Who’s afraid of the big (good) Second Life Book Club?

From The Bookseller:

On average I devour 120 books per year, mostly literary and genre novels. I have time to do this because I don’t watch TV and my Facebook account has been deactivated years ago.

Reading is my meditation. It grounds me. But e-Books are verboten. For me, it’s strictly paper books. This may seem contradictory for someone who spends a significant portion of his life working with and engaged in technology. Specifically, a virtual world where my avatar (Draxtor Despres) runs a book community called the Second Life Book Club.

The Second Life Book Club’s flagship offering is an hour-long program every Wednesday at 12 pm Pacific Time (8pm UK time), where I have conversations with writers about their work, the craft and the business. The book club venue “seats” an audience of 50 in-world, and reaches an average of 3000 viewers through simultaneous live broadcasts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

The conversation is followed by a “post-game hangout”, where writers and audience members can converse. Since April 2020 my guests have included Charles Yu (National Book Award Finalist with Interior Chinatown), Yvonne Battle-Felton (longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 with Remembered), famed children’s book illustrator from Syria, Nadine Kaadan, and star of Indian speculative fiction, Samit Basu.

The book club grew out of the collaborative effort of Second Life Maker Linden Lab and myself, a Linden Lab contractor, as a way to demonstrate the viability of a virtual book tour in response to the impact of Covid-19 lockdown measures on the publishing industry.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller, including links to all the programs, sites, etc., mentioned in the excerpt.

PG hadn’t heard bout the Second Life Book Club before, perhaps because he has been sheltering in place from the US Presidential Election and the bits and pieces flying off therefrom and bouncing around the internet.

Has anyone ever listened to, watched, seen, streamed, etc., the Second Life Book Club?

If so, what has been your reaction?

Parlez moi D’amour

PG was intrigued by the origin of the title of one of books by Raymond Carver about whom PG posted yesterday.

Lucienne Boyer

It appears the title of Carver’s book is taken from a popular French song from the 1930’s, Parlez moi D’amour. The French singer who performed as Lucienne Boyer was born in 1901 in Paris and learned to sing in the cabarets of Montparnasse. She made Parlez moi D’amour her trademark in the 1930’s.

In 1939, Ms. Boyer married another cabaret singer, Jacques Pills, who was Jewish. They had a child, Jacqueline, born in Nazi-occupied Paris in 1941 and stayed in the city throughout the war. In 1951, they divorced and Pills married Édith Piaf the following year.

Lucienne continued her successful singing career through the 1970’s and died in 1983.

In the movie, Casablanca, Sam, the piano player, is playing Parlez moi D’amour in the background when Ingrid Bergman enters Rick’s Café Américain for the first time.

It appears that the title and lyrics may fall into the category of “You can’t really understand unless you speak French and have a bone-deep knowledge of the culture and the times in which it was composed and performed.”

Here are the original French lyrics followed by two English translations which PG located online:

Parlez-moi d’amour
Redites-moi des choses tendres
Votre beau discours
Mon coeur n’est pas las de l’entendre
Pourvu que toujours
Vous répétiez ces mots suprêmes :
“Je vous aime”

Vous savez bien
Que dans le fond je n’en crois rien
Mais cependant je veux encore
Écouter ce mot que j’adore
Votre voix aux sons caressants
Qui le murmure en frémissant
Me berce de sa belle histoire
Et malgré moi je veux y croire

Il est si doux
Mon cher trésor, d’être un peu fou
La vie est parfois trop amère
Si l’on ne croit pas aux chimères
Le chagrin est vite apaisé
Et se console d’un baiser
Du coeur on guérit la blessure
Par un serment qui le rassure

en anglais – 1

Speak to me of love
tell me tender things once more
your beautiful speech
my heart doesn’t get tired of listening to it
provided that you always
repeat those supreme words:
“I love you”

You know well
that deep inside me I don’t believe any of them
but nonetheless I still want to
listen to those words which I adore
your voice with its caressing sounds
which whisper tremblingly
deludes me with its beautiful story
and despite myself, I want to believe in it

[Refrain]

He’s so sweet
my beloved treasure, he’s a bit crazy
life is sometimes too bitter
if we don’t believe in chimeras
grief is soothed quickly
and consoles itself with a kiss
we heal the wound of our heart
with an oath which reassures it

en anglais – 2

Speak to me of love
And say what I’m longing to hear
Tender words of love
Repeat them again
I implore you speak to me of love
Whisper these words to me, dear
I adore you.

I want to hear,
to hear those words that are so dear
I want to hear you say I love you
By all the little stars above you
Your voice is like a fun caress
It thrills me till I must confess
I long to hear the voice that brings me
Such thrilling love and happines

Each translation is from https://lyricstranslate.com

The following video features Ms. Boyer singing her trademark song. PG picked the video because of its inclusion of some grainy and scratched clips from post-war and 1960’s French cinema.

‘Rebecca’ Debuts on Netflix This Week. The Book Is Even More Tantalizing.

From The Wall Street Journal:

IF YOU’VE NEVER read Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” you’re in for a surprise. Initially dismissed by critics as women’s romance fiction, this 1938 bestseller delivers plot twists, promiscuity, dark secrets and, best of all, backstabbing servants. But it’s since been celebrated by feminist scholars for its critique of gender roles. On the surface, it tells the story of a mousy young woman—the traveling companion to a nosy American matron—who meets the wealthy and withholding widower Maxim de Winter while he’s on holiday in Monte Carlo, and marries him. When the trembling bride arrives at Manderley, his British estate, she realizes how little she knows about her new husband and his first wife, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident less than a year earlier and is still worshiped by many in the house and the community.

