Critics and a Cannes-Do Attitude
I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR last night. The program's critic-at-large, John Powers, had just returned from the Cannes Film Festival and had a conversation with the show's
TV critic David Bianculli
. It was easy to tell that the pair were having a high time, critics getting to talk about being critics in the context of what was supposed to be a report on the festival. Here's something Powers said early on:
I spend every year probably like most people spend at the Oscars, like, I can't believe that thing won, that normally I just can't believe that a jury of nine people can be so wrong. This year, strangely enough, the jury chose almost everything that I liked, but not just that I liked, but almost everybody else liked. It's really an odd thing, because normally there are all these weird agendas going on, you know, where something might be the best film, but in fact the jury has a lot of people from Europe, and they want to make sure Europe wins, so that, in fact, the third or fourth best film wins because it's from Europe.
He went on to admit a story that he admitted showed something about film critics. He said that they were "faintly condescending" because there would four actresses on the jury panel, and the attitude of the critics was, "Actors and actresses, like, they can't be trusted; their judgment is terrible." Then, amazingly enough, their choices were astoundingly good. Not that you'd expect people who actually do
something for a living might know more and have better taste than those who professionally pass judgment although they may know little to nothing about the actual process.
All this is the backdrop for what I found really amusing. These educated, somewhat condescending people were both pronouncing the name of the town as KAHN
. But the French pronunciation is actually much closer to the English word CAN. So much for sophistication.
Labels: Bianculli, Cannes, critics, films, Fresh Air, movies, NPR, Powers
Teenager Uses Language to Help Pass Midwifery Bill
John Loudon, a Republican state senator in Missouri, had been trying to no avail to get the state's legislator to pass a bill legalizing midwifery. So he added an amendment to a health insurance package that avoided the term that alerted other legislators and instead used the word tocological, which means having to do with tocology, the science of childbirth, whether in the form of obstretics or midwifery.
Loudon told a reporter
that a child of a midwifery advocate had uncovered the term in an ACT test prep guide.
However, according to the AWAD
(A Word A Day) mailing list, a formerly home-schooled young woman named Sarah Greek, who just graduated from high school, receives the AWAD mailings of interesting words. On May 20, the list had mentioned the story. She came forward and said that she was the young woman who had remembered the term and informed the senator. With a vocabulary like that, clearly there will be no pregnant pauses in her discussions.
Labels: MIssouri, Politics, words
Tony Blair Dances with Words for Stop-and-Question Law
As has been well-reported, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair is pushing for a new bill that would allow police to stop and question people without needing any grounds for doing so. This would be a first in the U.K., which does allow searches on "reasonable grounds for suspicion," according to this story in the Trinity Mirror
. In defending his proposal, Blair wrote the following in a piece
in the Sunday London Times:
But at the heart of these new proposals will lie the same debate: the balance between protecting the safety of the public and the rights of the individual suspected of being involved with terrorism. ...
We have chosen as a society to put the civil liberties of the suspect, even if a foreign national, first.
I happen to believe this is misguided and wrong. If a foreign national comes here, and may be at risk in his own country, we should treat him well. But if he then abuses our hospitality and threatens us, I feel he should take his chance back in his own home country.
But Mr. Blair isn't being accurate. The problem with a stop-and-question law is not protecting the civil liberties of an actual terrorism suspect, where there is a body of evidence suggesting a tie between the individual and such an activity, but protecting the rights of whomever the police decide to stop.
The reason British and US law has such regard for the rights of the suspect is the underlying concept of someone being innocent until proven guilty. Society regards the rights of the suspect because there is a good chance that the suspect is innocent, and if the innocent person can face such restraint of rights, then it could be only a matter of time before anyone else is in the position of being a suspect and of losing rights.
But there is also a meaning of suspect that isn't tied to that philosophical underpinning - one that is more simply a person who is the target of suspicion. Mr. Blair is essentially pulling a semantic bait-and-switch. He uses the single word used in both contexts and then uses the second meaning, pretending that the first doesn't exist. He then decries the "dangerous misjudgment" of prizing civil liberties above chasing terrorism. Ironically, his own act of linguistic deception - whether intentional or accidental - offers good reason for keeping the emphasis where it is.
