On Bei Dao’s Visual Art

From The Paris Review:

In April 2012, while with his family on a beach in Hong Kong, Bei Dao suffered a stroke that severely affected his language abilities. After a month of trying to learn how to read all over again, he was assessed by a speech-language pathologist to be at only 30 percent equivalency. Daily conversation was difficult; the words he depended on for his life and art would possibly never return. It was an unprecedented crisis that he later compared in an essay to being “like an animal trapped in a cage.” (I’m reminded of these lines Bei Dao’s friend Tomas Tranströmer wrote after a paralyzing stroke, translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton: “I am carried in my shadow / like a violin / in its black case.”) While recovering in the hospital, Bei Dao started to doodle and brush calligraphy, and when he returned home, he started to paint, channeling the lyric impulse from the void of words into physical images. Thirty years had passed since he’d last painted a picture.

Bei Dao’s first paintings in this period were composed of repeating lines that formed an abstract landscape resembling surging hills or waves. Feeling he lacked the necessary skill and technique to manipulate the plastic line, he abandoned it and turned to one of the most fundamental elements of Chinese painting: the ink dot. A longtime photographer, he compares the ink dot to the pixel of a photograph. In his book-length poem Sidetracks, which will be published in English by New Directions in 2024, he describes the creative process of ink-dot painting like this:

nebular ink dots on rice paper—in accord with the cosmos painting pictures makes me euphoric ink dots cluster disperse depending on the flow of random scattering forest beyond the borders of language good fortune depends on disaster / disaster conceals good fortune I am aimless freedom listening closely to the whispers of snowflakes guarding the vortex of day and night at the center of the mysterious river

Four years after his stroke, Bei Dao’s Chinese language abilities had improved dramatically, and a new medical assessment showed a recovery of over 80 percent. He continued his painting practice, though, and started to write poetry again. In 2018, a year before he turned seventy, Bei Dao had his first-ever painting exhibition at the Galerie Paris Horizon, located just north of the Centre Pompidou. In the essay he wrote for the exhibition, he contrasts the oil-based pointillism of an artist like Seurat with the watery ink dots of the East, where the tones and textures of the so-called five shades of ink in traditional Chinese painting must be naturally integrated with the brush and the rice paper to form a single whole. And as the water evaporates, the ink colors change, creating unexpected effects.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

What to do when you go blank during a public speaking engagement

From Medium:

Ever faced the dreaded combination of stage fright and an unexpected challenge?
Well, I have, and let me tell you, it involved a sneeze attack and a surprise speech.
As the head girl of my high school, I thought public speaking was a breeze – until one day in 9th grade.

The Speech Ambush:

Just the day before a school assembly, I was handed a speech to memorize. Simple, right? Not when you’re battling a sudden dust allergy.
Cue uncontrollable sneezing – not the ideal prep for a speech. I popped anti-allergy pills like candy, but my nose had other plans.
It turned into a warm waterfall, and reading the speech made it worse. I became a master at reading through a runny nose.

Sleepless Night Drama:

Mugging up a speech was never my cup of tea, especially with a leaky nose. Despite high-dose medication, sleep eluded me.As the dawn approached, an exhaustion set in. Sleep-deprived, sniffly, and with puffy eyes, I had a choice, give the speech or face the wrath of my teachers. Duty called, and so did my need for sleep.

On Stage:

Mic in hand, half-asleep, I began with confidence. But halfway through, I blanked out. Panic? Yes. The audience staring? Definitely. What did I do? I confessed. “None of this was my idea; blame the internet!”as I confidently said,further continuing the speech I deviated from the script, shared my perspective on Women’s Day, and finished the speech my way. Applause ensued.

. . . .

Our political science teacher came to my rescue, my unexpected hero, praising my brilliance. As they argued, I made a swift exit, vowing never to memorize a speech again.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG has given quite a number of speeches of various types.

  • In college, he had many classes which required him to interpret various types of literature, including everything from folk tales to Shakespeare to lengthy poems by Vachel Lindsay.
  • He has spoken to quite a number of judges and juries, attempting to further the cause of clients admirable and disreputable.
  • He has delivered more than a few church sermons.
  • He has spoken to groups fellow attorneys from Hawaii to Beverly Hills to Chicago to Manhattan to London about how to use technology to improve the management and operations of their offices.

Allow PG to make a few suggestions about dealing with the unexpected when giving a speech:

  • Don’t memorize if you can get around doing so by hook or by crook.
  • If you have to memorize, slip a copy of what you’re supposed to memorize into a pocket or some other easy-to-reach place on your person, so you can refresh your recollection or read a bit until your memory kicks into gear.
  • An outline of your presentation is a much better idea than having a verbatim written speech. This gives you the option to let bright thoughts to pop up off your head or, if you will be speaking following other speakers, comment on some of the things they have said.
  • If you have the option of using a PowerPoint for your speech (with a large monitor or projector so your audience can properly view it), your PowerPoint can substitute for an outline. Please don’t read from your PowerPoint, however. You can sometimes use a printed version of a PowerPoint as an outline of your presentation.

