Two Books About School

…but not books about reading, writing or arithmetic. Not exactly.

Both books tell surprising stories about creativity, and support the thesis that experiential learning can be far more powerful than anything that can be tested.

I really like the way elementary school John Hunter sets up his story, so I’ll recap it:

“Three children have made their way into the room, gazing silently at the Plexiglas structure that represents our planet. It’s an imposing, four-level affair—undersea, ground and sea, airspace, and outer space—covered with submarines and ships, soldiers and cities, tanks and oil wells, spy planes and satellites….There is a United Nations, a World Bank, two or three arms dealers, and a weather god or goddess, who controls the vagaries of tsunamis and hurricanes, determines the fate of the stock market, and tosses coins to determine the outcomes of battles and coups d’etat. The children are provided with national budgets, assets, stores of armaments, and portfolios outlining fifty global crises. Then they are given ten weeks to save the world.”

For a video overview, click on the picture:

World Peace Game

The game works because it is is difficult, requiring students to figure out the many things they need to know, but do not know. So they figure things out—a far better way to learn than memorization or textbooks. Hunter describes three types of thinking that improve by playing the game:

  • the development of knowledge based upon facts
  • the unexpected insights and creative solutions that result from trying and failing and trying again
  • the gradual accumulation of wisdom that comes from collaboration, cooperation, conflict, and observation

book-3d-340For thirty years, Hunter has been playing the game with his students, without much notice, mostly in Virginia and Maryland. Then came a documentary, then a TEDTalk, then, this book. He’s now quite well-known, but a cursory understanding is quite different from the deeper understanding that a few hours with a good book and a good author can provide. The book works best when he is the teacher, which, of course, means learning a great deal about himself. He tells one story of his desire to expand his own personal world view by traveling and studying eastern religions and philosophies in ancient monasteries. Feeling good about his worldliness, he (and his dreadlocks) attracted the attention of several Chinese school girls on long train ride. After trying out their English and asking questions about American life, they asked him several simple questions: “Sir, where do you belong? Who do you belong to? Who is your group?” This set off a series of questions in his own mind; he explains: “This struck me because I had been in so many different groups since I left my home community—so many spiritual and social groups—that I’d begun to feel that I had no particular allegiance anywhere, simple because I had come to have allegiance everywhere.” A short time later, woken from a  dream, he conceived of all of the mechanics of the Game in a single instant. “It came to be in a diagram, an interconnected matrix of countries aligned in opposition to one another on every possible level—vertically (undersea, ground and sea, etc.) and laterally—each country at odds with every other in every possible sphere: economic, military, social, ethnic. I would actually see the multifaceted crises floating there above my bed as I lay awake in the pre-dawn hours.”

Hunter teaches in Richmond, Virginia. Several hundred miles up the coast, just north of Philadelphia, Tracey Krause is continuing the work that her teacher, and then, her mentor, Lou Volpe began. They produce high school theater. At Harry S Truman High School, theater may be the most important thing they do. It’s the school whose test runs of Les Miserables and RENT were so good, the owners of those properties determined that these productions could, in fact, be produced in high school. In high school theater, that’s a pretty big deal. In the life of Truman, it’s a minor detail.

Drama HighWhen the author visits Lou Volpe in his home, the living room walls are covered, top to bottom, with theater posters. When he watches Volpe interact with students, the author comments, “over time, one of the things that I come to see is how deeply Volpe knows his students. How couldn’t he? They take chances on stage that reveal their inner selves. But it is also true that the very things they learn from being involved in theater—empathy, the ability to imagine lives other than their own, the actor’s gift for giving a character a backstory…allow them to know him.”

It all ties together. “The theater classes are the foundation of Truman Drama, an essential element in its success. Plays and musicals that Volpe puts into production are already familiar to his students because they have studied them in class….In Volpe’s classroom, thousands of books are piled into bookshelves and stacked so high that if you remove a volume, you have to be careful the whole tower of them does not come tumbling down. The books are a reflection of one man’s catholic tastes—works by Shakespeare and Sondheim; David Mamet and David Hare; Wendy Wasserstein, Beth Henley, Thornton Wilder, Yasmina Reza, Wallace Shawn, Horton Foote, Paul Rudnick, Athol Fugard and on and on and on. They are not for decoration; they are used. If a student is looking for a monologue to perform in a festival or for a scholarship audition, Volpe reaches into the pile, pulls out something from the stack, and says, ‘Look in here. You might find what you want.’”

From a terrific article in Broadway World, a look at Volpe’s production of Les Miserables. Producer Cameron Mackintosh attended the last performance, which proved that the show could be produced on a high school stage, and so, the producer made it available to high schools everywhere.

From a terrific article in Broadway World, a look at Volpe’s production of Les Miserables. Producer Cameron Mackintosh attended the last performance, which proved that the show could be produced on a high school stage, and so, the producer made it available to high schools everywhere.

Author Michael Sokolove was inspired to write Drama High, in part, because he attended Truman (then, Woodrow Wilson). He tells the story of Truman Drama, mostly, through individual students, their personal and academic lives, their hopes and dreams, and their lives as young performers. He also allows Mr. Volpe’s successor, Tracey Krause her time in the spotlight: “Her energy level is staggering.. She teaches all day, spends endless hours with the theater program, coaches her kids’ soccer teams (she used to coach the sport at Truman), runs half marathons, has an active dating life, makes frequent visits to the tanning salon, and finds time to jet off to Las Vegas for occasional weekends to visit her best friend.”

