Uncertain Future – Part XV – The Black Swan

The last leg of this answer to, “What are the biggest ways in which the world 20 years from now will probably be different from today?” is the Black Swan.

Black Swan events, as defined by the guy who proposed their theory are thus:

  1. The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
  2. The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
  3. The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event’s massive role in historical affairs.

This is the stuff no one saw coming that will, more or less, invalidate every prediction we have had so far. They are the agents of chaos, and the disorder in ordered states. They are events which cannot be predicted with ease, never predicted together, and barely explained even in hindsight, but which have monumental effects on the hereafter. They are the surprises God throws at us that both level and unlevel the playing fields as industries rise up out of nowhere, nations fall into memory, and cities crumble as the earth shakes. Consider technology, the surprise we all see coming, but no one guesses quite right. Technology is still growing at an exponential pace. Every day it continues to change the way we live, the way we communicate, and how we conduct business. The rise of social media, perhaps the most unexpected event of the last ten years, and the rise of cellular communications in general over the last twenty certainly fits the ticket. Unfortunately, as technology has become a tool which has empowered literally billions of people into a better, more enlightened and more productive life, so too has it empowered millions of others to pursue their own interests at the detriment of everyone else. Twitter, something that was only founded exactly 10 years to this month helped spur revolution in states like Libya and Syria. Of course, now it also serves as a recruiting tool for Islamic State radicals. Drones, the weapons that were only in their infancy during my first deployment to Iraq, are now toys for children and delivery tools for Amazon. Of course, they too have a dark side which many, many already fear.

For that reason, from Swarm of Things to Human Augmentation, Crowd-sourcing to Autonomous vehicles, 3D Printing to Genetic Engineering, the brave new world we are all ready to embrace will empower those of ill-aims so greatly that only an equally aggressive improvement in the means by which we secure our safety, both bodily and the information about us, will ensure the dream of tomorrow the builder’s of this technology wish to provide today.

Beyond technology, Black Swans are the wills of billions of people; competing, converging, colliding. Nearly all you will never meet, but a few of which, will shape your future.

A Black Swan is former fighter of the Soviet Union, setting his sights on his former ally. [83]

Black Swans are are planes filled with people crashing into buildings on a clear day in September, and from the visceral reaction, war in two nations erupts.

As those wars drug on, the Black Swan was an angry and deeply confused young Army private, with a desire to punish the world. He let slip the largest stockpile of military secrets in history. Some were secrets of the United States, but more importantly was what we had learned of everyone else.

In the aftermath, a Black Swan was a wave of democratic energy and revolution. Spurred by the leaks, and the revelations about their dictators, millions went to the streets demanding reform.

Amidst the cheering, the sounds of bullets rang out and three civil wars began.

In the void that arose, one of these saw the Blackest of Swans, a resurrected medieval empire of hate rising from the desert sands to engulf and overwhelm the Levant.

In the terror it brought millions set to flight, many overwhelming Europe.

And terror following them in.

Those of us alive in 1996 remember that time before the towers fell and not a single one could have predicted any of this. Then we lived in a world of plenty where we were all still cheering the fall of the last evil empire which crumbled when its reach was greater than its capabilities. We were building relationships and the world was going closer together. “They were simpler times,” is something old ones always say of when they were young, but looking back to the last two decades, do we not all feel old now? Who, in their most honest self could have predicted any of the events of chaos which bears fruit only to more chaos like it? Who standing back before would have suspected a future like we have seen in his next 20 years?

What we can be sure of is that not everything will turn out as we hope. Change will come, but not like we expect. We can’t turn away from it. It’s coming whether we like it or not. And as soon as think we have it all figured out, a black swan will swoop down to remind us how little foresight we had. This post isn’t meant to scare or to paint a dark cloud on the future because of a few of the nightmares that exist today. It is simply a reminder that the unexpected is a factor, and that running from it, or being afraid of it, we need to prepare for it. The best we can do is prepare. Learn the threats that exist today and prepare as best we can so that when change come, we… you, me, us, are able to embrace it. Only those who build their houses on solid rock will weather the coming storms or terror, hacking, disasters, cyberware, and the dark abyss of humanity behind a mask of anonymity and a jihadist’s mask. Don’t be afraid. I’m sure, exactly because of all the answers which existed to this question, that the world of tomorrow will be as a utopia to the one I live in today, but only if we are collectively prepared for the changes utopia brings along the way. That’s why, above all else, those who look to their own security, their adaptability, and their capacity to embrace change and endure disruption… they will be the x factor in the next 20 years.

Uncertain Future – Part X -Private Security Companies

Beyond the need for standard training, which will introduce a new vocabulary and the mindset to go with it, is traditional security, which is getting a remarkably untraditional makeover. Companies today are forming which are consolidating the need for security. Less and less often are you seeing security divisions within companies which are not in the business of providing security. Instead, the role of security guard for most companies is often filled by an agent of companies which specialize in the outsourcing of such skillsets. What this means for the future is that we won’t see the old mall cops drifting around on their segways, whose only real talents don’t actually center on tactics and prevention, but on finding a job where they are being paid to stand there.

Instead, these jobs are going to be going more and more to the larger security companies who specialize in the role. Soon, we will likely see a time where all private security for public places, such as malls, workplaces, and schools, all wear an inconspicuous similar uniform labeled with the same logo throughout. Instead of working directly for the companies that employ them, they will be contracted in, all centrally trained and networked with their other satellite offices and local police, all working under a centralized headquarters somewhere in the city, or perhaps across the globe. One such example is Sweden’s Securitas, a logo known throughout the West.

A recent article followed Securitas and the year it has had [53]. According to the Association for Financial Professionals, Securitas experienced “a sharp rise in profits for 2015 amid an increased threat of terrorism and the European migrant crisis.”

