Monday, May 21 2012


Aaaahhhhh!!  My blog!!!
*hurredly deletes spam accumulation*
I've been really busy for approximately (*checks watch*) several years now, to the point I forgot I had a blog.
And then I got to thinking... 'you know, I really should get my own blog' only for some long forgotten neurons to fire back with 'you idiot, you have a blog!'.
Anyways, new post soon.

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 53 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Tuesday, March 31 2009

Let's Try This Again

There are some key concepts to keep in mind when playing a game, or looking at the world as a game:

1.  Theory always takes a backseat to reality.  In theory, one can sit down with the rules of the game and devise an ideal strategy.  In reality, this doesn't work, at least for most games.  Any game involving luck, interaction with other players, or information only available to one of the players, can't be won by sticking to the theory of how the game should be played.  Luck doesn't follow rules, and player interactions are player-specific knowledge are matters of psychology.

2.  Not every battle can be won, and not every battle is worth winning.  A major lesson of wargaming, is that you have to pick and choose your fights.  Sometimes, you will run into a battle where one of your forces meets an overwhelming enemy force that you cannot stop.  If you can recognize this, you can save some of your forces, or otherwise use the defeat to your advantage.  A more important distinction is recognizing a battle that you can win, but only at a cost that you can't effectively afford in the long run;  a Pyrric victory.  (Although I'm using wargaming analogies here, you can substitute money or influence or any limited and essential quantity for forces and the analogy still works).

3.  Don't let your emotions cloud your judgement.  The trap in number two is that if you are emotionally invested in winning, then you have more difficulty recognizing losing battles or too-expensive victories.  It's easy to fall for the flaw of emotionally investing in a bad strategy.  If one of your opponents scores an impressive victory over you, it's easy to get emotionally committed into getting back at them, even if it's a losing proposition, or a distraction from your ultimate objective, winning the game.  If you can recognize when other players in the game have switched over to emotional behaviors, you can use it to your advantage, such as tempting them into going for too-expensive victories.

4.    Always know your victory conditions, and know the different ways to achieve them.  Remember what your final goal is, and don't get fixated on one particular plan.  It's easy to get so focused on a particular plan for achieving victory that you don't notice that you don't have the resources to pull it off.  It's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that a particular battle is the only route to victory.

5.  The game isn't always fair.  Know that the game and the other players punish and reward certain behaviors, and plan accordingly.  Take advantage of it when you can, and don't waste your energy struggling against it when you can't change it.

Why did I call this "Let's Try This Again"?  Because, ultimately, I'm working on a more thoughtful look at the current conservative blogosphere slug match I alluded to down below, which is a microcosm of the conservative web presence as a whole.

We've got two prominent conservative bloggers and their readers after each other.  One's trying to be diplomatic with the left, and one's taking an aggressive tone.  The aggressive blogger has rightly pointed out that playing diplomatically cedes much of the terms of discourse to the progressive side, and hasn't helped in the past;  the progressives have won by being nasty and playing dirty with conservatives.  The diplomatic blogger has pointed out that aggressive rhetoric turns off many people we might be able to persuade, and serves only to rally those already on our side.  Which one's right?  Both are, or neither are.

Yes, the progressive media has unfairly demonized the right for years.  Yes, they've used every nasty trick in the book.  Yes, this isn't fair (Rule 5).  Responding in kind isn't going to work at this time.  The constant demonization of conservatives has already worked.  "Conservative" is now tied to "Evil" in many people's minds.  In theory, we're right (Rule 1), but this means nothing in reality, where things are shaped by people's perceptions, which have been carefully steered by the media.  We can't just say "Progressives are evil", because if we do, the people we're trying to reach are going to ignore us.  Yes, this isn't fair (5 Again).  We need to persuade people that we're in the right, and starting with emotional arguments that immediately turn them off to our message (like "[insert Progressive politician's name here] is Evil") won't work;  they voted for the guy, of course they're not going to accept our claim that his policies are harmful just on our say so!  Fighting the battle of language is a difficult proposition, and one that will take a lot of work.  Unless we give it our full effort, it's probably a losing battle.(Rule 2).

