In Which He Resembles a Broken Clock .. in Space

As you have probably figured out by now, I’m not a big fan of President Trump. I could easily list the reasons, but there is insufficient space in this post. But the President is like a broken clock, which does tell the right time occasionally. His recent “space force” proposal is almost one of those times, and doesn’t deserve the beatings that comedians are giving it. They are portraying the notion like Star Fleet, imaging battles in space and fights against space aliens. But that’s not what he is proposing.

This Vox article explains things very well. Think about how our military is structured. Originally, there was the Army and the Navy. Then battles began to be fought by naval groups on the ground, and a new organization was spun off: the Marine Corps. Aircraft were developed, and originally they were managed within the Army. But the segment grew to a point where it was working with Army, Navy, and Marines, and needed to be its own service. In 1947 (IIRC), the Air Force was spun off as its own service.

Now consider space. Our national dependence on space has grown: from GPS services to communications to imagery, it is vital to warfighting and defense. Space is primarily run by the Air Force, through the Space and Missile Command. SMC acquires space assets (satellites, launch systems, ground support) and provides the military and civilian support to operate these systems. There are also Army and Navy Space systems, and groups from other services that use space assets. Space is an increasingly contested area, both from commercial use, as well as other nations either putting assets in orbit, or attempting to attack or impede assets in orbit.

Trump’s call recognizes that. What he is suggesting is a new service, either at the Department level … or more likely analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy. This would give increased visibility to Space and Space assets, especially as the Air Force has to balance funding between aircraft and spacecraft. On the surface, the idea makes sense. When you look at it closer, it doesn’t — not because Space isn’t important, but because Space isn’t yet at the point where it requires a duplicative bureaucracy and all the extra costs and paperwork that would come with an additional corps or service. As with the Cyber battlespace, it can be addressed best at the Command level, utilizing structures currently existing within the USAF and other national security agencies.

[ETA: My friend Miriam, over on FB, commented with a good explanation of some of the problems that exist currently, that a proposal such as this might address: “The problem is that the Air Force is doing a terrible job of meeting the space-related needs of warfighters. We have satellites on orbit for decades before warfighters can use some of their capabilities. And that is largely because the AF won’t fund capabilities that are needed primarily by the Army (GPS M-code) or Navy (comm on the move, various weather capabilities).” Having an organization that can focus funding specifically on space, and can better balance the needs of the entire user base, is beneficial. The question is what is the right way to do this without overburdening the bureaucracy, which can mushroom quickly in the military.]

So, in short, not as silly an idea as it seems on the surface, but one we don’t really need yet. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.


These Boots are Made for Walking

A lot of energy is being spent by folks blathering on about how students shouldn’t have walked out, they should have walked over, or in general, not walked at all. My thoughts? I have absolutely no problem with students — of any age — peaceably protesting about any political interest that is of concern to them. It teaches civic involvement; it teaches that one can stand up to the government when one believes differently; it teaches that one voice can start a change, and many voices can bring about change; it teaches our youth the value of political involvement. As for missing school, more time is wasted on pep rallies and similar school spirit idiocies that teach nothing than an hour of protest.

I’m a child of the 1960s. I remember the days when students across high school and college campuses stood up to protest the Vietnam War, because it was their lives that were being used as cannon fodder by the government. They brought about a change in attitude towards the war, they changed society. I remember the days when students across campuses protested for civil rights and equal treatment for minorities, when student idealism brought societal change that benefited everyone.

It was protest that started with walking out.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They walked with Rosa to the front of the bus;
They walked with Martin when he prayed for us.
They walked with me and they walked with you;
They done all shoes can do.

