New at No Contest

We have added two news-feeds, for Artificial Intelligence and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), to go with our feeds on Social Media Policy and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and we’ve significantly expanded our resources list at the top of the page. We’re grateful to everybody for checking in as often as you do.

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Phonics and the State of the Union

Our friend Jonathan Mayhew has been wondering whether the “balanced literacy” approach to teaching reading has neglected fundamental ways the brain apprehends and organizes sound itself, to the detriment of a generation or more of young would-be readers.

Professors of education are not neuroscientists, but perhaps they should be. … I’m thinking that language acquisition begins with prosody, and so little children are very good already at sound.  

Mayhew’s post reminded me why I would not be watching – that is, listening totonight’s State of the Union address by President Biden. No spoken set-piece is less mellifluous than this thing, its aural rhythms undermined by round after round of applause as if at the point of a cattle prod. (I might have it on silent, though, to catch any actual “action.”)

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“Pre-Planned Feelings”

We have discussed our friend Clarissa‘s opinions on American academia and other topics in the past. She is an Hispanic Studies professor at a midwestern public university whose blog is always vividly written (and is contentious by design, I would say). I asked her if we could quote a truly startling post from today – in its dystopian entirety. Her title tops this post.

Today we received a document that describes the new procedure for creating an academic budget. It’s written in the most atrocious bureaucratese and lists 17 (seventeen) additional meetings on top of the ones in the already existing procedure. Every meeting is described not only in terms of the date, attendees and action items but also a list of feelings (yes, feelings) people should experience after each meeting.

Example. “February 16, 2023. We leave the meeting with a sense of confidence in our capacity to improve the budget and a sense of excitement regarding the new strategic budgeting process.”

There is a separate column for these feelings. Every sentence in it starts with “We leave the meeting with a sense of.” Please note that these meetings haven’t happened yet. These are future meetings. But the feelings they are supposed to inspire have already been pre-planned. And put down in writing by people who lack any sense of humor.

I know everybody is already tired of me bringing up the USSR but I’ll say it again. We weren’t this stupid in the USSR. The pre-planned feelings worked only until Stalin’s death. Once there were no mass executions, nobody took pre-planned feelings seriously.

This is a long, very detailed document. 5 pages, single-spaced, 10 pt font. Somebody got paid actual money to write this unreadable, moronic garbage. It was approved by the administration. What is wrong with us that we let this happen?

Two addenda:

The “pre-planned feelings” document refers to people, and again, I quote, as “folks especially faculty.” This “folks” is so grating because it aims to create a folksy, conversational mood in a situation where the guiding idea of the project is to get rid of as many workers as possible.

The concluding section titled “Opportunities and Threats” ends with the following statement: “Identify which departments have more faculty than can be justified.” What’s going to happen with these unjustified professors – or “folks” – is never explained. …

And here is the absolute pièce de résistance of the “pre-canned feelings” document:

We must lay the groundwork for a deeper and wider change in culture—one in which eventually all folks (faculty in particular) realize that their work in the classroom has some ‘economic’/fiscal/financial aspect/consequence.

After which “we will leave the meeting with a sense of” bla-bla.

The textbook definition of neoliberalism, by the way, is “markets in everything.” What does that mean? See above for the perfect example.

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“Overlords at the Easel”

The brilliant, prolific, and combative political cartoonist Ted Rall has been spreading warnings about the ways AI can and will rob artists of rights to – and earnings from – their work. This week:

As a cartoonist of the early 21st century I am the last of the Mohicans, a direct heir of the first known artists: the Neolithic people whose cave paintings of hunters were discovered by a French boy who tumbled through a hole in the ground in Nazi-occupied France. Drawing for a living under late capitalism is a challenge. Selling political drawings in an era when humor and satire has all but vanished from popular culture is even harder. (Charles Schulz, Rudy Ray Moore, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, “Weird Al” Yankovic: None would find work if they were starting out today.) When I began drawing editorial cartoons for syndication three decades ago, there were hundreds of us. Today there are an even dozen. I am 59 years old and I am one of the younger ones.