If you are not familiar with Vachel Lindsay’s poetry, he was a popular performer of some of his best-known works in the late 19th and early 20th centures. Below, you’ll hear him recite (perform is a better description) his most famous epic poem, The Congo.

PG warns one and all that Lindsay, who died in 1931, reflected the times during which he lived in his attitudes and writing about African-Americans.

Skip the performance if exceedingly out of date and offensive attitudes towards descendants of African slaves may offend or upset you.

Dead Links

From Public Books:

On May 8, 2023, a Twitter user expressed sadness over the loss of a dead loved one’s Twitter account: “My sister died 10 years ago, and her Twitter hasn’t been touched since then. It’s now gone because of Elon Musk’s newest farce of a policy. Fuck you @elonmusk, your nonsense has taken away a monument to my sister’s mark on this earth.”

Soon after Twitter’s new deletion policy took hold, Google made an announcement of its own. A May 16, 2023, blog post stated that Google would start deleting inactive personal accounts: “if a Google Account has not been used or signed into for at least 2 years, we may delete the account and its contents.” Much like Twitter, Google blamed security issues as the company’s main concern. (Long-inactive accounts are less likely than regularly accessed ones to have two-factor authentication and may become compromised, spewing spam or other unpleasant content out into the world.) However, this policy change invalidates Google’s earlier promise to store your data forever for free. For example, Google Photos claimed in 2015:

Google Photos gives you a single, private place to keep a lifetime of memories, and access them from any device. They’re automatically backed up and synced, so you can have peace of mind that your photos are safe, available across all your devices.

And when we say a lifetime of memories, we really mean it. With Google Photos, you can now backup and store unlimited, high-quality photos and videos, for free.

Google Photos ended its free unlimited storage in 2021.

Tech titans gained power and wealth from the accumulation of data, but that doesn’t mean they are equipped to be long-term stewards of personal and collective memories. Even the longest-lived social media platforms have undergone tremendous changes, and some, like Twitter (now X), teeter on the precipice of oblivion. And many companies, it seems, would rather eschew their responsibilities as digital caregivers. They gobbled up massive amounts of user data for model building and to attract advertisers, and they can just as easily decide to free themselves of their obligations to preserve such data.

For ordinary users, personal data may seem permanent, something that can follow them across the life cycle. Yet such permanence doesn’t always align with corporate interests in and interpretations of data. Today, Big Tech companies are no longer willing to maintain data in perpetuity. We are perhaps reaching the limits of what the cloud can afford.

Tech companies, whether fledgling digital estate-planning startups or massive multinational corporations, are ill equipped to broker the intergenerational transfer of digital remains because of their short attention spans. Moreover, corporations often propose the deactivation or deletion of dormant accounts to avoid liability for any security issues that might arise from keeping them online. Twitter has repeatedly planned to deactivate such accounts, but up until this latest policy shift, user pushback and press attention prevented it from becoming a reality. Under Elon Musk’s chaotic ownership, this time the plan was carried out, at least in part. One petty billionaire had the power to delete long-standing memorials to the dead. Such deletions can also carry their own political implications, such as freeing up handles for right-wing politicians, one possible incentive for Musk’s decision, although simultaneously upsetting the loved ones of dead users.

Despite Big Tech’s tendency to ignore the dead, however, death seems to haunt data infrastructures. In my book, Death Glitch: How Techno-Solutionism Fails Us in This Life and Beyond, I discuss the thorny problem of maintaining the data of the dead, which requires enacting care both at scale and over time.

Here I explore the politics and ethics of endless posthumous data storage, especially at a time when the climate impact of the proverbial cloud is a pressing concern amid the rise of generative AI and other high-energy workloads.

Over the decades, platforms have grappled with the problem of retaining and caring for the data of the dead. Digital remains are complex inheritances, because they depend on the longevity and commercial viability of corporate platforms and proprietary systems. Consider how the remains of the dead might well encompass everything from email, blog, and social media accounts to the ambient forms of metadata that track individuals and their networks. All this—when users die or platform infrastructures break down—becomes digital remains.

Commercial platforms can provide the scaffolding for sacred communion with the dead. But such relationships depend on the whims of platform owners and the design decisions of technologists.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Make Humanities Fun Again

From Publishers Weekly:

Majoring in English as undergrads in the early 1990s, Gen Xers like me hid our passions from the professors. We were literary trash huffers, believing that books like Interview with the VampireNeuromancer, and Kindred merited classroom discussion. But our instructors had invested years eschewing contemporary commercial literature. They presented conference papers on pre-industrial artists like Shakespeare, popular domestic stories by Jane Austen, or modernist and postmodernist experimentalisms penned by authors who, for the most part, enjoyed meager success in their lifetimes.

So, we deferred to elder, established academics and took up the study of texts we hoped would edify us: James Joyce’s Ulysses, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and maybe Toni Morrison’s Beloved. We wrote dissertations that only mildly interested us, and secretly continued reading books by Neil Gaiman, Alison Bechdel, and Marjane Satrapi. We waited for our turn to—well, to do what, exactly? Did we think we’d eventually bend the system, corrupt the process enough to finally teach the stuff that we loved?

It was too late. We’d already devised terms like “guilty pleasure,” “genre literature,” “graphic novel,” and “prestige TV” to assuage the shame we were supposed to feel for loving something we shouldn’t love.

