According to a detailed analysis in Slate, it appears that Bob Dylan plagiarized portions of — yes — his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

A subsequent piece on BBC.com notes that he delivered the speech “just before the deadline on 4 June,” at which point he would have forfeited the approximately $900,000 in prize money.

If Dylan did plagiarize parts of his speech, and it certainly appears that he did, it’s both disappointing and highly ironic — irony so thick you could spread it with a trowel.

This whole sorry affair brings to mind Jill Sobule’s biting, very funny, and highly original song, “Heroes.”

Enjoy the song, if not the irony.


“The [San Francisco] Giants will get better. There will be a two-week stretch that boosts their overall numbers, and they’ll seem normal again. Do not fall for it. All that stretch will do is hose their draft position. They will not be a better team. They will not be closer to a future postseason. They’ll only be ruining their chances to get the next Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg or Delmon Young. But it’s going to happen, and I’ll forget about this paragraph and these feelings, and I’ll pretend that it’s good news.”

–Grant Brisbee, “Giants Lose, Royals Win

* * *

The above nearly paragraph-length quotation nicely illustrates why Grant Brisbee is the funniest baseball writer in the biz. He’s also pretty damn insightful, which is almost, but not quite, as important for baseball writers as being funny.

Let’s face it: we’re dealing with baseball, life’s toy department for supposed grown-ups. And in maintaining proper perspective on that national refuge from horrifying reality, humor rules.


“Shallow speakers and shallow thinkers in pulpits and on platforms often talk about the world’s worship of pleasure, and whine against it. But it is rarely in the world’s history that its ideal has been one of joy and beauty. The worship of pain has far more often dominated the world. Medievalism, with its saints and martyrs, its love of self-torture . . . is real Christianity, and the medieval Christ is the real Christ.”

–Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism


(We recently began running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. We’re currently featuring blasts from the past from 2013, and will be for the next few months; we’ll intersperse them with new material.)

Why we rejection 99% of queries and manuscripts

by Chaz Bufe

As primary editor for See Sharp Press, I’ve seen thousands of queries and manuscripts over the years. I reject probably 99% of them. I derive no joy from doing this, but I have to do it. There are reasons.

The first is that probably half of the authors who approach us don’t bother to read our submission guidelines. Some send manuscripts rather than query letters. Others send queries about books that are outside of our  niches, often way outside, in areas we specifically state we do not publish. Still others are obviously making simultaneous submissions, something to which we loudly say no in our guidelines.

That takes care of most submissions. But what of the rest?

A surprising number of authors don’t know how to write queries. Some are so short (one sentence) that they give us virtually nothing to go on. Others omit essential information, such as word count, working title, or even the manuscript’s topic. Still other queries are so badly written (misspellings, mispunctuation, passive voice, boasting) that there would be no point in looking at the authors’ manuscripts. Similarly, some queries come from the clearly demented. And still other queries are insanely detailed, some running to several thousand words set in tiny, html-formatted type.

Rejected manuscripts are another matter. The ones that I find the hardest to reject are well written, have something to say, and probably wouldn’t sell enough copies to justify the hard work and expense of publication. Such submissions account for perhaps 5% of the total. In such cases, I try to recommend other publishers that might be interested, and I’ll sometimes make suggestions about both content and the initial query. I hate saying “no” to such submissions, but if I want See Sharp Press to stay in business, I have little choice.

That still leaves all too many rejected manuscripts. The primary problem with almost all of them — in addition, in most cases, to their being commercially unviable — is that they’re poorly written.

By far the most common fault is use of passive voice. Passive voice pervades present-day American English to such an extent that many, probably most, would-be published authors are blissfully unaware of it and use it incessantly. Almost certainly, many don’t even know what it is. (As writing instructor Rebecca Johnson notes, “If you can insert ‘by zombies’ after the verb, you have passive voice.”)

What’s so bad about passive voice? Passive voice is vague. It allows writers to describe actions without ascribing responsibility for those actions–hence its popularity in “Pentagonese”/”corporatese.” Take, for instance, the sentence, “Fifteen hundred civilians were killed in Fallujah today,” versus “The U.S. military killed fifteen hundred civilians in Fallujah today.” Both of these sentences could truthfully describe a mass killing, but which provides more information?

Even where there is no desire to deceive, the vagueness of passive voice still leaves readers in the dark as to responsibility. For instance, the sentence, “John was beaten with a baseball bat,” invites the question, “by whom?” When you answer the question in passive voice, you end up with a lifeless sentence that is wordier than its active voice counterpart: “John was beaten with a baseball bat by Bill,” versus “Bill beat John with a baseball bat.” Nine words versus seven. And the first (passive voice) sentence makes the reader wait until its end to reveal the subject, which, along with its wordiness, robs it of vitality.