Net profit for the full-year rose by 18 percent to 2.44 billion kronor (258 million euros, $288 million), or eight percent excluding currency effects.

Sales climbed by 15 percent to 80.8 billion kronor.

In Europe, sales rose by eight percent to 37.5 billion for 2015 and by 11 percent in the fourth quarter, bolstered by the November 13 attacks in Paris and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in Europe.

The company earnings report cites the increased need for security services owed to terrorism alerts and the refugee situation has impacted organic sales growth in Western Europe, mostly in countries like France, Belgium, Germany and Sweden. They also reported a similar rise in Turkey, a country which has welcomed around two million Syrian refugees and saw numerous terrorist attacks within the last year. Securitas also saw a 24 percent increase in North American sales, as well.

Securitas isn’t alone, however. Spain’s Prosegur has a healthy share of the European public security market along with an American based security firm G4S. G4S started becoming more known for its role as the principal security provider for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, a significant role ever since the Munich massacre where eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed. They have also been called by some the largest company you’ve never heard of [54], since they maintain the third largest corporate workforce of any company Earth (660,000 employees) and are considered (loosely) by some to be the largest private military that has ever existed. [55]

While training for you and me will be mandated behavior to attempt to control and mitigate threats, and very large, very structured private security companies will provide for the broader public to help prevent the dangers, another tier of security will create a phenomenon never before seen – the million dollar bodyguard.

Uncertain Future – Part VII – State Sponsored Cracking

Now that we have thoroughly made it clear that there is no place left safe on the internet for the common individual, or even major corporations and government organizations, what about the governments themselves? What role do they play in this story.

To begin with, let’s talk about Hacking Team. Hacking Team is a company out of Milan that deals in “offensive intrusion and surveillance” capabilities. This includes the ability to monitor communications of internet users, decipher encrypted files and emails, record Skype and VoIP phone calls, as well as remotely activate microphones and cameras on the devices they target. Their primary clients include governments and major corporations, including a few governments with shady human rights records. Basically, they are the most terrifying conspiracy theories on the internet come to life.

Hacking Team are leaders in the growing industry to help governments hack in ways that make the rest of this article look like child’s play. The Hacking Team gives its clients, through use of their Da Vinci and Galileo platforms the ability to do everything from keystroke logging, GPS tracking on cell phones, and extracting wifi passwords, among many other capabilities. [31] Perhaps most interesting is their ability to steal data on local accounts, contacts and transaction histories by decrypting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency wallet files. [32]The tools they use, or rather sell, have been used by governments to… well… you’ve seen the movies. Before you start getting up in arms, you might want to check their previous clients, regimes such as Sudan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, and have been accused of being used against activists and protesters in Morocco, Syria, the United Arab Emirates. [33]They even basically serve as the intelligence agency of the Uganda. Some of those relationships landed them in hot water with the UN. To make matters even more frightening, the Italian company maintains two satellite offices within the United States, one in Annapolis and another in Washington DC. That shouldn’t lead people think this relationship buys the US anything though, since Hacking Team is suspected of selling tools to clients in Turkey who used it on a woman in the US [34]and is now suspected of selling their technology to Syria, as well.

What’s put Hacking Team in the news now? Perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, they too were also hacked in 2015. At some point their network was breached and published online – over 400 gigabytes of data. Like I said before, no one is safe.

Hacking Team’s fate, while ironic, only served to open the eyes of millions to existence of real companies whose only profession is equipping governments with the tools to break down any wall, crack any password, end any online uprising, and own our digital lives. For an example, let’s start with something small, like a foreign government hacking into a major American company to determine what media Americans and the rest of the world were allowed to see.

You know, I’ve always wondered if any of the “A movie they don’t want you to see,” advertisements were ever real. Turns out, there was one that absolutely was. In late 2014, Sony pictures planned to release a movie about a talk show host invited to North Korea. Oh, and he tries to assassinate the dictator. It was an okay movie, but honestly, not something you would watch twice on purpose. Where things went terribly, horribly wrong was when Sony pictures suddenly pulled the movie. In the weeks leading up to the release, the North Korean government expressed their “disapproval” of the film. With its ending scene depicting the violent death of their glorious leader, the North Koreans demanded the movie never show… or else. Whatever, we’re Americans, or sort of. Sony Pictures was in America at least. What are they really going to do, bomb us?

No, they didn’t bomb anyone. Instead, what they did was hack Sony Pictures. In that breach, they stole data that included personal information about Sony Pictures employees and their families, e-mails between employees, information about executive salaries at the company, copies of then-unreleased Sony films, and other information. They threatened to release the information, which any of it could have been deadly to the company, from its employee’s information to scripts of movies that haven’t been made. What happened next?

Sony pulled the film.

Not long after, popular demand, and there was a lot of us who now demanded to see this movie, made it available for streaming. Eventually, we were all able to get our fill of the death of the most infamous man alive, but it cost us. The Guardian called the event a massive defeat on American soil and the message was received, international government sponsored hackers can scare Americans into doing whatever they want.

It pissed us off as it introduced a new word into our collective lexicon: Cyberwarfare.

Uncertain Future – Part III – Online Harassment

Beginning in August 2014, a the hashtag #GamerGate [6] began to form. It was began by groups of video game enthusiasts on differing camps of the politics of gaming. Those on the side of Gamergate gave the stated purpose for it to be combatting political correctness, censorship, and poor journalistic ethics in video game reporting. Specifically, many organized their efforts to target several female members of the gaming community for attacks against the genre norms and values. In retribution, these women and commenters denied the ethical basis and condemned the affair as misogynistic, which then led to reprisal attacks from across the internet world.