There are those who say students should walk over instead of walking out. Those who say the bullies should make nice with the bullied, and that will solve all the problems. Although that’s a nice theory, it is full of holes (perhaps .44). Those who have been bullied know, once bullying has started, the bully can’t make nice and the problem will go away. The distrust and the hatred has been sown. Bullying must be stopped before it starts. Further, it is an example of blaming the victim, of saying it was the bully who does the shooting. It is an example of diversion of the discussion away from gun regulation. It is an example of black and white thinking: if you walk over and make nice, everyone will forget about the problem with guns and we don’t need to do anything about them. Nothing says you can’t do both: address bullying in schools, and improve regulation of guns. Nothing says you can’t make schools more secure and safe, and regulate guns. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

The children will lead us on this issue, because they are the ones bearing the brunt of this violence. It is their lives, and they are taking control of them. They are saying never again. They are saying not here. They are saying that we need to keep guns out of schools — be they in the hands of students, visitors, or teachers. They are saying we increase restrictions on the most dangerous and deadly guns: make them harder to obtain, make those who own them legally more responsible for securing them, and going after those who have them legally. They are telling the gun lobby that their lives are more important than the lobby’s profits or the politicians they own.

They are walking to make a statement.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They’ve been up the mountain where the trees don’t grow,
Been ‘cross the desert where they never seen snow.
Been so tired that they can’t hardly go,
But they’re good enough to get us to glory.

It’s left shoe, right shoe, don’t know the size.
Shoes on the ground and eyes on the prize.
They’ve been to the river and they’ve been baptized,
And they’re good enough to get us to glory.

(Lyric credit: “Your shoes, My Shoes”, Tom Paxton, 1998)


Updates from the Pod People World

The following are some news items that have caught my eye over the past few weeks regarding the iPod, the larger iPod ecosystem, and the world of digital music:

  • Are Dedicated Music Players Useless? In today’s world of multifunction devices, such as your smartphone, is the dedicated MP3 player useless? The answer is a resounding “No!”, as this article shows. In addition to the 10 ways in the article, there are some even more important reasons. Dedicated MP3 players don’t use streaming bandwidth, and can be used in places where you have no Internet. They are also not visually based, so you can often operate them without looking. Being more narrow function, they are also usable in situations where phones are not (for example, MP3 players are not treated the same as phones with respect to moving vehicles). Lastly, if you upgrade storage, you can often have a much larger music library with you than you can even with services like the Amazon cloud or iTunes match, especially if you come in with a lot of preexisting music.
  • Upgrading an iPod. Stories about how one can upgrade a later generation (5G or later) iPod classic to use solid state memory come around periodically. The most recent iteration was The Verge and the Circuit Breaker Podcast having an article how to do so. However, they made one major error: they indicated you get the boards and supplies through eBay. Nonsense! I’ve had three iPods updated, and a 4th will eventually be upgraded as well, and in all cases I went straight to the source: the iFlash Adaptor site. I’ve used their iFlash Dual card for all three of my iPod Classics. They also have a useful blog with advice on batteries and memory cards. If you’re local to LA, I’ve found a good person to install the card, if you’re not a hardware person (and I’m not). Drop me an email or a comment and I’ll get you in touch with the person I used.
  • Digital vs. Physical Music . In the days before there was an iTunes store, how was digital audio and video shared? The answer is: via Usenet, and it was this new style of digital sharing — across a forum originally intended for textual messages — that led Usenet to its slow death, while spurring on the growth of the web and online music and video stores. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the death of the physical form for digitized media — CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays — in favor of streaming. This is a very bad trend, and we must all work to support physical media. There are a number of reasons. First, the physical media made available many rare shows and albums that were saved from obscurity. It also preserved additional information, such as directors cuts, audio tracks, bonus tracks, commentary. Those aren’t present for streaming media, and there is no assurance that rare material will be available for streaming. It is also much easier, with only streamed media, for the media content owner to make the content unavailable. You also can’t easily share streamed media with friends. It is a bad move for the consumer.
  • End of the Headphone Jack. The simple 3.5mm audio jack. It has been around for over 50 years, coming in with the transistor radio, replacing the large headphone jack. It is now starting to disappear, and we should mourn (if not protest) its demise. There are many advantages to this format. Being analog, it is not subject to restricted digital format or digital rights management. It works across all vendors, and you don’t need different products for different devices. Its analog signal is also adaptable, being used for not only sound but any electrical signal such as a card reader, health monitors, and such. By moving to proprietary digital connectors (as they did with streaming), vendors are tying you to using their product, and their enforcement of accessibility to your music. They are creating waste and making obsolete numerous devices, which often go to landfills.
  • Music Management Software. Those who use an iPod or Apple device have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. Often you must use it, but it could be so much better. Here’s a review of 7 iTunes alternatives. The problem is that none of them are iTunes replacements: it is unclear if they handle accumulated metadata, such as the number of plays; it is unclear if they can communicate with older Apple devices (such as the iPod Classic); and it is unclear if they support Smart Playlists. Often, these replacements aren’t too intelligent: they don’t understand synchronization, and they presume album-oriented play. That’s great for a college student with perhaps 50 albums; its bad when you have over 2000 albums and over 42000 songs.
  • Wither iTunes? Of course, the issue with iTunes may be forced. Apple has the ability to make your device obsolete. Just ask the people with first-generation Apple TVs, who are being disconnected from iTunes. Just ask those who use iTunes on Windows XP or Vista. Just ask those hoping to purchase iTunes LPs with additional album content. All have had, or will have, support discontinued by Apple. This is a big worry for me: Why does Apple have any reason to continue to support the ability to synchronize with discontinued iPods, such as the iPod Classic. It is one reason I will not buy an iPhone (requires the latest iTunes), and one reason why I haven’t upgraded from iTunes 11. I still worry that, one day, iTunes 11 will not work on Windows 10, or will no longer support podcasts. At that point, will I be forced to Rockbox, if it still exists? Their iPod Classic ports aren’t stable. Will I need to find a new media player, such as the Fiio Players? What will that mean for my metadata and smart playlists.

