Friday, January 9, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: +1!

Yeah, yeah.  I know what you're thinking, and it's true.  I haven't got five things this week.  I've got six.  Unfortunately, "Six Things on a Friday" doesn't have the same kind of alliteration.

In 1794 when the commerce of the United States was threatened by “the depradations” of the Barbary pirates, Congress created a Navy. And it sent the Marines to fight our country’s battles on “the Shores of Tripoli.” Today U.S. commerce is threatened by digital Barbary pirates.
The most sophisticated companies with every incentive to protect their crown jewels—intellectual property, confidential business information or customer records—are being ransacked and held hostage by cyberterrorists, state-sponsored hackers and highly effective organized cybercriminals. No corporation today is immune or can realistically believe itself adequately protected.
The government’s response, hobbled by a misguided view as to who is responsible for protecting U.S. commercial interests and how, is not up to 1794 standards.

I’m glad somebody put this up.  It was disingenuous for the President to criticize Sony’s decisions regarding The Interview when the government itself had done nothing appreciable to prevent the theft and destruction of the company’s interests up until that point.  In the absence of government intervention, private companies have begun hiring hackers to “hack back” against states and non-state actors that threaten them, and intothis the Administration charges, investigating American interests for hacking in self-defense.  But you can’t have it both ways.  Either the government comes up with more effective cyberdefense measures, or private industry is going to do what it must to stay in business.  That’s simple economics.
Girl Scout cookie fans can now dig into three new flavors this year: Rah -Rah Raisins, Toffee-tastic, and Trios.  
Rah-Rah Raisins are made with whole grain oats, plump, juicy raisins, and Greek yogurt–flavored chunks.  Toffee-tastic, a "buttery cookie with toffee bits," and Trios, which include peanut butter, oats, and chocolate chips, are both gluten-free. Rah-Rah Raisins, which aren't gluten-free, are oatmeal cookies with raisins and "Greek yogurt-flavored chunks."
The Girl Scouts have enabled online selling year as well, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out.   I expect Hannah will be involved quite a bit with the online effort.  I’ve no idea how that will go, but it promises to be an interesting experiment.
3.  Ant-Man Trailer

