A newspaper op-ed that doesn’t understand journalism?

Ever since the 2016 election, the “Trump safari” has been a recurring feature of newspaper journalism: let’s go talk to some Trump voters and try to understand them. Let’s explain how they’re uneasy with changes in their country and the way they’re losing ground in the economy. Let’s help big city liberals try to figure them out.

Which is not a bad thing in itself. But as countless liberal bloggers have pointed out, it results in coverage of white working-class voters and never say, what black working-class voters in rust belt cities want. Nobody ever suggests that the Trump voter needs to have their stereotypes about big-city liberals challenged. And the stories just keep coming, over and over.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed column, Jill Abramson suggests it’s all a failed effort: “there is little evidence that reporters have fulfilled their pledge to report on and reflect the interests and values of the people who voted for him. There have been some good dispatches from the heartland, but too often what is published amounts to the proverbial ‘toe touch in Appalachia.'” Why? Because they’re big city reporters coming in for a brief visit. The only way to get real answers is from someone who actually lives there, “to bring their audience up close to the different and difficult realities of life in rural America.”

Urgh. As a former journalist, I cannot begin to describe how clueless and trite I think this is. Okay, I can begin to describe it, because that’s why I’m writing this post.

First off, I agree that the loss of local coverage or locally based correspondents anywhere is a bad thing. If you don’t have someone attending city council or county commission meetings every week, and send reporters only when something major is happening, a lot of stories fly under the radar. Lots of things happen that people will never hear about. That’s bad because a lot of stuff that affects people happens in low-key meetings: development decisions, spending decisions, new policies.

And if you’re just doing a “toe touch’ yes, that can make it harder to give context. If an issue crops up again and again — in Destin, where I worked, that would have included traffic and beach erosion — a regular reporter gets perspective (institutional knowledge as they say). It’s a lot harder if you only attend meetings once in a quarter.   But that’s true of everything that doesn’t get regular coverage. Lots of regulatory agencies don’t undergo the coverage they used to. Fewer local newspapers have reporters in their state capitals. There’s no reason to single out rural America as uniquely worth of an added spotlight

And “toe touch” doesn’t automatically equal bad reporting. It’s the nature of reporting that you often have to learn about an issue/community/person really quickly to write the story; full immersion isn’t possible, or necessary. If Abramson wants to cite some examples of how Trump safaris are getting it wrong, fine … but she doesn’t. So what’s the point? Is she upset the articles aren’t sympathetic or understanding enough? Because as someone who used to live in Trump country and knows lots of Trump voters, I don’t feel any more sympathetic about them than the legendary big-city liberal reporters. And why exactly are Trump voters worthy of more coverage than, say, black workers in the rust belt? Small-town voters in Ferguson? Orthodox Jews in NYC? Homeless people in LA?

The only reason I can think of is that as Ta-Nehisi Coates put it, these people have a lot of grievances and white grievances have to be taken seriously.

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Captain America and Promiscuous Women! Books read

CAPTAIN AMERICA: The Coming of … The Falcon by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko and Gene Colan runs from 1968 into ’69 and despite a couple of flaws, made for very good reason. We have Sharon “Agent 13” Carter, easily the most interesting of Marvel’s Silver Age love interests (if she and Cap have to die to complete the mission, so be it) and arcs involving the Fourth Sleeper (I through III showed up in an earlier story), the Red Skull (rather overused during this period) and obviously Sam Wilson becoming the Falcon (a bigger deal back when black faces in comics were a rare sight). It also has Jim Steranko’s short run as writer/artist, during which he introduced Madame Hydra (a good foe except for her I’m Sooo Ugly motivation), made Rick Jones into Cap’s new partner and resolved Cap having his secret identity known (which Brian Cronin covers here).

On the downside, some of Kirby’s last issues show the Lee/Kirby team running out of steam (not as badly as on Thor, though). And the arc that introduces Falcon involves the Skull using the Cosmic Cube and it almost verges on parody how he uses godlike power (for those who don’t know, it’s the equivalent of the Infinity Gauntlet) to toy with Cap and give him lots of time to escape. Still, it was overall excellent.

