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Archives of fanfiction on the net have traditionally grouped stories according to rating (i.e. X, R, PG-13, PG, and G), so that everyone knows what to expect before they read a story. But it turns out that their use of the rating system may be illegal. A few fanfiction writers have apparently begun receiving cease-and-desist notices from the MPAA demanding that they stop using the rating system since it's the intellectual property of the MPAA. The people receiving these notices can hardly believe they're real. And other people are puzzled as well. Riba Rambles summarizes:

Some are wondering if this isn't a hoax. Not only has this practice [i.e. rating fanfiction] been going on for years without incident, but so far only smallfry individuals have reported receiving notices, rather than major archive sites. Others question the MPAA's legal standing pointing out that the MPAA's trademark specifically states its use for motion pictures, and besides there's no profit in fanfic to go after. Meanwhile, a few people are having fun suggesting useful (and silly) alternate ratings systems.

My guess is that the cease-and-desist notices are real. As with the Eiffel Tower copyright issue, it's another example of the strange lengths to which copyright and trademark enforcement are being taken. Or rather, another example of lawyers with nothing better to do.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 17, 2005
Comments (21)
A group of science fiction writers accused book publisher PublishAmerica of being a vanity press in disguise (i.e. a publisher that would print anything, for a fee). PublishAmerica fired back by calling the writers a bunch of 'literary parasites'. This inspired the writers to exact revenge. They pooled their talent and jointly authored a truly awful book that they called Atlanta Nights. The authors (each of whom penned a different chapter) had instructions to write as badly as they could. In addition one chapter was left blank, another was repeated verbatim, and a final one was pure gibberish. The writers then submitted this book to PublishAmerica to see if the publisher would indeed accept anything. Predictably, the manuscript was happily accepted. Although PublishAmerica will no longer be publishing Atlanta Nights, having caught wind of the hoax, the full text of Atlanta Nights can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

Atlanta Nights joins a long tradition of tricking-people-into-praising-bad-work type hoaxes. A famous literary precedent was Naked Came the Stranger, a trashy sex novel penned by a group of Newsday columnists during the 1960s in order to test how low America's reading standards had sunk (predictably America failed the test because the book became a bestseller).

An amusing variation on this type of hoax occurred in 2000 when a French magazine, Voici, concocted an experiment to test whether the recent novel of a well-known newswoman, Claire Chazal, had been published because of its literary merit or because of her celebrity status. Voici changed the first two sentences of her novel, gave it a new title, altered the name of the main character, and (most importantly) claimed it was the work of an obscure amateur. Then the magazine sent the manuscript around to publishing houses. All of them rejected it, including the actual publisher of the book, who not only didn't recognize it, but sent a letter back advising the author that she should have enclosed a stamped self-addressed envelope if she wanted the manuscript back.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Sun Feb 06, 2005
Comments (6)
This link (warning: Not Safe for Work because of language) ranks high on the stupid meter, but I'm posting it anyway because it reminds me of the days that I worked as a TA in a freshman writing program at UC San Diego. It's supposedly a student essay that some guy wrote while high and then handed in... and despite this sorry excuse for an essay he passed the class, because attendance counted. Is the paper real? That's hardly worth speculating about since there's no evidence either way. It would be easy enough for someone to fake this (get out a red pen and mark up a paper), but I also remember seeing many papers that were worse than this when I was a TA, so I'm inclined to believe it's real. One of my students handed in half a page of incoherent sentence fragments as his attempt at an assigned three-to-five page essay. From a TA's point of view, the awful papers are actually the easiest ones to grade. It's the students who seem to be making a real attempt but still end up with bad essays that really make you work for your money.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 13, 2005
Comments (17)
The novelist Margaret Atwood, having grown tired of attending book signings in cities throughout the world, has invented a strange new device that may eliminate author appearances altogether in the future. It's a remote autographing device. The author sits in the comfort of their home and talks to a tv screen. In a bookstore thousands of miles away a fan talks back. If the fan wants an autographed book, the author simply scribbles something on a tablet. The tablet then transmits this scribbling to an in-store machine that produces an identical copy of the message in a book that the fan can take home. It reminds me of a high-tech version of Jefferson's polygraph machine. I predict this idea will take off just like that idea someone had back in the '50s about how we could all eat nutrition pills instead of real food (via Neil Gaiman).
Categories: Literature/Language, Technology
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 11, 2005
Comments (2)
How much would you pay for a one-page pdf file discussing the delayed launch of Sony's PlayStation Portable in North America? What about $750. That's the price it's going for on Amazon. But maybe it's worth it, because it has received quite a few five-star reviews. For instance, D.C. McKinney says that it's "Definately a good read and well worth the price of admission! This gem of a find is a must for anyone with even the slightest bit of interest in delays in the world of Sony Electronics." (for some reason I suspect that some of the reviews are tongue-in-cheek). But if you do download the pamphlet and enjoy it, then you might want to check out its sequel, the one-page analysis of Sony's October 27 PlayStation Portable Japan launch announcement. This is selling for only $1500.
Categories: Business/Finance, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 14, 2004
Comments (10)
EU bureaucrats are a perpetual target for humor. Here's the latest one. Supposedly they decided to remove the word 'pertannually' from the EU constitution, having decided that it was incomprehensible and meaningless. And what did they replace it with? The much clearer term 'insubdurience'. One source for this story is John Humphrys, a political journalist who's just written a book Lost for Words, about "the demise of the language." The tale also pops up in this Guardian article. The story could very well be true, but it also sounds suspiciously like one of those Euromyths that have become so popular. For instance, there's the Euromyth about the supposed new EU law that forbids bananas from being "too excessively curved." Or the one about how the EU has classified kilts as 'womenswear'. To fact check the 'pertannually insubdurient' story I tried to check the EU constitution itself. It's available online, but having looked at it, I'm now not sure how to find "clause 82, paragraph 17, subsection (b)".
Categories: Literature/Language, Places, Politics
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 01, 2004
Comments (10)
I thought I had some strange teachers in my time, but none as strange as this Manchester teacher who told her students that a meteor was going to hit the earth in a week and they were all going to die. Her point: to motivate them to 'seize the day'. The logic seems to be 'make them think they're going to die so they appreciate what they have.' Kind of like that guy who tried to save his marriage by electrifying his wife in the bathtub.

