FISA, FISA, FISA!

Devin Nunes Admits He Didn't See Underlying Intel He Based His Memo on

So, let’s talk Nunes memo for a moment. Dig in, we’re going to go into some detail. Pretend it’s a 500 tweet twitter thread, but you know, actually readable.

Essentially, the point of the memo is that the FBI used a FISA warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump campaign official which Christopher Steele, a British intelligence operative, fingered as a Russian agent.

Steele’s findings have been problematic, because they’re extremely salacious in parts – it being Donald Trump, it describes how, like many other Western tourists, he found Russia a sexual vacation wonderland, and goes into some scatological detail. That is actually a side-show though – the really damning findings are that the Trump team knowingly collaborated with the Russian government, including coordinating leaks of private emails (both the DNC and Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta) through Wikileaks. Carter Page was the conduit of that collaboration.
None of this is proven, it must be said (though Steele has no particular reason to lie about such things and has previous experience in the muck of Russian espionage). What IS known and proven?

ITEM: Carter Page is extremely pro-Russian – he’s lived and worked in Moscow for years, often appears on RT, and has given speeches (in Russia) criticizing the US (for being too hard on Russia). This is on the record – here’s coverage of the speech in question.

ITEM: Both the DNC and Podesta email leaks are credibly sourced to Russian military intelligence. Here is a brief explanation of how that was discovered.

ITEM: Devin Nunes, the head of the house intelligence committee, which is theoretically (VERY theoretically) investigating the above interference in the last election, has instead, ever since the “investigation” began, tried to instead turn it into an investigation of anyone who dares to question Trump’s authority. It’s worth noting that Nunes was also a member of the Trump transition team, in case there’s any doubt of, um, a touch of bias. For example, here’s Nunes, one month after Trump’s election, saying that the REAL crime is that someone leaked to the media that people were investigating things.

ITEM: Nunes’ obsession with raising “what-about-ism” in response to the Russia inquiry became an art form when he briefed the White House about intelligence that would supposedly completely clear Trump’s besmirched good name. In the wake of this rather breathtaking ethical breach, Nunes stepped down from the investigation under duress.

ITEM: A few short weeks later, Nunes un-recused himself, because, apparently, when you have the ethics of a particularly deranged mobster, you can do things like that. He promptly went back to the work the people intended him to do as head of the House Intelligence Committee – finding ways to clear Trump’s name. As part of that he sent staffers to threaten Christopher Steele, because of course the one thing an ex-spy fears more than anything else is an angry Congressional intern.

So now we have the “Nunes memo”. Which, given all the above, I realize this will come as a horrible shock, but Nunes has managed to figure out a way to clear noted Russian apologist/possibly-actual-literal-agent Carter Page, because… the FBI based their reason for putting him under surveillance on Christopher Steele’s reporting. Which is utterly suspect because DEMOCRATS helped pay for it.

Yes. That’s the big reveal.

Nunes is such an incompetent goon, that the Washington Post has, today, a column flaying his character and ethics by Joe Walsh. Yes. The same hard-core talk-radio tea-party Joe Walsh who constantly dunks on liberals on Twitter in lieu of actually being in Congress any more. And Nunes is too much of a goon for JOE WALSH.

But there’s three takeaways from this. Two are obvious.

One: this will be used to fire Rod Rosenstein, and put in a Trump accomplice in his place who will fire Robert Mueller. We know this because Trump is about as subtle as a hyperactive beagle.

Two: the Republicans are complicit in this, because they have no morals or patriotism and are quite willing to literally betray their country in the service of servility.

Three: FISA warrants/surveillance are a violation of our civil rights. They are a thinly veiled Star Chamber that allows the government, on a whim, to monitor the communication of anyone they wish.

But no one cares about that. Including Devin Nunes. When Justin Amash (one of the few Congressmen on the right who has an actual conscience) tried to put limits on FISA surveillance, Devin Nunes called him “al-Qaeda’s best friend in Congress”.

Because consistency is for losers. SAD!

A Brief History of 30 Years of Objectification of Commander Deanna Troi

I’ve always enjoyed this cartoon flaying of Star Trek: The Next Generation (a show I dearly love) which among many other things called out the show for having a character who was a woman who was empathetic towards what other people felt as if she was some sort of SPACE WIZARD.

No photo description available.

