Friday, January 27, 2012

What religion is for

One of the principles of my moral philosophy is that morality is actually quite natural. Culture does not exist to promote morality, but rather, to diminish it: the point of Culture is to enshrine exceptions to the plain, simple obviousness of fairness. Culture creates traditions and institutions that justify and maintain unfairness. A simple example is the Old Testament, where the priestly class is given the best cuts of meat.

A more complex example can be found here:
The work of Solt et al., which I’ve discussed before, shows that income inequality is also highly correlated among nations with religiosity: the more unequal a nation, the more religious its inhabitants.
Religion, as a form of culture, justifies economic unfairness. This rather neatly explains why Republicans are the party of poor white working class religious folk and rich, rich, rich people.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Obama visits AZ

and gets finger-pointed by the Governor.

Didn't anybody teach this woman basic etiquette?

The good news (for liberals) is that Obama apparently cut her off in mid-sentence and walked away, leaving the Governor "flustered." Apparently the days of trying to appease the Republicans are over.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Curse of the Golden Flower

One of the long-standing complaints of D&D is that anyone with high skill, like for instance, a doctor, also has high hit dice and can fight dozens of ordinary soldiers at once. This movie, the Curse of the Golden Flower, embraces that idea to the hilt, making it the ultimate D&D movie. Movies often give the main characters too many lucky breaks; CotGF makes it into a law of physics.

The Emperor, despite being an old man who needs to be carried around in a chair, can fight his super-hero son to a stand-still without getting out of his chair. People are physically afraid of him because he can kill whole battalions by himself. In the climatic battle the son is surrounded by thousands of ordinary soldiers, and piles up the bodies before being overcome by sheer mass. This is after his entire army of 10,000 has been slaughtered around him.

But it doesn't end there; the Imperial Doctor must be a high-level character, because he beats down dozens of ninjas with just his golden shovel. His wife and daughter are equally effective at clobbering the faceless mooks. Apparently just being a Very Important Person gives you weapon skills and super vitality... just like in D&D.

That battle scene shows what the 0th level soldiers in D&D are for, by the way: they mostly serve as human ladders so the heroes (and his mid-level entourage) can climb over the walls and fight the enemy. Also, they carry stuff and wear snazzy uniforms to look cool.

Monday, January 23, 2012

American infantilism

This is what is wrong with the political process in America:

“I’m not saying Obama hasn’t done anything good, and maybe it’s not fair to blame him or the administration, but I just think there were more expectations for an improvement on economic issues,” said Elaine Vignali, 60, a homemaker and independent voter from Uniontown, Pa. She added that she was deeply frustrated, declaring: “To be honest, if I had to vote today I wouldn’t vote.”

Poll shows how stupid Americans are

The problem with politics in America is the electorate; namely, that they are emotion-driven, short-sighted, and selfish. That is to say, infantile.

When your response to the failure of democracy to produce the result you wanted is to quit participating, you are an idiot.

It also demonstrates that you do not understand how democracy works. I am continually amazed at how little the public (both Left and Right) seems to understand the basics of democratic government. Didn't these people have Civics classes in high school?

I am sorry, Elaine; but you are an idiot.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Waking up from the long sleep of reason

But to the horror of radical free-market ideologues, the myth of no-fault capitalism is under scrutiny. No one is arguing against markets, which are indeed the best way to create wealth and thus the best weapon against poverty. No one is arguing that investors who risk their capital in a company should not be able to reap rewards. What the ideologues ignore, however, is that workers also have “capital” at risk — in the form of mind and muscle, creativity, loyalty, years of service. Why is this investment so casually dismissed?

Reexaming the myth of no-fault capitalism

Or, as I would have put it, reexamining Reaganomics.

It is entirely possible to be for free-market capitalism without being for unregulated free-for-all winner-takes-all economic savagery. Just like it is possible to be for a strong social safety net like national health care, retirement, education, and welfare without being for totalitarian land-redistribution communism.

Extremism in the defense of liberty, it turns out, is a vice; because liberty cannot exist at the extremes. Everything in moderation turns out to not only be older, but wiser. And even more conservative.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Making a mockery of the Supreme Court and the English language

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that independent organizations could not have their free speech stifled by campaign laws. So people could donate as much as they wanted to independent Super-PACs, which could spend as much as they wanted, without oversight, regulation, or even disclosure. As long as the PAC was independent.

This tissue-thin fantasy didn't even last until the next Presidential election. We're still in the primary stage, and already Newt Gingrich is asking his Super-PAC to pull an ad running against Mitt Romney (because it's too effective).