The roots of the debate began as a progressive pull to make  females in video games less… um… genetically improbable babes.

Designers and other feminist gamers argued against the exploitive nature in which females were depicted in many games, showcasing outrageous body types, and surfacing new controversies like “Same Armor/Same Stats” and “Less Armor/More Protection”.

So yeah, anyone who argues that is pretty much arguing, “I want more boobs! Don’t take away the boobs!” Granted, in the defense of the status quo, some interesting arguments did come out  deeper than merely, “Save the boobs!” Many Gamergates, argued that coming down on developers was a legitimate attack on free speech, while others decried the very nature of political correctness for gaming. Perhaps the best I had yet heard gave a rather remarkable feminist appeal by asking whether a very popular, and famously buxom, character from the 1990’s should be “reduced” for the upcoming remake. The argument there was that to retool, some said sensor, a character which is already well known on account of her body type is an attack on anyone who legitimately has that body type. In this case, it sends the message that simply having large breasts or long legs is wrong, and something to be ashamed of.  [7]

I honestly didn’t know if I just heard a masterful counterargument supporting both sides of the controversy from the feminist perspective or simply some grade A BS. Regardless, many of the feminists dismissed such views outright, some retaliating through the absolute attack on what it meant it meant to be a “gamer”, coinciding the meaning with being synonymous with misogyny. This, as it should surprise no one, led to a greater and greater tit-for-tat assault on both sides. More joined the Gamergate cause simply in opposition to the radical feminists among those who in over the top demonstrations, stated that all those who don’t agree with the narrative of the feminists were misogynistic, and eventually homophobic, racists, and bigoted.

That was wrong, but what happened next disappointed many as conversation wasn’t the only thing that came out. Users operating, mostly anonymously via sites like Reddit, 4Chan, and 8Chan, began attacking against leaders on both sides taking the stances that games need to redirect. The attacks eventually grew to threats, including the threat of rape and murder for many of the feminists, and threats to have get many of the Gamergaters fired from their real world jobs. Most of us were surprised it got as bad as it did as fast as it did. I wondered why so many gamers became so visceral in their attacks against activists in the industry, or even just their defense of the boobs. I, along with much of the rest of the gaming community with large internet followings, just wondered with surprise how it got that bad.

And that is what is really scary about online security threats like these. People online can get really mean, hateful, and even cruel. I’m not talking about calling you an “asshat” cruel. I mean subjecting people to the constant barrage of hate that results in  IRL (in real life) ugliness. There is even a hashtag going out on snapchat called #TBR. For those of us blessed not to work with children on a daily basis, you’ve probably never heard of #TBR, but it stands for To Be Rude. Literally, it is nothing but children being hateful to one another, insulting one another in “secret”, via Snapchat. Snapchat is a novel tool for kids because it allows sharing of content that will “delete” after a predetermined time or number of views, and only to those you choose. I suppose this may be useful to revolutionaries fighting against totalitarian regimes, but mostly kids just use it to post pictures of themselves naked and be monsters to one another. It sort of explains the ghost icon, though; a hint of secrecy.

Now where this fits into the GamerGate controversy was that we didn’t just see children acting like children. We saw adults acting very maliciously with the intent to cause fear and psychological harm, with the intended purpose of manipulation. By most accounts, that’s terrorism. What made normal, boring actually, twenty and thirtysomething year old gamers turn into, well let’s call it what it was, terrorists is a question we all need to answer, but it is probably the same reason kids use snapchat to post hateful videos instead of Youtube.

Not getting caught.

In both cases of Snapchat or #Gamergate, the offenders function behind a wall of protection from authority. For middle schoolers acting badly, it is really no different than any other time when mean girls said mean things when no teachers were around. With #Gamergate, we saw something very different. Grown adults behaving online in a way they never would in the real world. Many attribute this to the anonymous nature in which they gathered, communicated, and executed their “operations.”

Anonymity on the internet is an important thing if for no other reason than to understand how people act when functioning under the guise of anonymity. Dr. John Suler is a Professor of Psychology and has written on the subject of online behavior. In his paper The Online Disinhibition Effect, Suler argues that those on the internet are able to disconnect from their normal behaviors and can frequently do or say as they wish without fear of any kind of meaningful reprisal. An example being most Internet communities, even one such as Quora which uses real names. The worst kind of punishment an offender can expect for bad behavior is being banned from interaction. In practice, however, this serves little use; the person involved can usually circumvent the ban by simply registering another username and continuing the same behavior as before [8]. Suler calls this toxic disinhibition.

CB radio during the 1970s saw similar bad behavior:

Most of what you hear on CB radio is either tedious (truck drivers warning one another about speed traps) or banal (schoolgirls exchanging notes on homework), but at its occasional—and illegal—worst it sinks a pipeline to the depths of the American unconscious. Your ears are assaulted by the sound of racism at its most rampant, and by masturbation fantasies that are the aural equivalent of rape. The sleep of reason, to quote Goya’s phrase, brings forth monsters, and the anonymity of CB encourages the monsters to emerge.

Suler’s work was a brilliant synopsis, but we on the internet need a simplified version. “John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F***wad Theory” was a posted comic strip by Penny Arcade. The post regards reflects the unsocial tendencies of other internet users as described by the online disinhibition effect. Krahulik and Holkins, Penny Arcade’s creators suggest that, given both anonymity and an audience, an otherwise regular person becomes aggressively antisocial. [9]

How this relates to security is obvious to those who have experience it. The internet can feel like an unsafe place sometimes. The internet can be an unsafe place sometimes. Looking to the long term effects of bullying that are being better understood every day [10], sometimes I wonder if this place I’ve called a second home is a place I want my kids to play on. Most of us who are active on this playground understand this as the status quo, but in the future of internet security, the debate will center around the freedom to be private and the freedom to be anonymous. Many fear, given precedence, what may happen under this veil of anonymity. I can’t help but agree that his is a rational concern for many. Sometimes the internet comments go far beyond words or threats, which carry lasting psychological damage to some of the victims, but transforming to very legitimate real world threats. What this will mean for the future is that companies is deciding what kind of culture they want to deal with. For the internet to stay the internet we want to be on, we may see more companies adopt guidelines like Quora’s, with it’s real names policy and Be Nice Be Respectful Policy, a place where people feel welcome and safe to exchange and interact.

