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Six January Plus a Year

A year later, what can be said, except that not enough has been done.

Our government exists to protect our lands and our lives, and to see that we have a say in how that happens, in how our collective efforts bring us to a better future of prosperity. We make our voices heard, and that result is felt in the next stent of government at which point we adjust. And we repeat this every few years, in order that our nation may find its way forward in a complex world.

A year ago some Donald John Trump supporters decided America was theirs for the taking, that they didn’t give a rat’s ass what we thought. Led by Donald John Trump, they embarked on a campaign of lies and noise that culminated on 6 January, 2021, when they sought to steal our government and our law, to pervert it for their own preferences.

But behind them was a larger movement all focused on the same outcome through different methods. Their lying began well before the 2020 election, and they kept lying in all kinds of venues including courts and on all modern forms of media. And some are lying even today! They had no evidence, no real claim, but the design didn’t require either of those things. They at the top of the orgy of authoritarianism seek power through whatever means available, with the caveat that they don’t want to face consequences when they fail (which precludes only a few methods).

The party that shelters this element has repeatedly refused to take a stand or kick them out. Wyoming’s Republican party kicked out Representative Liz Cheney for her efforts to uphold American values. Several state party election officials have held meetings with liars where they say the state’s election was straight, even as the liar says otherwise. Other states have held bogus audits that still failed to deliver evidence as they invalidated the voting machines.

Those seeking Republican nominations, including for offices that administer elections, have voiced their zeal for the lies, portraying themselves as pliant servants of the devilry it represents. They say they will not certify valid elections that oppose the liars. They pass laws, and call for more to be done, to thwart legitimate electors from voting, and from allowing the result to stand, in order to suppress their political opponents.

The impeachment that followed the Capitol attack fell flat, with no new evidence, no testimony, and with a rush to move on, particularly by the Republican caucus of the Senate that had already stalled it while they retained the majority. The federal government is prosecuting the attackers, but as yet no charges for those who egged them on, who brought the mob. And the responsible parties continue to delay, if not defeat, any real accountability.


One year on, we haven’t seen real consequences for the liars, and we don’t see much reason to hope that they will come. For the briefest of moments, a year ago, after the attack, some prominent Republicans spoke as if they would finally return to reality even as others voted to remain in Delusionville. Only a few stayed in reality, most have returned to the land of filth and crud that is inaccessible to those of us with clear minds.

If Democrats and sane Republicans, along with businesses that want a real government more than tin-pot tax cuts (where’s the polling on that?), cannot act to put down this rebellion of the deluded, something besides the Republican party is certainly broken, and likely irrevocably so.

We do still have hope. Our hope is our ability to sift truth out of lies. That we will support those who seek to strengthen democracy, seek to build a better world for all, and we will reject them that won’t. In this division, we are fallible but determined. And over time we will get it right enough that good will prevail. The clock is ticking.

Mario, Psychology, and Design

Spoiler: sometimes a brick actually holds ten coins (if you can jump fast enough).

Super Mario Brothers makes use of something akin to a random reinforcement schedule in order to add to the fun of the game. It’s not a true random reinforcement, as the rewards are the same from game to game, baked in to the levels. But to the new player, these choices feel like a random reward.

The first level, known as one-dash-one (1-1, some pronounce it one-one), features these elements early on. The first set of above-your-head blocks include bricks and question-mark blocks. It’s natural as you start to feel your way into the game to try jumping around, and you’ll jump into the bricks and blocks, if only by accident. You’re rewarded for jumping with coins, or perhaps a mushroom pops out. You happen to touch the mushroom and become super. You jump some more, collide with an overhead brick, and it breaks!

As you move through the level, you want to hit these blocks. You’ve learned the simple and rewarding task that makes up one of the core mechanics of the game.

Harder to discover elements remain. First is pipes. you come to your first pipe only slightly past your first blocks. It’s bigger than you! Perhaps you can go inside it? If you can, it’s not obvious how. You tried pressing down (), but it did not do. Oh well. You carry on jumping over or on enemies, on to the next pipes, trying to go inside. The fourth pipe, you can go down!