THE TRIALS OF NINA MCCALL: Sex, Surveillance and the Deacdes-Long Government Program to Imprison “Promiscuous” Women by Scott W. Stern looks at how the United States in WW I decided to fight the risk of soldiers catching debilitating STDs by cracking down on prostitutes and STD carriers around military bases; when it turned out many doughboys had caught the clap in their home towns, the “American Plan” as it was later called broadened all over the country.

In practice what that meant was that women who were prostitutes or suspected prostitutes or simply promiscuous (despite gender-neutral language, the plan in practice targeted women) could be sent to reformatories and forced to accept dangerous chemical treatments for the diseases they supposedly had, all without any trial or hearing. Some women escaped their jails, some set fire to them, and some like Nina McCall (not a prostitute, simply a young woman alleged to have slept with a soldier, and to have gonorrhea) went to court. Usually federal pressure squashed any hope of judicial support, but in Nina’s case she won release from the oppressive post-confinement supervision. The plan however continued on at the local level even after it died out as a federal project; the freedom to round up accused prostitutes as a public health menace without having to worry about a trial was manna from heaven to local cops (much like vagrancy laws).

It’s a good book, though flawed by Stern’s efforts to make Nina the central focus. After she wins her case, Stern continues to follow her life story in detail even though it has nothing to do with the plan, nor offers anything particularly unusual; the best he can do is suggest that Nina must have been worried her female friends or relatives could be caught up in the plan like she was. It doesn’t really fit. Nevertheless, this was worth reading.

#SFWApro. Top cover by Jack Kirby, lower by Steranko, all rights remain with current holders.

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Senseless death, an angel and a yellow submarine: a play, movies and TV

This month’s production from Playmakers Repertory Company was the premiere of JUMP, a drama in which two sisters and their father gather to dispose of mom’s things after her death from cancer, and knit together their frayed relationship. Only one of the sisters keeps going up to the nearby bridge and thinking what it would feel like to jump … This didn’t quite work for me, mostly because the big twist was quite obvious (though I didn’t get the details exactly right). Well executed, though, and a good looking set. “This is a strange place to vape.

JINDABYNE (2006) is an Aussie film based on one of the Raymnond Carver short stories adapted into Short Cuts, wherein Gabriel Byrne goes on a fishing trip with his buddies, only to discover an Aboriginal woman floating dead in the water. They do not, however, think that’s a reason to cut short the trip, which completely freaks out Byrne’s wife Laura Linney when she learns about it. This was better than Short Cuts but multiple distractions during the morning worked against me really getting into it (one break from the screen turned into several short breaks). It would double-bill well with River’s Edge in which a group of callous teens similarly discover a corpse. “So who appointed you the chief of political correctness?”

I was never a fan of the 1980s series HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN, in which Michael Landon played Jonathan, an angel earning his wings alongside mortal sidekick Mark (Victor French). Its particular style of heartwarming wasn’t to my taste, though I can see why some people found it satisfying comfort food; comforting enough it ran five seasons, second only to Touched by an Angel as far as angelic TV series go. I watched the sixth season episode Reunion though because a local friend, Hope Alexander Willis, has a supporting role as the wife of a PR guy. I’m not sure I’d have recognized Hope’s face, but I definitely tell it’s the same voice. The story itself involves Jonathan working to bring off Mark’s high school reunion, thereby helping leading man Lloyd Bochner accept he’s aged into character acting and recapture a lost love. However because that’s one of several happy endings at the reunion, I found this less focused than the few episodes I’ve watched before. “It just shows how things we think are unimportant at the time can matter the world to someone.”

THE YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) was one of LeAnn’s Christmas gifts to me, wherein the malevolent Blue Meanies invade the utopian musical undersea realm of Pepperland with an army of apple bonkers, snapping-turtle Turks, killer clowns and the deadly flying glove. One man escapes in the eponymous vessel that brought the founders to Pepperland. Flying it to Liverpool, he finds a brooding Ringo (“Next to me, Eleanor Rigby lived a gay, mad life.”) and enlists the Beatles to liberate Pepperland. But can they survive their travels through the Sea of Time, the Sea of Holes and the foothills of the Headlands?

