Author Archives: fredhhair

The Augusta National question

So about three weeks ago the annual Masters Tournament was held in Augusta. This year, however, the tournament was surrounded by an additional layer of controversy not unlike what happened back in 2002. I know I am a little late in bringing this subject up, but better late than never.

For a brief recap, the Masters was protested in 2002 by a group led by Martha Burke. The issue was the fact that there were no women members of Augusta National Golf Club. The protest that was held was hardly successful. Flash forward to 2012, and the issue and Martha Burke have resurfaced. Only this time there was an additional element.

IBM is a long time sponsor of the Masters, and Augusta National has granted membership to IBM’s previous CEOs. IBM’s current CEO is a woman named Virginia Rometty. And Augusta National is still an all-male golf club.

I am not here to start a debate. I just have a hard time seeing the issue here. Augusta National is a private club. As a private organization, it has the right to set its own policies up to and including membership. If a private organization wants to change/update its policies, great. If it thinks the rules it has in place are satisfactory, that is also its prerogative. (Yes, I channeled a little Ron Swanson there…) But the whole point of a private organization is that it sets its own rules and shouldn’t have to have its policies dictated to it by outside sources. This fact seems to be lost on Martha Burke.

In all of this, did anyone stop to ask Mrs. Rometty‘s opinion? Does she even care to be a member of Augusta National? Does she even play golf? If I were her, as CEO of a major corporation, I would be somewhat offended if someone was trying to draft me into their pet cause. Maybe she was asked, and I am just uninformed.

Will Augusta National ever open its doors to female membership? Maybe. Will an all-woman’s college open its doors to men? I’m not holding my breath. But if either of them does, it should be on their own terms. Otherwise, what is the point of having a private club, or college for that matter? If said club is not doing anything illegal, immoral, or unethical, then forcing that organization to change based on a differing set of values is just wrong.

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Video games as a legitimate media

One thing that kind of irks me is the fact that you still cannot bring up video games in a serious conversation and expect to be taken seriously. Because video games are nothing but a child’s toy. To be fair, if you were referring Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Mortal Kombat, or Legend of Zelda, I would agree with you. Even the computer program I am using to write this agrees with you! It keeps telling me that those game titles are incorrect words. Anyway, I could go on and on with that list. Those games, while fun, hardly provide the mind with real stimulation and would probably never be discussed in the same fashion a movie or book would. However, each of the games I just named are from the 1980s and 1990s. Granted, some are franchises and are still around, but that is when they were started.

In the last 10 – 15 years, the technology available to game makers has become much more sophisticated. This has enabled games to become much more narrative in nature. Many current game franchises boast narrative arcs that are in many ways superior to many current TV shows and movies. Some that come to my mind include the Uncharted series, the Assassin’s Creed series, the Mass Effect series, and pretty much anything from Bethesda Game Studios. Honorable mention to the Metal Gear Solid series, but since its plotline is more convoluted than a daytime soap, it is not as accessible as other games.

What I fail to understand is that if I spend an evening playing a video game, I will be accused of wasting my time. However, if I were to spend the same amount of time reading, that is perfectly acceptable. The same would be said if I chose instead to spend the evening in question watching TV with friends. The argument here is that if you are reading, you are engaging your mind. If you are with friends, you are socializing. Well, you can socialize among friends with games as easily as you can with TV shows. Easier even, thanks to online play. And my counter argument to video games vs. books is what I said earlier – many video game franchises now have narratives that are just as good as any book or TV show. So my question stands, how is a game any less legitimate than traditional forms of entertainment? As proof of my argument, I present this clip from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

No, that was not one long cut scene. Actual gameplay was being presented as well. I picked Uncharted 3 to illustrate some of my previous points. Sure what was presented in that clip was way over the top, but that is what was keeping me engaged. The action sequences are fun to watch play out. I want to know what is going to happen next to the main character, Nathan Drake. The added benefit here is that I have to figure out how Nate is going to get out of the next set of problems that he will encounter. That is something books, movies and TV can offer in only the most limited basis – interactivity.