The dearth and death of fun are precisely the reasons students are now turning away in droves from the humanities, resulting in a precipitous drop in liberals arts majors, as described by Nathan Heller in his New Yorker piece “The End of the English Major.” According to Heller, the humanities are collapsing under a multitude of pressures: reading literature is passé; STEM and Big Tech are luring away students; tuitions costs are rising; the professors themselves have lost faith. But the obvious and biggest issue glows smack-dab in the middle of Heller’s opening paragraph: “It’s hard for students like me, who are pursuing an English major, to find joy in what they’re doing.”

Fun has been bleached from the humanities in favor of identity and representation. Instead of demonstrating how these concepts can be enacted and imaginatively employed, we encourage students to talk and write about these ideas within a limited framework of texts no one really wants to read. Set foot inside a Barnes & Noble today or peruse your kid’s high school library. YA fiction, specifically of the dystopian-adventure stripe, is everywhere. These are books awash in identity and representation, ignored by professors yet inhaled by readers of all ages. These books serve as examples of the very things we discuss in our college classrooms, and yet we prop up the same canonized authors instead.

I’ll spell it out: students want to read Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Twilight, and anything by Brandon Sanderson, as well as engage with stories through manga, anime, and video games. Not only are English majors absorbing this stuff but they’re producing it, too, in the form of fan fiction, fan art, and cosplay.

This is why I set out to write a YA dystopian-adventure novel with my students, bringing a new 1,500-word chapter to every class every week—whether it was a writing workshop or a literature class. At the end of a 15-week semester, I had 22,000 words, or a third of my first novel. I wrote the novel my students wanted to read and published it with a respectable publisher and acknowledged them in the book.

But the real fun came when students started submitting their own work to class. I published some of it in anthologies I edit, and helped others get their works published in local and regional journals and magazines.

My classes have long waiting lists. It’s not because I push my students to distinguish between American literary realism and naturalism, or to examine Bartleby through the lens of disability studies. It’s because I encourage them to write characters based on their own experiences and identities. A little joy attracts students and encourages them to challenge themselves as writers and communicators.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG was long out of college in the 1990s, but remembers believing that English majors were pretty much gone from serious academia. He doesn’t know if “English majors” have been renamed into something that sounds more trendy.

PG did a little research on English Majors and found that likely job opportunities existed in “grant writing, public relations, content editing, and technical writing”. He was interested that neither teaching nor law was mentioned.

PG doesn’t know whether someone who has developed a passion for 18th Century English Literature or 20th Century British and American Poetry in college will find fulfillment in grant writing, but he could be wrong. He’ll be happy to be enlightened by more knowledgable commenters to this post.

I Was Too Quick To Call Out Cultural Appropriation

From Electric Lit:

I don’t remember exactly when I first heard it but it was in high school sometime in the early nineties. I was listening to the radio after school but before my parents returned home from work. Rock music was the sound of my teenage rebellion. It was forbidden in our house so I had one ear on the radio and the other on the garage door. Suddenly I heard a familiar twang in an unfamiliar place. It was the distinct sound of a sitar, but in a rock song: The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” How strange to hear the sitar alongside English rockers crooning about a long-lost love? As a first-generation Indian American who spent my weekday afternoons illicitly jamming to pop and rock while doing homework and my weekends at Indian classical music concerts, I found myself constantly humming the tune. 

But even that didn’t prepare me for when I turned the radio dial and blaring back at me came, “Ha-re Krish-na, Krish-na Krish-na, Ha-re Ra-ma, Ra-ma Ra-ma.” I couldn’t believe chants to Hindu deities Krishna and Rama, which I was accustomed to hearing in the sanctity of a Hindu temple or uttered by my grandmother in prayer, were being sung in a rock song. That was my introduction to the iconic hit song “My Sweet Lord.” 

In truth, I couldn’t yet admit to liking the song because it felt a bit like when white girl rockers like Gwen Stefani wear a bindi as a costume. Doing so, I felt, might make me a bad Indian, betraying my culture by falling prey to the wiles of a culturally appropriative yet masterful performer. Yet, this song oddly captured my essence—a little bit Hindustani, a little bit rock ‘n roll. And the lyrics about the singer’s search to find and be found by his “Sweet Lord” spoke to my own quest to find my identity and be seen in my totality as an Indian-American—a person formed by these two bold, and often opposing, cultures. It would still be a few years until I learned that one musician was behind the Indian influence in both of these songs: rocker George Harrison.

These perplexing feelings would come rushing back to me during my initial interview with Grammy-nominated, Hindustani singer Lakshmi Shankar—the subject of my first book—when she mentioned that she went on a fifty-city stadium rock ‘n roll tour and sang alongside George Harrison. I was stunned. I had known Lakshmiji, as I affectionately referred to her, my whole life, had been to dozens of her concerts from the age of five onwards, and counted her amongst my most favorite singers. Her repertoire of Hindustani ghazals, thumris, and khyals were imprinted in my mind, part of the indelible soundtrack to my childhood. 