This film reminds me a lot of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in that the designers just don’t seem to quit, constantly throwing in little visual details and touches to scenes that are already stunning. Delightful to look at, whimsical in story, it’s a thorough charmer. I’ve always been surprised the Beatles’ didn’t speak their parts (they sing, of course), as bringing them together in the studio proved impossible (on the commentary track, one of the production team says they stumbled across the voice for George one night in a bar). Definitely worth seeing, if you haven’t already. “Would you believe me if I told you I was being followed by a yellow submarine?”

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Today I got that nibbled to death by ducks feeling

But first, a look at Plush Dog nuzzling with Tito, new sibling to Lily, the dog up the street we sometimes dog-sit for.

The feeling of having one’s day eaten up by multiple little distractions is in some ways worse than having one big project. With one major distraction, like a repair, I can block time and when it’s over, it’s over. Today, though, I had multiple distractions: washing-machine repair guy (third one we’ve dealt with, first one I feel good about), arranging an electrician appointment for next week, upgrading our security system, doing some research on the cost of a replacement washing machine (probably won’t be necessary), providing extra dog care … plus Plushie completely freaking out over the repair dude being In The House (we fenced off the area so the pups couldn’t get in his way).  And talking on the phone is not the best thing for my strained voice. However it’s definitely growing stronger every day so I must be nursing it sufficiently.

Despite that, it was a productive week. Though novel writing is still going slower than I want, and Leaf articles are taking way too long (not their fault, it’s me). So what did I get done?

I rewrote the first chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer in first person. It’s closer to urban fantasy as a genre than anything else, and first person is the default setting there. Plus I found I could work in a little more needed information with first-person narration.

I finished the first chapter of Let No Man Put Asunder and read it for writer’s group. The feedback was, as always helpful. As my voice frayed a little by the end of the reading, I skipped out on the usual hanging out after. A shame.

I sent a Southern Discomfort query off to five agents, queried two magazines about articles and one newspaper about an op-ed column.

I submitted A Famine Where Abundance Lies, and I may have found a publisher to submit Questionable Minds too.

I rewrote the story Neverwas, which is now titled The Impossible Years. It’s definitely closer to being readable, but I still lack the ending I need. I rewrote Only the Lonely Can Slay, and it’s coming along well. Here I have the ending and the general structure but I need more obstacles for my protagonist, Heather, to overcome. I was working on another draft today, when all the ducks began nibbling.

And I did my usual array of Leaf articles to help put bread on the table. I gave up on doing any of those today too, but I got them in, and some requested rewrites, every other day this week.

It’s helpful to write all that down and see that despite my feeling right now, I had a good, productive week.

Below, Plushie lets the greyhounds at Piney Woods Park know that he’s the boss of this cell block.

#SFWApro. Photos are mine, please credit if you use.

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I made a list but it didn’t save me

Like many couples, TYG and I have to figure out who pays for what. As Leaf income has settled down to be at least semi-regular, I’m comfortable paying for more stuff; rather than pay more of the household bills I opted to cover all of the food shopping. That just seems a more “fun” way to contribute than paying the water bill. Not that water isn’t important, but I take much more personal interest in picking my meal ingredients. And that way if I get the urge to buy something self-indulgent and expensive, I don’t feel I’m taking advantage (TYG has never objected when I do, but even so). Last weekend was the first time.

As always, I work out what I’m going to make in advance and then draw up the list. As we had some leftover mashed potatoes, I figured I’d make one of the various potato-bread recipes in my bread books. I had all the other ingredients except butter, so that was all I put on the list.

Passing through the baking section at Sprouts, I wondered for a second if I needed white flour, even though I didn’t have it on the list. Naah, I told myself, I definitely have enough white flour. Of course, I could have picked up a bag anyway — it’s not like it won’t get used — but because I didn’t want to be spendthrift, I figured I’d skip it.

