Not ready for prime time

It is time for another episode of our recurring feature, in which we highlight letters to the editor rejected by our local paper.

A group of Republican legislators from both houses circulated a bill to create an “Official State Rifle”. Their argument was that they wanted to highlight a Wisconsin manufacturer, not that they wanted you to choose this weapon for your next mass shooting. We thought that there were other local manufacturers who deserved at least equal recognition.

I am so glad the state GOP has found a new way to keep itself occupied. Four legislators are circulating a bill to designate a state rifle. While you might want to criticize this on several levels, think of what worse things they could be doing with their time. This opens a whole new realm of legislation to honor products manufactured in Wisconsin. We could have a state refrigerator, a state pressure cooker, a state semi-trailer – and that’s just scratching the surface. Just think of all the ways they could own the libs.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

They highlighted (on the front page of the opinion section) an op-ed extolling the virtues of Daylight Saving Time, saying we needed more daylight late in the day because no one is up early in the morning anyway. He noted opposition to changing twice a year and thought the solution was to warn people a few days ahead of the change, as though it is always sprung on us as a surprise on Sunday morning.

I found David Prerau’s op-ed Monday, extolling the virtues of Daylight Saving Time, tremendously compelling. He states that DST “relocates an hour of otherwise wasted sunshine to a much more usable hour”. I couldn’t agree more. I hate to get up in the morning and have daylight. So much more pleasant to go to work in the dark every day! And I loved that hour on the deck this afternoon, basking in the 28 degree sunshine! Gosh, and his solution to the problems of DST is so innovative! Let’s talk about it for a few days before the change so we’re ready! Why hasn’t anyone ever thought of that?! But why do anything halfway? If we moved our clocks 3 more hours ahead of the sun, we could draw tourists by proclaiming ourselves “The Land of the Midnight Sun”! As an added benefit, even late sleepers could wake up in the dark!

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

The GOP periodically pushes new tax plans to lighten the burden on their base (the wealthy). The current plan is for a flat tax. The flat rate would actually be slightly lower than anyone currently pays, so they are able to claim they are providing relief to the poor as well. This is also a plan to get rid of the one-time windfall the state received from federal COVID relief funds. It would reduce taxes to eliminate that $6 billion surplus and cause an equal-sized shortfall long into the future.

Let me get this straight. According to Sunday’s WSJ, the Republican legislature wants to implement a flat income tax to be on par with other states instead of a “mediocre” progressive tax. Does Sen. LaMahieu understand the definition of “mediocre”? It means “in the middle”, in other words, like everyone else – exactly what he’s asking us to become. He says this is to attract business owners to the state. In other front page news, legislative Republicans oppose a new UW engineering building to relieve overcrowded, inadequate facilities. So we want to drive promising engineering students, those who might start companies and drive job creation, to other states. Which seems more likely? That an already wealthy person will move an existing business to WI because our taxes are just like what they’re paying elsewhere, or that a newly-minted engineer will stay where they have been welcomed and start a new business? I think LaMahieu and friends have it backward.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Everyone complains about the roads here. Even this blog has complained more than once about deteriorating conditions related to the demise of the family farm. A major area of debate a month before the letter above was what to do with the surplus this year. The state has a “shared revenue” program, in which it returns money to local governments for infrastructure projects. Local governments are limited in their taxation powers – most income is from property taxes, which the state limits. They have also steadily cut the shared revenue formula, so local governments get less back from the state. As a result, there are referenda in almost every election cycle to keep school buildings from crumbling. Everyone likes to talk about infrastructure but it’s not sexy to fix stuff. Much of Northern Wisconsin has poor internet access. Fixing that is popular to talk about at election time but it costs money. It seems like there are some one-time expenses here that could use some of that $6 billion.

What to do? The state has a short-term budget surplus, thanks in large part to federal pandemic relief. We could fix the roads and bridges, provide broadband access to the northwoods, fix the shared-revenue formula so towns, cities, and counties can fix their roads and school districts don’t have to ask for money via referendum every election cycle. Or we can cut the tax rate for the wealthiest by more than half so that everyone pays at a lower rate than even the poorest do now. If you make $1000 next year, your tax rate would be the same as if you made $1,000,000. Gee, which do you think the GOP wants to do? Will the GOP legislature force your town to defund the police because there is nowhere else to cut services?