Lakshmiji had pulled out a cassette tape, during our interview, and had played me, “I Am Missing You,” a sweet ballad where she implores Lord Krishna to show himself, confessing she is missing him terribly. In all the years of listening to her music, I had never heard Lakshmiji sing in English. Yet, here she was not only singing in English but accompanied by a rock band—keyboard, saxophone, bass guitar, and drums! Lakshmiji flipped the tape over and a second version of the song played, this time her voice was accompanied by Indian instrumentation—santoor, bansuri flute, and tabla. She called “I Am Missing You” a “Hindustani pop song”—it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. 

Ravi Shankar, renowned sitar player and her brother-in-law, composed the song and none other than George Harrison produced it. “This is amazing, you’re a rockstar, Lakshmiji!” She laughed as I sat in disbelief wondering what else I didn’t know about this traditional Hindustani singer, close in age to my grandmother, always clad in a sari and a bindi. In that moment, I had a dawning realization that my assessment of George and his relationship to Indian music and culture might be, at best, incomplete, and at worst, unfair.

In truth, before embarking on writing Lakshmiji’s biography close to ten years ago, I had already made up my mind about George. I believed he and all the other white rockers of the late 1960s, casually strumming the sitar or playing guitar riffs inspired by Indian ragas on their rock songs, were cultural appropriators. They were indiscriminately poaching and misappropriating Indian music with little regard for its significance or context to Indian culture. For them, it served merely as a trendy “exotic motif” to spice up their music and image. 

I wasn’t entirely wrong. For many rock bands of that era featuring Indian musical and cultural motifs, playing pentatonic scales while donning kurtas and malas cemented their appeal with hippie and counterculture audiences.

But as I delved deeper into my research into the journey of Indian music to the west and George’s role in this cultural transmission I began to realize that perhaps he had transformed himself from a cultural appropriator to an ambassador for Indian music as he evolved his own understanding and appreciation. My feelings and beliefs about George as an artist and as a person began to shift and evolve, as perhaps his own feelings and beliefs about Indian music had. Admittedly, it had certainly been easier for me when I could consider George solely as a cultural appropriator and cancel him in my mind. However, this experience had now complicated my thinking on cultural appropriation, making it more complex and nuanced, more gray rather than starkly black and white. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG was very close to going on a lengthy rant, but it’s too late and PG is too tired.

Of all the various societal twists, quirks, idiocies, and silliness of the last ten years or so, the one that drives him crazier than any other that comes to mind is “cultural appropriation.”

People have been adopting good ideas from other people forever. Groups of people have been adopting good ideas from other groups of people forever.

People create cultures. Who owns the cultures that groups of people develop over hundreds or thousands of years? Everybody and nobody.

The Roman Empire borrowed a great many ideas from the ancient Greeks and other groups of people which it discovered. Indigenous tribes have been borrowing ideas from other indigenous tribes and anyone else with whom they come in contact forever.

Human beings are highly social creatures. One of the most common forms of social human behaviors is sharing problems, discussing solutions, and learning about good ideas that others have developed.

One person (male) can’t get his car to operate properly. So that person parks it somewhere, opens the hood and starts looking and poking around to discover the cause of the problem in hopes of finding a solution.

If the car is parked in a public location where other males with nothing urgent to do can see the open hood and a fellow male messing about under the hood, some of the other males will cluster around the male trying to find a solution to the problem. Suggestions, information, and potential solutions will soon begin to flow among the members of this newly formed social group. Other expert male mechanics not present will be cited for possible solutions to the problem.

Massive cultural appropriation from various schools of automobile problem-solving will take place.

Lest PG be accused of male chauvinist piggyness, precisely the same pattern happens among females of the species who gather to discuss common problems, solutions, interests, and expertise.

Groups of doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, airplane pilots, etc., organize professional groups that host conferences and publish newsletters to exchange ideas and information of interest to those with common interests. International groups are organized for the same purposes. Does anyone complain of cultural appropriation on the part of those organizations? Do lawyers complain that engineers are appropriating good ideas the lawyers have developed?

PG just checked what he had written and noticed he said he was tempted to go on a lengthy rant because it was too late and he was too tired. It’s later now and PG is even more tired, so he’ll stop.

New Filevine Feature Uses AI to Summarize Incoming Leads and Predict the Best Matches for A Firm

From LawSites:

The law practice management platform Filevine today launched an enhancement to its Lead Docket lead intake tool that uses artificial intelligence to generate summaries of the key details of incoming leads and that help predict which leads are good matches for a law firm and which should be referred elsewhere. 

The new feature, LeadsAI, generates a summary of all the information provided in a lead intake form, including lead details, message correspondence, and notes, Filevine says, enabling attorneys to get a quick and accurate summarization of the details important to the firm. 

According to Filevine, features of LeadsAI include:

  • Lead Summarization: This feature uses AI to synthesize relevant data points from a lead, so a firm can quickly review the major details. For a personal injury lead, for example, a summary will include the incident, injury, contact information, pain points, and current state of the case.
  • Message Summarization: LeadsAI can use sentiment analysis to summarize the tone of communications between the intake professional and the potential client. In this way, Filevine says, firms can better understand engagement patterns and identify opportunities to refine their outreach. 
  • Notes Summarization: LeadsAI can generate consolidated timelines of all activities related to a lead, saving firms from having to sort through emails, calendars, and status reports. 

