ChatGPT, Again

I had no intention of returning to the ChatGPT discourse. I said my piece back in December and the conversation seemed to take a histrionic turn around the start of the semester when the course planning period coincided with a wave of op eds that treated AI-writing as an existential crisis.

Moral panics turn tedious in a hurry and I bore easily.

Happily, I think that the discussion is starting to move into a more compelling and, I hope nuanced, direction. In his column at Inside Higher Ed last week, for instance, Matt Reed suggested that there are two issues at play with AI-generated writing. The one, academic dishonesty and how to catch it, receives the bulk of the attention. The other, disinformation and inaccuracies, has to this point received much less attention. In other words, the practical considerations about the norms, expectations, and enforcement of academic transactions are taking precedence over the underlying principles. This sort of priority of course makes sense, as anyone who has worked within the institutions of higher education can tell you, but I also think that it misses that these two issues are inextricably intertwined.

Simply put, I am convinced that ChatGPT specifically, and AI more generally, is a digital and information literacy issue.

Now, I should acknowledge that the stakes involved are more profound outside of the semi-controlled academic context, and at least potentially herald fundamental disruption to existing economic models. Google, for instance, is reportedly treating the chatbot like an existential threat to their hegemony over access to information online. Likewise, AI-generated art is just the latest technology that will allow companies to cut labor costs—why pay artists to create cover-art for a book when you can have an intern churn out AI-generated images until you find one you like? As much as I maintain that AI is a tool and the person producing the art is an artist, companies are not likely to compensate the artist as such under these scenarios. But while both of these are ethical issues related to my point about digital literacy, neither are they wholly new.

When it comes to writing, AI is a tool, and tools are only as good as their users. A spell-Czech [sic] doesn’t provide any value if one doesn’t have the vocabulary to recognize when it misleads, just as gratuitous use a thesaurus can lead the writer astray. Predictive text is fine for email, but I find it distracting in other contexts because the program prompts me down particular lines of composition. And, as I put in the last post on this topic, citation generators will lead you astray if you are unwilling or unable to format the text that it generates.

In this sense, the danger with AI is that people are going to treat a tool for something as a replacement for that thing. But this does not constitute either an existential crisis or a fundamental disruption, despite groups of people treating it as one or the other.

There are a myriad reason that a student might submit an AI-generated essay. Most of these overlap with the reasons a student might purchase an essay or otherwise cheat on assignments, and need to be addressed as such. However, AI should give educators greater pause because, compared to the other forms of dishonesty, AI might give the impression to some students that they don’t need to learn the skill in the first place. Chatbots can give the appearance of engaging with a historical figure, but they do not actually let you converse with that person any more than the Metaverse can allow you to watch Mark Antony debate in Rome in 32 BCE. But that superficial engagement risks drawing people away from the actual substance that would allow the participant to see how the AI turns unredeemed racists into apologists for their heinous beliefs or to recognize that seeing Antony debate in Rome in 32 BCE would be quite a feat because he was in Egypt gearing up for war with Octavian at that time.

On a whim, I decided to ask ChatGPT why students should avoid using the AI to write papers. This was what it produced:

I followed that prompt with a question about whether AI could help students with their writing:

I received a slightly more enthusiastic response when I directly inverted the original prompt, but still as a tool that can make writing easier or more efficient. At my most cantankerous, I dislike several of these uses—text summarization assumes one viable reading that simply isn’t true, which is also my problem with services like Blinkist, and I think that text generation will create pathways that guide how the person writes and thinks about a topic—but I could make similar arguments for writing being shaped by whatever we’re reading and simple reliance on the the first definition of a word found in a dictionary. As I said in my original post, if someone were to use AI as a tool and produce a quality paper either without any further intervention or by editing and polishing the text until it met the standards, that paper would meet my criteria for what I want my students to achieve in the class. This process would not be my preference, but the student would have guided the program through numerous rounds of revision much as they would draft and re-draft any paper that they wrote themselves. So much so that it would be easier to just write the paper, in fact. I doubt that a truly revolutionary thesis could be developed that way, but the student would have demonstrated their mastery of the course material and a sensitive understanding of the writing practices to know that it met standards on my rubric—grammar might be easier to accomplish, but the other categories not so much.

