Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The greatest peril of propaganda

The greatest peril of propaganda is when the propaganda controls the propagandist, rather than the propagandist the propaganda.

When a propagandist uncritically accepts all her/is propaganda, s/he becomes its captive. Frankenstein time.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Price of Typos

The Price of Typos


Virginia Heffernan on digital and pop culture.

Some readers like to see portraits of authors they admire, study their personal histories or hear them read aloud. I like to know whether an author can spell. Nabokov spelled beautifully. Fitzgerald was crummy at spelling, bedeviled by entry-level traps like “definate.” Bad spellers, of course, can be sublime writers and good spellers punctilious duds. But it’s still intriguing that Fitzgerald, for all his gifts, didn’t perceive the word “finite” in definite, the way good spellers automatically do. Did this oversight color his impression of infinity? Infinaty?

Bad spellers are a breed apart from good ones. A writer with a mind that doesn’t register how words are spelled tends to see through the words he encounters — straight to the things, characters, ideas, images and emotions they conjure. A good speller, by contrast — the kind who never fails to clock the idiosyncratic orthography of “algorithm” or “Albert Pujols” — tends to see language as a system. Good spellers are often drawn to poetry and wordplay, while bad spellers, for whom language is a conduit and not an end in itself, can excel at representation and reportage.

For readers who find humanity in orthographic quirks, these are great times. Book publishers used to struggle mightily to conceal an author’s errors; publishers existed to hide those mistakes, some might say. But lately the vigilance of even the great houses has flagged, and typos are everywhere. Curious readers now get regular glimpses of raw and frank and interesting mistakes that give us access to unedited minds. Lately, in a big new memoir from a fancy imprint, I came across “peddle” for “pedal.” How did it happen?

Editors I spoke to confirmed my guesses. Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of fulltime copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.

There is also “pressure to publish more books more quickly than ever,” an editor at a major publishing house explained. Many publishers now skip steps. “In the past, you really readied the book in several discrete stages,” Paul Elie, a senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, explained. “Manuscript, galley proofs, revised proofs, blue lines. You marked your changes at each stage, and then the compositor incorporated them and sent you the next stage. Now there are intermediate stages; authors will e-mail in ‘one last correction,’ or we’ll produce intermediate stages of proof — the text is fluid, in motion, and this leads to typos.”

Authors, too, bear some blame for the typo explosion. As Geoff Shandler, the editor-in-chief of Little, Brown and Company, told me, “Use of the Word Processor has resulted in a substantial decline in author discipline and attention. Manuscripts are much longer than they were 25 years ago, much more casually assembled, and beyond spell check (and not even then; and of course it will miss typos if the word is a word) it is amazing how little review seems to have occurred before the text is sent to the editor. Seriously, you have no idea how sloppy some of these things are.”

Craig Silverman, a Canadian journalist with a book and a Web site about corrections called “Regret the Error,” expressed chagrin. “We seem to keep removing steps that involve editing and checking and don’t bother to think about how we replace them with something better,” he told me. At the same time, as a connoisseur of errors, he praised the “wonderfully human experience of being wrong.”

The Pollyannish upside to writerly inattention and cutbacks in publishing, then, is that readers sometimes see more of the human writer, and less buff and polish.

Rushing to publish and overlooking glaring typos may have become part of the new economics of traditional publishing. But on the Web, typos sometimes come with a price. “Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales,” said a BBC headline last week. The article cited an analysis of British Web figures that suggested that a single spelling mistake on a e-commerce site can hurt credibility so much that online revenues fall by half.

While the idea that sloppy spelling can sink whole businesses seems far-fetched, even casual bloggers recognize the imperative to spell well online. This is because search engines look for strings of characters in sequence, and if your site has misspellings, Google is less likely to list it at the top of search results. With misspellings, according to the tech site Geekosystem, “You aren’t going to get nearly as many hits as you deserve.” The imperative to spell correctly on the Web, and attract Google attention, means that even the lowliest content farmer will know that it’s i-before-e in “Bieber.”

At the same time, if you get something wrong online, readers and commenters will point it out, and editors can fix errors 10 seconds later.

By contrast, the errors in a print book’s first edition are forever. Recently, I noticed “Buckminster F├╝ller” and “habberdasher” in good-looking new books. These errors — creative misinterpretations on someone’s part — are endearing, and evocative. I didn’t send in corrections, though maybe I should have. (Book-error fanatics tell me you rarely get a response when you point out typos to publishers.)

When I asked around on Twitter for examples of rich typos in books, Lisa Hendrix, a romance writer, directed me to the Library of Congress — a giant archive of errors by our nation’s scribbling millions. I suddenly imagined a new library, made up exclusively of human mistakes. It sounded like a gold mine.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Questions sent to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs for an Interview

1. Would you agree with scholar Marc Lynch’s evaluation of your selection as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs? Here’s what he said:

Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy: “This [McHale as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs] would be a terrible, terrible selection. I don't know Judith McHale at all, and obviously have nothing against her personally. But the position of Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs should go to someone with experience in and a vision for public diplomacy, and who will be in a position to effectively integrate public diplomacy concerns into the policy-making process. Appointing someone with no experience in public diplomacy but with a resume which 'involves selling a message' has already been tried: the first post-9/11 Under-Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Charlotte Beers, whose tenure lasted only 17 months (October 2001-March 2003), focused on 'branding' America through television advertising showing happy Muslim-Americans, and is generally considered to be an utter failure. …

2. Would you agree with the following statement by the Director of the Center on Public [Diplomacy] at the University of Southern California, Philip Seib, regarding your “Roadmap” for US public diplomacy, which your office kindly sent to me in preparation for this interview:

The long-awaited “roadmap” for U.S. public diplomacy has finally emerged from Undersecretary of State Judith McHale’s office, and it is a stunning disappointment.

It is so lacking in imagination, so narrow in its scope, and so insufficient in its appraisal of the tasks facing U.S. public diplomats that it is impossible to understand why its preparation took so many months.

3. Were you misquoted in the following interview?:

I think that the more we can have people having direct conversations with each other -- and through those conversations and initiatives, through history of cultures we can learn about each other and if we do that, at the people-to-people level, that will provide us with a path to a more peaceful and prosperous future. So it's a key part of what we're trying to do, to really have people engage with each other, to learn about each other. So it's not public diplomacy, it's not messaging, it's not just a marketing campaign. It's really fostering an environment where you can strengthen relationships between people."

--Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale (November 11, 2010).

Follow-up questions: Are you essentially dismissing “public diplomacy” as anachronistic and outmoded? Do you think it’s a Cold war term that has little/no relevance in our new century?

4.  How will history judge you? What difference, if any, have you made?

[5]. Time permitting, what you said about General Marshall:

As I reflected on what I might say to you this evening, I thought, of course, about all the challenges which confront us, from the economy to the environment to extremism. But I also thought about all the opportunities which will be available to us if we pursue our national objectives in a spirit of partnership and mutual understanding.   This is precisely the approach Secretary Marshall followed in formulating the plan which bears his name and which I believe is the greatest example in our nation's history of Public Diplomacy done right. http://www.marshallfoundation.org/JudithMcHale.htm