Google backtracks on blogger porn changes

So, in my last post i expressed my opinion on how stupid Google’s plans to tackle ‘sexually explicit’ material on Blogger blogs was.

Today comes news that in the wake of the wave of criticism that the announcement generated, that Google has instead decided to do what it should have done first time around – enforce the actual rules it already has.

“This week, we announced a change to Blogger’s porn policy. We’ve had a ton of feedback, in particular about the introduction of a retroactive change (some people have had accounts for 10+ years), but also about the negative impact on individuals who post sexually explicit content to express their identities. So rather than implement this change, we’ve decided to step up enforcement around our existing policy prohibiting commercial porn.

Blog owners should continue to mark any blogs containing sexually explicit content as “adult” so that they can be placed behind an “adult content” warning page.

Bloggers whose content is consistent with this and other policies do not need to make any changes to their blogs.”

Google asks ‘is your nudity graphic’?

I see having logged in to my ToddisGod blog on Blogger this week that Google has announced that as of 23 March, there will be an end to porn, or to be exact no explicit material – ‘ images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity ‘ will be allowed on Blogger unless it offers “public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.” Erm ok. Anyone with a blog containing content deemed ‘explicit’ post 23rd will find their site defaulted to ‘private’ – so will no longer be visible to anyone other than the blog ‘owner’.

Aside from making the Daily Mail happy (they are already taking credit for the move) I’m not sure what the purpose of this is. Are they appeasing the owners of pictures and videos featured on these sites – coming to the defence of those who feel their copyright has been abused? Hardly. This is Google we’re talking about, although I’m sure content owners will be interested that Google is prepared to be proactive in censoring for its own purposes. Helping to protect children from adult content perhaps? I’m sure they’ll be happy to be thought of as doing so, but again, no. Maybe Google are just fed up on providing a free platform for people to sell/share porn? No idea.

It just feels a bit odd to me. Blogger already has an ‘adult’ Content Warning, which pops up – “The blog that you are about to view may contain content only suitable for adults. In general, Google does not review nor do we endorse the content of this or any blog”. You then have to click to proceed if you still wish to view the site. What’s wrong with this approach? It’s simple, it works. Unless anyone is publishing content that is actually illegal, what is the problem? This is the same Google whose search engine is the biggest porn engine on the planet.

I have this bizarre image on a sad man in a darkened room looking at thousands and thousands of blogs – and EVERY video and image ‘in context’ , to decide whether each blog’s content offers “public benefit, for example in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts.” Clearly Google has no intention of doing this and will target everyone and then deal with individual appeals. I’d like someone to offer up the argument that they know many members of the public that derive a benefit from viewing porn, so their blog should be passed under the ‘public benefit’ defence.

Also what exactly is ‘graphic nudity’? Seriously, can someone at Google provide a definition for this one? And how exactly does if differ from ‘sexually explicit’? Given that Google is using this as a criteria can they provide some handy definitions for these terms? Or will Google just ‘know it when they see it’?

Children’s picture book tries to tackle anger

When the Anger Ogre Visits
Andree Salom
Wisdom Publications
Pub Date: Apr 7 2015

‘The Angry Ogre visits everybody’s lives, just remember to be patient whenever it arrives.’

This is the key message behind this short children’s ‘self help’ picture book about anger. Told in a simple but effective rhyme, it tries to explain to children that everyone gets angry and that we should not necessarily be automatically afraid of it. Only by facing our own anger, head on, and also viewing other people’s anger can we learn to disarm the negative feelings and return ourselves to a state of calmness. It is a message enhanced by the quirky illustrations by Ivette Salom’s .

A nice gateway into basic relaxation and anger management techniques.

Lynette Noni delivers an engaging new fantasy heroine

Akarnae: The Medoran Chronicles Begin
Lynette Noni
Pantera Press
Pub Date: 1 February 2015

When I first started reviewing more books on this site, due to my NetGalley membership, one of the first people to like one of my updates was a lady called Lynette Noni. Indeed she became the first of several authors/writers that have since followed me and/or ‘liked’ posts [Thanks to all of you by the way]. In some ways it felt a little odd. Why are they following me, I thought? Do the want me to review their books? None have suggested it, thankfully, but of course I have at least become curious about what they are writing. Take Lynette for example. A first time author – and you’ll know if you’ve been following my book reviews that I am a bit of sucker for first time authors. I saw her book come out, and though: YA fantasy book. Hmm. I don’t read much fantasy fiction these days, but I have always had a soft spot for it –misspent youth – so I thought why not give it a go.

