Paramount scraps deal to sell Simon & Schuster to Penguin after weeks after judge rejected merger

From CNBC:

Paramount Global said Monday it scrapped its $2.2 billion deal to sell book publisher Simon & Schuster to rival Penguin Random House, weeks after a federal judge rejected the merger.

Penguin, which is owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, said it still believes Simon & Schuster is a good fit for its business, but that it accepted Paramount’s decision.

“We believe the judge’s ruling is wrong and planned to appeal the decision, confident we could make a compelling and persuasive argument to reverse the lower court ruling on appeal,” Penguin said in a statement Monday afternoon. “However, we have to accept Paramount’s decision not to move forward.”

Paramount’s decision to pull the plug on the deal came more than a year after the Justice Department sued to block the deal, saying it would hurt competition for books in the publishing world. On Halloween, after a trial that included testimony from bestselling horror author Stephen King, U.S. District Court Judge Florence Y. Pan on Halloween ruled against the deal, delivering a major victory for the Biden administration’s antitrust agenda.

King, who writes books for Simon & Schuster, said he was “delighted” by the ruling. “The proposed merger was never about readers and writers; it was about preserving (and growing) PRH’s market share. In other words: $$$,” he tweeted.

In its announcement Monday, Paramount said Penguin is on the hook for a $200 million termination fee.

Paramount also indicated that it would still seek to unload Simon & Schuster.

Link to the rest at CNBC and thanks to J. for the tip.

Commentary:

Part 1: Yes, this is the actual CNBC headline. PG checked it on Grammarly, expecting a mild digital uproar over the two “afters”, but Grammarly simply suggested that “judge” and “merger” needed appropriate articles.

Part 2: PG wonders if either side of this deal has decided to move to a different law firm, at least for antitrust matters. In PG’s enormously outsized opinion, this deal screamed of antitrust problems from the first time he read about it and the screaming never stopped until the District Judge put an arrow in its heart.

Of course, there’s no appeal because each party finally consulted adult antitrust lawyers, who likely delivered the news that the case was a loser up and down the legal line and had been since the start.

Part 3: If PG had a financial interest in Penguin, PG would scream bloody murder over a $200 million termination fee. Which officer of Penguin approved this provision? Did the board of directors actually vote to put Penguin on the hook for a busted deal that was dodgy from the very beginning?

Part 4: PG assumes that someone at Bertelsmann, the sole owner of Penguin, approved this transaction. Surely, someone in Gütersloh or several someones in this small German city will be sending out the German equivalent to resumes, résumés or resumés to the entire world.

(PG just learned that the German word for this sort of document is Lebenslauf. Apparently Lebenslauf doesn’t have versions with accent marks.)

Part 5: How are the Mohn family and the managers of various Mohn stiftungs that really own and control Bertlesmann feeling these days? PG doesn’t know whether $200 million is pocket change for these folks or not. He hasn’t looked up the German translation for “You’re Fired!” but expect there is an equivalent term. (He did learn that the German term for “Hit the road!” is Sich auf den Weg machen! or simply, Losfahren!)

(PG apologizes if there is supposed to be an upside-down exclamation point anywhere in all this German. He wasn’t exactly certain how to look that up.)

Writing (and Living) in the Midst of Fear

From Writer Unboxed:

In Seattle, June is the cruelest month. Terrifying. Violent, too. A month where people rarely leave their homes, and if they must, they hurry from house to car, exhaling only once safely inside, windows rolled up, doors locked. In June, schools forgive truancy. Non-urgent appointments–dental check-ups, meetings with financial planners, eyebrow shaping–pretty much anything other than trips to the ER–are put off until mid-July.

Have you seen Hitchcock’s film, The Birds? Hitchcock himself claimed, “It could be the most terrifying motion picture I have ever made.”

I bet Hitchcock was inspired by Seattle in June.

Because of Poe’s quothing ravens, I’ve always found crows a bit sinister, but in general, I had no beef with any corvids, not really, until June 2013. While walking to get my daughter at school, a crow–out of nowhere–slapped me across the back of the head with a rolled-up magazine. At least, that’s what it felt like.

The June 2015 NPR story, “They Will Strafe You,” taught me these attacks are common. I was simply in the wrong place (near the crow’s fledglings) at the wrong time (June, fledgling season). This particular crow, undoubtedly sleep deprived and struggling with postpartum depression, deemed me a threat. Thus, she grabbed her June 2013 issue of The New Yorker, or perhaps The Economist, or maybe it was The New Republic, and whacked my head.

I began to fear another strafing.

“No eye contact, people!” I’d yell at my children, my husband, my dog, whenever I saw a crow. “You make eye contact, and THEY WILL STRAFE YOU!”  

The whole world was starting to feel unsafe, and not just in June. Year-round, I felt the beady eyes of crows upon me.

. . . .

At the end of May, bunion surgery left me horizontal with my sad, swollen foot in the air. For weeks, I crutched only between the TV room sofa and my Room of Convalescence. Back and forth, forth and back.

Then May became June.

June!

Bedridden and homebound, I could not escape their terrible cawing, could not ignore the murderous shadows that darkened my windows. Twenty-three days post-op, loopy with a weird mix of boredom and fatigue, tired of my POW status, I raised my fist at the crow-laden spruce in my yard.

“Nevermore!” I shouted. “NEVERMORE!”

After Googling “what do crows eat,” (the answer: “pretty much anything”) I crutched to the kitchen and found a box of stale, generic-brand Wheat Thins. I then crutched awkwardly–it’s difficult to crutch while holding a box of anything–to the sliding glass doors that leads to our backyard. I opened the doors six inches, set my crutches on the floor, sat myself beside my crutches, then frisbee’d a fistful of crackers outside.

And I waited.

Needless to say, by the end of the week, I had a handful of brainy crow-pals, all of whom I christened “Carroll,” a gender-neutral name that ensured I wouldn’t wrongly assume their preferred pronouns. Their crownouns.

Extending the olive branch of generic Wheat Thins, inviting my worst fear into our yard, having the opportunity to applaud the Carrolls for the way they neatly stacked crackers, four at a time, then transported their repast with Henry Ford-like efficiency to their roost, all that made me a little less fearful. Not fear-free, just less fear-full.

Except my husband was uncomfortable. My children, confused. My BFF, Erica, feared I had finally lost my mind. My funny friend, Robin, dropped off a little crow finger puppet.

Worse, there was exponentially more crow crap in our backyard. And things had gone missing: twine that held my husband’s raspberry bushes against the fence, a few of his melon seedlings, the pack of tiny-handed raccoons who sauntered, arrogant and badass, through our yard pretty much whenever they felt like it.

Would my dog be next?

Recently, I think a lot about fear. How, like a contagion, fear infects our hearts and brains, our relationships and communities. Even when there’s good reason to feel scared, fear tempts us to retreat, isolate, blame, hoard. Our hearts become hard, stingy. Our worlds become small. 

But thank goodness for writers! Writers invent stories that connect strangers and expand hearts, stories that make readers’ worlds bigger. Writers arrange words into images that remind people of the beauty that remains, even amid today’s difficult news. Stories, even scary ones, make us feel not so alone, not so disconnected, not so fear-filled. 

On June 1st, after spending ten years writing, and another ten years of rejection and revision, my loyal agent and I found a home for my first novel. 

I am thrilled.

Also, I am TERRIFIED. 

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

While not pretending to be a professional Crowologist, PG did have substantial interactions with crows during his youth.

If you would prefer that crows not hang around where you are, a twelve-gauge shotgun is a reliable preventative measure. Crows are very intelligent (for a bird) and, after only a couple of shotgun blasts followed by a cloud of black feathers drifting in the breeze, they’ll fly over to the neighboring farm for their meals instead of coming to yours.

PG is aware that shotguns are not a status symbol in San Francisco unless they’re in the hands of people with uniforms and badges who are not Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts.

PG doesn’t know whether drones are legal in San Francisco, but he speculates that if the author of the OP bought a drone and used it in an aggressive manner to attack the crows, that might do the trick.

If not, the author of the OP could hang a shotgun on the drone and fly it over the backyard to see if the crows have any genetic memory of of twelve-gauge blasts.

Even if you have a uniform and a badge, PG advises one and all to not to attempt to fire a shotgun that is dangling from a drone.

Unless you live in Ukraine and the drone is over a bunch of Russian soldiers.

All Better

PG managed to resolve his computer problems yesterday.

He’s not certain exactly what caused them, but the usual suspects are his fat fingers which also managed to get all the electrons floating around PG’s lair back into line.

One More for the Road

From Washington City Paper:

By my count, I’ve had a hand in producing roughly 450 print issues of Washington City Paper since I joined its staff as the City Lights editor in the fall of 2012. Several stand out for reasons good and bad—massive Best of D.C. books that had us working around the clock, stories we knew we’d beaten our competitors to, an issue sent to the printer so late that we feared it might not come out. The rest ebbed back into the ocean after cresting on Wednesday nights.

From a technical standpoint, my generation of City People has a significantly easier time producing print issues than our predecessors did, assembling our issues with trackpads and keyboard commands while they used knives and paste. In the paper’s nascent days, when it was still produced in Baltimore, the staff sent pages and materials back and forth on a massive fax machine. That was an improvement, former publisher Amy Austin says, over the previous method: On Monday nights, she used to deliver the necessary files to the Greyhound bus station, where they would be ferried north.

Print issues were commodities. Readers grabbed them from delivery drivers before they could even drop off a stack at a business or a street box. The need for news, for criticism, for event listings, for classified ads, or a good story was immediate, and the internet has only expanded that pleasure center.

In my time at City Paper, the issues shrunk. Advertisers moved online and found ways to reach the specific audiences they were looking for. Competitors arrived on the scene, offering their own irreverent takes on life in the District. Still we pushed forward, filing dispatches on abandoned car parts, shameless developers, and the characters entering and exiting the Wilson Building. Newer annual issues, such as the Answers Issue and the People Issue, still demanded a place on a coffee table or in your hand at a coffee shop. 

And then came a novel coronavirus, the enemy of almost everything but especially independent arts venues. We muddled through what we hoped was the worst of it, but eventually had to face a harsh reality: Our advertisers and many of our readers are elsewhere. We meet readers in their email inboxes more frequently than we meet them on the street. A bar that hosts live music is most focused on paying its staff right now.

So this is the last regular print edition of Washington City Paper you will see. In the weeks leading up to this issue, I found myself thinking about those departed characters whose shadows hang over the institution. Of Jim Graham, the AIDS advocate and former Ward 1 councilmember who would register his complaints every week without fail but still stop by a holiday party. Of Marion Barry, the main character of D.C.’s home rule era and of countless City Paper stories, who transformed the District in so many ways. Of Michael Mariotte, the punk-rock drummer who decided to kick this whole thing off. Of David Carr, the tough but transformational leader whose wisdom on craft and reporting are still being passed down to generation after generation of aspiring writers. What would they say? (Carr, I’m guessing, would tell us to keep working.)

. . . .

Washington City Paper will still be around, albeit in digital formats and with a smaller staff. And we will still do our damnedest to get it right.

Link to the rest at Washington City Paper

PG hadn’t heard of this particular newspaper in Washington, DC, before and is always a bit sad when he hears of any enterprise that people worked hard at starting and continuing is going out of business or cutting back substantially.

When PG started working a long time ago, he was in Chicago and the city had five newspapers, two that published in the morning, two in the afternoon and one daily paper that catered to the large African-American community.

When he entered the station, morning and evening, he would automatically buy a newspaper, read it while he rode on the train and deposit the paper in a trash can when he got off the train.

Chicago had a lot of good newspaper columnists during that era. PG’s favorite was Mike Royko, who had a unique, sarcastic and jaded take on a lot of things in Chicago.

Here’s an old Royko column, written in 1972, on the day Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play for a major league baseball team, died.

Jackie’s Debut a Unique Day

All that Saturday, the wise men of the neighborhood, who sat in chairs on the sidewalk outside the tavern, had talked about what it would do to baseball.

 I hung around and listened because baseball was about the most important thing in the world, and if anything was going to ruin it, I was worried.

 Most of the things they said, I didn’t understand, although it all sounded terrible. But could one man bring such ruin?

 They said he could and would. And the next day he was going to be in Wrigley Field for the first time, on the same diamond as Hack, Nicholson, Cavarretta, Schmitz, Pafko, and all my other idols.

 I had to see Jackie Robinson, the man who was going to somehow wreck everything. So the next day, another kid and I started walking to the ballpark early.

 We always walked to save the streetcar fare. It was five or six miles, but I felt about baseball the way Abe Lincoln felt about education.

 Usually, we could get there just at noon, find a seat in the grandstand, and watch some batting practice. But not that Sunday, May 18, 1947.

 By noon, Wrigley Field was almost filled. The crowd outside spilled off the sidewalk and into the streets. Scalpers were asking top dollar for box seats and getting it.

 I had never seen anything like it. Not just the size, although it was a new record, more than 47,000. But this was twenty-five years ago, and in 1947 few blacks were seen in the Loop, much less up on the white North Side at a Cub game.

 That day, they came by the thousands, pouring off the northbound Ls and out of their cars.

 They didn’t wear baseball-game clothes. They had on church clothes and funeral clothes·suits, white shirts, ties, gleaming shoes, and straw hats. I’ve never seen so many straw hats.

 As big as it was, the crowd was orderly. Almost unnaturally so. People didn’t jostle each other.

 The whites tried to look as if nothing unusual was happening, while the blacks tried to look casual and dignified. So everybody looked slightly ill at ease.

 For most, it was probably the first time they had been that close to each other in such great numbers.

 We managed to get in, scramble up a ramp, and find a place to stand behind the last row of grandstand seats. Then they shut the gates. No place remained to stand.

 Robinson came up in the first inning. I remember the sound. It wasn’t the shrill, teenage cry you now hear, or an excited gut roar. They applauded, long, rolling applause. A tall, middle-aged black man stood next to me, a smile of almost painful joy on his face, beating his palms together so hard they must have hurt.

 When Robinson stepped into the batter’s box, it was as if someone had flicked a switch. The place went silent.

 He swung at the first pitch and they erupted as if he had knocked it over the wall. But it was only a high foul that dropped into the box seats. I remember thinking it was strange that a foul could make that many people happy. When he struck out, the low moan was genuine.

 I’ve forgotten most of the details of the game, other than that the Dodgers won and Robinson didn’t get a hit or do anything special, although he was cheered on every swing and every routine play.

 But two things happened I’ll never forget. Robinson played first, and early in the game a Cub star hit a grounder and it was a close play.

 Just before the Cub reached first, he swerved to his left. And as he got to the bag, he seemed to slam his foot down hard at Robinson’s foot.

 It was obvious to everyone that he was trying to run into him or spike him. Robinson took the throw and got clear at the last instant.

 I was shocked. That Cub, a hometown boy, was my biggest hero. It was not only an unheroic stunt, but it seemed a rude thing to do in front of people who would cheer for a foul ball. I didn’t understand why he had done it. It wasn’t at all big league.

 I didn’t know that while the white fans were relatively polite, the Cubs and most other teams kept up a steady stream of racial abuse from the dugout. I thought that all they did down there was talk about how good Wheaties are.

 Late in the game, Robinson was up again, and he hit another foul ball. This time it came into the stands low and fast, in our direction. Somebody in the seats grabbed for it, but it caromed off his hand and kept coming. There was a flurry of arms as the ball kept bouncing, and suddenly it was between me and my pal. We both grabbed. I had a baseball.

 The two of us stood there examining it and chortling. A genuine major-league baseball that had actually been gripped and thrown by a Cub pitcher, hit by a Dodger batter. What a possession.

 Then I heard the voice say: “Would you consider selling that?”

 It was the black man who had applauded so fiercely.

 I mumbled something. I didn’t want to sell it.

 “I’ll give you ten dollars for it,” he said.

 Ten dollars. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what ten dollars could buy because I’d never had that much money. But I knew that a lot of men in the neighborhood considered sixty dollars a week to be good pay.

 I handed it to him, and he paid me with ten $1 bills.

 When I left the ball park, with that much money in my pocket, I was sure that Jackie Robinson wasn’t bad for the game.

 Since then, I’ve regretted a few times that I didn’t keep the ball. Or that I hadn’t given it to him free. I didn’t know, then, how hard he probably had to work for that ten dollars.

 But Tuesday I was glad I had sold it to him. And if that man is still around, and has that baseball, I’m sure he thinks it was worth every cent.

Here’s a link to more Royko columns

PG felt a little sad as he read the Royko column because he can’t remember when he last read a physical newspaper.

Capricious Actions That Cross the Line

From Publishing Perspectives:

[A] digital annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) “would hardly be a meeting of publishers,” said AAP president and CEO Maria A. Pallante, “if we didn’t address the First Amendment.

“As we all know, across the country, thousands of books are being questioned with a scrutiny that’s newly chilling,” she said, “from novels to math books. This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do. But that roll has constitutional limits. It does not extend to capricious actions that cross the line and amount to censorship. In fact, the line is important.”

Indeed it is. And the association shines most brightly when it operates with such outspoken clarity in public policy and political channels to protect and promote the place of the book industry and its freedom to publish.

“And so last month, in Missouri,” Pallante said, “we were proud to join with the booksellers, Authors Guild, and Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to file a brief in support of the NAACP—a case involving the removal of books from school libraries, including award-winning books addressing race and sexuality, such as The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

“In our filing, we highlighted the constitutional rights of minors to receive intellectual information as well as the deep flaws in the school district’s assertion that the banned books were obscene and therefore removable.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG suggests that Ms. Pallante needs a bit more understanding about public education and the constitution.

“This is not to say that parents and communities don’t have a say in public education, as the law is clear that they do.”

To PG’s sensitive ears, this statement sounds amazingly condescending. Public education is, by and large, funded by state and local taxes. To the best of PG’s knowledge, public school boards are elected in local elections by “parents and communities.”