With regard to the Conservative bloggers, the policy disagreements have escalated into emotional disagreements (Rule 3), and the bloggers are spending time and effort to fight each other because they have an emotional stake in beating the other guy.  It's led both to make stupid mistakes which infuriate the other side even more, escalating the tensions further.  More importatntly, defeating the other conservative blogger doesn't help enact conservative policies and conservative politicians (Rule 4).

Posted by: Civilis at 09: 51 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Monday, April 07 2008

Engineering Logic and Politics

My error in the last post really bothers me.  I often receive complaints at work for being overly complex when answering questions because I think a simple answer doesn't answer the question.  I want things to be precise because it avoids (or ideally should avoid) confusion.

My degree in Computer Science comes from the engineering college of the school I attended, and I had to take a number of introductory engineering classes in other fields, so I think I think like an engineer.  An engineer wants to solve a given problem with a simple, practical solution.  The first part of this is knowing what the problem is, and this requires precise terminology.

The problem is that precise terminology doesn't necessarily apply to problems of politics, or at least isn't necessarily applied to politics, as those that benefit from politics have an incentive to weasel the terms used to suit their own ends.  Often, the goal of a politician is to implement a specific solution, rather than find the best solution to a problem.  I am thoroughly convinced that this is indeed crazy, and that most problems could be solved, or at least reduced, by application of engineering logic.

Take the fun debate over the recent release of Fitna, the anti-Islamic documentary from Dutch politician Geert Wilders.  As usual, Islamic groups are demanding that laws be passed to ban hate speech, and a lot of reflexively multicultural political groups are at least making noises about agreeing that hate speech is bad.  The engineering solution?  Get written out a precise, objective definition of what exactly constitutes hate speech / defamation of religion / blasphemy.  How would this address the issue (at least in my ideal, logical world)?  It would point out that a lot of the articles in the middle eastern press probably meet the definition of hate speech, and we could probably get a lot of the screeds addressed at the religious right on the same grounds.  Hopefully, the consensus among at least those in the West would be that an objective rule against religious defamation would give the hard edge of the religious right the ability to sue a lot of people into oblivion, and as such the idea is poorly thought out.  Admittedly, there is the chance that the law would be enacted and not enforced objectively, as is the case with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, but that's an implementation problem.

A lot of the more politically motivated law proposals fail the objective and precise test, not because they can't be written objectively but because so much of what is obviously discourse worth protecting (that is, discourse that you agree with) falls into the category when you apply an objective and precise definition, and as such the law is unworkable and dangerous.  The Fairness Doctrine fails this test, as do any laws which treat journalists as a protected class.

Update on 4/8/2008 below the fold

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 42 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Thursday, November 15 2007

The Dork / Dark Side

Steven den Beste recently posted about his feeling of finally succumbing to the dark side, by which I read that he's finally realizing that he's an Otaku.  I can't speak for someone as articulate as he is, but it sounds like he's experiencing the same realization that comes to mind every couple of weeks.  I'm not normal.  I've got a weird hobby.  And at some level I honestly don't care what people think.

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November is a busy month for me.  I'm preparing to attend my second convention in as many weeks.  Last weekend was Fall-In, the Historical Minatures Gaming Society convention in Gettysburg, PA.  This weekend is AnimeUSA in Arlington Virginia.  This is my first time at Fall-In, and it was definitely fun.  I've been to Anime USA for several years in a row.

The absolutely scary realization is that these two conventions are populated by similar people and yet that realization would probably never occur to most people at either con.  The differences are obvious.  The people at Fall-In are older, almost all white, almost completely male.  A lot seem to be veterans of the armed forces.  They tend to be patient and completely relaxed when not engaged in "battle".  All are history buffs.  Anime con-goers are almost all young, and generally represent a thorough cross section of American youth.  Most are hyper energetic and impatient, and a fair number seem to be smart but bored and therefore detached from the educational system.

