Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored

 

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  #345
by Pat Holt

Friday, October 4, 2002

 







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THE FIRST OF MANY?: UNIVERSITY CENSORS STUDENTS UNDER USA PATRIOT ACT
EGAD! 'CHICK LIT' GLUT
MANUSCRIPT EXPRESS: UPDATE #3
6 THINGS AUTHORS CAN DO RIGHT NOW
LETTERS

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THE FIRST OF MANY? UNIVERSITY CENSORS STUDENT GROUP UNDER USA PATRIOT ACT

In what may be the first sign of censorship by a university under the USA PATRIOT Act, the University of California at San Diego has ordered a campus organization to remove links on its website to a reported terrorist site.

The campus group, a leftist vegetarian restaurant (!) called Che Cafe Collective (after Che Guevara, natch) at http://checafe.ucsd.edu/, offers links on its website to such groups as Food Not Bombs, Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization, Anarchist Freethink Movement and most important, Burn!.

Burn! is an intriguing project that started out during the early 1990s in UCSD's communications department. Recognizing that a new kind of media was beginning to emerge on the Internet, "Instead of publishing information *about* various social protagonists, Burn! publishes information written by them," the group explains at http://burn.ucsd.edu/about.html.

By publishing links to primary source media, Burn! "allows people to bypass the traditional corporate media" as well as information "censored by various governments."

Today this is not a new idea. Websites devoted only to hyperlinks in various fields are all over the Internet. But the intention is still revolutionary: "We no longer need to look to the television or newspapers to learn about current events and the people participating in them," says Burn! - now "we can look to these people directly and decide what we think on our own."

So what you find at Burn! is a fascinating list of links to mostly anarchist organizations in the United States and Latin America. For example, here is The Anarchist Black Cross Federation, Revolutionary Anarchist Youth, The Chicano Press Association, Black Liberation Radio, Encase Oil (with its own links to publications throughout South America), Mid-Atlantic Infoshop ("your guide to online anarchy") and so forth.

But the sudden big no-no in this case is FARC-EP - Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionarias de Colombia Ejercito del Pueblo, a Spanish-language website from Colombian "revolutionaries."

Nobody at UCSD apparently cared about this listing until August 9, when FARC-EP appeared on the State Department Office of Counterterrorism Fact Sheet, which lists 34 terrorist organizations (see http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/fs/2002/12389.htm).

Once on that list, FARC-EP could not be permitted to appear on the Burn! website, according to UCSD. The link itself is a violation of the USA PATRIOT Act, which bans organizations from "providing material support to terrorists," wrote UCSD University Centers Director Gary Ratcliff in a letter to the Che Cafe Collective.

The collective was ordered to remove the link to FARC-EP or face disciplinary action, according to Ratcliff. So far the collective has not done so.

Here's the crux of the matter, it seems to me: "The concern of the institution is that this could be interpreted as a violation of the law," Ratcliff told CNET.com last week.

"What we're trying to to be is proactive here. If the FBI decided to pay attention to this matter, the repercussions would go way beyond their group because we're providing network services."

Aha: So the chill factor has hit UCSD. The FBI has done nothing so far, but "if the FBI decided" to move, it could use the FARC-EP listing as a means to investigate anything it wanted at UCSD, commence procedures to threaten government grants and generally clamp down so hard on the entire institution that George Orwell's "1984" would look like a Boy Scout manual.

At least that's Ratcliff's worry. So the University of California at San Diego has taken the option of acting in place of Big Brother and has now set a precedent for the entire University of California's statewide system.

Considering such clashes with the government in the past as the Free Speech Movement, People's Park, antiVietnam protests up and down the state and antiwar demonstrations against the President's intention to start a war with Iraq, it could be the students will not buckle under too quickly.

Indeed, the Che Cafe Collective has fired back a letter accusing the university of not following procedures and having no "authority to unilaterally impose sanctions based on your opinion that we violated university policies."