Generally speaking, the public schools where most students are educated are determined by what geographical school district where the students reside. PG is aware that at least some states allow students in one school district to attend schools in a different district, usually, one adjoining the district where they reside. PG is not familiar with the state of vouchers across the United States but believes vouchers aren’t available to the large majority of children in public schools.

PG was raised in rural, sometimes very rural areas where getting to public school involved a school bus ride that lasted 20-30 minutes or more in some cases. Attending a more distant school would have required his parents to transport him there because public transportation was not available in any form. The only practical choice for his education was the local public school so even if “school choice” had existed, it would not have been practically exercisable.

Many states provide “educational vouchers” that allow families to fund attendance at private schools. Typically, private schools that accept vouchers (PG doesn’t think all do) receive an amount per student that is roughly equivalent to the money a public school would receive from local and state funds for a student’s education for a year.

Ultimately, educators receiving state and local funds for their salaries select textbooks for children to read in class, spending state and local funds to purchase those books. School principals and district superintendents are also paid from those funds.

PG suggests that parents have a right to pressure public school officials if they believe their tax money is being used to provide access to books they reasonably believe will cause harm to their children. When a large group of parents supports such objections, public school officials should realize that their concerns should be carefully considered and, in virtually every circumstance, be reflected in the school’s libraries and textbooks.

The Association of American Publishers is located in Washington, DC. Virtually all major trade publishers are located in New York City. PG suggests that these two cities, their inhabitants, and their values, priorities, and interests are quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

As PG has written previously, publishers of all sorts are controlled and managed by a group of people who are quite homogenous in their values and experiences and are atypical of American families with children who attend public school. These people ultimately control the content of traditionally-published books, school books, and a wide range of other media. He suggests that their values are also quite different from the typical American and, in particular, typical American families with children who attend public school.

If you would like to read the American Association of Publishers’ brief filed with the Federal District Court, it should be embedded below.

Can We Repair the Past?

From Public Books:

n late 2020, I, an American citizen, became an Austrian, through a new law granting citizenship to the descendants of victims of the Third Reich. (Germany has long had a similar law; Austria, far worse in their anti-Semitism, according to my late grandfather, was much slower on the uptake.) My family was exiled and imprisoned. Wealthy Austrian Jews had assimilated into metropolitan Viennese life; many were able to flee and thus avoid the camps and the gas chambers, opportunities not afforded most other Jews across Europe. They arrived in the US, Australia, Israel, England, and Brazil with copious amounts of documentation of the crimes against them. These materials not only allowed family members to claim money from a number of different funds set up to atone for the violent plunder and taking by the Nazis but also recently provided a path back to membership in the Austrian nation.

I keep coming back to the ideas of possession, place, and property when I consider my new status as an Austrian. I’ve never been to the country; my only attachment to it now is a red passport. But the nature of lineage and changing laws mean I have the right to claim.

Can the harm done to our ancestors be remedied through reparative acts in the present? Perhaps we can grant ownership of what was lost, but does that correct historical violence? Such questions frame Menachem Kaiser’s new memoir, PlunderIndeed, I was drawn to the book in part because of my own recent forays into reparative justice for Nazi-era atrocities. Nominally centered on the author’s attempts to reclaim a Polish building his Jewish grandfather lost during World War II, Plunder takes its reader on an audacious journey through Polish property ledgers, Nazi treasure hunting, and the mundane urbanism of Eastern European cities remade after many rounds of occupation and Jewish extermination. At its heart, the book considers rights to property and ownership as central to historical legacies of memory and place.

Kaiser is keenly aware that his regaining ownership of the building will change the lives of its inhabitants, introducing uncertainty and even fear of the loss of their home. In the West, we are taught that property and its rights are natural and ordered, producing good citizens and harmonious communities. Yet property, and by extension possession, always relies on dispossession, a taking from one to give to another, at least at first. It is, in the crudest terms, a form of loot or plunder. His possessing the building will take something from its inhabitants. Not as violent as the Third Reich seizing heirlooms from Jewish ghettoes across its growing empire (what a friend recently referred to as the “shtetl belt”—we Jews love to joke about past horrors), but still a kind of theft. As Kaiser wades into the various laws regarding property, discovered objects and antiquities, and descent, he reveals how possession is tenuous and fraught, rife with conflict between individuals, nation-states, and competing historical narratives.

Like Kaiser, I have been somewhat bemused by this turn of events. My relationship with Austria is tenuous at best. I already have citizenship in the wealthiest country in the world, something millions long for (granted, options at this particular historical juncture are great to have, but wouldn’t the passport be better used by one of the millions, if not billions of people at risk of violence, political oppression and war, and the ravages of climate change?). But I am also unclear as to whether this is a means of righting a historical wrong or simply the logic of jus sanguinis, blood citizenship.

Kaiser writes poignantly about his family’s internal struggles over his quest for reclamation, interlacing them with his own confusion about the nature of his journey. Here he toys with language, searching for the precise terms to describe what he is doing. Is it reclamation? Or, as he alights on, assertion? What might be the difference? And what of the myriad other terms he does not use, such as recuperation, and of course most critical for our present conjuncture, reparation?

What if, like Kaiser’s, our attachment to the place of our ancestors’ suffering is fleeting, a historical filament? He admits that he has no real affective relationship with his grandfather’s Poland. Kaiser never met his grandfather, who died several years before he was born. Until his death, his grandfather, for whom he is named, sought to reclaim the multistory building that had been his family patrimony at the onset of war in the Polish city Sosnowiec.

The author decides to take up his ancestor’s reclamation project, in part as a way of connecting with a relative he never got to know. As he delves in, he encounters a lively cast of characters and makes a detour into rural Silesia. There treasure hunters—or are they explorers?—search for Nazi-era loot within a series of underground bunkers and tunnels Jewish slave laborers built at the apogee of the war. Rumors, myths, and historical fabulations abound in the lush forests and industrial ruins.

By placing his effort to reclaim family property against the unfolding dramedies of his new explorer friends, Kaiser makes us ruminate on the book’s title. As noted above, possession requires dispossession; the restoration of plunder might require plundering in turn.

At points, he seeks to justify his planned taking—plundering?—by rendering inheritance straightforward, a question of lineage. Moreover, he does not deploy the term reparations, seeing his claim for property as an assertion of inheritance and lineage. However, inheritance is never so simple, hence a canon of literature on its anxieties, from Howards End to Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest to a plot point in the recent Sex and the City rebootMany of those works, too, concern property and its rightful (or proper) place. To whom does what belong? Is it a question of what is written in the property ledger or the cadastral map? Or is it about sentimental attachments and the affective relationships we develop to places?

Link to the rest at Public Books

As PG has opined before, while he understands the deep and terrible things that were done to human beings by other human beings during the 20th Century, providing something tangible – land, money, etc. – to the descendants of those who were treated terribly will not provide any benefit to those who were actually harmed by such wrongdoing.

PG suggests that going down this path leads to the nurturing of national and/or racial hatred that characterizes the endless enmity between ethnic/religious/etc. groups. As an example, some radical Muslims identify Christians of European descent as Crusaders, referring to a period generally agreed to have lasted from 1095 – 1291 AD.

There is no one on this planet who was harmed by an actual Crusader. Ditto for a child or grandchild of someone who was harmed by a Crusader.

One of the beneficial aspects of traditional societies in the US is that they left their ancestral feuds behind them. While African Americans were harmed by slavery and its aftermath, no one alive today has been a slave or the son/daughter, grandson/granddaughter of a slave. Racial prejudice, where it still exists in the United States, has a more contemporary source than 150 years ago.

With respect to Native Americans, serious injustices did occur at the hands of some European immigrants and their descendents . On the other hand, some of the earliest British settlers in the United States, experienced terrible race/nationality-based atrocities at the hands of Native Americans.

If we’re going to get specific, it’s likely that far more Native Americans and their civilizations were harmed by Spanish colonists and soldiers than by English colonists and soldiers. So, do the descendants of British or Swedish or Russian colonists have a gripe against those who claim they owe something to the Native Americans in South and Central America whose ancestors were displaced by Spanish or Portuguese invaders?

Many are familiar with a concept in American and British law known as a statute of limitations.

Here’s one description of the purpose of statutes of limitations:

Legislative act(s) restricting the time within which legal proceedings may be brought, usually to a fixed period after the occurrence of the events that gave rise to the cause of action. Such statutes are enacted to protect persons against claims made after disputes have become stale, evidence has been lost, memories have faded, or witnesses have disappeared.

If your great-grandfather killed my great-grandfather in cold blood in 1900, even if my great-grandfather’s wife were still alive, she would have no claim for damages against your great-grandfather if he were still alive. Any claim would be barred by a statute of limitations.

The principle is even clearer for PG if we’re talking about the descendents of the great grandfathers and great-grandmothers.

Lighter Blogging than Usual

PG expects that he is not the only person who hangs around on TPV who has been spending a lot of time reading about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

While this topic is one of many about which PG has no real expertise, he will observe from his reading in 20th Century history that there is a problem which often seems to affect almost all dictators, especially during wartime. Everyone who is close to the strong man is afraid to tell him that his pet project is a really bad idea.

That nearly constant failing has been the salvation of democratic nations for a very long time.

Why Grammarly’s New Suggestions for Writing About Slavery Were Always Going to Miss the Mark

From Slate:

“Twitter is an ok place to be a little annoyed, right?” asked historian of slavery Elise A. Mitchell in January. She then reported in a thread that Grammarly, the freemium writing-assistant app very familiar to consumers of YouTube videos, had started to suggest changes in language around slavery. If a person were to type the word slave, Grammarly would now suggest the replacement enslaved person. The phrases fugitive slave and runaway slave now triggered the suggested replacement freedom seeker. If you were to write slaveowner or master (in places where the context indicates you’re talking about slavery), the app would suggest enslaver instead. The use of master or slave in nonslavery contexts (as sometimes occurs in engineering, or when describing that one big, fancy bedroom in a house) provokes a suggestion to consider an alternate. “I’m wary (and weary) of who gets to be an authority over the language we use to talk about our past,” Mitchell wrote.

These suggestions appeared in the app as of Jan. 18, Grammarly spokesperson Senka Hadzimuratovic confirmed to me in an email. Asked how Grammarly decided to add “suggestions” about slavery, Hadzimuratovic wrote: “We prioritized these particular suggestions based on a combination of the curiosity of our users for these topics as ascertained through user research, the prevalence of the language in question in writing, and the potential hurt the language can cause.” (Hadzimuratovic added that the company included “subject matter experts on race and ethnicity” in its research process; I asked to speak to one, and she declined, citing nondisclosure agreements signed when the experts agreed to work with the company.)

Hadzimuratovic also sent me a list of 11 resources the company had used when researching these changes: guides produced by organizations like the Underground Railroad Education Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, and the NAACP. The suggestions Grammarly provided are, so to speak, in the air—you can find support for every one of them in these resources. So why did the many historians of slavery who replied to Mitchell’s thread agree that the company had misstepped?

This is what happens when experts in a complicated subject matter see their work translated into normative prescriptions. First, on freedom seeker. As Mitchell pointed out in her tweets, “Not everyone who fled was seeking ‘freedom,’ ” and “running away is not the only way to ‘seek freedom.’ ” There is a growing body of academic work on how some enslaved people in the United States who could not run away altogether for whatever reason stayed and “sought freedom” in other ways: negotiation, temporary absences, smaller (and less permanent and risky) acts of resistance. (Historian Daina Ramey Berry wrote about enslaved people’s negotiations around freedom here, in an essay referring to, and synthesizing, some of this work.)

Enslaver as a substitute for slave owner doesn’t quite work, either. Sometimes enslavers didn’t themselves own people. Scholar Nicholas Rinehart wrote a piece about slavery and language for the online journal Commonplace, which he linked in a reply to Mitchell. In it, he has a list of the different roles that could fall into the bucket enslaver:

Merchants who purchased and sold slaves; ship captains and crew who held them captive; auctioneers who ran slave markets; slave traders who acted on behalf of wealthy planters; overseers on plantations throughout the Americas; managers who ran plantations for absentee estate holders; banks and firms that financed those plantations; institutions and other corporate bodies that owned slaves; and more.

With so many specific roles falling into the enslaver category, an automatic correction in this language—whether executed by habit or by software—might make everything about the history you’re describing less precise. And since one of the major lessons historians of slavery try to emphasize is that the institution could be found woven into every part of the economy and society, the loss of specificity could be significant.

Additional issues arise when you consider the word enslaver in a global context. In replies to Mitchell’s thread, historians specializing in slavery in Africa, indigenous North America, and South America added that enslavers and slave owners were two different groups in these contexts. “People were enslaved so that they could be sold, not owned” in Africa during the time of the slave trade, tweeted Rebecca Shumway. “To conflate [enslavers and slaveowners] would make the history unintelligible.” “That distinction is critical to understanding indigenous North American forms of slavery, too,” added Brett Rushforth. “One can’t understand the Jesuits in Brazil without it,” Andrew Dial said.

Additional issues arise when you consider the word enslaver in a global context. In replies to Mitchell’s thread, historians specializing in slavery in Africa, indigenous North America, and South America added that enslavers and slave owners were two different groups in these contexts. “People were enslaved so that they could be sold, not owned” in Africa during the time of the slave trade, tweeted Rebecca Shumway. “To conflate [enslavers and slaveowners] would make the history unintelligible.” “That distinction is critical to understanding indigenous North American forms of slavery, too,” added Brett Rushforth. “One can’t understand the Jesuits in Brazil without it,” Andrew Dial said.

I called Rinehart, who is currently a postdoc in the department of English and creative writing at Dartmouth, after the conversation about Grammarly unfolded online and asked him how he explained all of these fine points of language to students—one key audience for Grammarly’s services. He told me, “One thing I want to caution readers and students about in general is this idea that there are good words and bad words. Language is really too context-specific, too complicated, too variable over time” for specific recommendations to be made. “We can adjust our language in any number of situations, but it doesn’t necessarily solve a problem, so much as it introduces a new set of problems.”

Link to the rest at Slate

It’s always interesting to PG when sub-sub-sub-subcultures get upset because nobody understands their view of the world.

PG suspects that it is an impossible task for an average American who does average American things every day can to keep up with the nuances of language as interpreted by postdocs in a handful of disparate educational institutions.

When PG was an undergrad at an educational institution, he never recalls meeting a self-identified postdoc. The question is whether more education of the right sort actually makes an individual more intelligent and capable of analyzing a world in which postdocs are far rarer than any ethnic minority that
comes to PG’s mind.

While colleges and universities perform essential work, the rest of the world tends to be different, sometimes much, much, much, different than the rest of the world.

Even the worlds of colleges and universities differ substantially from each other. PG suggests that Caltech’s world is vastly different from the world of The University of Alabama. For one thing, football is a “retired sport” at Caltech and the leading religion in Tuscaloosa.

PG does not deny truth and falsehood, reality and fantasy, but he thinks that truth and reality, speaking generally, are not exclusively perceived by postdocs.

 

PG Note

PG notes that the next two blog posts (if you are reading in reverse chronological order) are, for him, two sides of the same coin.

He is of the opinion that men need (or at least are better off with) women and women need (or at least are better off with) men. This does not automatically mean everyone needs to be married to fulfill this need. or that men can’t have meaningful platonic relations with women and vice-versa.

There are a great many similarities between the two genders, but, in PG’s experience, there are some important differences between most men and most women. (He’s not rejecting the existence of outliers, just observing generalities.)

PG understands that he is being old-fashioned with his two-gender view of the world, but he thinks that this understanding has a long track record of success. It’s not perfect, but PG thinks it has worked better than any of the alternatives that have been proposed and, in some cases tried.

PG has always enjoyed the company of both women and men and, prior to his marriage with Mrs. PG, had a great many female friends who were definitely in the friend zone, some by their choice and others by PG’s choice.

PG would not know a great deal about the world had he not had extensive interaction with both men and women. Limiting himself to only one gender or primarily one gender would leave him even more stupid than he is about a great many important things.

The History of Book Banning

From Publishers Weekly:

As a historian of literacy, I coined the phrase “the literacy myth” to identify, explain, and criticize the former consensus that reading and writing (and sometimes arithmetic) are sufficient in themselves, regardless of degree of proficiency or social context, to transform the lives of individuals and their societies.

In late 2021, I’m confronted with an unprecedented “new illiteracy”—another version of the ever-shifting literacy myth. The historical continuities are shattered by, first, the call to ban books in innumerable circumstances; second, the banning of written literature without reading it; and, third, calls for burning books. This constitutes a movement for illiteracy, not a campaign for approved or selective uses of reading and writing.

Banning books from curricula, erasing them from reading lists, and ridding them from library shelves has mid-20th-century precedents; the burn books movement does not. Nor does the banning of books without censors reading them to identify their offending content.

Banning books is an effort, unknowingly, to resurrect the early modern Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation against both radical Catholics and early Protestants, which attempted to halt unauthorized reading, including curtailing the ability of individuals to read for themselves. Then seen as a “protest,” individual access to written or printed texts was perceived as threatening in ways that controlled oral reading to the “masses” by a priest or other leader was not. It enforced orthodoxy and countered both collective and individual autonomy.

The similarities and differences between today and a half millennium ago are powerful. Both movements are inseparable from ignorance, rooted in fear, and expressed in both legal and extralegal struggles for control and power. Both are inextricably linked to other efforts to restrict free speech, choice and control over one’s body, political and civil rights, public protests, and more.

Once led by the established church, censorship crusades to ban written materials of all sorts are today supercharged by right-wing politicians, radical evangelicals, and supporting activists. In the eyes of some, these politicians are opportunistic.

Despite media comments and condemnation by professors, teachers, librarians, and First Amendment attorneys, these issues are poorly understood. Parents of school-age children are confused. The young, supposedly in the name of their protection, face the greatest threat to intellectual and psychological development. That danger is most severe for the racially and gender diverse, who see themselves being erased or banned.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The author of the OP is a professor emeritus at Ohio State University. PG suggests that, while he undoubtedly knows the history of book bans, etc., he doesn’t understand or ignores the current nature of this type of activity on college and university campuses across the United States and, perhaps, elsewhere.