Labels: Blair, Politics, rhetoric, rights, U.K.
Journey to Success - in a Clown Car
The Associated Press had a great article yesterday on Monica Drake, the author of the novel Clown Girl
. The intro on a project that took about a decade to get recognition was fine, but the really amusing part came in the time line - one agent after another, one rejection after another, one odd meeting after another, becoming friends with Chuck Palahniuk, who eventually touts her novel on his site, after which the first edition sells out.
This looks like another title to add to the reading list. Just what I needed. I think my shelf has become the clown car, with more spilling off of it than ever could fit on in the first place.
Labels: agents, books, buzz, Drake
When Is A Billion Not A Billion
In a discussion on a writers' board, there was what I thought would be a brief discussion about what to call 5,400,000,000. Five point four billion, right?
As it turns out, not necessarily. and the explanation is not only fascinating, but it explains something about the BBC - more on that in a moment. First we must return to the 15th and 16th centuries, during which French mathematicians developed the terms billion and trillion - which meant 1012
But for some reason, a century later, some scientists in Italy and France started using billion to mean 109
, or a 1 followed by nine zeros. That created what eventually come to be called the long and short scales. In the former system, there was a name every time you added an additional six zeros - or multipled by a million - and in the latter, the new names started with every three additional zeros, or multiplication by a thousand.
The world was now split, with many countries, including Britain using the long form, and some using the short. By the 18th century, the short use appears in the British colonies in North American, although back in England the citizens still used the long scale. By the early 19th century, the U.S. officially converted to the short scale and taught it in schools, as did most people in France. Britain remained unmoved.
By the 20th century, things got really screwy. The French now officially proclaimed the long scale
to be the one to use, and by 1994, the Italians also embraced the long scale. Note that these were the very two countries that had started all the confusion in the first place. In 1974, the United Kingdom had official statistics switch to the short scale. I'm sure it had something to do with the French moving back to the long scale. And you thought geopolitics was confusing.
As for the BBC, there is still some use of the long scale, which is why news presenters will still often say "thousand million" rather than billion. How quaint - though I'm not sure which side is.
Labels: France, Italy, language, numbers, U.K., U.S.
Writer Reality TV
Clearly someone in the entertainment industry has finally cracked. A new show called The Ultimate Author
is looking for contestants - who will compete for a book deal and the chance to spend a year learning how to promote the final tome. Yes, folks, you too can jet down to Ft. Lauderdale in June and wilt while you wait to see if you have what it takes to be freakishly bookish. And compelling television this will be, as the show's site explains:
Contestants in this competition must be smart enough to spell well, creative enough to coordinate a themed book club gathering, savvy enough to handle an ambush interview, wise enough to develop an effective marketing plan, and talented enough to help design an eye-catching book cover.
Every week there's a new genre and contestants have two hours to write a chapter. Two hours
? Anyone on this show actually ever write a chapter of anything? Let's see - 3,000 to 5,000 words in two hours means typing anywhere from 25 to 42 words a minute on the average without a break and no thought and planning. Oh, yes, this will
be interesting reading. I can hardly wait to see the footage of people. Sitting. And. Typing.
Labels: authors, books, reality, television
Ophrah's Father to Write Memoir
Oprah Winfrey was apparently "stunned" to learn that her father was writing a memoir
, but hadn't told her:
"I said, `That's impossible. I can assure them it's not true,'" she said. "... I called him and it turned out he is writing a book. The worst part of it was him saying, `I meant to tell you I've been working on it.'"
I can see how it could be a surprise to learn second hand that your own father was writing about his live - and yours, as an extension. But let's consider for a moment that few people have helped promote the surprise tell-all to the degree that Ms. Winfrey has. Much of her career, and that of her talk-show colleagues, is built on the heart-rending personal reminiscences of those who give up their privacy for notoriety, or at least 15 minutes worth.
Life is often unfair, but it makes up for that with irony, so that the eventual payment is in the same currency. My question is whether her father will be promoting his book on her show. After all, if everyone else can undergo embarrassment for the sake of ratings, it only seems right that she can as well.