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

This was a disappointment. The movie made me was sad on many levels.

I’m going to break this down in a few ways. First, I’m going to talk about what my friend, the comic book nerd, said; then our wives; then me; along with why it is important to get their take on it.

What my nerd friend said:

The nerdy friend is that guy who knows the comic books by their smell alone. He can quote every obscure reference and which page it appeared on. That said, these guys are demanding. If you aren’t true to the fan base and the following, the nerdy friend will tear you apart.

That sort of happened here. The problem was that the whole event was rushed. Everyone felt the need to compete with Marvel’s Avengers and that is what they were trying to do. The problem with that is that the Avengers have been in the works for literally over a decade. We are just too far behind to make a “Justice League” movie in time to compete with it.

Beyond that, many of the characters were not in keeping with their comic book traditions. Some were not congruent with in any retelling. People acted out of known character to fit the plot, backstories made no sense, if there was one at all, and others were just dreamed up out of nowhere, destroying the vital and awesome stories that were originally invented for these characters. While I wasn’t really impressed, my friend, the guy who knows all this backstory considers the movie an utter travesty. If that is you, you know you are going to see it, but don’t expect to enjoy it.

Look, if Deadpool taught us anything, it is that if a character is good enough to rate a movie then nobody cares about your stinking creative vision. These people became famous because people loved the character they were and grew to be. The movies should capture that, not try to reinvent them. That’s what Man of Steel did, and people liked it. A lot. When you have 70+ years of collective vision on beloved heroes, you don’t just go screwing with something millions of people already know and love… because your ego demands it.

What my wife said:

The wife’s opinion can be thought of like this. “I am so freaking tired of Superhero movies. I am only here because of my profound love of this nerd, but I just need something different to give a single crap about this movie.”

Mrs. Davis didn’t get that. Mrs. Davis was bored. The words, “Somewhere at the beginning I was thinking, ‘Oh man. This going to be such a horribly long movie.'” actually came out of her mouth tonight and that should just make the creators feel bad. They’ve created a story that can’t hold the attention of the people who may not be interested in comic book movies. You think that is impossible? Think again.

Jennie loved Deadpool. It was funny, it was fresh, it was hot. It kept her awake. Superman just didn’t. It was a snore to her, and if you snore the wives, you have lost the interest of millions of people who will do anything to avoid seeing the sequel… if there is one. Deadpool 2? Yeah, she’ll go see that even if I am not there, because it was legitimately entertaining to people who aren’t there to see their childhood fantasy realized on the big screen… which they are so freaking tired of.

What I think:

This one let me down because, from what I know of the comics, there was so much to draw from here that was just left so completely unused that the story came out horrible. Without spoilers, there were many very, very important characters to the DC Comics universe that were just thrown in here to add spectacle. Each and everyone of these people had so many legendary stories to draw from, that they could have made a movie, or several, all on their own.

Let’s take Wonder Woman for example. We have known she would be a part of this for a while. I’m not spoiling anything right now, because the movie tells us literally nothing about her. We have no idea where she came from, why she doesn’t age, what her powers are, anything, anything about her secret identity. She just sort of shows up. Out of the blue, there she is. It feels extremely forced to tie in so many of these characters for a big finale, but when the finale comes, you don’t care anything about them.

And that’s the problem, you just don’t love these people. You haven’t put in the time investment into seeing them grow and understanding them in this continuity. Just so that we remember, in my lifetime there have at least nine different people Batman in a major way. They all do it different and you have to ask, “Who did it best?” With characters like Wonder Woman , Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and even Aquaman, and the Flash you need a build up. You need to really love them, or really hate them. That takes time.

Instead you had a lot of characters who we got the impression the writing staff thought, “You know people know Batman. Let’s just skim over the whole ‘trauma’ thing. No one really cares anymore. Batman is Batman” and so they skimmed over that to fit in more plot. Wonder Woman? They never even said her name besides “Miss Prishhhh…”, I’m sorry I didn’t really hear that. What did you say? Prince? Fish? I mean, at the end of the movie we know literally nothing about her. It makes you feel like she was added for no other reason than to appeal to female audiences, which was fine… except to do that you have to actually make her an important character, as in a history, a motivation, a damn name for Pete’s sake! I mean, she is one of the big three. Give her some freaking screen time before the very end of the stinking movie. Honestly, feminists are going to pick up on this and it won’t be pretty. Then there was Flash, Aquaman, and the other barely mentions. I just want to say, I was really wanting to see more of these guys. I was excited when I found out that Jason Momoa was going to be playing that guy. I’ve loved him Stargate Atlantis. We see him for literally about six seconds in the film. It was just a massive letdown, though he does look cool.

Add to this that all the characters are acting in ways that are completely against their way for plot sake, which there is way too much of in not enough time and you just end up breaking what should have been the most awesome movie of the year. I can’t really fault too many of the actors. This really felt like direction without vision, but most of all, absolutely terrible writing.

As for the individual portrayals.