So, what’s it about?

In a nutshell, Alexandra (Alex) Jennings is a sixteen year old girl with jet-setting archaeologist parents, who finds herself set to spend a year at a well regarded ‘boarding school’ – The International Exchange Academy – whilst her parents are off the communications radar on the other side of the planet. Only, when she arrives, her welcome is not a warm one – it’s quite wet, in fact, and her sense of dread starts to set in. That is until she walks through a doorway to ‘register’ and finds herself stranded in own little Narnia, in this case a strange fantasy world called Medora. Several handsome men later – including one who says their destiny’s are entwined – she finds herself with two new friends Bear and Jordan as well as becoming enrolled in Akarnae Academy, Medora’s boarding school for teenagers with extraordinary gifts. Were that not odd enough, she is told she is a ‘chosen one’ and several of the teachers at the school already know who she is. This including the headmaster – Professor Marselle – only, he is missing, which is bad news for Alex as he is apparently the only person who knows how to get her home…

What follows is a voyage of personal discovery for Alex, as she tries to: find out what her ‘gift’ might be; blend in her new surroundings; discover what it means to be chosen; work out why she is so attracted to someone called Aven; and find her way home.

It’s a lot of fun.

Noni’s starting point is clearly as a fan of the genre, and so the book nods back to YA fantasy genre staples: Boarding School (Harry Potter) Secret passage into strange other world (Narnia) etc, but like the Hunger Games, and Divergent series it also excels by having a strong female lead. As the father of a young girl I am always pleased to see books that have strong female characters – not just the ‘side-kick’/ love interest. Alex is funny, vulnerable and possessed of inner strength. As a reader you warn to her immediately and as a result are onboard from the opening pages.

The book is well paced and accomplishes its task of being an engaging stand alone book, but also the introduction to a series. Readers of fantasy fiction will know that these are very rarely standalone affairs, and Akarnae is set to be no different, as it is billed as the first of a planned five-part series called The Medoran Chronicles (I believe book two is already finished). Because of that were are introduced to a lot of characters who you suspect will become stalwarts of the series, both teachers and pupils. All are well drawn and developed enough that, in reading the book, you care about more than just Alex. But the large cast of characters doesn’t get in the way of the action and adventure, and there are a few twist and turns in the plot – which older readers will probably see coming – that should still surprise younger readers.

What made the book stand out from many I’ve read in the past in the genre is that Noni has as a nice comic touch to her writing. There a few books that don’t benefit from the odd injection of humour, and this kind of book usually cries out for it. Thankfully, not only is there quite a lot of humour in the book, but it comes across naturally and unforced. I smiled a lot. Also I’m a librarian, by training, so any book with a magic library in it (a character in its own right) is always going to appeal to me. I’m easily pleased.

I enjoyed the book and hope it finds its audience, young and old. Yes, it’s pitched as a YA book, but even if you’ve long passed the YA threshold, you’ll find enjoyment here too if, like me, you have a soft spot for fantasy fiction.

I, for one, will be more than happy to return to Medora for another helping of Alex’s adventures.

Pretty Ugly is Pretty Funny

Pretty Ugly
Kirker Butler
St. Martin’s Press
Thomas Dunne Books
Pub Date: Mar 31 2015

“Pretty Ugly is everything you’d want in a novel: funny, poignant, exceedingly well-written. I look forward to reading it.” —Stephen Colbert

Pretty Ugly is a story of child beauty pageants, trying to live your life through your child, disillusionment, and true love.