Today, it’s more often the radical left that is attacking individuals and their writings for wrongthink.

From The Washington Times:

“Mr. Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson compared cancel culture to a “medieval mob looking for someone to burn.”

Indeed.

No one is immune to woke politics. It doesn’t matter how long ago a person made their irredeemably “offensive” comments, or how passionate their apologies are — the social media mob takes no prisoners.

. . . .

Below is a list of the top 10 cancellations, all that have occurred within the last year. Many on this list are notable names, people who will find other work and/or have the position and power to stand up to the woke crowd.

It’s the names not represented who are the true victims — like those who have had their college acceptances rejected because of a social media post they made in high school — who were canceled before they ever could get started. They are not famous, and their names are not known.

Not surprisingly, cancel culture cuts one way. If you say something too conservative and mildly offensive, the woke hall monitors on social media will find you. And if you’re famous, all the better, as Hollywood and corporate America seems to have embraced this new form of blacklisting:

  • Mike Lindell — The CEO of My Pillow said his company was ditched by nearly 20 retailers after he publicly questioned the electoral results of the 2020 presidential election and made his election fraud claims into a movie. Lindell is an unwavering supporter of former President Donald Trump and visited him in the White House on Jan. 15 — five days before Mr. Trump left office.
  • Chris Harrison – The longtime host of ABC’s “The Bachelor” franchise decided to “step aside” after defending current contestant Rachael Kirkconnell when old photos surfaced of her attending an Old South antebellum party. “While I do not speak for Rachael Kirkconnell, my intentions were simply to ask for grace in offering her an opportunity to speak on her own behalf,” Harrison explained. “What I now realize I have done is cause harm by wrongly speaking in a manner that perpetuates racism, and for that I am so deeply sorry.”
  • J.K. Rowling — The famous author of the Harry Potter series has faced backlash for voicing her fears that the push for transgender rights will ultimately endanger women’s rights. She’s since defended her comments on her website and joined 150 authors and academics denouncing “cancel culture.” These actions have only further infuriated her critics, who called for a boycott of her books and for her publisher to stop paying royalties.
  • Adam Rubenstein — The former New York Times opinion editor and writer resigned from the paper in December, six months after its staff went into an uproar over a piece he edited by Sen. Tom Cotton. The column by Arkansas Republican argued for the federal government to “send in the troops” to quell violence in cities throughout the country in response to civil unrest following the death of George Floyd. Former editor Mari Weiss wrote on Twitter about the resignation: “Adam was hung out to dry by his own colleagues. Then he and his work were lied about, including in this mendacious editor’s note.”
  • Gina Carano — The “Mandalorian” actress was fired by Disney after posting on social media that being a Republican in 2021 was similar to being Jewish during Nazi Germany. Her Hollywood agent dropped her, and Hasbro scrapped her “Star Wars” action figures

. . . .

  • Matthew Yglesias — The liberal opinion writer resigned from Vox, a publication he co-founded, after many of his woke colleagues found his articles too right of center. Mr. Yglesias argued against defunding the police this summer and took aim at the liberal term “Latinx” as alienating many people from progressive politics and the Democratic Party. He has since joined Substack, so he can voice his opinions more freely.
  • Washington/Lincoln/Jefferson — The former U.S. presidents’ names have been wiped from San Francisco public schools after the school board decided to rename 44 schools that had “ties to racism” and “dishonorable legacies.”
  • Sen. Josh Hawley – The Missouri Republican was dropped from his publisher, and Democrats have called for his resignation after he raised a challenge to the electors in Pennsylvania, siding with Mr. Trump and saying the state violated its own Constitution in conducting the 2020 presidential election. In the New York Post, he defended his actions, writing: “I, for one, am not going to back down. My book will be published, and I will continue to represent the people of my state without fear or favor, whatever the left or the corporations say.

End of Washington Times quote.

PG doesn’t doubt that some on the radical right are doing or attempting to do the same thing. However, in the United States, the mainstream media are generally controlled by those who are well left-of-center and contemporary wokism is a creation that originated on the left.

PG is suggesting that a group of people loudly attacking an individual or small group for their words and opinions and attempting to harm them financially or physically, as opposed to making an alternative argument to the one they believe is wrong-headed is a slippery slope that has and can lead to a great deal of harm to a society that is difficult to remedy.

Consider the bourgeoisie in Soviet Russia, the Jews in Nazi Germany and a great many other examples of ethnic cleansing as examples of where great intolerance of those who differ in opinion, race, etc., has and still can lead to horrible consequences.

This Review Should Not Exist

From Public Books:

This review should not exist. I should not write it.

Pieces like this one always carry the same heading: “Dispatches from [insert country/geographic region],” “Three recent novels from [insert identity/language/culture].” If “natives” like me write these pieces, we acquire the voice of “our” culture and speak for its history. If others—nonlocals and, perhaps, nonspecialists—write them, historical specificity can evaporate into belles-lettristic formalism or stereotype, apolitical and stale. Such essays are, nevertheless, irrefutably important, since they can help bring foreign writers to US audiences. When well-written, they have the potential to rewrite harmful and boring tropes and offer new ways of pondering the literary landscape. Just like novels, though, they often uncritically fulfill the market’s demands (as I might be doing here).

The tangled incentives motivating this essay include: monetary and career incentives that led me to emigrate to and study in the US; monetary and career incentives that make translation into English essential for Third World writers (especially Latin American ones); and this publication’s platform—people interested mainly in American and British literature, with advanced humanities degrees conferred by US universities. Essays like this one risk calcifying the imperial dynamics that inevitably produce them, relegating the literary and cultural works they promote to the lesser literary field of keyword-laden generalities.

“Latin America” is one such keyword and, nowadays, a gringo fabrication. Even if I could rescue something decidedly autochthonous and pure that unified the region, I wouldn’t know how to tell it apart from the Yankee, imperial mythology. Latin American authors engaging elements of the continent’s shared canon and interconnected histories face a double bind that demands, in a sense, that they establish a relationship with “Latin America” as a formulation emanating from above—from centers of literary power, nowadays New York and formerly Paris—to be translated, to sell, to make money from their literature. Latin America registers in those literary centers as an aggregation of tropes established mostly by the aesthetics of token authors inducted into the “global” literary canon—Neruda, García Márquez, and Bolaño key among them. Borges, for these readers and critics, might as well have been French.

Obviously, economic and institutional rewards come to those willing to pander to US desires (just ask Isabel Allende). At the same time, one cannot deny that authors’ dependency on the US book market has increased exponentially in recent years. This has itself become a literary theme. Three recently translated, very different novels—César Aira’s The Divorce, Dolores Reyes’s Eartheater, and Pedro Mairal’s The Woman from Uruguay—each illuminate and interrogate aspects of top-down, imperial representational demands. At times critical of and dexterous in playing with gringo expectations, these novels attempt to develop forms of literary imagination, of reading and writing, that elude instead of rehearsing a partially gringo-defined, essential Latin Americanness.

. . . .

César Aira’s The Divorce was originally published in 2010 and comes to English courtesy of New Directions, translated by Chris Andrews and prefaced by Patti Smith. The novel assumes the voice of a wealthy, educated resident of Providence, Rhode Island (a Brown professor?), who moves, almost on a whim, to a Buenos Aires hostel following a painful divorce. “A temporary withdrawal on my part would be the kindest thing, for me and for my daughter,” he explains. “When I returned, all smiles and gifts, we would reestablish our relationship on the terms laid down by the judge.” Perhaps escape can quell the agonies of separation.

Latin America is ideal for fleeing, since it has historically been cast as exterior to history: a location in permanent, nondialectical détente. Think of Burroughs fleeing to Mexico after committing murder; Hemingway’s long love affair with La Finca Vigía; Britons awed by Patagonia. Atemporality draws imperialists like flies.

Likewise, for Aira’s narrator, Buenos Aires is a pause, unimportant and nonnarrative in his life because what matters is the “Providence (Rhode Island)” timeline. That name itself assumes an ironic guise, mocking gringo self-regard and foreshadowing the narrative’s distaste for P/providence.

Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, the narrator journeys to a local coffee shop. He witnesses a young man get drenched by the accumulated water of a retracting awning. Everything stops. As our narrator stares on, the soaked Enrique recognizes Leticia, the childhood acquaintance he was originally on his way to meet. A remarkable subnarrative arises here—“They hadn’t seen each other since the day they met, which was also the day that had marked the end of their childhood”—as Aira leads us down the story of Enrique and Leticia’s elementary school. That institution had burned down in a demonic fire they escaped by entering an also burning miniature model of the school that they found in a basement. This aside concludes with Enrique and Leticia’s reduction to atoms, which then escape the school together with millions of similarly sized priests.

. . . .

Aira does not really engage the more tangible historicity of Buenos Aires and Argentina, because his story mostly operates on a metafictional level. Meanwhile, Eartheater, Dolores Reyes’s first novel (translated by Julia Sanches) does tussle with the city’s specific pasts and presents.

Reyes narrates the story of an unnamed young woman from a Buenos Aires slum who sees her father murder her mother, then feels an uncanny urge to devour earth at her family’s property. Doing so, she briefly relives the moment of the killing. The narrator quickly realizes that by eating dirt from a specific location, she can witness the horrible events that transpired there. Quickly, albeit guiltily, she monetizes the skill, transforming into a sort of detective. Most of her clients are grieving parents looking for children, mainly daughters murdered by men—their partners and fathers. She hesitantly begins dating a policeman, whom she later encounters working at the scene of her ex’s murder, at a club she attends with her brother and his friends on the same night as the killing. Her ex’s murderer almost kills them, too, until her missing father reappears, saves them by stabbing their assailant, and vanishes into the night.

Eartheater gestures towards the vernacular of Buenos Aires villas (or slums), and Julia Sanches’s translation conveys that unique prosody remarkably well, despite some shaky moments. Mirroring the narrator’s mystical ability, the narrative hugs its haunted ground; land and earth document a history that the state does not. This is particularly the case in Argentina, where the aristocracy has historically hoarded and abandoned vast swaths of land, creating massive latifundios populated by poor, exploited workers who inherit the conditions and destitution of slaves.

Such land is increasingly owned by transnational corporations unconcerned with environmental and social destruction. These same heinous corporations probably produce the beer and junk that the narrator constantly devours. Her rate of consumption makes her inexplicable relationship with dirt feel almost satirical, as if Reyes were ironically refracting the deficient diet of the Argentine poor by suggesting that they eat the material base of their condition: land itself. Maybe then something will change.

At the novel’s very beginning, the narrator says, “Mamá stays here. In my house. In the earth.” Our narrator struggles to preserve her murdered mother’s proximity so that the latter’s life might not be forgotten, so that justice might remain possible, because dirt ties her to the absent. The traces of brutality that infect daily life can only be interpreted (literally) from below; her cop boyfriend cannot understand the violent histories that envelop the narrator, her family, and her friends. He reduces those subject to such histories to otherness by insulting them, calling them “estos negros.” Sanches’s use of “scum” here fails to fully relay the racialized connotations of the Spanish (literally, “those blacks”).

In Eartheater, locality—determined by the dirt the central character eats, the ground she walks—is the only true solution to the cycle of violence. Even so, Reyes does not offer a neat tale of redemption. The narrative ends when the femicidal father returns to save the main character’s life, and she says: “Twice I’d seen my old man kill.” The two killings were undeniably different—opposed, even—but murder nonetheless. The narrator’s departure, her flight from the neighborhood, interrupts but does not definitively end this cycle. Violence continues, and Reyes reminds us that individuals, no matter their gifts or nobility, cannot modify structures when acting alone.

If Aira undoes the legend of Argentina as a leisurely Eden, then Reyes does so twice over, turning Buenos Aires into a grim inferno of destruction and treason. An uncomfortable history comfortably forgotten undermines yet again whatever pastoral sense of benevolent calm existed in the US conception of Latin America.

Link to the rest at Public Books

PG is not an expert on the subject, but his observation (which may be unfair or incorrect in whole or in part) is that, according to the accounts PG has read in recent years, many second and third-world nations share some similar characteristics.

  1. They are either currently governed by dictatorships or have a 20th Century history of being governed by dictatorships with any sort of democracy being new and less-than-perfect.
  2. Often, outsiders (beneficiaries of colonial power or capitalists exploiting local individuals or resources) are blamed either explicitly or implicitly for some or all of the problems in their societies and governance.
  3. Living standards are lower than in first-world countries and writers portraying these countries either blame western/colonial history for current problems or otherwise show resentment toward individuals or groups that have had the benefits that accompany residence in first-world countries AKA “the rich” or “those who are richer than most in my country”.

PG understands that he has lived his life in what some regard as the most-heinous of Western Exploitational Nations, the United States.

However, to the best of PG’s knowledge, he has never personally benefitted from the exploitation that took place in any second or third-world nation. Neither he nor any member of his family of origin inherited any wealth or power. PG knows a lot about his ancestors and doesn’t think any of them had inherited wealth or oppressed the American Indians or others in this nation or in their nations of origin.

Prior to settling in the United States, none of PG’s ancestors were wealthy by the standards of their day and place. None were rulers of anything outside of their home and small land holdings. On one line, some male ancestors attended one of the colleges at Oxford, but it was for the purpose of becoming ministers which is what they did after they finished their studies. Then, as now, earning a living as a minister is not one of the better ways to become rich and pass riches down to your children.

Nobody killed any Native Americans. Some of PG’s ancestors were, however, killed by Native Americans.

Any money that existed in PG’s family of origin in the Twentieth Century was earned, not inherited and disappeared in the Great Depression. Nothing tangible was inherited by PG’s parents (who are both deceased after lives spent working hard to support their family, including PG).

From his family of origin, PG inherited a Protestant work ethic and, from his mother, a degree of intelligence.

Prior to college, PG attended either isolated country schools in the American West or typical midwestern small-town schools. Less than 10% of PG’s graduating class in high school finished college. Less than 20% tried to go to college.

With the help of large scholarships, student loans and working 15-40 hours per week while he was in college, PG graduated from what many would characterize as a good school. That helped him get a good job when he graduated and, eventually, to attend law school.

To the best of his knowledge, neither PG nor any member of PG’s family going back a long way has ever exploited anyone of a different race or ethnic origin for any purpose. Definitely nobody got rich doing so. Most definitely, PG has never inherited anything tangible from his ancestors. He did inherit a work ethic and a tradition of attending church, each of which he values.

Thus, PG has never felt any white guilt or guilt for being an American or sense that he owes a particular ethnic group any recompense or help other than general Christian charity towards those who have less than he has regardless of their race or ethnic origin.

The triumph of culture

From The Economist:

They tore down the statue and rolled it into Bristol harbour, and none of them denied it. Yet this month a jury in England acquitted four people over the toppling of a likeness of Edward Colston, an English philanthropist and leading slave-trader who died in 1721. Part of the case for the defence was unusual for a courtroom, and revealing of the intellectual mood in Britain and beyond. The real offence, said the accused, was that the monument to such a monster was still standing. Facing criminal charges, they made an argument about art, and about history.

In an era of rising nationalism and seething partisanship, some borders—including those between countries and political camps—can seem to be hardening. But others are blurring, such as between politics and culture, statecraft and stagecraft. When the news vies for attention with entertainment, and is relished as meme and soap opera, entertainers have a political edge—and from France to Ukraine, television personalities have exploited it. Poets may no longer be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but activist sports stars and outspoken children’s authors have a pretty big say.

The substance of public debate has evolved with the personnel, not least in the erosion of another distinction, between the present and the past. Witness the saga of Colston, who splashed back into the news 300 years after his death. A decade ago, the idea that Conservative ministers might lambast the National Trust, staid steward of English country houses—as they have over its interest in slavery and colonialism—would have seemed outlandish. (So, to American voters, would one run for the White House by the star of “The Apprentice”, let alone two.) Whoever controls the past may indeed control the future, but from the streets of post-imperial Britain to the school boards of America, they have a fight on their hands first.

Disputes over whose history is told, how and by whom, in part reflect a struggle over claims on power and virtue today. Adherents of “cancel culture”, that dismal oxymoron, believe some people, living and dead, are too discredited to be heard at all. In these rolling culture wars, The Economist has no fixed side. But neither are we neutral. Our liberal principles suggest that controversial voices should generally be audible—and that some statues should come down.

. . . .

Culture’s role in politics is not the only way it has become more salient. During lockdown, stories on the page and screen have offered vicarious adventures, and a sense of solidarity in adversity, to people across the world. Even as theatres and galleries closed, the technology of culture has developed to match this craving. If covid-19 has coloured the experience of the arts, meanwhile, in time the reverse will also be true: writers and artists will shape how the pandemic is understood and remembered, and we will be watching.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG is more than a little concerned about cancel culture wherever it appears.

In one respect, the actions of the cancel culture mobs – physical and intellectual – can be classed with book burning. In the Twentieth Century, book burning was most prominently practiced by the Nazis, who burned the books of Jewish authors.

Book burning has a long history, too. The first recorded state-sponsored book burning was in China in 213 BC, according to Matthew Fishburn, the author of Burning Books. The burnings were ordered by Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who also started the Great Wall and the Terracotta army.

. . . .

On June 22, 2011 a group in The Netherlands burned the cover of The Book of Negroes, by Canadian author Lawrence Hill, continuing both an ancient and modern tradition.

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

. . . .

Panhandling Repertoires and Routines for Overcoming the Nonperson Treatment

In this article, I present panhandling as a dynamic undertaking that requires conscious actions and purposeful modifications of self, performances, and emotions to gain the attention and interest of passersby. I show that describing and theorizing panhandling in terms of dramaturgical routines is useful in understanding the interactions and exchanges that constitute panhandling. In addition, repertoires rightly portray panhandlers as agents engaging the social world rather than as passive social types. From this perspective, sidewalks serve as stages on which panhandlers confront and overcome various forms of the nonperson treatment.

