a comparison in game shows; and the global stage

Once upon a time there was this weirdo game show that dumb kids like me could watch called Legends of the Hidden Temple. Perhaps some of you remember this from your glory days of childhood football, candy, school lockers, and bad 90’s pop bands. This was during the highlight days of Nickelodeon, 1993-1995. A simpler entertainment era before the crushing reality of the Internets would consume all our lives.

The show featured six teams of two kids (one boy, one girl) who competed in some type of fake Mayan temple. They had to conduct physical feats, answer riddles, and generally do hard stuff. The show apparently had tough tryouts. Hosted by game show robot Kirk Fogg, it also had a second quasi host in a large stone talking head, former Simpsons basement dweller, five time convicted sex offender, Indiana Jones veteran, and jai-li extraordinaire Olmec. Olmec talked to the kiddies and gave them a background on the history of the artifact they had to find in the actual hidden temple challenge at the end of the show.

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Olmec tells Kirk that his glowing red eyes are actually a brain tumor.

I enjoyed this show because it was different, entertaining, had history, and was extremely competitive. In only 22 minutes of air time they had to cull the flock with 10 of 12 children summarily dismissed from play. In the first two minutes of the show four kids are eliminated in the moat challenge. In all their lives these kids might be on national television only once, and they’re gone in only two minutes. The knowledge test was next, that milled an additional four young ones. After a quick third round they got down to the final two who competed in the temple. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this right, but I seem to recall that the temple itself was hard, a substantial portion of participants lost. Turns out I’m right, the Huffington Post says only 32 of 120 teams (26%) actually won the whole thing.

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Would they ever make a kid’s game show again that required the use of helmets and mouthguards?

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Kirk explaining to these two, that since they made it this far, it indicates their likelihood of becoming future billionaires has increased by 723%.

It was a neat show, but it couldn’t have made much money because they cancelled it after only three seasons. Nobody would never make such a show again. After more than two decades, the following factors are disqualifying in our modern newfangled era:

– The show would be deemed racist for its cartoon depiction of various Amerindian cultures.

– When about 1/3 of American children are chronically obese, I’m not sure they could roll out a game show that required this level of childhood physical brutality.

– Nobody knows anything about history anymore, so those knowledge questions are out. I figure at least 78% of American children today think we fought the Redcoats in the Civil War.

– They would never get away with that level of competition, cutting 10 kids in 22 minutes. Today they would only drop 2 kids and both of them would still get trophies or some other kind of big consolation prize.

In other words, several key skills which I consider essential to a reasonably functioning society are lost from a modern kid game show. Specifically:

1) Physical fitness

2) A decent knowledge of history

3) The ability to comprehend that life is a vicious mill fest of suck, and while knowing that, still press on and do great things

Nickelodeon currently broadcasts only one game show. It’s called Paradise Run, and is made by the same production company that did Hidden Temple. I give you this description from Wikipedia:

At the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii, three teams of two children race around the Hilton Waikola Village competing in three different challenges that are given to them by Daniella Monet through the tablets that are provided for them. The teams are sorted by Team Makani, which is Hawaiian for “wind”, Team Nalu, which is Hawaiian for “wave”, and Team Ahi, which is Hawaiian for “fire”. The first team to complete all three challenges wins a four-day, three-night trip at the hotel while the runner-ups receive consolation prizes. During the completion of the challenges, they must take a selfie on a tablet and send it to Daniella. Once all three challenges are completed, they must solve a riddle. The riddle’s answer is a suite where Daniella and the parents of the teams are waiting, and the team must race there.

I’ve not seen this show, so I suppose it could be awesome. But I doubt it. Note these key points that make me want to vomit in my mouth:

a) Naked corporate sponsorship in a game show made for children

b) Only six children compete, instead of twelve, thus reducing the elimination factor by 50%

c) They use fucking tablets, which they use to take selfies, …, for fuck’s sake

d) The losers receive prizes

e) The game’s end state is nothing more than a hotel room prize directly related to said sponsorship

f) The limp wristed title

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Note the difference in contestant attire between this and Hidden Temple.  Specifically the lack of helmets, mouthguards, gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, and anything else requiring the children to do more than tap a tablet.