Supes…

Look, anyone who has ever read anything of mine on Superman knows that I think Henry Cavill’s portrayal of Superman is quite possibly the most beautiful thing ever put to film. I simply loved the first film. It makes me sad that it took a limey Brit to portray the ultimate American Superhero, but he did it. I mean look at him. That is a beautiful human being. I can’t say enough for how right his performance was, not only in Man of Steel, but also in Batman vs Superman. That said, even the strongest man in the universe is only so strong, and carrying a whole damn movie is just too much to ask.

Lex Luthor

Robert Frost really captured it pretty well a while back in What are your thoughts on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Trailer 2?

In January 2014, I answered What are people’s views on casting Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman-Superman movie? and in my answer included the following diagram.

After watching the latest trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I feel obligated to revise the diagram as such:

In that earlier answer I wrote:

Eisenberg is also too young. He’s done the young cocky genius in The Social Network and Now You See Me. He came across as a petulant child in both. Lex Luthor is not a petulant child.

All I saw in the new trailer was petulant child.

Here’s the thing about Luthor, he’s crazy, but not “Joker” crazy, more Hannibal Lector Crazy. Calculating, sociopathic, cool even. Sometimes he gets too cocky when he starts to monologue his diabolical plans, but that is really the “craziest” he ever gets. Eisenberg comes off as just twitchy and weird. I don’t know if they picked him for his twitchy socially dysfunctional depiction of Mark Zuckerberg in the Social Network, but this was just not the Lex Luthor you know and fear.

There was one good scene, where you see his plan coming to fruition in a beautifully diabolical manner, one which negates all of Superman’s power with just cold hard manipulation. That was a really good scene for him. Everything else, no. It was just terrible. He honestly did come of as more deranged like the Joker than like the criminal mastermind we all know and hate.

What’s more, his backstory was terrible too. All we know about him in this continuity is that his father was was from Eastern Europe when Eastern Europe sucked, he made a big business for little Lexi and that he beat him. Is that it? You want to break the world because your dad hit you? Have some perspective.

Look, a villain is only great when it helps you bring out the beauty of the main character. He didn’t. He was written horribly. He was acted badly, or at least wrongly. And he was even directly terribly. There were actually times you can hear actors refer to him as “Luther”. That’s an issue. It’s LuthOR”, with an “O”. For the director not to have caught that tells me he really didn’t get it when directing for this character, or this role.

The other villain

Look, I am just going to spoil this a little, this is Doomsday. He’s freaking important and a walking spoiler if you know how important he is. That said, for all the significance of the character, he is visually underwhelming (kind of reminded me of the new Ninja Turtles) and his plot line was reduced to just being weird. I mean, he has the coolest background, but they nerfed it to fit into the story.

So fans of the old Doomsday as a force of pure destruction, prepare to be underwhelmed, all the way from ripping off the placenta to the somehow underwhelming defeat, and in spite of thing you already know is going to happen which is implied by his existence.

The Bat…

As I said before, wow. This was just terrible. Possibly the worst part of the movie was Batman. Yeah, Christopher Nolan sort of reset the standard, but this was bad. I won’t say Batnipples bad, but ungood. I wanted to say that, “Hey, nobody expected anything from Heath Ledger’s Joker, but damn.” In reality though, Affleck’s Batsy was just terrible. You didn’t really connect with the Batman, or Bruce Wayne, at all. There was no personality, just sneaking around, and being angsty with Alfred. Oh, and there was a girl in his bed. And he scowled a lot and looked sleepy all the time. There was nothing inspiring about him. He was just the bad guy. Batman is not a bad guy. He is the Dark Knight, the good guy who just operates in the shadows. Why are you trying to retconning this into a “bad guy who catches worse guys”? I mean, it was a completely forgettable performance. All I could think of was that joke from the Family Guy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Xy5C-0P0zs

I can’t really blame it all on Affleck though. This one too, came down to writing. Look, this story moved too fast. You have Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, as well a host of other characters that were just forced to do stuff that doesn’t make sense for their characters just so that they can all be squeezed into the same place.

Spoiler:

Batman doesn’t kill people. He has this rule. We don’t kill people. He is also the smart one. Of all the Justice League, Bats is able to hang with people with actual superpowers because he has the overwhelming superpower of planning and intelligence. He also has tons of money, but mostly he wins because of his incredible intelligence, intuition, and foresight. He is never surprised. There was even an episode of the animated series where Bats is poisoned, only to come back in the end with the rational that he had been secretly taking small doses of it for years and was now immune. What luck, huh? No. He was just that prepared. Honestly, nothing stopped him because he carried every conceivable method for solving any possible problem in his cargo belt. If preparedness were a legit superpower, well… it’s Batman. He was also the undisputed champion of putting two and two together. With far, far less information than should be necessary to discover who done it, Batsy had the perp tracked to a warehouse on the docks and all mysteries solved. It was actually sad sometimes to see these demigods and masters of the universe all look to Batman every time and see him hold their hands like little kids watching Blues Clues. “Hmmm… do you see a clue?”, “Ooh! Ooh! It’s the moon!”, “That’s right Diana! Good for you.”

So what’s the story behind Batman.

  • Angsty
  • Doesn’t kill
  • Super smart

The new Batman? He’s not angsty, just grumpy. That’s all, just grumpy and looks like he recently took a melatonin. He just looks tired. Not sad or brooding. Just like he needs a nap. He also kills. He killed a lot of people. He even killed them with guns. What the? No guns. We don’t kill. We don’t use guns. We don’t kill with guns. I mean, this is crazy because Affleck is actually a really devout liberal, so to play a character who doesn’t use guns, but now uses guns because reasons just seems… I don’t know. I don’t understand the universe anymore. Then there is his real super power, smarts. He has none here. Seriously, he is played throughout the whole movie by people smarter than him. It’s embarrassing how stupid he is and how slow he is to figure out he has been manipulated throughout the whole movie into fighting Superman.