Allow me to present another example of how video games have evolved into a more sophisticated form of media on par with books and movies – the Mass Effect series. These games currently set the standard on interactive storytelling.  To quickly summarize, Mass Effect is a trilogy of games that I have followed for the last five years. The story, while not entirely original, was very well presented and very engaging. You as the player are given a large amount of freedom to resolve missions as you see fit. You can be anything from a compassionate and noble soldier, a rough around the edges badass, or anything in between.  Also, the games have a game save mechanic where the choices you made in the first two games carry over and affect game play in the third.  Your previous choices affect the outcome of the story.

The big plot twist at the end of the first game was brilliant. Every element in the story up to that point suddenly came together. The climax of the game had a battle that I would argue puts anything seen in Star Wars to shame. The second game in the series built on the strengths of the first. The story was not as strong as Mass Effect 1, but the game itself was still very compelling and so much fun to play that I spent countless hours with it. Based on all of this, I was very excited for the conclusion to the series, Mass Effect 3. I haven’t been excited for something this much since The Dark Knight movie. Ever since completing Mass Effect 2, I was dying to know how this story would end, and how I would go about doing it.

Unfortunately in the case of Mass Effect 3, I – and countless other fans of the series – was left with massive disappointment at the conclusion of the story. I felt that the resolution of the story did not live up to its potential, robbed the story of narrative coherence, and failed to deliver any meaningful denouement for the series as a whole.

Protip: If you have to rely on a deus ex machina to resolve your plot, you have done a poor job at concluding your story and central conflict. There is a good chance that you have also destroyed any narrative coherence that you had up to that point. A deus ex machina sucked as a literary device in ancient Greece, and it still sucks today. Allow me a comparison. Imagine that you have been reading all of the Harry Potter novels. You have grown to like some characters while despising others. You have become interested in the central conflict and how it revolves around Harry, his friends, and the series Big Bad. You have become generally invested in the story and its heroes, and you want to see them standing victorious in the end. Now imagine that that ending had involved the British government becoming aware of the wizarding world and thought that the best course of action was to drop a nuke on Hogwarts. That is what essentially happened at the end of the Mass Effect series. But just so you understand, the other 99% of the series was a joy to play and brilliant in its storytelling.

But my point here is not to complain about something I can’t control. My point is to illustrate that only a well-crafted story – regardless of medium – can generate that sort of reaction from an audience. A reaction that inspires thoughtful and intelligent criticism (which I hope I just delivered). These reactions can run the full range of good and bad depending on how well the audience feels the story was concluded.

A simple toy cannot do that.

Before I sign off, I do need to address one last point – online gaming. I did not want to stick this in at the end of the post, but honestly, I couldn’t find anywhere else to do so where it wouldn’t seem as if I was going off topic. Anyway, some would argue that online capability has produced nothing but countless iterations of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.  Call of Duty death matches can be fun, but I would never say that it is my preferred venue for gaming. And I refuse to even touch WoW. Grinding for levels is not my idea of entertainment or active engagement. If I wasn’t already clear, I tend to seek out games that will tell me a story. As such, I do agree that too much online gaming is to be avoided.

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Just another day at the office (if said office is in Baghdad)

As I promised at one point, here is a war story. The flowing account takes place in March of 2008, in the neighborhoods just south of Baghdad. I had just taken command of my company…

It was about this time that Baghdad experienced a spike in violence. I was not really tracking that as closely as I should have been, because I would soon find myself directly affected. When we were first planning this day’s mission, it was initially just to pick up some equipment at Third Infantry (3rd ID) Headquarters at Camp Victory. By the time we actually executed, it had been greatly expanded and revised. The original mission was nothing earth shattering or dangerous per say, but trouble did find us. Camp Victory was located at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), by the way.

