Here we are on day whatever of this eastern Europe thing
. It's kind of interesting though, here's what I'll talk about:
- Recent developments
- A blueprint for the future of conflict?
- The meta
- Global macro/investor's concern/opportunity
Depending on who you ask, NATO's either played this very well or very poorly.
What do world leaders get out of continuously publicly espousing speculation on the potential date of invasion, especially if such claims have been contradicted multiple times and been without acknowledging what intel led to these conclusions? I've heard people say it's to call Putin's bluff, but if anything, aren't statements like this just going to be used to paint the West as beating the war drum and lying about Russia? Is it to accelerate pressure for peace talks?
It is an attempt to remove any possible political cover for Russia and paint them unequivocally as the aggressors in a war of conquest. That in turn puts a lot of pressure on other nations to condemn their actions and acquiesce to sanctions. Which makes it a tougher choice for Putin to make, knowing the costs of invasion.
So yes, it is a way to avert war. And if it fails then it likely strengthens the international response.
While the US listed the 16th as the day (or beginning of the window), in my armchair I simply did not see Putin risking Xi's ire
. While there are other factors that might have made it worth his while, I was confident enough to hold long positions through Friday.
But now here we are on the back side of the closing ceremonies and, by varying accounts:
- Per US disclosures to media, Russia has moved 75% of its ground forces to the theatre.
- Russia issued a no-fly zone in the Sea of Azov, adjacent to eastern Ukraine.
- Various countries and companies have temporarily evacuated/suspended service in Ukraine.
- Per Twitter photos, *some* Russian warships entered the Sea of Azov.
- Per Twitter accounts, breakaway areas have seen forced conscriptions of young men.
- Per Twitter videos, some contested areas have been shelled.
A blueprint for the future of conflict?
"Per Twitter". Right?
It's both a source of unfiltered (but localized) primary information and a hub of propaganda. It's also rife with uninformed speculation *looks directly into camera*. And it seems both the platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) and journalists (who cannot easily validate the source data) either ignore these posts/videos or present them with a heavy "as is" disclaimer.
Kind of a shame that all this live information is lost to the fact that it's difficult to validate
. Let's solve it with blockchain, amirite?
On the other hand, realtime satellite surveillance is no longer the sole domain of nation-states
, so news and think tanks can track armor and artillery movement. And the internet brings live information from everywhere, including the blue force barracks - how does one even pull off a Normandy these days?
/r/Russia went from "Ukraine overreacting" to "the world's a liar" to "oh so every other country can go to war but we can't".
Putin seems to be following the George Orwell/Aleksandr Dugin/Roger Stone blueprint of simply hamstringing his opponents but turning bureaucracy and democracy against them
. This may work against Ukraine - eat a chunk of territory, wait until it's the new normal
, repeat - but I'm not sure it'll work against a NATO member. That's probably why he's so focused on undermining NATO.
The main world news subreddit created an ongoing (multipart) discussion thread for the Ukraine crisis
. It's an interesting naptime read. Participants consist of a weird mix of earnest contributors, bored otaku-types, people morbidly wanting to 'be there' for the start of the war, and people shocked or amused by the rest. See: the Reddit and the Boston Marathon.
For people called Russians they sure are taking their time.
Naturally, with the slow drip of news, the discussion turned into memeing
. One night everyone began watching US, Russian, and Ukrainian planes on flight radar, cheering on Homer and Forte. Meme facts like the Global Hawk flight time were thrown about like Chuck Norris facts and trebuchet stats.
Redditors speculated on the more conspicuous transponder signatures. But discussions featured some legitimate-sounding sources of knowledge
such as Ukrainians and ex-military. They're difficult to validate, of course, because no blockchain :(
To paraphrase, "Hey guys, I found flight radar for boats
And anything popular eventually gets its own meme.
Global macro/investor's concern/opportunity
In the parlance of our times: positions or ban. Seeing that the Olympics were ending on Sunday and Monday is a holiday, I opened/held a few positions with exposure to a major geopolitical event.