Personally, I thought TNG nailed it when during “Chains of Command”, the asshole captain who took over temporarily took one look at her space-wizard outfit and said, “YOU WILL BE IN STANDARD UNIFORM ON MY BRIDGE” and she DID and for the REST OF THE SERIES she did (to the great relief of the actress, Marina Sirtis, who was really tired of having her own space leotard.)

Yet another legacy of Gene Roddenberry (who actually tried to write Ferengi as sex wizards) cast aside. For the better; not only is the character less objectified, but a regular uniform is also far more flattering.

A Brief History of Deanna Troi's Cleavage - The Geek Twins

And by the time Picard arrived to slam nostalgia over all our heads, she finally got to wear whatever the hell she wanted, the secret joy of every veteran.

Star Trek: The Next Generation cast reunites over video chat for Marina  Sirtis' birthday • GEEKSPIN

Let It Go – A Modest Proposal

I gave this presentation as part of a series of microtalks for the Austin IGDA chapter in 2014. Just found it and realized I never posted it here, so enjoy!

I am here to propose a simple heresy for online game developers.
But first, some background.
Online games are really profitable.
They’re not as trendy as they were a few years ago, and there have been some very high profile failures, but still they are very, very profitable.
They are that way for one simple reason – people pay to continue playing.
Sometimes through subscriptions, more often lately through free to play, which means micro transactions, which means the guy killing you with a sword made out of sentient radioactive meat paid for your being there to be killed. With a glowing meat sword.
But when you have people paying every month for the privilege of killing other people with intelligent scimitars made of ham, you no longer have the luxury of making a great game and handing it to someone, and saying “Here. I give this, the boon of my efforts, to you.”
Instead, you have a customer, and a customer who has a monthly expectation of things that you deliver in return for his money, or his being so kind as to be killed by a wealthy patron that gives you, the developer, money for his giant sword of meat.
And one key problem is that online games tend to be a closed loop. After the initial explosion of NEW! SHINY!…
…it’s really hard, and really expensive, to find new customers to replace the ones you lose. And you will lose customers. You’ll lose a lot of customers.
Some people won’t want to ever give you money, simply because telling the Internet your credit card number is not always a good idea.
Some people simply won’t like your game at all and stop playing.
On one game I worked on, our metrics determined that some customers purchased the game in a store (this was how you bought games back in the dark ages), set up an account to play the game, installed it, logged in at least once, got to the character creation screen…
…and said… NOPE. And never got any further. Ever.
But getting new customers to replace the ones you lose is expensive. So the key directive for live teams in online games becomes retention. The prevailing wisdom is that retention is the most cost-effective way of keeping a healthy customer base. Don’t lose people! Keep them as long as possible!
But here’s the thing. People play online games for years. YEARS. There are people still playing Ultima Online that were when it launched.
They have been playing the same game for over 15 years.
Someone played the same game of Civilization II for 10 years and it turned into a, and I quote, a “hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation, where the polar ice caps have melted more than 20 years due to global warming, dozens of nuclear wars have rendered much of the world uninhabitable, and endless warfare makes it impossible to rebuild”.
And that was after 10 years. People have been playing UO for 15.
And after you play a game for years, you get tired of it. That’s normal. That’s expected. You have gotten a lot of return for your investment.  You’ve conquered the commanding heights of the game (because it’s assured that you do, because the secret of success of online games is that it is a simple trade of investment in time for tangible reward). And… you’re done.
And it’s hard for some people to admit that they’re done, after years and years, and it’s even more hard for online game developers to admit that, hey, maybe it’s OK to let people go. Because when people don’t want to admit that they’re done, they’re BITTER.
They grief other players in the game out of boredom, because they’ve DONE everything else.
They’ve gone through all your content, and you can’t make more because most of the team got laid off in cutbacks last year.
They post angry articles on your message board, because they KNOW they know the game better than the developers do. And they usually do. Lord knows they’ve spent more time in the game.
What makes them so bitter is that they WANT to keep playing. They want the game to last forever. They aren’t there for the game any more, though they most of the time won’t want to admit it, or even really know how.
They’re there for the social connections that they’ve made, the raid nights and the guild chat and the time when they all met at a bar in Chicago…

…and did you know RolfSlaughter and AngerManagementIssues got engaged last month after Rolf found out Anger was actually a twenty something young woman that time on voice chat last year?