So what are we learning? Sure, there are lots of ways to do school, some more and some less traditional. This isn’t an English class essay, so I’ll steer clear of identifying common themes, but I’ll allow myself just one. The sense of community provided by a big game, and a theater program—a sense that some student enjoy because they’re good at sports and others enjoy because they’re just plain brilliant. Here are two stories about two teachers (three, including Ms. Krause) that open doors for every student willing to enter and engage.

Completely Unreasonable

9780262019354Sitting in my big comfortable chair, I feel as though I’ve traveled several million miles since I started reading Noson Yanofsky’s new book, The Outer Limits of Reason. When I measure the distance from the comfy chair in the family room to my bed (where I read several chapters) and to my office (several more), I suppose I walked no more than 100 feet (round trips included). I think I started reading the book on December 30 and I finished it today, January 5—a week, pretty normal for an interesting book. Actual distance traveled, book in hand: 7 days x 1,600,000 miles per day for a total of about 11 million miles. How did I rack up so many miles? While I was sitting in my chair, reading in bed, or listening to music to accompany several chapters in the office, the earth never stopped moving. We tend to forget that part of the travel experience because, well, everything’s relative. We tend to think that we’re pretty much stationary in space, in a fixed position of some kind, but of course, we’re not. This is not new information: we’ve known this to be true for more than a century (thanks to Albert Einstein).

170px-Yogi_Berra_1956Somewhere between Yogi Berra (“half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”) and the goofiness of language (“This sentence is false.”), Professor Yanofsky, of Brooklyn College, runs through thought experiments at the edges of reality and reason. One of my favorites (which may be familiar) is the ship of Theseus, which won many battles and was therefore allowed to linger in the port for hundreds of years. Over time, it began to rot, so the good people began to replace rotten planks with new ones. That way, they figured, the ship would last longer. Reconstruction and restoration were, and remain, common practice, but the ship, and the practice, raise some questions. With each each new plank, a portion of the original ship, rotten though it may have been, disappears. In time, most of the ship is composed of new planks, so it’s reasonable to wonder how much of the old ship still exists. Eventually, the answer may be none at all. Of course, this is about more than decomposing ships. Are you the person that you were a decade or three or more decades ago? Natural processes suggest otherwise: your brain, your blood, so much of each of us is naturally replenished. on a regular basis (doctors and other practitioners may add, delete, or replace more).

Oxford Mathematics Professor Marcus Du Sautoy explains the Monty Hall Problem on YouTube.

Oxford Mathematics Professor Marcus Du Sautoy explains the Monty Hall Problem on YouTube.

Breezing through Zeno (Achilles and the Tortoise), Monty Hall (why you should change your mind when making a deal), and The Traveling Salesman problem (where computer or logical routing becomes an impossibility), Yanofsky pursues progressively more mind-bending stuff. Again, some of this is likely to be familiar if you follow this sort of thing: The Butterfly Effect, which abbreviates “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” (not exactly, but probably, sort-of). There’s quite a bit, well-explained, about the strangeness of quantum mechanics (that is, unlike the observable and more easily measured physical world), also not new anymore.

An internet place to explore tiles and other interesting things to make and do.

Click on the pic to visit an internet place where you can explore tiles, and see what people have been making in extraordinary ways.

I’ve always been taken with tiling problems: the shape of tiles that can fill a large space with only adjacent edges between shapes. Of course, a square is perfect for this sort of thing, and so, too, is a hexagon, but pentagons and circles don’t work at all (you need to fill in the blank spaces with other shapes). I had never seen the Myers shape, an odd solution to this interesting geometric design problem. (Thanks, Noson, whose childhood ponderings probably included palindromes.)

Much has been written about the relationship between mathematics and the universe, and Yanofsky summarizes this situation in terms that I could (mostly) understand. The fascinating essence: how is it that we, mere mortals living on this strange planet that is, mostly, inhospitable to human life (tornadoes, bacteria, extreme climates and attorneys  [his humor]), manage to develop a language based, mostly, upon numbers and calculations that somehow manages to explain so much of how it all works. When mathematics and science fail to explain the natural world, or present conundrums and paradoxes (for the correct plurals of these words, consider this from the Guardian), Yanofsky becomes interested, and offers the right illustrations to begin the conversation. Sometimes, there are formulas (too many, in fact), but I’d suggest that you skip past the Stephen Hawking “dictum that every equation halves the number of readers” and simply do your best to navigate the sections that are mired in equations and symbolic logic; the book can be easily enjoyed without fussing over the likes of p(A^~ C) ≤ p(A^ ~ B) + p(B^ ~ C).

So is all of this mathematical musing without much of a point? Or is he flirting with the true nature of the universe? I suspect he could speak eloquently about the former, but in the end, he may conclude the latter. After carefully defining reason as “the set of processes or methodologies that do not lead to contradictions and falsehoods” (why not “or falsehoods?), he italicizes this important idea: we human beings already live beyond reason. He goes on:

Our minds do not live in a world of stones, carbon-based life forms, and molecules following habitual laws of physics. Rather, we have feelings and emotions that are not dictated by reason and logic. We have a sense of beauty, wonder, ethics, and values that are beyond reason and defy rational explanation…In this sense, every one of us already transcends the bounds of reason.”

So here’s the ultimate paradox. A man spends his career thinking about, and teaching others, about the intersection of mathematics, science and reason, then writes a very good book about the success and failure of that way of thinking, then decides, on the final pages, that the edge of reason has nothing whatsoever to do with mathematics or science. Instead, it’s the soft stuff that defines the edge of reason, the ideas that cannot be quantified or measured. Not now, at least. Maybe someday.