Oh, and back to don’t kill. I want to make it clear, he put a lot of effort, planning and detailed preparation into the act of murdering Superman. I mean when you watch it, it isn’t some sort of self defense thing. He is trying harder than anyone in the history of ever to murder Superman. But then what? It takes exactly 12 seconds of, “But wait! There is something else!” and just like that, he has completely abandoned his desire to murder the Man of Steel. I mean, you were wrong, but where is your guts? Honestly, I can’t think of a more unBatman than this Batman. This video sort of explains it all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwXfv25xJUw


Overall, it was pretty terrible, but it could have been awesome. They had a great cast that should have been able to pull this off, but writing destroyed the piece from the bottom up. Frankly, it was obvious that they tried to jump the gun on Captain America:Civil War, and it was a terrible idea. The pacing was all wrong. We just don’t love these people. We don’t connect them. We don’t understand what their motivations are in this movie. We don’t even know them. I mean seriously. Wonder Woman is an anomaly in this movie, just showing up in the end with both the other two like, “Who is this chick?” That’s really, really crappy setup.

Some of us love the characters from when we were kids, but the rest of the world was just lost and confused as the plot moved so fast from one person to the next with no real clue why anyone is doing anything. The background was there, there just needed to be more lead into it. Frankly, most of these people needed their own movies. We needed a standalone Batman movie to buy into this idea of Affleck as such an iconic role. We also could use a Wonder Woman movie. Why hasn’t that freaking happened yet. Look, the nerd world has girls now. Heck, even Lex could have rated his own film. Do all that and we get the movie this movie was meant to be, a real competition for Avengers, which it seriously could have been. Instead what does Warner Brothers do?

The suicide of Will Smith’s career.

Look, if Harley Quinn doesn’t carry the Suicide Squad, I don’t know what DC is going to do, because we are all a bit concerned about Leto and the Joker.

That said, there is so much that could have been done if Warner Brothers took the time to invest in the characters of Superman vs Batman (the correct order). Instead, it is diverting assets to films that shouldn’t be in existence, at least not until after the previously mentioned ones come around to bring the story up to the point where all this action has meaning and the relationships are established. The movie rushed it and that showed through. It was a terrible piece built on a foundation of so much good. The characters seemed forced. The plot is predictable. The ending was anticlimactic, and in the end, you are just mad that they would do this to the beautiful masterpiece that is Henry Cavill. Don’t worry you beautiful man. You’ll do fine. The rest of this franchise… I just don’t know after this.


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Does ISIS really stand a chance in the long run?

The group that exists today is probably doomed, but the ideas that they have propagated and evolved will live on, as will most of the individuals who are taking part in the atrocities.

The ideas that the Islamic State are building themselves around are not new. By some interpretations they can be sourced to Islamic leaders in the mid 1700’s in Saudi Arabia, but more recently in the contributions to these philosophies by others in from the Egypt, Kashmere, and others since the 1920’s. These ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world and are the root cause of Islamic Jihadism today. Until these ideas are segregated from the greater Islamic philosophy, villainized properly for the barbarity they eventually lead to, and purged by Muslims from their own practices, these ideas will continue to grow, prosper, spread, and evolve in places like Iraq and Syria (ISIS) , Afghanistan (Taliban), Mali, Nigeria, and Chad (Boko Haram), and Somalia (Al-Shabaab). Even if ISIS were to be completely routed and destroyed, (magic wand thinking), the ideology behind what brought it into existence will continue to grow even if the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant no longer exists.

Second, the people who fight for ISIS will continue to exist, as well. Most of the people who fight in jihadist wars don’t come from the land where they are fighting. Instead, they follow an international call to arms against a myriad of supposed threats. Below is an estimated map of where most of the international recruits to ISIS come from. The vast majority of are from Middle Eastern and North African nations. Still, a disturbing amount are coming from Islamic communities within Western Europe.

There are several problems with this beyond the sheer terror that it invokes. First that I will mention, is that if the core of ISIS were magically destroyed, all of these individuals would return home to their native countries. In places like France, this phenomenon has directly caused at least one massacre, as well as others in Spain and London, not to mention the rest of the Middle East. The fear that many international security agencies have had is that these individuals will go back home and bring terror with him, once again, independent of what is going on in actual war zones like Syria and Iraq. Charlie Hebdo provided proof of concept in this concern, dubbed “islamophobic” only a month ago.

Moving on from this is the international conflict it invokes. What happens if we were to be able to just capture all these individuals, not kill them, but not let them go back home? Well, they are still citizens of those foreign governments and now they are under US (or whoever’s) control. How would the Russian community respond to hearing of Russians being held by Western forces indefinitely for actions that took place overseas? What about the Chinese, or the French, or the Saudis? The United States doesn’t even understand the rationality behind it and will fight the very act of detaining known terrorists, so I have to ask about the strain this sort of event would have on international relations. Probably, in at least a few cases, important bonds would break down and geopolitical stability would be damaged.

Third, even if ISIS were to disappear, the Jihadi Wars will continue. As I have said, the land may be deprived of the jihadists, but their ideas will not go away, nor will the individuals disappear. They will continue to go on and spread their ideals and attempt to reform their home mosques to their own version of Islam. If we were to even hope to track all these people, it would require the creation of perhaps another separate CIA or an international intelligence task force with the sole purpose of tracking these individuals. It’s an almost impossible problem, let alone the philosophical and legal burdens that implies. This means that keeping track of them is a pipe dream. They will also take with them the connections: financing, weapons dealers, fanatical religious leaders, the media. These relationships will be able to grow, as well. So too will their will their tactics and the ideas which form the pillar of their fundamentalist agenda. All this will be happening as they reintegrate into their native homelands, unaware of the jihadist’s past.

