Leadership in Syria

President Obama had an interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes

The following exchange struck me as amazingly delusional.

Steve Kroft: A year ago when we did this interview, there was some saber-rattling between the United States and Russia on the Ukrainian border. Now it’s also going on in Syria. You said a year ago that the United States– America leads. We’re the indispensible nation. Mr. Putin seems to be challenging that leadership.

President Barack Obama: In what way? Let– let’s think about this– let– let–

Steve Kroft: Well, he’s moved troops into Syria, for one. He’s got people on the ground. Two, the Russians are conducting military operations in the Middle East for the first time since World War II–

President Barack Obama: So that’s–

Steve Kroft: –bombing the people– that we are supporting.

President Barack Obama: So that’s leading, Steve? Let me ask you this question. When I came into office, Ukraine was governed by a corrupt ruler who was a stooge of Mr. Putin. Syria was Russia’s only ally in the region. And today, rather than being able to count on their support and maintain the base they had in Syria, which they’ve had for a long time, Mr. Putin now is devoting his own troops, his own military, just to barely hold together by a thread his sole ally. And in Ukraine–

Steve Kroft: He’s challenging your leadership, Mr. President. He’s challenging your leadership–

President Barack Obama: Well Steve, I got to tell you, if you think that running your economy into the ground and having to send troops in in order to prop up your only ally is leadership, then we’ve got a different definition of leadership. My definition of leadership would be leading on climate change, an international accord that potentially we’ll get in Paris. My definition of leadership is mobilizing the entire world community to make sure that Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon. And with respect to the Middle East, we’ve got a 60-country coalition that isn’t suddenly lining up around Russia’s strategy. To the contrary, they are arguing that, in fact, that strategy will not work.

The style of Russian President Vladimir Putin is certainly one that uses more force then politics, but it is leadership regardless. Denying this fundamental fact is incompetence.

Certainly it is not how President Obama would have chosen to led either in method or direction, but it is leadership. Russia is moving the United States out of the airspace and they are dictating their will. This is after the Annexation of Crimea and the ensuing proxy civil war in Ukraine.

I can accept someone who has different values or fundamental positions from me and how this influences their interpretation of events. Applying this to the question of leadership then you can argue it is poor leadership with costs that will not succeed in the end, but it is leadership none the less. This leadership is working right now.

Gun Control

Another gun shooting, another headline, another outcry, and ensuing debate about gun rights/gun control.

Here is the simple and clear way to get a legal gun free America in 5 easy steps.

That is what it will take if you want to do it legally, but instead we have a world of enforced political correctness and trying to convince the public to give away their rights. They prey on the fear and the heartache of those who see the loss of life and think change is the only way. Freedoms come with a cost and burden.

I certainly empathize with those who lost loved ones and those who question how someone could commit such evil, but I fundamentally cannot give up the principle that the 2nd amendment should be protected.

The rhetoric against it has shifted and changed over the years, but it categorically is dismissive or ignorant of the history of the founding of the United States of America.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The Declaration of Independence details the abuses of the British monarchy to the American Colonies and despite the political efforts to address these issues they felt their only recourse was to declare their independence and fight a revolutionary war.

The founding fathers had noble intentions, but they were students of history and recognized change was the only constant. They built a government that could adjust and change, but tried to enshrine protections against the government abusing its citizens. They were not perfect and while they acknowledged issues such as slavery needed to be addressed they could not reach a consensus at the time of signing.

Public citizens (current definition) make up the Militia as needed and if such a time comes when a US government (Federal or State) is despotic and abusive to its citizens and political/legal efforts to address are unsuccessful then the right to revolt exists. Ultimately the contest then becomes one of a contest of might and force.  The US Revolution might have had justice and logic on its side, but if they could not win the war then it would not matter.  The United States Civil War was not lost by the South due to their logic and position on slavery, but due to the military might and power of industry. Belief in their position and swaying the support of third parties can be impacted by your reasoning, but ultimately it is the strategy and military might that decides who was right in the conflict.