[claps hands in an empty room]

Where am I going with this, I mean other than to rant about game shows? Well, two places. In case you haven’t noticed, the world is a shit show right now. Two things in particular yesterday and today, the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire, and Syria.

You’ve got Kerry out there giving a speech on Israel. And you’ve got a Syria cease fire done today where Turkey, Iran, Russia, the Rebels, and Syria basically did a deal without America in the room.

You know, I kind of agree with a lot of what Obama and Kerry preach. Some of Kerry’s comments on Israel’s potential darkening religious nuthouse path are spot on. And you can make a valid and reasonable argument that Obama’s path of non-intervention in Syria was the best course among all the terrible options. But you know what doesn’t help, the messengers. Obama and Kerry have to be about the worst people to deliver this tact in American foreign policy.

Kerry comes off on the podium like that pretentious uncle who always complains too much and nobody listens to. Obama’s professorial pauses are enough to elicit yawns from even the most jaded of international diplomats. These two guys would have hated Legends of the Hidden Temple. Paradise Run seems right up their alley.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a thank god they’re leaving so Trump can fix things message. Trump wouldn’t watch Legends of the Hidden Temple because it would require him to sit still for 22 minutes and not run his mouth. Trump is not the answer to this, and in any case, he’s such an outlier to the general American leadership psyche.

So I guess where I’m going is this is a lament. Obama and Kerry I think are more along the lines of the leaders that American culture is inclined to produce in the future. A bunch of ultimately weak people unfit to deal with the dangers of this planet. If you believe in a planet that should walk a path of growing freedom and democracy, that should be enough to trouble you, because nobody but America can guide that path.

Would they ever make something like Legends of the Hidden Temple ever again? I think not. Will America ever return to the global stage as a strong leader again? I hope so. But I fearfully wonder, what if not?

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Don’t dial America, it won’t answer, it’s too busy watching the delights of Paradise Run.

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Amazon is a witness to your life and death

Well, this didn’t take long.  This Amazon Echo contraption has only been ordering pizza, shoes, demolition cord, Uber rides, autogyro rides, and aged cheese for just a few months.  Now it’s already being asked to solve a murder.  No pressure little cylinder dude.

Apple at least got to wait a few years before being blamed by the Feds for allowing terrorists to potentially raid a nursery by refusing to give up iPhone data.  Amazon didn’t get any such grace period.  Nor will any other technology company / invention I suspect.

The background here is pretty simple.  Amazon has data, government wants data in the hopes it can help solve crimes, Amazon (citing privacy) refuses to give up data.  How can the Echo do this you ask?  Why just let the BBC tell you, the Echo:

The “always on” machine makes recordings of audio it hears from a fraction of a second before it detects a wake word – either Alexa or Amazon – until it judges the command to be over.

This audio is then transmitted to Amazon’s computer servers, which interpret the request and tell it how to respond.

Although no recordings are meant to be made at other times, the device often becomes activated when it misinterprets speech as being its wake command.

So basically what we have here is it’s become clearer that yes indeed, the Echo is in fact a live listening device that folks (for whatever reason) have installed in their own home.  So when the following things occur, the Echo is listening and potentially recording:

1) You get murdered in your own home

2) Your dogs hijack your internet while you’re at work to purchase more kibble behind your back

3) You say or do intimate things with your significant other

4) You and your kids get in a fight

5) You comment to another human how tasty a meal is

6) You express all your hopes and wildest dreams to another human, your dogs, or an inanimate object such as a painting, piece of artwork, or stuffed animal

7) Aliens kidnap you, repurpose your home’s guest bedroom, and make you write regularly for a shitty blog

8) You say off the record (on the Amazon record) belligerent comments about your boss, the one who employs you and pays your bills

9) You say off the record (on the Amazon record) belligerent comments about your family, the ones who love you and cherish your existence

10) You say (offhand) to your significant other that you’d punch Jeff Bezos in the face and neck, if you met him randomly on the street

In order to conduct its basic functions, why does the Echo even need to store anything on Amazon’s servers (Amazon Web Services)?  That the cops could later get a warrant for?  Even if the Echo needs to talk to Amazon’s servers to best interpret your audio request, why do they store the data for the long term?

