency and Value both contend that the debate is misled when conducted in terms of the broad category “art,” and that answering skeptical challenges has to start within the density of specific artistic practices. If the justifications are thus humbler than more enthusiastic predecessors—great artworks do not improve readers or transform the world here—they are all the more plausible. And if English professors turn out to be something less than history-transcending authorities, that humility is key to recognizing what they actually can contribute to one’s decisions about which works of art to spend time with.

. . . .

The fusion between aesthetic appreciation and intellectual analysis here is a difficult line to walk (one I’ve attempted myself, in arguing that reading Victorian novels for their moral philosophy is a way of enjoying them). But Clune’s theory of literary appreciation does at least do justice to the specificity of literary experience: it can account well for the difference between reading a poem and, say, contemplating a landscape. And it is strengthened by his insistence that critics should not overstate their intellectual competence. Rather than social activists or free-ranging intellectuals, at the end of the day critics are simply masters of a few discrete capacities in written culture (example: “the ability to show students what you are seeing in a work”). So while they must use ideas from other disciplines to comprehend literary works, the expert critic also recognizes the scholarly standards of those disciplines in so doing.

Yet literature professors have often had significant difficulty acknowledging their expertise and corresponding difficulty in justifying their status to skeptics, Clune contends, for broadly two reasons. First, a commitment to democratic equality has made it difficult to espouse hierarchies in any form: judging one work of art to be worse than another—much less judging one person’s capacity for judgment to be worse than another’s—has seemed to many a violation of the moral ideal of fundamental equality. But this is a mistake, Clune argues: aesthetic experience isn’t the product of a capacity for disinterested pleasure shared universally, as Immanuel Kant thought. David Hume’s account is better: aesthetic experience is the result of a learned sensitivity. It’s not that some are born able to judge art while others are not; it’s that some receive an education others don’t. The inequality between those who have the skill and those who don’t is thus inevitable but also untroubling (at least philosophically).

Link to the rest at Public Books

The OP made PG feel grateful that it has been decades since he had any interaction with professors of humanities.

The New York Times Reveals Their 10 Best Books of 2021

From Book Riot:

The 10 Best Books Of The Year as it is currently presented by The New York Times has been going on since pretty much the beginning of the Book Review magazine, back in 1896.

After several changes across the years, in 2004 the list has taken the shape that is still being used today: as fall arrives, the editors start reading, discussing, and choosing what will become their definitive list of the ten best books of the year.

These are their choices for 2021:

As it’s common with the New York Times 10 Best Books Of The Year lists, the first five books are labelled under the genre literary fiction, and the other five are works of non-fiction, although Labatut is said to stand on the edge of both.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Apologies for non-posting

PG apologizes for failing to put up any new posts for a couple of days.

Nothing terrible happened. He just needed to do other things, including clearing his driveway of a lot of snow this morning.

In other news, Mrs. PG’s latest book continues to sell quite well and has received a number of favorable reviews.

For the Sheer Joy of It

From Writer Unboxed:

I realize this blog typically concerns itself with the “craft and business” of fiction, but I want to address instead something we seem to discuss too little.

I wrote this post before reading Wednesday’s superb piece by Kathleen McCleary, “Stories Will Save You,” in which she discussed how fiction can offer meaning and insight. Here I too discuss the value of fiction, but from a slightly different perspective: the pleasure of reading.

I grew up in Ohio, and December days were overcast, the nights were long, and snow often covered the ground. Going outside was fun for a while but so was coming back inside where it was cozy and warm—hygge, as they say in Norway—the perfect environment for reading.

“Curling up with a good book” was something that, for me, defined the winter months (and made them a bit more bearable). I remember immersing myself in Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The House of the Seven Gables and Jane Eyre and Moby Dick, all those thick 19th-century marvels few of us return too—sadly, in my opinion—except in their cinematic versions. 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Dawn of Everything

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Dawn of Everything” is a brainy and braggadocious book, styling itself—without a hint of modesty—as “a new history of humanity.” A combative work that pushes a revisionist view of prehistory, it takes its fight to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes, whose ideas on early man as a creature mired in a State of Nature it dismisses as pure fantasy. This is the anthropological equivalent of a tearing down of statues. Its authors are (the late) David Graeber and David Wengrow, professors, respectively, at the London School of Economics and University College London. Their book is a manifesto for early man, a bid to restore him to his “full humanity.”

Prehistoric man, say Messrs. Graeber and Wengrow, was no simpleton or dolt. Far from being akin to the modern-day apes to which he is glibly likened by popularizers of anthropology—such as Yuval Noah Harari in “Sapiens” (2014)—he was complex, creative and “full of playful possibilities.”

