Tag Archives: Philip Pullman

AI chills and thrills, climate pledges, a Nazi haven, children’s lit, and a film about a genius: Facts, and Opinions, that matter this week

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kisses his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson after signing the Paris Agreement on climate change at United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kisses his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson after signing the Paris Agreement on climate change at United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Reports:

Ban Ki-moon (2nd from R), Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivers his opening remarks at the Paris Agreement signing ceremony on climate change as French President Francois Hollande (2nd from L) looks on at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike SegarChina, US, among those pledging to ratify Paris Agreement. By Michelle Nichols & Valerie Volcovici  Report

China and the United States, the world’s top producers of greenhouse gas emissions, pledged to formally adopt by the end of the year a Paris deal to slow global warming, raising the prospects of it being enforced much faster than anticipated. The United Nations said 175 states took the first step of signing the deal on April 22, the biggest day one endorsement of a global agreement.

Focus on Artificial Intelligence

Figure-1The chilling significance of AlphaGo. By Sheldon Fernandez  Magazine

In March, a computer named AlphaGo played the human world champion in a five-game match of Go, the ancient board game often described as the ‘Far East cousin’ of chess. That AlphaGo triumphed provoked curiosity and bemusement in the public — but is seen as hugely significant in the artificial intelligence and computer science communities. Computer engineer Sheldon Fernandez explains why.

The Sunflower Robot is a prototype that can carry objects and provide reminders and notifications to assist people in their daily lives. It uses biologically inspired visual signals and a touch screen, located in front of its chest, to communicate and interact with users. Photo by Thomas Farnetti for Wellcome/Mosaic, Creative CommonsA one-armed robot will look after me until I die. By Geoff Watts Magazine

I am persuaded by the rational argument for why machine care in my old age should be acceptable, but find the prospect distasteful – for reasons I cannot, rationally, account for. But that’s humanity in a nutshell: irrational. And who will care for the irrational human when they’re old? Care-O-bot, for one; it probably doesn’t discriminate.

And from earlier this year:

Product and graphic designer Ricky Ma, 42, gives a command to his life-size robot ''Mark 1'', modelled after a Hollywood star, in his balcony which serves as his workshop in Hong Kong, China March 31, 2016. Ma, a robot enthusiast, spent a year-and-a half and more than HK$400,000 ($51,000) to create the humanoid robot to fulfil his childhood dream. REUTERS/Bobby Yip SEARCH "ROBOT STAR" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIESBuilding a humanoid Hollywood Star. By Bobby Yip  Report

The rise of robots and artificial intelligence are among disruptive labor market changes that the World Economic Forum projects will lead to a net loss of 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. Where will they come from? Why, we can make them ourselves. Or at least some of us can, and do.

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned, and survives on an honour system. Try one story at no charge; chip in at least $.27 apiece for more. If you value no-spam, no-ads, non-partisan, evidence-based, independent journalism, help us continue. Please share our links and respect our copyright.Details.

Commentary:

By Brian McMorrow - http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/image/45156182, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=833719This Week’s Other Birthday, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs  column

Until quite recently, while Queen Elizabeth and her family were celebrating her birthday every April 21, a group of elderly men in south-west Africa were nursing the effects of the birthday toasts they had drunk the night before, to Adolf Hitler,  born on April 20, 1889. The men had been senior  Nazi officials, and had managed to escape capture by the Allies at the end of the Second World War. What is now Namibia offered a lasting sanctuary.

Why Bernie Sanders need to fight on … and surrender, by Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda Column

It looks like the end is nigh for the Sanders campaign. But it is absolutely necessary that Bernie not give up running. Yes, he should start to encourage his supporters to support Clinton. I am, however, totally in favor of him building up his delegate total and going into Philadelphia in late July demanding that the party’s platform reflect his point of view.

Those Healthy Yankees: Graham and Alcott, by Jim McNiven, Thoughtlines Column

Sylvester Graham and William Andrus Alcott were men of their disease-ridden times, amongst the first American promoters of “health food,” “phys-ed” and temperate living for health in both the here and now — and the afterlife.

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, in the midst of their ICESCAPE mission, retrieves supplies in the Arctic Ocean in this July 12, 2011 NASA handout photo. Kathryn Hansen/NASA via REUTERS/File PhotoAfter Paris climate pact, let’s get personal. By Gwynne Taraska and Shiva Polefka  Loose Leaf salon Column

Reengineering global economic dependence on carbon pollution requires conscious commitment and action from individuals as well as governments and corporations.

Arts:

image-20160421-30266-12jsnvsHow GH Hardy tamed Srinivasa Ramanujan’s genius. By Béla Bollobás   Report

Throughout the history of mathematics, there has been no one remotely like Srinivasa Ramanujan. There is no doubt that he was a great mathematician, but had he had simply a good university education and been taught by a good professor in his field, we wouldn’t have a film about him. Credit is due to GH Hardy.

