The Calm: Weekly Varia, 12/10/22

The first day after the end of classes is always a little bit surreal. After however many weeks of steady churn driven forward by the structure of regularly-scheduled classes, all of that drops away. At the same time, that day can’t kick off a period of rest and planning for the next semester in full. Rather, it is a deceptive calm. This day inaugurates a period of limbo where both I and my students have a significant amount of work to do without the same structure for our time. I am looking forward to powering down for a few days soon, by which I mean spending more time reading and writing some of the posts I talked about last week, but first I need to grade all the papers.

This week’s varia:

  • A follow-up about the “new” Roman Emperor from a few weeks ago, on the American Numismatic Society blog, Alice Sharpless evaluates some the issues with considering these coins genuine and concludes that they should still be considered forgeries.
  • This week saw discussion of ChatGPT-3, an AI that can produce text-based on answers. Earlier this year, Mike Sharples produced a “graduate level” essay using this algorithm (though it only has one citation, to a non-existent article) as part of a call to rethink assessment, which prompted Stephen Marche to declare in the Atlantic that this technology threatens to be yet another example of humanists committing soft suicide, though the evidence he offers for this speak more to social pressures and costs of educations than to the interest of students, at least in my experience. This might be the topic for a longer post, but I am closer to Daniel Lametti in Slate on the issue: Sharples’ essay isn’t satisfactory for a graduate course or even Marche’s assessment of it as a B+ undergrad paper. Without factoring in the mistaken citation it might warrant a B-, in some class. With that factored in, it should be an F. Lametti argues that this could be a tool, but it won’t kill the college essay. John Warner used this to repeat his call for overhauling assessment without accepting Sharples’ claim that the AI had produced graduate level work. By contrast, the tool seems to do a pretty good job of summarizing nonfiction text, which does have value so long as it is a starting point for engagement rather than the end.
  • Mark Joseph Stern explains in Slate how the Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments on a non-case wherein a website designer wants to discriminate against LGBTQ couples who come to purchase a website template that she has never even designed. The gambit by the plaintiff is that this sort of case will be easier to side with their arguments since there is no customer trying to buy the product. Elie Mystal in The Nation particularly takes aim at the nonsense argument about what counts as speech. Since the conservative justices attempted to make the race analogy, Mystal, a black man, goes there, saying of the difference between speech and accommodations: “To put it plainly, a diner owner can absolutely tell me “I don’t like n******” when serving me lunch, but he still has to serve me lunch. He doesn’t have a free-speech objection to providing me a service that I am willing to pay for, no matter how deeply he hates me. He can be a jerk about it. He can name his business “Raisins In Potato Salad”; he can dedicate all of the sandwiches on his menu to Confederate generals and serve me on a plate emblazoned with a swastika. But he has to serve me.”
  • Of course, at least four justices are fully prepared to endorse the historically-nonsensical and extremely dangerous Independent State Legislature Theory in Moore v. Harper, as Mark Joseph Stern explains (Slate, again).
  • Missouri, like many other states, is taking steps to censor material that goes into public libraries. Aisha Sultan, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, points out the sad irony that right-wing politicians are bypassing serious concerns about misinformation online (you know, where children and every one else get most of their information), to brand libraries “as the biggest informational threat to children.”
  • A certain former president of the United States called for terminating the constitution of the United States just as, he says, the founders would have wanted. Several Republican lawmakers have criticized the language, but Republican leadership declined to comment (Washington Post). Just another day in the Republic.
  • Brevard County in Florida has a new superintendent of schools, and a new sheriff in town. This week he gave a press conference in front of the county jail in which he explained that “They know they’re not going to be given after-school detention, they’re not going to be suspended, they’re not going to be expelled, or like in the old days, they’re not going to have the cheeks of their a– torn off for not doing right in class.” This appears to be a reaction to allegations of severe disciplinary problems in the district that is causing teachers to quit. No mention of any of the other reasons a Florida schoolteacher might want to quit their job or the social issues in the community that are playing out in the schools.
  • I have been avoiding the World Cup this year in protest of Qatar’s hosting. Now one of the journalists covering the event has died under unclear circumstances (NPR). Grant Wahl was briefly detained for wearing a rainbow shirt and has talked both about death threats he received this year and the illness that came on before his death. I have not seen any evidence of foul play yet, but the circumstances are suspicious.
  • Age is just a number, but there are multiple ways to calculate it. South Korea’s parliament voted to tally age by birthday starting at zero when you’re born (NPR) rather than starting with one and adding a year each New Year (which would mean someone born one day before the New Year would turn two on their second day of life. I see all of the reasons to fall in line with the rest of the world, but part of me is sad when this sort of cultural idiosyncrasy goes away.

Album of the week: The Chicks, Fly

Currently reading: Peng Shepherd, The Cartographers; Emma Dench, Empire and Political Cultures in the Roman World

2 thoughts on “The Calm: Weekly Varia, 12/10/22

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