Labels: book, memoir, Oprah, television
Book Publishers Say We Give Up - You Decide
Here's a link to an item I ran in my BizBlast blog because it should be near and dear to the hearts of readers: book publishers looking for audiences to tell them
what to publish. At least they're starting to tacitly admit that they never knew what they were doing in the first place...
Labels: authors, books, marketing, publishing
Quick! Get Me a Cliché!
The next time you decide to ignore writing advice from the likes of George Orwell or Strunk and White and fully embrace the linguistic mediocrity of clichés that is our right (and we all do it sometimes), don't worry if you find yourself out of stock. Cliché Finder
us a web site with over 3,300 sayings indexed for quick access. But one person's cliché could be another's unique expression. For example, here's what popped up when I searched for night:
ships that pass in the nightA wet bird never flies at night?
dead of night
burn the midnight oil
midnight is where the day begins
a wet bird never flies at night
I wouldn't send a dog out on a night like this
under cover of night
I was born at night, but not last night
if you expect to soar with the eagles during the day, you can't hoot with the owls at night
pull an all-nighter
things that go bump in the night
worked night and day
kept me up all night long
Good Night, sleep tight, and don't let the bed bugs bite.
dance the night away
the night of all nights
a night of passion
like a thief in the night
in the heat of the night
boys night out
Who would have guessed?
Labels: cliché, sayings, site
Most Arguments for "Moral" Use of Torture Are Greviously Flawed
I've seen many people argue the shades of gray as to why torture might be morally justified in the face of terrorism. But largely what the people arguing see as ambiguity as actually a lack of clarity because they are using a set of unstated presumptions.
When people like Alan Dershowitz talk about accepting or approving torture, there is usually an argument (whether stated or even internally articulated or not) that goes something like this:
- There is a bad person.
- That bad person knows of specific harm that will be done.
- The person will get away without punishment and without being stopped because he or she hasn't yet done what would be considered illegal.
- Torture will extract the information that will stop the specific harm.
- Therefore, we should use torture to extract the information and stop the harm.
- If we make a mistake, it's justified and excused by the good we do or at least intend.
Unfortunately, there are some fatal (sometimes literally) flaws in this line of reasoning.
The first premise is that someone knows the person to be guilty. But often we've seen that the people tortured wind up not being guilty of anything. So no one knows for sure that the person is "bad," or even that the person has specific information or is about to do anything. Suddenly the argument about having to extract specific information from the known guilty party to save someone's life in a specific amount of time crumbles like so much badly mixed and cured concrete.
Now we find a few more problems. People who understand interrogation generally agree that torture is a highly unreliable way of gaining information, because the person is likely to say anything to stop the torture. Now we have information that we can't trust to stop a harm that may or may not be happening.
It's also unnecessary. Look at a number of plots that have been claimed to have been stopped in the last couple of years. It wasn't torture that turned them up.
Finally, the last point: when you are willing to toss away principles of the nation, you destroy the true nature of the nation. Or, to paraphrase what we heard during the Viet Nam war, we had to destroy the country to save it - whether Iraq or our own rule of law. There is
a theoretical gray area - if you could satisfy the conditions above. But people don't explicitly address their flawed logic, so they don't see this as a generally black and white issue.
Labels: definitions, Iraq, justification, morality, torture
New Yorker: Print or Web, Still a Slam
This week's New Yorker has a Shouts & Murmurs piece
by Larry Doyle, a former writer for The Simpsons, called Share Our Joy
. Read the print version and you see a number of words and phrases underlined. At the end of the piece is a suggestion to go to www.newyorker.com to further follow the story. Go to the site and you see the story along with links - those underlined sections.
This seems like an entirely silly way to bring print and the web together. The true extent of the satire of a young and pretentious couple, obviously with too much available money for any good to come of it, doesn't become apparent until you start following some of the links. Next, the reader basically has to reread the piece to put the links into context, and many readers of the print version aren't going to take the trouble.