In fact, the arrival of AI makes it all the more important for students to learn skills like reading, writing, and, especially in my discipline, historical literacy. To do this, though, I think it is a mistake to issue blanket prohibitions or build assessment as though it does not exist. Rather, I want students to understand both why AI is not a great choice and what its limitations are, which requires steering into AI, at least a little bit.

This semester I am planning two types of activities, both of which are similar to the suggestions made in an opinion piece published today in Inside Higher Ed.

I scheduled a week for my first year seminar to address their first big writing assignment. The students have no reading this week, during which they will be working on their drafts of their first paper that are due on Friday. In the two class periods earlier in the week, I am going to have them complete an exercise using ChatGPT in their groups for the semester. On Monday, the students will work with ChatGPT to produce papers about the readings that we have covered to this point in the class, sharing with the me the results of the exercise. Then they will be charged with offering a critical evaluation of the generated text, which we will spend time on Wednesday sharing and discussing the critiques with the class, which will segue into a discussion of what makes writing “good.”

Students in my upper-division courses will do a similar exercise. As their first essays approach, I am going to provide students essays produced by ChatGPT using the same prompts and my essay rubric. Their task will be to “mark” the ChatGPT.

The goal is the same in both cases: to remind students that AI has severe limitations that cannot replace their unique thoughts. Further, I aim to engage the students as both writers and editors since I see the latter skill as an essential part of the writing process.

I don’t want suggest a prescriptive advice in this given that my class sizes and teaching mandates allow me to pursue some of these options. But the ChatGPT discourse has made even more convinced that it is necessary to teach basic, foundational, transferrable skills that will empower students to engage responsibly with the world in which they live.

Weekly Varia no. 10, 01/21/23

The first week of the semester is in the books. All three of my classes have gotten off to pretty good starts, but I always forget how exhausting the first week of the semester can be. My to-do list has bloomed (more algae than roses, though) heading into this weekend, so this weekend will be spent slowly working through tasks that range from some administrative upkeep to shorting up soft spots in my reading lists to the first round of grading, lest the semester snowball out of control.

This week’s varia:

  • Daniel Bessner has a good opinion piece in the Times about the perilous state of history. He points out that “deprofessionalization” of the field creates the breeding grounds for ” the ahistoric ignorance upon which reaction relies” because so much “history” is placed in the hands of social media influencers and influential partisan actors like Bill O’Reilly.
  • ChatGPT roundups are just a thing, I guess.
  • The Missouri legislature is currently debating a bunch of CRT-in-education bills. One proposed bill ensures that nobody will be offering kindergartners classes in CRT, a field of study usually reserved for law schools and advanced sociology degrees. I say, why are parents trying to stop their kids from being pushed ahead? More seriously, this is a continuation of last year’s cultural war du jour that treats any sort of training on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as nefarious CRT and legislates feelings in a way that puts teachers in an impossible position, which is why one proponent of the bill simply refused to define what he meant by it. These sorts of debates only hurt education, but what bothers me most about the committee meeting is the hostility toward education and educators. When a poll revealed that only one school district claimed they taught a class on these issues, the committee chair’s response was “at least one school district was honest.”
  • The Washington Post has a profile of Matt Yglesias, looking at his career as a disrupter, contrarian, and public thinker. Personally, I find Yglesias to be a problematic figure whose primary claim as someone who can spin a plausible argument out of minimal evidence is as symptomatic of where we are as a society as is Donald Trump. Every once in a while he makes a worthwhile point, but, most of the time, he’s functionally firing hot takes that get treated as something more substantial.
  • The re-election campaign for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who appoints the Chicago school superintendent, sent email to schoolteachers asking that they encourage students to work for the campaign in exchange for school credit. This very likely violates ethics rules—especially since there credible (it’s Chicago) accusations of retaliation from the mayor. Students volunteering for campaigns for credit is nothing new, but teachers are not supposed to encourage participation in specific campaigns.
  • The Oversight Board at Meta, which oversees content decisions for both Facebook and Instagram, has told the company that it should “free the nipple” (so to speak). What this will look like is yet to be determined since the company is still likely to want to keep pornography off the platforms, which was the genesis of the policy.
  • A Republican candidate for office in New Mexico has been arrested as the mastermind of a string of shootings that targeted Democratic politicians in the state. The man had to overcome a legal challenge to even stay in the election given his prior felony conviction and, unsurprisingly, he claims that the election was stolen from him.
  • An Indiana woman repeatedly stabbed an 18-year-old student in Indiana University of Asian heritage. The suspect told police that it “would be one less person to blow up our country.”
  • The Kansas City Defender, a black news outlet, reported on the abduction of black women in Kansas City, but the KC police department dismissed the allegations. Then, in December, a woman escaped captivity. Capital B News has an interview with Ryan Sorrell, the founder of the KC Defender, about the story and his efforts to create a crowd-sourced Black missing persons database.
  • Ohio officially declared natural gas “green energy.” The Washington Post has an article on how the campaign ran on Dark Money. Because, of course it did.
  • Americans might be done with the pandemic, but the pandemic is not done with us. Also from the Washington Post, winter COVID surges are a new normal, adding to the typical surges in other respiratory illnesses.
  • Jacinda Ardern is stepping down as Prime Minister of New Zealand, saying that she doesn’t have “enough in the tank” to do the job any longer. While this decision coincides with an uptick in threats against her, I am struck by a politician having the unusual level of self-awareness to know when enough is enough and the combination of humility and privilege to be able to act on that knowledge.
  • Vulture has a good piece on the labor conditions in Hollywood’s VFX studios where the industry standards were developed before the current age of enormous amounts of work after filming, which is leading to systemic understaffing and underpaying made worse by Marvel being a Goliath in the industry.
  • “Marge vs the Monorail” aired thirty years ago this month. Alan Siegel at The Ringer got Conan O’Brien to talk about his idea for the episode as a cross between The Music Man and an Irwin Allen disaster film.