LeadAI also includes a predictive analysis tool that can help firms evaluate potential cases to determine whether or not representation is advised, Filevine says. Filevine says it uses proprietary data to predict whether a new lead or case should be signed, referred out, or rejected.

As it is released today, the tool is trained only on motor vehicle accident cases, but Filevine says it will eventually expand its scope to be useful for firms that handle large volumes of cases in personal injury, mass tort or class action litigation. 

Link to the rest at Lawsites

PG’s contacts within the larger legal community have atrophied to some extent since he took down his shingle. That said, he wonders if the OP describes a solution searching for a problem.

At least in the United States, clients usually come to lawyers in two ways:

They contact an attorney’s office and either:

  • 1. make an appointment to see an attorney (90%) or
  • 2. have a short phone discussion with an attorney so the attorney can determine if this is something he/she handles and respond accordingly (10%).

For PG, the face-to-face meeting was best, because, in addition to hearing about the prospective client’s legal concerns and deciding if it was a matter he could/would handle, it allowed PG to determine if the prospective client was a crazy person.

To be clear, the very large majority of those who contacted PG to talk about representation were perfectly normal individuals who needed some legal help. In PG’s experience, this was the case for other attorneys as well. The general populace does not produce a large number of crazy people. (Reasonable minds may differ on this topic.)

That said, PG could sometimes be fooled. “Fools can be so ingenious.”

On those few occasions when a crazy person did slip through PG’s vetting process, more than a few ended up (with identities fully protected and when PG was at least 300 miles from home) as PG’s most popular war stories shared with other attorneys only.

PG’s cats and copperheads case was one of his most popular war stories.

The culture wars have come to Canada

From The Economist:

On october 10th Scott Moe, the conservative premier of Saskatchewan, Canada’s breadbasket province, summoned lawmakers back to their legislature two weeks early to deal with an emergency. No withering blight had tainted the province’s vital grain stores. There was no looming peril to its vital potash industry. The threat was more mundane: that pupils under 16 can choose their preferred name or pronoun at school, without having to get the consent of their parents.

According to Statistics Canada, just 0.19% of Canadians over the age of 15 identify as transgender. Even fewer, 0.14%, are non-binary. Yet pronouns are becoming a big issue for right-wingers across the country. Doug Ford, the conservative premier of Ontario, has claimed that school boards are indoctrinating children by letting them choose their pronouns without asking their parents. Similarly, earlier this summer Blaine Higgs, the conservative premier of New Brunswick, retroactively changed his province’s education policy to ensure parental consent is mandatory before a student changes their pronoun.

Mr Moe is going much further. His provincial government introduced a new policy requiring parental consent in August. In September Michael Megaw, a judge, decided to delay the legislation as it could cause “irreparable harm”. According to Mr Megaw, there was little evidence that the education ministry had discussed the policy with teachers, parents or students.

In response, Mr Moe has invoked Canada’s “notwithstanding clause”. This refers to Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows the federal parliament or any provincial legislature to pre-emptively stop a law from being invalidated by a judge.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that, at least in the United States, the practice of an individual selecting preferred pronouns that polite people are obliged to use was not (in his experience) widespread until a couple of years ago.

He wonders how a socially-created “right” can move so quickly from nonexistence into a necessity that requires judicial intervention to avoid “irreparable harm” to those who wish to have others address them by preferred pronouns other than those suggested by their appearance.

But, of course, PG is not a Canadian and acknowledges that Canada is not a northern extension of the United States.

9 of the world’s most haunted castles and mansions — and a look at their dark histories

From Business Insider:

Some of the most haunted places in the world give us a deeper look into the history of past cultures.

From Château de Trécesson in France (supposedly haunted by a young woman who was believed to be buried alive on the premises) to Morgan House in India (said to still be visited by the spectral, tortured wife who once lived there), these locations are not only home to alleged ghosts, but also to the legends that have been passed down for decades — or even centuries.

It’s no wonder these locations hold such an allure for travelers. They offer not just goosebumps or a set of cold shivers down the spine, but the chance to feel a connection with souls who came before — the people who walked in a land before our time.

And if not that — well, then at least they offer a pretty solid Instagram picture. 

. . . .

Château de Trécesson — Brittany, France

The Château de Trécesson is said to be haunted by a woman who was buried alive on the property, The Local reported.

The legend goes that a thief had been lurking around the Château de Trécesson and spotted two people digging a hole. Then, the two people dragged a young woman, dressed in a bridal gown, and threw her body into the hole. 

The thief ran home and told his wife about what he’d seen, claiming that he’d overheard the two people saying they’d buried the young woman alive because she had “dishonored” her family. His wife told him to run back and save the young woman, but once he returned, the young bride was already dead.

. . . .

Casa Loma — Toronto, Ontario

Casa Loma was built by businessman Sir Henry Pellatt in 1914 for his wife, Lady Mary Pellatt, Spacing magazine reported.

Today, visitors and staff workers at the castle report seeing apparitions, being touched by unseen figures, and even hearing disembodied voices around the property, Toronto.com reported.