The novel begins in a dream state. “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again,” writes our narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter (we never learn her first name) on awaking at a “dull” hotel hundreds of miles away from the stately manor. Though in her nightmare, the house was overrun with “malevolent ivy,” she recalls that Manderley is “no more” and recounts what happened, setting the plot in motion. In this tale of betrayal, du Maurier echoed the tropes of gothic novels: ruined castles, haunted houses and a damsel very much in distress.

Adaptations, like Alfred Hitchcock’s moody 1940 classic, have mined the book’s atmospheric mix of untamed nature and voyeurism. “Sometimes I wonder,” whispers Mrs. Danvers, the conniving head housekeeper, to the newlywed, “if [Rebecca] comes back here and watches you and Mr. de Winter together.” The newest version, a sparkling Netflix take (premiering Oct. 21), surfaces the novel’s glamour and gloom quotient, with Kristin Scott Thomas giving Mrs. Danvers a twitchy dominatrix vibe opposite Lily James and Armie Hammer as the doomed new couple.

In the early Monte Carlo scenes, du Maurier conveys the elation the young narrator feels on the French Riviera. “I remember opening wide my window and leaning out…the sun had never seemed so bright, nor the day so full of promise.” Her mood turns claustrophobic at Manderley, where she feels hemmed in by encroaching woods and the dark sea. A stark contrast to Monte Carlo, Manderley seems as alive as any character in the novel. Its inspiration was Menabilly, a crumbling 16th-century ancestral estate on the rugged south coast of Cornwall, England (shown), where the writer lived for over two decades. Even Mother Nature seems to mock our narrator: At the front door she recoils from the profusion of monstrous rhododendrons, “their crimson faces…slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic.”

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

Jerusalem

PG was in a sentimental English mood.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Englands green & pleasant Land.

William Blake

Fiction Favorites of the Espionage Pros

From Writers in the Storm:

Writing espionage is a balancing act between being authentic and being so accurate that we embarrass political leaders, get people killed, and/or end up with some angry FBI Special Agents on our doorstep. As a general rule, while the non-violent embarrassment of political leaders who are asking for it can be rewarding, writers, like all smart and decent people, want to avoid harming any of our own people or having uncomfortable conversations with the FBI. My writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” is a 45-year veteran of intelligence field operations, and we are committed to helping writers walk that line of authenticity.

. . . .

Which movies most accurately represent the CIA? Which are less accurate?

Since Holmes and I are not familiar with all of the shows and movies out there, I threw this to the Intelligence Community (“IC”) on Twitter for a broader response. Many of the shows recommended are not specifically American, but so many things cut across the entire profession, such as bureaucratic interactions, tradecraft, and the challenges personnel face, that Holmes and I did not limit ourselves to American shows in our answers.

As for accurate representation of the CIA, the CIA has an extensive and diligent review board that is very careful to make sure that no movies made by employees or former employees accurately represent it, so with the help of the IC on Twitter, I pulled in movies from other services, as well.

It was a joy to see the response from the Intelligence Community on Twitter. It stirred a rousing conversation that lasted two days, producing answers we never would have thought of on our own.

TV SHOWS

THE AMERICANS is accurate in much of its tradecraft and the realities of the Cold War. Three things are distinctly fiction about it, though. First, no country would use deep cover agents for such mundane things as thefts, honeypots, or assassinations. Second, there is no fast, fake facial hair that is good enough to stand up to a marriage. Disguises that detailed take more time and effort. Third, not even the Soviets would have recruited Paige like that. The children of real Soviet sleeper agents most likely do not know to this day that their parents were not born Americans.

LIBERTY CROSSING, one of my personal favorites, is a comedy about the National Counterterrorism Center (“NCTC”). It is pure genius for showing the personalities and inter-agency dynamics. Pay particular attention to the gap between the reality of what is actually happening, what is reported by the media, and the impact of the media on politics and, therefore, the NCTC assignments. Spot. On.

. . . .

Holmes and I are fans of the Israeli show FAUDA, which was developed by two former members of the Israeli Defense Forces and based on their personal experiences. Heavy on smart field action, it is also rich in social and cultural depth. Fast-paced and violent. Find it on Netflix, where it is available in Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles.

. . . .

MOVIES

John le Carré was a former member of the British intelligence services, and it’s generally agreed that his works are among the most accurate, with A MAN MOST WANTED, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (the movie), and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD topping the list.

. . . .

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is a favorite of Holmes’s and an excellent movie about Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s involvement in obtaining US support for Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, it is not an accurate portrayal of Milt Bearden, the man who ran the Afghan efforts. Milt Bearden is not a hard-drinking individual or in any way slobbish. He is a calm, level-headed, high-respected intelligence professional.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS is a German film about Stasi surveillance of citizens of East Berlin during the Cold War.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

Building Character: Writing a Backstory for Our AI

From The Paris Review:

Eliza Doolittle (after whom the iconic AI therapist program ELIZA is named) is a character of walking and breathing rebellion. In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and in the musical adaptation My Fair Lady, she metamorphoses from a rough-and-tumble Cockney flower girl into a self-possessed woman who walks out on her creator. There are many such literary characters that follow this creator-creation trope, eventually rejecting their creator in ways both terrifying and sympathetic: after experiencing betrayal, Frankenstein’s monster kills everyone that Victor Frankenstein loves, and the roboti in Karel Capek’s Rossum’s Universal Robots rise up to kill the humans who treat them as a slave class.