Many anime con-goers definitely have an exhibitionist streak, and I seem to be the only person at Otakon without a novelty t-shirt with an anime or gaming related logo on it.  Yet a fair number of the gamers at Fall-in have novelty t-shirts, only instead of the scantily-clad anime babe on the front they tend to have old Soviet propaganda posters or artist renditions of their favorite multi-ton war machines, and the reduction is due in part to the much colder weather in November.  Both cons have people who specialize in looking for the rarest of finds in the massive deal rooms, and dealers with home-made merchandise that can be a real treasure to find.  Both conventions tend to have people talking in their own specialized hobby jargons, and impromptu groups of strangers going late into the night talking about their mutual interests.

Back to Steven's observation about crossing over onto the dark side, it's there lurking beneath the surface at Fall-In just as much as it is in the fledgling Otaku.  And it's lurking beneath the surface only because it's too big to make out.  A demotivational poster sums it best:
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"Call it what you want.  They're still toy soldiers, and you're still playing with them."

Is that what we're doing?  On the one hand, no, it's not.  No one consciously thinks of the army on the table before them as a set of toys.  Yet I occasionally find myself making shooting noises as the game goes on because I'm having fun.

Ironically enough, I got in to Flames of War because of an anime-styled model I picked up at an anime con.  I have a German army because I gave the wrong model number to the merchant in the dealer room; if I'd given the right number, I'd probably have a British army instead.  I always was a history buff;  I started enjoying reading in elementary school when I found heroic tales of the Second World War.  I played with little green plastic army men.  Then in high school, I gravitated towards sci-fi, which got me in to anime in college.   I also got in to board gaming in college, as well as any other sort of gaming which challenged my mind.  However, being cash strapped, I was stuck with one expensive gaming hobby, and that was CCGs.  (I'd briefly been burned on Games Workshop miniatures games in middle and high school.)

A few years back, a friend who was in to historical wargaming put forth a simple proposition to our group.  He wanted to play AK-47 Republic, a simple game simulating a civil war in a hypothetical African state during the cold war.  The armies were small, and the equipment was interesting enough, so I went in with the game and produced an army, and found it was kind of fun to do.  Two years later, I have two big Flames of War armies in addition to the AK-47 Republic army.

Here are three StuG III G assault guns for my Germans:
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The camouflage for these three is a bit odd.  German tanks late in the war are generally green and brown over a dark yellow ("dunkelgelb") base.  These three have a beige base, similar to the camouflage colors of the German infantry smocks.  It's not a big deal;  the paint scheme works.  But where did it come from?  An anime con a few years previous.  I ended up walking home from the con with her:
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I find good anime and anime-inspired character designs to be fascinating uses of color and shape.  I had seen a few pictures of World War 2 aircraft based figures (known as Mecha Musume), and when I saw tanks I had to pick one up.  I had asked the staff in the dealer room for the model next to her, a British Valentine tank, but I had walked off with my purchase before I realized I had a German tank instead.  At that point, my knowledge of the vast array of German armored vehicles was slim, but I could make out the Schurzen armor skirts alongside the tracks, and was pretty sure I was looking at a long 75mm gun, so I guessed she was a Panzer IV H.  I was already doing 15mm models for AK-47 Republic, and decided I wanted a model of the actual tank to compare to the figure, and the Flames of War series was available and had Panzer IV H's, so I picked one up and put it together, and found it was easy.  Since Flames of War seemed to be attracting a bigger base of gamers than our little game, I decided that setting up an army for it would give me more chances to game.  After checking the books, I put together an American rifle company and away I went.  When I was starting a second army, I realized I had one Panzer already, and decided to do some Germans as well (which was a good thing;  German armor is easier to use than British).

