Author Archives: Confutus

About Confutus

I am a native and resident of Arizona who doesn't thaw out until it hits 90 degrees. I call myself a self-educating generalist and my lifetime goal is to slowly and methodically learn everything. For fun, I read Science Fiction and Fantasy, and sometimes attempt writing it, although I occasionally foray into westerns, mysteries, romances, and thrillers. I'm working on writing the SF. I'm a politically conservative Mormon. I have two adult boys and a friendly ex-wife who live up north. I'm a somewhat unconventional creature of boring habit who occasionally makes unexpected sideways leaps into something different.

A thing or two

I have seen this quote fairly often of late.

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” C. S. Lewis. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and
Ethics.

I know a thing or two about living under that kind of tyranny. I was raised in a domestic version, and dealt with many another who has attempted the methods of punishment, belittlement, and persecution to compel me to do things, ostensibly for my own good. I know about whipping, shaming, insults and name-calling, and threats, and about being hectored, bullyragged, and ostracised. Without going into a great deal more of personal experience and hardship and how I learned it, I have learned a thing or two about how to resist that kind.

The first thing to realize is that those who act in this way are not principally motivated by your good. They are more often interested in their own, and recognizing what their self-interest is, when they are so assiduously pretending an interest in your welfare, or that of others is a key part of effective resistance. They may not even consciously realize what their interest really is.

Second is a recognition that since their methods don’t work on you, returning the same on them won’t work on them, either. Kindness is more powerful than cruelty, truth is more powerful than lies, knowledge beats ignorance, reality beats pretense, and patience beats haste.

The third is that it takes courage to stand your ground. Anyone can throw a return punch, but only a strong man, or woman, can take a beating to accomplish a higher purpose. If you have that higher purpose firmly in mind, you can be bedrock solid and no one will have power over you without your consent.

The Queen’s Gambit

This is a review of and personal reaction to the recently popular limited series that has been shown on Netflix, “The Queen’s Gambit”.

At one time I participated in a couple of chess tournaments and associated with the BYU chess club, so I am familiar with the game. Seeing a series about a chess player captivated my interest, so I watched it. Binge-watched it, in fact, three times and have since watched several series of review-and-reaction videos, and other commentary from participants. It caught my interest like few other shows have ever done. I’ll try to provide as few spoilers as possible.

“The Queen’s Gambit”, based on the book by Walter Tevis, portrays a female orphan chess prodigy who rises to compete at the highest levels of tournament chess, and with the World Champion, in the 1960s.

But, as the director and lead actress have both stated, it isn’t really about chess. It’s about the personal struggles of the main character, Elizabeth (or, as she prefers to be called, Beth) Harmon.

To cover my bases, I’ll first register my criticisms. First, obviously, this is a work of fiction…no such person really existed. However, she appears to be somewhat based on or inspired by Bobby Fischer, who was active during the same period covered by the series, and there are some notable parallels. Second, the chess world was and still is dominated by male players, and the series appears to underplay the discrimination and sexism that existed (and still do), in the world of serious chess competition. Positive relations with her various defeated opponents are seldom as good as they were for her. Third, Beth is portrayed as dealing with the problems of tranquilizer abuse and alcoholism, and I believe both the effect on her chess play and the difficulty in overcoming them are also underplayed. Fourth, her victories come a little more easily than is realistic. More losses and more draws would be normal. The earnings she gets from winning tournaments seen to be unrealistically high. Fifth, this is not a series for those who have serious objections to portrayals of profanity, drug or alcohol abuse, or sexual promiscuity. She has sexual relations with three different men, without being married to any of them and a near encounter with another. There is some nudity (none of it full) and more is implied than actually shown. There is a swimming pool scene and a couple of drunken romps in her underwear. Christianity is not portrayed positively, although the pretensions versus the reality of the orphanage where she was raised from age nine to fifteen make that understandable.