This facet of human nature – oppressing or attacking the Other – is most prevalent and dangerous when a group uses force/violence to punish one or more individuals who are perceived to be from a different tribe, species, race or social position – some sort of nonperson who is not a member of whatever group of Übermenschen have the power to threaten an individual or group which lacks legal, social or physical power sufficient to deter mistreatment.

Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting within the norms of a social group and, thus, may be treated in a manner different from those who are members of a social group, racial, ethnic, educational, professional class, etc.

It is an effect that influences how people perceive and treat those who are viewed as being part of the in-group versus those who are seen as being part of the out-group. Othering also involves attributing negative characteristics to people or groups that differentiate them from the perceived normative social group.

It is an “us vs. them” way of thinking about human connections and relationships. This process essentially involves looking at others and saying “they are not like me” or “they are not one of us so I am not required to give them the same respect I give those who are like me.”

It takes a mob to cancel an individual.

Othering is a way of negating another person’s individual humanity and, consequently, those that are have been othered are seen as less worthy of dignity and respect.

On an individual level, othering plays a role in the formation of prejudices against people and groups. On a larger scale, it can also play a role in the dehumanization of entire groups of people which can then be exploited to drive changes in institutions, governments, and societies. It can lead to the persecution of marginalized groups, the denial of rights based on group identities, or even acts of violence against others.

Verywellmind.com

In the United States, unfortunately, racial/ethnic minorities, religious minorities and language minorities have all been subject to some degree of the cancel culture of a time and place, sometimes geographically localized and at other times widespread.

PG argues that the actions of college students who “cancel” the ideas or speech of an individual or group are operating under the influence of the same class of degraded human nature that resulted in Jews being sent to concentration camps eighty years ago or the Native Americans being killed or forcibly ejected from their homes in the United States or the evil bourgeoisie who owned the means of production being attacked and killed because, by their nature, they were enemies of the proletariat.

Big Tech Wants To End Copyright

From Tilting at Windmills:

I’m a writer by trade. I don’t have another gig as a lawyer or comedian or anything else. This is what I do to support my family.

Luckily, I’m able to do this because the work I create is covered by copyright. Salem—the parent company for sites like Townhall, Red State, Bearing arms, Twitchy, Hot Air, and PJ Media—is able to make money off content because that content can’t be found anywhere else.

At least most of it.

. . . .

Copyright tends to be more of a factor when it comes to entertainment. Books, movies, and television all enjoy copyright protection, which means you can’t just decide to start streaming Firefly on your own for fun and profit. You’ve got to deal with Fox, first.

. . . .

However, as Jennifer Van Laar notes at Red State, big tech seems to be working to undermine much of that.

For years companies like Google and Spotify, whose revenue streams depend on content and profits depend on how cheaply they can acquire it, have worked to weaken copyright protections. They know they can’t get what they want through a transparent legislative process, so they’ve set their sights on effectively changing the law by using “a well-established legal organization to ‘restate’ and reinterpret our copyright laws for the nation’s judicial system.”

The organization, American Legal Institute (ALI), an invite-only organization for legal scholars, is known for its Restatements of Law, which have been described as “Cliff’s Notes” guides to various legal topics:

The ALI…is widely known and rightfully recognized within legal circles as an authority on explaining the law. Through their best-known works, called “Restatements of the Law,” the ALI compiles all aspects of a legal topic and publishes a “Cliff’s Notes” guide to that topic. These Restatements are regularly relied upon by our nation’s judges when they are asked to decide on cases requiring expert knowledge of a particular subject.

According to the Content Creators Coalition, ALI’s Restatements are “descriptive black-letter texts designed ‘to reflect the law as it presently stands’ that are used by courts, scholars, and legislatures to understand the current state of the law on any subject. ALI Restatements have historically been considered the gold standard for unbiased legal clarity and precision” (emphasis added).

Although ALI’s Restatements almost exclusively focus on common law (formed by precedent) and not statutory law, the organization started a project aiming to restate the Copyright Act, a federal statute, back in 2013 at the suggestion of UC Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson. According to then-Acting Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple:

[T]he Restatement project appears to create a pseudo-version of the Copyright Act that does not mirror the law precisely as Congress enacted it.

Samuelson is the founder of the Samuelson-Glushko Law Clinics (which one blogger referred to as “Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucius Institutes)” who, at a Copyright Society of the USA conference “vehemently railed against awards of damages for copyright infringement while a room full of the nation’s top copyright law practitioners sat in shocked, slack-jawed silence or excused themselves for coffee.”

. . . .

Basically, though, Big Tech has decided that it wants to fund “legal research” that will undermine copyright because technology services benefit from looser copyright laws.

For example, you write a book. Now, I’ve written a few myself, so I know how much time and dedication goes into each one. Copyright laws allow you to have control over that book until or unless you give that up to someone, like a publisher. They then get the copyright so they can make money, giving you some of it.

. . . .

What’s happening here is that these Restatements, which are supposed to be based on the current understanding of the law, have been co-opted by some who actively oppose copyright protections in an effort to undermine the legal support for them. They’re blatantly misrepresenting the law in an attempt to effectively change the law.

And they’re likely to get away with it, too.

Link to the rest at Tilting at Windmills and thanks to K. for the tip.

PG will note that the author of the OP said he was not a lawyer upfront.

The Restatements he mentioned have been around forever. They’re published by a private company, The American Law Institute, universally referred to as ALI.

Restatements are a quick way of getting an overview of a legal subject or a piece of a legal subject, but Restatements aren’t the same as federal or state laws or formal decisions by federal or state judges.

When PG was doing a lot of litigation, he would resort to the relevante Restatement only if he couldn’t find any statute or court decision that was close to supporting his client’s case. On more than one occasion when he did this (not much more frequently than 2-3 occasions), the judge would either look at him (or opposing counsel, if opposing counsel tried to use a restatement) and say something like, “Does that mean you can’t find any Missouri law (or California law or federal statute or case) that supports your client’s case?”

If the judge didn’t say this first, opposing counsel (including PG if he was on the other side of a case where the attorney argued from a restatement) would say something like, “Your Honor” or “Judge” (if he knew the judge well), “I have included a great many citations to case law and statutes in order to support my client’s contentions. If counsel cannot locate any reliable citations, I’ll be filing a Motion for Summary Judgment (or whatever was appropriate) on behalf of my client because the other side apparently has no legal basis for their arguments.”

As a quote in the OP says, restatements are like the Cliff’s Notes version of the law. Just as Cliff’s Notes is the resort of desperate college students who aren’t ready for the final exam (May Cliff be blessed for all his past support of a younger and callower version of PG), for most judges with which PG is acquainted, quoting or citing a restatement, unless the restatement reference is accompanied by a whole bunch of on-point cases and statutes, is raising the desperation flag. An insightful client will be wondering why you didn’t recommend starting settlement discussions before wasting all the client’s money in court.

But Big Tech is a money machine and will waste a lot of money to get a 0.001% improvement in a legal position it’s trying to sell the justice system.

But, as always, PG could be wrong.

Barnes & Noble Unveils Union Square & Company

From Publishers Weekly:

Approximately one year after Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt tapped Emily Meehan to reinvent the retailer’s publishing operation, Meehan has unveiled a new name for the press as well as a host of new initiatives.

Union Square & Co. is the new public-facing name of what has been known as Sterling Publishing. Meehan explained that the underlying business will still be called Sterling Publishing, but that all books will be released under the Union Square & Co. and Union Square Kids imprints, plus two existing imprints: Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright. Books bearing the Union Square name will roll out this fall, while the publisher’s website and email addresses will be updated January 10.

Meehan said she is keeping the Sterling Ethos and Puzzlewright names because they are so well known in their categories of magic and mystic publishing and pencil-and-paper puzzles, respectively. Meehan said Puzzlewright accounts for about 10% of Union Square’s revenue, and she sees more opportunity to grow both that business as well as the business of Sterling Ethos. Specifically, she plans to take hit titles within those imprints and expand them across a variety of formats, including calendars and journals, with the goal of reaching not only existing fans but also a wider audience. Kate Zimmermann is heading up Sterling Ethos and Francis Heaney is leading Puzzlewright.

The launch of the Union Square brand is in keeping with Meehan’s previously announced strategy to broaden the types of books that the group publishes for both adults and children. She believes Union Square is well positioned both to help authors who are looking to reboot their careers and to assist new authors with launching theirs. She said Union Square will be looking for authors who are writing on subjects that reflect shifts in the culture.

“We will be placing bets in the areas where we believe we have a good chance to grow,” Meehan explained, noting that she has no intention of going head-to-head with the Big Five on a regular basis. “We’ll act on books in categories where we want to put a stake in the ground.”

Meehan said a good example of the type of author and book Union Square will focus on is a new untitled interior design book by Carmeon Hamilton, the winner of HGTV’s Design Star: Next Gen and star of the Reno My Rental show. Hamilton “wants to move design in some new ways,” Meehan noted. The author was signed by Amanda Englander, who joined Union Square from Clarkson Potter and who will oversee the publisher’s lifestyle efforts, which include the decorating, food and drink, and health and wellness categories.

Growing Union Square’s fiction list is another Meehan priority, and to that end she signed the Wolf Den trilogy by Elodie Harper. The first installment, The Wolf Den, was a U.K. bestseller, and the series has been touted by B&N’s U.K. sister company Waterstones. Meehan said Union Square will use Waterstones’ merch team as a sounding board when looking to sign other U.K. authors.

. . . .

Accompanying changes to Union Square’s editorial approach, Meehan has made changes to its sales operations, with an eye to improving the publisher’s sales across the entire trade. To that end, Elena Blanco has joined as director, trade sales, and her duties include expanding Union Square’s outreach to independent booksellers. 

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG checked out Union Square’s website and found a word salad of tired clichés.

We focus on making publishing a partnership. Through collaboration and a team approach publishing is made easier and more profitable while providing business skill and global reach.

We combine industry-best experience with business creativity and expertise, then collaborate to help realize the possibilities you created from the first moment you set pen to paper.

. . . .

Authors become part of our Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem which establishes the best future for the author and title.

PG is certain that a great deal of research went into what authors really want – an Algorithms for Success trademarked Ecosystem.

PG wondered if this new collection of English majors who couldn’t get work elsewhere had ever created an algorithm.

Perhaps they started off with “How to Create an Algorithm” with MS Word 2010 on a PC.

Of course, every talented contemporary author who recalls the first moment you set pen to paper will, without a doubt, be thoroughly enchanted.

PG can barely restrain his enthusiasm. His first moment produced something like “Acme Construction (hereafter “The Party of the First Part”)”.

How to Send Messages That Automatically Disappear

Not exactly about books, but it’s New Years Day and the pickins are slim. (See also, Slim Pickens)

From Wired:

MANY MYSTERY AND spy movies are based on the premise that you can send messages that self-destruct, but you don’t need to be an international secret agent to do the same with your own texts.

In fact, most popular chat apps now include some kind of disappearing message feature—which means that if you don’t want a permanent record of your conversation, you don’t have to have one. In fact, encrypted messaging app Signal made its disappearing message feature the default.

While it’s handy to have chat archives to look back on for sentimental and practical reasons (recipes, addresses, instructions, and more), there are other times you’d rather nothing was saved. Here’s what to do.

There is a caveat here for all of these apps, in that the people you’re communicating with can take screenshots of what you’ve said—or, if screenshots are blocked, they can take a photo of the screen with another device. Some of them promise to notify you if your messages have been screenshotted or downloaded, but there’s always a workaround. That’s something to bear in mind when choosing who to chat with and how much to share.

Signal

The disappearing messages feature in Signal is an option for every conversation you have, and now it’s available by default or by an individual conversation: You can switch between disappearing messages and permanent messages at any time in any thread. To do this, tap the top banner in any thread, then pick Disappearing messages.

You can choose anywhere from one second to four weeks for your messages to stick around after they’ve been viewed (or choose Off to disable the feature). You can even set a custom timer—you could tell a message to be gone in 60 seconds. An alert appears in the chat whenever you’ve changed this setting, and anything you send from then on follows the rules you’ve set.

To set a default expiry time for messages in all your chats, open the main app settings page and choose Privacy and Default timer for new chats (under Disappearing messages). This applies to every chat you initiate from then on, not to the existing conversations on your phone.

. . . .

Instagram

Instagram has now gone way beyond photo-sharing to cover Snapchat-style stories, direct messaging, and more. The direct messaging component lets you send photos and videos that stay on record or disappear once they’ve been viewed, though text always stays in place.

Head to your conversation list in the Instagram app, then open the thread that you want to send the disappearing message to (tap the compose icon, top right, if you can’t see it). Tap the camera icon on the left of the compose box and capture the photo or video you want to send.

Down at the bottom of the screen, you’ll then see various options for what you’re sending: View once, Allow replay (which is really view twice), and Keep in chat. Pick whichever you prefer before confirming with the Send button.

Link to the rest at Wired

Security by obscurity is far from a foolproof solution, but if PG were planning to send a bunch of secret messages, he would be inclined to set up a bunch of free email addresses for the purposes of both sending and receiving secret messages.

PG and his secret correspondent would each write their secret message offline, then encrypt the message offline using one of many open-source encryptions programs then send the message to one of the free email addresses.

PG would identify each free email address with a common name like Jim or Becky and provide his correspondent with the list.

In each encrypted email, PG and his online correspondent would mention one of the names in an offhand manner like, “I think Jim might be interested in seeing this.” The friend’s name (or the name of the last friend mentioned in the email) would identify the next email box to be used to send/receive the next encrypted message.

A variation on this system might involve setting up several free email addresses to automatically forward messages to other free email addresses.

Using both US-based email services as well as non-US email services would make tracking messages even more difficult.

Every couple of weeks, PG would create an entirely different set of free email addresses and send the encrypted list to his correspondent. PG might also be inclined to send out encrypted garbage to a whole bunch of email addresses that weren’t his intended recipient.

If PG and his correspondent were able to use computers at various locations and connecting to different Internet Service Providers, more obscurity would result. Throw a VPN with multiple nodes in multiple countries and rotating VPN locations increases the complexity of interception.

PG is informed that large government agencies are capable of cracking a great many encryption algorithms. One reason why PG would be inclined to use open-source encryption is that the source code is available for all to see for debugging and security-checking purposes. This doesn’t mean that open-source encryption can’t be cracked, but with many eyes watching (unlike the situation with encryption software than is not open-source) any cracking weaknesses in the open-source system are probably more susceptible discovery than a black-box encryption program.

Again, PG understands that a super-duper-mega-encryption system created by geniuses is the single best way to communicate confidentially, but demonstrating that such a system is uncrackable is quite difficult, perhaps even impossible.

PG expects that some of the visitors to TPV are far more fluent on this topic than he is and is happy to hear critiques, comments, etc., from one and all.

Over half of adults admit they have conversations with inanimate objects, plants, and pets

As PG has mentioned before, the holidays are often an information desert for articles about writing and the book business, hence this post.

For those interested in being organized, PG suggests that you might file this post under A Frolic of His Own, a legal term used almost exclusively in law school Torts classes.

If the meaning of A Frolic of His Own puzzles you, see the opinion in Joel v. Morison by The Honorable James Parke, 1st Baron Wensleydale in the Court of Exchequer, July 3, 1834.

To the best of PG’s knowledge, this opinion is the only reason anyone remembers the first Baron of Wensleydale any more.

By this dismissal of the Baron, PG is most certainly not impugning the fame of Wensleydale Cheese, which no less a celebrity than George Orwell ranked as the second-best cheese in Britain, bested only by Stilton, in one of his lesser-known works, In Defense of English Cooking.

Consumer Warning: The title essay is only three pages long out of a printed book length of about 56 pages.

In more recent times, Wensleydale Cheese undoubtedly achieved its greatest fame due to its being mentioned in various episodes of Wallace and Gromit.

From StudyFinds:

Many people act a bit “differently” within the privacy of their own home, but a new survey finds most adults are actually having full-on conversations with items that can’t talk back! The poll of 2,000 adults in the United Kingdom finds over half routinely “chat” with inanimate objects at home. Another 60 percent say they’ll often have “entirely two-way” conversations with their pets.

Commissioned by TheJoyOfPlants.co.uk and conducted by OnePoll, the survey also finds 44 percent of adults frequently talk with their house plants. Within that group, four in 10 usually ask their plant if it’s thirsty.

A bit more understandably, over a quarter have lashed out verbally at an object or appliance for failing to do its job. For example, people often scold their TV or coffee maker for failing to turn on. Conversely, sometimes household items perform their functions a bit too well. Twenty-four percent admit they’ve yelled at an alarm clock to shut up. Meanwhile, close to 20 percent have pleaded with their car to keep going while low on fuel and over 10 percent have verbally thanked an ATM for dispensing their cash.

Most respondents have been caught mid-conversation by another human being. As many as six in 10 have been exposed while talking to an object and over half of those situations (60%) ended in laughter.

Plants love hearing a soothing voice

These chats are quite frequent as well. About six in 10 adults talk with their plants on a weekly basis. Another eight percent talk to their plants every day! Close to 40 percent believe these pep talks help their plants grow, while 37 percent report feeling happier themselves after speaking with some shrubs.

. . . .

As far as specific comments, “you need a drink”, “you’re getting big”, and “you’re not looking your best” are the most common things people say to plants. 

Link to the rest at Study Finds

Keeping the Flame of Freedom Alive

From Publishers Weekly:

We’re used to the notion that bookstores are quiet, welcoming refuges, not the focus of state-sponsored kidnapping and detentions. But the mysterious disappearances of five booksellers from Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay Books and its eventual closure are reminders of how powerful ideas in books can be.

In 2015, five publishers and booksellers linked to Causeway Bay Books quietly disappeared one by one. One was abducted at a beach resort in Thailand. Two were picked up at their wives’ homes just across the mainland China border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen. One simply vanished.