There was one problem with the whole thing.  The wargame model didn't match the Mecha Musume.  Specifically, the Schurzen and the base of the gun looked wrong.  Here's an artists sketch of the Mecha Musume:
The two road wheels on her "rear deck" give it away.  Every picture and model of a StuG III G that I've seen has those two rear road wheels mounted on the rear deck, and one of these days I'm going to research why.  The StuG III G often has Schurzen, shaped slightly different than those on the Panzer IV, and the 75mm gun has that block just above the barrel where it protrudes from the hull.  When I eventually made some assault guns for my Germans, I paid tribute to the model that started it all.  I've also got a Sherman Mecha Musume as mascot for my Americans.

To sum up my point, you're only as young as you feel.  The point of having a hobby is to enjoy yourself and relieve stress.  It might not be laugh out loud fun, but if you're not having a good time, you're doing it wrong.  Be it wargames or legos or anime figures or *shudder* watching sports, it should be something you enjoy, dark side or no.


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Thursday, October 04 2007

Offensiveness and the Fracturing of Modern Culture

I've noticed that everyone seems to be obsessed with offensiveness these days.  Sometimes, it's people going out of their way to be offensive to provoke a reaction.  Sometimes, it's people going out of their way to take offense at any perceived slight, to themselves or to anyone else.  Often times it's both at the same time.

Dan at Protein Wisdom provokes a blog firestorm by using an offensive slang term to highlight the complete lack of real world perspective of many on the left.  Shamus Young, artist behind the wildly awesome DM of the Rings comic, hasn't gone through a dozen strips on his new comic, Chainmail Bikini, before starting a riot in his audience (details here).  I haven't dared to try the link, but regular Ace of Spades commenter Zombietime has covered (Warning!  Very Definitely Not Safe For Work!) an "Alternative Lifestyles" fair in San Fransisco that seems likely to provoke the equally offensive Fred Phelps crowd into their own peculiar brand of offensiveness.  Political commentators on all sides have gone out of their way to be as rude and boorish as possible towards the other side of the politico-cultural spectrum.

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I think that in part this modern explosion of offensiveness and counter-offensiveness is a side effect of the fracturing of modern American culture and a nasty side effect of the culture wars, and as such a part of the Big Picture in that it ties culture, identity and politics together to make us what we are.

My observation has been that the advent of modern technology has led modern culture in America to be increasingly fractured as we have much less in common with our neighbors and our fellow Americans than in the past, and that separation is increasing as time and culture pass.  This is in many ways both a positive and negative development.

I believe that part of the reason behind the explosion of offensive behavior is that increasingly almost everyone feels like an outcast from American culture.  In part, it's an expression of our snobbishness;  "we're not like the others, the common, the strange, the rich, the poor, the conservative, the liberal.  We're better than the others.  Our way is right.  If only they could see that we're right, they'd agree with us, but they're stupid and evil.  We don't care what they think."

It's behind the offensive costumes at Otakon.  All otaku (anime geeks) are definitely perceived as weird by the rest of society.  I watch the looks cosplaying con goers get from normal passers by.  Seeing someone running around downtown Baltimore in weird clothes and blue hair carrying a six foot wooden and PVC sword is definitely strange.   And if they are going to look at you strange anyways, whats the difference between that and wearing a Nazi armband?  Nothing, if you're one of those morons that knows little of history.  You and I know the difference, but your average rebellious high schooler may say, "The powers that be don't like me.  The powers that be don't like Nazis.  Therefore, to rebel against the powers that be, I'll side with the Nazis."  And in doing so, they're more ostracized and pushed towards other things that are ostracized.

It's also aggravated by the fact that the modern cult of victimhood has made all victims equal, and therefore all victimizers equal.  "Sure, Hitler and Stalin were bad.  But so was Columbus.  Therefore people that celebrate Columbus Day are as bad as Nazis, and I don't care if I offend them.  Also, they offend me just like Nazis do."

To sum up, since we're going to offend someone anyways, we don't worry about how offensive our speech or behavior is.  Since we view everyone else as offensive, we don't care if we offend them.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 50 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Thursday, April 12 2007

Categories, Classes and Groups

Well, in my first post I promised that I'd tie everything together into one big picture.  I must then start tying things together with the post where I promised I'd tie everything together.  Damn those meta-narratives. 