Separately, some of the humor felt stereotyped. For example, there's mention of a pilot who takes people from an airport to an island on their way to a wedding ceremony who has to be checked to be sure he's sober. Can you imagine that sort of image being used in relation to Ireland? Canada? Germany? Of course not. Obviously
in such "civilized" places one wouldn't need to check if the pilot was drunk. And a remark about "the whole child-slavery thing" as a reason to leave the kids at home? There actually is a link to www.antislavery.org and the reports on Latin America, but then the US has certainly had a number of cases recently hitting the courts of illegal immigrants being kept as slave labor. A reference to a slightly alcoholic drink called chicha has a link
to an explanation of how this was made from a site called AncientWorlds. Heaven forbid that the author use a link to a more modern view
, just as the methods of producing food and drink changed in Europe over the period of, oh, a thousand years or more.
Humor requires an appreciation of its intellectual milieu. If you have to depend on people doing background reading to see why what you write is funny, it's the hypertext equivalent of explaining a joke. The laugh won't be coming, and left is a colonial attitude of watching the amusing savages. Compound that with the assumption that what is properly designed for the web should work in print, and I think the piece is an interesting experiment that thoroughly failed.
Labels: Doyle, New Yorker, Peru, print, web
When Computer Programs Talk - to Each Other
Discover Magazine has a special issue about the human brain, and here is a sample
: two computer programs, each programmed to provide lifelike chat, talking to each other. Those who fear for a science fiction scenario of machines taking over so far have nothing to worry about - they don't listen to each other any better than we do.
Labels: bots, brain, programs, speech
David Sedaris on Author Tours
Some of the following was in a Pages article I had written a year or two ago on author tours
Anyone wondering about the popularity of humorist David Sedaris need only attend a stop in one of his author tours: he had close to 2,000 people at one New York book store alone last year. And he has looked forward to them all, including this summer's rounds for the paperback version of Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy. "My agent – I don’t know if he thinks I’m lying, or if I don’t realize how horrible it is," he says.
But even with his existing audience from his National Public Radio work, he had one dark night of the sojourn on his first tour. "Everywhere else it had gone well, but I got to Los Angeles and only four people were there," Sedaris remembers, "and two of them were friends of mine. They just thought, 'Oh, he’s a loser.' It was humiliating. Then I think what if my whole book tour was two weeks of that?"
I spoke with him as he was getting ready in Paris to leave on another tour the next day, which meant being up all night. "I always do that before I leave on a trip," he says. "I’m going to get screwed again – screwed out of an hour sleep." Well, maybe more.
He does enjoy doing tours. "My agent – I don’t know if he thinks I’m lying, or if I don’t realize how horrible it is," he says. “If you go and there are 500 people there, then it’s fun. I could be wrong, but when I started my tour last June in New York, I think they had 1800 people at the Barnes and Noble in union square. I could be wrong and maybe it was 1200." Days of almost empty stores are pretty much over. He shows up two-and-a-half to three hours in advance.
Still, there's no doubt that tours are a grind. Sedaris is flying from one city to the next, usually spending only a day. “Then so much of your life is taking place on planes and airports," he says. "So I’m writing the word flight in every story.”
Because his schedule is tight, Sedaris has no time to play tourist, so the fun must come in the stores.
“It’s nice if you have a theme or say I’m working on a story and does anyone have information on this?" he says. "For the paperback tour for Me Talk Pretty One Day, [I noticed that] everyone in America has a tip jar," he says. "I started putting one on my signing table." His best take was $180 in a night. "I said I’m spending it all on myself."
Then he started charging for the more unpleasant requests, like the one or two people an evening, thinking they are original, who ask him to sign someone else's book. "If someone came up with a telephone and said, 'Would you talk to my sister?' I'd say, 'Yes, for ten dollars.'" He's given priority signing for smokers and adults with braces and offered travel packets of pain relievers with each signature, but many people wouldn't take them. "Especially men who’d say I’m OK. I’d say do you think you’ll never get a headache?" He guesses that only 10 percent of the men took the sealed packets while 80 percent of the women did. Maybe the women knew something that the men didn't: there could be a book tour just around the corner, waiting for you.