After leaving Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kalsu in the morning, our first stop was to drop some items off at FOB Falcon. As we were rolling up Route Jackson (which is actually a main highway into southern Baghdad – Highway 8 if I remember correctly), one of the vehicle gunners called out a suspicious looking piece of trash. Turns out that it was nothing, but who knows if it was actually just a piece of trash, or it really was a component of an IED at one time? Stuff like that definitely gets your attention. Things were improving, but IEDs remained an unfortunate fact of life in Iraq, and incidents like this one are bound to happen if you roll outside the wire enough times. We got to Falcon without further incident, and continued our mission.

We got word before we left Falcon that we were unauthorized to continue north through Baghdad to BIAP, so that necessitated us going back south to the Hwy1/Hwy8 interchange, and proceeding to BIAP via Main Supply Route Tampa, or Highway 1. This of course added to our mission time, and affected the link up I had arranged to pick up equipment at 3ID Headquarters – can’t mess with lunch hour on Camp Victory, I guess. They complained that I was late, which I tried to explain was due to operational constraints. In hind sight, I might have been a little overbearing, but I made it clear that if I had to leave empty handed, I was not going to make a second trip to come get this stuff. Again, I might have been a little overbearing. I guess on some level I was insulted that they didn’t want to believe I was who I said I was without a memo. Also in hindsight, the memo is important. As it turns out, getting paperwork wrong where military property accountability is concerned can cost you thousands of dollars in docked pay. But at that moment, I was just a dumbass, new-guy commander full of piss and vinegar. Anyway…

After concluding our business at Camp Victory, we were getting ready to return to Kalsu when the message came through for us to divert to the Green Zone to make an unscheduled pickup. This was when things started to get a little interesting.

This is what I heard over the radio: “Sir, you’re not going to believe this. We have to go to the Green Zone to pick up Mr. Smith.”

Me: “You’re joking, right? Please tell me you’re not serious.” (Of course what I actually said was more F-Bomb laced.)

Sergeant: “Sir, I haven’t been in a joking mood all day.”

We were also informed that we needed to swing by FOB Falcon – again – to make a second pick up. My guess is that Air had gone Red (meaning weather had grounded all helicopters), but I was never really sure. And if I have not made it clear, the route into Falcon was treacherous; it was known to be booby trapped with explosively formed projectiles (EFPs). Whatever the reason, the soldier in question had been stranded, and my patrol was in the neighborhood. This meant we had to drive through Baghdad to the Green Zone (IZ), make the pick-up of the State Dept. guy, come back through BIAP and head south on MSR Tampa to the Hwy1/Hwy8 interchange, and then turn north up to FOB Falcon. After that was done, then were could return to base at FOB Kalsu. Remember, we couldn’t travel on certain routes in the city, which is why we were stuck taking the long way around. This is the type of crap that happens in movies – usually before something bad – and apparently, it was par for the course here as well.

The main road from BIAP to the IZ is designated as Route Irish. It is not that long of a drive, but there was plenty of radio chatter at the time, and I was about to find out why. Once we got to the IZ, we had to pass one of the main hospitals. There was a crowd outside, and some were injured. Rockets had hit earlier. As soon as we pulled into our link up site, the guys we were picking up lost no time in making contact with us. They were anxious to leave, as the Green Zone had already been hit with 5 or 6 rocket attacks that day. As we were moving to leave, everyone in the immediate area started to run towards the nearest bunker. More rockets were inbound. As far as we were concerned, a moving target was safer than a stationary one and we hauled ass.

By the time we passed back through BIAP and reached the Hwy1/Hwy8 Interchange, it was beginning to get dark. As we started to roll north on ASR Jackson, things got very eerie. The streets were deserted. There was absolutely no vehicle or pedestrian traffic. This is known to happen when the enemy is planning an ambush.

Sergeant #1: “Hey, are you seeing this? There’s nothing here. Not good. I don’t like it.”