The kidnapping in Hong Kong of the fifth, Paul Lee, at the end of 2015 left no doubt that Chinese security agents were systematically picking up the owners of the Mighty Current publishing house and its Causeway Bay Books bookstore. In the case of Lee, he was pushed into a minivan when he was delivering books and taken across the border. And then there were none. This was the nightmare scenario many envisioned following the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China—the scenario in which people exercising their civil liberties within Hong Kong would be snatched.

The Causeway Bay cover-up unraveled when one of those detained, Lam Wing-kee, was allowed by mainland authorities to return to Hong Kong with the promise that he would retrieve information useful to security operatives. Instead, Lam held a press conference, during which he detailed his imprisonment and forced confession.

Until recently, Hong Kong was the freest city in China, and it had long been a beacon of hope in a bleak landscape. The city was home to a lively semi-underground publishing world that specialized in books on China. One of its prominent members was Jin Zhong, who arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland in 1980 and founded a pro-democracy magazine.

. . . .

“When I came to Hong Kong and found freedoms, I really wanted to enjoy those freedoms,” Jin told me from Brooklyn, where he now lives. “My mission in every article I wrote and in every issue of the magazine was to point out all the wrongs that had been done by Mao and the Communist Party.” The magazine thrived, and Jin set up a publishing house, becoming what was known as a “banned-books publisher,” specializing in books that could not be sold in mainland China.

After the Hong Kong handover in 1997, dissident publishers like Jin played a delicate game with security agents. Visitors from the State Security Bureau would ask him to join them for dinner. It was always cordial, free of coercion, but clearly an offer he could not refuse. The point was to let him know he was being watched.

“The idea wasn’t to make you do or not do something, but to break down your feeling of antagonism or resistance,” Jin recalls. “What happened to the Causeway Bay booksellers—those were the hard methods. For most people in Hong Kong, it was soft treatment.”

Tactics toughened when Jin prepared to publish a book in 2015 by Yu Jie, a Chinese American democracy activist, on Chinese president Xi Jinping. “They made it clear that this book was different,” Jin says. “It was clear that these instructions had come from a high level. If I insisted on going ahead with the book, they would have sabotaged it anyway.”

. . . .

Some years earlier, it had emerged that almost all bookstores in Hong Kong were secretly owned by mainland interests. This infiltration of the book business mirrors the secretive party tactics employed throughout Hong Kong.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has lived long enough to see a great many Communist governments come and go. One or two enlightened leaders grant more freedom, but a nation is only one dictator away from a complete lockdown.

As the OP demonstrates, Chinese President Xi Jinping is China’s latest leader for life and the crack-downs are coming at an increasingly rapid pace.

When Mao died in 1976, after a period of contention for power, Deng Xiaoping took over. He focused on economic growth under a “Four Modernizations” program and seemed to be a new type of leader. Under Deng, the planned economy loosened and China began to thrive materially. He negotiated the return of Hong Kong and its thriving economy from British rule.

Deng felt forced to take harsh steps after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 due to substantial pressure from Communist hardliners. He told Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that Communist factions were preparing to take control of substantial numbers of Red Army forces had he not taken the path he did.

Later that year, realizing that he had lost a great deal of power due to the Tiananmen Square protests and the hard-liners’ reaction to them, Deng resigned from leadership of the country and toured the country, giving speeches about economic reform. He died in 1997 without having had much more success.

Deng’s successor, Jiang Zemin, tried to steer a middle path, keeping the economy healthy as a “socialist market economy” while keeping the Party firmly in control of the levers of power.

In 1999, Jiang ordered a harsh crack-down on the crack down on Falun Gong, a religious/spiritual movement, arresting thousands of Falun Gong organizers and sending leaders and members to prison where they were subject to harsh reeducation regimes, sometimes resulting in death.

Jiang slowly relinquished leadership positions before 2005, when he pulled away from public life, but still exercised significant power behind the scenes.

Jiang was succeeded by Hu Jintao who ruled from 2004-2012. Hu reintroduced state control in some sectors of the economy that were relaxed by the previous administration and cracked down on ethnic and religious minorities. Hu and Vladimir Putin in Russia were described by a UPI reporter as “Tough and able authoritarians who had extensive experience of repressing dissent on their rise to the top.”

Hu managed not to screw up the Chinese economy and China’s exports continued to grow while he was in power. However, he was severely criticized for his violations of human rights of various minorities in China or areas subject to Chinese control.

In 2012, Hu was succeeded by Xi Jinping, who is, in PG’s opinion, a full-up serious Communist dictator of the worst sort. So far, Xi has stepped up censorship and mass surveillance and caused a substantial deterioration in human rights beyond what his predecessors were willing to support.

About a month ago, China’s Communist Party declared Xi’s ideology the “essence of Chinese culture”. This is the third fundamental resolution of the Chinese Communist Party since its inception. The first resolution was adopted in 1945 to increase and ratify the power of Mao Zedong.

Xi is different, however, in encouraging a cult of personality to develop around him (see also Mao). Xi also formally removed term limits to his leadership, so he’s in until he dies or someone forcibly removes him from power, a very tough, likely impossible, job.

About a month ago, China’s Communist Party declared Xi’s ideology the “essence of Chinese culture”. This is the third fundamental resolution of the Chinese Communist Party since its inception. The first resolution was adopted in 1945 to increase and ratify the power of Mao Zedong.

Hong Kong, which was originally viewed as a portal for China to do business with the capitalist world when the British ceded control to China is, in PG’s assessment, no different than any other part of China now. He hopes anyone who doesn’t want to live in a place that is like other parts of China is able to escape before it’s too late.

PG acknowledges Wikipedia as a source of many details of his commentary. You can donate to Wikipedia and Wikimedia as PG has just done, by going to Wikipedia and hitting the Donate Button.

A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers

From The Urban Writers:

Finishing your first book leaves you feeling like you’ve finally arrived at the center stage. The excitement alone can make your world spin around as you read it once more. It’s understandable when the authors want to rush into the next step.

However, they don’t realize there’s a bunch of sharks waiting out there, waiting to snatch them. New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

I was in your position a few years back and I was impatient to get my book out there. I needed people to read my story and listen to my advice. I emailed publishers all over the world with a manuscript, hoping to get a response.

It was only two weeks before the first shark came at me head-first. This publisher was prepared to take my book, but they wanted me to pay for publishing costs upfront. The quotes started pouring in and I was shocked with the requests!

Suddenly, I felt like I had to sell my soul and those of my kids, spouse, and even my dog just to cover the costs. Figures ranged madly but the average was well over $2,000 from publishers that didn’t even leave a stain on the map.

This might not seem like Mount Kilimanjaro, but I assure you that this was only the cost to get started. I still had to pay ridiculous commissions on top of this. The sacrifice of my soul wasn’t enough and they only promised me 25% of future sales.

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the easily accessible internet to find other options like a normal person would. I ended up giving my book to a company that would give me 15% royalties and owns the first 5,000 copies in lieu of printing costs.

I sold my book to the devil, never mind a shark. They haven’t bothered to promote the book and it became lost in the vast world of available reads. The worst of all is that my book is sitting on Amazon at a price that even I wouldn’t pay.

Link to the rest at The Urban Writers

The OP continues with better results after the author discovers that he can self-publish on Amazon.

PG will say again – if any “publisher” you haven’t heard of on multiple occasions (not from a “friend,” but as mentioned in a legitimate publication that talks about books and authors you have heard of before) wants to publish your book, check the sales rank of the publisher’s books on Amazon. Look at several. If the average sales rank is a number greater than something like 5,000, and the publisher doesn’t want to give you a lot of money up front, take a pass. If you can’t find them on Amazon, take an instant pass.

If you think the publisher may be legit, but, again, haven’t heard of them before, contact several of the authors of the publisher’s books on Amazon. Check out the author’s web page and get in touch. (If the author doesn’t have a web page, you probably don’t want the author’s advice on anything. A big Facebook page might substitute for a web page, but PG would be chary of anyone who hasn’t spent the time or money for a web page of their own.)

A great many authors are happy to reply to emails or even give you a phone number you can call. Ask the author all about the publisher. Don’t be afraid to ask about royalty payments and whether they’re arriving on time with royalty statements the author can understand.

If doing this sort of investigation seems like more than you want to do, keep your manuscript, your $5,000 and everything else. Maybe look into a local trade school to learn welding. You’ll make much more money working as a welder for six months than you ever will as an author dealing with a shady or second-rate publisher.

The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History

From The New York Times:

On Jan. 28, 2019, Nikole Hannah-Jones, who has been a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine since 2015, came to one of our weekly ideas meetings with a very big idea. My notes from the meeting simply say, “NIKOLE: special issue on the 400th anniversary of African slaves coming to U.S.,” a milestone that was approaching that August. This wasn’t the first time Nikole had brought up 1619. As an investigative journalist who often focuses on racial inequalities in education, Nikole has frequently turned to history to explain the present. Sometimes, reading a draft of one of her articles, I’d ask if she might include even more history, to which she would remark that if I gave her more space, she would be happy to take it all the way back to 1619. This was a running joke, but it was also a reflection of how Nikole had been cultivating the idea for what became the 1619 Project for many years. Following that January meeting, she led an editorial process that over the next six months developed the idea into a special issue of the magazine, a special section of the newspaper and a multiepisode podcast series. Next week we are publishing a book that expands on the magazine issue and represents the fullest expression of her idea to date.

This book, which is called “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story,” arrives amid a prolonged debate over the version of the project we published two years ago. That project made a bold claim, which remains the central idea of the book: that the moment in August 1619 when the first enslaved Africans arrived in the English colonies that would become the United States could, in a sense, be considered the country’s origin.

The reasoning behind this is simple: Enslavement is not marginal to the history of the United States; it is inextricable. So many of our traditions and institutions were shaped by slavery, and so many of our persistent racial inequalities stem from its enduring legacy. Identifying the start of such a vast and complex system is a somewhat symbolic act. It was not until the late 1600s that slavery became codified with new laws in various colonies that firmly established the institution’s racial basis and dehumanizing structure. But 1619 marks the earliest beginnings of what would become this system. (It also could be said to mark the earliest beginnings of what would become American democracy: In July of that year, just weeks before the White Lion arrived in Point Comfort with its human cargo, the Virginia General Assembly was called to order, the first elected legislative body in English America.)

But the argument for 1619 as our origin point goes beyond the centrality of slavery; 1619 was also the year that a heroic and generative process commenced, one by which enslaved Africans and their free descendants would profoundly alter the direction and character of the country, having an impact on everything from politics to popular culture. “Around us the history of the land has centered for thrice a hundred years,” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1903, and it is difficult to argue against extending his point through the century to follow, one that featured a Black civil rights struggle that transformed American democracy and the birth of numerous Black art forms that have profoundly influenced global culture. The 1619 Project made the provocative case that the start of the African presence in the English North American colonies could be considered the moment of inception of the United States of America.

. . . .

Initially, the magazine issue was greeted with an enthusiastic response unlike any we had seen before. The weekend it was available in print, Aug. 18 and 19, readers all over the country complained of having to visit multiple newsstands before they could find a copy. A week later, when The Times made tens of thousands of copies available for sale online, they sold out in hours. Copies of the issue began to appear on eBay at ridiculous markups. Portions of Nikole’s opening essay from the project, which would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, were cited in the halls of Congress; candidates in what was then a large field of potential Democratic nominees for president referred to it on the stump and the debate stage; 1619 Project book clubs seemed to materialize overnight. All of this happened in the first month.

Substantive criticisms of the project began a few months later. Five historians, led by the Princeton scholar Sean Wilentz, sent a letter that asked The Times to issue “prominent corrections” for what they claimed were the project’s “errors and distortions.” We took this letter very seriously. The criticism focused mostly on Nikole’s introductory essay and within that essay zeroed in on her argument about the role of slavery in the American Revolution: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology,” Nikole wrote, “is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

. . . .

Though we recognized that the role of slavery is a matter of ongoing debate among historians of the revolution, we did not agree that this line or the other passages in question required “prominent corrections,” as I explained in a letter of response. Ultimately, however, we issued a clarification, accompanied by a lengthy editors’ note: By saying that protecting slavery was “one of the primary reasons,” Nikole did not mean to imply that it was a primary reason for every one of the colonists, who were, after all, a geographically and culturally diverse lot with varying interests; rather, she meant that one of the primary reasons driving some of them, particularly those from the Southern colonies, was the protection of slavery from British meddling. We clarified this by adding “some of” to Nikole’s original sentence so that it read: “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

We published the letter from the five historians, along with my response, a few days before Christmas. Dozens of media outlets covered the exchange, and the coverage set certain corners of social media ablaze — which fueled more stories, which led others to weigh in. The editor of The American Historical Review, the journal of the American Historical Association, the nation’s oldest professional association of historians, noted in an editor’s letter that the controversy was “all anyone asked me about at the A.H.A.’s annual meeting during the first week of January.” The debate was still raging two months later, when everyone’s world changed abruptly.

. . . .

Almost immediately, present and past converged: 2020 seemed to be offering a demonstration of the 1619 Project’s themes. The racial disparities in Covid infections and deaths made painfully apparent the ongoing inequalities that the project had highlighted. Then, in May, a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, and decades of pent-up frustration erupted in what is believed to be the largest protest movement in American history. In demonstrations around the country, we saw the language and ideas of the 1619 Project on cardboard signs amid huge crowds of mostly peaceful protesters gathering in cities and small towns.

It was around this time that Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas introduced a bill called the Saving American History Act, which would “prohibit federal funds from being made available to teach the 1619 Project curriculum in elementary schools and secondary schools, and for other purposes.” Cotton, who just weeks earlier published a column in The New York Times’s Opinion section calling for federal troops to subdue demonstrations, stated that the project “threatens the integrity of the Union by denying the true principles on which it was founded.” (The “curriculum” Cotton’s legislation referred to was a set of educational materials put together not by The Times but by the Pulitzer Center, a nonprofit organization that supports global journalism and, in certain instances, helps teachers bring that work into classrooms. Since 2007, the Pulitzer Center, which has no relationship to the Pulitzer Prizes, has created lesson plans around dozens of works of journalism, including three different projects from The Times Magazine. To date, thousands of educators in all 50 states have made use of the Pulitzer Center’s educational materials based on the 1619 Project to supplement — not replace — their standard social studies and history curriculums.)

. . . .

This barely mattered. In the United States, the real decisions over education are left to local governments and state legislatures, and the Republican Party has been steadily gaining control of legislatures in the last decade. Today the party holds full power in 30 state houses, and as the 2021 sessions got underway, Republican lawmakers from South Carolina to Idaho proposed laws echoing the language and intent of Cotton’s bill and Trump’s commission. By the end of the summer, 27 states had introduced strikingly similar versions of a “divisive concepts” bill, which swirled together misrepresentations of critical race theory and the 1619 Project with extreme examples of the diversity training that had proliferated since the previous summer. The list of these divisive concepts, which the laws would prohibit from being discussed in classrooms, included such ideas as “one race, ethnic group or sex is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race, ethnic group or sex” and “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, ethnicity or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race, ethnic group or sex,” as Arizona House Bill 2898 put it. To be clear, these notions aren’t found in the 1619 Project or in any but the most fringe writings by adherents of critical race theory, but the legislation aimed at something broader. “The clear goal of these efforts is to suppress teaching and learning about the role of racism in the history of the United States,” the A.H.A. and three other associations declared in a statement in June. “But the ideal of informed citizenship necessitates an educated public.” Eventually, more than 150 professional organizations would sign this letter, including the Society of Civil War Historians, the National Education Association, the Midwestern History Association and the Organization of American Historians.

. . . .

A curious feature of this argument on behalf of the historical record is how ahistorical it is. In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them. This conception denies history its own history — the dynamic, contested and frankly pretty thrilling process by which an understanding of the past is formed and reformed. The study of this is known as historiography, and a knowledge of American historiography, in particular the way our historical profession evolved to take fuller account of the role of slavery and racism in our past, is critical to understanding the debates of the past two years.

The earliest attempts to record the nation’s history took the form of accounts of military campaigns, summaries of state and federal legislative activity, dispatches from the frontier and other narrowly focused reports. In the 19th century, these were replaced by a master narrative of the colonial and founding era, best exemplified by “the father of American history,” George Bancroft, in his “History of the United States, From the Discovery of the American Continent.” Published in 10 volumes from the 1830s through the 1870s, Bancroft’s opus is generally seen as the first comprehensive history of the country, and its influence was incalculable. Bancroft’s ambition was to synthesize American history into a grand and glorious epic. He viewed the European colonists who settled the continent as acting out a divine plan and the revolution as an almost purely philosophical act, undertaken to model self-government for all the world.

. . . .

As the Cold War dawned, it became clear that this school could not provide the necessary inspiration for an America that envisioned itself a defender of global freedom and democracy. The Beardian approach was beaten back by the counter-Progressive or “Consensus” school, which emphasized the founders’ shared values and played down class conflict. Among Consensus historians, a keen sense of national purpose was evident, as well as an eagerness to disavow the whiff of Marxism in the progressive narrative and re-establish the founders’ idealism. In 1950, the Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison lamented that the Progressives were “robbing the people of their heroes” and “insulting their folk-memory of the great figures whom they admired.” Seven years later, one of his former students, Edmund S. Morgan, published “The Birth of the Republic, 1763-1789,” a key text of this era (described by one reviewer at the time as having the “brilliant hue of the era of Eisenhower prosperity”). Morgan stressed the revolution as a “search for principles” that led to a nation committed to liberty and equality.

. . .

