Jon Cazares

Jon Cazares

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Opinion: The Mueller Report

By now you all know that the full (but redacted) Mueller report has been made available to the public. I am slogging through it now. It’s long. Four hundred and eighty eight pages long. And I’m only one guy. It’s gonna take me awhile to get through it all.

But I have read a decent amount of it. It’s broke down into two volumes.

Volume I details Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and "if the Trump Team conspired with the Russians."  

Volume II deals with the president's “actions towards the FBI investigation” and if any of said actions are "obstruction of justice."

So far - I have some thoughts.  

So, what does the Mueller report actually say about Russian interference and collusion?

A lot. Like, way more than I ever expected it to. From Mueller’s introduction to Volume I of the report:

“The Russian Government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016. In June, the DNC and its cyber response team publicly announced that Russian hackers had compromised its computer network. Release of hacked materials -hacks that public reporting soon attributed to the Russian government-began that same month …. Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos … (said) that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The information prompted the FBI on July 31st, 2016, to open an investigation into weather individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.

That fall, two federal agencies jointly announced that the Russian government “directed recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including US political organizations,” and, “these thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process.”

So, this all makes it very, very clear that Russia, a hostile foreign power, endlessly interfered in the US presidential election. That’s not even in debate.

The next part of the introduction talks about how Mueller was assigned, came on board in May of 2017 as Special Counsel and was authorized to investigate “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election,” including any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.

Okay. We all know this. And then the report clearly says this:

“As set forth in detail in this report, the Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered …. principally through two operations. First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Hrmmm. The words “numerous links,” and “did not establish” don’t seem to fit together. Let me unpackage it all:

  1. The report says the Russians interfered. Like - a lot. Like - a huge amount. The Russians …
    1. committed cyber terrorism by stealing documents and materials from our government. Then, using that information, ran social media campaigns against Clinton. And because of the large amount of Trump / Russian business connections, the Russians -
    2. knew a Trump White House would be more sympathetic to the Russian cause and so they …
    3. contacted the Trump Campaign and said “We have a bunch of stolen information that will help you (Trump) win the election. Do you want it?”
  2. The Trump campaign went, “What?!? Heck yes we’ll take all your stolen goods in order to win the election!”
  3. And so the Trump Campaign met with Russian personnel in order to exchange stolen goods and documents.  
  4. But since there was no long term agreement between the two parties to interfere in the election, that means …

Mueller felt that the while the Russians instigated cyber terrorism and the Trump team accepted the stolen material there was technically “no collusion,” because both groups acted independently towards the same mutually beneficial goal.   

Okay. I understand. That’s fair. The Trump team never called up the Russians and said, “Can you steal a bunch of stuff in order to help us win the election?” In which case, for it to be collusion, then the Russians would have to respond with, “Of course! We’ll break into the US Government and steal a bunch of information that will help you win!” Because that specific agreement - tacit or express - did not seem to happen - then there was “no collusion.”

Which … is not exactly how Barr’s four page summary spun it. But, whatever. 

Also, I’m only about fifty pages into the report so far. 

More to come.  

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Notre Dame fire: Updated

A huge fire has engulfed one of France's most beloved landmarks - Notre Dame Cathedral, and it sounds like local firefighters are not sure they can save the building. So far, the roof has collapsed and the next hour or two appear to be critical in determining if the building itself can be saved.

No one is exactly sure how the fire started but officials claimed it could have been linked to recent renovation work. As of yet, the city is calling the fire an “accident.”

Construction of the cathedral began in 1160 and was largely completed by 1260, though it has been modified frequently in the following centuries. That means for more than 800 years Notre Dame has watched over Paris. And it’s not just the building at risk - there are irreplaceable pieces of art and one of a kind antiquities inside the building. All of which will be gone if the blaze cannot be controlled. The interior Minister of France tweeted that 400 firefighters are on the scene, meanwhile thousands of Parisians have turned out in the streets watching in stunned disbelief as the disaster unfolds.

This is a developing story.

Update: I just read that emergency services said they had salvaged as much artwork as possible, reporting that “nearly all of it” was able to be removed and saved.

Update: It sounds like a fire official has told local Paris news that the Cathedral has been saved from "total destruction," and "while it will take hours to control the blaze, two of the towers have been saved."

Update: The main structure was saved but firefighters were unable to save the central spire and the majority of the 13th century oak roof was largely destroyed.

Update: The Rose Windows and the Great Organ both appear to be largely undamaged. 

Update: The majority of the recovered artwork will be taken to storage facilities owned by the Louvre for restoration and protection.  

