The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Deadly Force and Hindsight

... This news article is not a new story, but I only found out about it when a friend shared this update to it a few weeks ago... or I could mention this blog post as well.

My purpose in talking about this police shooting actually doesn't have much to do with any judgment-related problems. Rather, there's one detail here that jumped out at me: the update talks about one of the police officers involved being fired for not shooting at the suspect.

It turns out the first police officer to confront the suspect decided that the threat didn't yet merit the use of deadly force, and elected to try and de-escalate the situation. When the suspect turned away from him and started walking towards the other two police officers present, one of them killed the suspect. The police officer who didn't fire was terminated, on the grounds that he put his fellow officers in danger.

It turns out he was probably right in that initial judgment call. The guy in question was attempting to manipulate his wife by threatening suicide... then said he was going to get the cops to do it... and his gun was unloaded.

The slightly weird thing is that it still adds up to a justifiable shooting. There's no way for any of the police officers to know his gun was unloaded, and I can readily understand that someone further away might not have seen the same things that the closer officer saw, and therefore believe himself justified in opening fire. Also, frankly, if the police department wants to say that the termination had nothing to do with this specific incident and more to do with past incidents... fine, I don't care enough to debate that point.

But where the police department's termination letter (at the very bottom of this story) talks about his failure to react and shoot this particular person? It is quite badly wrong. Not employing deadly force should not be mistaken for a failure to judge the situation and decide. That decision is the responsibility we assign to those who have the right to use deadly force - and our society cannot handicap those people by telling them that one decision is always wrong. We can demand they hold themselves to a high standard, we can demand they be trained to the best standards possible, we can ask what they were thinking when we don't understand what happened, and we can track the situation on a larger scale to ensure that there aren't more general problems with training or judgment - but if all those factors are in place, then imagining that we know better than the experts we've had trained in this field is just as wrong as it would be for any other.

This is already the situation the military finds itself in - public trust in that organization is consistently high (although not universally so, of course, and I wouldn't argue that the military has never had any problems of this type). We're not quite there with the police yet (whether that's because the public doesn't realize those factors are in place or because they aren't actually in place is a topic for multiple other blog posts), but trying to play games with specific problems isn't going to get us there.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Educational Priorities

I occasionally run into some Prager University videos on my Facebook news feed. Out of all the conservative media I get, they have a better than average chance of being well thought out enough to avoid obvious pitfalls. Unfortunately that's not the same thing as saying they're right, and it's also worth pointing out that the average is pretty bad, so it's not that hard to do a little better.

Anyway, I do occasionally watch them, and I usually have something to say afterwards. So today I'm responding to "Every High School Principal Should Say This". Mostly because I was curious what sort of ideas the right wing thinks might improve our schools. The whole thing is set up as a speech that a new high school principal gives by way of introducing himself and what he intends to focus on.

While I can see some good intent in some of the points, overall I don't like it very much. If I had to summarize... basically, I think several of the things this is trying to "fix" weren't problems in the first place, some of the others will make existing problems worse, and many of the problems we do have with are education system aren't made any better or worse by changing these things.

Now for specific issues with each point.

Point one doesn't start out too badly with its call for equal regard, but it quickly gets worse as he dismisses the value of any identity other than American. You can't make people just decide that the parts of their identity that have to do with their ethnicity, their sex, their religion, etc. aren't important. Trying to do so is mostly just going to damage their self-esteem and make bullying and suicide problems worse. And pretending that identity-specific clubs only have value to people in those specific groups is fairly short-sighted; they often serve as great places for members of other groups to learn about other cultures and other ways of thinking - which is an incredibly valuable thing to learn. (Incidentally, it's funny that he talks about learning language at the end of that part - because doing so without studying "national identities other than American" is a difficult and unhelpful way to study language.)

Point two I really don't have any problem with. Some schools might want to focus on international students and have classes taught in foreign languages, but that wouldn't define more than a relatively small handful of schools.

Point three... also no real problems. I think focusing on modes of address might be focusing a bit too much on the appearance of an appropriately formal relationship versus actually encouraging appropriate relationships between students and teachers, but that's more of a minor nitpick.