Other common problems include poor organization, incorrect use of punctuation (especially semicolons), limited use of punctuation (periods and commas only), and lack of variation in sentence structure. (Spelling problems are mostly a thing of the past, thanks to spell checkers.)

Science fiction submissions often have additional problems. The most common is that writers don’t bother to “get the science right.” It’s one thing to base a story on plausible projection of current scientific speculation; it’s quite another to blithely ignore Newtonian physics (which quite accurately describes day-to-day physical events).

In science fiction, there are always at least one or two  “gimmes”: faster-than-light travel, immortality, artificial intelligence, etc. It’s perfectly fine — in fact necessary — to use such scientific projections. But don’t rob your story of plausibility by ignoring known science or through inconsistency. Science fiction isn’t fantasy — and even in fantasy, consistency is vital.

Another very common problem with science fiction manuscripts is careless writing. Science fiction, when properly done, is harder to write than any other kind of fiction: mysteries, westerns, “literary”  or historical fiction, romance novels, etc. The reason is that sci-fi authors have to create an alternative, internally consistent world with which their readers are not familiar. Writers of other types of fiction have the huge advantage of writing against familiar backdrops; they don’t have to create them. In all too many of the science fiction submissions I read, authors seem unaware of this, and many authors don’t even strive for internal consistency. Unawareness does, in fact, probably account for most such problems; the other most likely reason is sheer laziness.

To increase your chances of selling a manuscript (to See Sharp Press or any other publisher), you’d do well to do the following: 1) Read the submission guidelines; 2) Follow them; 3) Write a query of 200 to 300 words in which you address the submissions editor by name (find it), provide the working title, describe your book, describe the potential audience, mention your previous published works (if any), tell the publisher why your book is a good fit for them, and mention any similar titles the publisher has already issued.

In your writing: 1) Produce a detailed outline before you start to write; 2) Use active voice; 3) In science fiction submissions, get the science right and strive for consistency; and 4) Edit your work several times and, if you can, have other writers go through it, too. All of this is crucial. Editors generally consider poorly written work an indication that the writer is incompetent, lazy, and/or so egotistical that he thinks it’s beneath him to clean up his own mess.

If you follow the advice in the previous two paragraphs, you’ll vastly increase your chances of finding a publisher for your book.

Good luck.

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Max Norday

“How could men who lived free and equal . . . ever have found in their experience the idea of a mighty God whose frequent anger had to be propitiated by currish fawning, supplication, flattery, and sacrifice . . . ? — an idea quite natural to a pack of slaves, who imagined their God in the image of the despotic ruler who cracked the whip above their heads.”

–Max Nordau, The Interpretation of History


No, I’m not kidding. Trump has actually done a few good things.

First, let’s list only the unalloyed positives:

  • Trump has armed the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units) fighting ISIS in northern Syria, much to the annoyance of Turkish Islamist would-be dictator and ISIS enabler Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The YPG, a major part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, is the most effective military entity fighting ISIS in Syria. It’s also the only secular, democratic, libertarian (with a small “l”) force in the region in which gender equality is actively promoted. (There are all-women YPG units.)

It’s worth noting that to appease Islamist thug Erdogan, Hillary Clinton, had she won, would very probably not have armed the YPG. All of the facts noted above have been obvious for years, yet Obama refused to arm the YPG. It’s a good bet that former Obama Secretary of State Clinton wouldn’t have, either.

(For more info, see “The Anarchists vs. the Islamic State.“)

  • Trump killed the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a “free trade” pact and mutant relative of NAFTA. Among other things, it would have a allowed commercial “courts” to overrule U.S. laws, would have made the already atrocious copyright situation even worse, strengthening the hold of the media conglomerates, would have allowed U.S. pharmaceutical firms to force companies in signatory nations to stop producing affordable versions of life-saving drugs, and would have allowed foreign firms to sue the U.S. and U.S. state governments over “loss” of projected profits caused by environmental regulations.

Clinton was in favor of this abomination. Until she wasn’t. If she’d won, there’d likely have been a few cosmetic changes to it which would have made it “acceptable” to her.

