Whoa…What Happened Here?

I was not a big fan of California State Senator Leland Yee. If you know him at all, it is probably because he kept trying to censor videogames. I always thought he was merely uninformed and misguided. And I did think he was doing the right thing when he tried to investigate whether a university was overpaying Sarah Palin to give a speech.

But now comes news that he has arrested and charged with bribery and corruption. And not just any old bribery and corruption. He struck deals to illegally import weapons.

Yes, he’s technically innocent until proven guilty, but the evidence against him sounds extensive including discussions with undercover FBI agents. I haven’t thought about Leland Yee in several years, so I can’t even begin to understand what’s going on with him or how long he’s been engaged in this activity. All I can say is: wow. Who’d have thought?

The Veronica Mars Movie: For Marshmallows Only

There isn’t really any reason for you to watch the Veronica Mars movie if you haven’t seen the TV series. If you have the time to watch it, I think the first season is one of the finest seasons of any TV series ever produced. From there, you can decide whether you want to continue on with the other two seasons and eventually this movie.

But for now, if you haven’t seen the show, you can skip the movie and stop reading the rest of this review. It’s not that the movie is overloaded with fan service and obscure references. It will mostly be understandable to newcomers. But any emotional heft from the story of the Veronica Mars movie will come almost entirely from the audience’s connection with characters they got to know over the course of three seasons. Without that prior background, the characters of the Veronica Mars movie will seem woefully underdeveloped.

The movie is an unapologetic love letter to the fans. Since it was funded by Kickstarter, that makes sense. But is it any good? My answer to that question is best summed as: well, sure.

The story picks up nine years after the end of the third season of the show. Veronica Mars has given up sleuthing, has gotten a law degree, and is on track to get a lucrative job at a big firm. She is in a steady relationship with Pizz, the doggedly nice guy who has had a crush on her since he met her in college during the third season. Everything seems to be on track until Veronica receives a phone call from her ex-boyfriend Logan Echolls and we quickly learn two things:

  1. Veronica hasn’t deleted his contact information from her cell phone in all this time.
  2. He’s in trouble with the law again. Specifically, he’s been accused of murdering his girlfriend who is also a pop starlet.

This was supposed to be the old life that Veronica left behind, but she doesn’t hesitate to drop everything and run back. But this relationship is toxic for her, right? She realizes she shouldn’t get too involved. She’s not going to fall back into old habits with an old flame, is she?

Well, what do you think?

Well, what do you think?

Like in the TV show, the murder mystery centers around high school politics and relationships that are more cynical, violent, and corrupt than any real school possibly could be. That was part of the fun of show. The movie expands things out a little by depicting the corrupt sheriff’s department. The movie format also allows Veronica to deliver a single F-bomb (which Logan later lampshades by commenting about keeping things PG-13).

In many ways, the movie’s plot comes across as something in between a case of the week and a season-long arc story that got squeezed into two hours. In the end, I found nothing really special about it. What was interesting to me this time around was how the movie deconstructed the character of Veronica Mars. Back in the first season, she was a revelation. She was fresh, original, and new to the audience with a winning combination of spunk, perkiness, and vulnerability covered by a hard, distrusting shell. Veronica was a character TV audiences had never seen before. It’s been a long time since that first season now, and the movie views Veronica with a certain jaundice that she quickly acknowledges.

To wit: being a teenage sleuth solving these kinds of cases is not normal. In fact, it’s pretty unhealthy. In her characteristic voiceovers, Veronica likens her mystery-solving habit to being a junkie.

In the end, I think that distance and familiarity is both a strength and a weakness for the Veronica Mars movie. We’re happy to see Veronica and Wallace hugging because we know all that they’ve been through together. At the same time, there’s a sense that the movie is relying a little too much on established history to carry itself through. If you were watching this movie without the benefit of having the TV series, you would probably have a very hard time seeing why exactly Veronica and Logan find each other so irresistible. Or why Veronica and Wallace care so much for each other to begin with. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship that comes across the best is between Veronica and her father, Keith Mars. Kristen Bell and Enrico Colantoni real affection, care, and worry into their interactions with each other, and it only takes a few seconds of shared screen time before we immediately buy them as a loving father and daughter. The same cannot really be said for any other relationship on the show.