Steve Evans from India and USA. Permission: (Reusing this file: Creative Commons attribution. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Photo by Steve Evans. Permission: (Reusing this file: Creative Commons
attribution. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

In a Word, “Curious”

CuriousWhat’s the secret of life? Of course, the answer is in a book with a single word title, Curious? The back cover has nine words, 58 characters: “Embrace uncertainty. Attract love and abundance. Master your life.”

All of this makes me want to write an answer book called “Seriously?” but the author, a clinical psychologist and professor at George Mason University deserves more than the Twtr-obessed publisher allows. His name is Todd Kashdan, and although I suspect curiosity may not be, as the subtitle promises, a way to “Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life” (shouldn’t that “to” be “in” or “for”?), there’s too much good stuff in this book for me to pass it by.

Mostly, like every creative person, I’m curious about curiosity. I seem to have it in larger doses than most people, and I think I like that about myself. My friends tend to be curious, too, and they tend to value this in themselves. In fact, I enjoyed a long telephone conversation with a friend not six months ago on this very subject—he was analyzing generational differences in the workplace, and thought our generation pursued curiosity with greater energy than the current one.

Of course, Dr. Kashdan touches  school as curiosity-killer (“Do it now, ask questions later. Stay away from strangers. Avoid controversial topics and hot-button issues”), but I think he’s better when he’s positive, and consistent with the thinking of the positive psychology movement in academia, where he plays a part. When describing how and why “Curiosity is about recognizing and reaping the rewards of the uncertain, the unknown and the new…,” he explains that there is a “simple story line for how curiosity is the engine of growth.”

By being curious, we explore.

By exploring, we discover.

When this is satisfying, we are more likely to repeat it.

By repeating it, we develop competence and mastery.

By developing competence and mastery, our knowledge and skills grow.

As our knowledge and skills grow, we stretch who we are and what our life is about.

So “curiosity begets more curiosity.” Fair enough. But that’s just the starting place. When he offers curiosity as the opposite of certainty, and broadens the argument to society’s need for closure, specific answers, one way of looking at the world, his arguments become insights:

Curiosity creates possibilities; the need for certainty narrows them.

Curiosity creates energy; the need for certainty depletes.

Curiosity results in exploration; the need for certainty creates closure.

Curiosity creates movement; the need for certainty is about replaying events.

Curiosity creates relationships; the need for certainty creates defensiveness.

Creativity is about discovery; the need for certainty is about being right.

At first, I didn’t think much of this list, but the more I worked on a new project about knowledge and understanding, the more I realized the value of Dr. Kashdan’s insights.

Photo of the author, Todd Kashdan, by Adam Auel

It’s easy to see how this material can be brought into a wider domain: curiosity results in personal fulfillment, happiness, a healthy mental outlook, a purpose to life, and so on. He encourages openness in the style of so many self-help books, and here’s where my fascination begins to wane, mostly because I’ve read it all before: “When walking outside the house, I will gently guide my attention so I can be intrigued by every bodily movement and whatever sights, sounds and smells are within my range.” I don’t understand why anybody who is taking a walk would fill their ears with music, but that’s because I enjoy listening to the natural world. Does experience open my mind to every possibility? Not sure. I think I’m listening to birdsong, looking at autumn leaves and winter branches, and taking whiffs of honeysuckle when it’s in season. That’s enough for me.

If you find self-help books useful, you might add this one to your library. There are chapters about “The Rewards of Relationships” and “The Anxious Mind and the Curious Spirit,” and, almost inevitably, “Discovering Meaning and Purpose in Life.”

I think curiosity is powerful on its own terms: as an antidote to the routine, a door that opens to creative and divergent thought, as a pathway to learning lots of things. Secret of life? Maybe. I’ll leave that one up to you.

Google Books vs. Every Published Author, Part III

(Be sure to read parts one and two.)

The world is changing. As an author and creative person, I want as much intellectual property protection as possible. As a creator, I want as much flexibility as possible.

Here’s the summary of a very significant intellectual property case decided this month by U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin:

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”

On the one hand, Google is providing a substantial public service by unearthing, scanning, and distributing works in the public domain that may otherwise be forgotten. What’s more, they’re placing everything into a searchable database that can be accessed by just about everyone who wants or needs it.

On the other, Google has gone too far by scanning and distributing works that are not in the public domain, but are, instead, owned and controlled by copyright holders. (Most are authors, who typically assign publishing rights to their publishers but retain their copyrights.) Here, in my view (not a lawyer, but an author and a business person), the solution is simple, reasonable, and available. Google must ask permission of copyright holders before freely distributing their work. (Yes, this is cumbersome, but Google is a company whose cleverness is exceeded only by its resources.) Of course, authors could be pro-active in making such grants because they believe, in their sole and reasonable judgment, that their work’s inclusion in the Google Books database would be in the public interest or would benefit the author’s work from a marketing point of view.

According to Joe Crawford of Moorpark, California, you are free: to share (to copy, distribute and transmit the work, and to remix (to adapt the work)  Under the following conditions: attribution – (You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Joe established the rules for his copyrighted property. This is reasonable, and it is now done on a massive scale.

According to Joe Crawford of Moorpark, California, you are free: to share (to copy, distribute and transmit the work, and to remix (to adapt the work). Under the following conditions: attribution – (You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). Joe established the rules for his copyrighted property. This is reasonable, and it is now done on a massive scale.

In fact, Creative Commons has done a lot of good work in this area, making it easy for copyright owners to establish rules with regard to sharing, copying and other uses of their property.

