Weekly Varia no. 14, 02/18/23

Practically speaking, week five of the semester passed in the same blur as week four. There were substantive differences, but to the same end point, which has left me without the time or energy for posts between the weekly varia entries. It also left me grasping at straws for something to introduce this post. Out of desperation comes inspiration.

At the one-third mark of the semester, I am loving my course on ancient Persia. I structured the course around two interlocking themes, orientalism in our interpretations of Persia and continuity and change in the imperial structures of West Asia, including the development of religion and ideology. This course has also given me an excuse to dive into the rich recent bibliography on Persian history.

My most recent read was Matthew Canepa’s The Iranian Expanse: Transforming Royal Identity through Architecture, Landscape, and the Built Environment, 550 BCE–642 CE (California 2018). Canepa traces the evolution of royal ideology and conception of where they sat in the world through their palaces, sacred spaces, funerary practices, and gardens, with a particular emphasis on points of disjuncture. That is, Canepa was more interested in change than in continuity, and in how subsequent dynasties competed with the ones that came before in establishing their own legitimacy. I particularly like that Canepa did not skip the Seleucids, but instead acknowledged their indelible place in the royal lineage of the region. I assigned several chapters to my students, many of whom are more familiar with modern history and thus found the discussion of ritual, cosmology, and monumentality disconcertingly anthropological. I will concede that this focus on royal architecture offers a top-down vision of the world, but placing them within a landscape over such a long continuous span I thought gave life to otherwise static monuments. The Iranian Expanse is a densely-packed, but immensely rewarding read.

This week’s varia:

  • Brett Devereaux has a long piece on ChatGPT and history classrooms, echoing a lot of the refrains given by a lot of us AI-skeptics about the purpose of essays and what the AI does poorly, which is a lot. I particularly like how Brett articulates the essay as a form and as a pedagogical tool. He offers a nice metaphor about an Amazon box for how the AI can mimic the essay container (sort of), but it can’t comprehend that what brings joy about the delivery is what is in the box, not the box itself.
  • Inside Higher Ed has a piece giving some higher ed context for Vermont State University’s decision to have a completely digital library and surveying the backlash to the decision.
  • Education researchers conducted a meta-analysis of flipped classrooms and found that the results were far less positive than its proponents often claim. Their findings dovetail with my anecdotal experience that many “flipped” models include more “passive” learning than most traditional lectures, but push that process outside of class where students will watch it at double speed or skip it altogether, leaving them unprepared for the “active” component in the classroom. They also note that “flipped” can mean any number of different things. This is also my problem with education discourse on Twitter: nothing is going to work in every class or for every teacher. Active learning leads to better results than passive learning, but there are a myriad of ways to reach active learning.
  • BBC Travel has a piece about a lost city under the sands…of California. Investigators have been uncovering the set of Cecille B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, which he buried because the film set was supposed to leave no trace.
  • Corey Doctorow has a good piece on Google’s doomed and short-sighted attempt to chase the AI-search fad.
  • There are videos of Türkiye’s president Erdogan boasting about waiving zoning regulations that allowed construction companies to quickly build buildings in regions affected by last week’s earthquake that killed more than 44,000 people, one week out. One estimate puts the number of buildings not up to code at 50%. Rescue crews are still finding people alive more than a week after the disaster, but relief agencies are facing budget shortfalls for a number of reasons.
  • Legislators in Idaho advanced a bill that would more or less annex eastern Oregon into “Greater Idaho.” Eleven counties in Oregon have signed a petition in support of the bill, but such a change would still require both Oregon’s legislation and Congress to sign off on the plan.
  • Shortly before last weekend’s Super Bowl, researchers at BU released findings that their study of 376 former NFL players detected CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in 345 (92%), which points again to the game’s brutality.
  • One of the balloons shot down by the US Air Force last week might have been launched by a hobby group in Illinois. This makes me think of how much we don’t know about these balloons, which is then both the cause of and then a reaction to the hysteria.
  • The Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox News has revealed documentary evidence for the obvious, that Fox News continued to push election fraud stories because to do otherwise risked their bottom line if viewers switched to the even more shameless Newsmax.
  • The Onion does a New York Times (parody).
  • A gunman killed three Michigan State students just off campus before killing himself on Monday. There are too many guns.
  • Packers Sanitation Service has been fined after an inquiry revealed that more than 100 13–17-year olds were working overnights. Last week I had a story about an Iowa bill that would legalize this sort of work. I’m generally in support of people being able to take up economic opportunity of any sort, but nobody should be put in a situation where they are forced by circumstance to work in dangerous and exploitative jobs and these are the latest examples of a concerted effort to undo progressive reforms that curbed the worst excesses of capitalism in this country. Child labor is particularly concerning in that it also undermines the promise of an education that, at least in theory, would offer a pathway out of those circumstances.
  • A Mars Wrigley factory in Pennsylvania has been fined $14,500 by OSHA after two men fell into a vat used for mixing the ingredients for Dove bars. One wonders how active Willy Wonka has been in efforts to defund the agencies that regulate workplace safety.
  • The man who stole 200,000 Cadbury Creme Eggs in Britain is facing several years in jail. The headlines are more entertaining than the crime, though. He stole a truck, broke into the industrial facility, and drove off with the trailer before surrendering when he realized that he was being followed.

