The Problem with Executive Summaries…

…is that it takes some skill to write them, and our Attorney General doesn’t have that skill. I teach report writing, and after thousands of graded reports, I know a dodgy executive summary when I see one. They often are used to conceal relevant evidence that would contradict the agrument in the summary – said evidence is buried in the full report.

This case is curious, though, because Barr did not write the report. Rather than release the report, he ‘summarized’ it – without telling us much at all about what is in it. Most of it is legalese. The evidence and warrant are missing.

Of my earlier predictions, I retract only one – that we would not get to see the full report. I suspect the AG’s tepid opinion, provided by Trump, will not hold for very long. Mueller’s demurral to the AG’s judgment is very interesting…

Report is out

Some predictions.

1) We will not get to see the full report.

2) It will not recommend Trump be charged, impeached, or anything.

3) It will provide enough evidence to convict Trump after he leaves office in more than one jurisdiction. NY at least.

4) Democrats will howl.

5) Trump will announce he is vindicated.

6) It will be damning, regardless of 1-5.

7) It won’t matter to any Trump voter.

Precedent

One of my pet sayings about politics is that Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, is the most powerful person in Washington, more powerful than Trump or Obama before him.

One of the curious things abouut this arrangement, however, is that McConnell’s power does not come from the Constitution, or even the formal Senate rules. McConnell’s ability to determine what bills and nominations are allowed to go for a vote in the Senate is real power, but no legally bnding document grants him that power.

Rather, the Republican caucus allows him that power through something called ‘precedent’ – not legal precedent, mind you, but just an loose array of traditions where the caucus defers to him to be recognized first on the floor and thus control the room. This maximizes their collective power as the majority by having a centralized leader. On paper, all 100 senators are equal, but realistically, Mitch has around 50 votes most sessions, not 1. This subverts the original intent of the chamber where the states would be equals, of course.

A few GOP senators, with a little planning and a lot of guts, could slip past this arrangement if they wanted. A rebellious Senate President (usually a junior senator picked for the day) could choose to refuse to recognize McConnell first and instead choose another more freethinking ally who could, then, move to consider what bill/nomination they wanted. And then the GOP rank and file would have to close ranks quickly to prevent, say, a half-dozen GOP senators joining with the Democrats to pass, oh, I don’t know, a reopening of the government, or something else that would make too much sense.

It would take great timing and luck, certainly. Mitch would exact revenge of course, stripping the rebels of their committee assignments and possibly dooming their seats, but the illusion of his power being ironclad would be shaken. And the Senate might even start down the road to being less of an exercise in vote-counting.

Nah, never happen.

Gillibrand

It is good we have a female Democratic senator that is an avowed feminist and votes on the left. We need more. I just wish Kirsten Gillibrand wasn’t one, and that she wasn’t running for president in 2020.

While she has seemingly always been feminist to some degree, she hasn’t always been liberal. This makes her just another poll-driven pol like her mentor Clinton, and casts doubt on even her longer-held positions.

Her infamous takedown of Franken was not irksome because of its accuracy. Despite all the good he’s done in government, Franken needed to go. It was irksome because he was a ridiculously easy target among countless worse – just in the Senate alone! – who would have not so quickly folded. Denouncing him was no braver than announcing she was against kicking puppies, and served her more than any of #MeToo’s collective goals.

Her New York seat has never been in any risk; she was recently elected with 67%. It was just another career move, and a classic example of the right thing done for the wrong reason. This means she will, eventually, advance to doing the wrong thing in some other matter – most likely by following a poll.

Meanwhile, there are literally dozens, if not hundreds and thousands, of more consistent and trustworthy female liberals in politics. Several are running for President. They are all better choices.

This leads me to my main agrument. A unwise assumption that lurks behind the desire to elect more female office holders is that women do a better job in such offices, and the more there are, the more powerful the collective effect. I suspect that the numbers will continue to improve, but as they so, this assumption will fade and be replaced with cynicism.

The likelihood that a man or a woman will become corrupted by power is, in my experience, identical. This will become more obvious only after something resembling equality in numbers is reached. Roughly equal gender representation in elected office is ideal, but let’s not pretend this, if even reached, will lead to better decision-making. It will lead to a better reflection of the diverse nature of the citizenry, certainly. But as more women gain political office, it is inevitable that many will become like the men already there – corrupt and craven and driven more by ambition than ideals.

This is not to say that Gillibrand is at that point yet. Perhaps she will redeem herself during her campaign. At minimum she would have to attack Trump far more directly than Clinton ever did, with the same condemnation that she gave Franken. She should have an easier time of it now that he has a dismal record to defend, but he will not resign. She, like any female candidate. will have to find a simple, brutal way to weaken him without getting the b-label.