Energy crisis: BOIL, IXC, USO
Inverse/Volatility: RWM, SH, SPXS, UPRO Feb 25 '22 $58.50c, UVXY
???: Cash, existing positions
With the Olympics and Ukraine crisis ongoing, it seemed reasonable to watch Icarus. The tldw is that a cycling enthusiast wanted to prove that doping is prevalent in international competitions. In the process of trying to win a major amateur cycling competition then admitting he had beaten doping tests, he found himself setting up a safe house for a major Russian perpetrator/whistleblower
. The documentary did a great job of covering how prevalent and state-sponsored the Russian doping program is, as well as the major governing bodies' toothless response to Putin's unapologetic cheating.
If you can get past the first 20 minutes of cycling-oriented content, it's a pretty neat doc.
Life goes on ten thousand miles away
Local news: Dani
had a birthday, Regents had Pliny the Younger, Shar came to visit, and I tried JITB mini tacos.
A global macro strategy is a hedge fund or mutual fund strategy that bases its holdings primarily on the overall economic and political views of various countries or their macroeconomic principles.
Is this yet another reason to go cash/oil gang? The Ukraine saga has taken a few interesting turns since last time
For one, Russia has kept up the propaganda about NATO being an aggressor. Assuming this move has been planned for years, it paints all of the last administration's anti-NATO rhetoric in a new light
. Perhaps Putin expected a more destabilized NATO and figured he'd go ahead with the stress test anyway.
People talk about Crimea, but this seems to echo the Georgia playbook a bit more closely
During the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, American president George W. Bush campaigned for offering a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. However, Germany and France said that offering a MAP to Ukraine and Georgia would be "an unnecessary offence" for Russia... Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Bucharest during the summit. At the conclusion of the summit on 4 April, Putin said that NATO's enlargement towards Russia "would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country". Following the Bucharest summit, Russian hostility increased and Russia started to actively prepare for the invasion of Georgia.
On 15 July, the United States and Russia began two parallel military trainings in the Caucasus, though Russia denied that the identical timing was intentional... The Russian exercise was named Caucasus 2008 and units of the North Caucasus Military District, including the 58th Army, took part... Russian troops stayed near the border with Georgia after the end of their exercise on 2 August, instead of going back to their barracks. Later, Dale Herspring, an expert on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University, described the Russian exercise as "exactly what they executed in Georgia just a few weeks later [...] a complete dress rehearsal."
How did that one play out? Russia crossed the border to supposedly quell unrest. With Georgian loyalists sufficiently disrupted, Russia agreed to a ceasefire and withdrawal. They then recognized the separatists government and returned to provide military assistance
Last week, NATO-affiliated intelligence services claimed to have solid information on a casus belli plot by Russia
, much like their Chechen thing
This is a brilliant counterintelligence operation by the US and its allies. They normally don't publish or leak this much detail but they're trying to limit Putin's course of action (remove the power of a false flag attack), deprive him of the element of surprise, remove the effect of misinformation and propaganda, and raise the domestic cost on European countries that might be wavering (Germany) by socializing their publics about the risks of a Russian invasion thereby fortifying the western alliance.
Or, the Polandball
For a little while today, it looked like NATO's strategy had worked
Click for the full strip.
. Russia had announced a troop withdrawal. But then a janky-sounding IED was found in Donbass and Putin denounced a 'genocide' there. The Olympics aren't yet over, so we have some time.
Putin, the US and Canada distracted by freedom convoys? Rowsdower would have never abided.
Ted retired and unlocked the bear dude, so we're heavy on tanks and DPS, light on healing.
I played Quartermaster on the tabletop edition and thought he was an okay support character. On Steam, my level six build went a completely different direction and is pretty great. At low levels, he doesn't do much damage
until you unlock his Attack 5 card. Even then, he's kind of meh.
But then you get the Proficiency/Reinforced Steel combination
that is probably how he's meant to be played. There may be some better late-campaign items, but having continuously-refreshing Eagle-Eye Goggles with a +1 modifier
(for item use) is quite nice. Adding to that:
- The Quartermaster has bunch of AoE attacks and mine has a Battle Axe (double melee). This equates to decent damage and lots of opportunities to pull modifiers.
- Consumable items add buffs and status effects, the Quartermaster can refresh these.
- Not attacking? No problem, he can do a bottom move with boots of striding and refresh those. This means you don't need to worry about having large moves in your deck.
With the Quartermaster's card retrieval actions, he can get by just fine having burned two cards for their persistent effects.
My surprise when the instrument flash cards had an ocarina, triforce included.
My Mass Effect Legendary Edition playthrough has come to a close
. Since it's wordy and spoilery, I'll put it last.