By the 1960s, the pendulum was ready to swing the other way. A group of scholars identified variously as Neo-Progressive historians, New Left historians or social historians challenged the old paradigm, turning their focus to the lives of common people in colonial society and U.S. history more broadly. Earlier generations primarily studied elites, who left a copious archive of written material. Because the subjects of the new history — laborers, seamen, enslaved people, women, Indigenous people — produced relatively little writing of their own, many of these scholars turned instead to large data sets like tax lists, real estate inventories and other public records to illuminate the lives of what were sometimes called the “inarticulate masses.” This novel approach set aside “the central assumption of traditional history, what might be called the doctrine of implicit importance,” wrote the historian Jack P. Greene in a 1975 article in The Times. “From the perspective supplied by the new history, it has become clear that the experience of women, children, servants, slaves and other neglected groups are quite as integral to a comprehensive understanding of the past as that of lawyers, lords and ministers of state.”

An explosion of new research resulted, transforming the field of American history. One of the most significant developments was an increased attention to Black history and the role of slavery. For more than a century, a profession dominated by white men had mostly consigned these subjects to the sidelines. Bancroft had seen slavery as problematic — “an anomaly in a democratic country” — but mostly because it empowered a Southern planter elite he considered corrupt, lazy and aristocratic. Beard and the other Progressives hadn’t focused much on slavery, either. Until the 1950s, the institution was treated in canonical works of American history as an aberration best addressed minimally if at all. When it was taken up for close study, as in Ulrich B. Phillips’s 1918 book, “American Negro Slavery,” it was seen as an inefficient enterprise sustained by benevolent masters to whom enslaved people felt mostly gratitude. That began to change in the 1950s and 1960s, as works by Herbert Aptheker, Stanley Elkins, Philip S. Foner, John Hope Franklin, Eugene D. Genovese, Benjamin Quarles, Kenneth M. Stampp, C. Vann Woodward and many others transformed the mainstream view of slavery.

. Among the converts was Edmund Morgan himself, who noted in a 1972 address that “American historians interested in tracing the rise of liberty, democracy and the common man have been challenged in the past two decades by other historians, interested in tracing the history of oppression, exploitation and racism. The challenge has been salutary, because it has made us examine more directly than historians have hitherto been willing to do the role of slavery in our early history. Colonial historians, in particular, when writing about the origin and development of American institutions, have found it possible until recently to deal with slavery as an exception to everything they had to say. I am speaking about myself but also about most of my generation.”

To be more precise, Morgan might have said that white historians had “found it possible” to hold slavery and the creation of American democracy entirely apart. Black historians, working outside the mainstream for a hundred years, tended to see the matter more clearly. For during this whole evolution in American history, from Bancroft through the 1960s, there was another scholarly tradition unfolding, one that only rarely gained entry into white-dominated academic spaces.

The antebellum historians William C. Nell and William Wells Brown wrote scholarly accounts of Black participation in the American Revolution. But the first work by a Black author generally considered part of what was then the emerging field of professional history was George Washington Williams’s “History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880: Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers and as Citizens,” published in 1882.

Williams was an innovator. He had to be. In writing his landmark book, he pioneered several research methodologies that would later re-emerge among the social historians — the use of oral history, the aggregation of statistical data, even the use of newspapers as primary sources. His view of the centrality of slavery was also far ahead of its time:

No event in the history of North America has carried with it to its last analysis such terrible forces. It touched the brightest features of social life, and they faded under the contact of its poisonous breath. It affected legislation, local and national; it made and destroyed statesmen; it prostrated and bullied honest public sentiment; it strangled the voice of the press, and awed the pulpit into silent acquiescence; it organized the judiciary of States, and wrote decisions for judges; it gave States their political being, and afterwards dragged them by the fore-hair through the stormy sea of civil war; laid the parricidal fingers of Treason against the fair throat of Liberty, — and through all time to come no event will be more sincerely deplored than the introduction of slavery into the colony of Virginia during the last days of the month of August in the year 1619!

Like so many Black historians, Williams was writing against the grain, not only in his insistence on the influence of slavery in shaping American institutions but in something even more basic: his assumption of Black humanity. This challenge he faced is made clear from the first chapter of Volume I: “It is proposed, in the first place, to call the attention to the absurd charge that the Negro does not belong to the human family.” In a nation backtracking on the promise of Reconstruction, this was an inherently political statement. Just one year after “History of the Negro Race” was published, the U.S. Supreme Court would invalidate as unconstitutional the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations and transportation. A country that denied Black people the rights of citizens could not also see them as significant historical actors.

“History is a science, a social science, but it’s also politics,” the historian Martha S. Jones, who contributed a chapter in the new 1619 book, told me. “And Black historians have always known that. They always know the stakes. In a world that would brand Africans as people without a history, Williams understood the political consequence of the assertion that Black people have history and might even be driving it.”

We can see evidence of this in the decades of Jim Crow that followed Reconstruction, when Black people were not only prevented from voting and denied access to a wide array of public accommodations but also, for the most part, kept out of the mainstream history profession. Nevertheless, a rich Black scholarly tradition continued to unfold in publications like The Journal of Negro History, founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1916, and in the work of scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois, Helen G. Edmonds, Lorenzo Greene, Luther P. Jackson, Rayford Logan, Benjamin Quarles and Charles H. Wesley. Quarles’s book “The Negro in the American Revolution,” published in 1961, was an important part of that decade’s historiographical reassessments. It was the first to thoroughly explore an often-overlooked feature of that war: that substantially more Black people were drawn to the British side than the Patriot cause, believing this the better path to freedom. Quarles’s work posed profound questions about the traditional narrative of the founding era. While acknowledging that for some white people the ideals of the Revolution had “exposed the inconsistencies” of chattel slavery in a nation founded on equality, he also observed a deeply uncomfortable fact: “They were far outnumbered by those who detected no ideological inconsistency. These white Americans, not considering themselves counterrevolutionary, would never have dreamed of repudiating the theory of natural rights. Instead they skirted the dilemma by maintaining that blacks were an outgroup rather than members of the body politic.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

From Wikipedia:

A straw man (sometimes written as strawman) is a form of argument and an informal fallacy of having the impression of refuting an argument, whereas the real subject of the argument was not addressed or refuted, but instead replaced with a false one. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man”.

The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., “stand up a straw man”) and the subsequent refutation of that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the opponent’s proposition. Straw man arguments have been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly regarding highly charged emotional subjects.

. . . .

The straw man fallacy occurs in the following pattern of argument:

  • Person 1 asserts proposition X.
  • Person 2 argues against a superficially similar proposition Y, falsely, as if an argument against Y were an argument against X.

This reasoning is a fallacy of relevance: it fails to address the proposition in question by misrepresenting the opposing position.

For example:

  • Quoting an opponent’s words out of context—i.e., choosing quotations that misrepresent the opponent’s intentions (see fallacy of quoting out of context).
  • Presenting someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, then denying that person’s arguments—thus giving the appearance that every upholder of that position (and thus the position itself) has been defeated.
  • Oversimplifying an opponent’s argument, then attacking this oversimplified version.
    Exaggerating (sometimes grossly exaggerating) an opponent’s argument, then attacking this exaggerated version.

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

The straw men in the NYT Magazine article come thick and fast. Here’s just one example:

In privileging “actual fact” over “narrative,” the governor, and many others, seem to proceed from the premise that history is a fixed thing; that somehow, long ago, the nation’s historians identified the relevant set of facts about our past, and it is the job of subsequent generations to simply protect and disseminate them.

PG has no problem understanding what an “actual fact” is, but “narrative” is the ultimate squishy concept.

If Jane’s narrative is different than Susan’s narrative, what exactly does that show?

It might mean that one of them is operating from a false premise.

If Jane contends that the sun circles around the earth, Jane has a problem with fact regardless of how many narratives she spins about why this is the truth: because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, it’s clear that the sun has a relatively circular orbit around the earth. And the sun manifests the same behavior every single day. It’s path is there for everyone to see.

Jane says, “That’s my narrative. Don’t go privileging your “actual fact” about the sun over my narrative about the sun.

The fact is that, at the time of the Constitutional Congress, representatives from some states were adamantly opposed to slavery and had passed state legislation outlawing the practice and other states were adamantly in favor of slavery. Some states had never had slavery while the institution had been established early (see 1619).

The Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower never had slaves. In 1780, when the Massachusetts Constitution went into effect, slavery was legal in the Commonwealth. However, during the years 1781 to 1783, in three related cases known today as “the Quock Walker case,” the Supreme Judicial Court applied the principle of judicial review to abolish slavery.

In 1780, while the Revolutionary War was still being fought, Pennsylvania passed the Gradual Abolition of Slavery Act. There were a number of slave owners in the state at the time. Part of this law focused on the emancipation of children born into slavery after a certain period of laboring for their masters. Females would obtain their freedom at 18 years of age. Males would be freed at the age of 21.

Those who were pro-slavery could point to a long line of historic examples of enslaved people as their narrative about why there was nothing wrong with slavery. Large numbers of Semitic slaves were held as slaves in Egypt for at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Yes, Moses led a lot of them out of slavery, but that required multiple miraculous interventions from God, not because Moses had a better narrative.

In 1780, PG suspects that the majority of the nations, tribes, etc., on the earth included some form of slavery. As PG pointed out earlier today, the British Empire had practiced slavery for quite a long time all around the world.

The Northern states were a minority in the world in abhorring slavery and believing that it should be illegal. That may be a narrative, but it’s also a historic fact.

For PG, the current use of the terms, “privilege” or “privileging” are the recognized way of avoiding facts.

“White privilege” is certainly a real advantage for some white people, but privileging African-Americans in hiring and college admission decisions is privileging them regardless of whether their ancestors were slaves or not. This privilege is extended to the sons or daughters African-American investment bankers or those who trace their ancestry to hereditary African kings and queens who themselves owned large numbers of slaves, in some cases, European slaves.

Nobody born and living in the United States today has owned slaves. No African-American born and living in the United States has ever been a slave.

PG cringes whenever he hears current discussion of privilege or various narratives. For him, it is ultimately just a method for persuading or controlling people by those to whom American society or parts of American society have granted some sort of manufactured moral power.

In the United States: ‘The 1619 Project’ Books Arrive Amid Heated Debate

From Publishing Perspectives:

Some members of Publishing Perspectives‘ international readership may not be familiar with The 1619 Project. It’s an example of long-form journalism that premiered in August 2019 in The New York Times Magazine and was timed to the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the American colony of Virginia.

Those slaves, reportedly more than 20, were sold to the Virginian English colonists. As The 1619 Project’s opening text puts it, “No aspect of the country that would be formed” as the United States “has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.” And what follows is an evocation of American history that begins not in 1776 but in 1619 when that ship arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia.

“The goal of The 1619 Project according to its introductory text, “is to reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country.”

And the forthcoming publication of an expanded edition of The 1619 Project as a book finds some in the United States publishing market newly evaluating the industry’s potential at a time fraught with political and social division.

In May 2020, Nikole Hannah-Jones was named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary as the creator of The 1619 Project. The Pulitzer recognition specifically honored Hannah-Jones’ essay Our democracy’s ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true. And the write-up on her work went on to call the project itself “a groundbreaking look at the impact of slavery 400 years after the first slaves arrived in what would become the United States.”

At the heart of the project’s assertion is the self-evident truth that even as Jefferson wrote in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” there clearly were people who were not considered in any way equal to others in the nascent republic. Myriad inequalities, both real and perceived, are actually integral to the American experiment.

On November 16, a week from today (November 9), Penguin Random House’s One World will release The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story and The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, the latter a middle-grade children’s book by Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, and illustrator Nikkolas Smith. Penguin Random House has created a site for the project and the release of these books with extensive listings of events planned around the release and a high-school teachers’ guide.

The upcoming publication of The New York Times Magazine’s work is quickly becoming a focus of social and political activity, particularly through programs developed to let consumers donate copies of the work for use in educational and other settings. This is a reflection of what Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Markus Dohle was talking about on October 20 when he gave an exclusive interview to Publishing Perspectives to inaugurate Frankfurter Buchmesse’s production facility, Frankfurt Studio.

“We know from psychology,” Dohle said, “that immersing yourself into complex stories—particularly into complex characters—helps you to put yourself into other people’s shoes. It helps you to actually see the world from other points of view, and we know it creates empathy and human values, especially in young people. That’s what the world needs right now if we want to help defend our democracy, based on human values.

“Let’s get all kids reading in long-form, and I think we can make a good contribution to help our democracy, as we’ve enjoyed it for the last 75 years after World War II, to survive. I truly believe in the value of publishing but also in our responsibility to help our society, to come together and to heal from what has become a really, really polarized world.”

During the pre-order period, The 1619 Project at Amazon.com swiftly has become the No. 1 bestseller in African American Demographic Studies and in Black and African American History and Born on the Water has become the No. 2 bestseller in Children’s American Revolution History and No. 3 in Children’s Multicultural Biographies.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

While PG has friends who think The 1619 Project is an excellent idea, he believes the original 1619 Project book does not present an accurate view of the influences on the founding of the United States and its core governing document, The United States Constitution. One of the most important predecessors and influence on The Constitution was the Declaration of Independence.

If one is looking for an early influence on the future development of the nation, the Mayflower Compact, written and signed in the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts provides a significant intellectual and values-based foundation for the Constitution.

The Pilgrims in Plymouth found themself in an unusual situation. They were originally British, but had been driven by religious persecution to Holland. The ship included both Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims.

Their original destination – the Northern Part of the British Virginia Colony – was a large, unexplored and amorphous area that included present-day Virginia, but also extended up into today’s State of New York. Their specific original destination is believed to be the mouth of the Hudson River. They were definitely not heading to the existing colony in Jamestown, Virginia.

Suffice to say, their ship, The Mayflower, was blown or mis-navigated off-course and they landed on Cape Code in present-day Massachusetts on November 21, 1620. Before they debarked from the ship, they drafted The Mayflower Contract, a document that would govern the new colony.

The Compact was a short document that provided:

It was a short document which established that set forth the following:

  • 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 Mayflower Compact was the first document to establish principles of self-governance in the New World. It was an early and successful attempt at democracy, something different than the British had at the time. Some historians trace the American Revolution and its rebellion against British rule 150 years later to the habits and principles of self-government that began in Plymouth and spread through the remainder of the colonies thereafter.

Since 1215, the Magna Carta had established the rule of law, but the law was the King’s law. Under the Mayflower Compact, the colonists pledged to recognize and obey laws they made for themselves.

Both Pilgrims and everyone else on the ship spent the winter on Cape Cod. It was bitterly cold with strong winds off the Atlantic and ample snow. When the ship returned to England the next spring, a few of the crew stayed in Plymouth. The ship also included some indentured servants – twenty – out of a total of 104 passengers.

A British indentured servant at this time agreed to provide 4-7 years of labor in exchange for passage to a colony, food, lodging and what were called “freedom dues” – payment at the end of indenture intended to give the unpaid servant some sort of start in life thereafter.

The first winter was very difficult due to severe weather – a climate much different than anyone on the ship was accustomed to – poor food, very crude quickly-built housing and the lack of proper clothing. About half of the Mayflower’s passengers and 14 of the indentured servants died.

In 1621, the colonists recruited additional indentured servants from England, Scotland and Ireland. Some of the earliest laws of the Plymouth Colony related to the proper treatment of indentured servants both during and after their period of indenture was complete.

The indentured servants became a adjunct to the family they were required to serve. The master was legally obligated to care for the servant until the end of the indenture, even if the servant became sick, disabled or otherwise unable to work. After the indenture was complete, these men and women became fully-participating citizens of the colony and used their freedom dues to start their new lives.

Indenture was not identical to slavery in that the indentured servant entered into the indenture agreement of their own free will, albeit often under severe financial circumstances. Slavery of any sort, including the enslavement of African men and women in the Southern Colonies, later states, was abhorrent to those many other Northern colonies that patterned their constitutions and laws on principles similar to those contained in the Mayflower Compact and the later laws that sprang from it.

To be sure, Thomas Jefferson, the author of The Declaration of Independence, was a slaveholder throughout his life and had a long-term African slave, Sally Hemmings, as his mistress.

That said, Jefferson was a man of the Enlightenment and was well-versed in the writings of the British writer, John Locke. In Locke’s book, Two Treaties of Government, published in 1690, the year after the Glorious Revolution, he championed the idea of Natural Law, extending the work begun by Plato and Aristotle and continued through Thomas Aquinas and his discussions of Natural Law, the first precept of which was, “good is to be done and promoted, and evil is to be avoided.”

Jefferson’s passages in the Declaration of Independence contending that “all men are created equal,” and all men thus possess “inalienable rights,” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are directly connected to Locke and similar Enlightenment authors back to Aquinas and ultimately to Plato and Aristotle.

In his first draft of The Declaration of Independence, Jefferson included a passionate assault on slavery and the slave trade.

Per Wikipedia, Britain had a long history in the slave trade. Admiral Sir John Hawkins is widely acknowledged to be “the Pioneer of the English Slave Trade”. In 1554–1555, Hawkins formed a slave trading syndicate of wealthy merchants. He sailed with three ships for the Caribbean via Sierra Leone, hijacked a Portuguese slave ship and sold the 300 slaves from it in Santo Domingo. During a second voyage in 1564, his crew captured 400 Africans and sold them at Rio de la Hacha in present-day Colombia, making a 60% profit for his financiers. A third voyage involved both buying slaves directly in Africa and capturing a Portuguese ship with its cargo; upon reaching the Caribbean, Hawkins sold all the slaves.

On his return, he published a book entitled An Alliance to Raid for Slaves. It is estimated that Hawkins transported 1,500 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic during his four voyages of the 1560s. Some entrepreneurs brought slaves to Britain, where they were kept in bondage.

By the mid-18th century, London had the largest African population in Britain, made up of free and enslaved people, as well as many runaways. The total number may have been about 10,000. Owners of African slaves in England would advertise slave-sales and rewards for the recapture of runaways.

The slave trade became a major economic mainstay for such cities as Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow, engaged in the so-called “Triangular trade”. The ships set out from Britain, loaded with trade goods which were exchanged on the West African shores for slaves captured by local rulers from deeper inland; the slaves were transported through the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic, and were sold at considerable profit for labour in plantations. The ships were loaded with export crops and commodities, the products of slave labour, such as cotton, sugar and rum, and returned to Britain to sell the items.