Miranda, a minor pageant star in her youth has decided to devote her life into making her daughter bailey the most successful child pageant start ever (128 pageant wins and counting). It’s a task that seems destined to be thwarted both by the competition – in the form of Starr Kennedy and by Bailey herself who at nine is losing interest in the whole thing and binge eating on the side. Whilst Miranda and Bailey spend their weekend’s on the road, husband Ray is at home working several nursing jobs to help fund the pageant life. Ray has the Midas touch around patients – a lot of them die. He has had his hands on 365 people when they died. So, it seems his night time job at hospice is his ideal job. Ray also likes to relax, and by relax I mean in a Nurse Jackie kind of way. He steals drugs from patients bags, tries out any drugs the drug reps bring into the hospital; in fact he takes just about anything he can get his hands on.

Meanwhile at home there are two other children – the two boys. Miranda doesn’t know what to do with boys ‘ I love them…I just don’t have anything in common with them’, so she basically ignores them and allows her god-fearing mother Joan to look after them during the daytime; home schooling them.

What follows is a constantly amusing train-wreck of a story, as Miranda, lies about Baileys age to try and improve her chances of winning, melts down over reality TV, and (literally) fights for the family honour, before discovering salvation is at hand in the guise of a new baby (thankfully another girl). Meanwhile Ray gets a little too friendly with the daughter of a patient, who ends up nursing him whilst also becoming the target of Joan, who is on a mission from Jesus (who speaks directly to her) to rid their lives of evil: “Pull this off Joan, and Ill build you your dream closet. I used to be a carpenter, you know. A good one’

As you might expect from a man who is a producer and writer on Family Guy, there are some laughs to be had in Pretty Ugly. ‘Ray was powerless. Looking away from her perfect teenage breasts would have been as impossible as looking away from a pair of perfect teenage breasts’ Most come from the frankly farcical nature of the situations Miranda and Ray get themselves into. Miranda is without a doubt the star turn though: a wonderful creation, a women who’s shallowness and bitchiness is a sheer delight: “Parents who entered their overweight children in beauty pageants were worse than parents who encouraged their handicapped children to play sport”, or “well honey, not everyone can be blessed with an eating disorder, Miranda said, ‘some of us have to work to stay thin”

This was a book that was fun to read and it is biting at times too when Butler lets rip on the whole child pageant concept: ‘dollhouse of grown women playing with smaller versions of their ideal selves. Fifty scantily clad prepubescent girls scampered about like the main attraction in a Bangkok coffee shop: sexy children marketed as wholesome family entertainment’.  We’re never far from the overall creepiness of the whole thing.

Certainly one of the funnier books I have read in a while and a smile rarely left my face. That can’t be bad.

I’ve a hunch this tale of drowning mermaids will make a big splash this summer

The Book of Speculation
Erika Swyler
St. Martin’s Press
Pub Date:  Jun 23 2015

‘We carry our families like anchors, rooting us in storms, making sure we never drift from where and who we are. We carry our families within us the way we carry our breath underwater, keeping us afloat, keeping us alive. I’ve been lifting anchors since I was eighteen. I’ve been holding my breath since before I was born”

Ok, I’ll admit it, the mere fact that the central character in this novel is a librarian WAS the main reason I decided to read the debut novel from Erika Swyler. This was then cemented when I decided to find out who she was, and came across her Tumblr cookery site . She made me laugh. She sounded fun. How could I not read her book?

Doing a bit of research also meant that rather than try and set out what the book is about myself I could use her own quite brilliant summation: “Do you like misanthropic male librarians? How about creepy tarot cards and cursed books? Family sagas? Strange tattooed dudes who might have questionable motives? Really early circus history? Houses that are totally structurally unsound? Parents and neighbors with pretty heavy secrets? Illustrations?! That’s in there. All of it.” And it is.

Simon Watson is small town librarian on the verge of losing his job. His parents are both dead – mother drowned (suicide), father had a stroke – and his younger sister, Enola, has move away, and is working as a tarot card reader in a carnival. He lives alone in a dilapidated house perched perilously on the edge of a cliff, and lives a fairly uneventful life until a strange package arrives on his doorstep. It’s a weather damaged book from an antiquarian bookseller called Churchwarry, who claims to have bought the book at auction and on finding his grandmother’s name, Verona Bonn,  inscribed in the back book, decided to track down Simon and gift the book to him.