Usual fun stuff on the homefront: kickbacks, brunches
, and testing the quality of sea walls.
ESPP dis/qualifying disposition
Random? Yes. But it'll help me remember/reference it later and perhaps someone on the internets will find it helpful.
For qualifying (probably most?) employee stock purchase programs, selling date tax thresholds are as follows:
- Selling within a year gets hit with short-term capital gains taxes and some sort of normal income tax (disqualifying disposition).
- Selling greater than a year from grant date but less than 18 months from the beginning of the ESPP period means you get the long-term capital gains tax rate. But it also counts as a disqualifying disposition, so there's a tax hit.
- Selling greater than a year from grant date and 18 months from the beginning of the ESPP period means long term capital gains and a qualifying disposition. It's the best, tax-wise.
If you're looking to sell earlier than 18 months, the 12 month threshold is better than 11 months. Share price notwithstanding, it's nice to get the ESPP grants primed by not selling for 18 months
, then you can sell at the grant dates and have a less painful April.
From mine and Dani
's walk recently. Didn't make me think of anything in particular.
Over the years I've had some list content
crop up organically - Speed Nite, J's video game punditry, rants about younger generations, etc. At one point I aggregated them in a side bar link, but I haven't created many new ones (this isn't Buzzfeed after all). Well, I was recently doing site infrastructure
work and trawling for images to use in graphics processing so I set aside some of my favorite original image content
Far Cry, Yaran liberation is nigh
And the game wants us to believe this is a bad guy?
Led by J and myself, Libertad has gained the allegiance of the three rebel factions and will be taking the capitol shortly
. Juan better not be evil.
Mass Effect trilogy finale [spoilers/plot discussion]
I'll start with a brief recap of the trilogy
, in case you have never played the game or missed some DLC or are me in three years trying to remember the critical plot points.
Millennia ago, the (skyscraper-size and squid-like) dominant inhabitants of the Milky Way created AIs, for all the normal reasons like cleaning and bringing in the newspaper
. The creators - called "Leviathans" by their contemporary discoverer - First Lawed
their synthetic servants. The problem is, they weren't explicit enough; the AIs decided that organic life will always kill itself if it develops unchecked
The synthetic space squids took upon the role and title of 'Reapers', giant, sentient ships that hibernate in deep space while life in the galaxy develops
. Once each cycle of organic civilization reaches a high level of technological sophistication, the Reapers return to the galaxy, figurative scythe in hand. They wipe out all advanced civilization and leaving primitive organics to begin the next cycle. Equilibrium.
Also left behind are a collection of prehistoric FTL gates as well as The Citadel
; a huge, self-sustaining space station that typically becomes a galactic hub during the rise of each cycle. The Mass Effect story starts with humanity discovering one such gate.
The trilogy and Shepard
ME1 begins a few years after the FTL gate discovery brings Earth into the galactic fold. The protagonist, Shepard, slowly unravels the mystery of the Reapers
via artifacts from the last cycle. To anyone's knowledge, the creators of these artifacts, the Protheans, were the ones who built the FTL gates and the Citadel.
The trilogy consists of a lot of running around, character development, and worldbuilding. The organic/synthetic/AI theme presents itself in a handful of ways before the Reaper threat even begins to take shape. While the Reapers are the overarching conflict, galactic politics, backstory development, and fetch quests serve as both distractions and rungs in the ladder to the finale
ME3 starts with the Reapers invading Earth and other galactic capitols. They are nigh-invulnerable and do the White Walker/Borg/tequila thing of turning friendlies into hostile automata. The only hope for the cycle comes from a mysterious superweapon
whose plans were discovered, developed, and then hidden by civilizations wiped out in each cycle. A schematic in a bottle, as it were.
At the climax of the series, Shepard activates the weapon with the help of military forces she united throughout the game(s). The superweapon (a big sphere) joins with the Citadel and summons an AI whose role is to oversee the Reapers. The AI tells Shepard that the organic-synthetic status quo is now in peril
and that she must activate a deux ex machina device that will either:
- [Destroy] Destroy all synthetic life; organics win.
- [Control] Embed Shepard's consciousness in the Reapers, making them servants of organics.
- [Synthesis] Physically and neurologically fuse organics and synthetics, somehow.