Because by storing everything you say on their servers they can run programs to mass analyze what you and everybody else said.  They’ll then use the algorithm output to find better ways to sell you stuff.  It’s not about privacy.  If it was about privacy, Amazon would morally never collect and store things you say in your own home on its private servers.  They want your money.

I’m not saying Amazon should go ahead and hand it over to the Feds, don’t get me wrong.  The government is among the most egregious and worst violators of your privacy there is.  Your local sheriff probably has the power to look up your favorite beer if he so chose.

But I do have a problem with Amazon (or any other company) waving the privacy flag in defense, when in reality the six biggest violators of privacy on the planet are Google, Apple, the NSA, Facebook, the KGB, and Amazon.  Not necessarily in that order.

Know your risk.  I use Google’s products almost every day.  But I understand they’re data hounds.  So I hedge my risks as best as I can.  I knowingly accept some of the badness.  For example, did you know if you’re logged into Gmail that every other piece of browsing activity you’re doing is logged on Google’s servers?  So if you’re checking e-mail (on any browser type) and then tab over to search for directions to Hitler’s death house, Google will know and log it.  It is for this reason that I will check my Gmail, then actually log out and close the browser, before I do any other web related activity.  There are also cookie and history deletion methods I regularly execute with Google.

I’ll never do this Echo thing for any reason.  I don’t need Amazon in my living room.  If for whatever bizarre factor you need an Echo in your already overly complicated life, okay, I guess.  Just be sure you know the intricate details of how that thing works and how you manage your data.  For as it stands, it seems the basic default settings of this snoop cylinder are insane.  Amazon is a witness to your life and death.

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One day, I’m going to come back home from work, and there’ll be an Echo on my dining table.  I didn’t buy it, nobody broke into my house, it’ll just be there.  I will then club it with a bat, grab my dogs and some canned goods, and run for the hills.

we help you spice up your office Christmas atmosphere

Hopefully by the time anybody reads this nonsense post their office Christmas experiences will be long over and the weekend has begun.  Which is fine, you can table this for next year.  I’m sure you’ll remember it.  The brilliance on display within this blog is considered timeless.  My dogs swear by it.  Why would they lie?  It’s not like they’re entirely dependent upon me for food or anything.

At the new gig, I’ve discovered it’s pretty standard for folks to pass around Christmas cards along with a little piece of chocolate or whatever.  This kind of caught me off guard.  I’ve never seen this occur at any other job I’ve held.  At first I was a bit off put as I’m quite the introvert, but over time I’ve come to somewhat get behind this idea.  It’s a nice touch of positive energy in an otherwise ground down current planetary status.

I didn’t participate this year as I hadn’t planned on anything.  Plus I don’t really have much of a family to put on the card.  My dogs won’t sit still for eight seconds.  So a camera shot would not work unless I partially sedated them.

I also think my brain is still stuck in the beat down mindset of my last job, which was a mess of a place that I hated.  And I wondered, what kind of cynical card I could hand out to all them, my former coworkers.

Well, I’m glad you asked!  You can use these next year, if you hate your work as much as I did.  Just to spice things up.  Oh my.  This is the part where a post goes off the usual rails.  I mean, again.  [claps hands in empty room]

 

Audience: The Perky Talker

Gift: A small vial of pure dust.

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “Great news!  Just 12 days left that you have to survive to make it through another year where you’ve foregone your future bleached skeleton status.”

 

Audience: The In Your Face Trump Supporter

Gift: A Miniature Jester’s Hat

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “You’ve been had.   You’re not going to get anything you want for Christmas.  The swamp will not be drained.  You’re not getting a wall.  Your own children no longer believe in Santa.  Congrats.  :(”

 

Audience: The In Your Face Hilary Supporter

Gift: A One Dollar Bill

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “You’ve been had.  Your Christmas is ruined.  But she’ll still spend hers within the torturous confines of her $27.3M mansion.  Please find enclosed this $1 bill which you can light a cigarette with.  To experience what she does when she does the same with a $1K bill and a $10K cigar.  Joy.  :(”

 

Audience: The Tyrannical Boss

Gift: An Authentic Nazi Broche You Procured from a Fifth Rate Bulgarian Arms Dealer

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “Since 1941, the term ‘Nazi Party USA’ has been available for use via copyright.  I think you have what it takes to return it to its days of former glory.  Just be sure to post your efforts via Facebook.  I’ll friend you explicitly for that purpose.”