Good for them. The threat on academic freedom and First Amendment protections has terrifying repercussions for other campus groups, political organizations and your radical left sister's website throughout the nation.

In the first place, bureaucrats should not be free to misinterpret the meaning of a hyperlink to a terrorist organization that appears on somebody's website.

If "providing material support" to terrorism is illegal, this means, as the State Department defines it, sending or offering the group "currency or other financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel, transportation, and other physical assets, except medicine or religious material."

So providing access to information via a hyperlink to a terrorist organization is legal. (And don't you love that exemption of "religious material"? One can imagine 100,000 copies of The Watch Tower on their way.)

The other part about UCSD's "proactive" policy that's frightening is that in April, similar threats were made to another campus group, the Groundwork Books collective, which had provided a link to the Kurdistan Workers Party, a terrorist group listed on the State Department's fact sheet.

Not only was Groundwork Books ordered to remove the link, which it did, last week Ratcliff sent the group a letter, "saying that its members must write an essay saying they understand they broke the law and would not do it again."

Sounds like the old Communist confessional meetings during China's cultural revolution, doesn't it? Or Jim Jones' apologize-or-die confabs at the People's Temple. Or ... well, perhaps the point is, if the USA PATRIOT Act has empowered the kind of punitive bureaucracy that already placed gag orders on booksellers and librarians, look out for "proactive" censorship - it may knock on your door at any minute. As Che Guevarra might say, get ready.

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EGAD! 'CHICK LIT' GLUT

My heart keeps sinking each time I see another "chick lit" book come out - or hear about an entire imprint devoted to the subject, such as Pocket's new Downtown Press (see PW Newsline, 9/30).

It's not that these books aren't amusing or wise in their way - every once in a while a guilty pleasure such as "In Her Shoes" proves to be smart and savvy and even instructive about obstacles that face young women today.

What bothers me is yet another another trend that's already peaked while publishers gear up to exploit it. Soon they'll create a Chick-Lit Glut in the stores, and readers who once flocked to titles that seemed so upstart and fresh (the books, I mean) will end up walking away from *walls* of the stuff.

I know this is going to happen because it's a pattern that has repeated itself with increasing frequency in the book biz for decades. Remember the big Romance Novel Glut of the early '80s when otherwise respected editors felt compelled to search for Danielle Steel lookalikes? This was about 10 years after Judith Krantz opened the door to the S&F Glut (the "S" is for Shopping), so you know publishers never learn.

There's nothing wrong with the present trend, which is to put anything reminiscent of "Sex and the City" in print. But pretending a new sexual revolution is underway, believing in the TV show's promise that women can become war horses in bed and "finish" perfectly every time, is about as tiresome as the idea that women should defer to men in all things, gossip about their sexual weaknesses and then dump them when the next stranger lights their cigarette.

I got to thinking about this over the summer when I read "If Words Could Kill" by Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief Kate White, the first selection of Kelly Ripa's "Reading with Ripa" club.

Ripa promises on the "Regis and Kelly LIVE" website that no selection of her on-air book club will have "deep, meaningful messages" and that each book will be "light, frivolous and fun!"

Well, how bad can the first selection be? I thought. Pretty dreary. Its protagonist, freelance writer Baily Weggins, complains her way through a mystery so shallow and vapid it not only defies logic but drops all the "A List" names about fashion, shoes, summer homes, women's magazines and party scenes.

Perhaps most depressing is that oddly self-punishing deference to men that makes slaves out of women and a conquest out of sex. At one point, Baily mentions to a man she hardly knows that she doesn't like raw oysters and is suddenly horrified at herself because he might think she doesn't like oral sex.

Now, come on. Are we in the 7th grade, or what? Well, a line from an old "Sex in the City" episode does apply when Miranda comments that she and the three other characters act so childishly, "we're like 7th graders with bank accounts."

That kind of telling humor used to give the series an edge. We were reminded that these women don't exist - they're exaggerations, caricatures, with comical aspects to their lives and lifestyles that reflect a deep resistance to growing up, growing old.