On the positive side, Beth is portrayed as a chess prodigy, and her various abilities, notably the ability to recall and play entire games in her mind without seeing the chessboard, are actually not uncommon among highly-ranked players. I have not read the book it is based on, but those who have report remarkable fidelity, although with a few changes. The series benefited significantly from the advice of Bruce Pandolfini, a noted teacher who was portrayed in “Searching for Bobby Fisher” and from the assistance of grandmaster and former world champion Gary Kasparov, who took great pains to be sure that the chess was accurate and correct. From the chess sets, boards, and clocks, through the actual moves, positions, and games, (all the games were real from start to finish though none was shown in its entirety) to the settings and conduct of tournaments and adjournments, and on to the characterization of American, European, and Soviet chess and chess players, all were made as realistic as possible for the period. (Kasparov was actually offered the role of the world champion in the series but declined.) There are a few errors, but overall, it was very well done. The cinematography was excellent and the costumes lovely. Combined with the acting and musical score, it portrayed the intense internal excitement and passion (although not the speed…) of a chess match with high fidelity.

Even though the chess was as accurate as possible, the major focus was not on the board, but on the players. Beth was principally played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who reported that she would memorize the moves of a game just before shooting and treat them as choreography for her fingers, rather than try to play out a game with full understanding of what was going on, which to me is as remarkable a feat of memory as anything her character could do over the board.

But since this series is more about the human struggle than the chess, let me move on with four more reasons I enjoyed it. First, although Harmon is naturally gifted, she does not succeed without adding hard work and dedication. She accumulates a library of chess books and uses it. At one point, she drops a mention of needing to study eight hours a day, which is reasonable for a professional. She can only go so far on her own talents. Two of her former competitors turned coaches insist that she needs to study yet more if wants to defeat the World Champion. To her credit, she does the work.

Second, as her first teacher observes at one point, her gift comes with a cost, the other side of the same coin. Although he doesn’t specify what that cost is, it is evident that she has difficulty fitting in with society. She is introverted, uncommunicative, likes being alone, goes through a period of being teased about her clothes, and has few people she can trust. Distinct from her talent for chess, she is highly intelligent and observant, and has some of the impatience and tendency to make uncomfortably pointed observations that often come with it. Her obsession with chess interferes badly with her social adjustment. She observes that the chessboard is a limited world with rules she understands, where she can feel safe and in control, where if she is hurt, she has only herself to blame. There are reasons for her use of pills and alcohol, although they do have a serious downside. That rings true. While I don’t have identical gifts, I do have some that are at times burdensome. While I don’t have problems with pills or alcohol, I have weaknesses and dysfunctional behavior that appears to be driven by similar things. There are reasons why genius and madness are so often linked.

Third, she does not succeed without help. From a loving but mentally unstable birth mother, through the janitor who taught her the game, to her best friend in the orphanage, to her adoptive mother, to her fellow players and former competitors who become her coaches, at critical opponents she is is helped along the way, through various and severe losses, disappointments, and setbacks.

And, finally… spoiler alert… she wins. Not only does she ultimately give up the drugs and alcohol, but she wins on the chessboard, too. As Beth would say, it’s beautiful.

Another start

I have been giving most of my attention to ancient history, but in my overall development scheme, I have decided to return to recent and current events.

New Year’s Day is often a time for a fresh start. In my Knowledge Base, it signals not only a new month, quarter, and year, but a new 5 year period, and a new 20 year period. I have so far considered the early 21st century (2001 to 2020) as part of the 20th century, but the early mid 21st century is beginning, which is my signal to begin considering the 21st century in its own right, separate from the 20th.

For the early 21st century, I have a summary of current major world leaders, but have not yet identified the most important events, and need to look more closely at the periods. The late 2010s, including the last 5 years, are in a similar state.

I want to examine the United States more closely, but I am still lacking summaries of the most recent events in sufficient detail. More detailed analysis of social changes and types is still lacking. Although most attention is given in my news summaries to political events, I am trying to give more weight to religion.

For entertainment purposes in the past few months, I have been reading a mixture of fantasy and romantic suspense. I intend to slow down and work on my own fiction.

For gaming, I was playing The Sims 4 for a while but have switched to Elite: Dangerous, and have an exploration and development program in progress.

I have recently watched “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix. This has become one of my personal favorites. As the director and leading actress both observed, this is not so much about chess as it is a human struggle. I do play chess and have competed in a few tournaments, and followed it for a number of years. I am no Beth Harmon or any other chess prodigy, although I am still trying to improve my game. I don’t have issues of being an orphan or of alcohol or drug abuse, but I do have my own personal issues which have led me to recognize the kind of obsession and isolation that she struggles with in the series.