Sergeant #2: “Keep rolling. Let’s just get through and get it done.”

Thankfully, we reached Falcon without incident, and completed our second pickup. On the way back south to MSR Tampa, one of the gunners again called out a suspicious looking object. As before, it was just a piece of debris. However, this time the object in question really did look like it could have been a component for an EFP. It was even resting at an odd angle. It was a definite “Oh Crap” moment. In the end, who knows what it really was? I was certainly glad to get back to FOB Kalsu later that night. Missions that I subsequently went on proceeded much more smoothly.

I later found out that everything that had happened that afternoon was all related to the Shia uprising that took place at the end of March. The streets were possibly deserted because a curfew might have been in effect. As you can see, even with all our technology and communications capabilities, the fog of war still very much exists. The ultimate end state in response to the repeated attacks on the Green Zone was that U.S. and Iraqi Forces took the fight into the Sadr City slum on the eastern side of Baghdad. We had to go into that area eventually. Hopefully some lasting measure of law and order was put into place due that effort and the many that followed for the next few years.

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The new reality of reading books.

Note before you start reading this one – this post was actually intended to be a part of a class presentation.  But as is often the case in creative endeavors, it was never used and left on the proverbial cutting room floor.  So I decided to post it here.  Enjoy.

It used to be that if you wanted to read a book, periodical, or magazine, you had one of two options: you went to the library or to a bookstore. These two options are still very much in existence, but consider the impact of the internet and the radical effect it has had on the way we receive much of our media input.

When I think of books, the image that almost immediately crosses my mind is the Amazon.com homepage. Launched in 1996, it was revolutionary in that it offered a wide variety books – far more than could ever be offered by a single store – and it would ship books that you purchased to an address of your choosing. You know longer had to go to a library or store to get new reading material; it came to you. Amazon.com has since grown into a global corporation that offers far more products than books to include movies, games, and electronics. Speaking of electronics…

In 2007, Amazon.com launched the Kindle, an e-reader that enabled a customer to download books from Amazon.com directly. No waiting on a book to be shipped. You could now download a book instantly. And the Kindle itself is capable of storing hundreds of e-books. Think about this for a second. Thanks to new technology, you can carry hundreds of books in your backpack, briefcase, pocket book, etc. at the same time. Not 10 years ago, this was physically impossible.

To carry this trend further, in 2012 most smartphones and tablets have the capability of installing e-book apps. You don’t even need to buy a Kindle, really. You merely need to download the Kindle app. You can be in a conversation at your office and have a book recommended to you. Using the Kindle app on your phone, you purchase a new book. Since you also have the same app on your tablet, both devices sync and are updated by your Amazon.com account. You can now have a new book anytime you want it, anywhere you want it, on multiple devices. The same holds true for various magazine and periodical apps and features. All of these media sources available on one compact device. And most of those devices can stream movies and T.V. shows as well.

No, this posting was not intended as free advertising for Amazon.com. However, as a loyal Amazon.com customer for the last 13 years, I highly recommend their services and Kindle products and apps.

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Just wanted to get this off my chest…

This is a first blog entry. I am thinking my theme will be that of the perspectives of a thirty something college student. In keeping with supposed internet tradition, let’s start off with a rant.

To put what I am about to write about into context, first let me tell you a little bit about myself. I graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 2001 and promptly joined the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. I have been serving on active duty for over 10 years and I have been stationed in Germany and Fort Stewart, Georgia amongst other places.  I have served two tours of duty in Iraq and I currently hold the rank of Major.  Finally, my current military occupational specialty designates me as a public affairs officer.  To that end I am currently pursuing a graduate degree in public relations at the University of Georgia to enhance my skills in future military endeavors.