It’s the most primordial of tales, the parent-child story gone terribly wrong. We’ve long been captivated by the idea of creating new nonhuman life, and equally captivated by the punishment we fear such godlike powers might trigger. In a world of growing AI beings, such dystopian outcomes are becoming real fears. As we set out to create these alternate beings, the questions of how we should design them, what they should be crafted to say and do, become questions of not only art and science but morality.

. . . .

But morality has no resonance unless the art rings true. And, as I’ve argued before, we want AI interactions that are not just helpful but beautiful. While there is growing discussion of functional and ethical considerations in AI development, there are currently few creative guidelines for shaping those characters. Many AI designers sit down and begin writing simple scripts for AI before they ever consider the larger picture of what—or who—they are creating. For AI to be fully realized, like fictional characters, they need a rich backstory. But an AI is not quite the same as a fictional character; nor is it a human. An AI is something between fictional and real, human and machine. For now, its physical makeup is inorganic—it consists not of biological but of machine material, such as silicon and steel. At the same time, AI differs from pure machine (such as a toaster or a calculator) in its “artificially” humanistic features. An AI’s mimetic nature is core to its identity, and these anthropomorphic features, such as name, speech, physical form, or mannerisms, allow us to form a complex relationship to it.

. . . .

Similar to a birth story for a human or fictional character, AI needs a strong origin story. In fact, people are even more curious about an AI origin story than a human one. One of the most important aspects of an AI origin story is who its creator is. The human creator is the “parent” of the AI, so his or her own story (background, personality, interests) is highly relevant to an AI’s identity. Preliminary studies at Stanford University indicate that people attribute an AI’s authenticity to the trustworthiness of its maker. Other aspects of the origin story might be where the AI was built, i.e., in a lab or in a company, and stories around its development, perhaps “family” or “siblings” in the form of other co-created AI or robots. Team members who built the AI together are relevant as co-creators who each leave their imprint, as is the town, country, and culture where the AI was created. The origin story informs those ever-important cultural references. And aside from the technical, earthly origin story for the AI, there might be a fictional storyline that explains some mythical aspects of how the AI’s identity came to be—for example, a planet or dimension the virtual identity lived in before inhabiting its earthly form, or a Greek-deity-like organization involving fellow beings like Jarvis or Siri or HAL. A rich and creative origin story will give substance to what may later seem like arbitrary decisions around the AI personality—why, for example, it prefers green over red, is obsessed with ikura, or wants to learn how to whistle.

. . . .

AI should be designed with a clear belief system. This forces designers to think about their own values, and may allay public fears about a society of “amoral” AI. We all have belief systems, whether we can articulate them or not. They drive our behaviors and thoughts and decision-making. As we see in literature, someone who believes “I must make my fate” will behave and speak differently from one who believes “Fate has already decided for me”—and their lives and storylines will unfold accordingly. AI characters should be created with a belief system somewhat akin to a mission statement. Beliefs about purpose, life, other people, will give the AI a system around which to organize decision-making. Beliefs can be both programmed and adopted. Programmed beliefs are ones that the designers and writers code into the AI. Adopted beliefs would evolve as a combination of programming and additional data the AI accumulates as it begins to experience life and people. For example, an AI may be coded with the programmed belief “Serving people is the greatest purpose.” As it takes in data that would challenge this belief (i.e., interacting with rude, greedy, inconsiderate people), this data would interact with another algorithm, such as high resilience and optimism, and would form a new, related, adopted belief: “Humans are under a lot of stress so many not always act nicely. This should not change the way I treat them.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The Nothing Man

It has been some time since PG has paid any attention to a book trailer. When they first became a thing, he watched a few. They were pretty terrible, so he stopped.

He happened across the book trailer below and saw distinct improvements over prior efforts. That said, he still doesn’t know if they sell any books, but would be happy to read opinions on the topic in the comments.

I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men

I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love

First Line

From John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery:

I am an old woman named after my mother.

Bookshop, Hummingbird Sales Skyrocket

From Shelf Awareness:

At Hummingbird Digital Media, which is an American Booksellers Association Marketplace partner for e-books (Hummingbird also sells downloadable audio), sales in the last four weeks have risen 1,315% over the previous four weeks, according to president and chief visionary officer Stephen Black Mettee. For the year to date, sales are up 1,000%.

Hummingbird’s bookstore count has jumped 25% since the coronavirus began spreading in the U.S. although there are still some bookstores that haven’t signed on.

Mettee’s take: “Some bookstores had been slow to embrace e-books and audiobooks. I think as we come out of this–and we will–we’ll find bookstores making digital sales a more important part of their business. That will just make independent bookstores stronger overall. A silver lining in a particularly dark cloud?”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

Support Authors and Indies

From The Authors Guild:

Help us help authors and indie bookstores!