The castle is said to be haunted by several ghosts, one of which is known as “The White Lady”; she is believed to have been a maid on the property in the early 1900s.

Then, there are the tunnels underneath the property, in which guests have reported speaking to and otherwise interacting with another ghost. Reports say it’s the ghost of a friend of Sir Henry, who was hired to look after his horses. 

There have also been rumored sightings of the Pellatts themselves. People say they’ve spotted Henry glaring out of the windows on the second floor, and Mary, who has been noted for turning off the cameras of those who have tried to capture a snapshot of her in the afterlife.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG notes that there are photos of each house at the OP.

A Crisis Is Brewing at U.K. Universities

From The Wall Street Journal:

CAMBRIDGE, England—The U.K.’s storied universities have a problem. They lose money on almost every British student they teach.

The country’s university system boasts 11 of the world’s top 100 universities, with three in the top 10—in a country that has just 1% of the global population. The system’s health has an outsize impact on both the future of the world’s sixth-biggest economy and globally important research.

That system is increasingly at risk from politics. Unlike in the U.S., where private universities and many state schools set their own tuition, in England and Wales the government sets a price cap on tuition for all domestic undergraduate students—the same cap for every college from Cambridge to Coventry. Since 2010, the price cap has remained essentially frozen, even as inflation sharply raises costs. Northern Ireland cuts tuition in half for domestic students. In Scotland, there is no tuition at all.

The upshot: While U.S. universities charge ever higher tuition in an arms race for the best facilities and research, leading to a soaring student debt crisis, U.K. universities have the opposite problem. They aren’t able to charge enough.

To bridge the gap, they are cutting back on everything from research to teacher salaries to dorm rooms, and teaching more classes online. They are increasingly relying on foreign students, who are charged market rates. And they are cutting back on local students: The percentage of British teens going to college is now falling for the first time in generations.

“It’s a turning point,” said Simon Marginson, a professor of higher education at the University of Oxford. Even the U.K.’s most elite universities could see finances and quality decline if the government doesn’t step in, he said. A new report this month by the House of Lords said the university funding system in the U.K. wasn’t sustainable and faced a looming crisis.

About 30 universities reported financial losses in the latest academic year, a number likely to triple this year to about one in four overall, according to the government regulator, which nevertheless said the overall system remained sound. Teacher strikes for higher pay affected about 83 universities last year.

Rankings for U.K. universities, while still the second best in the world after the U.S., fell in nine of the 13 metrics measured by Times Higher Education, including for the global reputation of their research and teaching. The U.K. data firm will release its latest university rankings on Wednesday. 

‘Not in a million years’

The vast majority of universities in the U.K. are public, financed out of the annual government budget. That means politicians and bureaucrats, and not the universities themselves, decide tuition. Since 1998, when U.K. universities started charging tuition, the government has raised the tuition level three times, drawing howls of protest from students.  

There is no relief for university budgets coming soon. Raising tuition at a time when average salaries in the U.K. have fallen the past two years because of high inflation is “just not going to happen, not in a million years,” Robert Halfon, the higher-education minister for the conservative government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, said in an interview with Times Higher Education. The opposition Labour Party, heavily favored to win elections next year, usually talks about cutting fees rather than raising them.

Halfon declined to be interviewed for this article. A spokesperson for the department said: “We are keeping maximum tuition fees frozen to deliver better value for students and for taxpayers and keep the cost of higher education under control,” adding that the sector is financially stable overall.  

“Ultimately, it means we will not be able to deliver such a high-quality education,” said David Maguire, the vice chancellor of East Anglia University, which has a creative writing course whose graduates include Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro and novelist Ian McEwan. “So we won’t be able to attract the brightest and the best to our universities, who will then feed through into the U.K. economy, which is really built on services and knowledge.” 

U.K. universities have helped produce breakthroughs such as the theories of evolution and gravity, the discovery of penicillin, the structure of DNA and, more recently, the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine. British universities are currently researching cancer cures, artificial intelligence and next generation batteries for electric vehicles, among other vital issues. More than a quarter of today’s world leaders were educated at a U.K. university, second only to the U.S., according to the Higher Education Policy Institute, a U.K. think tank on education. 

Since 2012, annual tuition for domestic students in England has been raised only once, in 2017, from £9,000 a year to £9,250, or from about $11,200 to $11,500, an increase of 2.8%. Adjusting for inflation, fees have actually declined by about a third since 2012, according to DataHE, a higher-education consulting firm. Had tuition kept up with inflation, it would be close to £14,000, it estimates. 

Over the same period, U.S. tuition at private, nonprofit universities rose by 40% in nominal terms and nearly 10% after inflation to an average $34,041. Public universities raised annual tuition for in-state students by 34% before inflation and 5.4% after inflation to an average $9,596, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. 

Britain’s Russell Group universities, the rough equivalent of the Ivy League, ran a deficit close to £2,500 per U.K. student for the 2022-23 school year, a shortfall that will double to £5,000 per student by 2030, according to data released by the group, which comprises Britain’s 24 most research-intensive universities. 