But in the more recent episodes the heroes of "Sex and the City" *have* grown older. Nearing 40, they seem too old to gossip all day or walk down a New York street in their teddies. It's embarrassing to see them salivate over strap heels and detached men.

Carrie finally asks, "So what are we going to do? Sit around bars sipping Cosmos and sleeping with strangers when we're 80?" Good point - hell, it almost sounds grown-up.

So come on, publishers! Let's go, Kelly! Open those "chick lit" horizons and think mature - you know, Carol Higgins Clark or other newcomers like that. Remember the busty bimbo in "Soapdish" who introduces herself to a hospital patient, "I'll be your neurosurgeon today"? Well, that goes to show you - if Hollywood can raise the bar (not that bar), so can "chick lit."

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"MANUSCRIPT EXPRESS" UPDATE #3

Since I announced the formation of "Manuscript Express", a quick-turnaround editorial service for authors (see #343, #344), queries have continued to come in about the blurring of boundaries between writing and marketing in mainstream publishing houses.

To answer some readers' questions: I used to think it was too much to ask authors, who are the talented ones and the gifted ones who create literature, to turn themselves into marketing experts and barkers of their own literary "product."

Don't think about marketing until you've finished writing the book, I would say. Don't read PW or Publishers Lunch or trade news about who got million-dollar advances and whose books were optioned by Hollywood - your emotions about these announcements could filter through to your writing. Don't read other books with writing styles or stories similar to yours. Don't attend book parties or autographings of others, and so forth.

But given today's book industry (and thanks to many letters from writers), it seems to me now that authors are not only capable of creating a marketing plan while maintaining the editorial integrity of their book, they want to do it; they have terrific ideas for it, and they are anxious to start on it right away.

Clearly, everyone connected with literature, including and especially writers and readers, are bombarded by data from both marketing and editorial sides of the business. We all know how to compartmentalize, so why shouldn't authors turn the realities of the book biz to their advantage. Here are a few ideas that might be considered early on:

SIX THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW

  1. Start a "Friends" Email List
    From the beginning, your closest relatives and friends are proud of you simply for *trying* to write a book. They'll feel honored to have their names and email addresses placed on a list that declares them "Friends of [Your Name Here]." Every once in a while (very rarely at first), send them an update about your progress.

    As time goes by, word that you're writing a book will spread, and more people will feel invested in the effort - neighbors, colleagues at the office, other writers you meet, in-laws. Keep adding names like theirs to your "Friends" list.

    Try to find someone close to you (spouse, sibling) who can take over the writing of announcements and distribution of the "Friends" list. After all, once it's time to make the first big announcement about your book, that somebody-other-than-you will want to trumpet all your best qualities, why everybody loves you and how important it is for the "Friends" to cheer you on.

    When you get an agent, then a publisher, the people on this list will whoop it with each announcement they receive. When first serial and foreign rights are sold and, most of all, when publication date comes around, not only will everyone want to come to your bookstore signing, they will all feel galvanized. They'll want to buy copies of your book in twos, threes and fives. They'll recommend it to friends, talk it up at book clubs, ask for it at bookstores and give it away for holiday presents.

    So a "Friends" list can be a little gold mine if you don't overuse it, and you'll be surprised to see, when you've put together a package of reviews or when a paperback is in the wings, how quickly and steadfastly they'll continue to rally to your side. Don't wait - start this list right now.

  2. Befriend Your Local Independent Bookseller
    If you haven't stopped going to chain bookstores and stopped buying from Amazon.com and the like so you can take all your book-buying business to your local independent bookstore, do so now.

    For one thing, as readers, we all want to keep independent bookstores in business. (If you don't know why, check www.holtuncensored.com for pertinent columns, or go to www.bookweb.org).

    For another, your local independent will be the most supportive to you as an author when your book comes out. Get to know people on staff and you'll see how fast everyone in the store will be proud of you, will hand-sell the book to customers, will place it in favorite display racks, recommend it to Book Sense, write "shelf-talkers" (notes to customers about why they love your book) and, most important, make your first bookstore autograph party a success.