The issue is not whether Google Books should scan and distribute books, and the issue not whether this activity results in a public good. The issue is whether making full digital copies of a book in a public library that is still protected by copyright, and then distributing the digital copy without permission of a copyright holder is, under any reasonable interpretation of the law, more similar to a 21st century card catalog or more similar to copyright infringement on a massive scale.

As an author, I am strongly inclined to vote in favor of copyright protection and a requirement that Google, or any other party, affirmatively secure permission of my intellectual property prior to its distribution.

As a producer and businessperson, I could reconsider that position because the current decision may apply to future projects in some interesting ways. For example, one might contemplate an online system of recommended books that include substantial portions of copyrighted work—full chapters, perhaps, or more—as a kind of public literacy project. Or, one might translate entire works into other languages to provide greater access to those works. In both cases, if the works are scanned into a database so that researchers might use them for educational purposes, no permissions should be necessary.

Let’s take that a step further. There is so much video now available on the internet, and, for the most part, it is very difficult to search within those videos. If you were to create a database of, say, movie scripts or, in a more advanced form, movie dialogue, you might well be able to show the whole movie, perhaps in “snippets” (the term used by Google for its portions of larger works), or, at least, include these movie excerpts in a series of online documentaries that explore, for example, the mythology of the Star Wars films, or the role of animal characters in Disney or Pixar films. If it’s all for the public good, and it’s all part of a searchable database, Judge Chin’s ruling suggests that Fair Use is both a reasonable defense with regard to challenges, and, in a larger sense, that this sort of activity is to be encouraged if it serves a research need, promotes the films, and transforms the ways that people consume these films.

It’s easy to be glib or flippant about the tremendous reach of the judge’s decision, but in the end, this isn’t about books, or Google. It’s about whether creative professionals will be able to earn a living in the future. With each step into a new digital future, that future becomes just that much more murky. In doubt about that? Read this.

Google Book Chronicles vs. Every Published Author, Part II

(Be sure to read parts one and three.)

The statement from Google:

As we have long said., Google Books is in compliance with copyright law and acts like a card catalog for the digital age, giving users the ability to find books to buy or borrow.”

Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton wrote a popular book called Ball Four. The book is out of print, but it is available through Google Books. Jim Bouton is a plaintiff in the case against Google Books because the work was used without his permission.

Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton wrote a popular book called Ball Four. The book is out of print, but it is available through Google Books. Jim Bouton is a plaintiff in the case against Google Books because the work was used without his permission.

And from the Author’s Guild:

Google made unauthorized digital editions of nearly all of the world’s valuable copyright-protected literature and profits from displaying those works…In our view, such mass digitization and exploitation far exceeds the bounds of the fair use defense.”

Of course, the Author’s Guild plans to appeal the decision, but, for now, it stands.

The judgment was written by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Denny Chin, who has been working with Google and the Author’s Guild on the future of Fair Use as it applies to Google’s insistence upon scanning and posting intellectual property without permission of the copyright holder. (Be sure to read yesterday’s post because it sets the stage for this one.)

This wonderfully cluttered bookshop in Tenby, Wales, UK is precisely the sort of mess that Google Books tries to solve. In the bookstore, there is no search, no apparent organization whatsoever (except those lovely Penguin classics in the spinner rack). On Google Books, every word of every book is part of a searchable database. (Photo by Howard Blumenthal, all rights reserved, do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.)

This wonderfully cluttered bookshop in Tenby, Wales, UK is precisely the sort of mess that Google Books tries to solve. In the bookstore, there is no search, no apparent organization whatsoever (except those lovely Penguin classics in the spinner rack). On Google Books, every word of every book is part of a searchable database. (Photo by Howard Blumenthal, all rights reserved, do not duplicate or distribute without written permission.)

Happily, my book, The Creative Professional, has not been violated by Google, but I will borrow from my own work to review the four “prongs” of Fair Use of copyrighted material:

  •  The first is the character of the use. “The focus of this factor is ‘whether the new work merely supersedes the objects of the original creation… or instead adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message; it asks, in other words, whether and to what extent the new work is transformative.’”
  •  The second is the “nature and copyright status of the plaintiff’s work.” A work that is factual receives more protection than a work that is imaginative. Remarkably, an unpublished work is more likely to be protected than a published work.
  •  The third Fair Use test is the amount of material used. Fair Use protection is more likely to be extended when the percentage of the original work used in the new work is comparatively small.
  •  The fourth judgment is an evaluation of market impact. If the Fair Use was allowed, how might this use impact the market for the copyrighted material? If the copyrighted material is not currently in the market, or if its sales are minor and the use was otherwise fair, this factor may lead to judgment in favor of the defendant who claims that no infringement has occurred. However, if the material is not in the market, and sales are minor, but the use, based on the above three factors, was unfair, then discussion of this fourth factor may not enter in the decision at all. This becomes complex; whether you are defendant or plaintiff, you will want a smart lawyer who is well-schooled in the subtle features of Fair Use and copyright law.

Let’s add it all up:

  • Character of the use. Google’s use adds nothing new, except the ability for anybody to read AND COPY any portion of the copyrighted work without paying for it. I can’t argue that this is not, somehow, “transformative” but I can imagine the use of the term mostly in terms of, say, opening the back of an ATM and transforming bank customers into people who can take money freely, as they wish.
  • Nature and copyright status of the plaintiff’s work. It’s factual, and it’s under copyright for a reason. Copyright provides creative people with protection against unauthorized use. (This is a more complicated idea than one would think, so I’ll leave it to the lawyers to elaborate.)
  • The amount of material used. All of it. Every word. Seriously, is this what we really want as a society?
  • An evaluation of market impact. If we define market impact in two ways: sales of books and promotion of the authors for potentially greater market value, I think I can speak as an expert with regard to my own creative work: sales of books have not been affected in any measurable way, and NOT ONE PERSON has ever told me that they bought the book because they first saw it on Google. And I am no more famous than I was on the day before Google entered my life with their interesting theories and practices about Fair Use.