Control, synthesis, destroy, respectively.
When it was originally released, ME3 caught some serious fan backlash
. The players' primary qualm was that each of these three endings played out identically, except that the deus ex machina sparks were different colors.
Here you have the red/destroy energy color. Also available in blue/control and green/synthesis.
Story aside, this stood in contrast to promises made by the developers about having a wide variety of endings
impacted by decisions made throughout the trilogy.
The outrage prompted Bioware to scramble to release an "extended ending"
. The revised ending didn't change any fundamental outcomes but added narration and a few short scenes that explained more about the fate of the galaxy.
Disgruntled players also panned "space kid", the holographic form chosen for the Reaper watchdog AI
. Space Kid appears early in the game and then in dream sequences throughout ME3, but feels a bit silly after Shepard vanquishes the Martin Sheen-voiced Illusive Man.
I'm actually less annoyed by the Space Kid than I was the first time around. In a scene that is functionally like Neo meeting the Architect, I guess any representation is plausible but both a kid and an ash-haired man with a pleasant voice are a bit tropey
Tiers of goodness
I don't know if the original ending had it or if it was introduced with the extended version, but on this playthrough I found out that there are better and worse versions of each ending
. E.g. the low-tier 'destroy' ending basically EMPs the galaxy, killing everything synthetic (Reapers, AI, FTL gates, mass effect field toothbrushes). With enough galactic unity points that you accrue throughout the game, the FTL network remains functional and spacecraft can be repaired. It's ultimately the difference between sending the galaxy back to the stone age and lightly damaging everyone's cellphone.
It's a little weird that galactic unity somehow impacts how bad the damage is
. Its primary purpose in the original release was to unlock the synthesis option and was difficult to obtain without online play (an extremely EA thing).
On my first playthrough (way back when), I went with 'synthesis' because even Space Kid says "it's the ideal outcome". This time around, it seemed like 'destroy' was the right play
. I had enough galaxy points to get the least destructive flavor and it even ends with a teaser that Shepard survived. The other two endings explicitly require Shepard to die.
Even with just three-ish endings, Bioware still kind of goofed by having the Normandy crew declare Shepard KIA rather prematurely.
And another thing
My remaining qualms come from the handwavey stuff associated with the ending:
- Space Kid: "Welllll I never tried synthesis because organics weren't 'ready'". Huh? Any amount of anthropological development is wiped out each cycle. How were organics supposed to become 'ready'? I could have believed something like, "No prior cycle had this level of galactic cooperation, you guys are my best shot at this". That would at least jive with the Prothean story - their downfall was due, in part, to being imperialist/monocultural.
- It's weird that Space Kid AI was watching from the Citadel but did absolutely nothing until now, especially if this cycle was tending toward being 'ready'. It's not exactly a plot hole but it sure comes out of nowhere.
- Shepard getting to the finish line means the status quo is broken. Or, like, now you can tell the Reapers how to destroy the Crucible (superweapon) plans and patch the Citadel so it won't happen again.
- The generational development of the crucible is neat and all, but requires suspending a lot of disbelief. Like, how did it even begin? Who wrote the ICD and in what language? How lucky is it that the thing didn't get get lost in a reaping or volcano.
- The better 'destroy' endings show damage to things (FTL gates, the Citadel) that to my knowledge aren't within anyone's capability to repair.
- In spite of the "Cerberus/ethnocentrism is bad" theme, the trilogy progressively becomes more and more human-centric. ME1 was all about Earthicans being a small fish in a big pond, by the end of ME3 the #2 baddie is human, the Reapers decide humans are their prime target, and the Citadel has relocated to Earth orbit. It's a weird thematic shift that might make sense if the Alliance (Earth) experienced some sort of large-scale character development. It doesn't, the only influential humans are a handful of unchanging allies and enemies.
In the original release, the last thing you'd see after the credits rolled was a dialog encouraging you to buy the DLC. Already discontent with the ending, fans didn't like the EAness of it. Legendary Edition revised this a bit.
Despite some creeping flaws that progress with the trilogy, it's my all-time favorite single player game
and one of my favorite sci-fi stories. And I would be remiss not to say that the writing and gameplay improved each game (save for some really tropey stuff near the end of ME3). I'm super happy to have replayed the trilogy, my only regret is that I couldn't let both Kaiden and Ashley stay on Virmire.