“The Dawn of Everything” is the latest—and most provocative—in a line of Big History: bold, panoptic works that offer to explain the whole sweep of man’s story. The genre kicked off with “Maps of Time” (2004), by David Christian, and includes such practitioners as Mr. Harari, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond and Francis Fukuyama. The book was 10 years in the writing and is every bit as dense and passionate as you’d expect from a decade-long labor of love—conceived by two learned and mischievous men.

Mr. Graeber, the more ungovernable of the two authors, died in September of last year, three weeks after the book was finished. An American anthropologist and anarchist, he had migrated to Britain in 2008 after failing to get tenure at Yale (and, subsequently, not getting a job at any of the more than 20 U.S. universities to which he applied). His views were simply too radical, which is astonishing in light of the present-day obsessions of American campuses. Mr. Graeber also helped to organize the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011, the year in which his anti-capitalist book “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” was published.

Mr. Wengrow, his British partner-in-writing, is a soft-spoken professor of archaeology with a lower public profile. In a dedication to Mr. Graeber, he describes the latter as someone who “tried to live his ideas about social justice and liberation.” It’s not surprising that a man like that would, with his co-author, attempt to liberate prehistoric humans from the straitjacket in which they have been confined since Rousseau wrote his “Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind” in 1754.

Until the early years of the 19th century, the authors tell us, “there was as yet no ‘prehistory.’ There was only history, even if some of that history was wildly wrong.” The term “prehistory” only entered the common language after a dig in Brixham Cave in Devon, in 1858, uncovered stone axes in a sealed rock casing, alongside the remains of extinct animals. After this, archaeology and geology began to play a major part in our understanding of man and earth.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes if you hit a paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

For the record, PG is firmly in the capitalist camp of economics. He suggests the greatest examples of charitable giving which benefits others were some of the greatest capitalists. For a classic example, he’ll point to Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie emigrated to the United States from Scotland at the age of twelve. He had been born in a weaver’s cottage with only one main room which served as living room, dining room and bedroom. After his family arrived in the US, his first job was in a cotton factory where he worked as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He earned $1.20 per week, equivalent to $36 in today’s dollars.

Eventually, Carnegie became one of the richest men in United States history. He gave away 90% of his fortune for charitable purposes. One of Carnegie’s best-known charitable activities was to build and equip over 3,000 public libraries in the United States, Canada and England. The first Carnegie library was built in Dunfermline, Scotland, where he was born.

When PG was young, he and his family were patrons of a couple of different Carnegie libraries in places which would have been unlikely to have libraries absent Carnegie’s gifts.

No Christmas Without Books

From Publishing Perspectives:

Warily watching the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic numbers in Europe, particularly with the picture of the omicron variant’s presence still coming into focus, the European and International Booksellers Federation (EIBF) in Brussels has opened a “No Christmas Without Books’ campaign.

The Booksellers Federation is joined by the Federation of European Publishers and Intergraf, the organization of more than 110,000 European and United Kingdom printing companies in this appeal, which calls on EU leadership and all the member-states’ national authorities to “Follow the lead of several European countries—Italy, France, Belgium—in recognizing books as essential cultural goods, thus allowing bookshops to remain open.”

The effort is a kind of pre-emptive strike, in the vernacular, a warning prior to many actual such closures having been put into place.

There’s a decided and understandable emphasis on print, of course, not only as the most desirable format for bookish gift traffic but also as the retail segment most vulnerable to sales-point shutdowns. In such closures lie the worst memories of the pre-vaccine part of the pandemic era, when, for example, Germany saw its bookstores closed just 15 days before Christmas 2020.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Stories Will Save You

From Writer Unboxed:

Stories Will Save You. Early in the pandemic I wrote these words on a yellow sticky note and stuck it on the wall above my desk, where I see it often. At the time I wrote that note, I thought writing stories would save me during a difficult time in my life. Instead, stories written by other people saved me. I realized that a critical part of being a good writer is understanding that stories are an important teacher—for both author and reader. Stories can show us how to act (or not act), how to confront our own discomforts, how to better understand ourselves, other people, the world around us, and our place in it. As writers, I think most of us are aware of how the act of writing helps us figure things out, but it’s helpful to remember that the stories we tell do this for others. Storytelling is our superpower.