We’re going to a world where we may not have physical LPs or CDs for our music. As we age, what will guarantee we’ll be able to bring our music with us? Are we destined to copy our music from server to server (I hope you remembered that backup), or paying companies indefinitely to store it in the cloud? And when that cloud or drive goes “poof”, how will historians discover our music? Analog is essentially forever (or as long as the media lasts), but digital is remarkably ephemeral. Enjoy your music while you have it, for tomorrow it will be gone.


Playing the Propaganda Card

I was thinking over the weekend about Donald Trump, Gamesmanship, and Nuclear War.

No, not that incident regarding Donald Trump, Gamesmanship, and Nuclear War. North Korea is so last week. I was thinking instead about the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, and the 1965 Flying Buffalo card game Nuclear War.

In the game Nuclear War, the objective is to be the last player (country) standing, if indeed any country is left standing. Players/countries can be eliminated in two ways. First, the use of nuclear weapons can reduce your population to zero or below. While potentially more fun, this approach has the drawback that players eliminated through weaponry have the opportunity to retaliate — to launch a final strike with any available weaponry they can piece together. The second way that a player can be eliminated is through propaganda.

In the game, propaganda can be used to convince another player’s population to move over to your side through the media and other approaches. They move over through their own volition; you haven’t made the decision, and thus no retaliatory strike, because who (after all) do you blame?

Think about this now in terms of Mueller’s investigation, the election involvement the Russians had, and Trump’s election as President. Mueller may never find evident that Russia directly changed a vote in an election system, or that Russia never directly worked with the Trump organization to influence the election. To do so would directly place the blame on Russia, just as firing a missile would. Instead, Russia played the propaganda card.

Russia influenced the influencers of the election. They played an expert propaganda game (in disguise) to influence the voting public with fake news, conspiracy theories, misdirection, and so forth. They magnified issues, help deflect away from other issues, and timed the release of information perfectly. They might not have made people vote for Trump, but they surely made people vote against Hillary — or just not vote at all. (The Democrats didn’t help by having a field of intrinsically weak candidates, but they didn’t see it at the time …. and this made it easier for Russia to sway the conspiracies.)

Here’s the kicker: In the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, American society was worried about “commies and pinkos” invading our media just for this purpose. Had this happened then, there would have been hearings, and Russia would have been held responsible and sanctioned for the meddling. But today? Many in the party that was most concerned about the “red menace” couldn’t care less, because they meddling worked to put them in power, and to question otherwise would be to weaken the legitimacy of their control of government. Given the choice of defending their country, or protecting their self interest and positions, self interest and position win again.

This leaves the party that was traditionally viewed as “leftist” to be the group most concerned about Russian interference in the last election, and most concerned about their doing it again in 2018.

I bet you wish this was a card game now.