I do not advocate a need for revolt today, despite the current litany of problems in our government, but I am not willing to give up my rights when I our descendants might need them in the future. I do this knowing that the risk is people will abuse their rights and hurt their fellow citizens at times. Sometimes the cost and burden of freedom is hard to bear and it can result in much mental and emotional anguish.

People argue that we are a civilized society and do not need guns. With public elections why would we need to worry about dictators?Have we learned nothing about Germany who had elected officials convert their country into the Nazi Regime which abused its own citizens and ultimately focused on the Jewish people by starting with disarmament?

 

Despite that being history we have current examples of expansionist actions of Russia, the religious caliphate of ISIS, and the largely peaceful revolution of Egypt turning into abuses and despotism. The human species fundamentally cannot learn from our history and we will eventually have another Dark Age period of culture and freedom. It is only a matter of time and I have no inclination it will occur during my own lifespan, but it is a guarantee we will falter as the sin of human arrogance or stupidity strikes. When the government fears the public then they ensure they have the consent of the governed. When the public fears the government then there is no freedom.

 

 

Blindspot

One of the new shows in this fall’s TV premiere season that I was looking forward to was Blindspot from NBC. Staring Jaimie Alexander who I recognize from the Thor movies and several guest appearances in Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The premise is that in the middle of Times Square New York a bag is found with a tag to call the FBI. Typical security scare results and they begin to investigate with the bomb squad, but upon investigation there is a naked woman covered in tattoos crawling out of the duffel bag. During interrogation and investigation it is clear the woman has no memory, now named Jane Doe. But since there is a bold tattoo of an FBI agent named Kurt Weller ,introduced by saving multiple female captives from a redneck hillbilly, they must involve him in the question of who this Jane Doe is .  (Heavily reminiscent of “The Blacklist” pilot)

The technical explanation is that there is an experimental/new drug that can be used in limited doses to remove selective memories for PTSD treatment, but Jane Doe has been treated with a massive dose.  Additionally all of her tattoos are freshly inked begging the question of whether she lost her memory before or after.

Comical titillation notes:

  • The first full pan out of the Jane Doe tattoos in Times Square was interesting that her breasts were fully tattooed to ease the censor issues.
  • Facial tattoos are avoided both for better publicity of Jaime Alexander and quality of life for makeup.
  • During the FBI imaging of her tattoos there is a strategically placed pole to hide her butt crack as they do the photos.

The rest of the pilot is her recalling procedural memory (languages, skills, etc) that show her tattoos are important to national security, safety, etc. They stop a bombing of the Statue of Liberty and Jane contributes by magically reading aloud the Chinese tattoo beneath her left ear and proving she is a bad ass by saving a battered wife while instructed to stay put while they investigate a suspect’s apartment. These are just lazy writing in my opinion, but I am willing to acknowledge they might be victims of the 1 hour TV format.

Plot wise Jane Doe has a memory surface while saving FBI agent Kurt Weller that she trained for pistol marksmanship with an unnamed male seen monitoring Jane during the episode and killing the bomber and showing he instigated the action. The final teaser is that she willingly underwent the memory loss with the unnamed killer’s assistance.

Characterization wise you have Jaime Alexander as Jane Doe doing a convincing job of the deer in the headlights look being confused, struggling with memories, and the situation in general. I just hope they avoid the lazy convenient writing that might predicate entirely too easy to have the right memory trigger at the right times for Deus Ex Machina.

Sullivan Stapleton as Kurt Weller feels written decently with skepticism about Jane and her tagging along for their adventures. I just hope this continues and isn’t just immediately passed over since Jane might be a Navy Seal based on a covered up tattoo and her exhibited bad ass skills. Acting wise Sullivan is doing nothing for me in bringing that character to life. Not saying it wrong for the character, but it will feel boring if he continues as the pilot. That burden is on the directors to let him grow.