Is it just me, or does Hank Pym seem like a total creep in this thing?
I hope that’s the way they play it.  We haven’t seen a Marvel movie with no heroes yet, but Ant-Man would be a good candidate for that kind of cynical take on modern America.
I’d like to suggest that the first thing the new Republican majority devote itself to is not, say, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but to converting the four hugely expensive and underproductive U.S. service academies (Navy, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard) — taxpayer-funded undergraduate institutions whose products all become officers in the military — to more modest and functional schools for short-term military training programs, as the British have repurposed Sandhurst…
The service academies once had a purpose: when they were founded in the 19th century (the Air Force split off from Army after World War II), college was classics and religion for gentlemen, so it made sense to have technical training institutes for people who would be in charge of increasingly technical warfare.  All the service academies have now to justify their cost and their pretensions, it seems, is their once-illustrious history, and the club of “tradition,” which they wield mercilessly against students who dare question why things are as they are.
I shouldn’t give this article the time of day since the author has apparently been publishing this same piece every year for the last fifteen, but it was new to me, so there you have it.  
At first I thought this was your typical kind of thing.  We declared the end of combat operations in Afghanistan only last week, and like clockwork, here comes somebody wanting to close down the military academies.  It happens every decade.  Wars end, the public wants to cut defense spending, and sooner or later somebody suggests closing down West Point.  Because, of course, there will never be another war.  People can’t possibly be that stupid again, can they?
But that’s not the argument here.  This guy is saying that the academies do their jobs badly, that his experience as a professor at the Naval Academy—for 28 years!—tells him that Navy is a bad school producing bad officers, and we therefore ought to close the place down.  He doesn’t bother to explain why he stayed at Navy for nearly three decades when he clearly hates the place, but whatever.  He is deeply disillusioned and willing to write about it for Salon and anyone else who will give him space on their website.
I’m not going to try to debunk the article.  Others are writing about it, and they’ve done more research.  If you care, Google it and read up on the debate.  Furthermore, I have no issue with having this debate.  The academies are without doubt public institutions, and the public therefore has the right to decide their future.  The research I saw this week proved to me that West Point in particular is doing even better than I thought it was, but I won’t claim to be an unbiased observer.
However.  I take issue with the author’s inferences about all of the academies based on his experiences at exactly one of them.  I have wondered recently if Navy doesn’t have some serious problems, if they aren’t compromising their academic and military integrity in order to field better sports teams, and much of the text of this article seems to indicate that they might be.  
I have no issue with the academies fielding sports teams, of course.  Military service is an inherently physical thing, and even in a relatively technical field like the Armored Cavalry, you’d be foolish to discount the physical nature of the work.  I was in the Army for a little more than five years, and I never went to war, but I did have to stay awake for four days straight a few times, and I pulled countless all-nighters in the course of various exercises and field problems.  Nothing prepared me for that as effectively as Army Swimming did.  The point isn’t just that you have to be able to do it.  It’s that you have to be able to do it and make good decisions while you’re in the middle of it.  Sports are an effective trainer for building mental and physical toughness and for learning to deal with high stress environments in a uniquely physical way.  I don’t know what the Navy is like, but the Army is full of high stress environments with uniquely physical aspects to them.  This is why we say that every cadet is an athlete.
Still, the point of the Academies is not to field excellent sports teams.  It’s good to win, and I think winning is a purely acceptable goal.  However, when you decide to attend West Point you are deciding to put your sports career on the back-burner in comparison to the other facets of your future development.  You can still be serious about your sport—I was quite serious about swimming—but there are other things that will become more important, and you had better know that going in.  It’s part of the deal.
Is Navy still doing this, or have they been seduced by the lure of big-time football?  Truthfully, I have no idea.  However, the question is out there, and somebody from Annapolis probably needs to respond in a meaningful way.
Then coach Monken told the players something I wont soon forget. He told them:
“You don’t know if or when you will get another chance to tell your team mates what they mean to you, so do it now.”  
And that simple statement carried with it a certain amount of gravitas. It rang more true in THAT locker room, to THOSE players than it did in most locker rooms and to most players after a simple game of football.
This photo-essay was easily my favorite thing of the week.  Army Football players are not generally known for their commitment to the visual arts after graduation, but this piece was well-shot and quite moving.
I miss my teammates.  Author Chris Pestel caught that quite effectively here.
6.  Leader of the PAC (Slate)
In his announcement video, Bush says he’s hoping to elect conservative candidates, but he wouldn’t go to the trouble of shooting an on-the-street video and asking donors to give [via] their Instagram accounts if he were only planning to ladle glory onto others. The rollout of the PAC is another way in which the medium is the message for Bush. He promised to release 250,000 emails to demonstrate his commitment to transparency. In this case, he is trying to show that despite having been off the campaign trail since 2002, he’s quicker on his feet than the competition. He’s on Instagram! He’s on a smartphone on the street! He’s running a different kind of campaign, which matches his pitch that he’s a different kind of Republican.  
This presidential campaign has already become so interesting.  In saying that, it’s entirely possible that I’m simply caught up in the novelty of a presidential candidate shooting an Instagram video for his new PAC on the streets of New York using a cell phone, but what can I say?  I marked out for it.  Both of our leading candidates are already so determined to play against type that it’s left pundits scratching their heads.  
Will the base rebel?
Jeb Bush wants to be a different kind of Republican.  He shoots his first video in New York (!), and it’s a grass-roots appeal to working class Americans, ostensibly making a (barely) right-of-center appeal for upward mobility and better policies towards the working class.  We can speculate (cynically) that he is actually trying to prove his electability to the big-money players in his own party—good bet, there—but that doesn’t change the fact that the man has taken some seriously unpopular stances with the extreme wing of the GOP, and he’s not backed down an inch.  He appears ready to use his last name like a bludgeon against the Tea Party, and politics be damned.  It may even get him the nomination.  

Meanwhile, Hilary Clinton is all about containment in the Middle East, which at least has the virtue of being a serious, coherent policy directed at a real international threat.  Like Bush, she appears ready to take whatever stances she wants and dare the hardliners in her party to turn elsewhere.  Where are they going to go?  Andrew Cuomo’s not running, and for as much as I like Jim Webb, he hasn’t got a shot in Hell of actually winning the general election.  I suppose folks could vote for Elizabeth Warren, but I personally doubt she’ll even enter the race.
I like Webb, and I’ve even considered re-registering as a Democrat simply so I can vote for him in Connecticut’s primary, but the man is doing Clinton a favor by running against her.  He’s a terrific author who’s famous enough to look like a candidate without actually giving Ms. Clinton problems.  With Webb in the race, the Democratic primary no longer looks like a coronation.  That’s good, especially for Ms. Clinton.  It doesn’t change anything, though, and if it sells a few more copies of Fields of Fire, I doubt Webb will mind.  Besides, Fields of Fire is an excellent read.
That's all I've got.  Happy Friday!

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