But if the PAC does stop the ad, based on Newt's request... how is that not "coordinating?" What does the word even mean, if it doesn't mean that?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Arizona as the model of the future... of teabaggery

Arizona wants to buy back its capitol building

Back in 2009, the Arizona government sold off its capitol building and leased it back. Small government, see. Austerity, see. Balanced budgets, see.

Now it wants to buy the building back, rather than keep shelling out lease payments. Ordinary common sense seems to have triumphed. (After all, owning its own plant and equipment is what any business would do).

Here's the punch line. They sold the building for $81 million. They're buying it back (in this lousy real estate market) for $105 million. That's $24 million dollars transferred directly from the taxpayers to real estate investors.

That's Republican economics for you.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Firaxe cover art?

Apparently this is what my cover might look like?

I love the way the artist has created hesitant anticipation almost entirely through posture. And the style looks like looking through a blizzard. Plus it's old-school, somehow.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ordinary men and common steel

In Dungeons and Dragons, wizardly evocations are normally considered to dominate the battlefield. But is that true? Is it possible to have magic and still field traditional units of hundreds or thousands of men?

Considered a unit of 100 men, in a 50 x 50 ft square. Since they are common soldiers, with 1d4 hit die and no bonuses, we can assume they fail all saves and any damage kills them.

A Fireball has a 20 ft spread. This means it affects a maximum of 52 five-foot cubes. However, fireballs are emanations; they can be blocked by cover. The four soldiers adjacent to the center of the blast have no cover; but the 8 soldiers around them have the bodies of their comrades as Half cover (so a +2 to their save). The men beyond that have at least 2 bodies providing cover, so that counts as Nine-Tenths cover (+3 to their save). All of the rest of the men in the unit have at least 3 bodies between them and the blast, so unless the damage is sufficient to incinerate the corpses (which would require at least five times CON, I would think), they are safe. This means only 24 men will die: only a quarter of the unit.

Suppose the wizard gets clever, and aims the fireball so it is 10 ft off the ground. This air burst denies cover to the men underneath; but it also expends its maximum radius harmlessly in the air. The ideal balance between area of effect and cover comes to the same thing: 24 casualties.

Obviously that is a lot. But a 5th level wizard can only cast 1-3 Fireballs a day; that means that a 100 man pike unit is roughly equivalent to a 5th level wizard on the battlefield. If the wizard is good or lucky, many men will die and the rest will flee; if the men are dedicated and brave, the wizard will run out of spells and then die on their pikes. (Of course smart wizards would cast Fly... but then we would be talking about 100 crossbowmen. And that would be one less Fireball they can cast). Interestingly, higher level fireballs are no more effective, since their radius does not increase.

In a low magic world, with armies numbering in the thousands and only a handful of wizards, this means magic is a powerful force on the battlefield, but not the only force.

Lightning bolts are less effective; although they specifically deal damage to everything in their area, they have a small area of affect. They will only kill 10 men out of the unit (and 10 men out of the next unit, if they are adjacent).

10 foot radii spells like Flame Strike, Freezing Sphere, and Sound Burst are small enough that cover does not matter; but they only slay 12 men.

Higher-level spells that have 20 ft radii and do not allow cover will kill all 52 affected men in a single blast: Ice Storm, Black Tentacles, Unholy Blight, Cloudkill, Song of Discord, Acid Fog, Incendiary Cloud. Effects that can move will likely destroy the entire unit (unless the survivors flee). A Wall of Fire cast in its smallest circular form and facing inward will kill 52 men; facing outward, it will kill 72 men and trap the remaining 28 inside to be dealt with later. In its linear form it will kill the first 2 rows of men along its line of effect (so 20 men from one unit); the rest will have sufficient cover to retreat before the lower-level damage affects them.

The 40 foot radius spells are all centered on the caster: Holy Word, Blasphemy, Dictum, Word of Chaos. These affect 74 men if the caster is in the center of the front line.

A 50 foot radius Bless will affect 2 units.

Spells that create 10 ft cubes will kill 4 men per cube (Summon Swarm, Call Lightning, Spike Growth, Order's Wrath, Spike Stones, Call Lightning Storm, Insect Plague, Wall of Thorns, Fire Seeds, Firestorm, Creeping Doom, Prismatic Wall). These spells kill between 4 and 120 men; those that persist and move quickly will kill more; those that move slowly can be used to shape the battlefield. Reverse Gravity needs to be doubled up to inflict serious damage, so it will only kill 14 ordinary men: hardly worth a 7th level slot.