And I suppose that’s where we leave it. It’s a new episode of the TV series, and that’s nice enough for what it is. I certainly don’t regret the $6.99 I paid to rent it from iTunes. But to be honest, this is enough. This movie is a much better ending than Season 3 was, and I won’t be needing another fix.

Software Development is Becoming Like Journalism

I came across this article in the New York Times talking about the generation divide in Silicon Valley. It’s very well-written, and I recommend reading the whole thing. There was one part that was a bit tangential to the author’s main point, but it’s what really got me thinking:

There’s a glass-half-full way of looking at this, of course: Tech hasn’t been pedestrianized — it’s been democratized. The doors to start-up-dom have been thrown wide open. At Harvard, enrollment in the introductory computer-science course, CS50, has soared. Last semester, 39 percent of the students in the class were women, and 73 percent had never coded before. These statistics are trumpeted as a sign of computer science’s broadening appeal and, indeed, in the last couple of years the class has become something of a cult and a rite of passage that culminates in the CS50 fair, where students demo their final projects and wear T-shirts reading “I Took CS50.”

I myself have taken an introductory computer science course (at my school, it was simply CS-001). I am not a programmer or anything close to a computer engineer. But here I am running my own website which contains formatting and networking features you could only have dreamed of in the late 90s (I remember what it was like to code HTML manually). This stuff is no longer hard.

Writing software is no longer as obscure as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong. It still takes focused study and education. But contrary to what you might think, most computer programming these days consists of taking components or lines of code other people have written, tweaking them to fit your purpose, and then putting them together. And we’ve now gotten to the point where those off-the-shelf components are incredibly versatile, powerful, and easy to use. There are still companies out there building brand new things from scratch. But most development houses are building an app for a restaurant who wants to create smart menus or creating a system for hospitals to track their patients. Most developers now spend their time thinking about exactly what problem they want to solve or what feature they want to implement and not so much about exactly what piece of code they use to do it.

It’s similar in many ways to how journalism is more concerned with the ideas and stories you tell and not so much about whether you should have used the subjunctive voice on the third paragraph.

App development is not quite as easy as writing prose, but it’s getting closer. And while that’s a good thing overall, it’s worth thinking about what that will mean in the next few years.

Many of the startups that get the most buzz these days rely on building a network—people use them because other people use them. The most obvious examples are the ones that have a social component such as Pinterest, Instagram, and Spotify. But there are others such as Venmo, a system for paying your friends when you don’t have cash on hand. It only works if your friends also have Venmo.

The  future!

The future!

What this means is that many of the startups coming out of Silicon Valley are more about social engineering than they are about resolving a technical issue. The technology behind Venmo is nothing huge. The real difficulty is in convincing enough people to use it in much the same way as modern journalism these days has to convince enough people to read it.

And much like journalism, a lot of services coming out of Silicon Valley give away their product for free which means they rely on advertising for their revenue. I don’t think this is sustainable for journalism in the long run, and I don’t think it is for software development either.

So what to do? The main difference for me is that people care about the quality of the software they use much more than they care about the quality of the journalism they read (sad but true). This should mean that they are willing to pay for quality. And maybe the next bold step for a Silicon Valley startup is to dare to charge for their service.

Actually, Robocop is OK

It comes in black

It comes in black

So let’s get this out of the way first: no, the new Robocop isn’t as good as the original. But that doesn’t mean it is necessarily bad. If they had to remake Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 masterpiece, they could have done a lot worse than this. And after all, the original is not a sacred cow.

Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop was so great because it provided all the violence an action junkie could want while also sneaking in satirical commentary on 1980s America. In between the gory shootouts and executions, the movie also mercilessly mocked pop culture with footage of a really annoying sitcom and fake commercials for a humongous car with terrible gas mileage. We saw urban decay, the indifference of politicians, and the logical consequences of what would happen if we privatized the police force. This was what really made it more than a standard-issue action movie, and the two sequels suffered by taking the whole premise much too seriously.

The new Robocop is much gentler in its criticism, and I think it’s worse off for it. But it still has some subversive things to say. The beginning of the movie depicts a news report from American-occupied Iran as a TV journalist happily narrates about the peaceful Iranians who stand around in the background with their hands up while giant robots inspect them. The targets for this movie are American imperialism abroad, the compliant media, and drone warfare. What it has to say is not particularly new, but you could have said the same thing about the original 1987 movie. I do have to say that in the 2014 Robocop a lot of the most subversive stuff is perhaps presented a little too subtly. My favorite was a headline in one of the news broadcasts which revealed that in this fictional future, Americans are desperately trying to cross the border into Mexico.