So while the pilot was largely average and some interesting concepts that interest in my mind is where does it go from here?

It came to no surprise that Jane Doe was involved in the her own memory loss drugging, but the motives are the mystery. Whether she was a Navy Seal or not should be a quick resolution in all practicality. Even if covert the FBI should be able to get that information from the Navy. The question of a tattoo leading to a redacted case file mentioning the name of the FBI task force lead Bethany Mayfair should not be used excuse to let this issue linger. Was this case file something Bethany knows about because she is dirty or new to her in which case the mention of her name should have been redacted as well.

The bomber of the pilot was a setup from her mystery partner to get her in with the FBI and I would hope not to expose Bethany and the redacted case file. The more compelling scenario is that the mystery partner is bad guy and Jane Doe was legitimately her partner in crime (undercover or not). There is a good scene where she is panicked about her loss of memory and the doctor brings her two drinks, coffee and tea, and asks her to try both and decide which she likes. Either she remembers a small thing or she makes new choices and that is how she cares on whether she recovers her memory or not.

I think the captivating scenario will be if she truly was a criminal and instigator of this whole situation up until the memory loss drugging. Instead of carrying out a nefarious plan due to her tattoos she instead stops her own plan because in the absence of her memory she now makes different choices.  Begging the question of Nature versus Nurture personalities. Given a clean slate will Jane Doe become the same person with the same motives or will she make new choices. This gives the show somewhere to go as a character.

Set the foundation and eventually Jane discovers that the mastermind behind all of the bad things she is trying to stop is herself. The internal struggle to rationalize who she is now with who she was then and the breaking of the trust she grows with her FBI colleagues. It is a revelation that needs to have impact.

But then following this is the exploration of whether the knowledge of her past will impact her future since the blank slate is gone. Will she revert back to her pre wipe past personality or will she hold to her post wipe savior?

The longevity is questionable, but I dearly hope the formula is not procedural with a tattoo/case each week but I suspect this will be the case.  It has potential, but it might instead be relegated to Netflix binge watching once a season finishes instead of weekly following and that runs the risk of cancellation due to lack of interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas scare over clock

Lots of outrage one way or another about the Texas high school student Ahmed Mohamed who brought a “home made” clock to school which was confused as a bomb leading to an arrest and suspension.

Photo released by Irving Police Department:

From a technical standpoint there really isn’t anything there to make it look like an explosive device, but in all honesty I cannot fault a teacher needing to make a decision that it does arguably look like a timing device. Reporting it to the principal/administrator for further review is an appropriate course of action.

I can even defend detainment if they felt police should be involved to determine if there was any risk to the public, but arrest is overblown for this situation.

What caused this over reaction? Zero tolerance in schools.

Instead of actually bothering to use our intelligent minds that schools should be focusing on teaching out to use critical thinking we are instead confined to locations that train you to regurgitate information and methods to pass standardized tests. Standardized tests are not the problem, but we have fundamentally lost focus of the old English proverb: “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

Racial/Religious Outrage

People trying to claim this over reaction was due to his ethnicity or religion based on name is absurd. Were a student of any other skin color or religion to do the same they would suffer the same over reaction because schools can’t think themselves.

How do I know this with a certainty? Because as a white male high school student I would have been treated the exact same. I was in fact when I was caught using school computers in a computer lab to play video games during lunch time. No threats occurred to the public and no physical harm to the equipment. Simply put I was doing something I was not supposed to do, but it resulted in a 3 day in school suspension due to use of computer technology and zero tolerance idiocy of adherence to a policy they don’t even understand.

Debunking the clock as fraud

Now people are making claims that the “home made” clock is anything but based on the release of the photo.

There is much factual basis for the assertions made there since you are dealing with printed circuit boards and 120 VAC power supply that just would not be found a strict “home made” build .  This short video looks very familiar to the police photo.