Album of the Week: Counting Crows, This Desert Life

Currently Reading: Marissa R. Moss, Her Country; Rabun M. Taylor, Roman Builders

First Day Fragments: Spring 2023

I usually do “first day fragments” to mark the start of the fall semester, but here on the first day of the spring term I find that I also have a few topics rattling around that are also worth exploring. Only time will tell whether this is a one-off or a new spring-semester routine.

Course design is an exercise in omission. And the more of a survey the course is designed to be, the more this truism cuts close to the truth. This has been on my mind over the last week while preparing for the upcoming semester. Even before the pandemic I had begun adopting a “less is more” mantra in the classroom, and doubling down on core questions and fundamental skills. But I also like big and open-ended questions, both to structure the course and to set as assignment prompts.

This semester I will be teaching upper-division survey courses on Ancient Rome (Romulus to Romulus Augustulus, in theory), Ancient Persia (Achaemenid to Sassanid), and then a first-year seminar on speculative fiction. Enormous topics, all.

Adding material to these courses is the easy part. It would be easy, for instance, to have the students read Beowulf and Le Morte d’Arthur, skip forward to Lord of the Rings, and then do something contemporary. Or just watch the movies. Or I could have decided that we’re going to do an entire course on the thousands of pages in Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty novels. But neither of these options fit with my objectives for the course.

The challenge is finding the right balance. The entire extent of Tolkien that we are going to read will be “On Hobbits” and two short pieces of commentary about Rings of Power. We’ll read Ken Liu’s brilliant short story “Paper Menagerie,” but nothing from his longer works. Ditto for N.K. Jemisin’s “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” which I’m using both as a counterpoint to Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” and and as a way to close the semester on a note of optimism after an emotionally challenging set of readings.

ΔΔΔ

All three of my courses this semester are new preps. This is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, new preps make for a lot of work. They require compiling materials as you go through the semester, writing presentation slides, and deciding on how you want to present the material, even when approaching topics that you know well. Some of the activities are going to flop, or maybe the scope of the course needs to be changed. The course wobbles a little, because it has not yet settled into its foundations. A graduate school professor told me once that he believes a course only reaches its mature form in its third iteration.

On the other hand, I sometimes find that certain in-class activities and readings work best the first time I assign them. This is in part because I am forced to spend more time with the readings and preparing the activities, which means that everything is fresher, but I also find something magic in the thrill of invention. The second and third time through I can adjust to how the students experienced the assignment, but this comes at a cost when the assignment becomes somewhat calcified or the pathways that the course discussion become a little more worn in.