The biggest problem with this newer Robocop is that it is PG-13 which means the action just isn’t going to be as hard-hitting as the original. Most of the fighting is robot against robot (or cyborg against robot). Whenever humans are involved, the camera cuts away before we see any bullet impacts. Director Jose Padilha is doing his best, but there’s just no way to make this stuff as compelling and tense as he would be able to with an R rating.

If the satire is toned down and the action is not as good, the one thing the new version of Robocop has over the original is a heart. 1987′s Robocop was too satirical and cynical to generate much emotional pull. We rooted for the protagonist mostly because he wasn’t as despicable as everyone else. 2014′s Robocop makes us root for the main character by focusing squarely on his dilemma and by making two interesting changes: unlike the original, Alex Murphy is always aware of who he is, and his family is still present and plays a critical role in the plot.

This greater focus on character means that the performances of the actors actually matters, and they fulfill their roles admirably. Joel Kinnaman manages to leave some imprint on his character instead of being another bland actor overshadowed by the special effects (like that guy from Pacific Rim or whatsisface from Battleship). His standout scene is when Alex Murphy asks to see himself. Using only his face, Kinnaman successfully conveys Murphy’s growing horror as his robot body is disassembled before a mirror and he sees how little is left of his original body. Abbie Cornish is believably anguished as Murphy’s wife who must remind him of who he is. The better known actors play supporting roles, and they include Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael K. Williams, and Jackie Earl Hailey.

Don’t get me wrong. This movie is not high drama. But considering how underwritten the emotional beats are in the screenplay, the actors manage to fill in enough to make us care without becoming mawkish, and the director allows just enough time for things to breathe before moving on to the next action scene.

There is no question in my mind that Robocop 2014 will be forgotten in a few years whereas Robocop 1987 will remain relevant for many years to come. But for what it is, the Robocop remake is an enjoyable two hours with just enough social commentary and character drama to be more than a brainless action movie. And it makes enough changes and updates that it doesn’t end up looking totally unnecessary. Yes, it’s the product of Hollywood recycling, but it’s not like the original movie was produced with the purest of motives either. I honestly enjoyed this much more than many of the movies leading up to The Avengers.

More Sequels We Aren’t Asking For

I understand the business reasons behind Microsoft’s decision to purchase the Gears of War franchise and begin work on a new game. But I have to wonder just how many people are really excited about it.

For one thing, the story is over. The Locust threat was ended with Gears of War 3. The next game in the series had to resort to telling a prequel story which didn’t even involve Marcus Fenix. And given that the story was a foregone conclusion (being a prequel and all), many reasonably wondered why they should care.

For another thing, if the new game comes out next year, it will be the fifth game in 8 years. The Legend of Zelda series took 14 years (over three platforms) to get to its fifth game. Don’t players want something a little new and different these days?

As I said, I understand the business reasons behind the purchase. I don’t know how much money Microsoft forked over for the Gears of War franchise, but the chances are the next game will make enough money to make the deal worthwhile. All the same, I can’t help feeling that the dead-eyed cynicism is going to generate a backlash one of these days. It may not happen with the Gears of War series. Or the Halo series. Or even the next franchise Microsoft milks out. But the trend can’t continue forever.

The Warcraft Movie is Going to Suck

Does anybody even care that the Warcraft movie supposedly started shooting today? I’m not even sure World of Warcraft is a very big deal these days any more (although I admit I’m the wrong person to make such a claim since I never played it).

I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to make this movie. Warcraft is a bog standard fantasy story with orcs, elves, dwarves, and humans in a pseudo-medieval setting. The only good thing I can see out of this is it seems the internet seems to have realistically subdued expectations about the movie.

Which won’t stop some people from complaining that the movie is unfaithful to the games. Those are times that really test my patience with geeks.

Senator Dianne Feinstein Speaks on Iran

Very few people seem to have taken notice of a speech that Senator Dianne Feinstein gave on the floor of the Senate about Iran sanctions. I think that’s a shame because it’s a pretty amazing speech, particularly since she is normally considered on the hawkish side of the Democratic party. Fortunately, the Congressional Record has a transcript of her speech, so I’m going to reproduce it here without any further comment. You can also watch the C-SPAN video below.