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

The paper ran an election-cycle feature claiming to be an analysis of each candidate’s stand on the issues. It was to be a refreshing change from the usual”horse race” election coverage. The Republican candidate for governor learned that the majority of the populace is pro-choice. He has been vocally anti-choice. Since the end of federal rights when the US Supreme Court overthrew the Roe v Wade decision, Wisconsin has a re-activated 1849 law that bans all abortion. How do you pander for votes in this environment?

Sunday’s front page story “A last look at their stands” was a nice try but fell short. Purporting to look at candidate positions, not just horse race politics, it came close. Tim Michels was noted to be willing to sign a bill allowing abortions in limited circumstances despite his strong anti-choice stance. What you failed to point out is the slim chance of such a bill passing the gerrymandered legislature. Likewise you noted his statement that he would never arrest a doctor for performing an abortion. You didn’t clarify that the statement has no meaning, as the governor has no arrest powers. Both statements are just a way to make him sound reasonable and pander for votes. They are campaign statements, not “a look at (his) stands”.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Not to be outdone, our embarrassment of a Senator, Ron Johnson had to throw in his two cents. (It should be noted that his 2 cents are more like a penny or less in their value.) Johnson became a “self-made millionaire” by marrying the boss’s daughter. He campaigned as a “businessman, not a politician” and promised to run for no more than two terms. He is currently in his third term. He was an active supporter of the insurrection to overthrow the US government and hosted hearings to which he invited only the most crazed of election deniers. He hosted COVID hearings to which he invited testimony from only the worst crackpots. He decided that a complete ban on abortion in the state was no big deal, as a woman could always drive to another state for the procedure.

Senator Ron Johnson told the Wall Street Journal (the other WSJ), that overturning Roe v. Wade will not be “that big a change” because we can always go to Illinois for an abortion. When I was a kid we drove to Illinois to buy margarine. That was a big enough deal that state law was changed to legalize margarine in Wisconsin. Is Johnson telling us that margarine is more important than reproductive rights?

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

Every Sunday the paper re-runs an old editorial, partly to remind us of how long they’ve been around, and partly to show us how quaint we were back in the “goodle days”.

On Sunday, June 6, the WSJ reprinted an editorial from 1871. It was written about a “defeated, defiant rebel…a fanatic, a selfish, jealous, narrow-minded man.” The particulars of his treachery are different, but it could as well have been written about Donald Trump as Jefferson Davis.

Not published by the Wisconsin State Journal

That’s it for this edition. I was once known (at work, anyway) for my letters to the editor. Now that I am a retired curmudgeon with more time to write letters, the paper chooses to ignore them. I’m sure we’ll have more to post in this space in the future.


Winter sometimes lasts forever here in the tundra. Every now and then we have to do something to remind us that spring will come. We pore over seed catalogs, start seedlings under grow lights, tap maple trees, and we head to the fairgrounds for a weekend to think about getting out on the road and the water.

A local bike shop and paddling shop each take over a building on the county fairgrounds in March. The bike shop has more bikes in one room than you usually see in one place (and they have a second room for tandems, recumbents, trikes, and folding bikes). If you want to try on a variety of bikes, it’s the place to go. Test rides are limited to an indoor test track, so you won’t get to try any major climbs. We came home a few thousand dollars lighter and 40 pounds heavier with a new e-bike for my wife. She and the neighbor now match, as they each got a new bike that day.

Canoecopia boast a huge selection of canoes and kayaks of ABS, Kevlar, fiberglass, and gorgeous woods. Any gear you can think of is there, from camp chairs to dry bags to car racks to camp trailers. You want to build your own boat or trailer from a kit? Here’s your chance.

In addition to buying things (or just window shopping), there are days of workshops. I attended one on preparing for your first overnight kayak trip, with features on what to bring and what to leave home. He talked about “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves”. In the “must-have” category, he included a gravity water filter system. Since you’re going to be on the water, there’s no reason to try to pack all the water you’ll need for cooking, washing, and drinking. With a gravity filtration system, you fill the “dirty” bag just before you arrive at camp and hang it somewhere. It will filter into the “clean” bag while you set up camp. No pumping, no chemicals. As a bonus, you could use the bag as a shower if necessary.

That seemed like a pretty good idea, but I hadn’t done my homework. I didn’t want to just buy the one he had. Lo and behold, my member rebate from REI arrived about that time so I did my homework and hit day 1 of the REI spring sale. The filtration system I had planned on was there but, better yet, my second choice was there and 45% off. For that price I could buy two and still save compared to my first choice. I bought one and saved the difference to spend on an ultralight and packable folding chair, for which I could also use a 20% off coupon. I saw too many folks on my coast-to-coast ride reclining in comfy chairs in front of their tents while I sat on the ground.