If you can’t keep them playing and happy, you are responsible for a failed marriage. Well, most likely several thousand but still.
Remember, people are still playing UO 15 years later. They do it because they still enjoy it. Because at this point it’s no longer the developer’s experience, it’s their experience.  It’s the simple joy of the friendships they’ve made, the social compact they’ve formed, the fun that comes from when you buy a cat $100 worth of toys and she plays with the box instead.
It’s OK if the cat plays with the box. It’s OK if players find their own fun.
And they really resent it when that fun train leaves the station, almost always because the guild broke up over the four other guys who had a crush on AngerManagementIssues…
…and when that stops the player is left with the actual game that they got bored with two years ago.
And they’re not happy. But they’re paying you for that actual game. That they don’t really want, any more.
At this point, this is where we tend to fail our customers. We don’t have a GAME OVER screen, because why would we? We like money!
We don’t have an exit strategy for when people are simply done playing. We don’t know how to let people go. We have made vague stabs at trying to increase retention through making guilds attractive, and all that does is make it so guilds have a reason to invite thousands of members and make them useless as social compacts.
We really don’t understand the whole cats playing with a box thing.
We’re used to telling stories and making really nifty experiences, and we aren’t comfortable with stepping back and saying “we’re done. And maybe at this point you’re done, too.”
But at this point I would ask, why are you really here.
Are you here to just make a lot of money? (There are easier ways)
Or are you here because game development is one of the most unique forms of crafting entertainment that exists, and because you want to share that entertainment, that joy, with people.
My simple heresy that I would like to propose for online game development is this: we should be comfortable with customers leaving. For the right reasons, not because we messed up a patch and destroyed all their characters, but because they’ve played the game, they’ve had fun, and they’re done, and ready for our next game.
We have to let people go.
It’s OK to let them go.

Star Trekkin’ Across The Fanboyverse

Star Trekkin’ across the universe,
On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk.
Star Trekkin’ across the universe,
Only going forward, and things are getting worse!

  — “Star Trekkin'”, Dr. Demento

teH tlhInganpu’ pIm!

I *really* like Star Trek. As a kid I watched the original series in endless syndication, went to all the movies when they first came out in the theater. Best memory from that: during “The Undiscovered Country” when Spock made a reference to “his ancestor” and then quoted Sherlock Holmes, at which point a VERY ANGRY fan near me shouted “BUT SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER!!!”

I have some favorites (TNG: “Chains of Command”, “The Inner Light”, ENT: the Surak/Syrannite story arc, almost any random episode of DS9) and some not so much (the first season of TNG, very little of TOS holds up in retrospect, almost the entirety of VOY) but it’s safe enough to say I have enough fanboy credentials that I just wrote the previous paragraph using three letter acronyms for every incarnation of the series without explaining a thing. So, yeah.

I watched the new Star Trek (with the tremendously unfortunate acronym STD) last night. It was… pretty good! I liked it. There were parts where I cringed (mainly the unfortunate new Klingon revamp – it wasn’t necessary, it seemed like change for the sake of change) and parts where I cheered (where the fish-out-of-water first officer raised on Vulcan told the mansplaining Admiral Hologram “hi, race does not imply culture, thank you drive through” and I’m pretty sure every geek of color threw their fist up at that exact moment) but overall… it was Star Trek. Admittedly it was DARK Star Trek. Like, 4th season Deep Space Nine, not happy-go-lucky traipsing-around-the-universe TNG or TOS Trek. This is where Shit Is Going Down And People Are Gonna Die Star Trek. Which is part of the mythos – Star Trek has MULTIPLE wars in its canon. And this explains the beginning of one of the most crucial… the Federation-Klingon war.

Ironically, up until now, the best depiction of that was fan-created – a fan film which CBS (for now very obvious reasons) shut down. It’s worth a look, especially if you’re a Trek fan – it’s done with love for the mythos and the culture, and it fits in the timeline. And watching the first two episodes of Discovery… you can see where it fits in.

(Yes.. that is a fan film. You can see VERY quickly why CBS sued them into not making a full film. It would have been competition with the series.)

But, yes, Discovery, at least for what we’ve seen so far, isn’t “let’s go across the universe and fight crimes and eat sushi” adventures. It’s war and death and consequences. It’s serious. It’s currently on a cliffhanger where it could plausibly just end right there and we’d be… well, yep. Everything is horrible. (I presume it will look up shortly, if for no other reason than that there are about 5 more episodes left in the season.)

But it’s a product of our time. And that is what, I think, offends a lot of people.