And let’s have a look at what the judge wrote in his decision:

  • Character of the use. “Google’s use of the copyrighted works is highly transformative…Google Books has become an important tool for libraries and librarians and cite-checkers as it helps to identify and find books…Google Books is also transformative in the sense that it has transformed book text into data for purposes of substantive research, including data mining and text mining in new areas, thereby opening up new fields of research. Google Books does not supersede or supplant books because it is not a tool to be used to read books. Instead, it “adds value to the original” and allows for “the creation of new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings.”…even assuming Google’s principal motivation is profit, the fact is that Google Books serves several important educational purposes. Accordingly, I conclude that the first factor strongly favors a finding of fair use.
  • Nature and copyright status of the plaintiff’s work. “the vast majority of the books in Google Books are non-fiction. Further, the books at issue are published and available to the public. These considerations favor a finding of fair use.” (Nonpublished works are subject to greater protection.)
  • The amount of material used. “Google scans the full text of books — the entire books — and it copies verbatim expression…Here, as one of the keys to Google Books is its offering of full-text search of books, full-work reproduction is critical to the functioning of Google Books. Significantly, Google limits the amount of text it displays in response to a search.  On balance, I conclude that the third factor weighs slightly against a finding of fair use.
  • An evaluation of market impact. Here, plaintiffs argue that Google Books will negatively impact the market for books and that Google’s scans will serve as a “market replacement” for books… a reasonable factfinder could only find that Google Books enhances the sales of books to the benefit of copyright holders. An important factor in the success of an individual title is whether it is discovered — whether potential readers learn of its existence. Google Books provides a way for authors’ works to become noticed, much like traditional in-store book displays…Google provides convenient links to booksellers to make it easy for a reader to order a book. In this day and age of on-line shopping, there can be no doubt but that Google Books improves books sales. Hence, I conclude that the fourth factor weighs strongly in favor of a finding of fair use.

Clearly, this is a topic that warrants a third article. See you tomorrow.

Google Books vs. Every Published Author, Part I

I have written several books. Perhaps you have purchased one of them. If you did, thank you. As a result of your purchase, I probably collected about $1.25 in royalties. You may have read the book, and perhaps, you lent it to a friend. You may have copied a few pages, or used the book for research, maybe even quoted from my book in your own work. That’s fine with me, and I am sure it would be fine with just about any author.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect you to make copies of the book and distribute it, for free or for a fee, and I certainly wouldn’t expect you to publish some or all of my book’s contents on the web–even if you believed that what you were doing would make the world a better place. I expect that you think about my book in much the same way.

Denny_ChinHowever reasonable, that’s no longer the way things work. Now, it seems, making the world a better place is reason enough to freely distribute copyrighted work without permission of the copyright holder. Here’s the logic and the new law of the land as set forth by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Denny Chin in a case decided this month in favor of Google (which scanned and distributed millions of books, without permission, in the public interest) and the Author’s Guild (which cried foul, lost, plans to appeal to a higher court, and may lose again).

“First, Google Books provides a new and efficient way for readers and researchers to find books. It makes tens of millions of books searchable by words and phrases. It provides a searchable index linking each word in any book to all books in which that word appears.” In short, Google Books completely transforms the use of books, especially in research, and it is currently in use in a great many research institutions.

Second, in addition to being an important reference tool, Google Books greatly promotes a type of research referred to as “data mining” or “text mining.” Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books. Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.” So it’s fair to say that Google Books is a fantastic tool for scholars because it allows them to scan a lot of books quickly, identify and study patterns.

“Third, Google Books expands access to books. In particular, traditionally underserved populations will benefit as they gain knowledge of and access to far more books. Google Books provides print-disabled individuals with the potential to search for books and read them in a format that is compatible with text enlargement software, text-to-speech screen access software, and Braille devices. Digitization facilitates the conversion of books to audio and tactile formats, increasing access for individuals with disabilities. Google Books facilitates the identification and access of materials for remote and underfunded libraries that need to make efficient decisions as to which resources to procure for their own collections or through interlibrary loans.” Unquestionably, placing a lot of books in a gigantic database is very useful for all sorts of reasons and provides tremendous public interest benefits.

“Fourth…Google Books helps to preserve books and give them new life. Older books, many of which are out-of-print books that are falling apart buried in library stacks, are being scanned and saved.” Absolutely right, but “out-0f-print” and “public domain” are not the same thing. Many of my books are currently out-of-print, and I plan to republish some of them because they are my property. Anything that is in the public domain should be rescued for the good of the public. Anything that’s out-of-print, but still protected by copyright, cannot be reasonably treated in the same way.

“Finally, by helping readers and researchers identify books, Google Books benefits authors and publishers. When a user clicks on a search result and is directed to an “About the Book” page, the page will offer links to sellers of the book and/or libraries listing the book as part of their collections.” That’s nice, but let’s consider whether the copyrighted work should be there in the first place.

Somewhere along the way, my books were published, and a public library purchased a copy. We all understand that the library will buy one copy of the book and then distribute that book to any of its cardholders. Neither the publisher nor I, the author, granted the library any kind of right to digitize the book’s contents. Google borrowed my book from the library, scanned its contents (without my permission) and now distributes one book in whole and another in part (without my permission). And because my book is a useful book, a Federal judge has determined that this activity is not only permissible, but in the public interest.