ΔΔΔ

People have been talking on Twitter about when professors have an obligation to post the syllabus. My only thought is that the syllabus will go up when it is ready and the course website is minimally ready for use, usually a day or two before the semester starts. I’m happy to answer questions even when the syllabus is in the design phase, but there are a myriad of reasons why it is good to take right up until the last minute making changes even if the basic structure has been set for weeks.

ΔΔΔ

Most of my courses are what my university calls “Writing Enhanced,” which means that they fulfill the standards of that program—emphasis on product, cognition, and process. Nearly twenty years ago when I was an undergraduate student, a writing-enhanced course required a certain number of pages, some of which had to be revised, but my guidance here is more flexible. I have another course design post (yes, I know that this is turning into a teaching-heavy blog) in mind for the near future that engages with the models we use when designing new courses, but, every semester, I have a momentary pang of concern that I’m not having my students write enough. For instance, I have never assigned a long 15–20+ page final paper. Instead, my students write multiple shorter papers (5–7 page) that they revise to a high standard, with the thinking that learning to polish a concise argument in a short paper is a prerequisite for writing a good longer paper when taking research classes. Besides, even without a long research paper to conclude the semester, my students write a lot. By my rough tally, I find that many of my students write nearly twice as much as I did for any class I took as an undergraduate student. Which then sends a flare of concern in the other direction: how much writing is too much?

ΔΔΔ

I wrote about Chat-GPT last semester and stand by everything I wrote there. But the new semester has brought out another round of hand-wringing and panic about how this tool means for higher education. This semester I’ll be leaning into AI writing in some classes with an “AI-essay critique” exercise and otherwise just incorporating it into the conversations we have when we talk about writing. But as the topic du jour, I’m bored by the conversation now. Moral panics turn tedious in a hurry.

Weekly varia no. 8, 01/07/23

I conceive of these introductions as a mini-essay covering something that happened in the week or some issue that I have been mulling over for the previous few days. For this week, I think a peek behind the curtain is in order.

These posts, which I started about two months ago, serve several functions. They force me to read a little more widely than I otherwise would do, while supplying a recommended reading list, allowing me to editorialize a little bit, and providing the flair of what I’m reading and listening to in a given week. I start compiling potential articles for the following week almost as soon as the previous one goes up on Saturday, putting them in a new draft. My goal is to find one thing to include each day, but, in reality, these posts reflect what I read that week. Sometimes that means more blog posts, sometimes more articles. Sometimes I get busy. I also don’t like just including the story du jour, especially when it is still unfolding.

And, sometimes, all of these things happen at once.

I am writing this introduction on Friday evening from a hotel room in New Orleans where several things are happening at once:

  1. Members of the House of Representatives are voting for the fourteenth time on who will be Speaker of the House, making this the fifth or sixth longest process in US History, and the longest since before the US Civil War (he did not win on this ballot, either).
  2. The contestants of the Miss Universe Pageant are wandering around the hotel in gowns and sashes, filming various things.
  3. The AIA-SCS annual meeting is taking place (I’m unwinding in my room rather than attending receptions).

To say that this week has been distracting is an understatement. I have written about this conference in the past, and will do so again next week as part of getting back to business as usual if I find that I have something worth saying once I’ve had a chance to collect my thoughts.

This week’s varia:

  • Pro Publica has a new report on professors muzzling their courses or scrambling to change the class descriptions (which often are designed with the intention of attracting students) in the wake of DeSantis’ new rules in Florida. These laws are designed to curtail academic speech and impede education. In an entirely unsurprising detail, tenured faculty in some schools are pushing the risky classes off on contingent faculty. I get that this is a risky political climate, but I have a hard time fighting for the position of tenured faculty who treat contingent folks as expendable.
  • Jonathan Wilson has a post that asks whether higher education administrators actually understand education. He closes with a relatable sentiment: “I’m just tired of suspecting that U.S. higher education’s overall future is in the care of people who don’t even know what a college education is, let alone have any inclination to make the case for it before the American public.”
  • Ellie Mackin-Roberts has an excellent piece on pedagogical uses for ChatGPT that I’m just now getting to. I’m more likely to use the “correct an AI-generated essay” as an in-class exercise than as an assignment, but it is the one in which I see the brightest potential.
  • Vox has a good breakdown of why the extreme rainfall in California will not alleviate the water crisis after years of megadrought. The article notes that this rain will also disrupt flood-control infrastructure and points out that if this is a new normal, California will need to retool systems to capture this water rather than relying on the decreased snowpack.
  • From December in the Washington Post, a profile about the chaos in Somalia caused by President Trump pulling US troops from the country. I’m a little cautious of these stories given the reporting on similar operations from Afghanistan, but a line about comments from Danab (Somali special forces) that, on top of expertise, a US presence insulates them from political leaders who might turn them against civilian protesters and political opponents points to the complexity of the issue.
  • The military build-up and buffer zone between India and China in the Himalayas is disrupting traditional herding grounds and interfering with the trade in Cashmere (Washington Post).
  • NPR has an examination of Guru Jagat, a popular yoga instructor who her followers described as “real” and “grounded.” Then she became a believer in Q-Anon during the pandemic. The article connects the spiritual teachings of yoga to the way in which “truth” becomes revealed in these conspiracies.
  • Matt Gaetz apparently despises Kevin McCarthy, in no small part because he feels that McCarthy did not adequately stand up for him amid the sex-trafficking probe, even though McCarthy did not strip him of his committee appointments.
  • Dylan Scott at Vox reflects on the obsession with American football in the wake of Damar Hamlin’s injury on Monday. His obvious conclusion is that the football industrial complex works hard to downplay the undeniable violence in the game and that more catastrophic injuries and even deaths will occur so long as people keep watching. You could take the story back even further. In my US history survey, we spend a little time talking about how they changed the game in response to growing public outcry about players being killed on the field.

Album of the Week: Jukebox the Ghost, “Cheers”

Currently Reading: P. Djèlí Clark, A Master of Djinn (reread, this time in preparation for class)

Weekly Varia no. 5, 12/17/22

Winter appears to be setting in for real in this corner of Northern Missouri. I am looking out a window at snowflakes bouncing on the wind while I write these words and it has been below consistently below freezing for the past few days, though the forecast is calling for a slight reprieve for a few days before the next polar vortex sets in for the upcoming holiday. I happen to like winter weather, don’t mind the cold, and am not daunted by a few flurries, but I have also been finding myself sipping my tea and wondering how this weather is going to affect my running since this is the longest stretch I have ever managed to run outdoors in my life.

The other topic I find running through my mind on this Saturday morning is related to the Jon Lauck and Steven Mintz links in this week’s roundup (see below). While the job market for history PhDs has been somewhere between bad and very bad for a long time, Lauck offers data that suggests that it is positively catastrophic: of 1799 history PhDs granted between 2019 and 2020, only 175 are “full-time faculty members,” and those numbers are warped by the years of backlog leading up to 2019 that caused people like me (2017 PhD) to still be job hunting. The issue, fundamentally, is that colleges and universities are not hiring to replace retirees. Lauck provides a sample of Midwestern universities, including both my PhD-granting institution and my current employer, that have cut 34% of their faculty lines on average over the past ten years. This is bad. However, as often emerges in these debates, the data is also a little misleading. Truman State (my employer) in his data went from 15 tenured or tenure track historians to 4, but the latter number doesn’t count me or the other two full-time year-to-year faculty members in the department. It is still a catastrophic decline and it is extremely difficult to build sustainable programs that attract students on the back of faculty who don’t know whether they will be teaching the following year, but it also removes nearly half of our faculty from the conversation.

Likewise, while I share the sentiment found online that big professional organizations and a lot of secure faculty at prestigious institutions are complacent about the state of the field in ways that contribute to its degradation, I can say with certainty that my tenured colleagues are furious that their staffing requests to replace tenure lines are routinely approved for year-to-year hires. This is short-term thinking on the part of our institutions, but it is also the state of play. Even beyond self-interest, this is why I have dedicated so much time and energy to contingent faculty issues over the past few years. Tenure is a wonderful idea, but I think that the future of the field requires urgent action to change both perceptions and working conditions of the people who didn’t win that particular lottery. To that end, I am fortunate to work at an institution with colleagues both on and off the tenure line who agree and an active AAUP chapter that has been fighting to create a more sustainable future.

