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DShomshak last won the day on January 2

DShomshak had the most liked content!


About DShomshak

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  1. Galactic Champions-eque material?

    I don't have tome to read the thread (and don't know when I ever will, so I don't know how relevant this is to, well, anything. But Aristotle, back when he invented political analysis, saw that every political system contains the seeds of its own downfall. All possible political systems, he said, fall in 3 categories: 1) Monarchy: one person rules. 2) Oligarchy/aristocracy: A small group rules (small relative to the total population, anyway). 3) Democracy: Every citizen rules. (Leaving aside how you define "citizen," which can make the system Not Democratic At All by modern standards.) Monarchy is good because authority is clear and decision-making swift... if the monarch is competent and dutiful. But no matter how good a monarch is, there's no guarantee that successors will be competent, too. Eventually, you get a monarch who is stupid, evil, lazy, or otherwise damaging. Get enough, and the system collapses. Oligarchy is good because the weight isn't all on one person. But the ruling junta members will eventually fight each other as they try to seize sole power and become a monarch. Their infighting will tear society apart and the system collapses. Democracy is good because any policy has the support of a majority of citizens, there's a bigger pool of talent and ideas. It has the strongest connection to the populace. But people are easily swayed by demagogues and lack the discipline and self-control to see the big picture and the long-term benefits of short-term privation. They do dumb, self-indulgent things, vote in a tyrant, or otherwise cause the system to collapse. So every society is screwed, right? Well, maybe not. Aristotle concluded that the way to avoid each mode's inevitable self-destruction is to have all three modes at once. If the monarch is bad, he can be curbed by the oligarchs or the people; if the oligarchic power-brokers start infighting too much, the people and the monarch can knock their heads togather; if the people are led astray by a demagogic tyrant, the oligarchs can withdraw the support of key institutions or the monarch can chop the demagogue's head off. Which is how modern democratic republics operate, notably including the USA. (The Founding Fathers had classical educations; they knew their Aristotle.) Mixed government still isn't a sure-fire key to avoiding political self-destruction, but it does provide some checks against simple forms of self-destruction -- if the populace has the sense to stick with it. Dean Shomshak
  2. Recommended reading: Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. Snyder is a historian of 20th century central and eastern Europe... which means, chiefly, Nazism, Communism and miscellaneous fascisms. In brief, his argument is that brutal despotisms follow a fairly consistent playbook in seizing power. Knowing the playbook might help one avoid fresh tyrannies, and resist them when they happen anyway. And yes, he is thinking of Donald Trump. It's a short book, but pointed. For an example, one lesson is, "Defend institutions." Would-be tyrants rarely start out with the power to commit atrocities; they achieve it gradually by breaking and subverting the civil service and private groups to their will. And here's Trump, trying to break the FBI. "Be a patriot" discusses the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Snyder also provides a brief (page and a half) list of Trump's unpatriotic acts, from mocking and insulting war heroes and their families, to placing Russia-beholden people in his campaign and administration. (More than half a page of one-sentence examples right there. As Snyder puts it, the point is not that Russia and the U.S. must be enemies. They don't. The point is that "As a patriot, you serve your own country.") A few of the lessons actually relate to our favorite hobby and these forums: "Maintain a private life" and "Learn from people in other countries." Tyrannies try to make everything about them, to butt in on every activity. It's important not to let them, keeping parts of your life and associations they don't touch. And contact with people in other countries helps one resist the closed fantasy-world that tyrants use to keep people docile, scared and confused. If worst comes to worst... it's good to have friends abroad to whom one can flee. I certainly hope the American people do not let the Trump regime get that awful, but I would like to thank the non-US posters for the outside perspective they provide. Dean Shomshak
  3. Galactic Champions-eque material?

    At risk of immodesty, I'll suggest my Spells of the Devachan mini-supplement (available through the HERO store!) as a source for a galactic-scale magical milieu. No one has shown enough interest for me to write Foes of the Devachan, Worlds of the Devachan or anything else, but I'm sure you can file the serial numbers off other Hero System material and use it as the demonic Catabolics, the sword-and-sorcery magi of savage Perilune, the plasma entities of Irradion, and so on. Dean Shomshak
  4. Galactic Champions-eque material?