Cones are better, but require getting close to your target. 15 foot cones like Burning Hands only kill 7 men in an optimal casting; 30 foot cones like Shout and Wave of Fatigue can kill 24 men; 60 foot cones such as Cone of Cold, Greater Shout, Wave of Exhaustion and Prismatic Spray can kill 75 men, assuming they are not blocked by cover. With cover, 30 foot cones only slay 17 men and 60 foot cones only kill 30.

Symbols of Death, Insanity, and so on affect an entire adjacent unit (although the symbol of Death only does 150 hit points before burning out). After that no one will be silly enough to get close to them.

Earthquake affects an 80 foot radius, which might well be 4 entire units if they are adjacent; but it only inflicts 25% casualties. After the ground stops shaking, the troops will count themselves lucky not to have been fireballed.

Meteor Swarm creates 40 foot radius blasts, but these will be blocked by cover, so only 24 men per blast will be affected. The dreaded Storm of Vengeance will kill everything within its 360 ft radius (i.e. 150 fifty-foot battle squares!) but only after the 4th round. This basically means that summoning the storm causes the enemy army to immediately break ranks and flee for their lives (unless they are protected by sufficient fortifications such as a castle or keep).

Summoned monsters, of course, will also be effective; but soldiers are trained to fight monsters. 100 well-ordered pikemen can send a fistful of Dire Wolves packing.

In addition, the use of Tower Shields, or Large Shields and testudo formations can grant Total cover against spells and arrows. A Large Steel Shield, with its Hardness of 10 and Hit Points of 20, could even withstand a Meteor Swarm!

Thus, with careful review of the effects of spells, and appropriate strategic planning (no use letting the wizard fly away to fireball you again the next day), I think the strength of ordinary men and common steel can still decide the fates of kingdoms. Against an 11th level wizard, a thousand men backed up by only a handful of mid-level clerics and armed with a way to trap the wizard into fighting (for example, attacking his home town), may yet see victory.

What do you all think?

(Yes, I just watched The Return of the King again. Why do you ask? :smallbiggrin:)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

America does not have a debt problem

You can take my word for it, or you can take a Nobel Prize-winning economist's word for it:

If your image is of a nation that’s already deep in hock to the Chinese, you’ve been misinformed.

All we need to do is nothing; let the Bush tax cuts expire, and we'll be OK. Of course, actually raising taxes and spending the money on public infrastructure would be even better. You know, like we did between WWII and Reagan.

Reagan was never about cutting taxes to raise growth. Reagan was always about cutting taxes to cut transfers to undeserving people. Welfare queens and all that. And now, 30 years later, it turns out the definition of undeserving person has been redefined to mean not a hedge fund manager.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Krauthammer accidentally says something true

What a way to start the new year - with a completely new Charles Krauthammer. Here he is writing an entire article that is perceptive, thought-provoking, and actually true. First he spends some time talking about the mysterious silence in the universe - as Fermi asked, where is everybody? - and then he segues into destroying Libertarian philosophy in a single sentence.

Intelligence is a capacity so godlike, so protean that it must be contained and disciplined. This is the work of politics — understood as the ordering of society and the regulation of power to permit human flourishing while simultaneously restraining the most Hobbesian human instincts.

Are we alone in the universe?

This is why free markets must be regulated, and liberty must be constrained: because human existence is an orchestra of competing drives. Regulation is one of them: self-regulation, through morality and reason, and social regulation, through law and custom. The idea that humans are best on their own, indeed the idea that they can exist in isolation from a social framework, is just plain wrong. We need society, to help us make the right choices, just as we need education and self-discipline to help us make the right choices. Man is a social animal. A man trying to live without social input is like a man trying to shave without a mirror.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Choosing your battles

Mommy just asked the baby if she wanted a nap. The baby's response was to flee, screaming, and fling herself into Daddy's arms.

It worked, at first. Daddy cuddled her until Evil Mommy left the room. Then baby got up and started playing again.

But after five minutes, Evil Mommy came and got baby again, and now she's sleeping in her cot.

The moral of the story? Don't mess with the government, the mafia, or mommy, because they all have infinite patience.

An explanation of why the Tea Party works

In essence, he argues that the Tea Party captured the outrage people feel about the failure of the system, their fear of economic disaster, and their desire for utopia.

The liberals, having wedded themselves to Professionalism, could not talk in terms of Populist outrage. This is ironic, of course, because the Republicans used to be the party of steely-eyed realism (i.e. Professionalism), and the Democrats used to be the utopians (i.e. Communist paradise).

Now it's all reversed. If you were a Republican fifty years ago because you thought Democrats were hopeless dreamers, you should be a Dem now. When the Left was supporting Communism, they were idiots. Now that the Right is supporting theocratic fascism, they're the idiots.

Pity the Billionare