“The one jaw-dropping thing I’ve learned in my first three months is just how perilous the higher-education sector is financially,” Oxford University’s new vice chancellor, neuroscientist Irene Tracy, told a higher-education seminar in March. “We really have a worrying financial future.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG has attended a couple of two-week continuing legal education programs at one of the Oxford colleges. Also, in family history records, PG has found several ancestors who were educated to prepare them for the ministry at Oxford in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Some ancestors emigrated to the United States to avoid religious persecution in Britain.

Although his personal exposure has been relatively brief, PG developed a significant appreciation of Oxford. For him, the idea that learning has been going on in that place for over 900 years makes it an almost magical setting.

As the OP describes, Oxford and similar non-public institutions are subsidized directly by the British government. In the US, virtually all colleges and universities are subsidized directly or indirectly by the federal government, in large part by government-insured student loans. Public colleges and universities are subsidized directly by the state governments of the states where they exist and, secondly, by federally insured student loans.

Each approach to subsidizing college/university educational institutions has its downside.

As the OP describes, in Britain, direct subsidies are a recurring political issue. Why should those in the working class who did not attend university contribute to the rising subsidies for those who often are and will be more educationally and financially privileged? For members of Parliament representing primarily working-class constituents, this must be an evergreen political issue.

In the US, in past years, the number of staff members performing administrative functions, sometimes to satisfy state or federal government mandates, has grown much more rapidly than the number of professors. The salaries of more than a few of the administrative staff are higher than those paid to professors and instructors who are actually teaching students. In recent years, bloated staff roles have been a major driver of increased student costs.

In the US, the college cost squeeze often appears in the occupational choices made by graduates with large student loan debts.

A would-be public school teacher may not be able to afford this career path because it won’t provide a living wage, after student loan obligations are met.

In some locales, government programs may subsidize student loan repayments for public employees such as public school teachers. However, this approach carries some of the same inequities when those who didn’t receive a college education are indirectly subsidizing those who did.

Needless to say, PG doesn’t have a good solution for this growing problem.

Light Blogging

PG apologizes for no blogging yesterday and light blogging today. He’s been otherwise occupied.

His temporary preoccupation is pulling together information for his tax accountant.

He will observe that he used to be much better with Excel than he is now.

Everyone Gets A Barbie Movie!

From Electric Lit:

“What might this be?” had been a question that, in the course of my thirty-five-year career as a clinical psychologist, I’d posed to clients hundreds of times. It was, in fact, the customary prompt used when administering the “Rorschach,” which is a type of personality measure that calls for asking a patient to look at ambiguous images on a set of ten “cards,” each one resembling an inkblot, and then spontaneously offer up what it looks like to them. Considered by many in the field to be useful in gaining access to the unconscious, it is typically used by clinicians as a helpful tool for working toward a diagnosis, using that set of ten cards, each one presenting an image different than the last. As such, diagnosing helps the psychologist zero in on the patient’s emotional state as it relates to past history.

Since closing my therapy practice in 2019 to build a writing career, I’d given little thought to the “Rorschach.” Until two weeks ago. I was popcorning my way through an afternoon screening of Barbie—this summer’s blockbuster hit—and began to contemplate how I would characterize the film, if asked. The question intrigued me: was it possible that a show ostensibly about the travails of a famous plastic doll created for young girls––first in Barbie Land, and then in the Real World—could be hailed as a movie about something far deeper? Something more than a live-action cartoon?

“So, what did you think?” I’d asked Ava, my perceptive thirteen-year-old niece, and movie buddy, as we’d moseyed our way home from the local AMC. Not wanting to influence her reaction, I avoided sharing that I’d pegged the story and visuals as a terrific mashup of creative and shrewd, or mentioning any scuttlebutt about the movie being either controversial or without substance. “It was great!” she replied. “Funny—with a good message about just being yourself.” I nodded, reading her remark for a deeper level, just as any good psychologist would. Barbie had resonated with Ava as a flick about identity and belonging. I wasn’t surprised: she was, after all, a young girl part of today’s cultural and physical wave of adolescence, and certainly, the film’s pitch for self-acceptance had been one of its overarching refrains.

A day or two later, however—after neighbors and friends who’d also seen the movie weighed in when I asked in a conversational tone—I had the chance to peruse several of the many “think pieces” that had surfaced online in the wake of the film: they quite often put forth the idea, in layman’s terms, that Barbie was its own kind of inkblot. An inner voice, one that had often brought me insight, now prodded me to consider this question like each of the ten cards drawn from the full Rorschach set: Hadn’t Barbie offered up a kaleidoscope of visual images—all of which illuminated many kinds of ideas—the kind only a film could offer?

Intrigued, I began to mull, in earnest, the questions Barbie posed. The varied responses I’d heard suggested that there were myriad ways of understanding the movie’s “real” message: Was Barbie, espoused by the several women with whom I’d schmoozed, simply a full-bore treatise on feminism in disguise? One that offered a cheeky takedown on the principles and practices of male dominance? As interesting, perhaps, was my observation that while these gals seemed in agreement about what the film had really meant, they were evenly split about whether its message was one to be celebrated or eschewed—and why.