William Wilberforce’s Slave Trade Act 1807 abolished the slave trade (but not ownership) in the British Empire. It was not until the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that the institution finally was abolished, but on a gradual basis.

The Church of England was involved in slavery. The Anglican Church’s Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts owned sugar plantations in the West Indies, including slaves who worked on those plantations during this period.

When slaves were emancipated by Act of the British Parliament in 1834 (58 years after Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration of Independence denouncing slavery), the British government paid compensation to slave owners. Among those they paid were the Bishop of Exeter and three business colleagues, who received compensation for 665 slaves. The compensation of British slaveholders was almost £17 billion in current money.

None of this overly-long commentary is meant to excuse slavery in any form at any time.

However, the idea that slavery is or was a uniquely American institution is incorrect. Slavery was practiced, with few exceptions, all over the world and still exists in some nations.

Back to the 1619 Project.

In PG’s opinion, this is an effort to misrepresent the foundation of American society, including the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence and made the country’s legal foundational in the United States Constitution.

A great many other countries besides Britain and the United States have periods in their history where slavery of different types was practiced and treated as ordinary or ignored by the majority of its citizens.

PG suggests that the ideas of individual freedom manifested in the Mayflower Compact and many other foundational documents of the nation ultimately lead to the American Civil War, fought to preserve the United States and its ultimate ideals.

That war was fought primarily to abolish slavery and all of its attendant evils and threats to the nation’s fundamental character, welfare and future posed by the Southern States.

The Civil War resulted in the death of more Americans than any other American war and, indeed, the deaths of more American than in all the other American wars the nation ever fought from the War of Independence through the Korean War. That’s how important it was to abolish slavery in this country.

You Are A Writer. You Create And License Intellectual Property Assets.

From The Creative Penn:

Language is powerful.

We choose words carefully in our written works because we understand their impact. They carry a message from one mind to another. They shape ideas. They can change lives.

But writers often use language carelessly when it comes to the business side of being an author, and it shows that many still don’t understand copyright, and how rights licensing can impact your publishing choices, as well as your financial future.

I’ve run across several examples of this recently in discussion with author friends and also online, so I thought it was time for a refresh on intellectual property (IP) — and how important it is to define terms as we move toward Web 3 and a new iteration of what ‘digital’ even means.

You have to understand IP and rights licensing in order to make a living as an author for the long-term, whether you work with an agent or you’re entirely independent.

It might take a little getting used to, but once the penny drops around intellectual property, your language will change and you will have the power to shape your author career in a much more effective — and profitable — way.

Note: I am not a lawyer/attorney and this article is not legal or financial advice.

This article is based on learning about intellectual property from books, courses, and my personal experience publishing independently since 2008. It is a huge topic, so I can only scratch the surface and hopefully, give you something to think about and resources to take your knowledge further.

In this article, I cover: 

  • An overview of intellectual property rights related to written work
  • Original written work = Intellectual property asset
  • Print, Ebook, Audio
  • Other rights licensing opportunities
  • What rights have you licensed? Are you leaving money on the table? Plus, the issues with licensing “digital” rights as we move toward Web 3.
  • More resources — books, courses, podcast interviews

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

PG says every author should save a copy of the OP for future reference.

Some of the items Ms. Penn discusses will be familiar to regular visitors to TPV, but others may not be.

Here are a couple of excerpts PG fully endorses:


Rights licensing is usually based around: 

  • Format e.g. ebook, paperback, audiobook defined to specific types of each and royalty levels for sale
  • Territory e.g. North America, UK Commonwealth, World
  • Language e.g. German
  • Term e.g. 7 years
  • Specific work (sometimes more than one, and sometimes with an option for other work in the world or under the same author name)

There are also many options for subsidiary rights licensing. Some include: 

  • Adaptations — film, TV, web series, plays/theatre, graphic novel/comic, podcast series, gaming, merchandise, online courses
  • Serial rights, reprints, anthologies 
  • Book clubs
  • Public lending rights, reproduction rights (for example, ALCS in the UK collects these on behalf of authors for library borrowing and photocopies etc.)

Selective rights licensing means you choose to limit the license to whatever the publisher is capable (and likely) of producing. It is very unlikely that a publisher will be able to use all rights in all formats in all territories in all languages.

For example, I license World French electronic, audio, and print for specific non-fiction titles for five years with a first option to renew. 

If you license selectively, you can also independently publish in other formats, territories, and languages. For example, I have now sold ebooks in 168 countries — and that’s just through Kobo.


If you have any form of written content available for someone else to read or purchase or listen to, then you have signed a contract that will include some kind of license. 

What rights have you licensed? Are you leaving money on the table?

If you are traditionally published and someone has paid you for your rights, check your contract to see what you have agreed to.

Many traditionally published authors I talk to will say they don’t know what rights they have signed, which shows they don’t understand how copyright works. If you don’t know what you’ve signed, then you don’t know what else you can do with your body of work. If that’s you, go check your contracts. You might be leaving money on the table.

If you’re an indie author, you sign a contract when you accept the terms and conditions of whichever service you use to publish. So read the Ts&Cs, download a copy, and keep them somewhere as evidence of what you have ‘signed.’

Many of the sites have a non-exclusive contract for a specific format, e.g. Kobo has a non-exclusive right to your ebooks so you can always publish them elsewhere. 

Some sites have exclusive options. For example, if you opt into KDP Select and make your ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited, that is a 90-day exclusive contract for your ebook, so you can’t use any other publishing or distribution service, or sell direct, for the term you enroll. That doesn’t stop you from licensing your audio or print rights, it just limits your ebook options. . . .

Some sites have terms and conditions that are being questioned by authors and author organizations, for example, check out #audiblegate and the investigation into Audible’s contracts. 


Here are a few points PG will emphasize/add to Ms. Penn’s very good post.

  1. Read the Contract – Yes, PG knows that it’s not great fun to read any sort of contract (he has read thousands so he speaks from experience), but read it anyway.
    1. If you receive an electronic version of the contract, print it out.
    2. Then go through the printout or a copy of the paper original like you were grading an essay and looking for evidence of cheating.
    3. Go through it paragraph by paragraph.
    4. Pay attention to the sentence structure. (Really!)
    5. Underline things you don’t understand.
    6. Write notes about your concerns in the margins.
    7. Pay particular attention to defined terms.
      1. Defined terms may be included in a separate section of the contract. PG has seen some contracts that seemed perfectly reasonable until he hit the “Definitions” section in paragraph 36.A.(1) where all hell broke loose.
      2. Here’s an example of a defined term clause, “As used herein, “publish” shall mean . . . .” As mentioned in the prior subparagraph, the “As used herein” piece may be found in an entirely different location in a 30-page contract than the place which talks about publishing your book.
      3. Here’s another example of a defined term, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah (“Publish“)”
  2. Read the Damned Contract! PG knows that when you were two years old, you pitched a fit whenever your mother tried to feed you peas and she finally gave up. But you’re an adult now and you have learned to do hard things, like reading a publishing contract or a Terms & Conditions clause on Amazon’s or somebody else’s website.
  3. Ask Questons: If you don’t understand something you read even after you have diagrammed the sentence, ask what it means.
    1. You can even do it with a Terms & Conditions clause online.
    2. Contact the online help people. If they can’t answer the question, ask them who can and contact that person.
    3. If you can’t get a good response via the Help link, do a bit of searching on the website or online. You’re looking for the Legal Department or Corporate Counsel. If the website is owned by another company, look on that company’s website.
    4. If corporate counsel has an email address, send them an email. If they have a mailing address, also send them a paper letter that says the same thing.
    5. Here’s an example of an email/letter you might consider sending:
      1. “Dear ______________: or Dear Corporate Counsel: I was reviewing your Terms and Conditions and in Paragraph 15 (A), I found the term, “publish” but I could not find a definition of this term anywhere in the Terms and Conditions. I believe “publish” is an ambiguous term and I am confused. In the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2019 edition), “publish” is defined as “blah, blah, blah” but in the New Oxford American Dictionary (2021 edition), “publish” is defined as “blah1, blah1, blah1.” As you can clearly see, the two definitions are not identical and, I believe, do not define the term, “publish” in the same way. My particular concern is whether the term, “Publish” as your company uses it includes or does not include blah, blah, blah. Could you please clarify. I started a discussion group concerning this question on Reddit and have received a variety of different opinions, including some by people who say they are attorneys, but you can never tell if someone is telling the truth or not online. One of the people who responded said he was a law student and was going to raise my question in his intellectual property class to see what the professor and other students think about your company’s definition.”
    6. PG just did a Google search for “legal department” on Amazon’s U.S. site and found this link (https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=GLSBYFE9MGKKQXXM)
    7. At the link he found the following in Amazon’s Conditions of Use:

OUR ADDRESS

Amazon.com, Inc.
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108-1226

And a little farther down, he found this:

HOW TO SERVE A SUBPOENA OR OTHER LEGAL PROCESS

Amazon accepts service of subpoenas or other legal process only through Amazon’s national registered agent, Corporation Service Company (CSC). Subpoenas or other legal process may be served by sending them to CSC at the following address:

Amazon.com, Inc.
Corporation Service Company
300 Deschutes Way SW, Suite 208 MC-CSC1
Tumwater, WA 98501
Attn: Legal Department – Legal Process

And farther down he found this:

NOTICE AND PROCEDURE FOR MAKING CLAIMS OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY INFRINGEMENT

If you believe that your intellectual property rights have been infringed, please submit your complaint using our online form. This form may be used to report all types of intellectual property claims including, but not limited to, copyright, trademark, and patent claims.

We respond quickly to the concerns of rights owners about any alleged infringement, and we terminate repeat infringers in appropriate circumstances.

We offer the following alternative to our online form for copyright complaints only. You may submit written claims of copyright infringement to our Copyright Agent at:

Copyright Agent
Amazon.com Legal Department
P.O. Box 81226
Seattle, WA 98108
phone: (206) 266-4064
e-mail: copyright@amazon.com

Courier address:
Copyright Agent
Amazon.com Legal Department
2021 7th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121

PG advises keeping a copy of your email and the online contract as it existe when you reviewed it in an electronic file on your computer. Insert the date in the copied documents in addition to the date your computer assigns to the file.

Electronic copies will allow you to compare different versions of the Terms and Conditions over time to see whether any changes were made as a result of your email.

PG gave up the practice some time ago, but he used to keep copies of various Terms of Use on different sites to track how they changed over time. Document comparison software makes the job very easy.

PG would be surprised if most online sites would fail to respond to an email such as he described. Potential ambiguity in a contract should raise a red flag with any competent attorney.

If a provision is ambiguous or subject to two different interpretations and a lawsuit follows, a judge will decide what the provision really means. As a very general proposition, a genuine ambiguity in a written contract means the judge will be more likely to interpret the ambiguity against the party that drafted the contract, particularly if, like Terms and Conditions used by online companies, the contract is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

If you don’t receive a response to your letter and email asking about the meaning of the terms and conditions, you could follow up with an email noting that you haven’t received a response.

If you don’t receive an answer to your question at this point, go ahead and post the T’s & C’s and your questions about them to several relevant online discussion forums and see what happens. Remember squeaky wheels and grease.

It’s clear that PG has gone on way too long about this topic and needs to do something useful. He will leave with one final admonition:

Read the Contract!

PG admits a mistake

After receiving a couple of emails, PG realized that his comments about Critical Race Theory broke his personal unwritten rule to keep politics off of The Passive Voice.

PG has friends of many years standing with whom he has never had a discussion about politics.

Had such a discussion occurred, PG would likely not have agreed with the political views of those friends, but he would never sacrifice friendship because of political differences. Rather than bring any sort of cloud over these friendships, PG is happy to discuss other items of mutual interest and learns something from virtually every such discussion.

Unfortunately, at present in the United States, there is a lot of vitriol exchanged by people of differing political views. Some people in a variety of political spheres seem to feel that politics is the most important topic at all times and in all places and are quite intolerant of those with differing politics.

PG suspects that a lengthy and very stressful period of economic and social shutdown due to Covid plus a nasty political season last November have robbed more than a few people of a sense of community feeling with fellow citizens and residents who believe differently than they do.

PG certainly hopes there will be a resurgence of comity, a feeling joint local and national purpose and greater respect for those whose views are different. PG would love to see a huge surge of politeness from sea to shining sea.

Zoom Dysmorphia Is Following People Into the Real World

From Wired:

LAST SUMMER, WHEN clinics began to tentatively reopen, dermatologist Shadi Kourosh noticed a worrying trend—a spike in appointment requests for appearance-related issues. “It seemed that, at a time like that, other matters would be top of mind, but a lot of people were really concerned with feeling that they looked much worse than usual,” she says.

Kourosh, who is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, soon discovered that others in her field and related ones such as plastic surgery had noticed a similar phenomenon. And when she and her colleagues asked patients what was driving their decision to seek treatment, a lot of them cited videoconferencing. The pandemic had catapulted them into a world of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and staring at their own face on a screen all day every day was wreaking havoc with their self-image.

In the age of Zoom, people became inordinately preoccupied with sagging skin around their neck and jowls; with the size and shape of their nose; with the pallor of their skin. They wanted cosmetic interventions, ranging from Botox and fillers to facelifts and nose jobs. Kourosh and colleagues surveyed doctors and surgeons, examining the question of whether videoconferencing during the pandemic was a potential contributor to body dysmorphic disorder. They called it “Zoom dysmorphia.”

Now, with the rise in vaccinations seemingly pushing the pandemic into retreat, new research from Kourosh’s group at Harvard has revealed that Zoom dysmorphia isn’t going away. A survey of more than 7,000 people suggests the mental scars of the coronavirus will stay with us for some time.

Even before Covid, plastic surgeons and dermatologists were seeing a rise in patients coming to them with demands that were “unrealistic and unnatural,” Kourosh says. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” was coined in 2015 to describe the growing numbers of people who wanted to look like they’d been put through a face-altering filter in real life, all big eyes and sparkling skin.

Before that, a patient might turn up at a plastic surgeon’s office with photos of a celebrity they wanted to look like clipped from a magazine. Even before the rise of social media, psychologists found that people who stared at themselves in a mirror became more self-conscious.

But Zoom dysmorphia is different. Unlike with Snapchat, where people are aware that they’re viewing themselves through a filter, video conferencing distorts our appearance in ways we might not even realize, as Kourosh and her coauthors identified in their original paper.

Front-facing cameras distort your image like a “funhouse mirror,” she says—they make noses look bigger and eyes look smaller. This effect is exacerbated by proximity to the lens, which is generally nearer to you than a person would ever stand in a real-life conversation. Looking down at a smartphone or laptop camera is the least flattering angle—as anyone from the MySpace generation will tell you, the best camera position is from above, hence the ubiquity of the selfie stick.

We’re also used to seeing our own reflection when our faces are relaxed—the concentrated frown (or bored expression) you wear in a Zoom meeting jars with the image of yourself you’re used to seeing in the mirror. “Changes in self-perception and anxiety as a result of constant video-conferencing may lead to unnecessary cosmetic procedures, especially in young adults who have had increased exposure to online platforms including videoconferencing, social media, and filters throughout the pandemic,” write Kourosh, Channi Silence, and other colleagues.

The term “Zoom dysmorphia” was picked up by international media, and Kourosh was inundated with emails from friends and strangers who it resonated with. In the new follow up study due to be published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the research group found that 71 percent of the 7,000 people surveyed were anxious or stressed about returning to in-person activities, and that nearly 64 percent had sought mental health support.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG is interested in the writing that will come out of this exceedingly strange Covid era.

PG hasn’t seen many reports from other countries, but there was a bizarre craziness that settled over more than a few people in the United States during this period. For others, the Covid-caused disruption of their ordinary daily routines provided an opportunity and incentive to take more extreme rational steps to improve their lives than might have been the case absent Covid.

One of the lasting consequences appears to be that a great many people anticipate not having to go into the office of an employer on a regular basis in the future. Some companies are offering remote work as a recruiting strategy to snare valuable employees away from employers who have announced that everyone will be coming back to the office full-time as soon as public health directives permit.

Other employees are taking retirement or early retirement rather than go back to a daily commute.

The Wall Street Journal reported that exurbs, “outer fringes of large metro areas where single-family homes mix with farms and many workers have traditionally commuted a significant distance to the core of the metro area,” have experienced substantial growth during the Covid shutdowns, driven by move-ins of people who anticipate that they won’t be making a daily commute in the future.

Per the Journal, “for the year ended in March, exurban counties outside large metro areas saw construction of single-family homes rise 20% from the year-earlier period. That was more than twice the rate for core counties in those metro areas.”

“Clearly, it will transform the South,” Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said of exurban growth. The region is benefiting from lower costs that are drawing tech companies and other businesses looking for cheaper locations.

Wall Street Journal

New arrivals Nicole O’Meara and her husband talked for years about moving away from their lifelong home in suburban Chicago, unhappy about property taxes and weather. Last year they moved with their two toddlers to a subdivision in Murfreesboro after spending only a few days in the area.

Ms. O’Meara works from home in accounting. Real-estate company  Zillow Group Inc. recently declared the Nashville metro area the No. 1 U.S. location for these types of workers, known as “digital nomads.” Stephen O’Meara works in the automotive industry and knew he would quickly find a job.

As they worked with a real-estate agent, “she would send me listings and we’d see these houses and they would be gone in a day,” said Ms. O’Meara, 43.

Wall Street Journal

Because the U.S. population as a whole isn’t growing very fast, the population increases in some areas driven by Covid are being offset by declines elsewhere.

California, by far the largest state by population, experienced a population decline in 2020, the first time the California’ had lost population since the state Department of Finance began collecting population date in 1900.

Politics and the English Language

PG usually places his comments after whatever he excerpts, but he’s making an exception in this case.