Most people saw others play first, learned that some pipes are enterable that way. The entering of pipes isn’t as obvious as hitting blocks by jumping up into them. The designers tried to make it more obvious by making the pipes bigger than you, suggesting something your character could crawl into. After you complete 1-1, you’d see your character enter a pipe to get to 1-2, which might make you try entering pipes. In later levels you would see piranha plants—something like venus fly traps—come out of pipes, another possible late hint.

The others are slightly more discoverable, perhaps: there are bricks that act as question-mark blocks, and there are invisible question-mark blocks. By getting in the habit of busting bricks, players would eventually find the secret that some bricks aren’t mere bricks. And by jumping around in random places, one could discover that some hidden blocks lurk in the air. (There aren’t many hidden blocks in Super Mario Brothers, but they still add to the effect of pseudorandom reinforcement.)

(Later iterations of the Mario franchise would expand on these elements with other block types, checkpoints, doors, end-of-level-roulette, and more.)


The first level teaches you to play, an enduring and outright essential feature in gaming. But it doesn’t only teach you how to play Mario, it teaches you how to play video games in general. It says that gaming is a world where sometimes things work a little weird, seem a little random. It’s an experience you have to experiment with. Try jumping into things. Try pressing down on top of pipes.

But it also gives you that reinforcement, that feeling of reward, for trying things out. While many games lean heavily on combat—killing enemies and beating the game, Mario includes these other reinforcement options as well:

  • Finding which blocks and pipes contain what.
  • Coin collecting (numismatism).
  • High scores.
  • Best times.

These extra dimensions add something to the game, particularly because they reinforce your effort. They make you want to do better. Without reinforcement, animals including humans wouldn’t learn, I’m sorry to say. When you bump into one of those blocks on 1-1, you’ve learned something. This is known as the law of effect (Wikipedia: “Law of effect”), which basically says that things that have positive effects we (being those with averagely-wired brains) want to repeat (and, by extension, those with negative effects, we seek to avoid).

There are several kinds of learning here:

  • Action–reaction mapping, where we discover some action has (probably) some result.
  • We learn what games are like (so that in other games we will check for invisible blocks)
  • We learn that there are tradeoffs in game design, that breaking some design rules makes gameplay stronger

In the last case, the designers could have made pipes indicate which were enterable or not. They could have avoided having bricks that give coins. But they wanted it to be a surprise. Normally that’s bad design, to have two things look identical but behave differently. Does it get a pass because it’s in a game? For some players it does. It frustrates some players, but for most of us it’s a game. The game world has different rules that makes it okay to a point.

The point where things break down is if there’s too much inconsistency, too much incoherence. Even there, some players would still go along. But most wouldn’t. There has to be logic in the departures, and it needs to be limited in number. You can’t keep adding more breaks in the game reality, where some koopas grant powerups, some fireflowers are poison, some platforms are really pits, and some bricks are secret flagpoles.

There wouldn’t be a game left, if on every level there were no rules to depend on.

It’s Christmas 2021.

Glad to see what can be made of 2022 and to place 2021 in the closed books of the past.

This being the final post of 2021, and also coming on Christmas day, here’s hoping you’re having a quiet holiday of cheer and relaxation. And here’s a wish that your 2022 will be better than your 2021 has been.

Often in life we find ourselves both moving and standing still at once. We like to feel busy, to feel the ground moving away, to glance back and see how far we’ve come, but the perspective of the mountain ahead often makes us feel we’re getting nowhere.

A pandemic amplifies the effect. It seems as though every day there’s a new challenge or an old one has come back. But the end of the year is a reminder things weren’t always this way. That things do change. As sure as there was a before to the pandemic, and to a million other pests that crop up, there will be an after.

So ring in the new year! Change, change! Change that final digit to one more! Another step up the ladder toward infinity, perhaps.

See you in 2022.