The cruel gods of artificial intelligence have targeted me and my kind for termination. AI-based text-to-image generators are the latest technological leap that exploitative entrepreneurs are using to make a mockery of copyright and trademark, the fundamental legal protections of intellectual property in the United States. From a user standpoint, the interface is simple. You go to a website and enter some terms, say: “Abraham Lincoln painted by Picasso.” A few seconds later, if the data set is big enough and the algorithms smart enough, out pops a picture representing your request. It’s not exactly cool. But it’s interesting. …

Unless Congress acts quickly and decisively, creative people in every field you can think of will be unable to distinguish their work from computer-generated knockoffs, radically curtailing their ability to command payment for their labor — and to lift the human spirit.

Here via Twitter thread is his 2022 year-ending “complete statement about AI text-to-image generators”:

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Merry Xmas!

From the great Bryan Garner:

You can buy the new, 5th edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage here.

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This can go a long way

This semester I asked a student of mine who’s in my university’s HR program whether human resources professionals needed to actually like people. (I wish I remember why I asked!)

She told me nobody had ever asked her that question before and then gave it some thought.

“You don’t have to like people. But you need to be empathetic with people.”

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Christmas season comment

I will never get used to the term “anti-woke.”

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This month we begin the eleventh year of No Contest Communications. Tierney set the tone and the theme with her inaugural posts. I especially like “On Being Forgiven.”

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Apropos The Georgia Straight

Dan Savage was not exaggerating the problems faced by alt-weeklies in recent years.

From The Tyee last week:

The crew at the Georgia Straight wrote until the bitter end, filing stories and chronicling Vancouver’s culture after the paycheques stopped flowing and the printer stopped running.

Martin Dunphy’s 32 years at the iconic alt-weekly ended with a 17-minute Zoom call, where he and the dozen-odd staff were unceremoniously fired as a new publisher bought the paper from its bankrupt owners. …

Left behind are Dunphy and his peers, who are owed thousands of dollars each in severance, vacation and unpaid wages with no clear way to recoup the cash.

“When I started at the paper, it was a few pages and we didn’t know if we’d get paid,” said Dunphy, whose first job at the Straight was selling copies of the paper on the cobblestone streets of Gastown for beer money in 1973. “And it ended the same way.”

The Tyee itself is a remarkably good journalistic enterprise that I’ve done my bit to support (should do more, though!):

We’re an independent, online news magazine from BC founded in 2003. We’re devoted to fact-driven stories, reporting and analysis that informs and enlivens our democratic conversation. Our reporting has changed laws, started movements and garnered numerous awards and the respect of our peers and readers. While some journalism gives the last word to power, we try to give the last word to ordinary folks.

Since 2009, Tyee Builders have pitched in to hire extra reporters, boost our coverage of provincial and federal election campaigns, and help grow The Tyee while other newsrooms shrink.

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Savage Love

The prose of Dan Savage is bold and crystal clear – and edifying to a profound degree. It always has been. I started reading his column in the San Francisco’s alt-weekly back in the early 90s and kept up that happy habit after I moved to Vancouver, digging threw the classifieds section in The Georgia Straight, where his column was buttressed by some pretty prurient personal ads.

This week Savage announced that he will no longer syndicate his column on the web. According to the Straight, Savage wrote his publishers and editors:

I want to thank you for running “Savage Love” and for rolling with recent changes. This has been an extraordinarily tough few years for alt weeklies (and for everyone and everything else) and I’ve deeply appreciated your flexibility as I’ve been attempting to adapt.

This isn’t a change I’m making lightly. The truth is that the many publications that ran “Savage Love” did not survive the pandemic — margins narrowed, ad rates had to be slashed, people got laid off. I’ve seen this first-hand at The Stranger [Seattle’s weekly, which Savage edited for years]. 

And that’s why I began giving the column to papers for free at the start of the pandemic, more than two and half years ago. I wish I could continue offering the column for free to appear on your websites. But I need to make this change—a change lots of other writers have already made. But, again, I will still be making the column available for free in print.

This last point touched me deeply. It’s a sentimental but serious salute to the days of publishing during which I made my own first stand.

You will still be able to read Savage’s work online at Savage.Love.

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