 

Audience: The Clueless Boss’s Boss

Gift: A Handwritten Hardbound Copy of the Office’s Own Basic Policy

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “I’d ask you to pick a card, any card, but honestly, it doesn’t matter which one.  Just pick any of them, the result is the same.”

 

Audience: The Kind Middle Aged Mother

Gift: A Chocolate

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “Merry Christmas to you and your family!”

 

Audience: The Beaten Coworker

Gift: A Resume Writing Guide

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “Don’t worry, Brother, it can only get worse from here.”

 

Audience: The CEO

Gift: A Baseball Bat

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “Have you considered a profitable future venture within the Bangladeshi garment trade?”

 

Audience: Jesus (mailed to his castle in Hawaii)

Gift: Beer

Card Picture:

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My Handwritten Caption: “They say you suffered as we did, but then, you never experienced a cubicle.  But then again, they didn’t have beer back then either, so I guess we’re even.”

 

Merry Christmas, friends!

algorithms are never going to drive your car

The wave of the future is you sitting in your car reading a book or drinking a beer on the way home from work. Man, that’d be sweet. Trillions will be spent trying to make this happen. But I still don’t believe it’ll ever happen in large scale.

Once upon a time I dabbled in computer science. It’s been so long since I did that, that in writing the word ‘algorithm’ in this post’s title I had to re-spell it like ten times. But I remember enough to know just how flawed computers are. It’s why everything eventually breaks, at least once. Or has to be restarted every now and again.

I mean, airplanes don’t tend to crash anymore, but remember those are always human input at the end stage. It’s interesting that in all these autonomous car dreams (experimentally on the road today) that nobody seems to be seriously considering autonomous airliners. I’d bet a substantial amount of my freestanding international gold reserves that your average person would be a hundred times more comfortable getting in a robot car over a robot plane. Even though the fatality rate on the roads is astronomically higher than the skies.

The challenge with the robot car is not the computer hardware, or the sensors, or even trying to rewrite thousands of federal, state, local, and insurance road laws. It’s the algorithms. These algorithms will guide the way the car drives, navigates, how it responds to failures, how it handles emergencies, dangerous situations, and so on. If the algorithms don’t work, or are flawed, at least some badness will always occur. And in my mind, since algorithms are always written by humans, the flaws are never going away. And you can’t restart your car while you’re driving 65 mph down the road. Though I suppose the car could pull you over and then restart, if the algorithm handles the error resolution correctly.

But also, it comes down to what humans are willing to entrust to an algorithm. For example, I heard this used in a play on that morals exercise, if you’re in a car at 45 mph and you go left you run over one person, if you go right you run over three people. What do you do? But in more relevant terms for our discussion here, at 45 mph if you go left you run over one person, if you go right your car hits a jersey wall. Your significant other is in the passenger seat.

Or, with different circumstances, what if you go left it’d be two people you’d hit. If you go right you still hit the wall, but it’s just you in the car. How does the situation change if you’ve got kids in the back? Do you go left or right? Both these options suck, but it’s a decision that determines the fate of other fellow humans, or you and your car partner.

Yet in the self-driving car world, the algorithm makes this decision for you. You have no say. Then the programmers have to turn around and pre-program (somehow) for the car to handle a limitless number of other eventualities. Would you let your car decide any of these situations for you, for your family? I wouldn’t. An algorithm doesn’t get to make those kinds of choices for me. Only I do.

people will just walk on by

I’m becoming convinced that the local grocery store parking lot is haunted.  It’s some type of weird nexus of the universe where dark forces collide while folks go to and from their shopping.  Inside their bags, avocados turn black, cereal becomes stale, ice melts, and all meals cooked with the bag’s ingredients result in unfavorable family responses.

