There is a lot of backstory here that I’m not going to get into, so if you’re not already up on the drama raging in the world of chess feel free to skip this post. Even if you know very little about the game itself, however, you may have heard that there was a recent cheating scandal, and that’s true. While the full contours of the cheating are still unclear, there is compelling and convincing evidence that a player of some considerable skill and accomplishment cheated in online games on multiple occasions. [ Read more ]
Archives for 2022
On more than one occasion over the past — *checks notes* — half-century, I have been moved to look up the proper spelling of the word people say when bringing a horse to a stop or expressing stoner surprise. Until fairly recently I was sternly advised that the only such word was ‘whoa’, and in no civilized context would one write ‘woah’. Meaning even though there were two available spellings for two distinct usages, there was only one proper spelling for that word regardless of the intent or context.
Over the past year or two, however, ‘woah’ seems to be gaining steam, and some sources are now grudgingly acknowledging that — as language is wont to do — we are witnessing the evolution of the spelling of that word. What does not seem to be happening, however, is any disambiguation between the spellings and definitions, and I think that is a missed opportunity. If we have two completely different usages, and a new alternative spelling is gaining legitimacy, that would be the perfect time to differentiate between the spellings and definitions, forking them into homonyms.
To that end, and in service of clarity forever more, I am advocating that ‘whoa’ continue to be used to indicate a literal or figurative command to stop, while ‘woah’ should be used to signify low-key surprise or shock. As to how to put this plan into action, just put the plan into action. When you mean stop, write ‘whoa’. When you mean wow, write ‘woah’. The word police will catch up.
— Mark Barrett
My interest in this game was driven primarily by the desire to see and explore its celebrated and vast open world. I’m a big believer in the benefits of discovery as an interactive design mechanic, and there is no easier or more effective way to integrate discovery and interactivity than allowing players to wander through a virtual environment at their own discretion. In a narrative context there are significant obstacles to pulling off such an environment in a compelling way, but I also knew that Elden Ring was billed — correctly — not as a traditional role-playing game, but as an Action RPG. Meaning the emphasis was decidedly on combat and boss fights, and not on story or character development. [ Read more ]
In the summer of 2015 — which may seem a lifetime ago to you, but oddly doesn’t to me — I was bumbling my way through time and space, when a small cabal of co-conspirators used a fake, state-funded presidential search to jam a former senior business executive into the president’s office at the University of Iowa, my alma mater. A little over a year later, in their finite wisdom, the citizens of the United States elected an infamous serial entrepreneur as president of the entire country, albeit as a result of a free and fair election. In both instances the pro-business community in America championed these developments as exactly what was needed to break out of the status quo and bring solid business acumen to bear on the problems facing the institutions those men would lead.
I leave it to you to judge the merits of their respective presidencies, and how their business savvy benefited their constituencies. I was recently reminded, however, of that particular historical convergence while watching the movie Stagecoach, which was released in 1939. Notable in its own right as a film, Stagecoach is also the first of a number of collaborations between director John Ford and actor John Wayne, who — though he had dozens of screen credits to his name at the time — appeared in what was one of his first starring roles.
Among the characters in the movie is a banker named Henry Gatewood, who lets loose this diatribe while traveling on the fated stage:
GATEWOOD: I can’t get over the impertinence of that young lieutenant. I’ll make it warm for that shavetail. I’ll report him to Washington. We pay taxes to the government and what do we get? Not even protection from the army. I don’t know what the government is coming to. Instead of protecting businessmen, it pokes its nose into business. Why they’re even talking now about having bank examiners. As if we bankers don’t know how to run our own banks. Why Boone, I actually have a letter from a popinjay official saying they were going to inspect my books. I have a slogan that should be placed on every newspaper in the country. America for Americans. The government must not interfere with business. Reduce taxes. Our national debt is something shocking. Over one billion dollars a year. What this country needs is a businessman for president.
While listening to that speech — convincingly delivered by actor Berton Churchill — it struck me as noteworthy that eighty years ago screenwriter Dudley Nichols had his finger on the same attitude that seemed to appeal to so many in 2015 and 2016, and is clearly still with us today. I know there are no new stories, and the cult of the entrepreneur probably reaches back millennia in human history, but it was still jarring hearing a character that was written the better part of a century earlier issue words which are bandied about today by ostensibly serious thinkers. Relatedly, I would also add that the reason businessman Gatewood is taking the coach is because he is making off with a satchel of money embezzled from his bank.
— Mark Barrett
Two years ago to the day, and roughly two months after the novel coronavirus pandemic arrived in Iowa in 2020, I published a post titled Coping With the Reality of COVID-19. One year ago to the day, and roughly two months after the national vaccine rollout, I published a follow-up post titled Coping With the Persistence of COVID-19. In this post, as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to take stock of the progress we have made in fighting the disease, and explain why you should remain vigilant even if your immediate personal risk of hospitalization and death now seems relatively remote. [ Read more ]
Since we’re still committed as a nation to mowing down roomfuls of elementary students — along with citizens in every other age group and demographic — in order to protect the emotional fragility of gun owners, I wanted to point readers to a series of posts I wrote almost a decade ago about America’s insatiable lust for violence, and our penchant for denying and obfuscating the root cause.