I come to the floor this evening to discuss an issue of national security, and that is how to prevent a nuclear armed Iran.I was thinking about our troubled history with Iran and whether more sanctions at this time makes sense for our national security interests, and I asked myself these questions:

Can, in fact, a country like Iran change?

Is it possible for an isolated regime to rejoin the community of nations and change its behavior after several decades?

Must a country and its people be held captive because of the behavior of pre- vious leaders in earlier times?

So I thought back in history. I was a young girl during World War II. I re- member when Imperial Japan killed millions in Southeast Asia, and particularly in China, during its brutal wars of expansion. Today, Japan is a peaceful democracy and one of this Nation’s strongest allies in Asia.

I remember when Hitler and the Ger- man Third Reich committed unspeakable atrocities across Europe, including the murder of 6 million Jewish citizens. Germany is now a close ally, a leader in the European Union, an institution created to ensure a war never again oc- curs in Europe.

I remember General Franco’s Spain, which was so diplomatically and economically isolated that it was actually barred from the United Nations until 1955. Spain is now a close partner of the United States and a fully democratic member of the European Union.

The former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, and South Africa have all experienced tremendous change in recent decades. Independent states have emerged from the painful dissolution of Yugoslavia. Vietnam has opened itself to the international community but still has much progress to make. South Africa has shed apartheid and has emerged as an increasingly stable nation on a much divided continent.

So I believe countries can change. This capacity to change also applies to the pursuit of nuclear weapons. At one time, Sweden, South Korea, and Argentina each pursued nuclear weapons.

Following World War II, Sweden pur- sued nuclear weapons to deter foreign attack. It mastered nuclear technology and built and tested components for a nuclear weapon. It may have even obtained enough nuclear material to build a bomb. But in 1970, it signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and it ended its nuclear weapon program.

In the early 1970s, South Korea actively sought a nuclear device. The United States heavily pressured South Korea not to go nuclear, and in April 1975, South Korea signed the non- proliferation treaty and halted its nuclear weapons activity.

Throughout the 1980s, when it was ruled by a military junta with an egregious human rights record, Argentina had a covert nuclear weapons program. It built uranium production, enrichment, and reprocessing facilities, and it attempted to develop nuclear-capable ballistic missiles before abandoning its nuclear weapons program and ratifying the NPT in 1995.

So the question comes, is Iran willing to change its past behavior and aban- don its pursuit of a nuclear weapon? It may well be, and it is the job of diplomacy to push for that change.

I believe there are positive signs that Iran is interested in such a change, and I would like to explain my reasons.

The election of Hassan Rouhani was a surprise to many long-time observers of Iran because he campaigned in sup- port of repairing Iran’s relationship with the West.

Since his inauguration he has tried to do exactly that. For the first time since the Iranian revolution, the leaders of our countries have been in direct communication with each other. Where once direct contact even between senior officials was rare, now Secretary of State John Kerry and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman are in near constant contact with their Iranian counterparts. Those conversations produced the historic Geneva agreement which goes into effect in 6 days, on January 20.

Candidate Rouhani also promised to increase nuclear transparency, and he has delivered on that as well. Even before the Geneva interim agreement was reached, Iran slowed uranium enrichment and construction for the Arak heavy water reactor—maybe for technical reasons, maybe not, but it slowed. Iran has also reengaged with the IAEA to resolve questions surrounding its nuclear activities.

So what has been achieved in Geneva? The interim 6-month agreement reached between the P5+1 countries, the United States, China, Russia, the UK, France, Germany, freezes Iran’s nuclear program in place while a com- prehensive agreement is negotiated in the next 6 months. This agreement caps Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium at 5 percent. It stops the production of 20 percent enriched uranium. It requires the neutralization of Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium. It prevents Iran from installing additional centrifuges or operating its most advanced centrifuges. It prohibits it from stockpiling excess centrifuges. It halts all significant work at the Arak heavy water reactor and prevents Iran from constructing a plutonium reprocessing facility.

