The problem with The New York Times’s 1619 Project: “Now, there is a lot to admire in the paper’s presentation of the 1619 Project — searing photographs, illuminating quotations from archival material, samples of poetry and fiction giving powerful voice to the black experience, and gripping journalistic summaries of scholarly histories. Much of it is wrenching, moving, and infuriating. The country’s treatment of the slaves and their descendants through the century following emancipation and, in some respects, on down to the present was and is appalling — and the story of how it happened, and keeps happening, is extremely important for understanding the United States. Bringing this story to a wide audience is a worthwhile public service. Yet that isn’t the point of the 1619 project. The point, once again, is to ‘reframe American history’ so that this appalling history stands at the very center of who we are as a country. Achieving that goal has required the Times to treat history in a highly sensationalistic, reductionistic, and tendentious way, with the cumulative result resembling agitprop more than responsible journalism or scholarship. Putting aside any pretense toward nuance or complexity, the paper has surrendered to the sensibility of left-wing political activists. The result is unpersuasive — and a sad comment on the state of our country’s public life.”

Matrix 4 is a go: “Warner Bros. has been trying for the last of couple years to find a way to get back into The Matrix universe, but a hold-up over producing rights slowed the project down. Over the past couple of months, the studio saw an opportunity to ramp up development, with Reeves boasting a strong summer that included box office hits John Wick 3 and Toy Story 4 and a script from Wachowski that drummed up excitement. Plot details are currently unknown, as is how the role of Morpheus will be handled, originally played by Laurence Fishburne. Some sources say the role may be recast for a younger take.”

How Hitler hoped to use art as a “spiritual compass” for a new Germany: “Adolf Hitler’s Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, vehemently disliked discussing weather in general conversation. For the 35-year-old, it was a pedestrian topic that offered scant room for wit. Yet, on October 15, 1933, he noted with relief that the sunny skies boded well for a major political relations event: that day, only nine months after ascending to power, Hitler was preparing to lay the cornerstone of Munich’s House of German Art. The building was to replace the Glaspalast, a striking iron-and-glass exhibition space that had burned down on June 6, 1931, victim to an unknown arsonist. The fire destroyed 3,000 artworks, including a masterpiece by Caspar David Friedrich, whom Hitler and many Germans revered for his nineteenth-century paintings glorifying nature’s mystical power and, within it, the dominant position of men. Friedrich’s lost work, portraying the crumbling ruins of an ancient Catholic cloister, now seemed to be a metaphor for Hitler’s broader plans for the House of German Art: state-controlled culture would be Germany’s spiritual compass. ‘We ourselves will become a Church,’ summarized Hitler.”

List: Roller coasters were invented to save Americans from Satan, and 13 other facts.

Why conservatives are turning against higher education: “This divergence of the economic prospects of the college-educated and non-college-educated is hardly a new development. What is new, though, is the growing interest among Republican lawmakers, Hawley included, in doing something about it legislatively. One implication of the senator’s remarks is that Congress ought to be more solicitous of the interests of the non-college-educated, and to that end the senator recently introduced legislation that, according to The Hill, would allow low-income students to use federal dollars currently earmarked for higher education to pursue vocational training. Leaving aside the merits of Hawley’s proposal, there is reason to believe that it is good politics, or rather good Republican politics. As the Pew Research Center finds in a new survey, there’s been a sharp increase in dissatisfaction with America’s colleges and universities among Republicans in recent years, and it makes perfect sense for right-of-center policy makers to want to do something about it.”

Karen Brissette reviews a modern retelling of The Turn of the Screw: “Ruth Ware’s fifth novel, The Turn of the Key, is a Victorian Gothic brought roughly into the modern age, Henry James via Black Mirror. As the title suggests, this is a contemporary spin on The Turn of the Screw, in which a nanny cares for a wealthy couple’s children in the remote Scottish moors, featuring all of the motifs of traditional Gothic horror: the isolation, the barren landscape, the forbidding mansion, the uncanny invading domestic spaces, the blurring of the real and the unreal. But Ware’s Heatherbrae House is no drafty Castle of Otranto; it is a futuristic smart home run by Happy, a home-management app, controlling all of the house’s functions — heating, lights, locks, curtains, and cameras surveilling every room, through panels built into the walls.”

Speaking of technology, can’t read a book for more than a few minutes without checking your phone? Maybe you need to read Maryanne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home: “Where did our focus go and how can we reclaim it? Cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf (Proust and the Squid) is out to answer these questions in her latest title: Reader, Come Home. The argument for unplugging is hardly a novel one. Perhaps the most renowned advocate for a return to print, Neil Postman made his case over 30 years ago. But Wolf’s ability to look under the hood of the human brain is her special contribution to the conversation, giving us laymen a glimpse into how digital media is changing our physical makeup.” The news is not all bad: “Recognizing that it is unadvisable to leap unthinking into new technologies, but also futile (even undesirable) to escape our digital present, she imagines a third way forward. Building on research done on the bilingual brain, Wolf hypothesizes a similar binary approach to reading education. Just as a child may easily develop separate neural pathways for English and Spanish language processing, she believes we can develop separate pathways for print and digital reading. A good reader then becomes a ‘code switcher,’ toggling between modes of ‘light’ and ‘deep’ reading as the situation demands.”

New leech discovered near Washington, DC. Ahem.

Essay of the Day:

Is artificial intelligence ruining chess? In The New Atlantis, Yoni Wilkenfeld explains how what’s happening in the chess world might help us to understand how computers will affect other areas of our lives:

“Chess computers, also known as chess engines, have different personalities on the board. Stockfish, an open-source engine freely available and maintained by a community of programmers, has a clean, positional style, Pete Cilento, executive editor at Chess.com, told me by email. Leela Chess Zero, also known as Lc0, another open-source engine, ‘plays a more intuitive and hazy game,’ he said. ‘It has gained so many fans because it plays superhuman chess in a human way.’ Houdini, developed by programmer Robert Houdart, has a more aggressive and sacrificial style, which is why it has been compared to the great players of the Romantic Era. In a way, they are human: Behind every engine is a team of programmers, engineers, and chess experts.

“Decades before self-driving cars or Siri, chess was an obsession of AI researchers, and getting a computer to beat a human master their holy grail. Today, twenty-two years after IBM’s Deep Blue shocked the world by beating then–world champion Garry Kasparov, chess computers have left humans in the dust. The latest generation of programs, such as AlphaZero, developed by the Alphabet-owned company DeepMind, is doing things that even their human creators don’t understand. Demis Hassabis, co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, has described aspects of AlphaZero’s decision-making as a ‘black box,’ for example, how it assesses the overall value of a rook compared to a knight. ‘We don’t actually know.’

“The impact of computer chess on the game — as still played by humans — has been twofold. First, computers have helped to flatten chess, increasing pure understanding of the game at the expense of creativity, mystery, and dynamism. Second, they have become intertwined with every aspect of chess, from play at the highest level to amateur study and the spectator’s experience. These two effects mirror how emerging technologies are changing the way we live. Chess today is a window into the future, when machine learning is applied to all kinds of human endeavors.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Lenticular Clouds over Mount Etna

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