If you attempted to reach me using the address associated with this website between mid-June and mid-September of this year — including responding to an email I sent, or using the contact form — it is likely that I never received your message. If you were fortunate you may have received an error letting you know your communication did not go through, but if you use Gmail you may have been blocked from seeing any failure notice for the same reason you were blocked from seeing my email. This post explains what happened and why, so you can make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
Imagine a grand old stained glass window in a grand old house. It is imposing, arresting, defining. From the wooden trim surrounding the window, to the pieces of colored glass held by the snaking, soldered cames, every aspect of the window shrieks of mastery. As futile as it may ultimately be, you are so possessed by what you see that you decide to communicate your amazement to others through inherently feeble words. And so you begin to write….
As long as I have been writing — and that is now a very long time — I cannot think of any aspect of craft that has caused me more consternation than point of view. And here I mean point of view broadly, across all mediums and writing types. Whether fiction or nonfiction, the choice of point of view is not only critical to the effects you aim to achieve, but often seems inherent in the original conception. So much so, in fact, that at times you may not stop to consider whether the point of view you have chosen is the best point of view to use.
I mention this because I recently went through a frustrating period in which I had to deconstruct a complex nonfiction argument that originally seemed self-evident. When I revisited what I had written, however, I realized — after pages and pages of failed revisions, beseeching questions and aggravated comments — that I had instinctively adopted the wrong point of view. What I had originally said was that because the issue at hand was poorly defined, the people advocating for that position were objectively wrong. What I needed to say was that while the issue at hand was narrowly correct, the people advocating for that position were effectively blinded by that truth.
In the first instance the point of view I adopted meant that I wrote myself into a logical corner from which I could not extricate myself. In the second instance the point of view I adopted opened up all of the logical avenues I wanted to discuss. As for what it cost me to belatedly come to that realization, that was a few weeks of complete insanity as I went around and around restating and reformulating the arguments I made, without once stepping back and questioning the authorial point of view from which i made them.
That said, I’m not convinced that I could have reasoned my way to the proper point of view in advance. In fact, I think there are times when the only way to find the best point of view in fiction or nonfiction is to make an educated guess and get to work. And no, it’s not fun if you go down the wrong path and have to back up, but from that work you will likely be certain about your final choice.
If you’re relatively new to writing you have probably only wrestled with point of view at the higher levels, including choosing between first-person and third-person in fiction or nonfiction. It’s probably also best to stick with one point of view or the other in a given piece, both to keep your writing on track and to avoid confusing the reader. At some point, however, you may find yourself struggling with everything from the overarching conception of a work to a specific passage or chapter, and then you may profit — as I ultimately did — from questioning any assumptions you made about point of view.
And by way of example, consider again the grand old stained glass window in that grand old house. When you were imagining that window, were you outside the house looking in, or inside the house looking out? Because I’m willing to bet it was one or the other, even though you didn’t think about it at all.
— Mark Barrett
Among my eclectic, self-directed writing projects I have several books I intend to self-publish sooner rather than later, then make available by some yet-to-be-determined means. In book culture the publication of those titles would be cause for various forms of genuine and transactional celebration, from in-person launch parties and book signings to online ask-my-anything interviews and marketing blitzes. While I don’t plan to do any of that, even at my most excited — and here we are talking maybe a three on a ten-point scale of delusional euphoria — I don’t even find myself thinking about potential sales or profits or reviews, or even the quiet joy of providing a single reader with a moment of entertainment or enlightenment. Instead, what I always find myself thinking about is the technologically sophisticated black market which exists solely for the purpose of exploiting the work of authors, and the abuses of which that have only worsened over time. And when I say abuses I’m not only talking about criminal conduct, but corporate practices which are legal but also clearly designed to usurp power, authority and profits from authors and their works.
To publish or promote any writing anywhere these days — even on widely recognized platforms in the United States — is to provide fresh content for rapacious, voracious thieves, who are, ironically, likely faster and more efficient at distributing pirated and knock-off titles than the best commercial publishers will ever be at making the content of their own authors available to the paying public. Along with outright theft of content, however, there is also money to be made by providing a marketplace for content thieves and their purloined wares, in much the same way that Craigslist and eBay became known as the local and national/international distribution centers, respectively, for stolen and counterfeit goods. And of course in the book world the unquestioned king of for-profit abuses aimed at authors of every rank is the perpetually, willfully and preposterously credulous Amazon.com. [ Read more ]
Having written extensively in these virtual pages about the prior and illegitimate president of the University of Iowa, former businessman J. Bruce Harreld — who, shortly after signing a three-year contract extension, distinguished himself by quitting on the school and fleeing to his multi-million-dollar chalet near Vail, Colorado, hopefully never to be heard from again — I was surprised in writing this post that I had to look up how long it’s been since he left office. Whether because of the time-dilation effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has expanded the past three years into an epoch in my mind, or because my protective subconscious blanked out the convergence of those dark times, I did not remember that it has only been, and at the same time already been, a little less than two years since Harreld left office. Specifically, Harreld’s last day at what I now think of quite distantly as my collegiate alma mater was May 16th of 2021.
While there are plenty of lingering questions about Harreld’s shocking appointment and controversial tenure, short of guilt-ridden confessions or questioning under oath by the principals who conspired to impose him on the school — despite his jaw-dropping lack of qualifications or experience — I hold no illusion that any of those questions will ever be answered. (And even if they were, I would be hard-pressed to believe any statements made by the perpetrators.) Even with the disorienting passage of time, however, there was one issue I did expect to learn more about, and from a credible source. That issue was the billion-dollar, fifty-year, public-private energy partnership (P3) that the University of Iowa and Iowa Board of Regents entered into in December of 2019, toward the end of Harreld’s entrepreneurial reign.