I will not however go as far to say it was for publicity reasons or nefarious purposes to create a panic intentionally. It is theoretically plausible that the student’s parents either had access to raw materials or they intentionally disassembled a store bought clock for the student to re-assemble.

The moral of the story is that bringing an item like this to school is something that you can do, but not the smartest choice. There should be some learning involved to understand the risk of misunderstands in a public space that does have to deal with terrorism. It is a situation that teaches maturity, but one that should not have any permanent consequences.

The political correctness however is sending the wrong message by idolizing this student and the outcry over the punishment. I can agree the punishment is overblown simply due to their zero tolerance, not due to any racial or religious reasons.

There is a very strong risk that this student or others watching will get the idea that creating publicity and renown for in effect doing nothing special will be rewarded with fame and success. The only due rewards for this action is a life lesson, opportunity to show/grow character, and gain some maturity. I hope the child learns fast that everything else that is happening is people trying to use him and the situation for their benefit, not out of genuine care of concern.

Destiny: The Taken King

I picked up Destiny last year and enjoyed the game play, missions, pvp, and unique character classes. There was many complaints about story and bashing of Peter Dinklage’s voice over work. Personally I had no problems with the ghost voice over, but acknowledge the story was paper thin however not surprising with it coming from Bungie who created Halo.

The problem was I generally soloed the game and once you reached max level you had a horrible grind to raise your convoluted light level by getting better gear and your heart break when you get the elusive legendary engram and get a horrible piece of green or blue gear. This insanity lead to poor game play choices like loot cave farming of low level mobs with high frequency to just get more rolls against the loot lottery.  Like many I stopped playing and got distracted to other games and other activities. I dabbled a bit but never really toyed with the DLC expansions until the Taken King was announced at E3 2015.

June of 2015 I took a break from World of Warcraft and started Destiny again and with the new content and improvements I grabbed the DLC packs to give them a try. The new strikes  were interesting and the new factions improved little user friendliness with allowing you to continue to gain faction levels.  The only complaint was that the leveling zones had high level content mixed in to surprise you until you learned to avoid them. Even once you get max level of 20 you were locked out until you could get higher light level. The only saving grace was that there really was no penalty for death.

With the release of the Taken King they improved quite a bit of the game. The leveling system was changed to be straight xp from level 20 to 40, however the light system was not removed despite being hugely improved in combination with the loot system changes. Light was changed from an esoteric number to get different levels to a easily understandable numerical average of gear’s attack or defense value. Additionally artifacts and ghost slots were added to contribute to this allowing more opportunities for decent drops.

The loot lottery was improved by allowing blue gear to drop with higher attack or defense values then your legendary or exotic however you now have an opportunity to keep your favorite gear by infusing the gear by consuming a higher attack or defense level item.  On top of that the engrams have improved drops and usually they are useful. It is still RNG based so I have had the situation of three primary weapon engrams turn into three motes of light when I desperately needed a primary weapon upgrade. The level of gear you get is largely dependent on your current light level when decrypting (Some low level quests dropping engrams will give low level items). Doing patrol duty and gathering a significant amount of engrams you can actually see the improvement of your light level jump up 5-10 levels depending on luck.  So tip to the wise even if you don’t want to use the item save it for decryption and do one item at a time if you have upgrades equip them and then decrypt the next piece.

There are other quality of life improvements with abandoned quest kiosk, shader kiosk, speeder or ship kiosks, and exotic kiosks. Once you have earned the item you can either purchase it again or equip it and allow you to keep your inventory cleaner and out of your storage vault. The gunsmith is a new faction that allows you to get new weapons as part of the armsday to fill some gap in your load out options. The pvp factions are now changed to earn at half the rate of your main vanguard or crucible faction at the same time as the main faction. Some of these have costs such as exotic shards to get the exotics. You even have an option to upgrade certain exotic weapons into year 2 values. Quests can be tracked now and there is larger quest quantities as well as bounty storage.