Eventually, the call to arms will move somewhere else. It may be that the fight is called for Somalia, or West Africa. Perhaps it will be in the Kashmere region. It may just as easily move to places like Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Serbia, or even in Southwestern China or France. When that happens, the same mujahid fighting today will flock to the region, this time with their sons and their friends who they have converted to their perverted view of Islam. The rest of the world won’t make the connection between say, Chechnya in 2020 and ISIS today, but by the same connection, no one was tracing the link to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, or between them and the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980’s or between all of them and some Saudi cleric three hundred years ago.

If we ever want to truly see the forces which caused the rise of the Islamic State to fail, we are going to have to support Muslim’s effort to purge the jihadists’ ideology from their own belief system. Their media outlets and outreach need to be secured and silenced and as many of them as possible need to be killed right now, before they go on to pollute the rest of Islam with their fanatical belief system.


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Review of American Sniper from Marine Iraq War Veteran

So far, I haven’t seen very many reviews of American Sniper from anyone who was present in Iraq during the time Kyle was there. My first base, Al Taqaddum was about thirty minutes from Fallujah , the location of much of the story. Some of the times we were there coincided, so I feel like I have a different view of the story than most movie goers or professional reviewers.

I really don’t like seeing war movies about Iraq because, like “The Hurt Locker” and “Brothers”, they are critically acclaimed by millions who never took part in the wars, but create ridiculously stereotypical caricatures of real people who deserve more respect, and are abysmal failures of research into the actual military methodology that deserves more understanding. To me, movies like these are just riding waves of war curiosity and civilian guilt while telling their over-sensationalized story, rather than any semblance of a real story – essentially, an insult to anyone who actually took part in the conflict while making millions for people who didn’t. I fully expected American Sniper to be much of the same, so I was probably just going to wait and rent the DVD. It wasn’t until my sixth grade students, some of which still in diapers when I went to war, started asking questions about what it is was like for me after seeing they saw the movie that I decided to watch so that I could give an answer based on their new context, rather than mine.

When I sat down for the movie I fully expecting all the nonsense and war porn that was The Hurt Locker. My only hope was that Clint Eastwood, whose work I have enjoyed in the past, would do better. The lights went down and the opening began to the Islamic call to prayer. Before even the first frame of actual film footage, I was shocked that I was immediately taken back to that other time and place. What the Adhan means, to me, is an immediate sense of anxiety and foreboding. I know that for billions of people, that is not the case, but when the first place you hear it is over hundreds of loudspeakers echoing from the village of Haditha below your base, it is more reminiscent of the people living there lobbing rockets at you every week than of any religion of peace. Eastwood starting the movie with that, I feel was intended as a spiritual call to arms for Iraq veterans and for me at least, it landed. What the opening first scene actually ended up being, locked me in for the rest of the movie.

Where this film shines, in my opinion, was in the degree of accuracy it had in its presentation. As I said before, movies like The Hurt Locker turned me off for military flicks for years. This one got details right that I have no idea how they could have known. I have no idea how they thought to even ask. My case in point, which no one reading this noticed, was a water bottle used to automatically close the wooden door in their plywood shelter on the first deployment. It is an almost meaningless detail of that war that we walked past every day, but that you would never think to see in a movie because it is just so mundane and inglorious. But there it was. It meant a lot to me that that detail made it in, among countless others which will go unheralded. Honestly, the whole living area was done perfectly. It felt exactly like what I would have expected to see in Iraq. In fact, it was too perfect. There was no dust and everything was at right angles so shelves didn’t look like they were made by a cross-eyed Lance Corporal who lost his glasses. But besides being too perfect, it was perfect. To be clear, this was a very researched and well done military movie. There were times where troops wore the wrong gear and other things, but overall, very well done in most regards.

Second, was the actual portrayal of military deployments. Every war movie I have ever seen shows you and your war buddies gearing up for “The Big One” and going off to war. Those who miraculously survive come home to ticker tape and beautiful women, the war forever just a memory. What the regular people don’t get is that we go to war, once, twice, four times, eight times… I commented to Jay Wacker‘s review to his point that, “The film dragged a little in the 3rd tour, which began to feel a bit same-same…” which shows a great deal of how good movies run counter to real life. There’s a reason that the film drug during the third tour. By the third 6-to-10 month combat tour, life is same-sameish. That said, the fact that Eastwood showed the transition – civilian home, killing insurgents, having a baby, seeing a child murdered, playing with the dog, seeing your friend killed, going to the mall, nearly dying, as a realistic sequence of events does far more to display life for those of us who really deployed and our families. Living in that perpetual state of transition was a a mind numbing experience, delivered of course, by the film’s leading actor, Bradley Cooper.

Cooper got it right in so many ways I can’t even describe how much I now respect this Hangover alumni. It wasn’t his general badassness in battle. Every war movie tries to make their hero a superhero. Whatever, boring. I’ve seen that before over, and over, and over… So to those who see this as just a real-life Iron Man or Captain America”, you missed so, so much.

The scene that meant the most to me when thinking about Cooper’s acting ability was one that most people were probably bored by, but for veterans, really drives the point home that they got it right. I’ll throw a spoiler because the plot point really doesn’t matter. It was the scene where Kyle and his family are having the tire on their car changed. A Marine recognizes Kyle and comes up to thank him with all the “You saved me in, blah, blah, blah…” and “A lot of guys didn’t come back, blah, blah, blah…” tropes that are in every war movie. What you probably didn’t notice about that scene was Cooper. To moviegoers he was boring, but what I saw was something I don’t understand how he got right.