    You can help this bookstore as well. If your publisher isn't doing much to pursue special sales for your book, you can still inform pertinent groups, book clubs, families and executives in companies who would love to get early autographed copies of your book. It's possible the store will offer a discount to these people, send the book without charging postage, talk to contacts about even cheaper bulk sales, and so forth.

    Finally, think of what you can learn from your local independent. People on staff may help you seek out books that are similar to yours, introduce you to authors you should know, offer ideas about local publicity contacts.

    Even now, long before your book is published, ask these booksellers to walk you around the New Releases table every month or so and describe what's selling and why. For anyone interested in the industry, understanding the flow of books through a bookseller's eyes can be an invaluable education.

  3. Start a List of Agents and Editors
    Every time you find a book in your field (or one you admire), check the Acknowledgments page. Most authors thank their agent and editor by name, and if you keep a list of these names, after a while certain patterns showing areas of expertise and interest will emerge.

    So when you're ready to submit the proposal, instead of plowing through dozens of names in various reference books, you've already got a list that's tailored to your book. Further, you can now write a personal letter to agents about how much you've admired the authors they have represented and why your book might be of special interest to them. Later you can advise your agent about editors at different houses that may be particularly drawn to your book, and how to approach them.

  4. Find a Manuscript Consultant
    The industry has changed so much that you can't expect a literary agent or editor to nurture you as a writer or even help you improve the quality of writing in your book (some still do, but don't expect it).

    So your manuscript has to be ready for publication whether you submit a few chapters or the whole manuscript. You have to be proud of it. You have to know it is the best thing you've ever written. You have to recognize what compromises you could stomach if asked and what changes you would never make no matter who asked you to. It's difficult for many authors to reach that level of confidence and knowledge by yourself, but you can do it by working with a good manuscript consultant. They're often expensive, and worth every penny.

    An exodus of editors from mainstream publishing houses began about five years ago as marketing departments invaded editorial offices and took editors' power away. Many of these ex-editors became agents, but many are now manuscript consultants who hire themselves out to authors like you. They are accountable to you, paid by you and can act as your first advocate in this nutty business. They're all over the Internet (see columns #258 and #261 or go to places like Bay Area Editors Forum (http://www.editorsforum.org/).

    (My new niche service for authors "Manuscript Express," is designed to complement the more formal work of manuscript consultants; see below.)

  5. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR RESEARCH WITH A MARKETING EYE
    Every time you do research for your book, make a note of what you've found - a columnist, an organization, a newsletter, a reporter. If something appears on the TV news about a subject related to your book, watch for the producer's name; if a controversy erupts about something you're describing in the book, use the Internet to find all the people you can who can be contacted later on when the book comes out.

    Pay particular attention to the Internet. Websites, news sources, chat rooms, listservs, weblogs, email columns all provide access to markets for your book. Don't wait until you receive the publishers Publicity Questionnaire to find this information - it's too vast to collect at one time. Plus, the experience of looking at your research from a marketing point of view will teach you a great deal about the lesser-known but key movers and shakers in your field.

  6. LOOK FOR GOOD BOOK PUBLICISTS
    Most publishers will say you don't need an outside publicist when your book is published, that they have an entire publicity department devoted to getting the word out and will assign your very own publicist to work with you.

    This is all true. The problem is the kind of time the publisher's publicity department can devote to you and the ability of any given publicist to serve all the marketing needs of your book. Over and over, one hears that this question or that possibility must be transferred to another department that somehow never gets back to you. Opportunities are missed, phone calls not returned and suddenly it's all too late - the publisher has moved on to the next book and you are told to be grateful for the amount of time given to yours.

    Ideally a book publicist on the outside is accountable only to you and should explain from the beginning exactly what can be accomplished for the fee you are asked to pay. Too often, very little happens for that money and you are again left holding your own bag, so to speak.