Politics and the English Language, an essay written by George Orwell, was first published in 1946, largely in response to what he saw happening both before World War II and during a post-war period in which Russian-backed Communism appeared to be gaining power and influence and a rapid pace. After all, the end of the war left Central and Eastern Europe under Russian control, so from the viewpoint of someone wishing to build an empire, the peace deal was a big gain for the Soviet Union.

One of the common practices of Communist governments and their supporters during this period was to manipulate language in a manner which was, unfortunately, quite effective in influencing large numbers of people.

Here’s a quote that encapsulates much of Orwell’s assessment:

Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Animal Farm was published shortly after the war ended. 1984 was published in 1949.

To be clear, Orwell doesn’t limit his cautions to Russians or Communists. He points out all sorts of different groups and individuals who distort language for political purposes in order to gain and keep power over others.

In the TPV post immediately before this one chronologically, the CEO of The American Booksellers Association described the shipment of a book to a large numbers of bookstores as a “serious, violent incident.”

Quite an accomplishment for a small stack of dried pulp from a dead tree.

Since PG has dozens of such dangerously violent objects just outside his office door, he will have to tread very carefully the next time he goes to refill his glass with Diet Coke.

From The Orwell Foundation:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language – so the argument runs – must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad – I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen – but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien (sic) to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression).

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia).

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York).

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic Fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet.

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune.

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

Dying metaphors. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes ontake up the cudgels fortoe the lineride roughshod overstand shoulder to shoulder withplay into the hands ofno axe to grindgrist to the millfishing in troubled waterson the order of the dayAchilles’ heelswan songhotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

Operators, or verbal false limbs. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are: render inoperativemilitate againstprove unacceptablemake contact withbe subject togive rise togive grounds forhave the effect ofplay a leading part (roleinmake itself felttake effectexhibit a tendency toserve the purpose of, etc. etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as breakstopspoilmendkill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purposes verb such as proveserveformplayrender. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard tothe fact thatby dint ofin view ofin the interests ofon the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved from anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desiredcannot be left out of accounta development to be expected in the near futuredeserving of serious considerationbrought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

Link to the rest at The Orwell Foundation

The Passion of Anne Hutchinson

From The Wall Street Journal:

How did a dispute within a small breakaway group of Protestants over a seemingly obscure point of theology become an iconic episode in American history? The issue was whether one could earn eternal salvation through godly behavior, or whether the gift of saving grace is bestowed without regard to a person’s conduct. To the side led by Anne Hutchinson, the difference was between a popish “covenant of works” and a true “covenant of grace.” To the other, headed by John Winthrop, “free grace” portended “antinomianism,” a world of free love and social disorder in which the laws of church and state did not apply to true believers.

The protagonists, as Marilyn J. Westerkamp shows in “The Passion of Anne Hutchinson,” (Oxford, 312 pages, $29.95) were worthy adversaries. Winthrop, the leader of the Great Puritan Migration to Massachusetts Bay, was the colony’s frequent governor and the man whose vision of a “city upon a hill” became the stuff of presidential speeches. Hutchinson (1591–1643), the daughter of a dissenting minister, was a charismatic matron with a reputation for piety. Caught in the middle was the Rev. John Cotton, a Cambridge-educated divine with a foot in each camp. Resonating through the centuries, the controversy plays out in the parties’ own voices in diaries and trial transcripts.

Hutchinson herself speaks to the modern interest in women’s history. Called by the scholar Michael Winship “the most famous—or infamous—English woman in colonial American history,” she has been cast as a martyr for religious freedom, a victim of the patriarchy, or a sacrifice to social order at a time when Massachusetts was threatened by belligerent Native Americans and a hostile Crown. She was a prophet, a Jezebel or both.

Hutchinson arrived in Boston, age 43, in September 1634, on board the same ship that a year earlier had brought her adored pastor, John Cotton, to the New World. Accompanying her was her husband, William, a successful cloth merchant, 10 of their 11 surviving children, and a handful of relatives and servants. The Hutchinsons joined their eldest son, who had already crossed the Atlantic with Cotton. Among the wealthiest émigrés, they received a house lot across the street from Winthrop, grazing rights on Taylor’s Island in the middle of Boston Harbor, and 600 acres of farmland near what later became Quincy. William soon became a town selectman and a member of the General Court. Anne became a sought-after midwife and herbalist, known for edifying religious counsel in the birthing room.

. . . .

By 1636, Anne was holding weekly prayer meetings for women in her home. At first, the gatherings followed the English custom of female “conventicles,” but as Anne’s fame spread her constituency broadened to include men. Eventually Hutchinson presided over two “public lectures” each week, attended by 60 to 80 followers. Her message—an increasingly strident condemnation of all the local clergy except Cotton—only exacerbated her challenge to the standing order.

In October, the colony’s embattled ministers held a private session with Cotton, Hutchinson and her newly arrived brother-in-law, the Rev. John Wheelwright. Cotton was conciliatory; the other two less so. While conceding that “sanctification,” or good behavior, might be evidence of salvation, Hutchinson and Wheelwright added a new point of contention, asserting that “the person of the Holy Ghost” dwelled within the justified believer. The “indwelling spirit” had been a byword for anarchy since the Reformation. It was exactly what Winthrop and the other institutionalists feared, and they swung into action. Over the next year, Winthrop was swept back into office, Cotton walked the fine line between supporting Hutchinson and placating his fellow clergy, and Wheelwright was banished for seditious contempt of authority. Then, in November 1637, Hutchinson was tried before the civil magistrates for troubling the peace of the commonwealth and its churches.

The trial lasted two days and Hutchinson clearly had the better of it, parrying wits and biblical knowledge with the colony’s best. Then, at the end of the second day, Hutchinson upended the proceedings when she proclaimed that her understanding of grace had come “by an immediate revelation.” (Scholars have long debated why she handed victory to her opponents—was she claiming her prophetic mantle, reassuring her base or suffering from exhaustion? Cotton, to his credit, argued on her behalf that such private revelation was within the Puritan mainstream.) More devastating was the public prophesy that followed: “I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things,” she proclaimed. “I know that, for this you go about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity and this whole state.”

Hutchinson was convicted and banished from the colony, her departure delayed until she could be excommunicated by her Boston church. In the end, even Cotton renounced her. She moved to Rhode Island but when Massachusetts threatened to annex the region, she and a small group fled to Dutch territory, not far from what is now the Hutchinson River in the northern Bronx. In 1643, all save one child were massacred by the local Native Americans. The leaders of Massachusetts Bay exulted: “The Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from our great and sore affliction . . . this woeful woman.”

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

PG notes that a great many histories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, established in 1620 with the landing of the first passengers from The Mayflower, tend to show the colonists as consistently virtuous people.

They certainly displayed substantial toughness, finally coming ashore in late December.

The Mayflower arrived in November of 1620, hence, the Thanksgiving celebration that was held in 1621 to celebrate a year’s survival. However, there was no place to live on shore, so work crews ferried back and forth from the ship until late-December.

Only very crude shelters could be constructed on shore, but they were better than staying on an intensely cold, leaky and filthy ship, being thrown about during nasty New England winter storms, which were much colder and more severe than passengers had experienced in England or Holland.

In addition to those who had died during the voyage across the Atlantic, 45 of the 102 passengers who were on the Mayflower when it sighted land died during the first winter due to illness (likely a disease called leptospirosis, caused by leptospira bacteria that is spread by rat urine) poor nutrition and housing. A number of orphan children were taken in by families whose adult members had survived.

Based on PG’s reading, no one who made it through the first winter could have thought of themselves as among the privileged classes. He suspects a great many fervently wished they had never made the voyage. Even in the spring, their lives were miserable.

The colonists would have been much more likely to have died absent the miraculous appearance of Tisquantum, or Squanto, an English-speaking Native American. Squanto was a member of the Pawtuxet tribe who had been captured and enslaved by an earlier English explorer prior to his escape.

Unfortunately, the Pawtuxet tribe and other tribes were not immune to either leptospirosis or other European illnesses circulating among the settlers. These illnesses caused a great loss of life (almost certainly in much greater numbers than Mayflower passenger deaths) among the Native Americans in Massachusetts and adjoining areas. These large numbers of Native American deaths opened up a lot of vacant land for use by the Plymouth colonists and those who followed.

For those who may wish to assign blame for these deaths to the English settlers and crew, no one in Europe, let alone the Mayflower passengers, had any idea about the sources and causes of these types of illnesses. Evidence that microorganisms could cause disease wouldn’t be discovered until more than 250 years later. (Robert Koch, Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 1905)

That said, European diseases were invisible allies of a lot of different European explorers by decimating various Native American tribes. See, for example, Hernán Cortés and 500 Spanish soldiers. They managed to conquer the Aztec capitol, Tenochtitlan, estimated population, 200,000, in 1521. Tenochtitlan ruled an empire estimated to include 16 million people. By far the most important weapon was one about which Cortés knew nothing – smallpox.

PG remembers that some wealthy New England families cited their ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower as evidence of high breeding. Perhaps this belief still circulates in some circles, but both the Pilgrims (a minority) and non-Pilgrims were nobody’s idea of aristocrats in their own minds or in the minds of anyone in England who was aware of their existence.

Both PG and Mrs. PG have Mayflower ancestors. However, while we have enjoyed learning about them, neither of us feel more elevated by them than we do by the illiterate Swedes (PG) and the illiterate and impoverished Russians (Mrs. PG) who arrived in the United states in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.

Further regarding Mayflower descendant’s superior breeding, it’s estimated that about one in seven Americans living today are descendants of those who arrived on the Mayflower.

PG’s suggestion (for any who may be interested) is to celebrate and be grateful for your progenitors, regardless of how humble or grand they may be.

It may help to know that however grand some of your ancestors may seem, the nature of family trees is that the number of ancestors doubles with each generation one traces back. There aren’t enough kings, queens, dukes or duchesses to fill anyone’s family tree. (And that’s not even considering the number of your ancestors who were illegitimate children.)

Is the Pirate Queen of Scientific Publishing in Real Trouble This Time?

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

It’s been a rough few months for Sci-Hub, the beloved outlaw repository of scientific papers. In January its Twitter account, which had more than 180,000 followers, was permanently suspended. In response to a lawsuit brought by publishers, new papers aren’t being added to its library. The website is blocked in a dozen countries, including Austria, Britain, and France. There are rumors of an FBI investigation.

And yet Alexandra Elbakyan, the 32-year-old graduate student who founded the site in 2011, seems more or less unfazed. I spoke with her recently via Zoom with the assistance of a Russian translator. Elbakyan, who is originally from Kazakhstan, has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and coded Sci-Hub herself. She lives in Moscow now and is studying philosophy at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Back when she started the site, which offers access to north of 85 million papers, she didn’t expect to be fending off lawsuits and dodging investigations a decade on.

“I thought Sci-Hub would become legal in a couple of years,” she said. “When the laws are obviously in the way of scientific development, they should be canceled.”

. . . .

It hasn’t been that simple. In 2017 a New York judge awarded Elsevier, the multibillion-dollar publishing company behind more than 2,500 journals, a $15-million default judgment against Sci-Hub for copyright infringement. The same year, a Virginia judge awarded the American Chemical Society $4.8 million. (With Elbakyan overseas and Sci-Hub’s financial situation somewhat mysterious, neither publisher is likely to collect a dime.) Courts have repeatedly forced Elbakyan to switch domain names.

The latest lawsuit, filed in India by three academic publishers, including Elsevier, asks the High Court of Delhi to block access to Sci-Hub throughout the country. While the case is pending, the court has instructed Sci-Hub to stop uploading papers to its database. The order is not unusual; what’s surprising is that Elbakyan has complied. She has a history of ignoring legal rulings, and the Indian court has no power over Sci-Hub’s activities in other countries. So why has she chosen, at this moment, to give in?

One reason is that Elbakyan believes she has a shot at winning the case, and her odds might improve if she plays by the rules. “I want the Indian court to finally support free access to science,” she said. If that happened, it would mark a significant victory for Sci-Hub, with reverberations likely beyond India. Victory remains a longshot, but Elbakyan thinks it’s worth the hassle and expense. She didn’t even bother to contest the two lawsuits in the United States.

In coverage of Sci-Hub over the years, Elbakyan is usually cast as an idealistic young programmer standing up to publishers who resell science at a steep markup. There’s some truth to that. Elsevier brings in billions in large part by charging colleges and universities for bundled access to its journals. Those without subscriptions often pay $31.50 for access to a single article. For an independent researcher, or one who works at a small institution that can’t afford to sign a deal with Elsevier, the cost of merely scanning the literature is prohibitive.

And you could argue, as Elbakyan does, that the company’s paywalls have the potential to slow scientific progress. She’s not the only one: More than 18,000 researchers have signed on to a boycott of Elsevier journals because of its business practices.

The other option is to download a journal article’s PDF from Sci-Hub free. About a half-million people each day choose the latter.

Pirates and Publishers

So what’s wrong with using Sci-Hub? According to the publishers who brought the case in India, quite a bit. Pirate sites like Sci-Hub “threaten the integrity of the scientific record, and the safety of university and personal data,” a joint statement reads. It goes on to say that sites like Sci-Hub “have no incentive to ensure the accuracy of scientific articles, no incentive to ensure published papers meet ethical standards, and no incentive to retract or correct articles if issues arise.”

For the record, there’s little evidence that Sci-Hub is actually a threat to the scientific record. The papers on the site are the same papers you can download through official channels. It’s almost certainly true that articles that have been retracted or corrected remain up on Sci-Hub, but academic publishers themselves have a less-than-stellar record of policing and pruning the literature. Plenty of research that has failed to replicate, or should never have passed peer review in the first place, can be found in Elsevier’s archives.

The charge that Sci-Hub is a threat to personal data stems from Elbakyan’s practice of using, let us say, borrowed logins in order to download papers. That’s necessary because whenever publishers determine that a login is being used to download an unusual number of papers, they cut off access, forcing Elbakyan to constantly seek new logins. She’s done this for years and makes no secret of it. The publishers also allege that she uses “phishing attacks to illegally extract copyrighted journal articles.”

Elbakyan denies employing phishing attacks — that is, sending emails that trick people into revealing their login information — but allows that some of the accounts Sci-Hub has used might have been obtained with that technique. “I cannot check the exact source of the account that I receive by email,” she said. There’s no indication that Sci-Hub is using the logins for some other nefarious purpose.

Even so, courts have found that what Sci-Hub does isn’t legal. The question is whether, in the cause of sharing scientific information, her systematic ransacking of academic publishing is justified. In short, is Elbakyan doing more good than harm?

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

Disclosure: A very long time ago, PG spent an unhappy three years working for what is now called RELX , which is the owner of the Elsevier which is the focus of the OP. (Combine Dutch and English top executives and you can come up with some of the most stupid company names in the universe.)

The business in which Elsevier and related companies is massively profitable for the following reasons.

  1. Elsevier and its associated companies obtain valuable intellectual property at no cost.
  2. Elsevier, etc., obtain expert editing and review of valuable intellectual property at no cost.
  3. Elsevier, etc., employees perform the most mundane tasks involved in putting together this free material into printed and (reluctantly) electronic publications for which they charge research academic libraries obscene prices to receive printed copies and access electronic copies of this material.
  4. Libraries at academic research institutions (every major and most minor universities, colleges, schools of law, medicine, etc., plus research institutions, etc.) must have access to this information so their scholars can perform research for a variety of purposes, including, prominently, writing new articles to submit to the editors of Elsevier’s prestigious journals to be considered for publication.
  5. The engine that drives this entire boat is called (at least in the United States) publish or perish. If you wish to move from a lowly graduate student into the world of assistant professors, associage professors, full professors, deans, etc., and have your employment in such roles protected by tenure, you need to publish in the sorts of journals Elesevier owns. The exact same work published via KDP won’t do the job.

By PG’s potentially-blinkered lights, this sort of system is possible because the people paying for these journals and funding the writing and review of the journal articles are spending other people’s money.

There is no direct cost to the dean of a medical school who requires that any candidate for an assistant professorship at the medical school have published a lot of articles in respected medical journals published by Elsevier or similar publishers.

In PG’s mind, there is no reason that an entrepreneurial University president could not start a University publishing organization that operates in the same manner as Elsevier and others do. Harvard University has had its own press for a long time but, to the best of PG’s knowledge, has limited itself to publishing books, not periodicals, The Harvard Business Review, published by the Harvard School of Business, is an example of a prestigious journal published by a private university.

On the law school front, many law schools have published law reviews in which law professors seek to have scholarly publications published. Publications in law reviews satisfy the publish or perish obligations of law professors at a wide range of institutions. One cool feature for law schools is that quite a bit of work on the law reviews is performed by second and third-year law students who have performed well in law school. Indeed, being invited to become a member of the law review’s staff is an important résumé entry for a starting lawyer looking for a job.

Why can’t the medical school and the biology and chemistry and English departments do exactly the same thing? If the Stanford Medical School announced it would be starting a series of medical journals devoted to issues important to a variety of medical specialties and staffing it with the same sort of people Elsevier uses, Stanford publications would very quickly take their place at the top of the journal rankings and receive gobs of submissions from graduate students and professors elsewhere. Stanford could charge others for subscriptions to these publications and substantially burnish the medical school and the university’s already stellar reputation.

Yes, it would cost a university some money to start its own series of professional and scholarly journals, but such publications would allow a university to earn extremely large sums of money that its libraries and the libraries of other colleges and universities pay to Elsevier and its ilk.

Professors at colleges and universities would be happy to scratch each other’s backs by exchanging peer review services for colleagues at other institutions.

PG suspects that the reason that universities do not start these sorts of entrepreneurial ventures goes back to the Other People’s Money problem and a desire for a quiet life.

If others with to comment, criticize, expand, dismiss, etc., etc. PG’s thoughts on this subject, they should feel free to do so in the comments, in their own blogs (hopefully linking back to this post, but PG’s not going to sue anyone who quotes him with or without attribution plus ideas are not protected by copyright laws.)