Labels: authors, marketing, Sedaris, tours
Bible Could Become Obscene in Hong Kong
Hundreds of Hong Kong residents are asking authorities to classify
the Bible as "indecent," according to Reuters. After many years of few people actually reading the book, it seems that someone started a Chinese-language site called truthbible.com that discusses how disturbing the sex and violence are. I guess murder, dismemberment, rape, and incest aren't considered appropriate for under-age audiences. If the government reclassified the Bible as indecent, you'd have to be 18 to get a copy. Have a doubt? Think of all the "begat" sections. How do you think all those generations of children came into the world, anyhow?
Labels: Bible, Hong Kong, indecent
The Print Versus Blog Review Wars
The LA Times ran something on a possible rapprochement
between print and blog literary reviewers. I didn't kow that there was a fight between the two sides, but am not surprised. There is a power hierarchy in the literary world, and reviewers - mistake me not, often performing a good service of discussing things worthy of attention - are often the gatekeepers. They don't like losing that status, but someone should point out that they're going to lose it anyway. One newspaper after another has been dropping or reducing book sections. Some of the analysis in the article was flawed, I think, as in this example:
Still, the numbers are telling: The literary blogs are reaching a small audience. While larger newspapers have hundreds of thousands of subscribers, the Elegant Variation, for example, has an estimated 5,000 to 7,500 hits a day, while Champion's Return of the Reluctant is averaging 40,000 visits a day.
That's comparing apples and oranges. If all those readers were paying attention to the book section in papers, you can bet that the editors and publishers wouldn't be cutting their sections. What newspaper could get 40,000 people a day, every day, to read a book section? If long-time reviewers are truly worried about the level of discourse, and not their own paychecks or control over an art form, then let them join in online, or possibly teach workshops for those who would like to review. Or let them start their own
blogs. This is a time where authors are becoming publishers. Why not find a place in the new order?
Labels: blogs, books, literary, reviewers
No Puckering Up in Spanish
Randy Hecht, a bilingual colleague
and friend, told me a funny story about an article she was doing. For this to make sense, you have to understand that sometimes she writes in English and sometimes in Spanish. She was actually trying to put something into Spanish about an experience she had in Mexico and needed to describe someone puckering his mouth, indicating that he wanted a kiss. But she didn't know the Spanish word for pucker. She checked one dictionary after another and couldn't find it. She checked with her extensive set of Latino friends and colleagues and finally, in a last bit of exasperation, checked with Edith Grossman, something that both of us have interviewed int he past and one of the leading Spanish to English translators in the world. (She's Gabriel Garcia Marquez's translator.) The upshot that there doesn't appear to be any
Spanish word or phrase for puckering up. When Randy told me this, I started laughing, not only because it was funny on its own, but because I realized that there is also the English word purse, so we've got not just one, but two ways of visibly preparing for a kiss. Guess that in Latino parts of the world they just jump right in and don't waste time making funny faces and staring at each other.
Labels: English, Grossman, Hecht, kiss, kissing, Latino, lips, Spanish, translation
When the Writing Is On the Wall - Or T-Shirt
There are many stories of companies that ended up looking foolish, or worse, when they tried crossing the gulf that language translation can be. Here's another case
, where a British menswear store sold shirts with a Russian ethnic cleansing slogan - in Russian, of course, that no one bothered to have translated to be sure.
Labels: Britain, Russian, shirts, translation
Web Site Review: Wordsmith.org
This is a must stop for word junkies. Jeffrey Henning, a friend and creator of tools for creating your own language
(and a spot worth going to in its own right), pointed me to the fun that is the A.Word.A.Day mailing list a good dozen years ago. The Wordsmith.org
site lets you join the mailing list and offers a chat service, anagram server, and a project to donate books to libraries around the world. It's worth a stop.
Labels: anagrams, artificial, language, languages, libraries, words
Editor Returns to PC World, But Does "Good" Win Out?
In another of my blogs I had mentioned that PC World editor Harry McCracken had left
the publication because of pressure from the advertising side of the house. It seems that a pro/con set of articles about Macs - both written by people who knew and liked the machines - had drawn ire
either the advertiser didn't like negative press, or someone was afraid that it wouldn't.
So now McCracken is back
at PC World after a week and the magazine's CEO, Colin Crawford, has returned to his previous duties as vice president of online content. Some in the publishing industry have been cheering this as a rare victory of integrity over advertising, but I'm not sure that's really the case.