    Your experience, then, is quite different from mine. But I do not claim to know what "most players" are like: only what the people I play with are like. Dean Shomshak
  5. Galactic Champions-eque material?

    If you want "tongue in cheek," then use Harry Harrison's Bill, the Galactic Hero as a model for the space marines. (There will of course be space marines.) Dean Shomshak
  6. More space news!

    Also, the February issue of Scientific American has a nice article about Low Surface Brightness galaxies. There seem to be a lot of them. We haven't seen them before because, well, Low Surface Brightness -- enough that it's really hard to see them through the glare of our surrounding Milky Way. It's sort of like being in a lit room, trying to look out a window at the night outside. The astronomer who first postulated them got the idea while observing a huge, super-luminous galaxy. He whimsically wondered if some alien astronomer might be looking back at the Milky Way -- then realized that astronomers in that galaxy wouldn't see *anything* of the outside universe. Their own galaxy is too bright. Which blows my mind. A galaxy is a very big place (especially this one) -- but still, the inhabitants might never know there's anything beyond. EDIT: Until they discover gravitational waves. Then they will know about a wider universe of colliding black holes and neutron stars. From neutron stars, they might infer the existence of other galaxies... but still might never know their form. Neutrinos might also give some clues to the wider universe, but I'm not sure what. Would they even be able to detect the cosmic microwave background through the electromagnetic glare of their own galaxy? Even stranger, there are at least two different types of dim galaxy. One sort has lots of gas and few stars, but the overall light curve is quite bluish. These may be "late bloomer" galaxies in which star formation was somehow impeded. The other sort has very little gas and the stars are more red; likely old. They aren't just tiny dwarf galaxies, either: The first of these dim, diffuse galaxies discovered, Malin 1, has 7 times the diameter and 50 times the mass of the Milky Way. Both sorts violate current theories of galaxy formation and development. And they aren't flukes: Hundreds have been found already. All evidence suggests there are many, many more -- perhaps as many as the brighter galaxies already known. Dean Shomshak
  7. More space news!

    The Jan. 20, 2018 issue of The Economist has a nice little article on the contest to build bigger rockets. Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket now in operation; but the Saturn V still holds the record by a large margin. NASA, Russia and China all have plans to build rockets whose lift capacity will equal or slightly exceed the Saturn V, but they aren't projected to be complete before 2028 or so. By that time, however, SpaceX promises to launch the BFR (yes, it stands for "Big F***ing Rocket" -- I quote), which will launch 250 tons into orbit and thus be far more powerful than the Saturn V or any of the government-built successors. SpaceX's forecast date of 2022 can be expected to slip... but SpaceX has shown it can Do What It Promises, if not always as quickly. Dean Shomshak
  8. I remember that All Things Considered has aired a number of stories about large numbers of the undocumented working in chicken processing plants. (Having worked in my father's tiny rabbit processing plant, I can confirm that meat processing is hard work and quite unpleasant. Keeping workers was quite a problem... So many people who said they wanted jobs, even if it was only one day a week, but worked only a few times or never showed up at all. (All white, as far as I could tell. If it matters.) And every time immigration makes the news, we get another set of stories about employers treating their undocumented as virtual slave lablr, such as by threatening to turn them in if they keep demanding the pay they were promised. In the interests of preserving the rule of law, I think employers should not be allowed to get away with this. Dean Shomshak
  9. Clearly, some people are operating on very different narratives. I like to look at it this way: Is illegal immigration a home invasion or a parking violation? Both are violations of law, but most people would say they are of greatly different severity. When people park where they shouldn't, we charge them a fine but we don't revoke their license, confiscate their car and demand massive government expenditure to make sure nobody double-parks or parks in a fire zone again. Neither do we shrug and say that since we can't stop everyone from parking in the wrong place every time, we should just give up and abandon all parking regulations. To me, that describes illegal immigration. People haven't followed the rules, but it's no big deal. Levy a penalty, but give them a chance to re-park somewhere else. A report on All Things Considered claimed that more than half the "illegals" actually entered the country legally but overstayed their visas. So this is nothing more than letting the parking meter run out on your car. Pay your ticket, move on. But clearly, to many people illegal immigration is more home invasion. Strangers have violently entered a place that is theirs to rob them and do them harm. The problem I see with this emotional response is that the country is not your home. Your home is yours. Your country is not. You, individually, do not get to say who belongs and who doesn't. Moreover, you are not, personally, robbed or harmed by the mere act of someone crossing a border without permission. Any harm is likely diffuse and indirect. No matter how intense and visceral the sense of violation, feelings are not facts. Public policy should be carefully considered and made on the most objective grounds possible. Not just because some people are confused about personal boundaries. (Though the point about employers of the undocumented is another issue. Here, I think the harm is quite objective and measurable -- including to the undocumented.) Dean Shomshak
  10. More space news!