The book is an owners log: part diary, part account book for a travelling show/carnival from over 200 year ago. It lists venues played, money made, who signs on, who leaves, everything about the show. But this one seems more than that – it also has drawings of Tarot Cards and other things too. What draws Simon in, apart from his curiosity, is the fact that it quickly becomes apparent that his grandmother drowned under the same circumstances and on the same date as his mother – 24th July. In fact, the female line of his family all seem to do so, and on that date. It is only ten days away from that date again in the book and his wayward sister is coming home. Is it just a wild, if unnerving,  coincidence? or is Enola’s fate wrapped up in some kind of curse/hex on his family, and if so, can he figure out how to break the hex before it is too late.

Swyler tells the story through the tried and tested practice of alternating past and present chapters: Peabody’s travelling show, and in particular the arrivals of a mute wild boy, Amos, and then the mysterious and captivating girl, Evangeline; and present day as Simon tried to make sense of the book, his family, and his blossoming relationship with co-worker and neighbour, Alice.

This means, as a reader, we always know more than Simon, which some readers might find annoying. For me this method of storytelling serves the novel well. It  is clear that Swyler felt this was the best way to put some feeling and humanity into the historical characters – and it works. You cannot help but feel for both Amos and Evangeline, and indeed also do so for the seeming villain of the piece.  It is an engaging tale of love and death.  As you can see from the quote above my review, Swyler is a beautiful prose writer;  but she also has a eye for pacing and for capturing the magic that surrounds fairs and carnivals.

There is a believability about the lack of knowledge the characters have about their family histories. Since the television programme ‘Who do you Think You Are’ , and the increased digitization of old records, we do have now means, via a few hours on Ancestry.com to open many historic doors to our pasts: we can now find out a great deal. But, this knowledge is often just the ‘who’. We can find out who our great great great grandparents were, but that doesn’t tell us who they were, what their lives were like. It joins a dot, it doesn’t paint a picture. That said, some readers might express incredulity at just how far family connections are pushed in this book.

On a personal note, I’m not sure I agree with Swyler that Simon is a misanthrope, but reading that I was reminded of the classic Bukowski quote “I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they aren’t around.”  Also as a trained Librarian I laughed when one character tells Simon ‘Just remember, we’re not librarian’s; we’re information professionals’, a truism I can attest to.

Erika Swyler’s book looks set to become one of the big books of the second half of 2015. Like Jessie Burton’s - The Miniaturist last year it is the kind of book which will appeal both the a mass readership with its blend of family history, mystery and occult, as well as a more literary readership who are as engaged with her writing as they are with the story unfolding. I also would not be surprised if this story made it to the big screen in the not too distant future.

‘May the water take that blood and wash away her and her line away’

Another fine first novel, in a year that is already impressing on that front. Shame you’ll have to wait until June to read it.

What the ‘hells’ in going on? Camden Town Brewery v Redwell Brewing

I caught this story on the BBC website this morning about the ongoing battle between Camden Town Brewery and Redwell Brewery over the use of the the term ‘Hells’ to describe a lager.  CTB issued High Court papers claiming Norwich-based Redwell Brewery was trying to “pass off” its beer as Camden’s. Redwell says not so and that “hells” is a German term for a light lager in common use. Erm, not really. I think Redwell are trying to stretch a point though. Their claim that ‘hells’ is a common term used to describe a German beer style is not strictly true : ‘Helles’ and ‘Hell’ are, ‘Hells’ is not. Nit picking you might argue, but it is a potentially big nit as far as branding goes.

Now, there are a couple of small Swiss brewers who use ‘Hells’ as a part of their beer name that Redwell could try and use to argue that the term should be regarded as generic, in the same way ‘Hell and Helles’ are. Indeed they will no doubt try and argue that the average beer drinking member of the public would see no real difference in Hell, Hells, Helles when attached to a beer name. I’ll be honest, I thought that, like the other two terms, it was just a style descriptor; and I like to think I’m reasonably knowledgeable about beer.