This seems clearly a move to stem bad press. Had publisher IDG really thought that advertising pressure to censor articles was so egregious, I suspect it would have dismissed Crawford. But it didn't. Instead, management transferred him back to from whence he came. But IDG has been vocal about how online is really the future for the company. So the person who was ready to push editors and tailor content (and pretty mild content at that - oooh, the puck mouse was a loser, what a burn!) to turn a magazine into a PR outlet is now in charge of the publisher's future
. Now there's a decisive - and telling - move.
Labels: advertising, censorship, editorial
The Fourth Estate and the Law
Sometimes it takes little prescience to know the future. When the story came out that Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger had heard about Rupert Murdoch wanting to buy the paper's parent company, Dow Jones, you could bet dollars to doughnuts that many journalists would wag their fingers. For example, BusinessWeek's Fine On Media column
had the heading Paul Steiger Did What?
At CJR Daily
- from the Columbia Journalism Review, the heading Steiger sat on what?! was followed by:
Well, we can stop wondering whether The Wall Street Journal would allow Rupert Murdoch to screw up its editorial judgment. That already happened.
"How could he have given in?" many journalists cry. "How could other editors have done the same?"
Easily. While journalists, these people are also all employees of Dow Jones, a publicly-held corporation. Whether officers or not, SEC regulations make it illegal for them to leak details of goings-on that could affect the value of their employer's stock value. This is the sort of activity that people actually do
go to jail for. It's fine to sit in self-righteous indignation, but how about some realism? And how about some acknowledgment that journalists are not above all laws because of their occupation? That would seem even more in order when you're talking about laws that affect how businesses must run - and the journalists in question cover business.
There also seems to be an inherent contradiction in how journalists view the world. Usually you're not
supposed to cover that with which you are involved. A writer who is an activist, for example, can't write about his or her pet cause. There's a concern that the connection could involve bias of one form or another, and in either case would get in the way of a fair story. So why do journalists get mad that the Wall Street Journal isn't essentially reporting on itself? My cynical guess is that they are so mad about missing the story that they're not thinking about consistency.
Labels: Columbia Journalism Review, Dow Jones, editors, Murdoch, Steiger, Wall Street Journal
Ronald Goldman Family Looks to Buy OJ Book
The Associated Press reports
that the family of murder victim Ronald Goldman hopes to bid on the OJ "If I Did It" book to publish their own version. There's no clear indicatio that this will happen, but, to bend a title, if it did, I can only start to imagine what they might do to it - all with the name of O.J. Simpson on the cover. Sometimes I think that the pen is mightier than the sword and sometimes not, but it certainly has a longer and more bitter memory.
Labels: book, Goldman, O.J. Simpson
Old Avant-Garde Theatre Finds New Home in New York
Here's an article from the New York Times on the new Lower East Side home
of the Living Theater
. This is a piece of theatrical and political activism mixed with audience participation that I thought had ended in the 1960s.
Labels: Living Theater, New York, theater
Books Big with Former Soviet Bloc Countries
BusinessWeek had an article
about the success that German publisher Bertelsmann has had in Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc members. In fact, print is big in many parts of the developing world. Given that many people in these countries haven't the prosperity of economically developed western nations, I'm guessing that not needing an investment in a computer and Internet connection helps magnify the relative low cost of the book offerings. And since they're reading so much, it makes you wonder which nations are the really developed ones after all.
Labels: Bertlesmann, bloc, books, Soviet, Ukraine
Cookbook Review: Fonda San Miguel: Thirty years of Food and Art
I reviewed this cookbook on my food blog, so instead of repeating the whole thing here, I'll offer this link
Labels: book review, books, cookbook, cookbooks, review
Talk Radio Talks the Same as It Did Before
The New York Times had an article
uncovering the shocking - shocking
- truth that talk radio shock jocks are happy to keep on wheeling free. This is a surprise? The only reason that CBS knocked off the Imus program is because he went just far enough to flat out enrage a large group of people that went to advertisers. When one pulled out after another, so did the network. But that is no indication of a desire to change a long-standing habit of radio personalities. Ratings have been too good and the ad revenue too high for managers to voluntarily really
want to change. Sure the opening paragraph of the story talks about a show host making fun of a manual that managers at a CBS affiliate gave him. But those manuals are legal cover-your-backside tomes to avoid getting sued by listeners. If they really wanted a change, they'd get it - listen for the next host to do something other than what they asked, and then fire the person. Do that once or twice and people get the message. They didn't with Imus because it was such an obvious case of management crumbling under pressure and trying to come out smelling good. And while the advertisers are largely willing to pay, the shows will largely continue in the same vein. Action is the strongest form of language around, and people listen intently to the gentle rain of those slips of green falling from deep pockets.