Yes, you can all see what’s coming: it turns out I was almost out of white flour. Nowhere near enough for any of the recipes I had in mind. I didn’t want to go shopping agains, so I tried a new recipe for whole wheat bread, which came out great. However the mashed potatoes had to pass into that compost heap in the sky, never to fulfill their purpose.

Nothing earth-shaking, but after I got over my annoyance, it was pretty amusing.

For more amusement, here’s a George Barr on which a woman is apparently wearing a giant teacup for a hat.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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A blood heir, a fraud and other writing links

I haven’t read Amelie Wen Zhao’s Blood Heir, but Zhao pulled it pre-publication after criticism that the book is racist. Depending who you talk to, this was a good decision or a massive injustice; Slate does a good job covering the issues

Thriller author Dan Mallory allegedly advanced his career by lying a lot. On Twitter, editor Ruoxi Chen vents that Mallory can fall upwards while women of color in publishing are stuck going nowhere.

How to write superhumans well.

Isabel Cooper argues Tolstoy was wrong: all happy families are not alike.

Netflix and other streaming service are pumping out new content. That’s nevertheless leaving writers and actors worse off financially.

As the media landscape keeps splintering, is Paw Patrol the last kiddie mega-hit?

Another day, another slice of toxic fandom.

In Finland, they don’t do small talk. I think cultural details like that could add a lot to a fictional setting.

Julie Moffett on writing Y/A that’s geared to actual teenagers.

Does Kevin Spacey’s recent attempt at a career-salvaging video violate the House of Cards copyright?

“There is no shame in comfort, in paying your bills, in eating food and enjoying the shade from a ceiling which itself is underneath a roof. You may even be likelier to make great art while comfortable, because you aren’t desperate.” — Chuck Wendig on the starving writer stereotype

Switching subjects, here’s a photo of a husky puppy I met in Petco recently. Very sweet, very recognizably puppyish in its motions. TYG was much amused it pooped all over the floor a few minutes later.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine, please credit if you use.

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Honor and its discontents

In the quotes post from early in January, I included a line from Lois McMaster Bujold: “Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall as it will. And outlive the bastards.” I like those sentiments, but I don’t think separating honor and reputation is actually possible. They’re twinned and they don’t separate well.

Being honorable has a lot to recommend it. Keeping your word. Paying your debts (though there are lots of circumstances where not paying your debts is not dishonorable). Doing your duty. But like chivalry, the good stuff is tangled up with a lot of stuff that I don’t think is so positive.

Most significantly, honor, like I said, is tied to your reputation. Honor isn’t about doing the right thing or the noble thing, it’s being seen and respected for doing them. A warrior can do the right thing even if nobody knows about it. They can be courteous and just towards the weak and helpless, even if everyone thinks they’re a vile bully. But if people think the warrior acts dishonorably, then they have no honor.

That’s why people fought duels in 18th century America, among many other eras and places. Honor mattered, but it was never enough to live by a code of honor if someone else questioned it. A suggestion you were a scoundrel or a coward (in the U.S., “puppy” was a fighting word too) tarnished your honor even if it wasn’t true. To disprove it, you had to issue a challenge; you didn’t necessarily have to fight (seconds would negotiate a truce, if possible) but you had to be willing to fight.

I don’t see a lot of this side of honor in fiction, probably because it’s not very attractive. Characters like Dumas’ Musketeers, who challenge a stranger to a duel at the drop of a hat or an impolite word, look irrational and unappealing by today’s standards (and I say that as someone very fond of the Musketeers). Post-ST:OS handling of the Klingons, while showing them as violent, makes their honorable ways more commendable than irrational (a subjective opinion). But generally, the only way to guard your honor was to hit, stab or shoot someone.

A related problem is that like chivalry, honor is very much tied up with fighting and masculinity. Being a Marine and doing your duty gives you “honor”; nobody says that about working yourself to the bone to support your kids. Paying your gambling “debts of honor” is one thing; keeping your promise to your kids is another. A woman’s honor was traditionally limited to “is she a virgin?” And like other forms of honor, whether she was didn’t matter as much as whether people thought she was; even a rape victim could be “dishonored” and worthless. For a woman, “death before dishonor” didn’t mean heroic fighting, it meant choosing death over rape (some examples here).

