Saturday, August 30 2008

Election 2008 I

When playing a game, you start by devising a strategy.  To devise a good strategy, you take a look at the rules, the initial conditions, your own and your opponents strengths and weaknesses.  From that, you can identify what you should start out doing to carry out that strategy.

The problem is that your opponent has a strategy, and makes plans based around what he thinks your strategy will be.  If he's good, he will have anticipated your plans and come up with a way to use them against you.  Luck also plays a factor; sometimes things won't go your way.  In some cases, carrying on with your strategy is still the best bet.  In most cases it is necessary to make minor adjustments while keeping the general framework of your initial plan.  Sometimes it becomes necessary to scrap the whole thing and try something else, often something that is quite risky, something that would be quite a poor bet if it had been your initial strategy.

In a game, when your opponent, or one of your opponents, chooses to change to a risky plan in mid game, it can affect everyone else's plans by opening up new options and fundamentally changing the nature of the game.  I've played a number of games where players have the safest path by choosing a logical strategy, with a little luck and skill determining which of the safe players comes out ahead.  If one player chooses a risky strategy, skill becomes irrelevant for any of the other players and may even be counterproductive, making it a viable strategy for a player with little luck.

What we have in the 2008 Presidential elections is a case where both major parties have dropped the usual logical, safe strategies for risky ones.  It's come down to which sound bites are more effective and which candidates will catch on with the population at large, factors largely beyond the control of the party strategists.  A crafty PR person might be able to slightly shift the flow of public opinion at this point, but I feel that it's all in the hands of the public from this point forward.  I'm going to sit back and watch the fun.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 48 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Thursday, August 21 2008

The Robin Hood Fallacy

At the moment I feel like I hate politics, and yet I am obsessed with it.   I can't stop reading political blogs and pouring over the back and forth in the comments.  Treasured are the blogs that generate real, serious discussion on both sides of the political spectrum, but those blogs are surprisingly rare.  Much more common is the blog with a handful of persistent and stupid trolls offering a sound byte driven opposition that accomplishes nothing but making the trolls look like idiots.

One of my favorite fallacious arguments from the progressive left generally takes the form of "Because true Christians are charitable towards the poor, they support massive government wealth redistribution programs", with the conclusion that "the Religious Right are therefore not true Christians".  If the argument is secular, you can substitute "Truly Compassionate Individuals" for "True Christians" and replace the conclusion with "Therefore Republicans are Evil."  It's a seductive argument, because people want to think that charity towards the poor is a good thing.

This argument has many flaws, but the biggest of these is what I call the Robin Hood fallacy, which is that "robbing from the rich and giving to the poor", which is what the progressives are arguing for, is not the same as just "giving to the poor".  Since it's the government involved, "robbing" is not an appropriate verb, but the same holds true if you replace "robbing" with "taking".  To put it more philosophically, there's no virtue in compulsory "charity".

Although I lean libertarian in terms of political philosophy, at least when it comes to domestic politics, I recognize that some form of government directed safety net is a fact for the foreseeable future, and probably not bad in and of itself.  That being said, arguing for increasing the size of said net does not make one 'good'.  If I take someone else's money and give it to charity, I have not sacrificed anything of my own, and am therefore saying that those ends are not worth anything of mine.  Likewise, the person from who the money is taken didn't choose to support whatever cause towards which the money was spent.

Robin Hood, the mythological figure, is specifically a bad example because, at least according to the stories, those he was stealing from were generally associated with the traditional form of the worst political philosophy in history, known as the Divine Right of Kings, the idea that a monarch or ruler was an absolute ruler behest to no terrestrial authority.  Despite the name, the basic idea of the absolute despot or despotic class has unfortunately been common in almost all cultures, and has been associated with secular and atheist rulers as well as ones that have cited religion as their excuse for their despotic reigns.

To sum up, charitable giving towards the poor is generally a good thing.  Taking from someone else to do so, however, is not.  Though I'm willing to give some credit to dead mythological swashbuckling British bandits...

Posted by: Civilis at 07: 55 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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Tuesday, August 12 2008

From Russia, With Love

I was uncharacteristically kept from my usual news junkie habits over the last weekend;  I again attended the Otakon anime convention in Baltimore from Thursday through Saturday, and spent Sunday recovering.  (Pictures and my impressions will hopefully follow this Thursday.)  I returned and found that I had missed the start of a war.  I'll leave the pundits to explain the big picture, but I'll throw out some of my thoughts.

1. It's amazing how many times I found myself thinking of the war as "the Soviets invade Georgia".  I don't know if that's my taking in too much World War II history or just a general commentary on the state of affairs in Russia these days.  If we had been given that headline (or even a more proper "Russians invade Georgia") forty, thirty, or even twenty years ago, how many people would have thought "Atlanta" and not "Tiblisi"?

2. I think the whole affair will turn out to be a net negative for everyone except perhaps the Russians.  Given how much work China has put into the Olympics, how must they feel that someone is stealing their headlines?  The US has a close ally attacked and realistically couldn't do anything to stop the Russians besides diplomatic pressure; had the Russians not stopped but pressed on, there would have been no stopping them.  For the US, the best bet is a return to prewar conditions, but writing off the two breakaway sections of the country.

3. For the Russians, the results depend on why they stopped, and who figures out why they stopped.  If they stopped because the Georgians gave up enough concessions, they've probably scored a major victory.  There are rumors, however, the Russians stopped in part because the Georgians had dug in real well and the Russians couldn't advance on them without inordinate casualties.  If this is true, and it gets out, the Russian victory is lessened.  It would be nice to know how much longer the Russians could sustain their operational tempo; if they were pushing the limits of their air force, particularly, this could prove a major embarrassment.  If they stopped because they feared that US military advisers in country could draw the US and NATO into the conflict, this war is a net loss compared to what they could get had they waited until the next administration, and I can see the Ukraine and Georgia asking for more US military advice in the future.

4. For the Georgians, and to a lesser extent the Ukrainians, the results depend on what happens now.  US mutual assistance guarantees aren't going to be viable without NATO cooperation (which isn't going to happen), but we can still work to beef up training their military and helping them improve their equipment.  A little modern air defense could make the Russians think twice, if it turns out their air power was the decisive factor.  If I were Georgia, I'd also try to strike a deal with China, perhaps trading oil for Chinese military equipment (such as air defense systems). 

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 46 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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