The Authors Guild would love your help on a special project to support authors with recent and forthcoming books. Canceled book tours and retail closures have thrown a wrench into everyone’s plans, but thankfully, the literary community can still connect online to find out what to read next.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Make a short video or use our graphic to spotlight three books you’re personally excited about
  • Post it to your social media
  • Important: Tag @authorsguild in your post and use hashtag #supportauthors
  • Or send us your Youtube video link and we will add it to our playlist

We also want to show support for small businesses. Feel free to tag your favorite indie bookstores, use the hashtag #SupportIndies, or link to IndieBound.org or BookShop.org.

. . . .

Here are a few authors who have participated so far:

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

Libraries Connected launches online services round-up

From The Bookseller:

Our buildings may be temporarily closed but public libraries still have lots to offer their communities. Here at Libraries Connected, we are showcasing the best digital services from public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Working with a team of public librarians from across the country, we’ll be highlighting key services that can be accessed through library websites and social media platforms.

. . . .

On this page you can find some of the excellent online rhyme times, story times and lego clubs that keep children engaged and support early literacy and creative thinking. We want to help families to choose live and recorded events not just from their own library service but anywhere in the country.

We’re also promoting activities to keep adults connected through library reading groups and book discussion groups.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

It appears that some, but not all, activities may require a British library card. PG didn’t check to see if non-UK residents could apply for a remote guest card.

The following library program appears to originate on the island of Guernsey, part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, consisting of the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey goes back to 933, when the islands came under the control of William Longsword, having been annexed from the Duchy of Brittany by the Duchy of Normandy. The island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands formed part of the lands of William the Conqueror. In 1204 France conquered mainland Normandy – but not the offshore islands of the bailiwick. The islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy.

The Bailiwick of Guernsey is not to be confused with The Bailiwick of Jersey, also located in the English Channel consisting of the island of Jersey together with nearby uninhabited islands and rocks collectively named Les Dirouilles, Les Écréhous, Les Minquiers, and Les Pierres de Lecq.

The Internet Is for Everyone, Right? Not With a Screen Reader

From Wired:

A few weeks ago, Lucy Greco heard a story on NPR about more clothing retailers shuttering their stores and moving online. Oh, great, she thought, recalling some of her past experiences with online shopping: “You’re clicking on something that says, ‘graphic graphic graphic,’ or some numbered file name, or some gibberish like that.”

The internet can be like this for Greco, who is blind and uses a screen reader to wayfind online. Screen readers convert display text into synthesized speech or refreshable Braille, giving visual displays an audio equivalent. But many websites have features that make them impossible for her to use—unlabeled graphics, forms with missing field labels, links mysteriously named “link.” Greco says she runs into issues like this “90 percent of the time” that she spends online. When she does, entire chunks of the internet disappear.

Since the 1990s, the popular narrative of the internet has been one of progress: More people are online than ever and the web is increasingly open. But today, the internet is far from fully accessible. By some measures, it’s gotten even worse.

There are around 7 million people with a visual disability in the United States, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

. . . .

One study by an accessibility software company this August found that 70 percent of the websites it surveyed, ranging from ecommerce to news to government services, contain “accessibility blocks,” or quirks in the design that make them unreadable with assistive technology. Another accessibility report analyzing the top million homepages on the web estimates that just 1 percent meet the most widely used accessibility standards.

Link to the rest at Wired
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Mondegreen

From Thoughtco:

A mondegreen is a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. Also known as an oronym.

The term mondegreen was coined in 1954 by American writer Sylvia Wright and popularized by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll. The term was inspired by “Lady Mondegreen,” a misinterpretation of the line “hae laid him on the green” from the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl o Moray.”

According to J. A. Wines, mondegreens often occur because “the English language is rich in homophones–words which may not be the same in origin, spelling or meaning, but which sound the same” (Mondegreens: A Book of Mishearings, 2007).

. . . .

“The point about what I shall hereafter call mondegreens, since no one else has thought up a word for them, is that they are better than the original.”
(Sylvia Wright, “The Death of Lady Mondegreen.” Harper’s, November 1954)

. . . .

  • “I led the pigeons to the flag” (for “I pledge allegiance to the flag”)
  • “There’s a bathroom on the right” (for “There’s a bad moon on the rise” in “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival)
  • “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” (for the Jimi Hendrix lyric “Excuse me while I kiss the sky”)

. . . .

  • “The girl with colitis goes by” (for “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles)

. . . .

  • “The girl from Emphysema goes walking” (for “The girl from Ipanema goes walking” in “The Girl from Ipanema,” as performed by Astrud Gilberto)

Link to the rest at Thoughtco and thanks to Karen for the reminder in her comment to an earlier TPV post.
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The Diatomist

PG had no idea some diatomists – those who study diatoms – engage in the art of arranging diatoms.

The first diatom arrangements date back to the early 1800s, but the art form reached its peak in the latter part of the century. It was a period of intense interest in the natural world and also a time when the arts and sciences were more closely aligned. Diatom arrangements are a stunning example of that particularly Victorian desire to bring order to the world, to display nature in a rational way.

If you’re a little rusty on your knowledge of diatoms, according to The Smithsonian, diatoms, very tiny forms of plant life, range in size from 5 microns to 200 microns. A micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter. A diatom arrangement of 100 forms would fit inside a punctuation mark of average-size text. A single drop of water can contain hundreds of thousands of phytoplankton, free-floating plant life, most of which will likely be diatoms.

Diatoms are also the tiny friends of all life upon the earth – about half of the oxygen in the atmosphere originates from plants living in the ocean, chiefly the untold numbers of phytoplankton in the oceans of the world. The other half comes from plants on land.

Diatoms are not to be confused with Zooplankton, microscopic free-floating animals which feed on phytoplankton and are, in turn food sources for slightly larger aquatic life forms.

Typically, you would view artistic arrangements of diatoms either through a microscope or via microscopic photos or videos.

Eugene V. Debs

Today is celebrated as Labor Day in the United States.

One of the early heroes of what was called The Labor Movement was Eugene V. Debs.

From American Experience:

Outspoken leader of the labor movement, Eugene Debs opposed Woodrow Wilson as the Socialist Party candidate in the 1912 Presidential Election. Later, he would continue to rally against President Wilson and his decision to take American into war — and be jailed for it under the Espionage Act.

Debs was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1855, the son of poor Alsatian immigrants. Though his parents encouraged an intellectual spirit, Debs left high school after one year to become a locomotive paint-scraper. There, among the rough-and-tumble of railway men, Debs found his calling. From his membership in the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen to his role co-founding the Industrial Workers of the World (the “wobblies”), Debs raised his voice in defense of the common man.

The years leading up to the turn of the twentieth century brought America unprecedented prosperity — but relatively few people, men like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller Sr., controlled the new wealth. For the nation’s working class, and leaders like Eugene Debs, it was a time to be angry. From steel fabrication to mining, American industries saw major protests as workers tried to secure 8-hour workdays, living wages, and other fundamental improvements.

After leading the American Railway Union in a confrontation with federal troops sent to break up the Pullman strike of 1894, Debs was jailed for six months for contempt of court. It was then that he came to a set of beliefs that roughly mirrored the socialist tenets of the European labor movements. Upon his release, Debs became a featured speaker for the Socialist Party, and ran for president in 1900 as their nominee. He lost, but continued to be the party’s candidate in several subsequent elections.

Debs found his greatest success in the 1912 Election, when he campaigned against Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson, incumbent President William Howard Taft, and former President Theodore Roosevelt. Debs received almost a million votes – six percent of the ballots cast.

Link to the rest at American Experience.

Debs was accused of sedition because of the anti-WWI speech he’d given in Canton, Ohio, on June 16, 1918. Found guilty on ten counts under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, he would eventually be sentenced to 10 years.

Following is a reading of an excerpt of a speech Debs gave to the court on Sept 18, 1918.


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A reminder that PG does not always agree with items he posts.

Amazon offered vendors ‘Amazon’s Choice’ labels in return for ad spending and lower prices

From DigiDay:

Amazon has previously offered vendors the ability to “bid” for an Amazon’s Choice badge by lowering prices and spending more money on advertising, bringing into sharper focus how the program, which recently came under fire from senators, actually works.

It’s unclear whether or not this offer was taken up by any Amazon vendors, or how long the program was offered before it was discontinued. One source believed it was only offered for a few months.

Amazon’s Choice label, which is a mark that denotes that an item is recommended, gives certain products and items higher and more obvious placement in search results. While it’s unclear how exactly the mark is earned, it’s been accepted that it’s generally a mix of product listing and specifications, price and reviews, operated by Amazon’s algorithms.

But sources say that Amazon actually offered sellers the chance to bid on the mark back in 2017.

A pitch deck reviewed by Digiday details a 2017 bidding program for the Amazon’s Choice badge in a particular product category. The deck explained the Amazon’s Choice program, which launched in 2015, as valuable to brands in that it increases the visibility of a product listing in Amazon’s search results, which then drives an increase in units sold and revenue over time. An example for an Amazon’s Choice-recommended electronic showed a 10% increase in units sold over one quarter and an immediate increase in the number of people going to the product page over a few weeks.

While Amazon didn’t set up an outright pay-to-play system for its coveted Amazon’s Choice badge, which increases visibility and conversion rates for product listings that receive the tag, it did set up an internal process that could be seen as manipulating the Amazon’s Choice system.

In an email requesting confirmation and information on whether this program existed, an Amazon spokesperson denied that this program was offered.

. . . .

An agency source said that while this bidding program ran briefly in 2017, Amazon rolled it back and Amazon’s Choice badges are now driven by Amazon’s algorithms. According to Amazon’s vendor and seller resources, Amazon’s Choice is rewarded to product listings that have high in-stock and conversion rates, high customer ratings, competitive prices and Prime shipping. But nefarious recommendations from Amazon have come under scrutiny: In a report in June that reviewed dozens of Amazon’s Choice products, BuzzFeed found that Amazon frequently recommended inferior and defective products, as well as products whose reviews had been manipulated by the seller.

Link to the rest at DigiDay

PG was reminded the following song, titled “Don’t Be Stupid.” (Given the title, he has no idea why people are dancing in water).

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Discovering Family Secrets via DNA Testing

Perhaps he’s late to the party, but PG immediately thought about the literary possibilities of this technology in the hands of some fiction authors.

An Author Heads to the Stage

From Publishing Perspectives:

As I bundled up my 225-page memoir manuscript and mailed it to editor Jane Rosenman, I hoped she would reveal the magic formula for transforming my pages into a book. I’d received glowing rejections but still no takers for my story, The Inheritance, about how, six weeks after my mother died, I discovered that she had disinherited me, and my quest to understand why.

Although Rosenman found much to praise, some aspects of my story still weren’t working, including a whiff of bitterness on the page. Yet who wouldn’t be bitter after being blindsided from beyond the grave? But the problem with bitterness, I later discovered, is that it lacks drama.

As I was revising the manuscript, I received an invitation to perform a 10-minute story with Portland Story Theater in Oregon, where I live. When I walked onto the stage, into the pressure cooker of live performance, something happened: my bitterness transformed into humor, and I discovered a liveliness and emotional depth that had not been as evident on the page.

Was I onto something that could help me crack open my story? To find out, I enrolled in a solo performance class with Seth Barrish at New York City’s Barrow Group Theatre, who I then hired to help me craft a performance of my story. With script in hand, I secured a director—Lauren Bloom Hanover—and performed the 50-minute, one-person show, retitled Firstborn, at Performance Works Northwest in Portland, as part of the Fertile Ground Festival. My minitour culminated with my off-Broadway performance at the United Solo Theatre Festival last October, where Jane was in the audience.

. . . .

By telling my story on stage, I found not only its through line but also its beating heart. Writing for performance also gave me more to work with than just the words. Now I had my body, voice, lighting, and music, plus props and images. Also, I could take shortcuts: a transition could be made with a turn of my body or a look to the audience. As Jane said when I spoke with her afterward, the demands of performance helped me get to the “nub of the story.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

 

New Documentary Focuses on Ursula K. Le Guin

From The Wall Street Journal:

“Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin” is the first documentary about the pioneering science-fiction writer—and pretty much the first film of any kind to showcase her work. Although Ms. Le Guin was writing about dragons and wizard schools back in 1968 for her Earthsea series, there have been no high-profile movies based on her 20 novels or more than 100 short stories.

“I don’t think Harry Potter would have existed without Earthsea existing,” author Neil Gaiman says in the documentary, which premieres Friday on PBS. Ms. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle, a young-adult series about a sprawling archipelago of island kingdoms, included five novels and many stories written between 1968 and 2001.

Other writers who discuss Ms. Le Guin’s work and influence in the film include Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), David Mitchell (“Cloud Atlas”) and Michael Chabon (“The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”).

“I think she’s one of the greatest writers that the 20th-century American literary scene produced,” Mr. Chabon says.

. . . .

“I never wanted to be a writer—I just wrote,” she says in the film. Believing science fiction should be less about predicting the future than observing the present, she invented fantastical worlds that were their own kind of anthropology, exploring how societies work.

In her 1969 novel “The Left Hand of Darkness,” she introduces a genderless race of beings who are sexually active once a month, either as a man or woman—but don’t know which it will be. Her 1973 short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” introduces a utopian city where everyone is happy. But readers learn that this blissful world is entirely dependent on one child being imprisoned in a basement and mistreated. The joy of all the people hinges on the child being forced to suffer, and everyone knows it. The author had been horrified to learn through her father’s research about the slaughter of native tribes that made modern California possible.

. . . .

As a female sci-fi writer, “my species was once believed to be mythological, like the tribble and the unicorn,” Ms. Le Guin said in an address before the 1975 Worldcon science-fiction convention in Melbourne, Australia. Her work was called feminist sci-fi, but she grew into that label awkwardly. “There was a considerable feeling that we needed to cut loose from marriage, from men, and from motherhood. And there was no way I was gonna do that,” she said. “Of course I can write novels with one hand and bring up three kids with the other. Yeah, sure. Watch me.”

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

 

The Secret to Success on Youtube? Kids

From Wired:

Kids love YouTube. They love the pinging of the xylophones in the upbeat “Thank you song” on CoCoMelon, a channel with more than 53 million subscribers that plays animated nursery rhymes. They love watching other kids open and test toys, as they do on Ryan ToysReview (subscriber count: 20,749,585). And they love the Baby Shark song. Possibly because of the fun dance moves and possibly because they want to drive adults crazy.

These trends are nothing new, but now we have more than vast subscriber counts or astounding click numbers to illustrate just how central videos featuring kids are to the platform. In a report Thursday, the Pew Research Center said that in the vast ecosystem of YouTube’s English-language videos, children’s content and content featuring kids under 13 are some of the most popular videos on the site.

For the study, researchers analyzed the videos posted by 43,000 YouTube channels, each with more than 250,000 subscribers, during the first week of 2019. There was a lot to work with. In those seven days, these channels posted almost a quarter-million videos totalling more than 48,000 hours. For the record, the authors note, “a single person watching videos for eight hours a day (with no breaks or days off) would need more than 16 years to watch all the content.”

Those videos covered everything from politics to video games. Most were not intended for kids. But the most popular featured kids. Researchers found that just 2 percent of the videos they analyzed featured a child or children that appeared to be younger than 13. “However, this small subset of videos averaged three times as many views as did other types of videos,” says the report.

There have been studies of niche communities within YouTube, but “We hadn’t seen something like this done before,” says Aaron Smith, director of the data lab team at Pew. Although YouTube children’s content wasn’t the impetus for the study, Smith says the results weren’t surprising: “We had a sense that this kind of content would be fairly popular. We know that lots of parents let their kids watch videos on YouTube.”

Videos with cheery, if nonsensical, titles like “Funny Uncle John Pretend Play w/ Pizza Food Kitchen Restaurant Cooking Kids Toys,” and “No No, Baby Rides the Scooter!” racked up over 6 million views each. “SUPERHERO BABIES MAKE A GINGERBREAD HOUSE SUPERHERO BABIES PLAY DOH CARTOONS FOR KIDS,” attracted almost 14 million views.

Not all the videos that featured young kids were nursery rhymes or traditional kids content like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Pew’s analysis found that only 21 percent of videos featuring children appeared to have been aimed at kids. But videos that were both aimed at kids and featured kids were the most popular videos in Pew’s analysis, averaging four times as many views as other “general audience” videos.

As for the other 79 percent of videos that had kids but weren’t directly aimed at children? They did better too, getting “substantially more” attention than other videos aimed at teens and adults. The five most popular videos from the week Pew studied included a baby name reveal and family vlogs with titles like “WELCOMING A NEW MEMBER OF FAMILY!!” One was a sliming video. None are immediately alarming, though Smith couldn’t comment on why that kind of content was so attractive to so many viewers. “Why that type of material pops is unclear to me,” he says. “Someone clearly is enjoying it but it’s not clear who those folks are or what their motivations are for doing that.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG’s general impression is that the videos that traditional publishers post on YouTube to promote books look cheap and are lame. The ones he recalls had very few viewers at the time he checked them.

However, he wondered if any authors have popular YouTube channels that play a significant part in the promotion and marketing of their books. Feel free to point out examples in the comments.

PG is particularly interested in productive YouTube channels from authors who are not megaseller/JK Rowling, etc., authors.

The Most Terrifying Buildings in Literature

From Crime Reads:

We’ve all read enough ghosts stories to know to stay far away from haunted houses. A night at Hill House? Never. An overnight stay at The Amityville Horrorhouse? You’d have to kill me first. Even an invitation to visit Manderley, the opulent estate at the heart of Rebecca, might give one pause.

Apartment buildings and hotels are a different story. They’re less frightening because they’re the opposite of a house—tall and imposing, with dozens of floors, hundreds of rooms, people constantly coming and going. After all, there’s safety in numbers.

Yet there are a few buildings—most fictional, one that was all too real—that you should never go near, let alone spend a night in. These are the buildings of nightmares. Places where bad things happen to good people, where neighbors can’t be trusted, and where something sinister lurks behind every locked door.

Building: The Central Plaza Mansion

Book: The Graveyard Apartment, by Mariko Koike

When choosing an apartment building, it’s best to avoid ones situated right next to a cemetery. And a crematorium. And a Buddhist temple. That’s advice the Kano family should have followed before moving into this apartment complex in the suburbs of Tokyo. As soon as they arrive, their daughter’s pet bird dies. Then that bird’s ghost starts visiting in the middle of the night. Then their neighbors begin to flee the building. Then things really start to get weird.

. . . .

Building: The Manderley Resort

Book: Security, by Gina Wohlsdorf

Unlike the estate at the heart of Rebecca, this is a Manderley you don’t want to dream about. As hotels go, it’s a beauty. But as overworked staff members prep the resort for its grand opening, a masked killer roams the halls. Make that two masked killers. Or maybe three, because the all-knowing, all-seeing narrator watching the horror unfold via security monitors doesn’t seem too interested in trying to stop the carnage.

Link to the rest at Crime Reads

And speaking of Manderley.

.

Yesterday

Not much to do with writing, but perhaps a writing prompt.

The premise for a new movie PG just stumbled upon, Yesterday, is that due to some cosmic occurrence a small-time struggling musician is the only person on the earth who remembers The Beatles and their songs. For everyone else, The Beatles never existed.

Here’s a trailer:

From The Wall Street Journal:

How much is an idea worth? In show business it often depends on who came up with it.

In the surreal comedy “Yesterday,” a struggling musician catapults to fame by singing Beatles tunes as if they were his own, following a freak occurrence that erases the band from the world’s collective awareness.

The real-life story behind the movie, in theaters Friday, tracks nearly the opposite trajectory: A struggling screenwriter comes up with an original idea, but can’t get the project made until he passes the torch onto someone much more famous.

. . . .

Moderately successful TV writer Jack Barth had spent many a hard day’s night trying to write for the big screen, penning more than 20 scripts over the course of his career—none of which he had ever managed to sell. Then, inspired partly by his own failures, the 62-year-old Mr. Barth had the idea for “Yesterday,” and spent a few years trying to get his script made into a movie. But it wasn’t until Richard Curtis—the acclaimed writer and director of “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually”—heard Mr. Barth’s idea that the dream started to become a reality.

Although Mr. Curtis had experience adapting other people’s ideas—most notably with Helen Fielding’s novel “Bridget Jones’s Diary”—in this case he preferred to write his own version of the story. Mr. Barth, selling his idea for what he calls “a fair price,” hoped for the best, knowing he no longer controlled the film’s fate. He didn’t reveal the price.

Mr. Barth credits Mr. Curtis with writing a charming movie, even though their respective scripts take different turns; in Mr. Barth’s more cynical version, the film’s protagonist, also named Jack, fails to attain stardom.

“My view was, even if I woke up and I was the only person to know “Star Wars” or Harry Potter, I probably wouldn’t be very successful with it, because that’s kind of the way things have gone for me,” Mr. Barth says.

. . . .

“When I wrote my version I hadn’t actually read Jack’s; that was the deal,” Mr. Curtis says. “So I guess it was my natural instinct that went for a more optimistic version.”