 

 

 

On Friday, April 12th, Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled the “Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play Sleeper,” after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) discovered more than 30 babies have died while in the rocker since 2009 - 10 of them occurring since 2015. The CPSC said anyone who purchased the Rock ‘n Play should immediately cease using it and contact Fisher-Price for a refund. The American Academy of Pediatrics agreed with the findings of the CPSC calling the sleepers “deadly,” and urged Fisher-Price for the recall as well.

 

No one is specifying exactly how the babies died, but some were from "suffocation" and most seem to have occurred after an infant "rolled from their back to their stomach," presumably causing the cradle to tip and the child to fall. A week ago Fisher-Price looked into the infant death report from the CPSC, and issued a warning about the product in question, saying:

 

“Fisher-Price warns consumers to stop using the product when infants can roll over, but the reported deaths show that some consumers are still using the product when infants are capable of rolling and without using the three point harness restraint…”

 

In other words - read instructions and don’t use a product for something it is not designed for - because that might be unsafe. Okay. Fair enough. But, that’s clearly “covering our own ass” speech. It’s not like parents were doing something completely unreasonable with the product. The Rock ‘n Play is a soft cradle that vibrates and it’s sole design purpose is to help babies fall asleep, and parents are using the rocker to do exactly that. And, at least 32 times that the investigation has (so far) uncovered - a parent’s reasonable use of the product resulted in the tragic death of their baby.

 

The recall was the right thing to do.

 

Fisher-Price issued this statement:

 

"A child fatality is an unimaginable tragedy. For almost 90 years, Fisher-Price has made the safety of children our highest priority.

In recent days, questions have been raised about the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper. We stand by the safety of our products. However, due to reported incidents in which the product was used contrary to the safety warnings and instructions, we have decided to conduct a voluntary recall of the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper in partnership with the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fisher-Price has a long, proud tradition of prioritizing safety as our mission. We at Fisher-Price want parents around the world to know that we have every intention of continuing that tradition.

Chuck Scothon, GM, Fisher-Price"

 

For more information about the recall, customers can contact Fisher-Price at www.service.mattel.com and click on "Recalls & Safety Alerts," or at 866-812-6518 from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. ET - Monday through Friday.

It’s official. This weekend at the Star Wars Celebration Chicago, Disney confirmed the official subtitle of Star Wars Episode IX will be, “The Rise of Skywalker.” But, who is the “Skywalker” in question? It’s been confirmed in the previous film, The Last Jedi - that Rey’s parents were nobodies so - are we about to see JJ Abrams (writer / director of the The Force Awakens and the upcoming film, “Rise of Skywalker”) doing a slight rewrite on the previous film? Perhaps the information that Rey was told - was a lie? I mean, it did come from a dude who is full on Dark Jedi. Or, maybe it’s a literal title and that one of our old Skywalkers from the past - will rise?

Vadar? Luke?

Technically, Leia’s character didn’t die even though beloved actor Carrie Fisher passed away. So, Leia can’t be the Skywalker that rises. Or, maybe a brand new Skywalker baby will pop up? And, of course - Kylo Ren is technically in the Skywalker bloodline. So, there's that. 

Too many questions, not enough Star Wars answers. I guess we’ll have to wait until Christmas.

Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker opens Christmas day, 2019. Featuring the return of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (using unused footage she had previously shot for The Last Jedi) and guest starring Billy Dee Williams  as Lando Calrissian. Returning to fight in the resistance will be Rey (Daisy Ridley, Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) heading up against the First Order led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Written/directed by JJ Abrams.

Star Wars: Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, will bring an end to the saga of the Skywalker family.

For better or worse.

The robot uprising, continues. Back in December, Walmart announced a partnership with Brain Corp, a Sand Diego based software technology company. Brain Corp, it seems, will provide the world’s largest retailer with - AI robots! As janitors!

That’s right! Walmart now has robot janitors. Well, not all Walmart's. In fact, back in December it was a rollout program with about 300 or so robots in as many stores. But the program has proven to be wildly successful for the company and so Walmart announced it will add thousands of new robots in more than 4500+ stores. All of which should be operational by February 2020.

Basically, the robots scrub the floor. According to the Brain Corp website, the “Auto-C,” cleaner robots:

“...allow store associates to quickly map a route during an initial training ride and then activate autonomous floor cleaning with the press of a single button. The robot uses multiple sensors to scan its surroundings for people and obstacles … 

But that's not all they can do. They can also scan shelf inventory, scan boxes as they come off delivery trucks and then sort the boxes onto conveyor belts.

Obviously, Walmart puts a largely positive spin on the robot uprising saying the Auto-C is more efficient and that by the way, “no one really likes the job of janitor anyway” (Their words, not mine).  