In the aftermath of Monday’s ritual atrocity in Texas I confess I am not at all interested in hearing anyone talk about what’s wrong or what they’re going to do about it or what they need (usually cash) in order to do something about it. Absent new rulings by the United States Supreme Court — effectively overturning prior foundational perversions of the Constitution as wrongly decided — I don’t expect anything to change in my lifetime, even if I live another twenty or thirty years.
That said, my current mindset is also informed by the thinking I did close to a decade ago, which exposed the degree to which everyone but the actual victims and their families plays a self-serving role. (That was particularly evident on social media over the past twenty-four hours, as everyone used yesterday’s act of violence to burnish their own brand — like every other day of the year.) Reading the series won’t make you feel better or prevent any future deaths, but it might help put your powerlessness in context, and make it harder for people to exploit your raw emotions for their ends.
You can read the first post here.
Update 05/27/22: We’re only three days out now from the latest firearms massacre at an elementary school in the United States, and both the press and general public are already distracting and comforting themselves by focusing on the fact that the local police department demonstrated gross dereliction and cowardice when faced with weapons of war. In the real world, however, that’s actually a rational response to those weapons regardless of your level of training, yet we insist on making those weapons absurdly easy for any citizen to procure and wield. Then, when something horrific inevitably does happen, we blame law enforcement because they don’t want to step in front of military-grade firepower which is designed to explode the human body with every impact.
It’s not that the guns are a problem, it’s just that we need more heroic and selfless law enforcement officers. Anything to avoid doing something about the availability of those weapons.
As for the killer, again we’re only three days about but law enforcement is already on the hunt for a motive, and of curse the profit-driven press will undoubtedly follow. (If you haven’t read the series of posts linked above, read the series of posts linked above.)
As for what you can do, I am under no illusion that anything will ever change. What I can say is that if you have not been radicalized by now — both by gun violence and by the governmental refusal to do anything about gun violence — to the point that you support the repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, then you’re part of the problem.
Update 05/31/22: One week later.
— Mark Barrett
At my advanced age it is not very often that I read something I find viscerally disturbing, but that proved to be the case with an otherwise excellent report from Cooper Worth at the Daily Iowan on 05/12/22: UI student accused of attempted murder, robbery had multiple UIPD reports made before arrest. In reporting additional information about the psycho who strangled and robbed a female student on the University of Iowa campus, including multiple prior contacts said psycho had with the UI Department of Public Safety, one of those prior incidents was related by the victim in the passage excerpted below. [ Read more ]
In a press release today, Iowa State University (ISU) announced that “it has concluded its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU)“. For those not steeped in the arcane associations which drive meaning and relevance in much of higher education, the AAU in question is an exclusive research collective which provides no actual benefits to member schools, but nonetheless commands and confers a great deal of prestige in an industry which values tokens of esteem to an embarrassing degree. To that point, while ISU is putting the best possible gloss on this breakup, the truth is that Iowa State would not abandon its AAU membership if it was not already under threat of imminent expulsion. [ Read more ]
Whatever your feelings about Apple as a corporation, former CEO Steve Jobs is rightly credited with exploiting the intersection of technology and fashion. The iPhone, for example, was not simply a revolutionary device, it quickly came to signify cultural cachet. If you were obsessively checking another portable device you were a dweeb, but if you were obsessively checking an iPhone you were hip.
Because of my feelings about Apple as a corporation I have only owned one Apple product in my long life — an iPod Mini, which was received as a welcome and generous gift. In terms of music storage it was functional, in terms of sound quality it was tolerable, but in terms of design it was as cutting-edge as a device could be at the time. Unfortunately, a foundational precept of Apple’s cutting-edge design aesthetic involves obscuring and abstracting device functionality to the point of incomprehension, leaving new users in the dark about how their sophisticated devices actually function.
I still remember fiddling with my new iPod Mini and being soundly rebuffed in my various attempts to understand the interface. I also remember reading the curt instructions in the enclosed insert, and finding no information which explained how to reliably navigate the various menus. I even remember trying to fight may way into the iPod Mini menu system in the hope that there might be some onboard instructions — even a README file — but again I was defeated. Only when i logged on to the internet and conducted a wide search did I find a demonstration of the distinctive thumb swirl which was critical to the functionality of the iPod Mini interface. [ Read more ]
I was reminded recently that conventional wisdom has no inherent connection to reason or fact, or even to simple math. Over the span of a few days I ran across several individuals on social media who were talking about upcoming milestone birthdays, and as is often the case those impending dates were being viewed with a mixture of resignation and dread. In fact, such sentiments seem to be particularly common at decennial birthdays, when turning a single year older ushers in an entirely new decade of numerical ages, along with varying cultural cliches about what a given decennial portends. (Spoiler: it’s usually not good.) [ Read more ]