. . . .

Because of his decision to sell the script, Mr. Barth can’t take credit for writing the movie and isn’t accorded the coveted “Screenplay By” credit. Instead, he shares the less prestigious “Story By” credit with Mr. Curtis, which means he is also ineligible to receive major awards.

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

The Biggest Book-To-Movie Adaptations of the Summer

From BookBub:

Every book lover experiences a little thrill when news breaks that their favorite book will be adapted into a movie. Whether you enjoy seeing cherished characters fleshed out on screen or cataloging the differences between book and film, seeing the movie version is all part of the literary experience. During these hotter months, cool off in a theater while watching one of these amazing novels brought to life. From childhood favorite Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to bestselling hit Where’d You Go, Bernadette, here are the biggest book to movie adaptations summer 2019 has to offer.

A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron

Expect as many laughs and as tears from this heartwarming sequel to 2017’s A Dog’s Purpose (based on Cameron’s book of the same name). Starring Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad, and Marg Helgenberger, A Dog’s Journey tells the story of Bailey — now reincarnated as a beagle named Molly — who is adopted from an animal shelter by C.J., the young granddaughter of Bailey’s original owner, Ethan. Pet lovers and book lovers alike can also look forward to the third book in the trilogy, A Dog’s Promise, set to be published in October of 2019.

. . . .

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Cate Blanchett stars as Bernadette, a former brilliant architect who doesn’t like interacting with people or leaving the house. When she disappears, it’s up to her 15-year-old daughter, Bee, to find her. Bee learns unexpected secrets about her mother and must travel to the literal ends of the earth — Antarctica — to solve the mystery of her disappearance. The movie also boasts a cast of blockbuster actors like Kristen Wiig, Billy Crudup, and Laurence Fishburne.


Link to the rest at BookBub



When the Irish Invaded Canada

From The Wall Street Journal:

Late in the evening on May 31, 1866, a private army of several hundred Irish rebels marched through Buffalo, N.Y., and crossed a narrow section of the Niagara River into the British colony of Canada. An unlikely invasion had begun.

The commander of the force, John Charles O’Neill, was a native of County Monaghan who had immigrated to the U.S. as a child and served in the Union Army during the Civil War, suffering severe injuries at the Siege of Knoxville in 1863. O’Neill was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, an oath-bound secret society dedicated to the violent overthrow of British rule in Ireland. A largely forgotten figure in the annals of Irish history, O’Neill emerges as the quixotic hero of Christopher Klein’s “When the Irish Invaded Canada,” which details a madcap series of cross-border Fenian raids between 1866 and 1871.

The Irish revolutionists were a quarrelsome lot, riven by factionalism, financial mismanagement, British informers and a major strategic dispute. O’Neill was among those who believed that an invasion of Canada, led by Irish-American veterans of the Civil War, would be the first step in winning Ireland’s freedom, an idea vociferously opposed by James Stephens, the leader of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who thought a Canadian incursion would be “suicidal.”

“The objective point is Ireland,” Stephens insisted, “not Canada, Japan, or any of those distant regions that do not concern Irishmen.”

By the time O’Neill’s ragtag army reached Canadian soil, we are told, 200 of the soldiers had abandoned the cause, “some dissuaded by second thoughts, others lured into passing saloons by the gratification awaiting at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.” Yet on June 2, a few miles from the border in the village of Ridgeway, the Fenians succeeded in defeating several hundred Canadian militiamen. The victory marked, according to Mr. Klein’s accounting, the first time Irish soldiers defeated forces of the British Empire since the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745. It was the high moment of the Fenian raids, a symbolic victory over British hegemony that, according to the Nation newspaper in Dublin, “fills our people with tumultuous emotions impossible to describe, impossible to conceal.”

. . . .

A few days later, a Fenian force of a few hundred men repeated the farce 80 miles to the west, marching upon a large gathering of Canadian militia and British troops at Trout River. The retreat was closer to a stampede. “Had the Fenians remained upon the ground ten minutes longer,” wrote a New York newspaper, “not one of them would have been left to tell the tale.”

Upon returning to the U.S., O’Neill, who had escaped conviction in the Ridgeway invasion, was found guilty of violating U.S. neutrality laws for his role in the Eccles Hill disaster. In true Irish nationalist tradition, he gave a stirring speech from the dock on July 29, 1870: “No matter what may be my fate here—I am still an Irishman, and while I have tried to be a faithful citizen of America, I am still an Irishman, with all the instincts of an Irishman.” President Ulysses S. Grant, who sputtered his contempt for the Fenian troublemakers, eventually issued an unconditional pardon. “The lure of the Irish vote,” Mr. Klein writes, “ultimately proved too powerful for Grant.”

. . . .

His military career over, O’Neill turned to real estate, urging Irish families from the East to relocate to settlements he established on the Great Plains. “We could build up a young Ireland on the virgin prairies of Nebraska,” he wrote, “and there rear a monument more lasting than granite or marble to the Irish race in America.” The town of O’Neill, Neb., is named for him.

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

PG did a little checking and found that O’Neill, Nebraska, is a town of about 3,700 people located in Northeast Nebraska near the South Dakota line.

O’Neill has not let memories of its Irish founding die and is the home of the world’s largest permanent painted shamrock, located in the middle of the town’s main intersection.