Also in his “must-have” list were dry bags. No matter how careful you are, the inside of a boat is not going to stay dry. I hadn’t gotten anything except a cell phone holder yet, since the bags are a bit pricey. After the workshop I headed back to the sale and found, on a lower rack, the previous year’s models (which appeared to be identical to the new ones except for the packaging) for half price. An assortment of dry bags was now mine.

From the workshop I went to the movies. They were showing an excerpt from the soon-to-be-released feature-length documentary “Greybeard: The Man, the Myth, the Mississippi”. ( says it is on Amazon Prime. Neither Amazon Prime nor the filmmakers agree. The filmmakers told me they are still editing and have only the 30 minute short, not the feature length film, available for release.)

“Greybeard” is the tale of Dale Sanders, who put his canoe into the headwaters of the Mississippi on his 87th birthday, with the plan to arrive in the Gulf of Mexico 87 days later to reclaim the Guinness world record for the oldest person to canoe the length of the Mississippi. He already holds the records as the oldest through-hiker of the Appalachian Trail and rim-to-rim-to-rim (across and back again) in the Grand Canyon.

He is a wild man. Before the film, he danced up the aisle, cackling madly. After the film he stayed to answer questions and then returned to the canoe builder’s booth to show his canoe. In the film he admits to slowing down as he gets older, though in person he shows no sign of that. Paddling all day in the hot sun and into the wind might be a bit harder than answering questions after a movie.

Today the sun is shining brightly, melting last night’s wintry mix from the front steps. The temperature might get above freezing. The shallow bays are free of ice. Paddling season will return.

Backward and in high heels

Fred Astaire was a great dancer, but Ginger Rogers did everything he did backward and in high heels. Did Ginger Rogers say that? Nope – it originated in the funny papers, specifically Frank and Ernest by Bob Thaves.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Backward and in high heels? That’s nothing. I’d insert Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” here, but we’ve been there and done that. We’re here to talk about Cuba. But don’t let me stop you from going and watching it again.

I finally finished Helen Yaffe’s ¨Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution¨ [Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2009] Yaffe is a professor at the London School of Economics and her book, while dense, is fascinating.

We tend to think of Cuba in general, and Che in particular, in one of two ways: as the devil incarnate or as the romantic revolutionary. Everyone knows the iconic image of Che in a beret. It appears on t-shirts and posters the world over. Cuba is such a threat that the US has tried to overthrow its government for more than 60 years. We blockaded and mined harbors, sabotaged, propagandized, bombed, attempted to assassinate, and continue an embargo against the country. We came to the brink of nuclear war – a WW III that truly would have been “the war to end all wars.” We murdered Che and displayed his body to the world as an example. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

In the 1950s the Cuban economy was based on sugar and gambling. The Mafia controlled gambling (and therefore the hotels, casinos, restaurants, bars, and ancillary activities). US corporations controlled the sugar. Unemployment was deliberately kept high to have a ready workforce for the sugar harvest. When US corporations and the Mafia left for greener pastures, there was work to be done.

We romanticize revolution when we don’t demonize it. Che was the dashing figure who aided liberation movements in Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia…or else he was the Soviet tool who exported revolution. We think about revolution as a war, not about building a new society when the war is over (or in this case becomes a one-sided cold war).

Building a new society

Yaffe paints Guevara as the architect of the Cuban economy. It is one thing to win a revolutionary war. It is another to build a revolutionary society. When Castro marched into Havana on January 1, 1959, Cuba was an illiterate society. Rural electrification had not yet arrived. The Industrial Revolution had passed it by. They grew sugar and entertained the idle rich. There was no other economy. Everything came across that short stretch of sea from Miami – raw materials, spare parts, consumer goods, and dollars. The technical and managerial class that operated the Cuban economy worked for US-owned companies so, after the revolution, most of them followed their jobs to the US.

The US embargo meant that no US company could trade with Cuba. That wasn’t enough for the US. No company that traded with the US could trade with Cuba. That left the Soviet bloc. Eventually that’s where Cuba turned for help.

Cuba was left to build a country with one hand tied behind its back, as well as backward and in high heels. First on the agenda was to find new markets for sugar. Sugar was all they had (except for cigars, which Yaffe never mentions). [I once met a man from Switzerland. On his last evening in the US, the Cuban embargo came up in discussion. He could not believe such a thing existed. I mentioned that Cuban cigars are contraband in the US. A few days later, a small package arrived in the mail from Switzerland. It contained cigars. We burned them to destroy the evidence so, if you bring this up, I will deny it.] All Cuban sugar had been sold to the US and the US was no longer buying. Next up was to diversify the economy. After early attempts at diversification, Che recognized that sugar would be the basis of the economy for the foreseeable future. He developed labs to explore ways to add value to sugar. Sugar contains lots of carbon, the building block of organic chemistry, so they looked to developing chemical and biotech industries based on sugar extractives.

After working in the cane fields himself, Che made it a priority to mechanize the harvest. Workers in the 50s had opposed mechanization, as the harvest was the only reliable work they had. After experiencing that life first-hand, Guevara moved to create new and more meaningful work while developing machinery for the back-breaking labor of cutting cane.

Sugar required machinery for processing. Spare parts came from the US in a day or two until 1959. Now Cuba had to build factories and train engineers and machinists to fabricate spare parts. (You don’t think all of those gorgeous 1950s US cars are still running on original parts, do you?)

Image from Cigar Aficionado

But how to fabricate parts when you don’t have raw materials? So Cuba developed a mining industry, finding that it had a rich lode of nickel. Then it needed to refine minerals and build machines to fabricate parts. Oil comes in handy when you’re trying to develop industry, so they dug wells and built refineries.

Che was already thinking about computerizing industry in the 60s. But where to get computers? By 1970 Cuba had designed and built its first computer, with home-grown software.

Rural electrification was no easy task when the Soviet electrical system worked on different parameters than the Cuban system. That either meant changing the entire Cuban system or adapting everything that came from eastern Europe. They chose to keep their system and adapt machinery.

Factories needed managers. With most of the population illiterate and the managers all in the US, that sometimes required putting teens in charge of factories, as they were the readers. It also entailed a massive educational/literacy program. The engineers who remained had to work well beyond their areas of expertise. Che, as the head of the Ministry of Industries (MININD), had to learn fast. He hired a math professor to tutor him in calculus in his ¨spare time¨.


In the midst of all this, they were working to develop a democratically-controlled economy, and to redefine work. What does it mean to be human? Is our value in our work? In our consumption? Or is intrinsic to us? Che worked to clarify these distinctions; to work toward a society that met all basic needs, that minimized the use of cash, and that valued work as our social commitment to each other, not as the thing that gave us value as humans. He didn’t want to see people work to “get ahead”, to have more than the next person, but to build what we need to live together. And to do that in a country that was falling apart.

Yaffe assembles this story from countless interviews, poring over meeting notes, reviewing the official record. It all sounds overwhelming. But Che was not without a sense of humor. A Cuban engineer relates this Che joke:

A Cuban worker goes to see the Secretary of the Party to say that he wants to become a member. “Well, to be a party militant you have to be an example at work. That means working 12, 18, or 20 hours a day.¨
“So many hours a day?”, asks the worker, alarmed.
“Yes, and that includes Saturdays and Sundays”, informs the secretary.
“As well?”
“Yes, and no vacations”, adds the secretary.
“Neither. What’s more, you have to be faithful in your married life, no going around with women.”
“Not one exception?”
“None. Also, you have to stop having a little drink after work.”
“Not even a little drink to celebrate something?”, begs the worker, going crazy.
“No. And the most important thing: you have to be prepared to give your life for the country.”
“Now that is no problem.”
“Why not?”, asks the secretary curiously.
“Well, after the lousy life I’m going to lead…”

Sàenz, “El Che Ministro: Testimonio de un colaborador” 2006, cited by Yaffe.

Che emphasized the concept of “voluntary work”. After the guerilla war, he returned with his troops to the Sierra Maestra, their base, to build a school. They worked on the cane harvest, built a nursery, and assisted in the literacy campaign. As this rolled out to society, based on their example, new med school graduates spent two years in the rural health service and students on scholarship spent their vacations in the fields.

They developed the CILO (Committees for Local Industry) as a means of collective problem-solving: “Self-management is a measure to prepare the conditions for raising consciousness, creating what is the base for communism: work as a social necessity; not work as an obligation, as a precondition for eating.” (Guevara, 1962, from Bimonthly meetings)

In his quest for workplace safety, he called human beings both the means and the ends of socialism and communism. Production has to serve humanity, not the other way around. He campaigned for improved ventilation and toilet facilities in factories, stating “we must…carry out investments that ensure hygiene and safety at work.”

Che spoke of incentives, and wanting to replace material incentives so people didn’t think about work and money together. He developed the concept of “socialist emulation”, sort of like a friendly wager among friends, as a way to encourage effort with low-stress competition. The rewards were symbolic and non-material. One example given was getting to sit with Fidel at a public event (sort of what the US does with special guests at the State of the Union address).

Yaffe describes two centers – one for “rehabilitation” and one for “recuperation”. The former was for administrators whose on-the-job failings stemmed, at least in part, from their privileged backgrounds. They were offered a choice of a rehab stint doing construction work, or giving up their administrative posts. They had to travel to the camp for their “sentence” on their own, so it was voluntary. They could just not show up.

The recuperation center was to deal with worker burnout. Beach resorts were used for R&R and a team of psychologists and social workers were sent to assess workplaces which had higher than usual burnout or turnover, in order to fix the workplace, not the worker (which was my original aim in becoming an occupational therapist and why I considered a career in human factors engineering).

Che talked about the mindset needed to be an administrator: “To have absolute control of your character, voice, and gestures at every moment and especially during discussions or delicate situations…Always be sincere, be that in praise, reprimand, or recommendations. Remember that all humankind, regardless of educational level, has the innate ability to detect insincerity…”


At the time of his death, Guevara was at work on a critique of the Soviet Union. While it was neither completed nor published, Yaffe gained access to his notes. As Cuba was receiving significant aid from the Soviet Union, publication, if it were ever intended, would likely have been in the distant future. Biting the hand that feeds you, you know.

Guevara critiqued the New Economic Policy of Lenin and indicated that, without a change in policy, the USSR was headed toward capitalism. He predicted the collapse of the USSR about 20 years in advance. He criticized the collective farms of the USSR, asking “what is a co-operative?” His answer: “if it is considered as a grouping of producers, owners of their means of production, it is an advance in contrast to capitalism. But in socialism it is a setback, as it places these groupings in opposition to society’s ownership of the other means of production.”

He regarded the co-operative as “a pre-socialist category, of the first period of transition, [and] not a socialist form.” In the United States, while one in three people belong to co-operatives, they are often derided as a form of socialism. E.R. Bowen of the Co-operative League of the USA (CLUSA), posited three possible paths out of feudalism. [Graphic adapted from Courtney Berner]

In Bowen’s view (echoed by Wendall Kramer in his book “Choose Life: Survival through co-operation” [1984, Third Wave Association]), co-operatives are a third way, neither capitalist nor socialist, and the only road to economic freedom. Bowen indicates that it is within the state’s power to choose one of the three roads.

Bowen is pretty tough in his critique, stating that communism will lead to equality of poverty and capitalism will lead inevitably to monopoly; that we have the choice of state control of the economy or oligopolistic control of the economy unless we choose the third way. While he wrote this 80 years ago, history appears to bear him out so far.

Socialism in one country?

Much has been written about the contradiction of building socialism in the context of a world-wide market economy. Guevara asserts that capitalism will not give up voluntarily and that revolution is the first necessary step, followed by an evolutionary transformation from socialism to communism (when people and work are no longer commodities and society follows the rule “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”). With the world economy dominated by the US, and the US dominated by an oligopoly headed by non-human “persons” (accorded rights like real people) all experiments appear to be doomed to failure. All of Che’s economic accomplishments occurred between 1959 and 1965, when he left his position in the Cuban government. How would Cuba be different today had he stayed (or survived to return) to implement his ideas more fully? Is it even possible for the system he nurtured to survive in an island nation under embargo? Are there economic thinkers in Cuba able to build on Che’s theories and practice? The history since Che’s departure has been one of a back and forth struggle, reminiscent of the “great debate” during his lifetime.

[adapted from Yaffe] Among Guevara’s economic innovations in his Budgetary Finance System, as differentiated from the Soviet Auto-Finance System, were that:

  • “the socialist economy functions as one big factory”. That is, money does not change hands within the economy. While each enterprise functions with a budget, all actual money is centrally controlled.
  • education, training, and salary structures foster a concept of work as social duty, decommodifying labor by gradually cutting the link between work and remuneration
  • advanced technology should be adapted from capitalist corporations without fear of “ideological contamination”
  • flexibility is necessary in decentralizing without losing control and centralizing without curbing initiative [emphasis added]
  • transforming production for exchange value into production for use value [emphasis added]
  • the need to create forums for criticism and open debate, being determined to get at the root of problems in order to solve them. Leaders must be responsible and accountable.