[ETA: After some discussion on FB, a friend of mine kept arguing about how Hillary Clinton stank. I wrote the following in response, which really demonstrates the game Russia was playing: Propaganda is the art of making people think they smell shit when they are really smelling a rose, and thinking they are smelling a rose when they are really smelling shit.]


The Importance of Visualizations

Visualizations and charts make our lives easier, and sometimes can give us insights we hadn’t considered before. Here are three examples:



Difficult Decisions

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled “Navigating the Minefield” where I discussed three interesting societal divides: (1) how do we deal with old, potentially problematic, music; (2) the divide about coats on the UW Madison campus; and (3) how autonomous automobiles may have a significant impact on privacy. WIth respect to the following news chum items, item (1) is particularly applicable. Titled “The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield“, it explored the problem of music, and playing songs that had problematic history, origins, or words — such as the Star Spangled Banner, where the full version as written includes a verse in which slave owner Francis Scott Key, an outspoken white supremacist, rails against “the hireling and the slave.”  I recommend everyone read that piece, which includes the following paragraph by an artist I enjoy, Dom Flemons (the American Songster):

“People are trying to find modern sensibilities in stuff that was not built on modern sensibilities,” Flemons told me. In 2015, he performed an instrumental version of Stephen Foster’s “Ring, Ring de Banjo” at a Foster-themed event with the Cincinnati orchestra. Foster’s racist lyrics are “absolutely unacceptable” nowadays, and “I would never think to perform that song outside the context of that specific show,” Flemons says. But these once-popular songs “are a document of what happened,” and failing to acknowledge that history would “completely devalue the strength of how far we’ve come.”

The following three news chum pieces evoked in me similar feelings to the “Racial Minefield” article, and are worthy of your consideration:

  • Sexual Predators. How do we separate the art from the artist? That’s a big question in these days of #MeToo and TimesUpNow. In particular, how do we treat the art created by these individuals we now know were predators and harassers? Can I still enjoy Fat Albert and Bill Cosby’s routines, knowing his history? What about watching “Annie Hall”? Vox has a great opinion piece on the subject titled “How to think about consuming art made by sexual predators“. It’s conclusion is that the answer is not easy. The basic conclusion, according to a historian consulted in the article, is to put everything in context: “As a historian, I strongly believe that it’s important that we keep these men’s work accessible. Woody Allen films are a genuinely important part of American film history. The Cosby Show is key to understanding representation in media and tangled issues of race, class, and acceptance. But I also can’t imagine watching old episodes simply for entertainment.” But where do you fall on the subject? Can you listen to Bill Cosby, or watch the artwork of Gaugain, the same anymore?
  • Smoking. In a somewhat similar vein is an article by Peter Filchia in Masterworks Broadway about the context of musical plots or dialogue that centers on smoking. Many shows were written at the time that smoking was ingrained in American society. Certainly the classic musicals of the 1950s make jokes about smoking. Look at the lines in musicals that refer to smoking, and look at the musical writers that also penned cigarette jingles. Filchia doesn’t draw a particular conclusion, but does really demonstrate how musicals are a product of their times. (Which, I’ll note, is why shows like Showboat remain problematic, as does the behavior of Rosemary in How to Succeed — how would we view today a woman that predatory towards her male boss?)
  • Confederate Iconography. The last article of interest is from Religion News, and has to do with changing names of things named after Confederate Icons. It is one thing to take down a stature, or to rename an elementary school that has no connection to the person. What do you do if you need to rename a church where he actually worshipped or was memorialized? This article, titled “Our church was named for Robert E. Lee — here is how we changed it” explores just that issue. It talks about three churches : (1) St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond, which is the church Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended during the Civil War; (2) Christ Church, in Alexandria, a 1773 Episcopal parish that claims George Washington and the Lee family as former worshippers; and (3) R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington VA, where Robert E. Lee was senior warden after he joined the church in 1865.

All four of these articles, which are fascinating reads, demonstrate why reconciling the facts of history with the emotion of people and with common sensibilities is never easy.


