Pandemic blog: is this as over as it gets?

Here’s the UW Smart Restart tracker, showing the number of positive COVID tests among students and faculty since August:

And here’s the Dane County dashboard, showing positive tests per week over the whole course of the pandemic:

and deaths per month:

The future of COVID is going to be one where just about everyone has acquired some immunity to the virus, whether by vaccination or infection. In Madison, that future’s already here. 83% of everyone over 18 and 94% of everyone over 65 in Dane County has received two doses of COVID vaccine. We have vaccinated away most of the risk of COVID death here, and you can see it very clearly in the numbers.

On the other hand, people are still getting COVID. Cases aren’t blowing up but they’re also not going away. Once the more contagious delta variant set in, people started catching it, even among our 95%-vaxxed student body, and even in a city where — I know this, I just went to Fargo, remember? — people are substantially more likely than most places to be suppressing COVID transmission.

You hear a lot about removing COVID restrictions triggered on a reduction to levels of new cases below what the CDC classifies as “substantial,” which is 50 cases per 100K people over a 7-day period. Is that actually going to happen? I think it’s fair to ask: even once almost everyone has some immunity build-up, whether through vaccination or repeated infection or vaccination and repeated infection, are we going to get to case rates below “substantial?” We certainly haven’t in Dane County. There are only a few places in the US where cases are that low right now, and most of them are in places that just suffered a severe wave of COVID cases and deaths.

So one possibility is this: cases stay substantial forever, and because the people who want to be vaccinated get vaccinated, and because we are at last getting treatments that seem to be really effective for really sick patients, the toll of COVID gets much lower.

I don’t want to say that’s obviously true. I have learned my lesson about predicting this stuff. Another possible story is that COVID waves are geographically correlated (which is clearly true) and that cases in Dane County have stayed steady because of the large numbers of people nearby taking no vaccine or no precautions. On that account, the minor wave Wisconsin is experiencing now will die away just as the much bigger wave in the South did, and case rates could be low for good once that happens.

Maybe! But I think we have to be open to the possibility that this is as over as it gets.

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Road trip to Fargo

I turned 50 and, as I had long planned, I set foot in my 50th state, North Dakota, on my 50th birthday. It’s not far from Madison to Fargo, about 7 and a half hours drive, but I was a little intimidated; it’s been a long time since I drove more than four hours in a day, and I had questions about my 2001 Forester, which went from Madison to California and back in its youth but which is now, by some measures, an old car. But I needn’t have worried! Driving long distances, when you have the company of one of your kids, is not so bad. We listened to a lot of podcasts about the new MacBook Pro.

The first day, we didn’t see much; by the time CJ got home from school and we were ready to go, it was almost 4, so we drove through the familiar landscape of western Wisconsin, stopping for Culver’s in the suburban outskirts of Eau Claire, and stopped for the night at a Hampton Inn in Brooklyn Park. (Thanks to Hotel Tonight, the perfect app for road tripping, which allows you to easily book a cheap same-night hotel room when you feel you’ve got about two hours of driving left in you.) Nobody is wearing masks in Brooklyn Park, even though it’s in greater Minneapolis, not the hotel clerk, not the people in the gas station convenience store, nobody. It’s something you notice if you’re used to Madison (and we wore ours inside, without anybody looking at us funny.) The next morning, my birthday morning, we set out into western Minnesota, as the forests started to peter out into prairie. This part of I-94 is the land of pretty lakes, like Lake Osakis (the “sak” here is the same as “Sauk”)

and of unexpected roadside attractions

perhaps most notably the world’s largest prairie chicken, in Rothsay, MN.

All these pictures are by CJ, by the way. He has taken up photography. We got him a camera, an actual camera, which it turns out they still make, on the repeated promise that he would actually use it, and he’s lived up to that. He knows what all the buttons do. More importantly, I think he has a real sense for how things should look in an image. Well, you be the judge. It takes a tough man to shoot a prairie chicken.

We roll across the Red River into Fargo around 1:00. I’m now a fifty-stater, I’ve known for a while it was within reach; two cross country trips with Prof. Dr. Mrs. Q and family trips to Hawaii and Alaska got most of the hard stuff done. Then Jennifer Johnson-Leung of the University of Idaho invited me to give a seminar in Moscow and suddenly I was at 49.

It turns out I’m not the only person to leave North Dakota for last. It’s such a common thing that there’s a club for it. I’m now a member:

Large parts of Fargo look like any other low-density Midwestern sprawlville but there’s an old turn-of-the-century downtown that gives you some sense of what the place was like when it was old and rich. (It reminded me a little bit of J. Anthony Lukas’s book Big Trouble, about what was going on in Idaho — big trouble, in case you didn’t guess — around the time Fargo was being built.) There’s a building with “Kopelman’s” engraved across the top. Really? One of us, in Fargo? Really. The building now houses North Dakota’s only abortion provider. A few years ago they found that the mikveh was still there in the basement, under a concrete slab.

We had lunch with an old Ph.D. student of mine, Rohit Nagpal, with his wife, who’s a doctor there, and their extremely enjoyable two-year-old. The lunch place, BernBaum’s, is a Scandinavian-Jewish fusion deli, and it is good. Not “I’m surprised a place in a small-to-medium city in North Dakota is this good” good — good good. Why don’t Jews put lingonberries on our blintzes? Because we never knew about them, is the only explanation.

We went across the river to Moorhead, MN to see the Hjemkomst Center. So it seems that Norwegian-Americans sometimes become obsessed and build replicas of old Norwegian things. A Moorhead guidance counselor named Robert Asp built an exact replica of a wooden Viking ship. After his death, his kids sailed it from Minnesota to Norway and back. Now it’s in a museum:

A different Norwegian-American, Guy Paulson, built an exact replica of a 12th century wooden church that stands on the southern shore of the Sognefjorden.

OK, not exact; for it to meet US code he had to use nails. “But it would stand up without them,” the guide assures us. Norwegian wooden faces are thick with feeling.

We cross the river and eat schnitzel and spaetzle at a bar where everyone is watching the North Dakota State Bison demolish Indiana State, 44-2, at the FargoDome. Then it’s time to leave Fargo, because we don’t want to have the full distance to drive the last day. The sun goes down over western Minnesota

People on the internet are saying there’s a chance of seeing the Northern Lights, so we parked on the side of a dirt road in a corn field far away from any light and with an unobstructed northern view, and we stood out there freezing for a long time until it was completely dark, but the promised borealic peak never came. CJ got some good Milky Way pictures, at any rate. And we still made it back to the Twin Cities outskirts to sleep.

Sunday morning we went into downtown Minneapolis. CJ wanted to take pictures. We went up to the top of the Foshay Tower, which I’d never heard of.

Foshay was a Minneapolis industrialist who built this huge art deco obeliskical office building in the middle of town, only to lose his shirt in the crash three months after the grand opening. He was eventually convicted of wire fraud (though not before escaping his first trial with a mistrial, the one holdout juror being, it turned out, the wife of one of Foshay’s business associates, undisclosed.) But he remained a popular figure in town and it seems like his full pardon by Truman in 1947 was celebrated rather than questioned.

CJ wanted to see the new football stadium. Really? But guess what, it’s a beaut and I’m glad we walked around it

He got a picture with no people but in fact, even at 10 in the morning, central Minneapolis was already thick with Cowboys fans in full Cowboys paint, gearing up for that night’s game. We walked across the stone arch bridge, picked up some antelope tacos, sweet potatoes, and bison bowls at Owamni, and then drove down to Minnehaha Park because CJ loves taking waterfall pictures.

From there it was a straight drive home, because CJ had Halloween plans with his friends. We listened to Taylor Swift all the way. CJ is a sophomore in high school and when I was that age I was just starting to have Opinions about Records. I didn’t know that CJ had Opinions about Records, but it turns out he does — not vaguely “notice that I am alternative” stuff like the R.E.M. albums I was opining about at 16, but about Taylor Swift. I try to hold back my tendencies to want my kids to value exactly the same things that I do, but I cannot lie, it warms me that CJ has Opinions about Records. I learned a lot about Swift’s progression as a writer and I was even able to sneak in some older songs (“Fire and Rain,” “Linger”) that I felt helped situate Swift within a tradition. Anyway, I kind of knew Taylor Swift was great but I gained new appreciation for a lot of the non-singles, like “Getaway Car.”

We made it back to Madison in time for CJ to meet his friends and for me to greet some of the masses of kids walking for candy; after a year of distanced trick-or-treating, there was a lot of pent-up demand.

There was one more sunset.

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The greatest Astro/Brave(s)

The pennants have been decided, largely without my attention, because never in recent memory have four teams I less care for been vying for the title. The Dodgers and Red Sox are OK I guess but they just won. The Astros keep winning pennants and are holders of a recent world championship tainted by sign-stealing. And the Braves are a just-OK team that knocked out the Brewers. If they still had Kevin Gausman and Nick Markakis, I’d root for them anyway, but now? In fact, unless I’m forgetting somebody, there is no ex-Oriole playing on either side of the World Series this year. So much for that metric.

But the Series must go on, and with it, this annual feature: which player had the greatest combined contribution to the two teams that remain? I have to admit, I couldn’t think of a single player who played for both. (Has to do with growing up an AL fan when both of these teams were on the other side.) When I ran the numbers, there was a pretty close race for first, and here’s what’s cool — the two players, Denis Menke and Denny LeMaster, both came up with the (Milwaukee) Braves in 1962 and went to the Astros in the same trade in 1968! Menke was a shortstop, who had a couple of All-Star years in Houston but never fielded as well as he had for the Braves. He was later the hitting coach for the pennant-winning 1993 Phillies, and he died about 10 months ago in Florida. LeMaster was a starting pitcher for most of his time with both teams, never a star, always a reliable innings-eater.

And who was on the other side of the trade for these two great Astro-Braves? Chuck Harrison, who didn’t amount to much, and Sonny Jackson, who never really equalled his 49-steal age-21 rookie season, but who stuck around for 12 years playing kind-of-OK baseball, 7 years with the Braves following his 5 for Houston. He’s probably the player with the longest combined career for both this teams. And he went to Montgomery Blair High School in my home county of Montgomery County, Maryland. Maybe that’s the closest connection I can make between the Orioles and the 2021 World Series.

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Beautiful World, Where Are You?

I was struck by the fact that this book was getting a huge amount of press, and I was clearly supposed to have heard of the author, Sally Rooney, but I had not. And when I asked people about this, I was told it was generational. Rooney is “a millennial author” and I am not a millennial reader. I took this as a challenge! Can I read millennially?

Here are some thoughts which I suppose contain plot spoilers if you are the sort of reader who wants to avoid those before reading the books. (I am.)

What I really like about the book is its strange and affecting choice to use a narrative voice which can go anywhere and see anything but cannot enter any of the main characters’ minds. Everything is done through dialogue and description of bodily motion. The narrator never speaks in the first person but somehow has a personality, is a kind of lonely spirit, which sometimes wanders away from the narrative action entirely and goes out into the night, while the characters keep talking inside the cozy, lighted house, where the narrator can no longer hear. (The only other recent book I can think of that does something like this is is J. Robert Lennon’s Broken River, but the purpose there is pretty different; that one is really going for, and achieving, outright spookiness.)

This choice is the central stylistic fact of the novel and every moment gets colored by it, as in a novel written in the second person.

There is a lot of sex in this book, for instance, and the fact that we are locked out of the human experience of it, just watching bodies roll over each other, makes it uncomfortable to read — frankly, kind of porny. By design, since the characters themselves are not really able to experience each other as people, even though at moments they think they’re so doing.

The story is broken up by emails from one character to another — in a normal novel these could be simply changes of register, a comfortable way to vary the style and bring in information about the characters without cramming it artificially into dialogue or reminiscence. But here, because we’ve been locked out of the characters’ minds, the artificiality of the form comes to the fore. We don’t experience the emails as direct contact with the character’s beliefs, but as performances, which is of course what letters actually are. And so the little philosophical essays that might otherwise be read as authorial thesis statements by proxy are, here, more like — what, affectations? Things the characters wear, like clothes, from which observers can tell what kind of people they are asserting themselves to be.

About two-thirds of the way through, the narrative breaks the rule and goes into Eileen’s mind for a reminiscence of her early romantic feeling for Simon, the man we’re watching her present-day romance with. (Simon is also Jesus, sort of.) I’m not sure why Rooney does this. In fact the book, which sets itself up very satisfyingly, doesn’t seem to know what to do once it has established its mood of eerie distance. The last part of the novel — back to the distant narrator, at this point — contains a lot of long monologues which feel purposeless and lack the snap of the very, very good renderings of speech earlier on. To be honest I had the feeling Rooney was tired of moving the characters around on the board and knows that in novels people traditionally settle down together in the end so that’s what happens. But this very assured and unconventional book doesn’t like having a conventional ending. On some level I think Rooney recognizes this, so puts the ending in a pair of letters rather than try to narrate it.

This sounds like I didn’t like it, but I did like it. Rooney set herself a difficult task and didn’t, it seems to me, bring it off; but most books don’t even try anything hard.

Some other people writing on this book:

Tony Tulathimutte in the Nation, who makes some correct criticisms of some of the sentences in the book;

Anne Enright in the Guardian, who is very good on the strange power of the novel’s style, and who is completely won over by the ending that left me so unsatisfied.

Update: There is another read here, which is that I’m overthinking it and this is meant to be the sort of novel in which you feel about the characters the way you might about people you know, and just straightforwardly hope for certain outcomes for them, the way one does (I mean, I do) in The Age of Innocence or Elena Ferrante novels (I mean, the ones I’ve read.) If that’s the work the book is doing, it didn’t work for me (but I think it worked for others, like Anne Enright.)

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Wildlife removal

Something — a rabbit, it turned out — died underneath my porch. We could smell it but we couldn’t see it. Some people wouldn’t mind handling this themselves, but none of those people are me, so I called AAAC Wildlife Removal. The guy got out of his truck, sniffed around the porch, looked me right in the eye and said, “You never get used to the smell of death.” That alone was worth the price.

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A farewell to Tab

Another part of my childhood gone: I learned today that Coca-Cola discontinued Tab at the end of last year. This is middle age, to feel a loose kind of sorrow at the demise of things you didn’t even like.

Dredging as good government

A few summers ago we had really bad floods in Madison. There were a lot of reasons. The proximate reason was it rained a lot. But also: we keep the levels of the lakes artificially high with dams, in part because not doing so would make the lake levels fluctuate a lot, and that is a problem for people who have houses on the lake. It’s hard to have your dock reliably terminate at the shoreline if the shoreline keeps moving. Another problem is that the waterways joining the lakes in the chain are choked with sediment and vegetation — so even when we DO open the dams and let the water flow southward towards the Rock River and eventually the Mississippi, the water is pretty slow to drain and it eventually overtops Lake Mendota and washes into the streets of downtown.

(Which, by the way, it was 10 years I lived in the Upper Midwest before I realized that Rockford, Illinois was a place where you could ford the Rock.)

Anyway, I was happy to see that the county is spending a few million dollars to dredge those connecting waterways so the lakes can drain more easily. This is not a headline-making move or an internet sensation; as far as I can tell, the number of times this effort has been mentioned on Twitter is in the single digits. And the effect won’t be dramatic — there’s no shiny new building or bridge or factory at the end of the expenditure. The effect is on what doesn’t happen, or at least is less likely to happen: another flood causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.

We pay pretty high property taxes in Madison, as things go, but what’s good about our local government is that I truly feel a lot of this kind of thing happens here. We fix things before they break. It’s something governments mostly don’t get credit for. But they should.

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One thing about The White Lotus

This was a good television show, made by Mike White, who wrote three episodes of Freaks and Geeks as well as running the excellent and little watched Laura Dern show Enlightened. This one, lots of people watched, and wrote thinkpieces about. Partly, I think, because the acting was really good, and viewers experienced the characters as actually existing humans more than one usually does while watching TV. Thus people were mad at them. And I think the writing about the show was probably a bit overconcerned with the question of who the show wanted you to be mad at, and whether these were the right people to be mad at.

This post won’t make any sense if you haven’t watched the show, and contains spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the show, I recommend you do so instead of reading my post! It’s good! (The show, not the post. The post is just OK.)

I just wanted to make an observation I didn’t see in the thinkpieces, which is the twinning of the characters of Rachel and Belinda. They are both committed to the idea that rich people are concentrations of resources, which with some skill can be extracted. They are both, in some sense, hacks. Rachel aims to be a writer; we are supposed to see her new husband (wealthy, emotionally needy, hyperattentive to potential disrespect) Shane as a jerk for not taking her writing seriously, but simultaneously recognize that she’s not herself serious in her writing goals. Belinda gives a massage to a hotel guest (wealthy, emotionally needy, hyperattentive to potential abandonment) played by Jennifer Coolidge, soothing her client with a routine that asks her to say “I am my own phallic mother and my own vaginal father” and throwing in a chant of the Gayatri Mantra. Nothing here suggests she has any special ability to heal; but Coolidge’s character imprints on her, promising her patronage, her own business bankrolled by Coolidge’s money.

This is the world they live in, this is their game — everything changes if you can get the roaming eye of wealth to land, out of all the places it could settle, on you.

But Belinda lets it get away. One of the neatest tricks of this series is the way Coolidge’s character at first appears to be played for slightly low-rent laughs, then for pity, only to finally reveal herself as the only person on the show who arrives at anything like real insight. She explains to Belinda that her impulse to fund Belinda’s House of Healing was just her impulsive way of trying to buy intimacy, creating another person bound to her by money — then she gives her a bunch of money anyway, but walks away. What follows is one of the show’s Big Scenes: Rachel asks Belinda for advice about her suddenly not-fully-enjoyable marriage, and Belinda just walks out, visibly weary and in pain. A lot of viewers have seen this as a triumphant moment, Belinda exerting real agency, refusing to perform emotional labor for yet another overprivileged guest, but I don’t think that’s exactly right. Rachel doesn’t pair with Coolidge here, she pairs with Belinda herself, and Belinda’s bitterness here is coming from the fact that Rachel has succeeded where she’s just failed.

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It didn’t have to be this way

This is not a post about COVID-19, or Afghanistan, or the slow-then-fast dissolution of the journalism industry, or somebody’s tweet that made me mad. It’s about the Baltimore Orioles. If you don’t care about the Baltimore Orioles — and honestly, if you are not, like me, a lifetime fan, why, why, why would you? — feel free not to read. But I’m gonna write.

The Orioles are rebuilding. Or so we are told. Rebuilding takes time. You lose a lot as the pieces of the next good team comes into place. Or so we are told. You trade away everybody who can place a fastball or hit a curveball for prospects and some of them pan out. You lose so much you get high draft picks and those draft picks pan out. Fan patience will be rewarded. Or so we are told. But some of us don’t live in Baltimore anymore. I, for instance, live in Wisconsin, and have taken on as a secondary rooting interest the Milwaukee Brewers. And that’s how I know it didn’t have to be this way.

If you spend your life in the American League East, you can say to yourself, well, there’s the big-market teams, the Yankees and Red Sox and Blue Jays, who never have to resist the temptation of the big-ticket free agent, and there’s the Rays, who have some kind of Magic Savvy, and then there is us.

But look at the Brewers. They’re not rich; payroll is 19th out of the 30 teams, right between the Rockies and the Rangers. There’s nothing really special about them, to be honest. There are no books about the genius of the Brewers. Right now they’re really good. But they’re not always good. They’re sometimes bad. But not as bad as the Orioles are right now. The Brewers have had a winning percentage under .400 exactly once in the team’s entire history, twice if you count their first year as the 1969 Seattle Pilots when it was .395. Milwaukee had some really good teams about a decade ago and then they weren’t so good and now they’re contenders again.

They’re normal. This is what following a normal team is like.

The Orioles have had a winning percentage under .400 in three of the last four years (barring a miraculous renaissance in the closing weeks of 2021.) And in the short season of 2020, they just cleared it, playing .417 ball.

How did the Brewers do it? Well, they did put together the best farm system in baseball by the middle of 2016. But they didn’t do it by putting a AAA team on the field. They still had Ryan Braun, Scooter Gennett, Jonathan Lucroy, Wily Peralta, Jimmy Nelson, well-liked players who’d been on the Brewers for a while. (Lucroy was traded for a couple of prospects in mid-season, and my beloved Carlos Gomez had departed the year before in a trade that brought them Josh Hader — it’s not like they didn’t do any tearing down.) They had a free agent pitcher, Matt Garza, who’s signed a big contract with them after the 2013 season when the Brewers finished 23 games out of first, and they traded a young shortstop, Jean Segura, who turned out to be pretty good, for Chase Anderson, so they had a couple of major league starters, and some of the guys they already had pitched OK too. They signed Chris Carter as a free agent. They went 73-89. The next year they won 86 games and didn’t make the playoffs, and then they added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, and then they were very, very good.

The Brewers did everything the Orioles said you have to resist doing in order to improve; and they improved. They took the Dodgers to game 7 in the NLCS in 2018. and they’re running away with the NL Central right now.

I’m not saying the current Orioles disaster isn’t a way to get better. Yeah, yeah, the Astros did it, I get it. I’m saying it’s the worst way to get better. It stinks to watch. The Orioles just lost their 14th game in a row. It’s their second 14-game losing streak this season. They are 38-81. I feel sorry for the players who have to be on the field for this. Especially because it didn’t have to be this way.

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GPT-3 me, by the book

Not gonna lie, it has always been a dream of mine, a marker of being a Real Writer, to do a New York Times Book Review “By the Book” interview, and this summer I did it. Really fun — I got to praise a lot of writers I truly admire (including Janet Malcolm, who I sort of hoped would read it, and who died the day before the interview came out.) and hopefully helped generate some publicity for Shape.

I also recently got beta access to Open AI’s “GPT-3” text-generation engine. So I thought it would be fun to give it part of my interview and see what happened if I asked it to continue.

Here are some results. What’s bold is text I supplied to GPT-3 (along with the whole text of the interview previous to that line.) This uses the davinci engine, with temperature set to 0.7.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I read “The Little House on the Prairie” series as it came out, and I think I really liked them. I reread “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” many times. I loved “The Hobbit” so much I would reread the whole thing and just skip the long chapters. The first adult book I read was “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers, when I was 10 or 11, because I loved the title so much. It was a little hard to get into because it was so slow, but I was so happy to be reading a book that was all about people being sad, because I was so sad!

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

“The Go-Between,” by L. P. Hartley. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s so perfect.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Note that GPT-3 has enough text to recognize this as a “By The Book” interview, because the two questions it generates are indeed on the standard list of questions that the NYTBR asks authors. “Temperature” is a measure of how constrained GPT-3 feels to pick the word it seems most likely at each stage. One cool thing about the interface is it gives you the probability distribution it drew from for each word. THe word “Heart” above, for instance, is one of the lowest-probability words in the above response; GPT-3 rated it the 11th most likely next word, with a probability of 0.8%. Top three were “Cat” (4.0%), “Aut” (1.7%), and “Fountain” (1.7%). Wait, “Aut”? Yeah — GPT-3 uses “tokens,” not words, and sometimes these are parts of words, or even just initial letters. I imagine “Aut” could have been the beginning of “Autobiography” or “Author.” Presumably running the algorithm at a lower temperature would have made it much more likely I’d have read something starting with “The Cat.” Having settled on “Heart,” the following word “is” came in with an 87% probability, far above the next most likely candidate, “of.”

In fact, it’s kind of cool how the OpenAI interface displays these probabilities, so I’m gonna screenshot and include:

Red means unlikely, green means likely — so you can see very clearly the red “Heart” and the green “Is.” Note that the standard questions from “By the Book” are almost all green once you get past the first word; you’re on a track the algorithm’s very confident about. “The Go-Between,” by L.P. Hartley is a real book, by the way, though not one I’d ever heard of, and not one I think my earlier responses could fairly be said to make you think I’d like. The answer itself, though, while it’s not my style, is very much “By the Book” style.

Here’s what you get at temperature 0:

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I was a voracious reader, but I don’t remember any particular books. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room and a dog in the room. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room and a dog in the room and a cat in the room. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room and a dog in the room and a cat in the room and a hamster in the room. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room and a dog in the room and a cat in the room and a hamster in the room and a goldfish in the room. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room and a dog in the room and a cat in the room and a hamster in the room and a goldfish in the room and a bird in the room. I remember the feeling of being in a room with a book and a window and a tree outside the window and a friend in the room and a dog in

This is pretty typical. If you pick the most likely “next word” every time, you get stuck repeating yourself, getting more and more certain that staying in the loop is the right thing to do because after all it’s what you’ve been doing! The only even moderately low-probability words here occur when a new animal is introduced to the room.

What about temperature 1, giving GPT-3 maximal license to draw less-likely next tokens? (Maybe temp 1 means literally draw from the imputed distribution? I’m not sure.)

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

Neil Postman recommended “Wind in the Willows,” which my mother read to me and I read at my mother’s knee, many many times, more times than I can count. I come back to it every year or so, and it’s still a great book. I also was nuts about “Blondie”; the single joke in the joke book never loses its appeal for me. I loved “Black Beauty” and several other Victorian kids’ classics with similar emotional power; I haven’t read them again yet because I never have any time. I can’t forget how much I loved it the first time I read it.

Anything you’d recommend to someone new to your books?

“Lovecraft Country,” without a doubt. Also my essay in the Yale series, “Mao II and Then Some.” I also think my Song of Ice and Fire “house style” recaps (here, here, here and piecemeal here); they’re the most comfortable thing I’ve written. Even my husband likes them, and he doesn’t care about the show or the books. And the recent article on swaddling.

Edited to make explicit that in-kind donations by the author also serve as p.r. I should have included them, which I wish I had done.

Well, this is the most fun at any rate. I love the idea that Neil Postman was recommending books to childhood me, and to my mom, I guess. This one actually feels to me the most like my own prose style, even as the things it says don’t quite make sense? Maybe there’s a tradeoff between style and sense. At any rate, there is no actual essay called “Mao II and Then Some,” but that’s 100% a title I would use, and DeLillo really is a writer I admire and didn’t mention in the piece. “Anything you’d recommend to someone new to your books?” is not one of NYTBR’s standard questions for this feature, but doesn’t it sound like one? Oh, here’s the color chart so you can see how much redder and more daring this output is.

Impressive work — and let me emphasize that I just did those three runs and that’s what I showed you, no cherry-picking of the best output. Not something that makes me feel easily impersonable, of course. But I didn’t give it that much of my writing….!

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