Why children’s books are serious literature. By Catherine Butler Report

Once a generation, it seems, a cri de coeur goes out, in which a representative of the world of children’s literature speaks with revelatory authority to the literary establishment and makes it reassess the place of children’s books.

Last but not least: alongside the many musical tributes to the American artist Prince, who died this week at age 57, his appearance on the Muppets should not be missed:

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Why children’s books are serious literature

By Catherine Butler, Cardiff University 
April, 2016

Above, Philip Pullman speaking at a literary event in 2008. Photo by Anna_t via Flickr, Creative Commons

“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book,” said Philip Pullman in a 1996 speech. Above, Pullman speaking at a literary event in 2008. Photo by Anna_t via Flickr, Creative Commons

Both as an author and an academic I take children’s literature seriously – it’s my professional raison d’être. This doesn’t mean that I think it should be discussed in hushed tones, however, only that it shouldn’t be dismissed as trivial. Children’s authors are excellent writers – moreover, our earliest encounters with the written word colour all that follows, so anyone who takes books for adults seriously should take children’s literature seriously too.

I’m not the first to make this case. Once a generation, it seems, a cri de coeur goes out, in which a representative of the world of children’s literature speaks with revelatory authority to the literary establishment and makes it reassess the place of children’s books.

In 1968, the Times Literary Supplement invited Alan Garner, the author of The Owl Service to write about his approach. Garner argued that children are the most rewarding and demanding readers, pointedly saying of his next book: “If it is good enough, it will probably be for children”.

Likewise, in 1996, Philip Pullman began his Carnegie Medal acceptance speech by declaring: “There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.” Like Garner, Pullman had written books rich with literary reference and intellectual scope. Both men were self-confident, Oxford-educated and could not easily be patronised. Both men were in a field of literature numerically dominated by women. People listened.

For a time, because of Pullman’s own novels and later those of J.K. Rowling, children’s books were everywhere. Some suggested that the distinction between children’s and adult literature was disappearing: titles appeared in child and adult editions – identical but for the jacket (and price). For the majority of mid-list children’s authors, however, things soon reverted to the status quo ante. Review space in national newspapers, briefly abundant, dried up, and advances reverted to pre-Potter levels.

When the former Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson called for children’s books to be taken seriously in 2013, her plea formed part of a recognisable cycle in the world of children’s literature. First comes neglect, tinged with contempt, then a shock in the form of some literary event or articulate advocacy, then a slow backsliding.

Why does the literary world go through these spasms? Let’s look at a few unrelated snapshots, and see if we can build an identikit face:

Such instances aren’t just a matter of snobbery towards “genre fiction”. A man seen reading a thriller may be sneered at, but if he is seen reading “chicklit” his virility may be questioned too. Similarly, adults who read children’s literature are tainted with childishness. Does that decision to publish some books with adults’ and children’s jackets really show barriers being broken down? That some were prepared to pay an extra pound or two to avoid being seen reading a children’s book suggests otherwise.

Ultimately, disdain for children’s literature has less to do with the quality of the work than with the contradictory feelings adults have about children and childhood. These fall into two broad groups, the first of which can be summarised: “The more grown-up the better.” As St Paul put it: “When I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly: but then face to face” (I Cor 13.11).

The adult view is the real view; the child’s just an approximation. Applied to children’s literature, this leads to the belief that children’s books are literature with training wheels – and that those most nearly resembling adult books are the most worthwhile.

But this attitude coexists with its opposite too: think of Wordsworth’s vision of children trailing clouds of glory and dwindling into adulthood. Against St Paul we can recruit Jesus of Nazareth: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10.14).

The idealisation of childhood is often held to have reached its zenith in children’s books of the early 20th century. But this view is actually tenacious – it lives on in the duty adults feel to shield children from adult knowledge, especially when it lurks between the covers of a book. Publishers and reviewers regularly let authors know that certain words and topics are out of bounds. Children must keep their innocence.

Despite opposition to these traditions, both continue to flourish – for both speak powerfully to adult fantasies. Children, and adults associated with children, are constantly buffeted in their cross-currents. If writers create a safe space sequestered from the wider world they are patronised for thumb sucking. But if they try not to be cosy, then they are corrupting the innocent youth who should be protected.

The battle to get children’s literature taken seriously will never be concluded, because so many adults are invested in not doing so. It would rob them of the comforting shibboleths they clutch like favourite toys: I am serious, you are trivial; I am adult, you are a child. I don’t say we should accept such opinions, but we should recognise that they will not go away. Taking children’s literature seriously is part of taking children seriously, and that is a lifetime’s work.

The ConversationCreative Commons

Catherine Butler is a Senior lecturer at Cardiff University  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , |