How to fix the presidential debates

It doesn't matter if you are a conservative or liberal, republican or democrat I think you would agree that the debates are broken and need to be fixed. The question is how to go about doing that?  The good folks at Intelligence Squared US have an idea, get back to what the debates are supposed to be about, the issues and seeing if the candidates know them.

This isn't about the sound bites you hear the candidate make time and again. This is the candidates knowing about a specific issue and being able to talk about it in depth.

I've been a big fan of the debates they put on and as I have mentioned before they are always respectful and thought provoking, no matter what opinion you have. If you have not listened to them, I highly recommend you give at least one a listen.

To that end the people at Intelligence Squared have created a a petition to have at least one Oxford style debate this election cycle. With our help they can get some civility back into political discourse.

Switching from Evernote to Onenote

Note: This was originally posted in 2014 when I made the switch. It's reposted now because of the news last week about Evernote's change in pricing.

I have been a big fan of Evernote for a long time. The ability to keep your notes one place and have them automatically sync to any device is really what "the cloud" is all about. For a long time Evernote was my goto place for storing information. The fact it was the only cross-platform service of its kind helped me like it as well.

Earlier this year a competitor became cross-platform and I have found it works better for me how I like to organize my data. Microsoft's OneNote is that competitor. At the root both services allow you to set up different notebooks for your various needs. However, where OneNote excels for me its use of the notebook metaphor and each notebook is allowed to have an unlimited number of tabs. Within those tabs you are able to have pages. This is opposed to the tagging Evernote does. A good example of this would be a cookbook. You can have tabs for your deserts, main dishes and appetizers and when you are on that tab you can see them automatically. As I said before the metaphor really works for me and how I prefer to set up my things. I suppose you can kind of do the same with subnotebooks in Evernote but it just doesn't do it for me. As they say, your mileage may vary.

OneNote does have its faults. The biggest one I have seen is the ability to get data into OneNote. Specifically getting data out of Evernote and into OneNote. There is no import function on the Mac client. Another oversight is not having the ability to do handwriting. This is something Evernote does allow on their mobile devices with the Penultimate app. I believe these are a major oversights and ones Microsoft hopefully will address in their next release.

If you are on multiple devices and like to have your notes organized you can't go wrong with either of these two services. However for my money OneNote is which works best for me.

Why we need someone like John Adams – again

Embed from Getty Images

Happy Independence Day everyone (the original #Brexit you guys). If John Adams had his way we would be celebrating on the second of July instead of the fourth because the second was the day congress approved a resolution declaring independence from Britain.

With the popularity of the musical of Hamiltion I've started revisiting the biographies that I have of some of our founding fathers. Heck even my daughter has gotten into the act and is reading American Sphinx, Ellis' book on Jefferson. Ever since I read Founding Brothers I have been interested in John Adams. Then I read David McCullough's book and I became an Adams man for life.

Considering the two candidates we have for president this election cycle and how how things have going down hill with the office of the President we can really use someone like Adams again. Yes there were some problems, namely the the Alien and Sedition Acts, but the man did things strictly because he cared for the country. The main example of this is continuing to remain neutral in the face of Federalist demands for America to go to war against the French following the XYZ Affair.

We need someone who can disagree with a point of view but will argue the merits of their case and not start with the ad homonym attacks.  Additionally we need someone who will be able to stand up to their party and tell them "Even though you're my party this different path is what need to do. It's the best for America".

It seems that the politicians these days care more about their party's politics than about doing what is right for the party. It seems we have become more and more polarized with everything seeing things in terms of black and white with very little gray in between.

Let's get back to having civil discourse but let's always keep in mind to do what is right for the country regardless of political affiliation.

Has The President Has Usurped The Constitutional Power Of Congress?

Has The President Has Usurped The Constitutional Power Of Congress?

This is an excellent question and it will be debated on June 8th. The Intelligence Squared debate series is excellent. All debaters are allowed to speak and no one gets shut down. They actually debate ideas and not throw ad homonym attacks at each other. Imagine the concept!

As for the topic I think not only has this president usurped the power of congress but the past president has as well.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochi and Telling Tales

With yesterday being Lag B'Omer here is something I wrote a few years ago pertaining to the joyous day. It was a thought that crossed my mind regarding Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (RASHBY).