The judge’s justification: the Fair Use doctrine that allows certain uses of copyrighted materials for the public interest. For more about that, be sure read part two (and part three).

The New Jim Crow

From Ohio State's website: Professor Alexander joined the OSU faculty in 2005. She holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Prior to joining the OSU faculty, she was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. Professor Alexander has significant experience in the field of civil rights advocacy and litigation. She has litigated civil rights cases in private practice as well as engaged in innovative litigation and advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector. For several years, Professor Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. While an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialized in plaintiff-side class action suits alleging race and gender discrimination. Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

From Ohio State’s website: Professor Alexander joined the OSU faculty in 2005. She holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Prior to joining the OSU faculty, she was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic.
Professor Alexander has significant experience in the field of civil rights advocacy and litigation. She has litigated civil rights cases in private practice as well as engaged in innovative litigation and advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector. For several years, Professor Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. While an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialized in plaintiff-side class action suits alleging race and gender discrimination.
Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Sometimes, a book is just the thing: a clear explanation running several hundred pages, written by an expert, vetted by other experts, building a powerful case to its logical conclusion. Several years ago, an associate professor at The Ohio State University wrote a book, a history, a manifesto based upon a dangerous idea. Her name is Michelle Alexander and her book, republished a year or so ago with a new forward by Cornel West, is entitled The New Jim Crow. The subtitle just begins to suggest the storyline: “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Often, when I read a nonfiction book, I dog-ear the parts I want to remember. I’ve dog-eared a third of this book. Here’s part of a dog-eared page, written by an American Bar Association task force and quoted by the author:

[The] offender may be sentences to a term of probation, community service and court costs. Unbeknownst to this offender, and perhaps, any other actor in the sentencing process, as a result of his conviction, he may be ineligible for many federally-funded health and welfare benefits, food stamps, public housing, and federal educational assistance. His driver’s license may be automatically suspended, and he may no longer qualify for certain employment and professional licenses. If he is convicted of another crime, he may be subject to imprisonment as a repeat offender. He will not be permitted to enlist in the military, or possess a firearm, or obtain a federal security clearance. If a citizen, he may lose the right to vote; if not [a citizen], he may become immediately deportable.”

On the surface, this may sound like get-tough-on-crime, perhaps stronger than some would like it to be, maybe not so surprising.

New Jim CrowProfessor Alexander’s point becomes clear when this idea is added:

…the system of incarceration operates with stunning efficiency to sweep people of color off the streets, lock them in cages, and then release them into an inferior second-class status.”

For the most part, she explains, incarceration is not due to violent crimes. Instead, mostly, incarceration is due to relatively small amounts of drugs, often found as a result of policies, rules, laws, and Supreme Court judgments that encourage law enforcement to focus their attention on minority (most often, Black) people, even though drug sales and drug use tend to be about equal among all racial and ethnic groups.

It’s one thing to understand the problem as a social issue. It’s another when you “Imagine you are Erma Faye Stewart, a thirty-one year old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation order ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are now also branded a drug felon. You are no eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care.”

Turns out, the  entire sweep was based upon a lie. Eventually, a judge dismissed all cases against the defendants–except those who pled guilty. “You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.”

Sure, we see stories like these all the time, mostly on TV, sometimes in the movies, but their truth, and the reasons behind their truth, are disturbing because we (all of us, that is) must face one of two nasty realities:

(1) We are comfortable with the system that we our society has in place, even though it is often severe and places a very high percentage of Black citizens into the system; or

(2) We are comfortable with the system because American continues to support a racial divide with unequal rights, and severe lifetime punishment for a large number of people who live in the United States.

I suppose most people are only vaguely aware of the issue–that was my excuse–but this book removes that defense. The legal system is ferociously complicated. We must be fair but we must also be safe. You know the arguments, but that’s not much of a starting place to make things right.

One positive step is to bring this important topic to a study group. There is a free study guide available for groups willing to engage. Details below:

Drawing from and expanding on the themes of Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed best-seller, The New Jim Crow, this in-depth guide provides a launching pad for groups wishing to engage in deep, meaningful dialogue about race, racism, and structural inequality in the age of mass incarceration.  The Study Guide and Call to Action spans the entirety of The New Jim Crow, engaging the critical questions of how we managed to create, nearly overnight, a penal system unprecedented in world history, and how that system actually functions — as opposed to the way it is advertised.  This important new resource also challenges us to search for and admit the truth about ourselves, our own biases, stereotypes, and misconceptions, and the many ways in which we might actually be part of the problem.


This is one of several video recordings of Dr. Alexander’s speeches. This one was delivered at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. You can find others on this page.

Goodbye, Columbus

Juan Ponce de León discovered "America" but Columbus gets the credit!

Juan Ponce de León discovered “America” but Columbus gets the credit!

(Hello, Ponce de León. What a story you have to tell! Those who are impatient may scroll down about 2/3 to the part I’ve marked in red white (grey, really) and blue.

It’s an odd story, one that brings tomatoes to Italy,, and eventually celebrates a favorite son for something he didn’t do.

You know that the Vikings first showed up in what is now North America. That happened about a thousand years ago. Some Vikings stayed for awhile, started families, and settlements.  The first child of European descent born on these shores was probably named “Snoori,” a name I’ve always liked.

For several thousand years before the Vikings visited, there were natives in North America and South America. They probably arrived, well, by taking the l-o-n-g way around, on foot and on animal, working their way up from Africa, then through Asia, and across the land bridge into what is now Alaska. Perhaps they arrived in other ways, but that seems less likely because boats were small and unsophisticated, and oceans were large and dangerous to navigate.