Most importantly, the interim agreement imposes the most intrusive inter- national inspection regime ever. International inspectors will independently verify whether Iran is complying with the interim agreement. For the first time, the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will have uninterrupted access to Iran’s enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, centrifuge production plants, centrifuge assembly facilities, and Iran’s uranium mines and mills. Finally, Iran is re- quired to declare all planned new nu- clear facilities.

In exchange, the P5+1 negotiators offered sanctions relief limited to $7 bil- lion, an aspect of the interim agreement that has been criticized and I wish to talk about it for a moment.

Here are the facts on that sanctions relief which, in my view, does not materially alter the biting sanctions which have devastated Iran’s economy. The vast majority of sanctions relief comes in the form of Iranian repatriation of $4.2 billion of its own money. Iran will continue to lose $4 billion to $5 billion a month in lost oil revenue from existing sanctions. Iran will not have access to about $100 billion of its own reserves trapped by sanctions abroad.

For perspective, the total estimated sanctions relief is valued at approximately only 1 percent of the Iranian economy, hardly a significant amount.

I wish to take a moment to detail what is not in the interim agreement. First, it does not grant Iran a right to enrich. The United States does not recognize such a right for the five non-nuclear weapons states that currently have enrichment programs, and we will make no exception for Iran. But Iran does have a right to peaceful nuclear energy if it fully abides by the terms of its safeguards agreement under the NPT.

Secondly, the agreement does not in any way unravel our core oil and financial sanctions. Others have argued the suspension of any sanctions against Iran will unravel the entire sanctions regime, and that is false. The Obama administration has taken action to ensure that does not happen.

Two days after the interim agreement was reached, the United States settled with a Swiss Oil Services Company over sanctions violations. The settlement was more than $250 million. It was the largest against a foreign firm outside of the banking industry.

On December 12, the administration announced the expansion of Iranian entities subject to sanctions. These entities either helped Tehran evade sanctions or provided support to Iran’s nu- clear program.

On January 7 of this year, the administration halted the transfer of two Boeing airplane engines from Turkey to Iran. Through these actions, the Obama administration has made it abundantly clear that the United States will continue to enforce our existing sanctions against Iran.

Third, the agreement does not codify the violation of U.N. security resolutions. Critics have attacked the interim agreement for its failure to completely halt all of Iran’s nuclear enrichment by noting that six U.N. Security Council Resolutions have called on Tehran to do so and it has not done so.

The purpose of the U.N. Resolutions was not to suspend nuclear enrichment indefinitely. Instead, these resolutions were designed to freeze Iran’s nuclear activities until the IAEA could determine whether Iran’s activities were for exclusively peaceful purposes.

This is an important point. The interim agreement achieves what the six U.N. Security Council Resolutions could not. It freezes Iran’s nuclear progress while a comprehensive, verifiable agreement is being negotiated over the next 6 months.

The interim agreement was only possible because a strong international sanctions regime has worked to convince rank-and-file Iranians, candidly, that enough is enough.

According to the State Department, as a result of the sanctions, Iran’s crude oil exports have plummeted from approximately 2.5 million barrels per day in 2011 to around 1 million barrels per day in recent months. This decline alone costs Iran $3 billion to $5 billion per month in lost revenue.

In total, 23 nations who import Iranian oil have eliminated or significantly reduced purchases from Iran. In fact, Iran currently has only six customers for its oil: China, India, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan.

In the last year, Iran’s gross domestic product shrunk by 5.8 percent. Its GDP shrunk in 1 year by 5.8 percent, while inflation is estimated to be 50 percent or more.

Prices for food and consumer goods are doubling and tripling on an annual basis, and estimates put unemployment as high as 35 percent while under-employment is pervasive.

This is why Iran says enough is enough. The sanctions are biting and they are biting deeply, and there is no need to put additional sanctions on the table at this time.

This body may soon consider the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act; that is, a bill to do exactly the opposite, to impose additional sanctions against Iran, do it now, and hold it in abeyance.

Before casting a vote, Senators should ask themselves what would happen if the bill passes and a promised veto by the President is not sustained. I would like to give my view.

I sincerely believe the P5+1 negotia- tions with Iran would end and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior—a change that could not only open all kinds of economic opportunities for the Iranian people, but help change the course of a nation. Its destiny in fact could be changed.

Passing additional sanctions now would only play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see diplomacy fail. Iranian conservatives, hardliners, will attack President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif for seeking a nuclear compromise.