Most, if not all observant Jews know the famous story of RASHBY. He and his son are forced to live in a cave for 13 years because Yehudah ben Garim told the Roman government about some unflattering things RASHBY said about them. As a result of those unflattering remarks the Romans wanted him dead.

However there is another story which RASHBY is a part of where he was the one who told and caused trouble form someone else. This is another famous story, where Rabban Gamliel is deposed because of his (continued) treatment of Rabbi Yehoshua. The Talmud in Brachos tells us a student asked Rabbi Yehoshua if Maariv (evening prayers) is an obligation or optional? He answered and then the student went to ask Rabban Gamliel the same question and he answered the opposite of Rabbi Yehoshua. The student told him this and Rabban Gamliel embarrassed Rabbi Yehoshua for the third time. At the end of this entire story the Talmud asks how this student was and it was RASHBY.

I find this to be an interesting juxtaposition of stories. One he is the victim and the other he is the cause and both have to deal with slander. It seems logical that the story of the cave happened when he was older while the other story was when he was a young student.

What if RASHBY having to hide in the cave was a Devine punishment for causing all the trouble for Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua?

I don't have an answer.

Bloodrush by Ben Galley – A Review

Note: This was published on my old blog last January 15, 2015. If I can find the I've begun reading the final book of the trilogy and will be posting a review when I've read it.

Cover of Bloodrush

I got my hands on A review copy indie author Ben Galley’s new novel, Bloodrush, and now that I’ve finally finished it, I can give it a review. This is Ben’s fifth book and is different than his Emanska series as the protagonist is a young man of 13 and not a grizzled and jaded veteran. Additionally it isn’t set in your typical fantasy setting, it’s set in in the Wild West. I had never really read any “western fantasy” before so this is a new sub-genre for me to be reading.

Bloodrush is the first book of the Scarlet Star Trilogy. It takes place in an alternate universe which is a little steampunk and set in the 1800s, during the time of western expansion and railroad building. Where this universe split from ours was sometime in the dark ages. I asked Galley for a specific point but he indicated that would be going into spoiler territory.

Being this is a dark fantasy book and the first one of a trilogy, I thought it would interesting to review the world building and magic systems Galley has developed in addition to a review of the book. Let’s face it, if you like fantasy it is more than likely you like discovering new worlds and learning about new magic systems.

World Building - Back in the early 90s there was a debate between two similar sci-fi shows, Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9. And which one was better. One of the reasons I preferred Babylon 5 was because the world was messy and lived in. There wasn’t a perfect being or government that existed. I beleive Galley does a very good job of building his worlds for the same reason. They feel lived in and messy, and that is the way a world should feel. Additionally the extra characters that live in the world always seems to be delighful.

Magic System - The magic system in Bloodrush is similar to the magic system used in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. The concept is a person ingests something which gives them abilities. In the case of Bloodrush it’s blood of different animals as opposed to Sanderson’s ingesting of metal. (At this time it’s important to point out I don’t think Galley stole the idea from Sanderson, nor am I making such an accusation.) As all good magic systems should, there are downsides and drawbacks to using the magic.

The Review - Now it’s time to focus on the book and all of those bookish things like plot, characters, etc. Overall I thought the book was well done. I felt for Tonmerion and his plight. Tonmerion as a character was well flushed out and his desire to get back home and take revenge was understandable for a boy of 13, especially when he has the ability to do magic. His plot line throughout the book was well paced and tight. What I’ll call the B plot (Rhin attempting to find a Hoard) was a little slow but the twist at the end I didn’t see coming. Having said that I thought the resolution of the plot twist was a little too quick. In my opinion it should have lingered into the second book.

The antagonist(s) were pretty evil and their plan was a plan I didn’t think of. I did think it was an effective use of introducing certain aspects of the larger world. I did expect them to be around for more than one book. However having thought about the plot and what may come in the next two book, it made sense.

I would suggest that if you appreciate a good fantasy series and want to support indie authors, buy a copy of Bloodrush today. Although I have a review copy I also bought a copy of the book because I think it’s worth the price.