Originality in authorship

It’s my day off, I wanted to think about something other than computers for a bit…

Published in: on September 18, 2005 at 16:22  Comments (8)  

De mucho leer y poco dormir, se le secó el cerebro

It’s a bit concerning, on the tail end of a multi-week reading binge that’s left a huge heap of books by the side of my bed, to start another one and have it warn me in the prologue that it was too much reading and not enough sleep that drove the protagonist mad.

Published in: on July 27, 2005 at 11:47  Comments (24)  


From work: We’ve got lots of new people in our group. As a getting-to-know-you event, next Wednesday our boss is taking us shooting, then drinking.

I love my boss.

(A very deep part of me thinks that ought to be spelled shootin’ and drinkin’)

Reading Material: Collapse by Jared Diamond – highly recommended. It’s a volume of case studies on societies which have failed, societies which almost failed but got themselves out of hot water quickly, and societies which are still in transit. Very insightful as to the different ways people can blow themselves to hell, and good at extracting some general principles from it. It’s given me a very different perspective on various issues, especially on the right way to manage resource use.

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami – I’d never read any of his short stories before. Quite surreal at times; very good. The subjects range from the quotidian (a man seeing his sister move towards marriage, the author recounting his job mowing lawns in high school), told with Murakami’s slightly wistful tone, to the somewhat surreal. (A story – not the title story! – about a man who works in an elephant factory)

Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian – very naval. Just started it. Notable for being able to use the following lines in an actually meaningful context:

“But if you had heard him speak of wombats – oh, just in passing, and not with any sense of ill-usage – it would have brought tears to your eyes. Oh, Jack, he is so very low.”

Published in: on July 21, 2005 at 14:46  Comments (4)  
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Brought on by too much work, this rather interesting essay, and who knows what else, it occurred to me that D20 Modern is far too alone among games. We could have a D20 Postmodern, where the players as a group transform (“the death of the author”) the sequence of ordinary events described by the GM into a narrative arc by imposing the world-view of “adventurers;” D20 Epic, where the ultimate ending is written in advance and known, like the laws of the gods, to all the characters, who must then live their lives knowing what the ultimate ending will be; and similarly D20 Tragedy, Comedy, Picaresque Romance, and so on.

We all play these games, of course, but it would still be amusing to form up a list of them all, and see if conversely there are some characteristic modes of RPG’s which could be translated into unusual modes for other forms of storytelling.

(Hmm… is it just me, or does D20 Modern seem tailor-made for a game based on Gravity’s Rainbow?)

And yes, I realize this is elaborate nonsense. What can I say, I’m sleep-deprived…

Published in: on July 13, 2005 at 00:45  Comments (7)  
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Odd reading

The Heimskringla is a remarkably good read. It’s a history of the kings of various bits of Scandinavia, from Oðin’s time up to the author’s present day, in the late 11th century. But despite being a medieval text, it’s just plain fun to read, and Snorri Sturluson (the author, one of the great scholars and politicians of his day, and possessor of a great-sounding name) does his best to give a real scholarly analysis, especially of the parts of the history that are furthest in the past and so hardest to verify. It’s got a very modern feel to it.

Besides, any history book with chapter titles like “King Fjolnir Drowns in a Mead Vat” can’t be that bad.

Published in: on March 30, 2005 at 23:23  Comments (12)  
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100 words: There’s one born every minute

A scholar once made a deal with the Devil for, among other things, an “annus mirabilis.” He hadn’t read the contract very carefully and the Devil omitted an “n,” leaving him with a talking donkey. “It could be worse,” he noted, “I could have ended up shitting gold bricks for the rest of my life.”

Thus satisfied of the Devil’s good will, he set himself to payment, one soul to be damned. Knowing the Devil would claim an impure soul had gone to Hell on its own power, he set himself to corrupting the innocent in order to avoid damnation.

Published in: on January 3, 2005 at 13:28  Comments Off on 100 words: There’s one born every minute  

Questioning war: Ethics, the Military and Civilians

In the past two years, I’ve heard several soldiers say that they dislike civilians questioning the course of the war, since if the soldiers aren’t allowed to do so, why should someone who isn’t even involved?