I’m wondering if one day I’ll roll out happy with my bag of food goodies and I’ll see a random car on fire.  I mean totally engulfed in 20 foot high flames.  Just because.  And there’ll be this guy sitting on the nearby bench.

It’d be 94 degrees out but this dude’s wearing a full black three piece suit complete with hat.  He’s got pale vampire skin, red eyes, and a frowny face pin on his lapel.  I see the burning car, and he just wryly pulls on his cigarette, looks me dead in the eye, and is like, “Hi.”  So I gotta run back inside and hide under the bread aisle.

As I’m strolling out of this place yesterday a woman has just immediately finished throwing her bags in the back seat of her car from her cart.  She has a driver, so she gets in the back of the car, and with one hand shoves her cart so it’s careening down the sidewalk roughly towards the cart stall.  Then she closes her door.

But the cart stall is like 50 feet away.  So naturally she didn’t stand a chance of it getting there.  Why she couldn’t walk those 50 feet to do it properly is beyond me.  As I cross the street behind her car the cart then proceeds to make a nice arc motion and circle in front of her car and into the street.  It comes to a halt in the street and is thus now blocking traffic.

Please see this expert diagram which illustrates the situation:

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By this point I’m across the street but keep walking because I assume she’s going to get out of the car and get her cart out of the road.  Nope.  She waves at her driver to drive off.  And so goes her car, speeding away.  And the cart is just sitting there.

So I throw up my arms in exasperation at this lady, I think I yelled “are you kidding me” though I doubt she heard, I  wave to the other car, and I push the cart out of traffic.  And it is in these moments that I’m convinced the entire human race stands no chance at all.  We’re all bound for the crypt.

I just don’t understand how any reasonable human being can do something like that and just drive off.  I know it’s a cruel harsh world with a whole bunch of bad things happening, so this is kind of just a minor rounding error.

But this sort of thing bothers me immensely because it’s indicative of rot.  I can’t even imagine how that lady must talk to a bank teller.  Or what she would do if she saw a guy get hit by a car.  Say like, a guy who was moving her cart out of the road.  She’d probably just walk / drive on by.

Sometimes those dark news stories about how pedestrians will just walk by a wounded human are all too true.  People will just walk on by.  People just don’t care.  Don’t be that way.  Don’t walk on by.  Don’t let the creepy frowny face pin guy win.

Putin is not Putin

I get the idea that 73% of the planet now believes Vlad is about seven feet tall, wears a pristine three piece suit, while dual wielding a pair of machine pistols, followed by a troupe of supermodels, and leaves all his enemies dead in his wake.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure none of this is true.  In any aspect, this guy just gets too much credit.  There’s Putin the idea, and Putin the man.  Putin the idea does not actually exist.  The man himself is basically just a gangster dictator.  Putin is not Putin.

Russia is powerful, it influences events worldwide and especially in it’s own backyard.  It has nuclear weapons, and a whole bunch of oil and gas.  But Russia is ultimately a troubled mess.  The economy is in the tank, demographic decline means by 2075 there will be like four Russians left, and generally speaking there’s nobody to carry on the party after Putin goes.

So when folks make Putin or Russia out to be this goliath, it’s not healthy.  It gives credence to a situation that’s not there.  Oh, Russia influenced the United States election?  I’m sure they did.  Did this single act cause Trump to win?  No.  And in any case, is everybody so blind to history?  Soviet Russia has influenced every U.S. election since 1917.  Please kindly go read history.

But when it’s made out that Putin alone has influenced the election, or even changed the outcome?  I’m sorry, but all that does is feed an image that doesn’t reflect reality.  Russia or Putin just simply isn’t that powerful.

You know once upon a time, the idea was that the United States shrugged off the rounding error threats from lesser nations led by gangsters.  But I guess, in today’s social media driven world, that we have to respond with hashtag anger to every petty little slight.  In 1984 or 1996, we’d have just shrugged at this.

manipulation and that guy’s castle

The new gig requires me to commute via train for the first time in over a decade. I suppose I’ll write more about this later, but given yesterday’s delays now’s not a good time. But lately on almost every train car wall or station ad booth are these new posters for the upcoming season of The Man in the High Castle. This is the second season of the Amazon show that I’ve heard is quite good. I’ve not yet swallowed the pill and donated my psyche to Amazon Prime so I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my list though.