While it’s true that robots are more efficient than people, it still means that a robot is taking the job of a person. Positive spin aside, I find it unlikely that someone would choose 1) I’m super happy to let a robot take my job vs. 2) I have a job. Especially, since many experts in the field agree that automation will take over approx. 40% of the U.S. jobs in 15-20 years. That’s - well … not great.

Walmart claims that their “smart assistants” will allow workers to focus on selling merchandise & customer service roles. That’s true. What Walmart doesn’t say is that they are going to have to get rid of a large portion of their work staff as they hand jobs over to “smart assistants.” So, yeah - the employees that remain will certainly have more time to focus on selling merchandise. Fact.

The folk that get laid off might want to take some classes in robot repair. That’s probably going to be a well sought after job in about 20 years. Just sayin.

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Game of Thrones: The final season.

In less than a week, the final season of Game of Thrones begins. After five novels over the course of 23 years, two pilot episodes and seven seasons of the widely popular HBO TV show are finally about to see the end of winter. At least the end of winter for the TV show. And I’m okay with that. I’m not really a super fan of the show. I mean, I like the show. And I love the first three novels in the series, a lot. But books 4 and 5 were, um … long. Much, much too long.

Thankfully, the HBO series ditched a bunch of the meandering nonsense that happened in books 4 & 5 of George R.R. Martin’s beloved fantasy series. Even though that’s true, the farther the series strays from the source material, the less successful it is. And by “less successful” I’m not saying that audiences stopped watching it. No, not that at all. The most recent estimated audience for GoT is, “approx. 30 million people per episode” watch the show. So, it’s more popular than ever. I just think it’s inconsistently “good,” while occasionally being shockingly mediocre. Half the actors are perfectly cast and are considerably good in their roles, the other half of the actors are … um … okay (and sometimes they’re not.)

All that being said, Game of Thrones has certainly been a culture phenomenon far surpassing expectations for the HBO series. I would even go so far as to suggest that Game of Thrones pretty much is HBO. I have no doubt that HBO execs are ever on the lookout for the next GoT. Especially with something like five prequels/sequels in the works.

For those that are familiar with the show but have not read the novels, here is an oft repeated note that Martin’s readers all suspect - George R.R. Martin will probably die before he finishes writing the books. You see, the books are all massive, and it now takes him several years to finish one. Check out this list of publishing dates from most previous novel to the first one:

Book Five: A Dance of Dragons, published on July 12th, 2011.

Book Four: A Feast for Crows, published October 17th, 2005.  

Book Three: Storm of Swords, published in 2000.

Book Two: Clash of Kings, published in 1998.

Book One: Game of Thrones, published in 1996.

You can see the time increase between publishing dates as Martin’s world and novels expand. George RR Martin is 70 years old, he’s a big man and he’s not terribly healthy. He still claims that Book Six: The Winds of Winter, isn’t really close to being done - and after that one is finished he still has a final book to write. Which, if his usual pattern continues, means that Book Seven: A Dream of Spring might be out sometime around 2030. And that’s probably not an exaggeration. I drink to Martin’s health and longevity, often. =)

I met Martin a few times back in 1999-2000, and I was able to tell him a cute story. And, boy did I not realize how accurate this story would turn out to be (a story I am about to tell you). You see, I used to work in a bookstore back in 1996, the year Game of Thrones hit the bookshelves. It was an odd looking silver foil cover with no art, it just read, “Game of Thrones. George RR Martin.”

I knew of Martin as I had devoured all of his 80’s series called, “Wildcards.” So, Game of Thrones was on my list, I just hadn’t gotten to it. And so, I’m at work one day and an old gentleman walks up to the counter. He appears to be in his eighties. I saw him the moment he walked in because he was moving very carefully. I didn’t think his movement was only because of his age, in fact - he looked as if either leg joint was injured and/or he was very ill. Or both. Hence the slow movement. So, he comes in, he walks to the Sci-Fi section, grabs the silver hardcover GoT, brings it to the counter and says, “I just finished this and, it’s the greatest fantasy novel I’ve ever read. Do you know when the next one is coming out?”

I say, “Oh, cool, you’re the first person to give me any kind of feedback about this book. I’m glad to hear it’s good because I like Martin’s other work.” Then I look up the exact publishing date of GoT, which was only the previous month. I say to him, “You know what? It looks like the hardcover was just released last month, so we’re probably not looking at a sequel for - at least a year or two.”

And this man, again, in his eighties, matter of factly says to me, “Yeah. I thought you were going to say that. I don’t think I’m gonna make it that long.”