I assume here that Trump will get to the election, of course. He might not. Right now, I suspect he will, no matter what is in Mueller’s report.

Would I vote for her? Doubtful. But let’s see what happens.

Mike’s Stupid Game of Thrones Final Season Predictions

Massive spoilers for all previous seasons of GOT follow.

There are really only two questions that interest me, and the possible answers are related:

  1. What happens when Jaime reaches the Starks?
  2. Who is Sam going to give the Tarly sword to?

Rather than answer these directly, I’d like to make death predictions instead and work my way back to them. Most of the chess pieces are in place at this point to be captured, so it’s mostly, at least in my mind, making the exchange, as they say.

Cersei and the Mountain

These two die in all possible scenarios. The only question is by who. Ayra, Tyrion, and Jaime are the top contenders. I think it will take all three.

I expect Jaime to reach Winterfell and offer his son’s sword, Widow’s Wail, as a peace offering so he is not killed immediately by Ayra, as well as his service. Sansa and Jon will back Ayra, but Brienne will defend him, citing her mission to find the Stark sisters on his behalf, his gift of Oathkeeper to her (and with Widow’s Wail, Ice can now be reforged), but she saves the best for last: the true story of how the Mad King died. Bran will confirm Brienne’s story. Minds are blown.

Then they will throw him in a dungeon just to be safe. Cue Tyrion at the cell door. “Why, hello there, brother. What do you say to killing our sister?”

Likely assassination squad: Jaime, Ayra, and the Hound, not long after, or perhaps while, Cersei backstabs the Starks and Daerenys. The most obvious course is to take Dragonstone with Euron Grayjoy’s fleet while the Starks are trying to fight the Night’s King, cutting off the Jon-Daenerys alliance off from their supply of dragonglass and setting themselves up to mop up whoever survives.

Naturally, the Hound distracts and fights his brother – regardless of outcome, their story ends. Jaime then confronts Cersei, but it’s a ruse to allow Ayra close to do the actual deed. After Jaime watches Cersei die, Ayra will probably kill him too, then wear his face or Cersei’s to command the Lannister army for the duration on the conflict (or, even better, kill Jaime first, wear his face to get close, and tada). Afterward, she will return to Sansa, leaving Casterly Rock to none other than Tyrion. If Ayra spares Jaime, he will wield Widow’s Wail in the final battle against the Night King and die fighting. Either way, Tyrion and Ayra “win,” as much as anyone in GOT “wins” anything.

Euron Greyjoy

Euron is No. 3 for zero chance of survival. Theon may fail to rescue his sister, but either he or she will kill their crazy uncle. My money is on her, as then the House can live on, potentially.

Jorah Mormont

No. 4 of the certain dead, Jorah has two tasks remaining in his very long arc. One is to have Sam Tarly offer him Heartsbane, the Tarly ancestral sword, which he gladly accepts.

Why Jorah? Well, there literally isn’t anyone else to give it to. Jon already has Longclaw, and Jorah is fine with that. Brienne has Oathkeeper. Ayra has that pesky dagger originating from Littlefinger that Bran gave her. Jaime, now on Team Stark, has Widow’s Wail. Sam ain’t going to give it to the Hound, so who’s left that favors a sword? Not Grey Worm. The guy that Sam knows well because he saved him from certain death from greyscale is the only logical pick. In fact, Sam’ll offer it to Jon first… who will suggest Jorah. This completes a five-person Murderer’s Row to fight the Night’s King on foot. Of though, Jorah is the most likely to perish in battle by saving Daenerys fresh from losing her dragon; he literally has nothing else to do in the story at this point.

But how are they going to get the Night’s King off Viserion, the undead ice dragon, to fight him at all?

The Viserion Problem

Sam has another obvious task besides getting Heartsbane to Jorah. He is going to tell Jon who his real parents are, at which point Jon will realize he has just had sex with his aunt, and Daenerys, given her knowledge, with her nephew. Ick. This may lead to a marriage, but more practically, they will realize Jon can ride the second dragon. That’s all a pretty straightforward reading of a series called, tada, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. I think they will both survive, oddly enough. But they may wish they did not.

The Night’s King isn’t going to be killed while an undead Viserion is still flying around. They really only have three things to fight Viserion with, alas. The remaining two dragons are one and two, and assuming Arya or Jaime control the Lannisters, the scorpion-like contraption that Cersei had built is three. A dragonclass bolt might do the trick. But I doubt the good guys are smart enough to use the remaining dragons to lure Viserion into such an ambush, as that would allow the other dragons to survive. More likely, though, for increased drama, both dragons will perish to take down Viserion in the final battle, leaving the Night’s King on foot and vulnerable, facing a Murderer’s Row of Brienne, Jorah, Jaime (if he lives that long), Arya, and Jon.