    So don't wait: Try to meet other writers and ask them or keep an ear cocked to news about book publicists who know how to tailor a promotion campaign as precisely to the needs of your book as possible. You'll be surprised how many names you collect by the time you sign on with a publisher.

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LETTERS

THANK YOU, ED: To readers who have lamented the fact that Amazon.com does not provide phone numbers for clients and customers who need to discuss problems that remain uncorrected despite extensive email correspondence with customer service, our thanks go to Ed.

Ed is a reader who has found Amazon.com's corporate line - 206 266-2335 - that promises access to top executives from Jeff Bezos on down to the Board of Directors and others. It's not easy to get through, but for those who are desperate to get some answers, at least "it's a start," says Ed.


Dear Holt Uncensored:

About your story in #344 regarding bonuses for New York school administrators and teachers if test scores rise:

Remember that accountability means hiring lots more administrators, technicians, and clerks to design tests, schedule them, administer them, grade them, chart the results, prepare press releases, etc., so we either raise taxes or pay teachers less.

I remember my boss's wife's name was in the newspapers 30 years ago for acquiring advance copies of standardized tests and coaching students before the tests. She wanted only to make her students look good, and she was not accused of telling them the actual answers, yet still there was a scandal. I'll bet we'll see a lot of that sort of scandal if we toss principals, fat bonuses, and more politicians into the achieve-or-else pressure cooker.

Joy Matkowski


Dear Holt Uncensored:

One piece of the NY State testing maelstrom that has gone unreported is the relationship between those who mandate all the tests and those who publish the tests, the textbooks and tons of ancillary materials that school systems must have to prepare. One flagrant example of the influence of corporate publishers on the education of our children involves Charlotte Frank, formerly Regent of Judicial District 1 in New York State (she resigned in the spring). She is a longtime publishing executive, currently vice president of research and development for McGraw-Hill Education, a division of the McGraw-Hill Companies.

Nomi Schwartz
Armonk, New York


Dear Holt Uncensored:

In regard to your rant about Joel Klein in Holt Uncensored #344, all I can say is that it's bang on the money. The first response I thought of when I read the article closely was, "why are a bunch of paper-shufflers going to get the big bucks when it's the teachers who are going to be doing all the real work?"

Then I got to this criticism:

Oh, sure, "test scores are the only uniform way of measuring student performance," says Klein, but look at that word "uniform."

This is just another way to put the system first, and students last. It undermines the diverse and often unique needs of a wide range of students. And it creates, as Klein admits, "a "system of accountability and reward" that achieves "the kinds of results that we really demand for our children."

This immediately brought to mind the critiques of contemporary education by Jacques Barzun[1]; in which he had this to say about multiple-choice exams in particular:

To bring back essay examinations would call for reviving the lost art of framing and grading questions. Every question ought to elicit knowledge of a unified portion of the subject covered and bring out what the teaching has aimed at over and above the factual underpinnings. To frame such question and make them fair, precise, fully relevant is not an art the unpractised teacher can improvise. Good teachers _learn_ how to compose an examination by recalling their own best experience in college and by consulting and imitating their elders in the department.

These same aspects of question-making enter into the case against multiple-choice testing. Thirty years ago [1962], the late physicist and mathematician Banesh Hoffman, wrote a book entitled _The Tyranny of Testing,_ which was attacked by the test-making and ignored by educationists. What it showed by examples over a wide range of subjects was how the multiple-choice questions in use, by their form and contents, worked against the aims of good teaching. Leaving to one side the errors of fact and misleading wordings that he came across in sample tests, he found that this mode of testing suppresses the natural diversity of minds, penalizes the more imaginative, and perpetuates conventional opinions. The students who handle multiple choices best are not the best, but second best.

--Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 36/37

Your plaint that we need a system that focuses on the student is also right on target. Alas, this plaint is nothing new, and to implement it requires that we buck, first: the mindset of generations of soi-disant educators and psychologists or psychiatrists who are unable to view schoolchildren as anything other than lab rats in their social experiments, and second: the penny-pinching bean counters in government offices who expect the biggest bang for the smallest possible buck.