Navigating the Minefield

One has to tread very carefully these days. Topics, words, and even clothing can trigger deep divides between people. Here are three examples:

  • Your Music. Some music is timeless. Other music, however, is more “of its time”. Every holiday season this is driven home to us as we listen to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in a whole new context. Now I tend to love both cast albums and folk/bluegrass, and both have the same problems: Some of the music, when heard in today’s light, is clearly racist and problematic. This is something discussed everytime “Showboat” or “Annie Get Your Gun” is remounted; it is even a larger issue with folk music. Many of our folk songs make use of stereotypes or motifs that are problems, starting with “Wish I was in the land of Cotton”. The author of our national anthem was a white supremacist. Here’s one fiddler that tackled the issue head on. I love his mention of Dom Flemons, the American Songster, who does great stuff.
  • What You Wear. My daughter goes to school in Madison WI, and she alerted me to this divide: The attitude towards the “Coasties” in the North Face jackets. Here’s the requisite background:A UW–Madison student wrote in 2008 that he could distinguish between coasties and sconnies—or, Wisconsin locals—by looking “at their distinctive clothing.” While focusing on the “female Coastie” appearance, the student argued that the “natives begin to resent these outsiders who are so different.” This student’s editorial in the Badger Herald,perhaps unknowingly, invoked a history of compounding stereotypes of “outsiders” wearing conspicuous or expensive clothing on campus that reaches back to the 1920s. His comments also highlight what is at stake in making assumptions about a Canada Goose owner in 2017. In 2007, two Wisconsin students recorded a song called “What’s a Coastie,” describing the Wisconsin-based label/slur as an “east coast Jewish honey” identifiable by her outfit: a North Face jacket, black leggings, and big sunglasses, among other attire. The song highlighted young Jewish women’s outdoorwear as linked to their outsider status on campus. According to the student songwriters, expensive consumer products, down to the Ugg boots and complicated Starbucks drinks, highlighted the wealth of these out-of-state students. “Coasties” effectively flaunted family wealth, their North Face jackets a stand-in for the high-priced out-of-state tuition their families were paying.
  • Your Car. My step-sister highlighted this divide, and the problem it will create. The thesis: With the growth of self-driving cars and naviation, personal driving will be outlawed as something dangerous to one’s health and the health of others. If that happens, what does that do to privacy? No more can you go someplace anonymously. You’ll be tracked: by your car, by your cellphone, by your navigation app? Who owns those records? Who can look at those records? More importantly, who can be prevented from looking at those records. All questions that in our rush to adopt a technology, we are likely not exploring.



More Hidden Implications: Subscriptions, Hair, and Navigation

Continuing our discussion on hidden implications from here and here, here are three more musings on hidden implications from recent news:

  • Discount Entertainment. The Verge had an interesting article on Moviepass,  a service that provides flat rate discount movie tickets that has theatres scared, because it undercuts their discounting. Why are theatres scared? Two reasons. First, it changes the value customers put on tickets. Further, as it pays theatres full price, there is the risk it will go up: taking its cheap consumers with it.  This isn’t just a problem for the movies. I’ve seen live theatre bemoaning discounters such as Goldstar or the tix booths, as they train consumers to expect discounts — and they won’t pay retail again. If they can’t get the ticket at a discount, why go? I know I’ve done that sometimes. Ticketing services want customers to pay full price, even if that price is a lowered price in a less desirable seat.
  • Body Hair. There’s an interesting article in the Atlantic on the war on women’s body hair. The premise is that the cult of hair removal is a form of gendered social control. It imposes extra costs (both monetary and time) on women just to comply with societal convention (and don’t even think about the implications of … shall we say Brazilian removal … on the subject of sexual harassment and desires for young women).  Here’s what the article says, “Hair removal, at its core, is a form of gendered social control. It’s not a coincidence that the pressure for women to modify their body hair has risen in tandem with their liberties, Herzig argues. She writes that the effect of this hairlessness norm is to “produce feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability, the sense that women’s bodies are problematic the way they naturally are.””
  • Traffic. Google Maps and Waze have been bad news for local communities. Sure, they get YOU where you are going faster, but at what cost? They have increased traffic in communities that weren’t planned for such traffic. Measures instituted in response — from traffic calming to reporting false accidents to …. — just make it worse for the local residents. Is this just a growing example of the self-obsession of society: I’ll do what’s best for me and my prosperity, and to hell with anyone else?