Which is why I have mixed feelings about being told I should respect a character because oooh, their sense of honor is so noble and awesome. By itself that’s not enough. And there are other virtues — honesty, loyalty, bravery — that can get the job done just as much.

Honor is, in short, one of those things I’d love to see deconstructed in a story some day.

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The Sandman That Time Forgot

Probably everyone reading this knows, at least by repute, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The Golden Age Sandman also has a certain rep simply by virtue of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon working on him. The earlier Golden Age version, when he wore a business suit and a gas mask, became retroactively memorable thanks to Matt Wagner’s Sandman Mystery Theatre.

The Bronze Age Sandman? Not so memorable. Or at least, not memorable in a good way.

This character debuted in 1974 in a one-shot by Simon and Kirby. “General Electric,” a Japanese WW II veteran with an electronic head, is secretly plotting against the U.S., using animatronic dolls he’s designed to kill, kill and kill again! A young orphan, Jed, who lives with his fisherman grandfather ,has one of the dolls, which puts him at risk. Fortunately the Sandman — apparently the Sandman of folklore, though they don’t spell it out — intervenes to stop General Electric, ultimately taking him down with his hypersonic magic whistle (think the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver amped up by about 50).

This goofiness is actually typical of Joe Simon’s storytelling in the Bronze Age. But for whatever reason (Kirby’s art? The famous Simon/Kirby team reunited? People who, like me, picked it up out of curiosity at anew superhero?) Sandman sold very well. So well that DC launched a series in 1975 (in those days it took a while to get sales figures). Michael Fleisher and Ernie Chan took over story and art but kept the tone as much like Simon and Kirby as possible (Kirby returned starting in #4). The Sandman, accompanied by the living nightmares Brute and Glob, battled various oddball threats intruding on people’s dreams, with Jed invariably dragged into peril at some point.

I bought the entire run, probably because I’d already bought #1 and I was obsessively completist in those days. I don’t remember really liking it, and rereading recently I don’t discern any hidden depths or charm. If my age had been single digits when it came out, I’d probably have loved it, so maybe that was the market they were shooting for. Judging by the letter columns, that wasn’t the readership they were getting and by the sixth and final issue, they’d acknowledged the magic whistle was too much of a deus ex machina; they were going to work harder on putting the Sandman in real peril.

At the same time, it looked like they didn’t want to shake things up too much. The last couple of issues had Jeb going to live with bullying, abusive relatives and their fat, selfish, bullying son. It definitely felt like they were still trying to appeal to a young audience. The final issue does have one funny moment, in which Dr. Spider warns the White House that he’s ready to use the Sandman’s whistle to blow up Washington; instead of terror, everyone just laughs him off as a crank.

#6 would have been the end of the Sandman. But then Roy Thomas worked General Electric and Sandman into his run on Wonder Woman. Up to that point there’d been no sign Sandman belonged in the DC Universe at all, but now he was part of it. WW #300 revealed he was actually Garrett Sandford, a psychologist tossed into the dream dimension to save the president from nightmares. Unable to return except briefly, he set up shop as the Sandman. In Thomas’ later series, Infinity, Inc., the son of the Golden Age Hawkman, Hector Hall, assumes the Sandman role and takes his wife Lyta (daughter of the Golden Age Wonder Woman) off to dwell with him in the “Dream Stream.”

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman got rid of this pretender to the throne, revealing Glob and Brute were two of Morpheus’ creatures who’d run rogue and set up their own pocket dream universe. Sandford, then Hall, had just been dupes (I don’t remember why). Morpheus sent Hector’s soul into the afterlife, though he eventually returned to become Dr. Fate for a while. Lyta, despite being a good character, got much worse used: she gave birth to Daniel, who replaced Morpheus as the incarnation of Dream, and nobody found anything interesting to do with her after that.

General Electric appeared a couple of years back in DC’s Young Animals imprint so who knows? Maybe even the forgotten Sandman will put in an appearance some day. But I won’t feel bad if he doesn’t.