An activist pal who was considering a run for our local library board in order to be heard as a voice against censorship, pronounced one afternoon that Barbie’s message was a more subversive one. Instead of mere entertainment, was it instead a poke-in-the-eye polemic aimed at the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on a woman’s right to abortion? I hadn’t given a lot of thought to seeing the movie from that angle, I confessed at that point. She’d looked at me with astonishment—and then with irritation. “How did you not get that?” she’d nearly shouted. “When Barbie protested Ken’s plan to overturn the Constitution in Barbie Land? And lectures him on how intensely the Barbies worked to make the Constitution everything it was? That it couldn’t just be undone in a day?” And then the way Ken answers, ‘Both literally and figuratively—just watch me?’”  

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Increasing Busyness Ahead

PG has previously mentioned that he and Mrs. PG have been preparing to down-size from the current location of Casa PG into a svelte and smaller Casita PG.

This has been a much more involving task than PG ever imagined. For example, the PG’s have filled three large commercial dumpsters (the type that completely block the driveway when a large truck delivers them (empty) to be hauled back back up on another large truck with a winch, cable and hook a few days later after PG has filled said dumpster by lugging and tossing all sorts of bulky and forgotten items discovered in the dark and hidden reaches of Casa PG).

If PG never hears the sound of another large winch make a heavy dumpster scrape and squeek during loading, he will die a happy man.

PG is also the renter of a large storage locker (Rental Locker PG) which he has partially filled with lots of cardboard boxes containing items that won’t fit into Casita PG. PG fervently hopes to never unlock the large padlock securing Rental Locker PG once he places the final items in it tomorrow. His heirs have padlock keys and can do with them what they will whenever they will.

PG is posting this on Sunday evening, nearly surrounded by large brown U-Haul cardboard boxes. The last rush to pack, locker or dump will occur tomorrow, Monday. The movers arrive bright and early on Tuesday, to deliver a herd of U-Haul boxes to Casita PG, which, fortunately, is not far away.

PG cannot rule out the necessity of taking some more cardboard boxes to Rental Locker PG on Tuesday, but expects to be back in the blogging biz on Wednesday. He doesn’t anticipate being any wiser next Wednesday, but does expect to enjoy a feeling of great relief.

Seattle psychic startup hit with copyright lawsuit it never saw coming

From The Seattle Times:

There’s some irony in the fact that the founders of a Seattle fortunetelling startup were entirely unaware of their own looming legal misfortunes.

Until they were sued for copyright infringement in June, the biggest issue for Tom Cote and Courtland Kellum was whether their 2 1/2-year-old company, Soulmate Medium, could handle all those seeking solace from Soulmate’s 100-plus tarot readers and spiritual guides.

But as Cote, 31, and Kellum, 34, have learned since, they weren’t the only ones trying to break into a psychic advice industry that has boomed since the pandemic. 

On June 30, Soulmate was sued in a Seattle federal court by Enlightened Today, an even younger psychic startup out of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Enlightened accuses Soulmate of illegally copying marketing materials “nearly verbatim” and, according to Cote, seeks damages of “hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.”

Adding injury to insult, Enlightened also got Soulmate’s website temporarily shut down, which “essentially wiped out our revenue for the month of July,” Cote said Wednesday.

Soulmate got its site back up July 28, but by then the company had cut half its staff and is now struggling to restore lost business, Cote says.

Soulmate denies the allegations, which Cote dismisses as an “illegal shakedown” by a competitor intended to render Soulmate unable “to invest in the things we need to do to compete.” Last week, Soulmate’s attorney asked the court to dismiss the case.

A different view comes from Enlightened, which was started September 2021 and provides “tarot card readings, relationship coaching, and astrology consultancy” via a website called Spiritual Society.

Enlightened “has invested substantial resources to develop its intellectual property and to provide a valuable consumer experience,” Enlightened attorney Damon Wright said Thursday. “Our client brought the lawsuit to protect its intellectual property and to help consumers.”

The dispute comes amid surging demand for spiritual advice, which industry insiders attribute partly to pandemic stress.

“Every time there is something big happening across the world … people want to go back to intuition and connect to something bigger than them,” Rana George, a celebrity Lenormand card reader, told Forbes in 2021, adding that “all the metaphysical stores are booming.”

. . . .

Google searches for the astrological term “birth chart” hit a record high in June 2021, according to Google Trends.

Technology has also been key. New software has let astrologers generate and personalize predictions more quickly, while hundreds of app-based services make that information more accessible to clients, according to Allied Market Research. A search for “astrology” turns up more than 140 apps on the Apple App Store.

That’s translating into big money. The global astrology market generated $12.8 billion in revenues in 2021, up from $2.2 billion just three years before, according to studies cited by The Washington Post. It’s expected to reach nearly $23 billion by 2031.

. . . .

That was the market Cote, an ex-Microsoftie-turned-internet consultant, and Kellum, a marketing veteran, hoped to tap when they launched Soulmate in February 2021. 

Cote says they saw an opportunity in a crowded market for an “ethical” astrology platform with an appealing user experience and a positive outlook. 

Many astrology providers are “fear forward,” with users hearing that “‘if you don’t do this, you’re not going to find somebody or you’re not going to be successful,’” says Cote, who works from his home in Kirkland.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to C. for the tip.