Now that that is out of the way, let me move on to my primary reason for writing this post. For a while now, I have noticed a theme that has been making its rounds around the internet, news stories, and opinion pieces.  Specifically, it is that today’s young adults do not want to grow up. I recently read a New York Times article entitled “What Is It About 20-Somethings?” that discussed these said milestones.  This is the link to the article if you want to read it: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1332544000-M4zFRCMT0zR07ICtsb+35g.  Hopefully it does not ask you to log in, but I digress. Long article short, it basically stated that by the age of thirty the average adult should have completed the following five milestones: 1) complete school, 2) leave home, 3) have a job and be financially independent, 4) get married, and 5) have children.  More often or not, it seems that this criticism is directed toward men and the assumption that they do not want to grow up.

My gripe behind this is that based on that based on that logic, I should not be considered a real adult because I have yet to meet all of these so called milestones on the path to traditional adulthood. Commentators currently seem to be making a hobby decrying the fact that fewer and fewer young adults – and men in general – are getting married and starting a family or are putting it off more and more. My favorite argument, if you can call it that, was one where you are being a selfish person if you are delaying marriage and kids.  I forget where I saw that gem; I would cite it otherwise.  Another good one is that fewer men are to be considered “marriageable” because more and more women are outperforming them in both educational and professional achievements.  There might be some truth to that one, but I get the impression that this is being assumed to apply to all men due to writers like Maureen Dowd, so thanks.  There is also the argument that I myself do not know real responsibility because I do not have any kids. This is sort of a repeat of what I said earlier, but it has the added bonus in the fact that some holier-than-thou jerk actually said it to my face a while back. Just so we are clear, I have avoided fathering a child while not married or in an otherwise stable relationship.  That seems responsible to me.  I define that as “doing it right.”

Okay, so obviously I have done the first three on the list. I have even owned a house, and my car is fully paid for.  But I am no closer to doing the last two now than I was 15 years ago.  Ask me in five years if that has changed.  Anyway, as to the sentiment that since I have not married and started my own family I should be considered a kid, please allow me to respond.  Remember that I spent four years stationed overseas. Once I came back from Germany, I had exactly eight months in the U.S. before I was deployed to Iraq for 16 months during the 2007 – 2008 Surge with the Third Infantry Division.  While deployed, I took command of a company, redeployed it to Fort Stewart in July 2008, and spent the next 15 months training and preparing it for the next deployment to Iraq.  Half way through that second deployment, I finally passed command to a fellow captain.  Believe me, I was ready to step down! But again, I digress.  My brigade returned home in late October 2010, and from there I focused on gaining admittance to UGA with the blessing of the Army.  My point is that I have been sort of busy the last 10 years. By my count, I have spent six years and two months of the last 10 years overseas.  At least another year and a half was spent conducting various training events, field exercises, and mission rehearsals. From my perspective, Halloween 2010 until now is the first period in recent memory that I have had in which I have been able to experience – what I consider at least – a normal shot at a social life.  If you could find someone you could date, have a relationship with, marry, and start a family under this timeline with these conditions, I take my hat off to you.

Alright, I’m done. So I am a thirty something, single male graduate student (and Army officer) who likes going to bars with his friends, who likes playing Xbox, and who likes sleeping until 10 o’clock in the morning when he can.  I also like skiing, reading, rock climbing, golf, camping, shooting guns, watching movies, and working out.  And I like sleeping until 10 o’clock. Maybe I am wrong, but I think I have earned my current station in life.  So what if I am unmarried and childless.  That does not make me any less of a man. I have simply taken a different – some might say harder – path. I just want the opinion writers and talking heads to recognize that fact and say as much. Maybe they should do a couple of military tours in a hostile area and then we can talk. I know they won’t, but a guy can dream. There is also the possibility that they are not talking about me per say, but when I fit the demographic it is hard for me not to take it personally. This might have come off a little more bitter and mean spirited that I wanted, but I did say it was a rant. Maybe I am being unreasonable and I am just in a bad mood and merely need to turn off the TV and internet for a while.

Stay tuned, there is plenty more where this came from. I might even have a war story or two…

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