Offensiveness won. Or lost. It’s really the same thing: it just depends on how you come at it.
For more than a year, the press has treated Americans to a tsunami of stories about offensiveness. Though many of the stories were one-offs, they centered around two motifs: the hothouse atmosphere on college campuses, and the abhorrent rhetoric of Donald Trump, now the President-elect of the United States. [more]
Just returned from a 4,000-mile round trip to the Rockies. It took us by car from the east coast to Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln, Cheyenne, Boulder, Denver, and back via Colby (KS), Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield (IL), Champaign, Louisville, and home (via Charleston and western Maryland) — 14 states in all and in several of them, different routes east and west. A lot of ground to look for signs of that spirit of offense that has been fodder in the reports this past year of the national mood. But we found — nothing. We didn’t even find anything mildly suspect. [more]
I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of weeks, writing the first draft of the proposal for the book Taking Offense. During that time, I’ve been musing about a problem that has loomed large in the news this spring, the problem of when to scrub away the names or symbols of honorees whom we now understand dishonor us.
It’s likely a fundamental human impulse to pay homage to those who have achieved great things: saved the community from enemies in battle, governed well, invented processes and machines to raise us from trouble and drudgery, created works of art that inspire, taught us to learn and grow, or helped or enlightened us in some other way. You no doubt have a hero or two in mind as you read this, as do I as I write. Some honorees are known to families, neighborhoods, or particular communities, others to whole nations and the world.
And then comes the moment when you wake up, or grow up, or learn something new, about yourself, the world, and your hero. [more]
I missed it at the time, so this is a retrospective reflection on a curious blunder last March, when Microsoft unleashed an AI bot to talk to millennials on the Web. (Now there’s a nine-word phrase my parents would never have understood: for you elders, an Internet bot [short for robot], is an automated software program that carries out a repetitive online task that would take you or me forever if we had to do it by hand, like searching for codes or copying specific information, like addresses.)
Microsoft called its “chatbot” Tay and described it as “Microsoft’s A.I. fam the internet that’s got zero chill.” [more]