During the 1400s, Europeans were becoming rich by trading goods found in Asia. Mostly, these goods traveled on the Silk Roads, a series of trade routes that were subject to piracy, tribal feuds, and every kind of evil deed. There were all sorts of theories about the best way to travel not by land, but by sea. Nobody was particularly frightened about falling off the earth; the idea that the world was round, and that circumnavigation was possible was accepted long before Columbus showed up. (It’s one of the earliest urban legends, utter nonsense promoted in fanciful children’s books for a time.)

Columbus was an entrepreneur in search of capital for his new enterprise–put together half the necessary funds, and found the rest by sweet-talking King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. They promised him a cut of the riches, and a ridiculous title, Emperor of the Ocean Seas. And they agreed to provide three ships. All for the glory of Spain, and the gold that everyone believed he would find. Make no mistake: it was all about the gold.

He took a wrong turn.

He was heading for what he believed was Japan, or, at least, Asia. Instead, he found an island in what is now the Caribbean Sea. (Certainly, Columbus Day should not be celebrated as a milestone in navigation history.)

Remember: Columbus was an entrepreneur. Perhaps it is that spirit that we should celebrate on Columbus Day. Certainly, there are very good reasons not to celebrate him at all, unless, of course, you share a very dark view of America and what it represents to the world.

Columbus kept a diary. Here, he writes about the native people, the Taino or Arawak people who greeted his crew with curiosity and apparent kindness.

They are very simple and honest and exceedingly liberal with all they have, none of them refusing anything he may possess if he is asked for it. They exhibit great love toward all others in preference to themselves.”

You’ll recall the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria–the three ships provided by Spain for the first voyage. The Pinta’s captain defied Columbus’ orders, and abandoned the fleet. The Santa Maria was destroyed on a reef. Columbus high-tailed it back to Spain on the Nina, grabbing a bit of gold, kidnapping some natives. A second voyage was authorized, this time with the specific intention of becoming rich with gold. The Taino people were instructed, in no uncertain terms, to FIND THE GOLD.

Dressed in Taino garb and makeup, two contemporary Dominican girls demonstrate that these were real people with families and traditions. Each year, we celebrate an American hero who killed most of the Taino people.

Dressed in Taino garb and makeup, two contemporary Dominican girls demonstrate that these were real people with families and traditions. Each year, we celebrate an American hero who killed most of the Taino people.

Gold was not to be found. Columbus treated the Taino severely. He cut off their hands (Happy Columbus Day!)

Third Voyage. This time, a Priest named Bartolomé de las Casas joined, and kept a diary. It’s filled with documentation, generally considered reliable, about Columbus’ treatment of the natives: forced labor, brutality, horrific violence against children, babies being murdered by swinging them against trees or feeding them to dogs. From the Priest’s diary:

The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades”, wrote Las Casas. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write”

We celebrate Columbus Day because it was the beginning of the new world. In a twisted way, this is apt: the United States is the nation that was settled, mostly, by killing the natives who lived in this land. Those who believe that there is a greater reason for the celebration, an uplifting of humankind, the initiation of an era of discovery should probably consider where Mr. Columbus went, and did not go. No account brings Columbus into what is now the U.S.A. He traveled to several Caribbean Islands, notably Hispaniola (now, Haiti and the Dominican Republic,

Who discovered “America?” That’s a very challenging question. Let’s rephrase it: “Who discovered the United States of America” would trap out Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean Islands.

The earliest answer would seem to be the people who crossed Bernicia, the land bridge into Alaska around 16,000 BCE (before current era). Focusing only on the lower 48, there’s evidence dating back to about 13,000 BCE, known as the Clovis Sites.

The Vikings showed up, but probably not in what becomes the U.S.A. Sadly, our early attempts to invade, annex, or build a new country with friends nearby all failed, so Canada become a separate nation. After that, several hundred years (the Dark Ages) go by without much interest in or capability to explore, pretty much until Columbus and his kind.

Juan Ponce de León traveled with Columbus on his second voyage. He was a volunteer, a gentleman from a noble family. There were 200 such gentlemen.

For your reference, here's a map showing Hispaniola (currently occupied by Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, and nearby Florida.

For your reference, here’s a map showing Hispaniola (currently occupied by Haiti and Dominican Republic), Puerto Rico, and nearby Florida.

Columbus and his entourage apparently visited Borinquen, which we now call Puerto Rico. (In fact, when Puerto Rico finally becomes a U.S. state, the Columbus legend will come true: in that case, he would have been the explorer who discovered what become the United States of America. [For those who wish to make a case that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S., so technically this is true today, I ask why, if Puerto Rico plays such an important role in American History, it has not been invited to join the club.)

In any case, as a result of his military leadership (de León was involved in a notable native massacre), he become Governor of the Spanish territory. Natives told him of a land to the northwest, a land that could be reached by “crossing many rivers’. He told the King, but remained as Governor until he lost out in a tussle with–who else–the son of Christopher Columbus, who was legally enforcing his father’s rights. Eventually, the King stopped the political nastiness, and after de León returned to Spain, he outfitted three ships and headed for some unexplored lands. He found what is now Florida on April 2, 1513.

Every year, we celebrate Columbus Day in the USA. Many of our Spanish-speaking neighbors in the western hemisphere celebrate Día de la Raza instead; it is, in many places, a celebration of the race, not Columbus the explorer.

Somehow, on April 2, 2013 — exactly 500 years after the first European explorer set foot on what is now a U.S. state, the first moment when Europeans visited the  part of the New World that became our nation–we did nothing.