And then he puts the book down on the counter and leaves the store. That day, I 100%, bought a copy of Game of Thrones!

I was able to relay that story to Martin sometime in 2000. There was uncomfortable laughter from him. I mean, what can you say to that story, right? Anyway, I thought his uncomfortable laughter was appropriate. But still, that old gentleman really had no idea what he was saying to me, and that was back in 1996. And Martin still hasn’t finished writing the series.   

Back to the show, the GoT showrunners were given the general idea for the ending to all the storylines from Martin himself. So, as the series outpaced the novels the TV show was generally able to follow Martin’s plot. But, not really. The TV show has just transformed into something entirely different from the original novels. Characters arcs and entire storylines have been cut, or vastly changed. Some characters who are still alive in the books are now dead in the show, or vice versa. There really is no longer any comparison. A few years ago, Martin himself joked that the TV series has become more “fan fiction” than adaptation. And, as much as I love about HBO’s Game of Thrones, I kind of agree with that statement - too often the show plays out like overly melodramatic fan fiction.

But, despite its flaws, GoT is still the greatest fantasy we’ve ever had on TV. So, at least there’s that. And beginning on April 14th, 2019 -  I, along with 30 million other of my closest friends will tune in to watch every single second of Season Eight of Game of Thrones. And sometime in the future I’ll probably watch every episode again.

And again.

And again.

Silly little cat videos rarely catch my eye. But the moment you mix a silly little cat video with some of my favorite films - suddenly, I’m on board. And animator, filmmaker, photoshop guru, #catdad Tibo Charroppin clearly, has my number. Tibo is the creator of the “OwlKitty” Instragram/YouTube account. It’s a thing. It might not be Miley Cyrus level popular but OwlKitty (as Godzilla) destroying cities is pretty okay in my book.  

OwlKitty is the “stage name” for Lizzy, a two year old cat living with her humans in Portland, Oregon. Her humans - Tibo Olivia Boone have combined their work (animation), and their love of kitties into lots of adorable Lizzy meets Famous Film videos. There are multiple compilations. The one attached to the front page, I think, is the best, as it takes the funniest Lizzy/movie clips and mixes it with behind the scenes footage of Tibo making the, sometimes complicated videos with his kitty and a green screen.

From their website:

Lizzy (stage name: OwlKitty) is a two year-old cat living in Portland, Oregon. She stars in all your favorite movies and tv shows and gets lots of treats and cuddles in return. Offscreen, Lizzy loves her laser pointer, her adoptive mother (a 10 year-old tabby) and the taste of cream cheese. She’s never caught a bird.

So far, OwlKitty has made appearances in such classics as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, How to Train your Dragon, The Shining, Titanic, 50 Shades of Gray and Risky Business. You can also find her in Game of Thrones, Ariana Grande’s music video and Red Dead Redemption 2. (Editor’s note: The Risky Business clip is my favorite!)

Anyway, OwlKitty seems to be climbing up the charts, as they say. They even take movie suggestions to for OwlKitty placement. You can contact them here at the official OwlKitty website.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled depressing news cycle. =)

God of War continues to kill all competitors for end of the year game awards. As of yet GoW has taken home Best Studio Game Direction / Best Action/Adventure / Best Game at the The Game Awards, it’s won an Achievement in Game Writing from the Writers Guild of America, and now it’s swept all the major awards at BAFTA (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts) which is arguably known as the most prestige game award ceremony.

God of Wars swept the five top prize at the BAFTA, winning for Audio Achievement, Best Music, Performer (Jeremy Davies), Best Narrative and Game of the Year. The only other year BATFA handed out that many top prizes to a single game was back in 2014 when The Last of Us won for Audio Achievement, Story, Performer (Ashley Johnson), Action/Adventure and Game of the Year. Which, looks to be similarly what God of War took home this year. And since I LOVE The Last of Us, I think it’s high time I gave God of War a chance, too.

As for some of the other big stories at the BAFTA: Rockstar’s heavily favored Red Dead Redemption 2 lost in all six of the categories it was nominated. Microsoft Studios’ Forza Horizon 4 was named best British game, Lucas Pope’s Return of the Obra Dinn (unplayed by me) took home Artistic Achievement and Game Design, while Subset Games’ Into the Breach was named Best Original Property (also unplayed by me but now I’m totally interested!). Annapurna interactive Florence wins Best Mobile Game. And by the way, Florence is a very well done slice of life about the “possibilities in vs. the realities of” falling in love. Florence is very lovely, and very heartbreaking. I suspect adults will get far more out of it than kids. But, on the other hand - the kids will love Gods of War, so it all works out. Just sayin. And, despite just having English parents and leaders proclaim that Fortnite is too addictive (and that - someone should do something about that!), Fortnite takes home the BAFTA for Best Evolving Game.