For various reasons, I am resuming a program of personal organization that I began last year and more and more or less gave up on. I’m starting to review it and pick it back up again.

Moving ahead

I decided to backtrack for a while, working in prehistory and early antiquity. At present I am working in early classical times. This is being connected to the 16th century. In the Middle east, I have references to Egypt and Persia, although by the 3rd century BC Egypt was increasingly under foreign rule. In Europe, I have references to Balkan, Latin, and Germanic peoples, which gives something of a framework for studies of classical antiquity. I also have references to pagan religion, with developing references to Asian religion, which will be useful when I go into more detail in India and Persia. Particular governments and government activity are also connected, although not yet well applied.

State of the investigation

I have been repeatedly working in the earlier periods of antiquity. The 20th century is now connected to the centuries of antiquity, although the historical development of archaeology in the century is too large a subject to handle easily. The 19th century is being connected, and during this period, Middle Eastern archaeology began to develop, whereas it had previously mostly been limited to Europe. I have taken information from the earlier (web) version of my Knowledge base to extend the history of Egypt back to the 30th century BC. I am working on Mesopotamian history as relevant, although since this has had less influence on modern history, I have a long way to go back from the 19th century. Middle Eastern cities are reasonably well connected. and I am connecting South Asian cities. I have Oriental peoples connected most of the way through antiquity, and I am now working on connecting Central Asian peoples. Balkan peoples are now connected most of the way through antiquity, and I am working on connecting Latin peoples. Although Balkan cities are not presently large enough to include in my city list, they were more important anciently and are being connected. Once the South Asian cities are sufficiently connected back, I should be able to resume attention to social change and types.

For particular religions, I am focusing on connecting Pagan religion through classical and medieval times. and the general topic of religious belief through antiquity. A more detailed study of religion may come when I have more specific nations and cities to considered. The topic of particular governments is well connected through antiquity, and government activity is being connected. The more detailed study of government will also come when I have more specific nations and cities.

Catching up

Most recently I have been doing a review of modern history, and connecting more specific and smaller nations to it. I have also done a similar review of the 16th century. For the specific periods of the 16th century, I have not progressed much beyond the Ottoman Empire and Egypt. Although European exploration of the world was progressing, I don’t yet have details of specific nations. I have been doing more with connecting peoples to cities, and areas of social mechanics, and particularly to Abrahamic religion.

Another pass

I started this one in the early 2nd millennium BC, and I have worked so far up to early medieval history. Going this far back has put new emphasis on Persian peoples as a division of Middle Eastern peoples, and on Balkan peoples in Western Civilization. Persia proper, or Iran, will start to get better connected: I don’t yet have specifics much further back than the 1979 Iranian revolution, but this will definitely fill out some big gaps in Middle Eastern history. I have long been wanting to get Latin peoples back as far as the Roman empire, and that’s finally happening. Getting more of Germanic peoples back through medieval times will also be helpful.

Too much information

By the time I get to the early 21st century, I now have enough nations and enough information on the government leaders in this period that it is difficult to get a clear picture of what has been going on. This is more comprehensible when I break it down into 5-year periods. Such things as the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the George W. Bush administration, and the current leadership of Spain, Germany, and Egypt are beginning to appear. I am presently working on year-by-year accounts for the last 10 years, although these don’t have a lot of detail yet.

More 17th century

After another pass through history, I have an outline of the Ottoman empire from the beginning; at least the names of the Sultans. Tying this to the Seljuq Turks and the Byzantine empire of the late medieval period will take another pass. This has connections to Persian peoples, which are also not yet well developed. Egypt was at least nominally under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. I don’t yet have details of Western Civilization, although these are starting to develop. In particular, Balkan peoples were more prominent and important in early modern times than they became in the 20th century.

Ottoman Empire

After finishing a round with the mid 20th century, I have gone back to developing the early modern times. In the 17th century, probable the dominant nation in the world was the Ottoman Empire. It had far-reaching effects and relations with Germanic peoples, Balkan peoples, and Northeast European peoples, and throughout the Middle East, into Central Asia and South Asia, and I will be continuing to examine it future periods.