Album of the Week: Pixie and the Partygrass Boys, Snake Creek (2021)

Currently Reading: Adrienne Mayor, The Poison King; Mick Herron, Spook Street

Merlin, modeling “Friday night”
Libby, modeling “weekend life”

Assorted Links

  1. Marilyn Monroe: A proto-feminist– an extract from a Marilyn Monroe biography that suggests that she was a troubled person, but should not be dismissed (as she was by early feminists) as merely the willing toy of powerful men.
  2. What it Means to See the World With an Eye Toward a Facebook Update– An op-ed about the idea that our collective uncertainty about the place and position of Facebook is nothing new, but just the latest outgrowth of a consistent feature of the human experience. The author also concludes that Facebook is real life.
  3. Mitt Romney And Father Follow Bush Family Father-Son ReversalA story in the Huffington Post about how Mitt Romney is in many ways the opposite of his father in the same way that George W. Bush was the opposite of his father. It brings up some good points, but I think it is rather superficial punditry.
  4. No More Urban Officers?– An article in The Atlantic about the changing demographic of the military in general and the officer corps in particular. The main argument is that city schools are suffering a decline in ROTC programs, while the most successful programs are at large, relatively rural, state schools have more. It does not actually address the total numbers of people enrolled in the ROTC programs rather than total number of programs, though.
  5. Is Medical School A Worthwhile Investment for Women?-A report about a study that claims that, after taking into account time and costs, women would make more money as a physician’s assistant than they would as a primary care physician.
  6. Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting’s Aftermath Will Play OutFrom time to time the Onion is accurate enough that its political satire transcends humor into the realm of the depressing. “Oh, and here’s another thing I hate I know,” Brennen continued, “In exactly two weeks this will all be over and it will be like it never happened.”
  7. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

  1. Wojtek: The Bear that Joined the Polish Army and Fought the Nazis– A piece in Der Spiegel’s history portal about a bear that a number of Polish soldiers ended up enrolling into the Polish Army so that they could get it through military bureaucracy and have it participate in the invasion of Sicily. Supposedly the bear was able to carry mortar shells for the unit in Italy.
  2. Latest Word on the Campaign Trail? I Take It Back– A story in the New York times that looks at one of the developments in campaigning coming about in this 2012 election cycle, namely that campaigns are giving quotes to reporters on the condition that they are allowed to review and veto usage of the quotes.
  3. World’s Greatest Athlete Forced Back Into Diamond Mine at Gunpoint – Comic and depressing.
  4. Brian Shaw, the Strongest Man in the World– A profile in the New Yorker of Brian Shaw and the sport of strongest man competitions. The main disappointment is that the article hints at discussion of forces acting on the body, but that is more of background in the article, rather than its purpose.
  5. ProLife For Congress 2012 -This man actually changed his name to Pro-Life, lost a gubernatorial race and is now running for Congress. Regardless of political orientation, we should all be able to agree that this is rather extreme. Thanks to Joe for bringing this to my attention.

What else is out there?

Assorted Links

Salman Rushdie fatwa turned into Iranian video game – Evidently, several years ago Iran’s national foundation of computer games asked students to design and create scripts for this game, with the top three being handed over to developers. Evidently the game will involve the players to carry out the Ayatollah’s command to kill Rushdie.

I don’t Want Health Care if Just Anyone Can Have It – An article that appeared in the Onion, March 2007, but is apropos of the ACA supreme court ruling (I would recommend reading the Opinion given by John Roberts, which is probably going to give more problems long term for the supporters of the ACA).

Rest of the Country Should Take a Good Look At the Situation in Texas – An article about the actual health care crisis that Texas is in.

Ethics Training is Wrong – The opinion of math professor Lou Van den Dries who refused to attend yearly mandatory ethics violations and had received a fine for his actions. Among other things, he calls the ethics workshops “Orwellian” and states that “An unfortunate byproduct of the computer revolution is that it has given new tools in the hands of unwise rulers to annoy us for no good reason.” He has chosen to settle the fine rather than going through a legal process.