Which, to be fair - Fortnite could be both, right? I mean it could certainly be a great Evolving Game and also be very addictive. Of games can be addictive. You know why? They’re fun to play! If the game wasn’t fun to play it would be a bloody failure of a game!  

Anyway, I don’t entirely buy into the recent WHO Gaming Disorder Classification, which parents are trying to use to ban their kids from all games ever. But, even in the actual WHO classification it says:

Studies suggest that gaming disorder affects only a small proportion of people who engage in digital- or video-gaming activities. However, people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities, particularly when it is to the exclusion of other daily activities, as well as to any changes in their physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to their pattern of gaming behavior.”

Basically, they're saying, “Um, yeah - well, not many … and by “not many” we mean “hardly any gamers at all, ever” will actually have gaming disorder. But, you know - just watch out for how much you play and maybe do other things once in a while.

Fair enough. But then, do you really need to classify it as a "disorder?" *shrugs*

For more about "Gaming Disorder" check out a 2017 article I wrote: The “Gaming Disorder” Dilemma: Game Violence, Obsession and Addiction.  

The 2019 Chicago mayoral election was held on Feb. 26th but since no candidate received a majority of votes, a runoff election was held on April 2nd between the two candidates with the most votes - Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle.  

Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, won the runoff election by a 50 point margin and will become the city’s first black woman and openly gay person elected mayor of Chicago. Lightfoot ran on a platform that she would clean up Chicago’s well known, historic level of corruption. And she is not wrong. I mean, did you know that four of Illinois’s last ten Governors were or are currently in prison? For corruption. Seriously.

Otto Kerner, Governor from 1961-1968 - sentenced to three years in prison for bribery.

Dan Walker, Governor from 1973-1977 - spent a few years in prison for bank fraud.

George Ryan, Governor from 1999-2003 - spent several years in prison for racketeering.

Rod Blagojevich - Governor from 2002-2009, impeached and currently serving a 14 year prison sentence for corruption.

And even though Rahm Emanuel has never been actually accused of a crime his tenure as Chicago’s mayor has certainly not been scandal free. As Rick Perlstein points out in his excellent, “The Sudden But Well-Deserved Fall of Rahm Emanuel” for the New Yorker,

“….Emanuel had became the mayor of Chicago, elected with fifty-five per cent of the vote in the spring of 2011. Since then, there have been so many scandals in Emanuel’s administration that have failed to gain traction that it’s hard to single them out.”

Well, Rahm decided not to run again and opened the way for Lightfoot. Lightfoot has never held public office but as a former federal prosecutor she certainly knows how to go after crime. The city has actually only had one black mayor, Harold Washington Jr., who was elected in the early 80’s but only held office for a few months before dying of a heart attack at the age of 65.

Lightfoot certainly has her work cut out for her as Chicago universally wins yearly “most corrupt city in the US” awards from all the right and wrong places. Even their very own University of Illinois releases a yearly report on corrupt cities and Chicago is always number one with either L.A. or NYC (Manhattan) switching places back and forth for the second and third spot.

Lori Lightfoot will assume the office of Chicago mayor on May 20th, 2019.

Evaldas Rimašauskas, from Lithuanian has been arrested for stealing more than $100 million dollars from tech giants Google and Facebook. In kind of a genius level scam, Evaldas simply - created a fake company and sent FB and Google fake bills for fake product they never ordered that he (obviously) never sent them! Google and Facebook responded by - promptly paying all of Evaldas’ invoices to the tune of about $100 mil from Facebook and another $20 mil from Google.

 

Wow. Who knew it would be that easy to scam $120 million dollars? But there it is.

 

On the other hand - Evaldas was caught. He even confessed to the grift, and now faces up to 30 years in jail for fraud. So, that’s not so great for him. But there it is.

 

On the other hand - he did live like a king for several years while he was worth a $100 million. So, there’s that.

 

Evaldas has agreed to, get this - pay back $50 million! WTF? Umm … well ….what happened to the other $70 million? Gone? Hidden away in multiple Swiss Bank accounts? Who knows. And what’s he plan to do with the money he’s keeping, anyway? He’s going to jail! For, like - a long time. And he’s already in his thirties. On the other hand, if he gets the maximum 30 year sentence and gets out of jail in his sixties - he’ll clearly live a very cush life until he dies and he'll have the money for great health care which means he'll probably make it into his eighties, maybe longer. 

 

This is one of those “he got caught but kind of got away with it type deals,” ain’t it?

 

And they say crime doesn’t pay.  

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