    I mentioned the Wolf Moon before. Wikipedia cites this list of full moon names through the year: The individual names given in Farmers' Almanac include:[clarification needed] January: "Wolf Moon" (this is the name of December in Beard 1918)[24] also "Old Moon" February: "Snow Moon", also "Hunger Moon" March: "Worm Moon", "Crow Moon", "Sap Moon", "Lenten Moon" April: "Seed Moon", "Pink Moon", "Sprouting Grass Moon", "Egg Moon" (c.f. "Goose-Egg" in Beard 1918), "Fish Moon" May: "Milk Moon", "Flower Moon", "Corn Planting Moon" June: "Mead Moon", "Strawberry Moon" (c.f. Beard 1918), "Rose Moon", "Thunder Moon" July: "Hay Moon", "Buck Moon", "Elk Moon", "Thunder Moon" August: "Corn Moon", "Sturgeon Moon", "Red Moon", "Green Corn Moon", "Grain Moon" September: "Harvest Moon", "Full Corn Moon", October: "Hunter's moon", "Blood Moon"/"Sanguine Moon" November: "Beaver Moon", "Frosty Moon" December: "Oak Moon", "Cold Moon", "Long Night's Moon" The Long Night's Moon is the last of the year and the closest to the winter solstice.[25] "Ice moon" is also used to refer to the first full moon of January or February[26]. -------------- Some of these would make good names for horror scenarios. OTOH "Flower Moon" sounds like a hippie chick and "Frosty Moon" sounds like a stripper. Dean Shomshak
  11. Ursula K. Le Guin 1929-2018

    A Wizard of Earthsea is on the short list of fantasy novels that one simply must read. It's that seminal. Plus it's short, graceful, and written so well that a bright 10-year-old can understand it, while a college English professor can appreciate the depth of her achievement. Her essay, "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie" is also one of the foundational works of fantasy literary criticism. Her SF is equally significant. We are lucky that she existed. Dean Shomshak
  12. But it would be normal bitching, the sort we do without real fear. I remember alleged humorist Dave Berry delivering a routine on (IIRC) Prairie Home Companion in which he became the first to decry the Failed Clinton Presidency... by doing it before Clinton was inaugurated. More seriously, the public radio program Fresh Air had this interview last night: 'How Democracies Die' Authors Say Trump Is A Symptom Of ... - NPR
  13. To some degree, the American mistrust of government is merely verbal. We bitch a lot, but we pay our taxes. For an institution we claim to view as incompetent or actively malign, our degree of compliance is remarkable and our expectations are high. So many Tea Party members are on Social Security... Dean Shomshak
  14. There's some dispute about what this process can achieve. Some people fear a "runaway convention" that could rewrite the Constitution from scratch. Other people say, no, it just provides an alternate route to propose an amendment. The ratification process would then proceed normally, with the same votes in Congress and in state legislatures, as if Congress proposed the amendment itself. I am certainly not an expert. I merely note that this might not be easy. -- one of the fiew points where the people who claim to be experts seem to agree. Dean Shomshak
  15. More space news!

    Thanks for posting the update. Disappointing, but facts are facts. OTOH, that opens the possibility of something even stranger. Dean Shomshak