Sandy Hook, Months Later.

All of us have recently watched the outpouring of sentiment in regards to the massacre of unarmed children at Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut.  For reasons that should be tiringly obvious, the standard actors have been marched onto the stage in order to trumpet some despairingly familiar refrains.  For reasons I cannot readily identify, I’ve been moved to respond this time, despite the fact that this blog has been quiet on basically every other issue.  As a parent, and as a thinking human being, this one seems like a softball.

After all the body counts have been taken, after all the reactionary rhetoric on both sides has been exhausted, it seems agreed upon that inactivity is an unacceptable response.  The most important question, the one that should guide all our thinking is, what to do?  What is our strategy?  Specifically: what do we want to achieve?

In my professional career, I have rarely embarked on any long-term or large-scale project without a clear and concise answer to that question, as well as the implied followup, “and how will we measure our success?”  Since the pundits seem unable to answer this question and the entrenched interests are incapable, I’d volunteer an answer to this one right off the bat.  Our objective is to reduce the number of incidents of preventable gun deaths overall.

This statement should be uncontroversial, and it is worded quite specifically.  If you don’t agree, there isn’t going to be much common ground south of here.  Notice the characteristics of this statement:

1. We say reduce, not ‘end.’  We say this because we are working inside reality. While a 100% success rate would be wonderful, let’s just call that good news if it happens and continue to target realistic, reality-based improvements.

S2. We don’t say massacres, crime, threats, or accidents. We are keeping it to the simple and easily tracked death metric, which are reported more effectively than almost any other category.  Injuries are also ideal, if the tracking is there.

S3. The word preventable is almost redundant– are there any incidents that are not preventable?  But this also underscores the intention that is baked into the philosophy: we believe that there is a preventative aspect to gun violence and that it is appropriate to include preventative measures in the solutions considered.  We are not talking simply about how we choose to react to incidents.  Our objective includes avoiding incidents altogether.

S4. We say overall — including whatever form this violence may take, be it gangs, domestic violence, household accidents, rampage killings and so on.  Some are scarier than others.  We’re taking them all on.

I also offer a series of important assumptions, hopefully these are obvious:

A1. We know that we live under the second amendment, and that we are talking about real (if not wholly agreed-upon in their specifics) Constitutional rights.  Consequently, we assume that they are largely irrevocable.  However, we also understand and accept that the Constitution is considered a living document, not inviolable scripture, and is designed for amendment and interpretation.  So while any discussion of rights-modification is to be avoided, the territory is not Holy Ground.  This is not an opinion.  This is a matter of the constitution’s design.

A2. To a certain extent, the genie is already out of the bottle.  That is, we are not starting from a position of zero guns.  They are already out there, they are already someone’s property. The seizure of guns, despite what the cranks tell you Obama’s big plan is, is probably impractical politically.  Again, we’re basing this on the real world.  Any solution needs to acknowledge this.

Agreed? Great.  So what do we do?

It would seem that the first most obvious thing to do is commission serious investigation and research into gun safety, from credible, non-partisan sources.  What are the sources of injury?  Of death?  This has not happened.  More to the point, it has been aborted by the gun lobby, who (no doubt) correctly foresee real commercial implications to any possible findings.  So the first thing to do is demand this get research re-implemented.

But frankly, this response would strike me as the typical cowardly bullshit from the media that has us unable to recognize a fact when it’s staring us in the face, and lays us up against a typical hard-right avoidance tactic that we’re all a little tired of, having seen this applied to the case of global warming, congressional intransigence, etc.  That is: find counterarguments or extremes, regardless of how flimsy, use these counterarguments to sow doubt by citing a lack of consensus, demand further research, diffuse counterarguments with accusations of impartiality.

More tersely, say there is no global warming, or that it’s not proven to be caused by manmade factors, or that there is still a debate or lack of consensus in the scientific community.  The fact is there, and the fact that will be borne out here, is that there is consensus, specific research has already been performed, the facts are in, and they are not ambiguous.

In the meantime, while we wait for the results of those studies to come back, we have to live with this? What will inaction look like?

I think we all know.

Top 15 Rules for Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - MultiplayerFull disclosure: I SUCK AT THIS GAME.  However, recently I’ve begun to improve at a, er, clip– all by following these tips, and I wish someone had calmly explained all this when I started, because these are the basics, the fundamentals. Which means you get nowhere if you aren’t following them.  Moreover, these tips really do work for any multiplayer first-person shooter, excepting the specifics around kit selection and specific weapons.

This advice only applies to ‘hardcore’ mode.  Hardcore mode basically means it is much more likely that any direct hit will kill or seriously would you.   Non-hardcore mode is, in my opinion, a noisy mess, and it takes three times the number of bullets to bring someone down.  This ruins a lot of the subtleties of the available weapon selection, and some weapons, such as pistols, don’t even work.  By contrast, hardcore mode is much more interesting.