First off, it’s not going to be your expectation of a science fiction series. It began with two leads who were women and not white, and apparently that disturbed people. It didn’t disturb actual Trek fans, because in the age of Star Trek we got past judging people based on skin color or orientation or gender or ethnic grouping because FULLY AUTOMATED GAY SPACE COMMUNISM, but hey, clearly in 2017 it apparently still matters. But it shouldn’t, because you had a really strong actress who is going to be the linchpin of the series who is by NO means Gene Roddenberry approved (hint: by the second episode she’s serving a life sentence for mutiny) and you also had Michelle Fucking Yeoh who is, well, Michelle Fucking Yeoh. If you need someone’s arse kicked, she’s there for you, and she was there in this case as well, as someone who really did not WANT to be a warrior but if you’re going to do this, well then, let’s go.

If you are wondering what this has to do with gender or race or anything else, you’re right there with me, because I was just enjoying the show. And it was a good one. Despite the Klingon revamp visually (which I still hate… what can be more fearsome than late-TNG Worf? COME ON, PEOPLE) what I adored and loved was the world-building about the Klingon society and why they went to war with the Federation. I won’t spoil the beats, because there are some good ones and you’ll see them and go “…oh. OK.”.  It’s worth watching for that.

The one thing I WILL spoil is that this series makes the Klingons unapologetically 100% straight up blood and soil ethnic purity racist. That… that has consequence. That has resonance. Given the current climate, it plants a clear stake.  CBS has tried to back away from it, but the story stands for itself. T’kuvmah’s chant is “Make Q’onos Great Again Remain Klingon”. They specifically condemn the Federation for race-mixing. The Klingons are straight-up no-shit unapologetic Space Nazis. And in today’s environment… that is a hell of a statement. It’s not one you can disavow. It has consequences.

This is science fiction at its most relevant. At its most ballsy (to use an unfortunately gendered term). It is taking risks.

And, online, it’s suffering for it.

the main protagonist couldn’t be more unlikable if they had her kill a baby in her first scene

I just want a star trek show about exploration. Is that too much to ask?

I also hate how grim dark the Klingons turned out to be. Yes, they are a scary warrior race, but they also knew how to party.

Here you have a captain who is not in control of an unstable first officer, let alone the ship. Both of whom leave the bridge during a face-off with a known hostile alien race to discuss orders the captain received from Starfleet. That’s not the way it works and it has a terrible impact on a crew.

And the one online comment that set me off and made me literally log off the internet for a day:

Too bad about “Star Trek:Estrogen” though

REALLY. You call yourself a Trek fan, and you’re upset because the leads don’t have a penis. Well, OK then. I’m sure Seth McFarlane has a TV series queued up… oh wait! He does, actually! And… it’s trying to be a serious Trek successor? OK then.

So here’s where I give you a mea culpa. I haven’t actually watched “The Orville”, for the same reason you may not have watched “Star Trek: Discovery”. Specifically, I don’t want to watch the bro-approved Star Trek imitation, which from everything I’m reading is the target audience. I might have tuned in if it was played strictly as a comedy.. but for some crazy reason it isn’t! Apparently McFarlane literally wants to be a Star Trek star, so, well, he is now. There you go. And they’re going to do serious examinations of social issues along with the occasional joke about breasts.

I’m sure I’ll watch an episode or two eventually; people whose opinion I trust in such things have the reaction “it… doesn’t completely suck! My expectations were exceeded!” But I’ll have to get past the MANOSPHERE which fills up every comment thread on the internet about the new Star Trek series with nitpicking to ludicrous extremes to hide the fact that they don’t actually like a black woman being the new Captain Kirk, and ending always with the coda “the REAL new Star Trek is “The Orville”.”

That’s a hell of a thing to make up for. Even without Seth McFarlane.

The Failure of the Status Quo

I’ve been reading Hillary Clinton’s latest this weekend.  It’s quite an interesting read, both for what it says and for how everyone reacts to it.

First, the reaction. There was the insta-reaction, from leaked early copies, that immediately played up where she complained that Bernie Sanders had the temerity to run for office. This was a small part of the book, but her interviews on her book tour this past week indicate it’s not such a small part of her memory. There’s some irony here given the drama at the 2008 Democratic convention, where Clinton played the part of Sanders and “HillaryIs44” played the part of “BernieBros”, but re-litigating the primaries is, again, a very small part of the book.  (After all, there was the small matter of Donald Trump.) A great many reviews from the left side of the aisle have a difficult time getting past this. But I don’t think that’s really the larger point here.