Let’s back up a bit. At the end of Season 7, everyone is heading to Winterfell. The Night’s King is headed there as that is where his real nemesis, Bran Stark, hangs out. I suggest two battles for pacing purposes. One to slow the walkers down before they get to Winterfell, which fails miserably and is made worse with whatever Cersei decides to backstab with (see Dragonstone musing earlier). Then, a last stand at Winterfell where all dragons are wiped out and any remaining forces try to give any Murderer’s Row survivors a chance to kill the Night’s King.

The Night’s King and the Murderer’s Row

Even GRRM isn’t going to let this guy win in the end, so who offs him? This assumes of course that he is truly a load-bearing baddie, where all the walkers he has created and any wights he has raised will crumble when he is defeated.

Of the remaining Valryian steel wielders, Arya has already had her moment by killing Cersei. So she’ll die. Ditto Jaime, if not offed by Arya. That leaves Brienne, Jorah, and Jon.

Brienne has two possible fates. Either she will die in battle, or live to hook up with Tormund. This is GOT, unfortunately, and if you think this will end well, you haven’t been paying attention. So no giant babies. And Jorah’s logical endpoint for his arc is to die saving Daenerys.

Jon, then, by process of elimination, is the only one left to do the deed. He has already died, so he has some serious plot armor. He has an appropriate weapon. Melissandre may even appear to resurrect him again if he missteps (and given his promise, his first act on waking up would be to kill her).

The Remaining Starks

The attack on Winterfell will be devastating, and dramatically speaking, at its most potent if the Starks are wiped out. Sansa dies defending Bran, and Bran is killed by the Night’s King, perhaps distracting or delaying him enough for Jon to kill him. With Arya already dead, Jon and Daenerys are left alone, the last Stark and Targaryen, destined to rule over a kingdom where almost everyone they know and love is dead. Tyrion, too, rules Casterly Rock alone, having killed (in some fashion or another) his entire nuclear family – mother, father, sister, and brother.






Mike’s 10 Best Games of 2018… or maybe less

I am not even sure I played 10 distinct games in 2018, what with son #2 spawning and a super-intense work-life balance, but let’s see.

Fallout 76

The multiplayer sucks. I don’t care. It’s got a huge fun sandbox and I can play it single-player. Not finished yet, but one does not play Fallout for the ending. One plays it to brutalize Super Mutants with their own weapons while wearing Power Armor.

Kingdom Come

This is still the only game I can recall where I murdered a Benedictine for criticizing my Latin. I would do it again.

Battletech

Backed it, early. Finally, a worthy successor to The Crescent Hawk’s Revenge. Only took over 20 years.

Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption

I backed it early too. No regrets at all.

Subnautica

An excellent mix of free-form exploration, crafting, and light combat in a unique setting.

Pillars of Etetnity 2

Like its precursor, the middle of the game is the best part. Not enough quality endings, though.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider

A little bit of Thiefy goodness.

Frostpunk

Good concept and flow, though it seems to me, after finishing, that it could have been more complex.

Civilization 6

Surprisingly good, especially on iPad.

Cultist Simulator

Dark and quirky, and also difficult.

Hey, what do you know, I did play ten! Most of these came before M, though.

Writing during the sabbatical

I may not have mentioned that I had a sabbatical this semester to write a book. It has been productive time. Of a projected six-chapter manuscript, I have drafted four chapters and about half of a fifth since late August.

It is a more complex and ambitious work than my old dissertation and will probably be well north of 100k words when finished. I am pretty sure, given my current speed, that it will be complete by May.

It has been enjoyable to concentrate mostly on reading and writing, if only for a brief time. I have also had time to push various articles near completion out, which doesn’t hurt either.

The only completely frustrating side effect has been all the ideas. I have generated enough ideas this semester for at least a decade of research. This means difficult decisions ahead as to what to work on next. Given the book will not be finished by Xmas, I can afford to introduce at most two side projects (articles) in the spring. They will not slow down the book at all – they will rather speed it along as they will serve as an outlet and break during the brief moments of block that I sometimes encounter. But it is very frustrating all the same to sit on projects that could be written in a month, had I actually a spare month for them. The edits and endnotes for the book alone will take two months, minimum.

I guess this all beats sitting around with no ideas, though.

Sometime later this month I will submit my 7th article in the last 12 months, a personal record. A lot of work, but the results have been slow coming. One acceptance and one collection chapter waiting on publisher review are the only good news. Another is still out, another is at its 2nd journal, yet another was rejected harshly but I am carefully working its thesis into one of the book’s chapters, and another was rejected 4 times, which means it goes into the cornfield until further notice. The last one is yet to be sent.

Still, work is its own reward, right? Ugh.