Anyways on to the rules.

1.  Two words: Sight Lines.  IRL we have a thing called peripheral vision, which allows us to see simultaneosuly in front of us, to our left and right.  In a first-person shooter, you can see  in front of you, period.  This means you will get shot, regularly, by someone you can’t see from your left, right, or behind you.  The thing to do here is extremely simple: keep moving.  When you do stop, make in in a place where you have the maximum number of directions visible to you and the maximum number blocked to your enemy.  Corners are essentially ideal, but everyone is always looking there.  This strategy of moving from cover to cover will get you called a camper, which is what players call someone who doesn’t move.  You are moving from cover to cover, not camping, sprinting.

2.  Watch your back.  The only way to protect your back is to run or to have it against a wall.  See above.

3.  Be Still.  Crouch.  If you are not crouched, it’s because you are running.  To put it another way, you should be CROUCHED AT ALL TIMES.  Learn to be still when you are not explicitly doing something, because you can always see someone moving, no matter how far away threy are, and the sound quality of the game is excellent as far as hearing people running nearby.  Conversely, someone still can creep right up on you.

4.  You should probably slow down.

5.  Use custom classes to support your strategy of play.  You should have a favorite weapon and sidearm that you level-up with most rapidly, and set them aside in a class you can fall back to when things aren’t going your way.  Take note of challenges to level-up your weapons faster.  Focus on getting maximally good at one thing, then experiment around, like in college.

6.  Choose the right tools for the map.  Here are the general rules: Assault rifles work best on variable terrain with some close-quarter fighting and some distance fighting, and can do the work of a sniper rifle when outfitted with the right scope.  Sniper rifles are completely useless at anything but a medium to large distance, but outfit you with excellent camouflage. Shotguns and pistols work best up close, indoors or in confined spaces (alleyways and corridors).  Notice how the different shapes of the weapons obscure your view, and how quickly they can be drawn and reholstered.  Submachineguns and shotguns excel at putting a ton of lead in a small area very quickly, but shotguns also tend to wound on any but a direct hit.  Some sniper rifles and shotguns have the additional disadvantage of being pump-action or bolt-action, which can be unforgiving in a tense moment.

7.  Use traps.  Traps, like claymores and bouncing betties, do the killing for you when you aren’t even there.  Use them to up your numbers.  Augment them with advantages like Hardline Pro to get faster access to bigger and better weaponry that– you guessed it– does the killing for you.  You can be two places at once!  As you improve, learn to flush enemies into traps.  Also, don’t be afraid to pick them up and move them somewhere more effective.  And note that traps covered in smoke can’t be seen and are easily tripped.  Finally, traps, when ripped, make an audible sound– you can hear your own and your enemies’ traps when they are set off.  You can use this not only as a gauge of danger but also as crude radar– it will tell you where an enemy was– or is.

8.  Watch.  Observe your enemies’ style of play in-between matches (observer mode).  They’ll almost always show you a new place to hide, to stick a trap, or a better overall approach.  Also, it tells you where they are.

9.  If you are wondering if he saw you, he did.

10.  Grenades go where you don’t.  If there’s a bad guy in there, toss in some Semtex or a Frag.  This goes double for upstairs or downstairs areas.  Even non-lethal grenades (including, nay, especially, smoke) are almost magically effective at making an enemy flee his position.  Likewise, if you have time, they are excellent at covering your escape, especially smoke.  There is a caveat here: don’t throw them in front of you, or at an enemy who knows you are there or (this goes without saying) can see you.  You’ll still be pulling the pin out while he brings you down.

11.  Flank.  That means if the enemy sees you in one place, fall back and come around the other way, catching him off guard.  If you think this can be done inside of three seconds, you’d be shocked how often it works.  This does not work over large areas because you’ll be shot before you ever get there.

12.  Did I mention you were going too fast?  Seriously, slow down.

13.  You are most vulnerable right after you shoot someone.  Everyone heard it, the guy who was just about to shoot him saw the bullets come from somewhere, someone on the other side of the map saw the tracer fire, and two other guys just happened to be in the area anyway.  Fall back and go the other way, because you’re about to get shot.

14.  Stop holding down the trigger so hard.  If you have a problem with this, focus on one of the guns that do 3-round bursts.  If you can learn to pop off quick, small bursts manually, your accuracy will improve.

15.  Play a lot of Free-for-All first, to improve your skills and unlock weapons and equipment faster.  Your number of kills on team games will necessarily be smaller since a lot of other people will be involved, so free-for-all is the most efficient way to unlock new guns.