CTB have also applied for a Trademark for the term ‘hells’ in respect of beer. https://www.tmdn.org/tmview/get-detail?st13=EM500000012464699 and https://www.tmdn.org/tmview/get-detail?st13=GB500000003069583

There is a lot going one here. Clearly if Redwell called their beer Hell or Helles, there is not an issue and no case. It is quite frankly what they should do instead of pissing about with a court case they probably can’t afford. They want to play the downtrodden bullied company by the bigger badder CTB. Grow up, get over yourselves, stop being dicks, and get back to making good – often great – beers. However, on the other side CTB’s argument that the public would somehow think Redwell’s ‘Hells’ was their own is just plain bollocks, and I will bet money they can not find a convincing witness to claim this is the case in court. So, they need to stop being dicks too.

This really shouldn’t be going to court. BUT, if it does, I hope CTB has more in its claim that just passing off, otherwise Redwell have a chance. Here’s why.

So let’s look at it from a purely legal perspective. CTB are going for a ‘passing off’ claim. This is a common law tort, not a statutory cause of action, with a the underlying principle that “A man is not to sell his own goods under the pretense that they are the goods of another man”.

To win CTB will need to establish 3 things:

1. Goodwill in relation to its goods or services.
2. A misrepresentation by Redwell  to the public (whether or not intentional) leading or likely to lead the public to believe that the goods or services offered by him are the goods or services of the claimant.
3. Damage to the claimant (e.g. financial loss or damage to goodwill), as a result of the Redwell’s misrepresentation that the source of Redwell’s goods or services is the same as the source of those offered by the CTB.

Goodwill

The classic description of goodwill in relation to passing off is: “the benefit and advantage of the good name, reputation, and connection of a business. It is the attractive force which brings in custom”  In other words, it is what keeps the consumer coming back.

CTB have been making Hells since 2010 and it is their leading brand. There is clearly goodwill in the product.

Misrepresentation

There must be a misrepresentation as to the origin (source) of the goods.
Common misrepresentations include:
• a defendant falsely representing that his goods are the goods of the claimant.
• a defendant falsely representing that his product or business is connected with the claimant

Such misrepresentations may take the form of an express statement by the defendant, or may be implied from the use by the defendant of the same or similar distinguishing marks in respect of his goods or services as are used by the claimant. It is irrelevant whether or not the defendant intended to pass his goods or services off as those of another, or whether he acted maliciously, negligently or fraudulently if the effect is that there is a misrepresentation to the public.

The second part of this element is therefore that the misrepresentation must confuses, deceives or is likely to confuse or deceive the public .

The claimant must prove on the balance of probabilities that a proportion of the public would be confused or deceived as a result of the defendant’s misrepresentation.

So here CTB will claim that the mere use of the word ‘Hells’ is enough to prove misrepresentation. Whereas Redwell will say where’s your proof anyone was confused or deceived into thinking our Hells has any connection with yours.

Damage

Passing off will only be actionable where a claimant can show that the misrepresentation creates a real and tangible risk of damage to its identifiable goodwill – either financial loss or damage to goodwill.  Where a defendant falsely represents his goods as those of the claimant, the damage is usually in the form of a diversion of sales away from the claimant to the defendant.

So, can CTB show that they’re losing sales to Redwell through people’s confusion over their respective ‘Hell’s lagers?

I should point out here that proof of damage is not essential in every case to enable the claimant to establish the action. It depends on the circumstances. And, one of the interesting things about passing off cases is that they are very much decided on a case by case basis, and turns on the individual case facts.

Conclusion

To win in a passing off case CTB will need to present good evidence to establish each of the three elements and convince the court that Redwell has behaved in a way calculated to deceive a proportion of the public. Redwell will argue the term ‘hells’ is not distinctive and that it has not used it to pass off any goods for those of the CTB, nor is there any likelihood of appreciable damage.

As I said at the start, I think both sides should stop being dicks. Redwell should be the bigger party and just change their name to Helles or Hell. It should do this because it is the right thing to do for its company. I can well understand how doing so might stick in the throat, especially since I have just argued that from a legal perspective they have a decent chance of winning on the passing off claim – all the burden of prove is, after all, on CTB. But, really, is it worth it? I’d prefer Redwell to spend their money on making great beer, rather than in an ultimately pointless spat over lager.