Monthly Archives: September 2023

Old White Man Apologizes

I had just finished Jann Wenner’s memoir when the news of his interview with The New York Times broke. I was six when Rolling Stone was first published and had a print subscription for a long time. I decided to read the book less because I interested in Wenner himself as I was in the time period and culture in which he created the magazine: the music, the people, the events. There were lots of good stories that fostered my own memories.

The memoir was long and seemed to drag at points. Wenner was clearly a proud man who likes being rich and well-known and dropping lots of names. It was very different from Elton John’s funny, often self-deprecating story of his own life that I read last year.

And then, just after I finished the book, the interview dropped where Wenner pushed back when asked why all the “masters” featured in his new book were white men. Women and people of color were not articulate enough; they weren’t the philosophers of rock and roll, according to Wenner. Seriously? The interviewer was shocked and mentioned a long list of musicians like Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder, all of whom Wenner brushed aside as not meeting the lofty criteria for his book.

And then came the real ugliness, the view into Wenner’s soul: he guessed he should have picked a woman and a black man so he could have avoided these kinds of questions even though they would not have measured up to all these amazing white men. Oh, FFS.

The rest of the interview isn’t much better: Wenner should be proud of his work, but his pride spills over into arrogance. He seems incapable of self-reflection.

The repercussions were swift. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that he co-founded kicked him off the board immediately, and a literary festival appearance was cancelled. After a day, the inevitable apology was offered. He spoke badly chosen words, he said, and accepted the consequences.

Craig Seymour, writing in The Guardian after the interview and the apology, reviewed the sexist, racist history of Rolling Stone and rock journalism in general, the not-so-secret history that Wenner “let slip” in the interview.

For me, it’s the apology that continues to wrankle. He is sorry he said what he said. Why? He made it clear in the interview that he knew exactly what he was saying. Even doubled down on it when the interviewer pressed him. So, why apologize? Why not be honest about how you feel, that you wrote the book so you got to choose, and you stand by your statements as horrible as they are. Because, I’ll be honest: I don’t think he is sorry.

Local News

One of my graduate students was a sport writer focusing specifically on high school sports in a small town. So, I had to share the news about Gannett Newspapers pulling back from their use of AI to write their news stories. Gannett, of course, is not loved by small newspapers and local journalists as they take over and big layoff usually follow. What suffers when that happens is the local news, and it is local news that led to the pull back.

The Columbus Dispatch‘s story about a local soccer match opened with this grabber of a lede:

The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday.

Opinion: High schoolers can do what ai can’t, Scott simon, npr

It was, not surprisingly, written by AI.

Scott Simon, who penned the NPR editorial, suggests that the news organization could hire high school students to cover what is, and my grad student backed him up on this, a crucial part of small town life. As I wrote recently, local communities are an essential part in many people’s lives and AI has not yet, at least, found it niche.

On a side note, I introduced my students to the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine last week. The offending news story from The Columbus Dispatch had been taken down but CNN was able to link to the archived version. At least, Gannett had given credit to LedeAI, the bot that wrote what is on its way to being a classic of sports writing.

Not Everyone is Excited About AI, IBM

I am a tennis fan and have been watching the US Open. IBM is a major sponsor and has several commercials about AI on rotation, including one that begins by stating that people are excited at what AI can do for them. Are they? That Pew data I wrote about last week would suggest otherwise: a lot of people don’t know anything about it and those that do are concerned.

Today, I attended my second university-sponsored AI workshop. It was an interesting conversation with very smart people, but at the end of the day, we simply don’t know what the impact of AI is going to be on teaching, learning as well as life and work in general. And, while IBM and today’s panelists expressed optimism, audience questions during today’s Q & A showed real skepticism about this technology. The biggest concern seemed to echo Jonathan Zimmerman’s recent Washington Post editorial: struggling with assignments is what learning is all about. The bot doesn’t just create your product; it does your thinking for you.

From the panelists, there was talk of transforming the curriculum to take advantage of AI and creating AI-aware assignments. Meanwhile, an audience member who was an arts professor expressed fear at what will be lost as AI moves into the fields of visual and musical arts. The answer–that different kinds of jobs will be created for those that are lost–was not reassuring.

Bottom line message: AI is here and, unlike previous technologies, cannot be banned or ignored.

Go Read a Book

I am feeling quite unmotivated this morning. I taught last evening and enjoyed learning and laughing with my students, but I am too wound up to go right to bed when I get home. Add in an exciting tennis match and I was up way past my bedtime.

Woman Reading, Susan Macdowell Eakins, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

I had an extra latte this morning, poked a bit at the to do list, and then while surfing social media, discovered to my happy surprise that it is National Read a Book Day! I couldn’t find any history other than it started in the 2000s and is similar to Book Lover’s Day, which is an “unofficial” holiday but at least has a Wikipedia entry.

National Read a Book Day must be a bit more unofficial but nonetheless, a national holiday is a national holiday and must be observed. I have brewed a pot of teach and will be curling up with a good book: The Murmur of Bees by SofĂ­a Segovia.

Writing for Rights

In 1988, when I told people I had joined AI, they did not think of Artificial Intelligence. Instead, they probably knew I had joined the international human rights organization, Amnesty International. Like many of people, I became aware of the organization (it had begun in 1961) because of the musicians who headlined the Human Rights Now tour in 1988, especially Peter Gabriel.

I wa part of a local group that met at a Quaker Church and wrote lots of letters for Amnesty International over the years as part of their Write for Rights program. I haven’t been involved in recent years beyond making a donation. So, when I stumbled on this year’s membership card, I wondered if, in this day of AI and online forms, letter writing was still part of the mission.

Amnesty continues the tradition with a focused event related to Human Rights Day on December 10. They haven’t posted anything about this year’s event but you can learn more about the power of letter writing at the website. They continue to encourage us to handwrite our letters along with personalizing the recommended language. In this day of AI and copy/paste, a handwritten letter makes a personal connection between writer, reader, and, in this case, the person who is the subject of the appeal.