Clinton is, to put it mildly, not particularly happy with the way the general election turned out (neither am I) and some of her rawest writing comes through when The Donald pops up. She points out, justifiably, how howlingly unfair a double standard she was held to, where her every phrase was parsed for meaning, subtext, and emotional honesty while Trump had a difficult time using sentences with vowels. She also points out, to a punishing and accurate degree, how much gender still played a factor in her treatment, both by the media and by the electorate (if nothing else, when a tape is found of a candidate bragging about being a sexual predator and that candidate is still elected, we have a few issues), which contributed to the sense that the entire election was Clinton’s Kobayashi Maru – at every point she was expected not to be the equal of her opponent, but perfect, to the point where a head cold turns into a conspiracy theory.

And yet, her book also makes it very clear how, in the circus of Annus Horribilis 2016, there was no way she could ever win. The Clintons of the 1990s come through many times, in some ways unintentionally (a paragraph about her longtime “housing manager” – aka house servant – is particularly jarring) and in some ways infuriatingly, such as when Clinton comes this close to proposing a Universal Basic Income system for the US based on shared returns from national resources, financial system taxes and carbon tax mandates (it even had a peppy name, “Alaska for America” based on that state’s oil revenue sharing) and then just draws back from the brink because it might be a little much.

What energizes Clinton’s fury, more than anything, is how unfair it all is. She’s the most qualified to be President – that was, literally, the reason she gave for running, and given her eventual opponent, it’s very, very difficult to disagree. Yet it drives so much of her animus with the media (which, she begins to realize, is feeding back and making her path to electoral victory that much narrower) – why don’t they realize that Trump is a joke and she isn’t? Why are they normalizing him? Why are people treating him seriously? Haven’t they listened to her? Haven’t they read her policy papers?

Or, as she put it:

And yet, people did treat him seriously – not a majority, but enough, where it counted – and here we are. Clinton failed. Which, to her credit, she admits, even if she doesn’t quite understand why.

As to why she failed, the answer, as always, depends on who you talk to – if you talk to the hard-core Trump supporters, it was because she was corrupt and Trump somehow wasn’t. (I know. I KNOW.) If you talk to Sanders supporters and points left, it was because she didn’t take risks and embrace full space communism. If you talk to Clinton supporters, it’s because James Comey is an idiot.

The real answer, in my view, is actually closer to space communism than you’d think, but a few points on the curve away – although that might be one of the eventual endings. One of the first writers who I’ve seen describe our current situation clearly is Chris Hayes, the MSNBC commentator who is basically the Lawful Good version of Tucker Carlson. As part of that, he writes decent, well thought out books – one of which is called Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy. His thesis is, essentially, that America relies on a technocratic elite to keep things running – the “adults in the room” – and for the past few decades, well, they’ve been really awful at their job.

Chris Hayes, naturally, notes the irony of his making this argument while being part of that technocratic elite. (A self awareness which for much of the time, sadly, eludes Clinton.) He drills deeper into the causes of this break – income inequality enforcing social separation, a justice system that is clearly different depending on which class you are a member of, and most critically an educational system that is designed solely to produce investment bankers and little else – and it’s hard to argue given the general state of, well, everything in American society.

Another view is from the British film maker Adam Curtis, whose film on the subject, HyperNormalisation, is readily available (and embedded below). It tries, sometimes insanely so, to find a unified theory of everything awful, to the point where Donald Trump and Hafez Assad exist in the same narrative in the 1980s. Yet Curtis’ point, at its core, is the same as Hayes’ – that, as Curtis puts it, the world became too complicated for the elites to understand, let alone run, so they, along with everyone else, retreated into a fantasy world of simplicity while everything around them collapses into chaos.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh2cDKyFdyU

Chaos is not exactly a long-term solution. You can argue, as Clinton does, that the answer is more competence, to tinker with the edges and find common sense solutions – you can argue, as the left does, that the answer is to take steps back from our capitalist system and up-end our society since it’s fairly broken already – or you can argue, as the right does, that the answer is blood and soil.

When everyone’s a revolutionary, what’s a moderate liberal consensus builder to do? This is what I find to be the final takeaway from Clinton’s book. She tries to argue that the Obama promise, the Clinton promise is still there and still valid… that America is still “a good country, with good people,” and that the answers lie in individual responsibility – of course it does; that is the Clinton lodestone. If only everyone could find the bootstraps her housing manager helpfully left by her bedside.