They will argue that Iran exchanged a freeze of its nuclear program for ad- ditional and harsh punitive sanctions. Think about that. They will say that Iran did not achieve anything with this agreement. All we got were more sanctions.

Second, if the United States cannot honor an interim agreement negotiated in Geneva by Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and ourselves—we are not alone in this—it will never lift sanctions after a final agreement is reached.

Above all, they will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy—we are interested in regime change.

The bottom line: If this body passes S. 1881, diplomatic negotiations will collapse, and there will be no final agreement.

Some might want that result, but I do not.

Iran’s nuclear program would once again be unrestrained, and the only remaining option to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon would be military action. I do not want that unless it is absolutely necessary.

To date, the prospect of just considering this bill has prompted Iranian legislators to consider retaliation. There is talk that the legislative branch, called the Majles, may move to increase nuclear enrichment far beyond the 5-percent limit in the interim agreement and much closer to, if not achieving, weapons-grade uranium.

So the authors of additional sanctions in this body and Iranian hardliners in the other body would actually combine to blow up the diplo- matic effort of 6 major powers.

The bill’s sponsors have argued that sanctions would strengthen the United State’s hand in negotiations. They argue that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. They contend that additional sanctions would force Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

I could not disagree more.

Let me give the views of a few other people who are knowledgeable in the arena: Dr. Paul Pillar, a former U.S. intelligence official and current professor at Georgetown University recently argued:

It is the prospect of having U.S.-led sanctions removed that will convince Iran to accept severe restrictions on its nuclear program. Threatening Iran with additional sanctions now—after it has agreed to the interim agreement and an interim agreement is about to go into effect—will not convince Tehran to complete a final agreement.

I couldn’t agree more.

If this bill would help our negotiators, as its authors contend, they would say so.

I believe this bill is an egregious imposition on the Executive’s authority to conduct foreign affairs. In fact, our Secretary of State has formally asked this Congress to give our negotiators and our experts the time and space to do their jobs, including no new sanctions.

What does this body say, sitting here? We are not going to do that? This is a Secretary of State who is of this body, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who has been absolutely prodigious in his efforts to get this interim agreement, has gotten it, and we are going to run the risk that it is going to break apart during the next 6 months when a final agreement might well be negotiated?

If the Senate imposes its will, if we override the President’s veto, and it blows up this very fragile process, some would say: Too bad, what a tragedy.

We know what the Iranian reaction will be. The Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, who I happen to have known for a substantial period of time, has clearly stated what the result will be in five words, and it is this: ‘‘The entire deal is dead.’’

That is his direct quote. Why wouldn’t we take him at his word? So far he has been good to his word.

The ambassador of our staunchest ally, the UK, warned this body not to pass more sanctions. Sir Peter Westmacott recently wrote:

Further sanctions now would only hurt negotiations and risk eroding international support for the sanctions that have brought us this far. The time for additional measures will come if Iran reneges on the deal or negotiations fail. Now is not that time.

I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place.

It says to the UK, China, Russia, France, and Germany that our country cannot be trusted to stand behind our diplomatic commitments. That is a very big statement.

Our allies will question whether their compliance with sanctions and the eco- nomic sacrifices they have made are for naught.

Should these negotiations fall apart, the choices are few and the most likely result, in my view, is the eventual and inevitable use of military force.

So I ask this body, Is that the choice we want to make? In 6 days the ten- tative agreement will go into place. We want to pass this? We don’t even want to wait and see what happens?

We don’t even want to wait and see what the IAEA finds when they are in there 24–7, 365 days a year?

I think what we ought to do is concentrate on Iranian compliance with the interim agreement.

On January 20, 2014, this agreement comes into effect, 6 days from now, and over the next 6 months the international community will be able to verify whether or not Iran is keeping its commitments to freeze its nuclear progress.

If Iran fails to abide by the terms of the interim agreement, or if a final agreement cannot be negotiated, Congress can immediately consider additional sanctions.

I deeply believe that additional sanctions should only be considered once our diplomatic track has been given the opportunity to forge a final, comprehensive, and binding agreement.

This is what is most distressing. If we had not reached an agreement, with the cooperation and leadership of the big powers of this world, that would be one thing. The fact is we have reached agreement and that action is just about to take place, and we are going to jaundice it, we are going to hurt it, and we are likely to collapse it by passing additional sanctions now which a President of the United States will veto with the aim of overriding that veto.

