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
A long time ago, in an undergraduate writing workshop far, far away, I read a story in which a character shook their head yes. When the workshop met for discussion I pointed out that people can either shake their head no or nod their head yes, but it wasn’t clear from the context which error the author had made. What genuinely surprised me, however, was not that the author didn’t know the difference, but that a handful of the other members also did not.
At the time I assumed I had stumbled into an aberrant cluster of people who were not well verse in the obscure art of describing head movements, but in the intervening decades that has proven not to be the case. In particular, there seems to be a persistent percentage of people who believe that nodding and shaking of the head both mean yes when they are decidedly not. So let this post — abetted over time by the long reach of search engine algorithms — stand as a corrective. [ Read more ]
Yes it’s that time of year again….
While admittedly a pedestrian clerical task, nothing demonstrates attention to detail like an up-to-date copyright notice. And I think that’s particularly important if your website offers services or is intended to demonstrate your professionalism or keen cultural relevance.
(If you have really been off the grid: it’s 2023. And no I can’t believe it either.)
— Mark Barrett
Growing up in the Midwest in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the only apple variety commonly available for eating — as opposed to baking — was Red Delicious. As apples go it was mediocre, but because it was the only variety commonly available we didn’t know that at the time. If you wanted to eat an apple you were going to eat a Red Delicious, and that’s just the way it was.
The main selling point of the Red Delicious seems to have been its stable shelf life. If you had a Red Delicious apple on your kitchen counter in September, you could count on it being palatable in January if you suddenly developed a hankering. Which of course you didn’t do very often because Red Delicious apples were also relatively bland and a bit on the pulpy side, but still. [ Read more ]
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 ]
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 ]