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 ]
As hard as it may be to believe — or perhaps not, depending on the toll 2021 took on you and yours — it is once again that time….
While you have been holding the fabric of the universe together solely with the psychic force of your formidable will, yet another calendar year has slipped by. If you are a content creator — whether an intermittent blogger or social media mogul — take a moment to start the new year off on the right foot by updating any public copyright notices to include 2022.
While this is admittedly a pedestrian clerical task, nothing demonstrates attention to detail like an up-to-date copyright notice, and that’s particularly important if your website offers services or is intended to demonstrate your professionalism or keen cultural relevance. Because if the person or persons running a given site can’t remember to update their copyright notice, why should anyone pay attention to anything they have to say?
Don’t be the person who forgets to update their copyright date, let alone does to for multiple years, who was definitely not me unless you have the time-stamped, notarized screenshots to prove it.
Have a great year — or at least a reasonable facsimile.
— Mark Barrett
Whether you consider yourself an aspiring, practicing or recovering writer, or are emotionally enmeshed with same, one perquisite which greatly appeals to many wordsmiths is the socially sanctioned synergy between creature comfort and presumed performance. Where pajama pants and a baggy T-shirt would be inappropriate for an attorney or banker, that ensemble not only ensures the necessary ease of movement over long hours spent shifting and slouching in a chair, it also provides the minimum necessary coverage to avoid arrest during excursions to various therapists. (Even for writers working regular hours in an office setting, there is usually a certain sartorial latitude granted in day-to-day practice, as compared to executives, managers or customer-facing staff.)
While there are certainly occasions when a writer should be presentable — say, in court, or at their own funeral — almost everyone agrees that what writers need to be is productive. In that context it seems axiomatic that if your work involves plumbing the depths of your imagination, psyche or intellect, you might have a hard time doing so if your senses are aggrieved. While a compelling need to limit distractions can also lead to compulsive rituals, if not histrionic demands of fellow employees, family members or random citizens — and may be motivated more by procrastination or a morbid fear of failure than any valid grievance — here we are concerned not with mental anguish about fashion but actual physical discomfort. So if you are currently debating whether to wear your new beret at a tilt or dead-level, or whether it might be time to transition to a full-blown dandy, we commend questions of both style and sanity to your personal support community. [ Read more ]
As fate would have it, while I was drafting a post about writers and keyboard comfort an email arrived reminding me that October is buy-one, get-one month for pink Wristies.
If you’re not familiar with Wristies — and most people are not — they are soft glove-like coverings for the wrists and palms, which leave your fingers free to do nifty things like press keyboard keys or buttons on a remote control. And yes that probably sounds like a product of interest only to people who have perpetually cold hands, but I am here to tell you that if you spend a lot of time typing on a computer keyboard you should definitely give Wristies a try. (Also good for working reporters who have to venture outside in colder weather, but leave their fingers free to take copious notes.)
Paying close attention for almost six years to administrative machinations at the university I attended in my youth proved to be perpetually dispiriting, but as a compensating balance I also became aware of the individual academic and educational contributions of members of that community. One such example is a book which was published earlier this year by UI Professor Ed Wasserman, titled, As If By Design: How Creative Behaviors Really Evolve. Situated like a traffic cop at the crossroads between cultural narratives and behavioral evolution, Wasserman’s book not only reveals the concept of a eureka moment to be unfounded in many celebrated instances, but fills in critical context which was excluded over time to bolster the romantic concept of individual inspiration.
Although Wasserman is a professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences, and as such is certainly familiar with statistics and the rigors of the scientific method, his book is accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, if you’re in secondary or undergraduate education, and looking for a text that will not only spur discussion but engage your students, you would be hard-pressed to find a better current example — and that’s particularly true if you are located in Iowa. (There are a number of Iowa-centric examples which will be broadly familiar to residents of the state, yet for those who believe they are in the know that only makes the missing details that much more compelling when Wasserman fills out the story.)
To be clear, you don’t have to be from Iowa to connect with Wasserman’s examples, many of which will be familiar to most Americans. Personally, as an Iowan I found the section on Iowa’s blackout license plates to be both hilarious and absurd, but if I had to pick a favorite vignette it would unquestionably be the section on Florence Nightingale. Although I already knew a great deal about Nightingale’s importance to the practice of medicine and profession of nursing, I knew nothing about her contributions to what we now call data visualization.
In short, an enjoyable and informative read, and an important corrective on the all-too-human tendency to create and celebrate idols.
— Mark Barrett