To illustrate the first problem, I cite an anecdote about Maria Montessori[2]. Dr. Montessori was Italy's first female psychiatrist; matriculating in the 19th century. After she attained her specialty, she worked with mentally disabled children. One day she noticed a pattern to the apparently disjointed and blindly repetive actions of the children while they were playing. Being a proper scientist, she studied this phenomenon and determined that these repetitious actions were not just playful, but the method by which children learn through exploring the functions and behaviours of toys. She developed a method of teaching based on these observations and conducted a class with a group of her disabled children, which she subsequently tested in France against a group of mainstream students. In the test, her children performed on par with the mainstream group.

Dr. Montessori then went on to develop an entire schooling method based on the teaching method she had developed; which schooling method is still practiced today in Montessori Schools. While she was establishing and promoting Montessori Schools in the United States, however, she was visited one day by a psychiatrist who was interested in looking at her work. After Dr. Montessori showed him her system, he went back to his colleagues and purportedly said to them: what she is doing is all very well and good but we know better, don't we gentlemen?

The upshot of it is: the modern education system has been crafted from the start to produce students who function at the level of morons.

The second problem stems from rationalization -- the search for the most efficient method of getting things done -- and in particular the rationalization of society[3]. Essentially, government offices run on numbers. It is necessary for every government organization to justify its existence with some kind of statistics. It is how they measure their "success", how they respond to accountability, and how they substantiate requests for funding.

Unfortunately, the irrationality of the rational invariably kicks in and they go way overboard. These factors become the end all be all and any other consideration is suborned or simply swept aside. The sad fact is, multiple-choice testing is the most efficient and least expensive way for ministries of education to generate numbers. Not to mention processing the masses of humanity compromising the student body of hundreds or thousands of schools. Granted some method must be used to process all those students, but when such methods are forced into local curricula they serve only to degrade the learning process. The result here in the Province of Quebec is a 30% drop-out rate among high school students, and a 30% rate of illiteracy among high school graduates.

So now we have in Mr. Klein another self-proclaimed expert who is in reality little more than a pompous ass and who is hell-bent on continuing to blunder about like a bull in a china shop. As for his plan, the Great Permitter gets the last word on that:

It will be another Grand Abstraction masquerading as a competent judgment.

--Jacques Barzun, reprinted in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, pg 40

Michael Nellis

[1] A number of his critical essays are anthologized in: Begin Here:

The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning
Jacques Barzun -1991
ISBN 0-226-03846-7
Dewey # 371.102 B296

A sampling of that material can be found through this link: http://www.angelfire.com/scifi/dreamweaver/quotes/qtwriters2.html

[2] Montessori: A Modern Approach
Paula Polk Lillard -1972
ISBN N/A
Dewey # 371.3 L62

[3] The McDonalization of Society
George Ritzer - 2000
ISBN 0-7619-8628-6
Dewey # 306.0973 R615M


Dear Holt Uncensored:

Well, I applaud you for starting the manuscript service, "Manuscript Express." Having been in the business of helping authors get their books into publishers' hands for some 20 years, all I can say is, "I've got stories."

There are at least three authors on my client list who made it to the New York Times Bestseller List but who never would have done so without (a) someone to write a book proposal for them; (b) a publisher with an in-house editor who put in many overtime hours to get the book written; and (c) a friend in the TV biz - whose name I can't mention but which starts with letters between "N" and "P."

The way that mainstream publishing is nowadays, a first-time author would be hard pressed to get her manuscript into the hands of a literary agent, much less a publisher. It really has become a market-driven world.

And yes, I have had at least three leading acquisitions editors, at major NY houses, tell me that they have people they go to inside Barnes and Noble to help them make the "right choices." Outside editors, book doctors, literary agents and publishing consultants give first-time authors a friend in the publishing business - and in most cases that's the only way they are ever going to get invited inside.

Hal Zina Bennett


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