The main quest story is relatively quick with only 8 missions, but they are improved with better character voice over work by Cayde-6 (“Nathan Fillion”) that is very reminiscent of Mal Reynolds of Firefly. Despite a short main story quest the content continues with new quests to keep you doing things for the vanguard, Crota’s Bane faction, and Queen’s Wrath faction. The new strikes have some new mechanics and fun areas to explore. Since the expansion is new and folks are new to the strikes if you are using random matchmaking the abandon rate can be annoying. Worse so in Heroic Vanguard Strikes and some missions are worse then others despite proper light level values. The Restorative Mind mission with relic running and a light wall that moves you around a ring can be brutal when the rest of the strike team dies once the light wall begins automatically moving at the end of the fight.

Not sure I will ever touch a raid in Destiny, but I will acknowledge the design done in those fights. Nightfall strikes as well are pretty brutal if you try to solo this and I think I might never do it alone, but at least I do not feel completely punished for not completing it with the new loot grinding. It feels more prestige then required.  I really haven’t done much PVP yet, but I think I will get more into it this time around.

How long Destiny: The Taken King lasts is a good question but the improvements feel like it has more longevity as I play the other classes and get the new archetypes. So far focusing on the Warlock and having fun being the Palpatine lighting thrower. If you enjoyed the game at release but got bored there is quite a bit for you to enjoy.

Mad Max Fury Road

Never saw it in theater and finally sat down to watch Mad Max Fury Road. A pretty good movie and I do echo the frequent comments about physical effects being superior to the computer generated graphics that is so predominant. Obviously there is a mix of both in the movie, but there is enough that avoids the uncanny valley that is always so hard to escape with CGI.

I doubt I have ever really understood the story of Mad Max other then he being a bad ass who doesn’t know how to not help the innocents. He is one that doesn’t know how to forgive himself for his failures.

The criticism of it just being a single chase scene is accurate, but still enjoyable. There is more to it, but that was a script/directorial decision on the nature of the movie they wanted to make.  It knows its audience and what the market was looking for at the time.

My geek moment was recognizing Melissa Jaffer as the Keeper of the Seeds which was a great role for her after her stint on Farscape as the nutty Utu-Noranti Pralatong. Great casting and fit for the post apocalypse world.

First real 5k achieved

This weekend on my own I jogged 5 kilometers in less then 32 minutes. This is a milestone since I have only seriously being focusing on running since memorial day.  Did a 5k in April and this was not fully run, next one is in September.

The focus was health and weight loss (22 pounds in three months), but I struggle to remind myself that it is not so much about weight and do this by focusing on strength and stamina by improved distance or speed.

There are certainly other things that aren’t going as well in life as my running, but this is more then likely me just being too hard on myself and being able to nitpick entirely too accurately on all faults. So while life is not perfect it is time to celebrate the fact that without any prompting and only self motivation what I thought was going to be a struggle is now an achieved milestone.  Celebrate the victory when ever you can.

Armada by Ernest Cline

The followup of the seminal Ready Player One is the next book from Ernest Cline. Echoing the vibes of “The Last Starfighter”, but with much less aliens.

Shockingly the book is much shorter and less geek chic as Ready Player One was. Some of this feels like it is trying to keep the pace moving to avoid too much though into the plot to avoid spoilers on the finale. The universe is left open for a follow up, but the story is complete in itself.

It just needed more fleshing out such as in the realm of science or the 1980’s era call backs to feel like a spiritual sequel to Ready Player One, but instead feels like an average follow up attempt. Heck even varying the perspective and using some of the other characters could have added to the length and been a departure from formula that adds depth to the story.

It was average and not nearly as moving as Ready Player One, but it was an enjoyable read.

3 out of 5.

Everquest 2: Time-Locked Expansion

2004 was an odd confluence of games for the Massive Multiplayer Online Game user. In the fall of 2004 I was actively playing Everquest after having retired and returning. Found a new guild who was excited about Everquest 2 and it had my attention more so then the other game on the radar World of Warcraft. I also had my older game friends who I did fun stuff with 1-2 times a week.