Point four I also have no problems with.

Point five... based on what I said about point one above I think my reaction should probably be obvious. But just to spell it out: This is an absolutely terrible sentiment. If you don't have any self-esteem at all, if you don't believe that your best effort will have any effect, then many people wouldn't even try. Lack of self-esteem therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the only way to break the cycle is to gain enough confidence to try, and to keep that confidence even if you fail. (In fact, that's a great skill to have throughout one's life.) So ensuring that your students have enough confidence and self-esteem to keep trying is one of the most vital duties an educator has.

In his defense, he may have intended just to repudiate the idea that multiple people can win and emphasize that effort is rewarded. But it's still phrased in such a way that makes it sound like he doesn't care about self-esteem.

Point six is simply irritating in multiple different ways. It's kind of amusing that he says he's going to reject politics and then goes into a discussion of issues that is a straight run down the Republican party platform. Any Democrat, of course, would tell you that allowing the school not to cover those issues would be worrying about propaganda rather than science. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Memories of Unity

As we remember the events on this day 15 years ago, one memory that often rises up is the sense of unity we felt as we dealt with a horrible tragedy.

Unfortunately, the contrast that memory presents with more recent events is one of the reasons why it comes up so often.

Of course, the next point that often comes up involves blaming one side or the other for the increase in polarization. Even if such arguments are true, correctly blaming people for what they've done wrong isn't going to foster unity.

Even as we disagree, we need to learn how to acknowledge why our opponents believe what they do, what they do right, and where we agree. Even if we don't agree in anything other than wanting the United States to be the best country it can possibly be, that's still better than nothing.

It's not going to make us always agree. It's not going to make the issues we argue about any less important; sometimes trying to work on unity is going to have to get in line behind advocating for people's rights and freedoms. And one side or the other can destroy the whole effort unilaterally; both sides have to agree that it's worth it and put in the work to make it happen.

If we can do it, though, I think we can look forward to a better country.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Once more

All right, let's see if I can actually maintain a steady series of posts here after... what, a year and a half of nothing?

I'll try to post something every Saturday evening. Starting today.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Yet another long delay...

Hasn't been that much on the blog lately. My anime consumption has fallen off a bit, my Japanese games are sitting unused, and I guess I just don't feel like writing about the arcade games or Steam games I'm playing. (That and the amount of time I have to put into my work has gone from "I'd rather have more time to myself" to "you have got to be kidding me".)

I'm not even going to bother apologizing for the lack of content or making promises about how I'm going to turn things around this time. I think I'll just say that occasional gaps are probably going to be a fact of life around here and move on to coming up with other things to post about.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

National Novel Writing Month... again

Here we go again.

The last two years have been pretty bad for NaNoWriMo. I know it's possible to do it despite the pressures of a military career, but somehow I've never quite gotten an idea good enough to make me spend my (suddenly much more limited) free time on it.

Hopefully this will be the year that changes that. I wouldn't say I've got a good idea this year (it's a variation on the old fantasy classic of "group of heroes gets summoned into alternate universe") but so far it's been compelling enough to keep me writing through the first few days.

Some of what I'm trying is not new. (Like the general idea for my plot.) Or like the chapter titles which are all references to another field yet still make sense as descriptions of what's going on in the plot. I did that last time I won NaNoWriMo, using chapter titles based on computer science; this year it's navigation.

Other tricks I'm trying are new - like making a whole bunch of little text files (each about 600 words or so) and using each one for an individual scene in each chapter. This way, if I don't feel like writing a particular scene, I can just skip it and go to the next one. Or the wide variety of reference files (that I still haven't put anything in beyond names) that should have descriptions of all the people and places I've come up with.

It's probably going to need a lot of editing come December, but that's always the way that NaNoWriMo works, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anime Review: Aldnoah.Zero

I will attempt to make this mostly spoiler free, but I may end up leaving a couple hints about events in later episodes. The last paragraph in particular (starting with "finally", appropriately) will have some hints about the ending.

