This was a big week for me because my first book was officially released. I will have an update on what comes next for my writing soon enough, but, first, I have to get through this semester. This week marked the end of the first half of the spring semester. Flowers are starting to pop up around Kirksville, but I mostly didn’t get to enjoy them because I was busy trying to finish a round of grading so that I had one less thing to do over the next week. I didn’t quite meet my goals because my week filled up with meeting after meeting as everyone tried to squeeze in one more thing before break. Still, I got close enough that I should be able to take a much needed few days off over the next week.
This week’s varia:
- Pasts Imperfect this week came early to align with Purim. The lead story is Jordan Rosenbaum unpacking the history of Hamantaschen, concluding that the traditional cookie is indeed symbolic, but comes from a different part of the figure of Esther and represents neither Haman nor a hat.
- Javal Coleman writes in the SCS Blog about being the only Black person in a Classics Department. This is a great piece about belonging and the modern propensity to define black people as outside rather than the ancient tendency for inclusion. I read this when it first came out two weeks ago and meant to include it in a previous wrap-up but failed to do so.
- Matt Gabriele brings an old blog post to Modern Medieval, in which he critiques the idea of a meaningful distinction between “public” and “academic” scholarship in terms of what we are actually doing (rather than genre conventions and tone). He notes that this is a blog post. from 2015, but is again timely in light of a recent New Yorker story dredging up last year’s controversy about “public history,” which had the former president of the American Historical Association, James Sweet, airing his grievances against trained historians who engage the public online. The piece is not worth linking to, but, like his jeremiads last year in his presidential column in Perspectives, Sweet’s willingness to air his grievances against younger, tenuously-employed generations is a dispiriting omen about the future of the profession given that a) he is hardly the only senior scholar to feel this way, and b) far from confronting the fact that the field is under attack—thus foreclosing an academic home for those people he lamented were simply Tweeting away—it gives more fuel to those people doing the attacking.
- Bill Caraher weighs in on ChatGPT. I appreciate his willingness to express what he does not know, and see some sense in his suggestion that ChatGPT and similar products might be able to replace remediation for students who understand the material in every way except the writing. I’m not sure I agree in whole, but he’s right that there is a cost for both the student and the teacher when you need to take time doing what is effectively remedial work, and I have often found that campus writing centers are only so helpful when students need this sort of foundational help. He followed it up with a thoughtful post on paywalls, publishing, and AI aggregation.
- Paul Thomas has a discussion of ChatGPT, but through the lens of citation in the sense that it (and the new I.B. guidelines) has added another layer to the cognitive load that comes with citation. His position here is also rooted in the chaos of trying to teach and unteach nitpicky citation style (rather than hyperlinks, which would only work for some fields, even at a future date), which prompt students to get distracted from the process and meaning of citation in the name of accurate formatting. I’m certainly sympathetic to that frustration.
- A new study is claiming that there was no exacerbation of mental health crises during the pandemic, which they concluded by excluding from the study lower-income countries or study the effects on younger groups or anyone who was already prone to mental illness. This might be correct within the bounds of the study, but only by generalizing so much that it masks a more accurate representation of what happened. This also might speak to the human capacity for resilience and forgetting. For my part, I’m still waiting for the period of lockdown boredom I was promised.
- Elon Musk is reportedly planning his own town in Texas. I don’t like giving the man air time, but something about the Wall Street Journal headline (I can’t read the whole part because I’m not a subscriber) touched a nerve. Company towns are not utopias, and we should be very wary of the latest return to a Gilded Age labor environment, alongside…
- Arkansas became the latest state to facilitate child labor.
- From NPR, a story about a Medicaid requirement that if a person receiving treatment under the program dies, the state government is supposed to recoup the amount spent from the estate. Some states do this in a pro-forma way and collect almost nothing or set relatively high income thresholds, while states like Iowa contract the task out and aggressively recoup the costs—including by seizing the home. Even with carve-outs for spouses and disabled children that can defer collection, this seems to be an exercise of cruelty in the name of fiscal responsibility.
- More and more companies are admitting that the recent “emergencies” are excuses to increase prices even when it is not strictly necessary to keep up with rising costs, and prices in these situations tend not to go back down.
- Silicon Valley Bank, a bank that services many tech startups, collapsed after a panic this week. SVB pursued “Venture Debt,” where provides money for those startups, but the companies were spending much more money than anticipated. Not for nothing, this collapse also follows just a few years after another round of banking deregulation.
- The BBC has decided not to air and episode from the latest David Attenborough program because it includes themes of environmental destruction and they fear right-wing backlash. Not only is this a travesty, but Attenborough’s work has featured these issues for years, so it isn’t as though this is a new development.
- RIP Tevye the Milkman.
- Some Toblerone packaging is going to have to drop the Matterhorn from its packaging because the company is moving part of its production to Slovakia, thus violating Swiss rules on “Swissness.” This AP piece has a neat trivia point, too, that the name is a neologism that blends the founder’s name (Theodor Tobler) with the Italian word for nougat (torrone).
Album of the Week: Moscow Philharmonic, Russian Easter Festival Op. 36 (Tchaikovsky Symphony no. 5 and Rimsky-Korsakov Russian Easter Festival Overture, a.k.a. grading music)
Currently Reading: Dan Saladino, Eating to Extinction; Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (it was a long week of grading)