Department Of Let Me Say This About That
Dateline: Tuesday morning 6:59 AM listening to the Fresh Air interview with Christopher Nolan, director of Oppenheimer. FA host Terry Gross began her interview with a “getting something out of the way” question ( [my notes] ):
“Before we talk about the film, let’s talk about the writers’ and actors’ strikes, which have shut down TV and film production….”
“……it’s an important moment in our business
[Nolan is both a director and a writer and a member of the Writer’s Guild] ….
The ways in which we’re compensated have to be updated
to reflect the current world….”
Moiself’s reaction: what took them (the writers and actors) so long?
The issues involved ( including AI and streaming ) can seem complicated, at first. They’re not. Consider what’s at stake; it’s fairly basic. There is a central issue:
The ways in which writers and actors
are compensated have to be updated to reflect the current world.
I’ve been on strike for years – as in, not writing for publication – for (many of) the same reasons.  Only in my case, no one powerful cares enough to rectify the situation.
The ways in which ______
(writers and actors…or insert waitstaff, teachers…almost any profession)
are compensated have to be updated to reflect reality.
* * *
Department Of And Now, On A Totally Unrelated Note…
…except, maybe not. This anecdote moiself is about to share *is* related, in that it also was prompted by listening to the afore-mentioned Fresh Air interview.
Later in the interview, Terry Gross and Christopher Nolan were talking about dreams, as in, the dream-like narrative and/or pictorial quality of many films (including Nolan’s), and one of them (TG?) brought up the age-old question of whether or not people dream in color or in black-and-white.
One night when I was in high school I had a dream which started out to follow the usual pattern for my dreams: it was a colorful (I always dreamed in color), intricate, adventure saga, with a cast worthy of a Cecil B. DeMille film.  What made that particular dream noteworthy was that it used a chronological narrative (the plotlines in my dream world tended to vault around in time) until the middle of the dream, which suddenly switched to…something else (“We now pause our regular programming for this important digression”). This center piece was an approximately three-minute segment wherein Godzilla made a cameo appearance. When Godzilla was terrorizing people on a raft in the ocean, my dream switched from color to black and white; after the Godzilla short feature, my dream resumed its original setting and story, in color.
The next day I told a couple of school friends about my dream. Their reaction was almost identical to mine: they were fascinated by my subconscious mind’s ability to construct some sort of cinematographic cohesion within the total fantasy that is a dream: up to that point, Godzilla movies were filmed in black and white. I’d never seen a “color” Godzilla.
However, I’d also never seen a full-grown man, dressed in a vaudevillian striped shirt and straw boater hat and carrying a cane, jump out of a jar of peanut butter and start doing a song and dance routine – yet my mind inserted that scenario in one of my dreams.
* * *
Department Of Enough About How Moiself Dreams;
Let’s Carp About How Some Other People Want To Change How Everyone Talks 
Have y’all heard about “equity language” (aka what moiself thinks of as “compulsory euphemisms”)? You probably have, even if you haven’t thought of it in those terms. Either way, I highly recommend George Packer’s recent article in The Atlantic: The Moral Case Against Equity Language. Here are excerpts from the article ( my emphases ), which makes this case: although the point of language is to clarify, well-meaning attempts to cleanse language “of any trace of privilege, hierarchy, bias, or exclusion” tends to obfuscate, and can also have the unintended consequence of dulling rather than sharpening awareness and empathy.
“The Sierra Club’s Equity Language Guide discourages using the words stand, Americans, blind, and crazy. The first two fail at inclusion, because not everyone can stand and not everyone living in this country is a citizen. The third…even as a figure of speech (‘Legislators are blind to climate change‘), is insulting to the disabled….
In its zeal, the Sierra Club has clear-cut a whole national park of words. Urban, vibrant, hardworking, and brown bag all crash to earth for subtle racism. Y’all supplants the patriarchal you guys, and elevate voices replaces empower, which used to be uplifting but is now condescending. The poor is classist; battle and minefield disrespect veterans; depressing appropriates a disability; migrant—no explanation, it just has to go.
Equity-language guides are proliferating among some of the country’s leading institutions, particularly nonprofits…. The guides also cite one another. The total number of people behind this project of linguistic purification is relatively small, but their power is potentially immense….
Which is more euphemistic, mentally ill or person living with a mental-health condition? Which is more vague, ballsy or risk-taker? What are diversity, equity, and inclusion but abstractions with uncertain meanings whose repetition creates an artificial consensus and muddies clear thought? When a university administrator refers to an individual student as “diverse,” the word has lost contact with anything tangible—which is the point.
The whole tendency of equity language is to blur the contours of hard, often unpleasant facts. This aversion to reality is its main appeal. Once you acquire the vocabulary, it’s actually easier to say people with limited financial resources than the poor. The first rolls off your tongue without interruption, leaves no aftertaste, arouses no emotion. The second is rudely blunt and bitter, and it might make someone angry or sad. Imprecise language is less likely to offend. Good writing—vivid imagery, strong statements—will hurt, because it’s bound to convey painful truths.