Many have belittled Cuba’s accomplishments as totally dependent on the Soviet Union. [Since Yaffe focused on the economy, the remarkable Cuban health care system is not part of this discussion.] US economist Andrew Zimbalist retorts, “First…the magnitude of this aid is vastly overstated by false methodology. Second, even if the exaggerated figures were accepted, on a per-capita basis Cuba would still be getting less in CMEA [Council for Mutual Economic Assistance] aid than many other Latin American countries receive in Western aid. Third, if one is attempting to disentangle the sources of Cuban growth and to isolate its domestic and foreign components, it is hardly sufficient to consider only the beneficial effects of Soviet aid. One must also consider the monumental and ongoing costs to Cuba of the US blockade.” [The Cuban Economy: Measurement and Analysis of Socialist Performance, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (1989)]

La Salle St After Hours #2 (take 3)

Yesterday’s post juxtaposed two essays, one written by a person and one by ChatGPT, an AI program. I asked which was which.

When I tried to write this follow-up, YouTube decided I was a robot and wouldn’t let me add links to the post. The post then disappeared. The next take froze and wouldn’t accept my CAPTCHA responses. Now it was sure I was a robot. Then ChatGPT erased the additional essays that I was going to discuss. I finally used two different browsers, one for Chat GPT and YouTube links and another to write the post. So here is #2, take 3.

ChatGPT wrote a convincing essay about a non-existent oil painting. One might say it was brimming with “alternative facts”. John Wright (1934-2017) was a jazz pianist from Chicago. His debut album, “South Side Soul” was released in 1960 with Wendell Roberts on bass and Walter McCants on drums.

When I changed the prompt to call it a “composition” instead of a “piece”, ChatGPT took minutes to begin writing, then spit out the same essay with a different conclusion, using new adjectives in the final paragraph to describe the fictional painting.

I tried again, calling it a “jazz composition”. ChatGPT continued to insist it was a 1991 work and now highlighted the virtuosity of the saxophonist, discussing his “quick runs” and arpeggios. Since the work is for piano, bass, and drums, I wondered where the AI found sax, so I asked. ChatGPT told me there were many recordings of this piece with different saxophonists, so I needed to be more specific. When I gave it specifics, it spit this back:

Thank you for providing additional information. The 1960 recording of “South Side Soul” features John Wright on piano, Frank Derrick on drums, and Frank Walton on trumpet. The saxophonist on this recording is Harold Ousley. Ousley was a talented tenor saxophonist who played with a number of notable jazz musicians over the course of his career, including Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. His soulful, bluesy style of playing is a perfect fit for the “La Salle St After Hours” composition, and his solo on the recording is a highlight of the performance.

As you may note, the only fact on this which is accurate and relevant is that John Wright plays the piano; but I told it that. The others are real musicians but did not play on this record. These actually are “alternative facts”, in that they are factual but have nothing to do with the question asked. It would be like the student who has some knowledge of the general topic but none about the question asked, so fills an essay with stuff that is true but irrelevant. Ousley’s “soulful, bluesy style of playing” is certainly not “a highlight of the performance”.

While I’ve read multiple essays warning about ChatGPT being used by students to do their homework, I would give the bot an ‘F’ on every one of its attempts. If I knew nothing of the work, I may have been convinced. Knowing the work, I’d know the student cheated. Not knowing the work would have necessitated about a minute of Googling to know the essays on painting were lies. Another couple of minutes would have been required to know those which called it jazz were no better.

The other essay, about the pianist playing late into the night after the club had closed, was written by a student from an exam prompt. The students were given two prompts and the piece was played twice in succession. They had to place the piece in a musical, cultural, and historical context in one essay and write a personal reaction in the second essay. It had to be written while the piece was playing and handed in a couple of minutes after the music stopped, so the bot and the human were working in about the same timeframe, kind of like John Henry and the steam drill.

It may not have been fair that I used the student’s second essay and not the first, which may have borne some minor stylistic resemblance to the ChatGPT essay; but I think this illustrates perhaps the most important issue. What is “intelligence”? To me, it is more about the ability to learn than it is about the accumulated knowledge. We don’t call an encyclopedia “intelligent” though it contains a lot of information. At the same time, we don’t belittle a child’s intelligence because they have not yet accumulated a vast store of knowledge. We note a child’s intelligence via the capacity to learn. Learning arises from not knowing. If we don’t know and we are aware of that, we can learn. This AI bot is stupid. Why? Because it makes shit up. If you hide your lack of knowledge by making shit up, you don’t learn. As a programmer, I learned GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. What came out of ChatGPT was Garbage.

Thanks for playing. As your prize for playing our game, here is the title cut from “South Side Soul”.