At the release of Everquest 2 I was splitting time between Everquest and Everquest 2. I played enough to get a late 20’s or early 30’s Inquisitor and then the grind wore on me and some of the early game bugs detracted from my enjoyment.

Shortly after the release of World of Warcraft I picked that up and the great server migration games of login queues.

Long story short I dabbled in both games and by the same time the next year I was back into the Everquest max level raiding pretty hardcore.

It was not until the impending release of Wrath of the Lich King that I actually got hooked into World of Warcraft and the raiding scene that lasted until Cataclysm and the release of Dragon Soul when my work required me to move cross country and give up guild and raid leadership.

Variously through the years I have tried to play Everquest 2 and gotten a high level of 35, but never really felt the hook because it was so lonely in the leveling zones. I was also confused on what released when and how the game progressed.

I heard of the original Everquest Ragefire server which was classic Everquest server. There was entirely too much rose colored glasses for me to seriously consider going back and trying to pick this up.

While I had not heard much about it I learned after the fact that they did a similar server set on Everquest 2 where each expansion is released based on a vote by the player base.  I enabled my subscription to access the progression server and I am honestly surprised how much the game is interesting me. The game feels new to  me and I do not feel overwhelmed by the game content because it is released over time. There are tons of players and interest on the single server. Some of the original annoyances are removed in favor of player convenience.

Longevity might be an issue, but right now it is fun and really giving me the Evercrack feelings. There is challenge and actual fun to the gameplay. Taking my time through it all and enjoying the quests and content.

 

Planned Parenthood

With the litany of undercover videos coming out about Planned Parenthood I think I will discuss my philosophy on Abortion in general and the specifics of the discussion of fetal remains for research.

I think that at the moment of conception you have a unique genetic code of an individual. That genetic combination could potentially be the next Einstein or the next Hitler, but honestly I think the larger defining factor will be the nurturing of the child and their life experiences. That is where Life begins and an abortion could result in that unique genetic code ever being reached again.

Additionally I think that abortion should be avoided as much as possible through responsible family planning. So while I would advise against abortion as much as possible I recognize that is my personal opinion and that only goes as far as my own body.

A pregnant woman has different priorities and rights and could reach different decisions or philosophies. While I vehemently oppose the Roe v. Wade for how it was accomplished by creating rights out of thin air instead of the constitution the actual outcome of abortion being legal I can actually support. I believe that the decision is one that needs to be reached between the family and their doctor. If there was a severe situation such as rape, incest, or life threatening conditions. Each family might have a different outcome and some mothers might value the life of their child over their own and others feel the opposite.

So each family needs to find the medical practitioner that offers the choices they want to have available to them. However that medical practitioner should not have a financial benefit to influence your decisions where that decision could end in a life.

Planned Parenthood has certainly failed to avoid the perceived conflict of interest in the situation of Abortion. Despite a law making it illegal to profit from the remains of abortions they were so inept that they cannot properly document their fetal remains and accounting for the “refunding” of transporting the remains to researchers. The lack of competence convinces me that Planned Parenthood is unable to effectively implement a “Chinese Wall” to separate the medical advise to the patients with those who perform the abortions. Even if a such a separation existed if the individuals performing the abortion change their procedure at the risk of the patient in order to harvest viable organs from the fetal remains.

The conflict of interest is so compelling I can support the efforts to suspend funding to Planned Parenthood (temporarily) until they can be investigated. If the evidence proves they are illegally violating federal law then I would transition that support to permanently remove federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Though if that occurs I would support transitioning the funding they are receiving to other institutions that can follow the laws as written.

Conversely if the evidence shows there was not criminal action funding for non abortion activities could be restored if proper oversight keeps them separate. If Planned Parenthood actually commits to reforms to resolve this perception then with the proper oversight I could even see the funding restored, but their current public relations campaigns make this seem very unlikely.