What’s a MOOC Good For, Anyway?

This week, I’ve spent several hours with a friend whose intellect is recognized by a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university. We’re both deeply engaged at the intersection of media and learning, most often for some form of public good. Yesterday, we talked about why people go to school.  To be more specific, why people go to school beyond the point where law requires them (us) to do so.

Harvard-MOOCWhen I read this readwrite article, an interview with Harvard’s new vice provost of advances in learning (excellent job title!), I started thinking about why anybody bothers with, say, TED Talks, or for that matter, why we read non-fiction books.

Just as we’ve managed to bottle up massive quantities of spirituality into the structures we call religions, we’ve managed to do the same with massive quantities of learning into the notion of school and organized education. MOOCs shake up that formula. A MOOC–a massively open online course–carries no price tag, and, although it may be offered by the likes of Harvard or Stanford or UPenn, it carries no credit, either. You take the course because, well, because you want to learn.

The distinction is a simple one, or so one might argue. There is learning, and there is education, and if they sometimes overlap (as they are intended to do), they might serve different purposes. Learning is all about personal development, and refinement of understanding. Education’s purpose is a degree, a formal recognition, typically for a price, that serves as an admission ticket into parts of the job marketplace that are otherwise inaccessible.

So what’s a MOOC good for? Same thing as a book, I think. It’s for learning. Turns out, millions of people simply want to learn, on line, for their own development and understanding.

Of course, that’s not the whole story. Do read the readwrite article (interesting phrase, that), and you’ll find that a bit more of the picture comes into focus.

The Nuremberg Chronicle

Or, more or less, the Wikipedia of 1493, the year Columbus first visited the Western Hemisphere.

Nuremberg3It’s a big, old book, the kind of illustrated, illuminated, hand-lettered book that I would never expected to see in my own home. But here it is, nearly 2 inches thick, reproduced by the always-intrepid Taschen publishing company. As you can see, it’s quite a beautiful old book, with colorful illustrations of kings and townscapes on every page. Looking carefully, I can make out a page about Florencia, also known as Florenz, today’s Florence, Italy, and on another page, the now-German town of Wurtzburg. There’s Rom, or Roma, with its bridges and towers, and the formidable city gates. Here’s a stylist family tree, but the old lettering is difficult for me to understand. A book like this might occupy a few minutes in a museum, and then, I’d move on. But to have it in my hands, well, that’s another thing. Its age demands respect, and time to study, not to peruse but to study, every page, slowly and with a sense of insight and discovery.

imagesFortunately, the cardboard slipcase includes not only the main volume, but a large-format color paperback book entitled The Book of Chronicles. In essence, it’s a guidebook, written in English, nicely illustrated, and it helps to make sense of the larger volume.  It begins,

The handwritten layout for Hartmann Schedel’s Weltchronik, or Chronicle of the World, widely known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, has survived in the municipal library of Nuremberg… This chronicle is structured as follows: the First Age from Creation to the Deluge; the Second Age from the Deluge to the Birth of Abraham; the Third Age from the Birth of Abraham to the Kingdom of David; the Fourth Age from the beginning of the Kingdom of David to the Babylonian Captivity; the Sixth (and longest) Age from the Birth of Christ to the present day. A brief Seventh Age follows, reporting from the coming of the Antichrist at the end of the world and predicting the Last Judgement. This is followed, somewhat unsystematically, by descriptions of various towns…digressions on the subject of natural catastrophes, wars, reports on the founding of cities…biblical stories.”

The work was put together at the pleasure of several benefactors, financial backers who are credited. (Their names and stories are explained in the paperback, but none will be familiar to contemporary readers.) One familiar name is the artist Albrecht Dürer, whose sketches may have been the basis for the many woodcuts found in the Chronicle.

Approximately 2,000 copies were published, and about half went unsold. Many of the copies were sold by booksellers–nice to know that there were booksellers around 1500, sad to think that there may be none within our lifetimes. Books were sold sold by banking and trading houses, and their clients. Academics also sold books as a means to earn some extra money. Many books were sold in and near Nuremberg, but they were also sold in Milan, Florence, Geneva, Venice, Lyon, and Paris. The majority of the books were published in Latin, but some were published in German. It surprises me that we know so much about the publishing and marketing of a book that was current more than 500 years ago.

Here’s the scoop on Constantinople, circa 1493:

Schedel_konstantinopel

Here’s a look at Rome, slightly improved through digital technology:

Rome

Here’s what you’re seeing: “On the left we can see the huge Coliseum. To its right are the ruins of the Theater of Marcellus and Santa Maria Rotunda, formerly the Pantheon, the best-preserved of all Rome’s ancient buildings (27 BC), rededicated under Pope Bonafacio IV (AD 609) to Mary and all the martyrs. In the foreground, we see the Aurelian Wall with various city gates. From left to right, they are Porto Quirinale, the Porta Pinciana, and the Porta del Popolo, which was the first church visited by pilgrims arriving from the north and Germany. Just behind it is the bridge of St. Angelo which leads across the Tiber to the Castellum S. Angeli. From there, the pilgrim can continue straight ahead to the Vatican or left to the (old) St. Peter’s. At the top of the picture, in the middle of the Vatican walls and to the far right of the papal residence, is the Villa del Belvedere, built under Pope Innocent VIII (1484-1492).

Page after page, I kept wondering how I might touch the page and magically transform the old Latin or German text into words I could read. Odd to be wondering why a half-millenium old book won’t behave like an iPad, but that’s the way we’re now thinking about the world. Perhaps that’s progress.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 211 other followers