Posts made in January, 2010

John Bishop Ballem, 1925-2010

Posted by on Jan 27, 2021 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

In Canadian legal circles, John Ballem was recognized as a respected oil and gas lawyer who wrote crime novels in his spare time. But Ballem considered his writing much more than a sideline. “If I didn’t write, I wouldn’t be a contented person,” he said. He was as proud of his nomination for the 1997 Arthur Ellis Award for Excellence in Crime Writing as he was of his 2009 Distinguished Service Award for Legal Scholarship from the Canadian Bar Association. He published his first novel, The Devil’s Lighter, in 1973 at age 48. Set in the Alberta oil patch, it took its colourful title from the expression used by rig workers to describe the phenomenon of a rogue well gushing out of control and then bursting into flames. The book sold so well that Ballem published several more oil patch thrillers in the same vein, all portraying what a Calgary Herald writer called “a world of wild parties, brawls, steamy sex, beautiful women, gritty roughnecks, and wheeler-dealers.” Ballem knew the landscape well. As a Calgary corporate lawyer specializing in freehold energy leases, he acted for just about every big name in the oil patch, including Imperial Oil, Gulf Canada, Shell Oil, and a host of others. He long represented the Canadian Petroleum Association, the official voice of big oil, and he knew all the star players who shaped the oil patch following the 1947 Leduc discovery that marked the start of the modern industry. These included such larger-than-life characters as Frank McMahon of Pacific Petroleums, Bobby Brown of Home Oil, and “Smiling” Jack Gallagher of Dome Petroleum. Ballem took up writing after his amateur career as a show jumper was ended by a fall. “I wasn’t bouncing so well,” he noted wryly. He produced a series of travel documentaries set in Africa, and soon decided he could write as well as the scriptwriters. That led him to writing fiction. “It became a sort of parlour game in Calgary to match my characters with real people,” he said. By 1991, Ballem had published nine novels. Each sold more than 13,000 copies. One, The Judas Conspiracy, sold more than 50,000. His prodigious output prompted a series of questions from Calgary Herald books columnist Ken McGoogan, now a bestselling author in his own right. What made Ballem write, and write so hard, and produce so much, while still maintaining a busy career as a lawyer? “Obviously, you don’t NEED to write novels,” said McGoogan. Ballem begged to differ. “There’s pleasure in creating something that will last,” he said. McGoogan acknowledged that the lasting value of three Ballem novels in particular was in their depiction of the growing years of the Alberta oil industry “from the halcyon 1950s through the tumultuous 1980s.” Later combined with a fourth novel, they were reissued by Cormorant in 2005 as The Oil Patch Quartet. Ballem lived in Calgary from 1954 onward. Before that, he served as a fighter pilot in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War, and lectured for two years at the University of British Columbia’s law school. Born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, he inherited a love of literature and the arts from his father, a surgeon and classics scholar, and from his mother, a nurse, violinist and painter. He earned an arts degree from Dalhousie University in 1946, followed by law degrees from Dalhousie and Harvard. When he received an offer to join the Imperial Oil law department in 1952, Ballem jumped at the chance to “get out of academe and into the mainstream.” Two years later, Imperial transferred...

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Olympics Inc.

Posted by on Jan 19, 2022 in Brian's Blog | 0 comments

The flame will be along in a minute. But first, and then afterwards, a word from our sponsors. Watch the video here. Was it ever thus …..

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Google redux

Posted by on Jan 10, 2022 in Brian's Blog | 2 comments

The Google Books Settlement, which seeks to create a vast digital library of mostly out-of-print books, has been much talked about in recent days. A group of 250 Canadian writers is urging the federal government, writers, publishers, and other copyright holders to tell Google to scrap the deal. Three American writers’ organizations have sent an open letter to Congress objecting to the settlement, first reached in October 2008 between Google, the American Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers. An amended version of that original settlement goes to a New York court fairness hearing on February 18, 2010. Here’s what I think about the amended settlement. It stems from a class-action lawsuit launched against Google in 2005 after Google had struck deals with major American university libraries to scan and copy millions of books in their collections. Some of those books were Canadian. Some of them could have been mine. Far as I can tell, however, my books have been excluded from the scanning process. Many writers were outraged when they discovered that Google had secretly scanned more than seven million books, thus perpetrating what author Nick Taylor called “a plain and brazen violation of copyright law.” Google said it was doing nothing wrong, claiming its online display of “snippets” from the digitized books represented a “fair use” of the material. The Guild begged to differ and the lawsuit was filed. The Authors Guild was the only writers’ organization to challenge Google in court. It is the largest such group in the United States, representing more than 8,000 published authors. Its counterpart in this country is The Writers’ Union of Canada, which has close to 1,900 members. Other American writers’ groups sat and watched while the Authors Guild took on the behemoth. After eight months of negotiations, the Guild, the publishers who had joined the lawsuit, and Google decided that the legal proceedings were going nowhere. The plaintiffs offered a settlement proposal to Google. As summarized by author Roy Blount Jr., it said, in effect: While we don’t approve of your unauthorized scanning of our books, if you’re willing to cut authors in for their fair share, then it would be our pleasure to work with you. Two and one-half years later, they announced a $125 million final agreement. About one-third of that money would go to authors and publishers whose books had been scanned without permission. An amended version of the 323-page agreement—made necessary because the US Department of Justice and others criticized the original document—is now going to the New York court for approval. I still have problems with parts of the amended settlement. For example, I don’t like the fact that it will allow American libraries to provide free public online access to digitized books without any compensation to authors except for page printouts. That’s the same as allowing radio stations to play copyright music recordings without paying royalties to the songwriters. Nor do I like the fact that it puts the onus on foreign authors, including Canadians, to either list their out-of-print books in a proposed new Google tracking registry or lose control of their works. But by and large I think the Authors Guild has negotiated a fair deal on behalf of its 8,000 members and—by extension—all other authors in the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia whose works were digitized without permission. The settlement offers a small amount of money for now and the prospect of more in the future, when authors will receive a percentage of whatever Google can get from selling institutional subscriptions to online book collections, and from selling...

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