The liturgy changes without public discussion…. A ban which seemed ludicrous yesterday will be unquestionable by tomorrow…. in the National Recreation and Park Association’s guide, marginalized now acquires ‘negative connotations when used in a broad way. However, it may be necessary and appropriate in context. If you do use it, avoid ‘the marginalized,’ and don’t use marginalized as an adjective.’ Historically marginalized is sometimes okay; marginalized people is not. The most devoted student of the National Recreation and Park Association guide can’t possibly know when and when not to say marginalized….
But this confused guidance is inevitable, because with repeated use, the taint of negative meaning rubs off on even the most anodyne language, until it has to be scrubbed clean. The erasures will continue indefinitely, because the thing itself—injustice—will always exist. “
I encountered a pertinent example of the smokescreen effects of using equity language in a recent episode of Serial’s The Retrievals podcast (summarized below . ) Episode four deals with the aftermath of patients’ lawsuits against the Yale hospital fertility clinic, where a clinic nurse had stolen drugs meant for fertility procedures. The hospital, in its papers addressing the issue, used the term drug “diversion” instead of theft. Oh gee, that doesn’t sound so bad – a diversion. Like, the drug was merely diverted – relocated – from this clinic to another one, or one patient to another?
What a cheap and insulting diversion in and of itself: to rebrand the theft of a vital medicine; to divert attention away from the horrific pain patients experienced during a procedure involving having a long needle inserted into their most private body cavities and through their abdominal walls. 
Diversion; schmersion – patient’s pain medication was *stolen.*
These and other examples of equity language raise my hackles, both personally and professionally via my “AS A” credentials. As a writer (and a reader), I esteem communication which uses words and phrases that illustrate, elucidate, and clarify, rather than those which attempt to soften or divert or confuse or disguise.
(Confession: moiself also likes words and phrases that provide a visually evocative substitute for the normative term – such as
* for vomiting:
calling the dinosaurs; de-fooding; feeding the fish; whistling carrots; driving the porcelain bus; inspecting the chowder; barking at the ants….
* for fart and/or the act of emitting flatulence:
cheek sneak; breaking dawn; carpet creeper; deviled egg; duck stepping….
All of these are, of course, euphemistic…and are also just plain fun.)
As Packer notes, the term the poor is “rudely blunt and bitter, and it might make someone angry or sad,” while people with limited financial resources…leaves no aftertaste, arouses no emotion.” I think the provocation of emotion is good, particularly when it spurs action to address what caused the provocation. Y’all ever been poor? “Poor” should provoke emotion, because Being. Poor. Sucks.
Certainly (read: IMO), all linguistic rebranding needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are words and phrases which could use a good makeover if they originated from and reflect times of ignorance and prejudice. Here’s one of the best examples (again, IMO) of a renaming which could (and I think, does) help reframe the way we view a fellow human being: “She is confined to a wheelchair,” vs. “She uses (or rides) a wheelchair.” The first is a rather patronizing description, painting a picture of dependency and pathos…but most of all, it is simply inaccurate. For someone whose physical condition requires it, a wheelchair is *liberating* – it provides the ability to move about when one’s legs, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, cannot.
Then, there are the others: the dreadful, weasel-word-filled, furtively-trying-to-slip-one-past-us euphemisms. Trying to rebrand “He served a prison sentence” into “He had an encounter with the criminal justice system” makes me think you’re trying to hide something. A person using such a circumlocution may intend to be helpful, but that kind of window re-dressing does nothing to reform, acknowledge, or even address the reality of the brutality of the American penal system and the obstacles faced by parolees.
Some of the most well-meaning folk never seem to get it. Calling bullshit “bovine ejecta” does not make it smell like morning at the bakery.
* * *
Department Of Stuff That Is Out Of My Control,
And Keeps Me From Having A Good Night’s Sleep
It was almost two decades ago, I think,  that the actor Susan Sarandon expressed what turned out to be some rather prescient concerns re what was to come in her field. Although she didn’t use the term AI, her a particular concern is at the heart of the current writers/actors strike. Sarandon gave this example: Let’s say a producer likes her face, her voice, her overall presence, whatever they find distinctive and/or appealing about her as an actor, and wants to hire her to act in their movie…but she doesn’t want to do that role. Perhaps she doesn’t like the script or the politics conveyed via the plot; maybe she doesn’t trust the director’s experience or intent, or she just thinks it’s a stupid storyline. And, Sarandon noted, she had turned down acting jobs for all of those reasons – she just said, “No thank you” to the offers. However, she knew that there were people working on technologies which would allow them to essentially replicate her and use whichever of her qualities they wanted – they could make “her” do things that she didn’t want to or never would choose to do.
No doubt some folk dismissed or pooh-poohed her concerns. Yeah, what does a mere actor know – she probably one of those anti-tech, Luddite types, right?