In that scene, Cooper displays classic signs of a veteran who doesn’t enjoy being thanked. He immediately deeply retreats upon being recognized and becomes politely evasive. His speech breaks down into monosyllabic chirps of general acknowledgement, while not maintaining eye contact and attempting to not carry the conversation further. While I’ve never saved anybody, I’ve had this experience dozens of times when random strangers thank me for my service. You really can’t describe the feeling that follows, but last Veterans’ Day when my boss made a big deal about thanking me in front of all my students, a motive I am deeply appreciative of, I was overwhelmed with a feeling I can only describe as a profound and sudden sense of humiliation which I can’t begin to quite understand. I had to ask her to stop. Like seriously. All I can say is Cooper’s portrayal of this feeling was something I saw in his short chirps and expressionless awkward glances that communicated a level of detailed research, coaching, and acting, to say the least of getting to know real veterans that needs to be known and acknowledged.

What I didn’t like most was the wife, played by Sienna Miller. The character was too one-dimensional. The acting was fine, but the role was built to serve as a person who represented the state-side life of deployed military personnel and nothing else. For that reason, regardless of the real Taya Kyle’s persona, the character came off as deeply unsupportive and against the war or at least her husband’s participation in it. It lends to the idea that “normal” people wouldn’t be all right doing what he does. The only time you actually see her mention that she is proud of her husband’s achievements was when he retired from service, which left a very ambiguous taste in my mouth. What exactly was she proud of? This felt very unrealistic as the SEALs are pretty much the most gung-ho, hyper military individuals that Hollywood often paints them to be, but their families are just as gung-ho proud as they are. They suffer the deployments, sure, but “My husbands a SEAL, dammit!” In my experience, you don’t find successful military people who have a home life with someone that unsupportive of their efforts “over there”, particularly when they were in service prior to their romantic life. I can easily dismiss this because this character, in the movie, is a symbol meant to showcase the torn nature of Kyle’s character, and rounding her out would have taken away from the plot while adding time to an already very long movie, but it just didn’t land home with me. The brother’s extremely short feature in the late story also seemed remarkably unrealistic and more Hollywood than real life. I get that he may not have liked the war (who does?) but the day you go home is the happiest day of your life. You’re happy. Act happy.

There were other plot problems, as well. Specifically, on his first deployment he is pretty much looked at as some sort of key leadership role, which isn’t realistic. He’s a SEAL, not a God of Warfare. What it seemed to me to happened was that several key leaders, namely SEAL officers, were merged with Kyle’s character for story telling convenience. By his third or fourth tour he would have been an actual Chief (Chief Petty Officer) and had a leadership role, but not by the first deployment. Abandoning overwatch to go house to house was also a bit unforgivable, because I said so. “Let me show you a few things,” to the Marines, which were filmed as almost incompetent, was a bit annoying. Getting a phone call in the middle of a mission? Umm… no. The whole climax scene was also really over the top and highly fictionalized for the movie from several different events in the book at once.

The last thing I didn’t really enjoy seeing; all the PTSD and blown up troops. Honestly, the next time you see it, attempt to find me one single veteran who left the military and was not very much traumatized or horrifically maimed. If movies like this were the only evidence you had to go on, everyone would believe that all 2.5 million of us who went would to Iraq or Afghanistan are sporting a titanium leg. I’ve seen a dozen different reviews that speak about how they did a great job of showing what it’s like for returning troops mentally speaking, but they really didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, they did better than any other, but you don’t feel what having cancer is like by watching an actor play a person with cancer. You just feel sad for the character. You don’t understand it, though. I appreciate how very, very hard they obviously worked on showcasing the issue respectfully, but honestly I’m concerned that the fact that since every war movie must show returning veterans as irreparably broken and destroyed individuals, (Brothers anyone?) is just perpetuating the idea that we are creatures to be pitied in the best case scenario; that is, pitied but kept safely away from friends, children, dogs, your workplaces, or guns because we will probably murder you in a fit of PTSD rage. We have enough problems without dealing with the stereotypes that films about the war continually reinforce in a population that has no first hand experience with its actual military veterans.

These few major points and the numerous small inaccuracies were why it isn’t a five star movie for me. That said, I can dismiss these because I get that we need certain things in a movie to take place and be entertaining to movie-going audiences. Enough of the details and story were preserved and given their proper respect that I can deal with the hyped up sensationalization of much of the movie. I do want to end on a positive note.

Many have spoken to the fact no one says a word when the movie ends. It was the same for us. The ending was extremely powerful and brought to the surface many emotions that you just can’t go back to the real world immediately from. For my wife and I, it remained silent for most of the twenty minute car ride home, as well. I dealt with a lot of personal feelings that the movie dug up. I’m usually livid after movies like that, talking about how this was wrong, or that was wrong, but Eastwood’s film just reached me in a way that others who want to tie themselves to the trials of military personnel couldn’t. The film respectfully and as accurately as I could imagine, tells the story of one American warrior’s struggle in making terrible choices, fighting against terrible people, separated from his family and doing it again and again for something he believed was important. To many of us who were there, the story also helps in a small way to communicate parts of ourselves we simply failed to communicate before. I honestly don’t know if there will ever be an Iraq War movie that I would give five stars to, but I am deeply appreciative to the work that Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, and the team that brought American Sniper have done to bring this story to the big screen.

In summary: Must See.


unnamedJon Davis is a US Marine Corps veteran writer, focusing on the topics of US veterans and international defense. His work has been featured in Newsweek, Forbes, Gizmodo and elsewhere. He is also a writer of military science fiction with his first book, The Next War, due out early this year. You can follow Jon Davis via his personal blog Jon’s Deep Thoughts, and can support his writing via the web donation service, Patreon.