#SFWApro. Covers by Kirby, all rights to images remain with current holders.

 

 

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Links about that Gillette ad, sexism and abuse

The Gillette ad criticizing toxic masculinity no more implies “masculinity is bad” than “poisonous mushroom” implies all mushrooms are deadly. Some men don’t see it that way. Vox adds more. Isabel Cooper points out that yes, as others have pointed out, the ad is still calculated marketing — but it’s still a good thing. Fox’s Brian Kilmeade, however, attacks the ad using the same arguments it criticized: men are just that way. Online misogynists now hate Gillette. So does accused sexual harasser Charles Payne. The NRA declares the ad is bullshit because “men were meant to be dangerous.”

Right-winger Tammy Bruce harks back to the old Undead Sexist Cliche that without masculinity, humanity wouldn’t get anywhere.

A woman went to eat at the high-priced Nellos restaurant in NYC — where she says they wouldn’t let her eat at the bar alone because they’re cracking down on call girls. I’m willing to bet they will never try to discourage johns by banning men.

Christians in Houston sued a library on the grounds a story hour with drag queens doing the reading violated their freedom of religion.

“This year we saw with startling clarity that what many of the nation’s powerful men share is less talent and vision than arbitrary cruelty, pleasure in retribution, bullying, shouting, sneering, a sense that they’re above consequences, and an unusual dependence on golf.”

Some incels are convinced that an average women lives like a male billionaire.

Book riot argues that female-written fantasy for adults is too often classified as Y/A because, girls.

The Violence Against Women Act and the funding it channels really do reduce violence against women. Too bad Congress let it expire last year. And the Trump Administration redefined domestic violence to refer only to actual physical assault, not emotional or verbal abuse.

Another day, another anti-gay preacher with an alleged secret life. Evangelical’s abuse problems go much deeper.

Then, of course, there’s Bryan Singer.

New York City makes a step forward in abortion rights.

How Kamala Harris became the target of a birther smear (nonsensical — they admit she was born in the country, but claim as her parents weren’t citizens yet, she isn’t natural born). Oh, and there are equally gibberish charges of election fraud.

For at least a century, people have complained that feminists wanted to be men. Same old, same old.

White supremacist Richard Spencer’s wife says he abused her.

Robert Patterson, a right-wing pundit turned Trump Social Security official, opposes birth control. One reason? He claims condoms deny women the touch of semen, and semen makes women happier.

Ashley Judd’s harassment lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein got tossed out on technical grounds.

Tucker Carlson thinks women making more money than men is baaaaad. But criticizing him for his views is baaaad too and will lead us to a dark age.

And let’s not forget, the wave of right-wing authoritarians across the globe may differ in many details but they all want women in chains.

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A black amazon, black Frankenstein and a light-skinned black guy: books

As far as I know, Leigh Brackett’s only series hero was Eric John Stark, raised as a feral child in the twilight zone of Mercury before adventuring across Mars. In BLACK AMAZON OF MARS, Stark honors a dying friend’s request to return an ancient talisman to a polar Martian city. Too bad that pins Stark between a barbarian warlord starting the march to conquest there (the title and cover spoil the reveal about who’s really behind “his” iron mask) and the sinister ice creatures lurking under the polar cap. The small press edition I have also includes the forgettable “A World Is Born” and the entertaining “Child of the Sun.”

VICTOR LAVALLE’S DESTROYER (by Lavalle, Dietrich Smith and Joana LaFuente) has one good plot thread (a female scientist resurrects her son, gunned down unjustly by cops) and several that were much less interesting, including a covert government agency and the original Creature on a rampage. The uninteresting outweighed the good stuff for me.

INCOGNEGRO: Renaissance by Matt Johnson and Warren Pleece is a prequel to Incognegro in which light-skinned Zane is a cub reporter during the Harlem Renaissance. When a black writer drowns in a bathtub at a mixed-race party, the police wash their hands of it; Zane reluctantly uses his light skin to pass as white and investigate in ways nobody else could. Really good.

#SFWApro. Cover is uncredited, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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