More and more, I come across warnings, from People Who Know What They’re Talking About ®, re what is to come with AI (Artificial Intelligence) and its many applications. One of these PWKWTTA has articulated his warnings in a way that made me think he’d been inside my head, when he used the exact term that keeps coming to my mind:
AI = Counterfeiting
This person is American cognitive scientist, writer, and philosopher Daniel Dennett, whose recent guest turn on Alan Alda’s Clear + Vivid podcast is as fascinating as the topic they discussed is foreboding. As per the podcast’s summary:
“Counterfeit people, the seductively appealing Deep Fakes made possible by AI, are just the beginning of what the distinguished philosopher Dan Dennett says is a threat to humanity. This spring, he joined hundreds of other thought leaders in signing a starkly scary statement:
AI threatens to make us extinct.”
( excerpt from “Dan Dennett: Fake People Aren’t Funny”
Clear + Vivid, July 24, 2023 )
Dennett was so concisely articulate that I had to stop listening for a while – it was too much to take in. In particular, his comments about the people who are involved in AI development and research made me squirm. I know such people. And I know that they are (or seem to be) good people. And I know how seductive it can be, to think of yourself as working on the cutting edge while also thinking of yourself as a good person with good intentions…which leads to rationalizing away any critique of your work:
* Well, if I don’t/we don’t do it, someone else will….
* At least this way I know that *I* am involved, and I am a good person with good intentions…”
These are the go-to justifications of people involved in, for example, designing and building assault weapons, chemical weapons, nuclear bombs…. And the agencies and businesses making such products rely on their employee’s instinctive, defensive, self-justification. Or, both the businesses and their employees may dismiss any criticism with, “This is just what people have always said with every new idea;” or, “People who say that are anti-technology,” and other deflections.
We all tend to rationalize away such threats. *I* know I’m not a lil old lady who’s gonna be conned into sending her savings to Nigerian prince to save her kidnapped grandson – they tried it with email and it didn’t work on me! 
But that’s the point Daniel Dennett makes: we *know* AI *is* going to be used for nasty purposes, because of what already happens *without* AI. Counterfeiters and scammers have always used the latest technologies; now, here comes AI, something that is so far above, so much more sophisticated than the usual techniques, that soon nothing will be able to be trusted except for face-to-face interactions …which are simply not possible for many of us in this world of globalization and mobility. A phone call or Zoom message from my child, who is in obvious distress – how will I know that it isn’t a fake?
I’m not saying y’all working on developing anything AI-related should exit the business. I’m saying, with all the conviction my non-AI heart and mind can portray, that:
* You should summon the guts and hearts to realize that what you are doing, no matter your original intent,
is enabling the counterfeiting of human beings; thus…
* You should be advocating for the strongest possible watermarks (to continue the counterfeiting analogy Dennett used). The least you can do is to also develop legitimate technologies and strategies which will allow us humans to recognize the counterfeit.
This is yet another thing over which moiself feels like I have so little personal control (thus, the “department” title of this segment). And how do I know it’s even me who is writing this – that is indeed moiself who is thinking these thoughts? Maybe I am an AI human prototype which was released years ago…
* * *
Freethinkers’ Thought Of The Week 
* * *
May our work and compensation reflect the current world;
May we weight the pitfalls and benefits of equity language;
May we consistently be able to recognize the counterfeit;
…and may the hijinks ensue.
Thanks for stopping by. Au Vendredi!
* * *
 Non-Hollywood writers – members of the Authors Guild (movies and TV writers are Writers Guild members) have a few similar and many different concerns with their contracts, including publishers eschewing the traditional/basic functions of a publisher (editing, design, distribution, marketing [e.g., publishers are increasingly demanding authors do the bulk of publicity] ) and not modifying royalty percentages and otherwise updating contracts to reflect the realities of the internet and e-books.
 The term used to describe DeMilles’ epics was “A cast of thousands.”
 But am I somehow dissing those oily freshwater fish by using carp as a verb?
 “ The Retrievals is a is a five-part series about the patients who say their pain was dismissed, a nurse who was hiding something, and the institution that failed to protect its patients. It tells the story of a dozen women who underwent egg retrieval procedures at the Yale Fertility Center. For months they complained of severe pain. But nobody caught on to exactly what was wrong, until one day…the truth was revealed: A nurse at the clinic had been stealing the pain medication and replacing it with saline. Eventually the nurse has her own story, about her own pain, that she tells to the court. And then there is the story of how this all could have happened at the Yale clinic in the first place.” (excerpts from “Introducing ‘The Retrievals,’ a New Podcast From Serial Productions.” NY Times, )
 I try not to pass out and/or vomit (or, bark at the ants) just thinking about it.
 This interview I read (heard?) was not with a large organization or prominent reporter, and was pre-internet; thus, I didn’t bother searching for a link.
 Or whatever the latest scam is.
 Until the replicant technology takes over.
 “free-think-er n. A person who forms opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independently of tradition, authority, or established belief. Freethinkers include atheists, agnostics and rationalists. No one can be a freethinker who demands conformity to a bible, creed, or messiah. To the freethinker, revelation and faith are invalid, and orthodoxy is no guarantee of truth.” Definition courtesy of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, ffrf.org