This week’s varia:

  • Researchers mapping the floor of Lake Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake, looking for dumped munitions discovered a shipwreck that could date to as early as the 1300s.
  • At Everyday Orientalism, Rachel Yuen-Collingridge writes about her decades as a contingent scholar. She concludes: “Let us be able to look upon eclectic, experimental, flexible professional identities and pursuits as signs of vitality not of a lack of focus, ambition, and seriousness. If we truly want to change contingency or contribute to its change, perhaps a good starting point is to challenge the cultures of contingency and the hierarchies which feed upon it.” Shorter: we need to change the structural insecurity and pay equity issues, but those substantive changes are impossible without changing the perception that contingent faculty are less than full time ones.
  • Pasts Imperfects is a great weekly newsletter dealing with antiquity. This week (12.15.22): Hpone Myint Tu has a short piece and reading lists about animals in the ancient Mediterranean, along with snippets from Sarah Bond’s recent article at Hyperallergic about new research by Jordan Pickett into the intersection of Christianity and Roman baths and a recent article about excavations at the Aksumite city of Adulis in modern Eritrea.
  • Chanukah is coming up and Alana Vincent has a really nice piece at Time about the rituals around a holiday that is both minor and “the primary festival of Jewish visibility.” My favorite observation is that the current celebration is one that the Maccabees themselves would have hated.
  • Jon K. Lauck offers a stark assessment of the state of history departments in the Midwest in the Middle West Review (from September). I don’t know that his prescription is viable and think both that the causes are a little more varied and the some of the data about support for history softer than is implied here, but, speaking both as a graduate and current faculty member of programs mentioned in this survey: he’s not wrong in the big picture. Lauck’s data provides the foundation for Steven Mintz’ latest column at Inside Higher Ed, where he, not unreasonably, suggests that we’re seeing an “end of history” in the sense that it is a discipline literally being downsized.
  • Paul Thomas adds his voice to the chorus of writing teachers saying that ChatGPT is only a threat to writing assessments desperately in need of changing, pointing out that this is a redux of the Turnitin problem. There were additional articles on this topic last week.
  • If you’ve ever wanted to hear the phrase “the first time anyone ever asserted a First Amendment right to see the president’s son’s penis, an argument that the Framers likely did not anticipate,” then Adam Serwer in the Atlantic has you covered. Starting from the so-called “Twitter Files” being published by Elon Musk’s flunkies and the issue of stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop that Twitter suppressed because they contained nude images, Serwer expands out into a compelling discussion about how the conservative movement is warping interpretations of the first amendment and offers a narrow defense of social media companies.
  • “Free speech” on Twitter means blocking journalists who are critical of new ownership, ostensibly because they are posting information that is a direct threat to Musk and his family even though the alleged footage was nowhere near him (both links to Gizmodo). In the sense that every accusation that reactionary conservatives have levied against people they don’t like has been a matter of projection, capricious bans such as these were all-but inevitable.
  • Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby at Popular Information report on how a man named Bruce Friedman has been exploiting recent legislation in Florida to flood school districts with demands that they remove material from school library without having either read the books in question or providing evidence that the books are causing harm to students.
  • German special forces raided more than 150 properties around Germany and arrested 25 people accused of plotting a coup to topple the German state and establish a new monarchy. The central figure in the coup is Heinrich XIII, the 71-year-old scion of an aristocratic family, but, more concerning, the arrested ringleaders include members of the German security service (BBC).
  • Emily Stewart at Vox lays out the current state of the Sam Bankman-Fried FTX saga and starts to explore what I think are the more substantial concerns surrounding the lurid saga, namely that while the scale of the crimes in this case are spectacular, but the crimes themselves are quite ubiquitous and the media and financial apparatuses in the modern US provide superficial cover for people like SBF to profit.
  • From a few weeks ago, BBC has a story about the kenari nut which could have a future as a dairy substitute and developing commercial possibilities might stem deforestation in Indonesia.

Album of the week: Kitchen Dwellers, “Wise River”

Now reading: Brandon Sanderson, The Lost Metal; Michael J. Decker, The Sasanian Empire at War

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