As might be expected of a complex financial arrangement documented in an 1,800-page contract, let alone one that was hammered out behind closed doors by legions of shadowy bankers and attorneys, when that deal was finally disclosed there were multiple aspects of the UI P3 which required translation into plain English, including the basic premise of the deal. Although willfully misrepresented by the university and board as a massive up-front “payment” to the school from its private-sector energy partners, the UI P3 essentially amounted to the state borrowing roughly $1.2B in cash — through statutory powers granted to the board — on the pretext of leasing the university’s utility system for fifty years. After retiring $158M in outstanding debt, paying $12M in consulting fees, and absorbing another $8M in associated costs, the remaining $986M was deposited in a university endowment to then be gambled in the markets, to hopefully generate the $3B necessary to turn a profit for the school, pay the school’s annual utility costs, and service that massive loan over half a century. [ Read more ]
A little over a month ago, after weathering a sudden deluge of chatbot spam about how artificial intelligence (AI) can purportedly crank out content and comments for me here on Ditchwalk, I wrote a short post titled AI Is the New Crypto. In that post I pegged AI generally as the next investment craze, and sure enough over the intervening weeks there has been no end of announcements — including from the biggest tech companies in the world — about AI and chatbots revolutionizing the internet, and indeed life as we know it. Well maybe, but probably not for the better. [ Read more ]
If you use the free, open-source word-processing program LibreOffice Writer, and have discovered that the program does not save the last cursor position when you close a document, I can confirm that noxious behavior.
If you have searched for relief you may have come across a variety of proposed remedies, including claims that the last cursor position can be recovered by pressing the Shift+F5 key combination. You may also have tried that solution and found it did not work, or read responses from others indicating that Shift+F5 does not move the document view to the last saved cursor position.
When I press Shift+F5 on my keyboard as configured by default, that solution does not work. Like many keyboards, however, my keyboard requires that I press what is literally labeled the ‘F-Lock’ key to enable the functionality of the ‘F’ keys. If I do that — effectively turning on the ‘F’ keys on my keyboard — then Shift+F5 does indeed move the cursor and document view to the last saved position.
If you try this solution yourself — turning on the ‘F’ keys (which may also turn on an indicator light on your keyboard), then pressing Shift+F5 — I would like to know whether it does or does not work, and which version of LibreOffice you are using. And if it doesn’t work, keep reading. [ Read more ]
In the span of a few days, dating back to the initial flush of articles about ChatGPT and its ascendancy as a form of artificial intelligence, I began been receiving spam emails about how AI can change my life. These emails and the pitches they contain have no connection to my reality — or, as far as I can tell, any reality — yet they exist precisely because some small number of recipients will inevitably respond.
Contrast this glimpse of internet bottom feeders and their hapless marks with a similar push now being made in the financial markets, and I see little difference. Massive bets are being placed on various search engines and corporations, which will purportedly turn the ability of a computer to communicate with humans into fortunes similar to those promised by ventures which pushed the miracle of crypto a year ago. Which is to say I don’t have a lot of faith in either spam email or the financial markets to identify and differentiate truly meaningful revolutions from con games designed to separate suckers from their money.
Speaking of which, it’s also interesting to me that at a time of steep inflation and genuine financial pressure on individuals and their purchasing decisions, and in a context where venture capital is indeed having a much harder time raising money, there is nonetheless a great pile of free cash that is looking for the next big thing. I mean how poor and beleaguered are we if we’re all walking around with $1K smartphones that are primarily being used to figure out how to get us to fork over our diminished reserves in promise of future riches? Or is that a working definition of 21st century poverty? Too poor to invest in scams?
— Mark Barrett
Despite the fact that I not only enjoy winter, but have always thought of its furies and merciless silences as sacred and central to my own sense of annual renewal, I am not going to lapse into a rant about how this year’s non-winter makes clear that we have destroyed the planet. Instead, allow me to simply point out that when I took the trash out yesterday afternoon I was greeted with multiple squadrons of geese flying northwest in massive vee’s. The birds I saw must have numbered in the hundreds, and despite the fact that it is still early February they were demonstrating the same eager commitment that used to take place in mid-March.
But it’s all fine. Your heating bill this winter will be less, and you’ll be able to drive hither and yon through all four seasons, just like people from Missouri and Arkansas always have.
— Mark Barrett
Following years of bureaucratic and legal obstruction by the University of Iowa and the Iowa Board of Regents, in mid-December the Iowa State Auditor finally concluded his review of UI’s celebrated public-private utility partnership. (Excellent reporting and context here, from the Gazette’s indefatigable Vanessa Miller.) Because that partnership was a notable administrative act perpetrated by former illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, I began writing a post reviewing and commenting on the state audit, and whenever life stops dropping hammers I intended to finish that post to put a black bow on Harreld’s legacy. [ Read more ]
Yoshimitsu Yamada passed away recently. He was many things, but above all he was a teacher.
In my aikido practice decades ago I first became aware of Yamada Sensei through VHS video tapes. There were a number of high-ranking senseis who had some prominence in the aikido community, and a few who seemed to aspire to celebrity, but Yamada Sensei appeared constitutionally incapable of anything other than humility and unqualified encouragement.
His simple goal of daily improvement became my goal in various crafts, and is still the only future I seek.
On one of my recurrent trips to New York City — again, decades ago — I went to the New York Aikikai just to watch him conduct a class. I didn’t want to sit in, I didn’t want a picture with him, I didn’t want anything except to see if the person matched the images I had seen, and he did. The exact same person on camera, and in person in a roomful of students on a random day.
Yamada Sensei’s last class — part 1 of 3.
— Mark Barrett