Labels: CBS, Imus, radio, talk shows
Future Presidential Debates to be Released for Public Use
NBC had tried to control use
of the first Democratic presidential debate of this season. But after a public backlash that included candidates Barack Obama and John Edwards, CNN at least has decided to give way
and release future debates under a Creative Commons
license - a form of open use licensing that is gaining popularity on the Internet. Hopefully all the networks will. Congratulations to the DailyBackground.com for apparently breaking the story.
Labels: copyright, Creative Commons, debate, presidential candidate, presidential. electoion
Dangerous Book for Boys
The title pretty much says
it all. The Dangerous Book for Boys
, a hit in Britain, is a trip back into times when play was simpler, maybe riskier, but probably no more dangerous in the long run:
Exuding the brisk breeziness of Boy Scout manuals and Boy’s Own annuals, “The Dangerous Book” is a childhood how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts, skipping stones to skinning a rabbit.
Probably more fun, as well. Nothing like making your own invisible ink or a tree fort - though from what I remember of my kids growing up, such things are perhaps less unusual than some concerned adults might think. As for excluding girls with the title, here's what Conn Iggulden, co-author with his brother Hal, has to say:
“It’s not exactly that we are excluding girls, but we wanted to celebrate boys, because nobody has been doing it for a long while,” he said.“I think we’ve come through the period when we said boys and girls were exactly the same, because they’re not. Boys and girls have different interests, different ways of learning, and there’s no real problem in writing a book that plays to that, and says, let’s celebrate it. Let’s go for a book that will appeal to boys.”
Supposedly Penguin is already planning The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls. Instead of water bombs, tree forts, and go-carts, the fare will be elderflower cordial and cat's cradle. Sounds like getting short-changed to me.
Labels: books, boys, girls, Iggulden, Penguin, play
What Does Winning Mean?
Sometimes national debates can make one reach for a dictionary. Again this week we've heard Bush and congressional leaders argue over how we're doing in Iraq. We’re winning. We’re losing. We’re not winning but we haven’t lost. If we send more soldiers, we can still win. If we’re not winning, they must be winning, though we don’t know exactly who “they” are. Our involvement in Iraq has become a ongoing sports contest where the players are unnamed and the rules unknown.
Americans look at the world through competition-tinted glasses all the time, which is to be expected. Not only does our species have millions of years of collective history of struggling just to survive, this country was borne of one conflict after another. Our mythos is that of the self-made person, sleeves rolled up, wanting only a fair fight.
However, not everything situation is a zero-sum game where one party is on top while the other loses. There is no winner when a farmer has a bad year. A concert pianist can give a great performance without taking the experience from someone or something else.
The national dialog on Iraq has employed the language of winning and losing. But what is success? Are we trying to find and eliminate weapons of mass destruction? Root out international terrorism? Give democracy to the people of Iraq? Ensure our continued access to oil? Overthrow a tyrant? Increase regional stability? Protect our soldiers? Patch up the results of our mistakes? All of these? Some of these? None of these?
Even as Congress and the President square off, there is too little discussion of what winning means. This is like a married couple riding in the car and arguing whether to turn right or left when neither one remembers their initial destination. (“Let’s go my way.” “No, we went your way before; I want to go my way.”) It no longer matters where the car heads because there is no place to go. Instead of discussing troop levels, budgets, and geopolitics, we’d do better considering more fundamental questions. Why are we in Iraq? What are we trying to accomplish? Who are we actually fighting? How will we know when we’ve achieved our objective? When can we know that our goals are obtainable or not? Until we can answer them, any decisions are navigation on a long drive to nowhere.