How does that make any kind of common sense? It defies logic, it threatens instant reverse, and it ends what has been unprecedented diplomacy. Do we want to take that on our shoulders? Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war.

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know the challenges Iran poses to U.S. interests around the world.

As I said, as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I know the challenges Iran poses to the U.S. interests around the world. Its patronage of the terrorist group Hezbollah, its support for Syria’s Bashar Assad through the Revolutionary Guard Corps are two of the most troubling.

I would hope that as a followthrough of diplomacy we might be able to quell some of these activities.

Let me acknowledge Israel’s real, well-founded concerns that a nuclear- armed Iran would threaten its very existence. I don’t disagree with that. I agree with it, but they are not there yet.

While I recognize and share Israel’s concern, we cannot let Israel determine when and where the United States goes to war. By stating that the United States should provide military support to Israel in a formal resolution should it attack Iran, I fear that is how this bill is going to be interpreted.

Let me conclude. The interim agreement with Iran is strong, it is tough, and it is realistic. It represents the first significant opportunity to change a three-decade course in Iran and an opening to improve one of our most poisonous bilateral relationships. It could open the door to a new future which not only considers Israel’s national security, but protects our own.

To preserve diplomacy, I strongly oppose the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act.

Swipe to Jump

Mike Wehner at TUAW argues that “Nintendo needs to embrace iOS as a games platform.” The idea is that since Nintendo is in trouble these days, they ought to stop trying to push the 3DS and the Wii U and just develop for iOS (and I suppose for Android, but TUAW is an Apple-oriented blog).

These kinds of posts irritate me because they always focus on business plans and financial statements. And while Nintendo certainly cares about those things, there’s one other consideration that nobody ever seems to take into account. It’s one simple question:

How are you going to control Super Mario Bros with a touch screen?

I don’t think I have to get into the difficulties of controlling a precise platformer without buttons. I like iOS. I have both an iPhone and an iPad, and I use both daily. But they don’t have physical controls, and until they do, I suspect Nintendo developing for them is a non-starter.

And when people don’t take that into consideration, they reveal themselves to be very shallow thinkers.

The Only Way to Make Me Yawn about an Avengers Sequel

The title of the next Avengers movie is “Age of Ultron.” And upon learning this, America collectively said, “Who the hell is Ultron?” And so I would assert to you that the slow-motion collapse has begun.

One of the most irritating aspects of comic fandom is its tendency to indulge in self-referentialism as a prop for storytelling. I’m not the most avid of comic book readers, but I know more than most of the general public. To give you an idea, I am aware that Dick Grayson hasn’t been Robin for a long time, that Marvel’s Ultimatum mini-serie killed off nearly everyone, and that there are writers named Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, and Gail Simone. I didn’t immediately recognize that Age of Ultron is the name of a story arc, but that’s a matter of chance. Maybe I would have happened to know that.

On the other hand, why should I have to know anything in order to understand the title? Ok, some would argue that the title is a secret handshake for comics fans so that they know it’s being made by one of them. But why? They’re going to see the movie anyway. What would be so bad about Avengers 2? Certainly Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 did just fine without the need for any subtitles. The last time we had a comic book movie with a subtitle referencing a character most in the audience probably don’t know was Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I would imagine Marvel doesn’t want a repeat of THAT.

I understand that Marvel and Disney want to make money and that like all studios they do this by milking their cash cows dry in a very short-sighted manner. But I have a feeling that they are overestimating the love Americans have for their franchises. Who’s really excited for Thor 2? Or the new Captain America movie? Who was really excited for either of them the first time around? I know some really do like them, but do we really think those properties are tent poles? And moreover, Marvel has had a problem lately with really sucky villains. Red Skull? The purple guy at the end of Avengers? Ultron? Some of them may actually be very powerful, but that doesn’t make them good villains. It just makes them natural disasters who speak lines. Who can honestly argue that any villain in a Marvel movie lately can hold a candle to the Joker or Doctor Octopus?

I’m not going to go so far as to claim that Marvel’s movies are going to bomb. But every trend in movies eventually collapses under the weight of its own self-importance. And I think this year we’re seeing the point where the structure starts to buckle.