Essentially, Aldnoah.Zero is a science fiction anime focusing on ground combat. Simply watching various giant mecha, ships, and scenery get blown up in various ways is worth a bit of entertainment, as always, and this anime doesn't disappoint in that regard.

Mostly, though, I ended up thinking about the military and about war while I was watching it.

Part of that has to do with the massive technology imbalance. The Versian (hereafter "Martian", since Vers is just the name of the government formed by the colony on Mars) forces have technology literally generations ahead of the Earth forces. If I were drawing comparisons using modern technology, I would probably compare it to a modern armored cavalry unit attacking a trench line in WWI. On paper, there's absolutely no reason to believe the Earth forces should be able to pose any threat at all, let alone win.

Yet they do, and it's actually not horribly contrived, mostly because the Martian forces barely deserve to be called a military at all. The anime creates a picture of an almost feudal society based on the right to use their advanced technology, and the "knights" that that society produces hate working together, see each other as their primary competition, and trust far too much in their advanced technology... and they still inflict incredible casualties on the Earth forces in exchange for each knight the Earth mecha manage to take down. The Earth forces use good intelligence and quick thinking to find and exploit weaknesses in their enemies' advanced tech, but still have to take extreme risks to win and still have to retreat often when their enemies' weaknesses aren't known or can't be exploited. It seems rather realistic to me, inasmuch as that term can be applied at all to soft science fiction.

Which isn't to say I don't have problems... the most serious of which is that the Martian forces shouldn't need to come to Earth's surface at all in order to eliminate strong points. They're clearly capable of bombarding the surface from orbit, Earth just as clearly doesn't have any good weapons to take out orbital targets, yet the Martians never seem to notice or use that advantage at all. Given all the stupid things the Martian forces do in the course of this anime, though, that one is rather easily ignored.

As for some of the other details... well, I can't decide if it's a problem or simply an unwelcome reflection on the ability of military organizations to react quickly. The Earth forces, for all that they are much better organized than the Martians, don't seem to have the faintest clue what the Martians are capable of or how they should fight at the beginning of the anime. A lot of the redshirts that make up those incredible casualties I talked about simply charge into battle, guns blazing, trusting that AP bullets and HE grenades will work against gravity manipulation, plasma weapons, and advanced sensors and jamming capabilities. The good intelligence the Earth forces manage to get all too often comes at the cost of those lives... and I can't quite decide whether the anime is painting an overly negative picture of a military's ability to adapt to a previously unknown threat, or exactly the right picture.

For that matter, many of the pilots continue to charge ahead, even after they've had the chance to realize what the Martians were capable of. Some of it can be attributed to trust that the veterans among them will be able to figure out the enemy's weakness quickly, but some of it is just as pointless as it was the last time they tried it. I suppose that is the nature of the risk they're taking in order to win, even if I'd like to think that they should be trying for better intelligence.

I will take a moment here to note one more flaw - apparently the main character, a high school student, is a better pilot than almost all of the trained military pilots in this entire anime. Granted their alternate history has military training in high school after the first Martian war, so he's not completely untrained, and granted that his trainer has less armor and is theoretically more maneuverable than the actual combat model, but still, that's a little jarring. That he can also apparently think quicker and more creatively than most of those pilots is less surprising, since that ability relies less on training, but his ability to notice and exploit weaknesses, which absolutely none of these trained pilots seem to have, is still a little too impressive.

Finally, a significant portion of the anime ends up as a reflection on why wars start, what reasons people have for starting them, and how they can be ended. Both sides fumble around a bit, without seeming to have a way (or a desire) to strike at the other side's center of gravity (that term refers to something without which a country cannot make war). There are a few dramatic gestures and attempts to end the war by clearing up the confusion that shrouded the start of the war... but no, I'm not going to turn these hints into overt spoilers by saying how that turns out. Overall, I found the ending rather unsatisfying, although once again, it may be that the message the anime is trying to send isn't what I want to hear. I suppose I'll have to wait and see if the planned second season clears things up a bit, or merely weakens the themes of the first with a needless extension.

Either way, I highly recommend this anime - partly for the action sequences, and partly because I found it very thought-provoking.