Why do stories have so much power to save us, and how does that work? Some of the stories that saved me over these past 18 months include The Great Circle, by Maggie Shipstead; Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell; the BBC series ShetlandGrey’s Anatomy; and Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, among many others. Here’s what I learned:

There is a big, wide world out thereThe Great Circle took me on a journey from Antarctica to Montana, Alaska, Seattle, and London during WWII. Cooped up in my pandemic-imposed semi-quarantine, with my travel limited to trips to the grocery store, I relished reading about and imagining far-flung places, and adventures as varied as working as a battlefield illustrator or circumnavigating the globe in a small plane. That world is real, I thought, and I will be able to jump into it again one day.

Everyone has a story. It’s easy to spend too much time in our own heads, narrating our own lives. The best stories have a wide cast of characters, whose personalities and choices and successes and heartbreaks are as unique as they are. Some of the characters in the stories I devoured drove me crazy, some made me laugh, the best ones made me recognize pieces of myself or pieces of the people I’m closest to. And with that recognition comes some insight and understanding.

Everyone suffers. This is obvious. But if you’re suffering, it can be enormously helpful to remember other people are suffering, too. I started watching (okay, binge-watching) Grey’s Anatomy, a TV series I missed when it debuted in 2005 because I was working full-time and had young kids and don’t remember having time to watch anything. Sure, it’s a television medical drama, so there’s significantly more drama (hopefully) than in my life or yours. But the characters—all surgeons and physicians— have to deal daily with grief, loss, danger, fear, and things that can’t be fixed. This is real life, just more intense and condensed into a shorter time period. The novel Hamnet has one of the most searing and accurate depictions of grief I’ve ever encountered, as Shakespeare’s wife mourns the loss of their young son. We are not alone is a welcome feeling when life is a struggle.

We are small pieces in a great, big puzzle. One of my favorite quotes in literature is from My Antonia: “At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.” Again, it’s a helpful reminder that the universe is vast and varied, that life holds infinite surprises, that today’s heartache may lead to tomorrow’s new beginning. The best stories transport us out of ourselves and into an awareness of all that.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Nicola Barker is Our Great Post-Punk Novelist

From The Literary Hub:

“I feel like, at some level, we are all outsiders,” Nicola Barker says of the vast array of oddballs and originals who populate her bafflingly innovative thirteen novels. “Society is fluid. But you need to stand outside of a situation, a dilemma, an experience, to truly understand it. That’s what my characters often do. They are inquisitive. They can’t be satisfied by the time or circumstances they are living in.”

It is January in this deadly winter of COVID-19, and we are exchanging emails across the Atlantic—me in Richmond, Virginia, and my literary hero in the town of Faversham, formerly the home of the explosives industry in the UK. Both of us are home-bound, like most everyone else, trying to feel like writers even if we’re spending a lot of our time staring at walls. When I asked her what she’s been up to recently—during Britain’s Tier 5 lockdown—she says she’s done little but “walking and thinking,” though she spends a good deal of time talking by phone to family scattered across the globe.

Our correspondence has been a small miracle for me, as my discovery of Barker’s work a decade ago completely changed the way I write and think about writing. Often, after sending an email, I’ll spend a tortured day thinking of what I could have said that will finally prove that I am a fool (why did I insist on making that corny Bowie joke?), but I find again and again that she responds with effusive grace and a rich supply of advice on writing and life.

Hailed as an “unclassifiable genius” by the Guardian, Barker is a well-known literary figure in Britain. But if she is familiar at all to readers in America, it is often for her 2007 novel Darkmans, a wild and paranoiac book that is both about history and very much about twenty-first century life—and a strong candidate for the eight hundred funniest pages in literature. I ran into the book back in the last recession, during a phase in my life when I was hopping from job to job, rudderless, trying to hold on to some idea that I could be a writer. It challenged everything I’d learned thus far about fiction and pointed me in a new direction, one centered on character and voice and trust in one’s aesthetic obsessions and particularities, on the inner play of consciousness, on the lightning-quick moves of our real lived experience.

. . . .

Maybe I needed a change. Maybe I needed to spend a couple of years trying to write like someone else—someone who takes risks without a net—in order to discover an authentic voice of my own. Darkmans made the short list for the Booker Prize, and she made the long list for the Booker for two other novels, Clear and The Yips. One could call Barker an avant-garde writer, but she looks at her style as something more like play: “I need to feel free. I won’t be constrained. Especially not by the expectations of others or even my own expectations. I am guided by a sense of mischief. I don’t ever sit down to write and think: I’ll use this tone, this accent, this layout…”

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

Some virtues

Some virtues, when they become fashions, also become exaggerated. Just because nobody likes a judgmental attitude does not mean that there isn’t a sort of spoiled, self-righteous hypocrisy when one man obsessively commands other men not to judge without knowing the circumstances without himself, too, knowing their circumstances behind their judgments.

Criss Jami