On a completely unrelated note, the widespread use of the phrase seize the day (from the latin carpe diem) is a pet peeve of mine, since I think it's mistranslated. The latin word carpe is principally an agricultural term meaning to harvest, pluck, or gather. It only secondarily has a military usage. So the phrase should really be translated as harvest the day, which is a lot more laid back than seize the day. Though maybe my real problem with the term are those people who are always lecturing other people to seize the day.
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 19, 2004
Comments (11)
William Butler Yeats is widely regarded as one of the greatest modern poets. He's also my favorite poet (and we happen to share a birthday!). When I spent a semester studying in Ireland fifteen years ago I made a special trip to visit his grave located just outside of Sligo. It's well worth a visit, even if you couldn't care less about Yeats, because the scenery there is stunning. But now I find out that Yeats may not occupy that grave. Instead, it may be a random Englishman named Alfred Hollis who's buried there. According to this article on Eircom.net it's very likely that a mix-up occurred when Yeats' remains were moved from France to Ireland in 1948. So now I have to make a completely different trip to France if I want to say that I've been to Yeats' grave. Though unfortunately, even if I do make it to his real grave, I'm sure that I still won't have any clue what Yeats meant by his epitaph: "Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by."
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Wed Oct 27, 2004
Comments (21)
Great literature always is best read in its original language. No matter how good a translation is, it will never be able to perfectly capture the nuances of the original. I realized this when I read the Aeneid in Latin during high school, and that's why I'm now going to have to bone up on my Klingon so that I can read Hamlet in its original language. "taH pagh taHbe." Doesn't that sound better than 'To be or not to be?'
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 07, 2004
Comments (4)
Stephen Eckett's book on Online Investing is full of practical info such as "how to import web data into a spreadsheet - quick ways to copy text from a web page - using more than one ISP - minimising connection charges - speeding up browsing - improving download speeds." Which is why it seems odd that the reviewer for The Daily Telegraph would declare this "the funniest book I have read for ages." Or that The Scotsman reviewer would declare "I laughed out loud on every page." Hmm. I think Amazon got their reviews mixed up. Specifically, I think they mixed up the reviews for The Life & Death of Rochester Sneath with Stephen Eckett's investing book.
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 04, 2004
Comments (2)
Did Anne Rice really post an angry, rambling message on Amazon slamming those who have written negative reviews of her latest book, Blood Canticle?
The post in question (you may need to scroll down a bit to find it... it's the one posted by 'Anne Obrien Rice') appeared on Sep. 6, and it truly is a piece of work. It starts off by denouncing the "sheer outrageous stupidity" of the negative reviews, then informs the reviewers that they're simply projecting their own limitations onto her work, and ends up assuring them of the "utter contempt" she feels for them. Oh, and the message also challenges anyone who doesn't like the book to send it to her home (she provides a New Orleans street address) in order to get a full refund. The rant is so bizarre that many have questioned whether it really was posted by Anne Rice herself, or simply by someone with the same name as her. And it does seem odd that someone as successful as Anne Rice would care that much about a few cranky critics on Amazon. But rest assured, the message was definitely posted by Anne Rice herself. The proof is that Anne Rice discusses the message on her personal website and repeats the money-refund offer. Apparently Rice's message was removed from Amazon for a while, but it looks like it's back up there. As for what could have possessed her to go off like that, this article in the Toronto Star notes that "the death of her husband Stan while she was writing Blood Canticle seems to have hit her hard."
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 28, 2004
Comments (10)
image Norma Khouri's bestseller Honor Lost (published in Australia where Khouri now lives as Forbidden Love) tells the story of a Jordanian 'honor killing.' Dalia, a young woman, falls in love with a Christian man and is murdered for this transgression by her father in order to defend the 'honor' of the family. It's a shocking story, and Khouri has always insisted that it's entirely true. She claims that she lived in Jordan for many years and personally knew Dalia. But the Sydney Morning Herald has done a lot of investigative work into Khouri's background and is now alleging that Khouri's story is far more fiction than fact. They put it more bluntly: "Norma Khouri is a fake, and so is Forbidden Love." Among their accusations: the Dalia character never existed, and Khouri herself grew up outside of Chicago (contradicting her claims that she grew up in Jordan). Khouri completely denies all these claims, but the editors of the Sydney Morning Herald seem pretty confident that she's a fake, predicting that "Khouri's hoax will take its place in a long Australian tradition of literary fraud, from Ern Malley to Helen Darville-Demidenko."
Categories: Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Sat Jul 24, 2004
Comments (4)
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