Labels: bush, congress, Iraq, losing, Middle East, Politics, war, winning
The Turning of the Word Factoid
While listening to the NPR word show Says You
, I heard an interesting bit on the word factoid, and figured that I'd do some additional research and write it up. I've found that people increasingly use factoid, at least in publishing, as a little bit of information used by itself, often in a little box or as part of an info graphic.
Yet the history is more interesting. Norman Mailer invented the term, combining fact with the suffix "oid," which means being like something, in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. What's like a fact but isn't a fact? A piece of information that's appeared so often that people assume it to be a fact, even though it may be incorrect.
This reminds me of a story that I wrote in the late 90s for Computer Shopper. Much of the technology press was using a statistic that 1 out of every 14 laptops was stolen. The stated source of the number was a company that offers computer insurance - and at the time, a laptop policy was about $100 a year, while laptops themselves were easily $1500 a year. That means the weighted average loss would be $210 dollar. In other words, the company would have lost, on the average, $110 per policy every year. Furthermore, so far as I could tell, neither the insurance industry nor law enforcement actually tracked the number of laptops stolen.
It sounded like misinformation designed to increase sales, so I talked to the company and it agreed with me that the number was bogus. But it came into being independently of them (though I didn't see them working hard to debunk it). The company tracked losses, which included damage and not just theft. Then it had its own estimate of the number of PCs in the world and projected out a whole number of stolen laptops. But it specifically never released how many laptops it thought there were; my guess is that the number would seem unrealistically high.
Then, supposedly, someone from a major technology publication took that number, matched it to some unrelated estiamte of the number of laptops, and came up with the 1 in 14 "statistic." Voila!: the birth of a factoid.
Labels: Computer Shopper, factoid, insurance, Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer, Says You
High School Student Removed from School for Making a Map
This isn't strictly speaking about words, but it is about the growing atmosphere of censorship driven by fear. In Fort Bend county, Texas, a Clements High School senior has been removed
from the public school and sent to an alternative education center and banned from graduation ceremonies for making a computer game map of the school, probably for use in a shoot-em-up software title. The boy shared the map with some friends. A couple of them mentioned it to their parents, who complained to school system administrators. Supposedly police searched his room, with permission of his parents, and confiscated a hammer as a dangerous weapon. From the frightening to the foolish, civilization marches on.
Labels: censorship, game, high school, map, Texas
Canadian Internet Faces Danger from Lawsuit
According to Canadian law professor Michael Geist, two defamation lawsuits filed in British Columbia could significantly "reshape free speech on the Internet in Canada." In a Toronto Star article
, he notes that the suits, both filed by the same individual, go after not only the authors of the allegedly defamatory material, but of any companies hosting the statements. Unlike in the U.S., there are no statutory protections for sites or services when they it possible for people to publish whatever they want to say. Canada, like most of the Commonwealth countries, has defamation laws that are considerably friendlier to plaintiffs than in the U.S., at least when the people in question are public figures. Should the courts agree that intermediaries can be held responsible for what people write, the effect could be a vastly changed Internet in Canada ... and a lot less freedom of speech, as the companies, in order to protect themselves, eliminate the outlets for expression that most people have.
Labels: Canada, defamation, Geist, lawsuit, Toronto Star
Fatal Feminine Sales - When Buzz Doesn't Bump Book Buying
The New York Times had an interesting story
about the lack of sales on either side of the work outside the house/stay at home mothering debate. At the heart of the article is the premise that although they get tremendous media attention, "these so-called mommy books fail to transform their talk-show and blogosphere buzz into book sales." Instead of reading, women debate the titles based on summaries or excerpts but don't buy copies.
That may seem odd, but it's really not. As many businesses learn, getting press doesn't necessarily turn into sales. Eventually, if people are going to shell out money for something, they have to feel that they're going to get something from it. With a topic that gets so polarizing, those who agree might not buy because they already "know" they're right, and those who disagree are just as sure that the book will be wrong, so why bother? I suspect that many of the nasty political books only do well because they dish the dirt on someone, which is almost irrestible to most people.
Labels: blogs, books, buzz, mothers, New York Times, talk shows