One thing that always struck me when reading blogs is how often I would come across a blog that frequently covered two or more seemingly unrelated topics that were both interests of mine.  Stephen den Beste and's own Pixy Misa were both bloggers I started reading because of an interest in politics.  I was pleasantly surprised to find both had interests in anime.  I don't see a particular direct correlation between political interest and anime, and most of the indirect correlations (age, education, etc.) would lead me to believe that most Western otaku would have a different set of political leanings (something that tends to bear out on other rare occasions when politics and anime combine).

It became interesting, then, to try to look for similar small-scale correlations outside politics and to speculate on what could cause such correlations.  Its kind of a group version of Seven Degrees of Megumi Hayashibara (or Kevin Bacon, if you prefer.)  For example, politically one might guess that Heinlein fans might tend to be more Jeffersonian in foreign policy outlook, based on the combination of respect for the military and small-l libertarianism in his works.   Can we connect then Heinlein fans to anime?  Heinlein had a healthy respect for technology and progress, so Heinlein fans are likely to be technophiles.  Perhaps that's the next link in the chain.  Heinlein also had, shall we say, differing social mores.  Anyone who has watched anime can say the same applies to Japanese culture.  Perhaps that's the next link.  It's not that the links are deterministic.  One could easily take the overly wrought environmentalism of some recent anime and guess that anime fans would be progressive.  And we still haven't looked into whether den Beste or Pixy Misa are Heinlein fans.

How does all this tie into the big picture of human society as a whole?  Considering the big picture is a snapshot of little pictures over time, we can examine the big picture by looking at trends in group dynamics, and we can examine particular facets of the big picture by choosing a subset of groups to examine.  If we choose to examine society as a whole through the lens of  racial, ethnic or religious groups we may miss trends that show up in  the group dynamics of other types of groups.  Also note that so far I haven't described myself as a member of a racial, ethnic or religious group.  Individual identification is no longer as tied up in those types of groups as it once was.  We will eventually then have to look at how technology and culture have changed group dynamics.

For the record, I'm ethnically American, with ancestors of primarily mixed German, Irish and English descent, and I'm Roman Catholic.

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 26 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Welcome to the Dork Side

To start with, how about an introduction to your guide to this cryptic repository of thoughts and musings?  I'll throw in some idea as to what I'm trying to accomplish by putting my thoughts on paper as a bonus.  Sound good?  Read on...

My nom de blog is Civilis.  Its supposed to sound somewhat Greek in the wise philosopher mold one expects of a sage, but it means nothing.  The origins might be explored somewhere down the line as an aside, but for now they mean nothing.  I am around 30, live in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the suburbs of Washington, DC, close enough that I have something of an up-close perspective on the workings of the Federal government, but not so close that everything I see is through the lens of federal politics (a common problem among many who live off the political or government sectors of the local economy).  I work in computer support at the local government level.  My serious interests are history, international relations, politics, and technology;  my hobbies are reading, games of all types, and anime.

I write for two seemingly contradictory reasons.  I often feel the need to put my thoughts down on paper, or at least in a digital representation that is reasonably permanent.  This is selfish and somewhat egocentric;  I have no reason to believe that my thoughts are any more brilliant than those of anyone else.  I also feel the need to put thoughts out there for comment or criticism.  Its only after they have had a chance to survive the ebb and flow of debate that they fully mature.

What I hope to accomplish with this blog is with the help of commenters come up with a coherent and rational understanding of modern culture and how all the little pieces fit together.  To that end, I intend to try to link my posts to previous posts to eventually arrive at the big picture.  Wish me luck.

And you're all invited along for the ride, by the way.  Heck, if all you want to do is admire the wreck, you're fine with me.  Pull up a chair and sit down for a while...

Posted by: Civilis at 05: 33 PM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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Welcome to Dork Side Pundit.  I am your host, Civilis (a psuedonym).  At the moment, I am arranging things in my new home.  Expect some posts this evening (Eastern Daylight Time).

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