This is part of a broader question: Can civilians legitimately question the war? Or is it just armchair generalling, and somewhat hypocritical?

This is a very important question, and it’s worth answering. My short answer is, that’s the civilians’ job.

The long answer is:

In our military, we have a rather unusual division between the officers and the enlisted. (Most other militaries – those that didn’t derive from England – do this differently) The officers’ responsibility is to keep the “big picture” in mind, and among other things to question orders and refuse them if they’re not legitimate or moral. The enlisted soldiers’ responsibility is to follow these orders to the best of their ability. However, we are living in an age of small-group operations rather than giant infantry movements across the countryside. In most cases in the field, an E6 may be far and away the most senior person present – since we insist on commissioning people right out of college. An NCO in a position like this can’t rely solely on the judgement of a junior officer; he or she needs training in how to interpret orders and decide when to refuse them at least as thorough as an O1 or an O2.

So my answer to the original question is, the soldiers do and should question the course of the war, especially on the scales for which they are responsible. An officer or an NCO is responsible for the moral conduct of himself (or herself – I’m just going to use one pronoun, bear with me. You know what I mean.) and everyone under his command. And what is a civilian’s job? Well, a civilian needs to keep well-informed about the course of the war as a whole, and offer counsel to the President when something is wrong. And yes, sometimes this can mean saying that something is a bad idea and we should stop doing it – not as an allegation of incompetence (although those are fair game too! Someone has got to watch for it.) but as a simple question of policy.

That’s a basic point in our system of government: A citizen’s responsibility isn’t just to vote for someone and then not pay attention to what they do, but rather to stay part of the process, to keep informed of the progress of everything – especially a war! – and apply pressure to make sure that the people they elected stay on track, and know what the public wants.

So if the public shows serious opposition to a war, it’s the President’s responsibility (and every other elected official’s) to take a good, hard look at why the public is so opposed. If the President really believes that, despite opposition, the war is still a good idea, it’s his responsibility to communicate to the public why he thinks so and convince them that he’s right. If the President can’t convince the public, then something is seriously wrong. At this point, it’s the people’s responsibility to make sure the President pays attention – and that’s not necessarily something that can wait until the next election.

(And if all this isn’t enough, consider that the average president has less experience doing his job than the average junior officer – at least the JO’s went through officers’ training. Would you like a random midshipman to run the country for a while without supervision? Or maybe a 2nd lieutenant, all bright-eyed and excited about Making a Difference?)

Published in: on January 2, 2005 at 23:37  Comments (8)  
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And the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, took [coals] from their censers and put them on the fire, and put on them incense, and they brought before ADONAI a strange fire, which he had not commanded them. And a fire came out from before ADONAI and consumed them and they died before ADONAI. And Moses said to Aaron, it is as the word of ADONAI said, “by my intimates [priests] I shall be sanctified and in the sight of all the people I will be honored,” and Aaron was silent.

[Lev. 10:1-3]

The priests are the intimates of God; since they have this intimacy, they may not use it for themselves and in secret, but only openly, and for the people.

The soldier is granted the power of death; since he has this power, he may not fight on his own account, but only for the safety of his country.

The king is granted rule over the land; since he has this authority, he may not use it for his own benefit, but only for the benefit of the people who are his responsibility.

Published in: on December 26, 2004 at 02:48  Comments (6)  
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Principles of salesmanship

A good rule of thumb when trying to sell things: If you think a potential customer may not have much money, and you’re especially polite to them anyway, that’s a good thing. If you think they may not have much money and you’re rude to them, that’s a bad thing. These two effects are magnified if you guess wrong: especial politeness to a customer who turns out to have money will make them happy. Especial rudeness to a customer who turns out to have money will make them take their money elsewhere.

On a completely unrelated note, if you’re ever buying a car, you may want to give Stevens Creek Acura in San Jose a miss.

Published in: on December 23, 2004 at 16:40  Comments (16)  

Reflection on waking up with a headache:

Zwei neibelungen wöhlen, ach! in meiner kopf.

–Goethe, more or less…

Published in: on May 9, 2004 at 12:42  Comments Off on Reflection on waking up with a headache:  
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