Next, a mixed but overall positive move:

  • Trump has been pressuring U.S. allies to increase their military spending to bring it more in line with U.S. spending and thus, in theory, relieve financial pressure on U.S. taxpayers. Thus far he seems to have had some success with Canada, which will increase its military spending by 70% over the coming decade. This would be far more impressive if the U.S. didn’t already account for 43% of world military spending, and if Trump didn’t want to drastically increase that spending.

As for other good things Trump has done deliberately, none come to mind.

But he has also inadvertently done some good:

  • He’s laid bare the hypocrisy of the Republican Party on healthcare. Republicans had seven years in which to prepare a replacement for Obamacare, and, after they unexpectedly won the presidency last November (plus both houses of Congress), they had to scramble to come up with a nightmarish mishmash of cuts and half-measures that would cost 23 million Americans healthcare coverage.
  • He’s laid bare the racism of the Republican Party. For half a century Republicans have catered to racists — restricting voting rights of blacks and latinos, persecuting undocumented immigrants (doing the dirtiest, most necessary work), promoting the war on drugs that has devastated black and latino communities, promoting “tough on crime” (i.e., vicious, tough on poor people) laws, and promoting outright slavery of the incarcerated — while at the same time hypocritically hiding behind code words and insisting that they aren’t racist. Under Trump, Republican racism is out in the open. (Unfortunately, that racism sometimes takes physical form; the assaults and murders it produces are a hideous byproduct of it.)
  • Trump has laid bare the hypocrisy of American foreign policy rhetoric. For decades, American “leaders” have been spewing the same line about “defending democracy,” while they’ve been supporting many of the world’s worst dictators and authoritarian regimes. Trump’s praise for Putin, Erdogan, mass murderer Duterte, and our Islamist Saudi “allies” brings out in the open America’s support for dictators and authoritarianism.
  • He’s interrupted the creeping fascism that has been strangling America since at least the time of Truman, in favor of galloping fascism. The good news is that Trump is so inept — good only at manipulating and swindling the fearful, desperate, and angry — that he likely won’t succeed in destroying what’s left of our freedoms.

Had Clinton won last year, creeping fascism would have continued; nothing would have fundamentally changed; popular discontent and resentment would have continued to fester; even while they controlled both the House and Senate, Republicans would have blamed everything that’s going wrong on the “liberal” (she isn’t) Clinton; and an overt, more competent Republican theofascist would probably have taken power in 2020, which, had Clinton won last year, would likely mean “game over” for American democracy.

  • Trump, through his defeat of Clinton, has partially broken the hold of the corporate Democrats on the Democratic Party — the Republicans’ junior partner in the looting of the American working class — and made it at least possible that the “democratic wing of the Democratic Party” will ascend.

For decades, the corporate Dems have had a stranglehold on the party as they’ve catered to the corporate elite (e.g., Obama’s refusal to prosecute any of the banksters responsible for the financial crash), taken massive amounts of money from the corporate elite, and refused to advance policies (most notably “Medicare for all”) favored by a large majority of Americans, and an even larger majority of Democrats.

At the same time, the corporate Dems have been chasing the chimera of the “center” (the maybe 10% of eligible voters who are so  poorly informed that they can’t make up their minds until the last minute) while ignoring the vastly larger number of those eligible to vote (41% in the last election) who don’t even bother to do it, largely because of disillusionment, largely because they can’t see any real differences between the parties (at least in terms of economics).

The major gains of the Labour Party in the UK in the recent election there, under Jeremy Corbyn (the UK’s Bernie Sanders), which successfully went after nonvoters by offering a starkly progressive platform, will, one hopes, provide a further boost to the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”

  • Without intending to do it, Trump has spurred a wave of political activism in the U.S., the like of which hasn’t been seen in nearly half a century. This is a good thing for American democracy.

Contrary to popular belief, Trump’s victory last fall hasn’t been a total disaster, and in the end might turn out to be a good thing.

(Of course, things could get a whole lot worse under Trump. He and his minions are likely too inept to stage a Reichstag Fire and get away with it, but they almost certainly would take advantage of any of a number of disasters to impose parts of their horrific agenda. Naomi Klein at The Intercept offers a cogent analysis of these possibilities in “The worst of Donald Trump’s toxic agenda lies in wait — a major U.S. crisis will unleash it.”)


“How the aliens must gape in horror at our civilization, if they are out there! Like the person who has AIDS, humanity itself lacks the immune-system response to all that is monstrously devoid of meaning and logic . . . You could start a religion that proclaimed Jim Jones as Christ, and demand as sacrament that every tenth member consume dogshit laced with strychnine — people would rush to join up.”

–Fred Woodworth, in Black Star, Spring 1987