Here is an example of one of the rarer posters they’re using:

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I use the term rare, but I’d say north of 80% of them are this other poster:

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I may have a demented brain but the first thought I had when I saw this poster for the first time was the guy behind this marketing campaign is a genius. I want to conscript his talents to solve some of my more pressing life’s problems, like how to get my dryer to function more efficiently. For you see, I’m entirely certain that the 60 million Americans who voted for Hilary upon viewing this poster are going to immediately associate this visual concept with Trump.

You’ve got New York, you’ve got Nazis, you’ve got a motto about changing the future, and no other extraneous information presented to contradict this initial impression. For example, they could have shown an Imperial Japanese guy in the lower left corner too, but that would take away from the implicit message. Also, if you look very closely as I did this morning, there is a man in Lady Liberty’s head. Face-to-face with this poster, I swear it looks about as close to Trump’s face as they could make it without it being overt.

Again, I haven’t seen this show, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Trump or anything related to the election. But advertising is about impressions. Once those 60 million folks decide to go check out what The Man in the High Castle is, at least some portion of them will decide to stick around and actually watch the show. I wonder how many of them will also realize that in doing so, they were being skillfully played by the Giant Octopus in Amazon.

Manipulation is a creepy thing. I’d like to think I’m not paranoid, but perhaps I am. Or perhaps I’m just insane. Or both. Every news article I read, or ad I see, or whatever, I’m constantly asking myself what the hidden message is. Because like it or not, impartiality doesn’t exist, if it ever did. Somebody wants you to do something or think a certain way for their own (or their cause’s) benefit. Free person that you are, you have to be watchful.

As another example, I’m sure most of you saw this news and social media push of the Santa who had a young boy die in his arms. What a heart tearing story for the Christmas season. Well, it turns out that it probably wasn’t true. But if you’ll remember, this was front page news earlier in the week. On only in a few places will you find the retraction. So a whole ton of people who read and believed, are never going to find out that they were played by this maniac.  I only found out it was fake because I read Deadspin for NFL purposes and this was on the margin.

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Unrelated photo of manipulator

Hey speaking of Nazis and manipulation, also in the news today was that Austria has decided to forcefully procure Hitler’s birthplace.

I guess there’s a lot of history behind this place and the lady who owns it. But for years it seems the Austrian government was paying her straight cash in an effort to prevent various modern Nazi groups from renting it to hold séances with Hitler’s ghost. So now Austria will seize it, buy out this lady, and do something with it. I’m sure they’ll either blow it up or turn it into a memorial for all of Hitler’s victims. Either option works for me, I guess. I mean, it’s just a building. It’s not actually Hitler, so who cares?

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If you ask me, let’s manipulate the shit out of this place. Oh, the modern Nazis want to use it for their rally? How about we let them. The following manipulation shall occur in designated order:

1) The Austrian government announces the property has been purchased by an obscure billionaire known only as Herr Schmidt.

2) Herr Schmidt announces on clandestine Nazi message boards that he actually worships Hitler and the property is thus now open for visits by the faithful.

3) Special keys are handed out via covert mail for those diehard Nazis who wish to visit. They are provided instructions on how to access the property.

4) When they get inside the house, various patriotic Nazi signs direct the acolytes to the special room. For example, they could just repurpose the High Castle poster with Lady Liberty. And various signs reading, “This way to worship our Fuhrer.”

5) And they all get inside the special room, and it turns out it’s just a place with a bunch of chain guns.

6) We get robots to clean up the room.

7) Repeat as required, until no longer required.

And thus, the world would be rid of the extremely small portion of humanity who are so worthless that they still believe in a Nazi message that was destroyed 70 years ago. So let’s give the Nazis what they want, and we’ll just use the house for this other purpose. It’s win-win.

The dude in the castle is not Hitler or Trump or fake Santa whatever, it’s Herr Schmidt. We are Herr Schmidt. We carry on the legacy of the war 70 years ago that made sure The Man in the High Castle concept never happened.