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Everything posted by DShomshak

  1. Well, the dictum comes from sociologist Max Weber. I've never read his original explanation, but I assume he meant the former most of the time, with the latter included for special cases. Hence the inclusion of the word "legitimate." The former alone would be merely a monopoly of violence. Adding "legitimate" means the state can permit private violence -- but only in the modes and for purposes that it defines. The monopoly on the legitimate use of violence is not sufficient for a decent society. (As per your sig, states can abuse that monopoly -- and too often do so.) But it is necessary, in that very few other social benefits are possible if other people can decide to kill you without fear of consequence. Dean Shomshak
  2. One of the most important requirements for a decent society is a central authority that is willing and able to assert its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Some very nice people don't like to hear that, but it's true. Because when you lack such a monopoly, you don't get peace and harmony. You get entrepreneurs of violence: gangs, bandits, warlords, clan vendettas, etc. For evidence, there are plenty of Third World hellholes and a lot of history. And so, emotionally satisfying though it might be to see Richard Spence get punched in the face, I must regretfully condemn it as wrong. But I hope the FBI watches him like a hawk, ready to swoop down and nab him the moment he can be linked to a specific violent act. Dean Shomshak
  3. Heck I'm stealing this.* It's one of the best bits of quasi-Hermetic associations I've ever seen. Dean Shomshak * For personal use only in my games. I don't plagiarize.
  4. Flying might be cool, but yeah, the incredibly cold hydrocarbon environment raises safety concerns. (Though for "extreme athletes" that might be another selling point. Like skiing on the great peak of Miranda.) I had a Traveller character who came from a frozen hydrocarbon world like an Earth-sized version of Titan. They made just about everything out of plastic: Metals scarce, but a whole world of organic precursors. Big plastic bubble habitats covered with ice for protection. For pets, people had plastic robot animals. Standard punishment for minor violations of safety rules was to send the perp out-dome with a space suit for a few hours to reflect about the hard necessities of life on their world. For major violations, you didn't get the spacesuit. Dean Shomshak
  5. Western occult tradition tends to associate Air with intelligence and Fire with passion, but this is not universal. Whatever characteristics you link to each element, I agree that something like this could help make the four styles of magic more distinctive. Water is associated with the unconscious mind. If attacked, it yields, then closes back, unharmed. But when it moves, it overwhelms anything in its way -- whether washing away a town or drowning the mind in madness. EGO seems more appropriate than PRE: The quiet strength of personality rather than the overt influence of Presence. Dean Shomshak
  6. My condolences as well. When I was a lad, I read an article about Bruce Lee in a children's magazine called Dynamite. In it, Lee said that one of the lessons of kung fu is that (I paraphrase) when you're really tough, you don't need to brag about how tough you are or try to prove it to other people. Because you know, and you are not afraid. Dean Shomshak
  7. Incidentally, the latest episode centered on the red haired idiot pilot friend being faced with a test of competing loyalties that was Not Funny At All. Dean Shomshak
  8. I wrote and developed a fair number of Exalted 2nd ed supplements. (Whether I did them well... Um, let's move on.) The core mechanics are extremely unlike Hero, to the extent that I do not think any systematic conversion is possible. I suspect that any conversion would be so complicated that you'd effectively be creating a new game system that happened to use similar world-concepts and character-concepts. Let me give an example. Basic task resolution is by rolling a number of 10-sided dice. Every die that rolls a 7 or better counts as a success; 10s count as two successes. If you roll enough successes, you succeed at the task; if you roll more successes beyond that minimum number, you succeed especially well. So far, so simple. Every type of Exalted character (there are several) has some way to expend a resource to increase the chance of success. One way is to add dice to the pool. Another is to add successes directly to the dice roll result. Another is her is to add successes directly. Another is to get a reroll. And one kind of character, the Sidereal Exalted, can change the target number to 6-or-higher, or 5-or-higher, etc., becomes a success. And there are still others, specialized for various Exalted types. Each of them gives various tactical options and is more advantageous in some circumstances than others. But in the Hero system it's all just a 3d6 roll. You can give a bonus or penalty to the roll, but that's it. Maybe this doesn't matter to players; the result, after all, is still "increase chance of success." But it's not a simple translation. And this is one of the simpler aspects of Exalted. Like I said: You'll be building a whole new game, virtually from scratch. Maybe someone has done this; I don't know. It might be worth it, because the Exalted game mechanics has severe problems that amount to both Instant Win buttons and Campaign Self-Destruct buttons. But I'm sure it would be a lot of work. Dean Shomshak
  9. The January, 2019 Scientific American has an article about various methods for carbon capture and storage, though it doesn't include this turn-back-into-coal method. In short, the viability of all proposed methods depends heavily on bringing the cost within a certain range, which is (as yet) unpredictable. But no single method can be scaled up enough to solve the problem by itself. Multiple methods will be needed to prevent catastrophe, becsause the atmosphere is just that big and the amount of CO@ we've added is just that large. But it must be done. We've already passed the point where zero new emissions would suffice. Or at least, any time frame for zero emissions that's even remotely plausible is already too long. Dean Shomshak
  10. Heck, humor hasn't changed much since ancient Greece and Rome. Lysistrata is a wonderfully rude comedy. Or here's how my home encyclopedia summarizes the comedies of Plautus: "The plots were usually based on love affairs, with complications arising from deception or mistaken identity." 2000 years before Plautus, the Egyptian scribe Ipuwer lamented that the world was going to hell because children didn't respect their parents anymore, like they did in the good old days. (Ipuwer was serious. Looking back, he's unintentionally funny.) The Kaylons may have a point. Human institutions change. But people, as people, haven't and probably won't. So working a permanent change in human behavior requires building institutions that last indefinitely. A tall order. Though it might be easier if done in concert with people who (Isaac told us in Season 1) can live for millions of years and never forget why those institutions exist. Dean Shomshak
  11. Possibly of interest: The March, 2019 Scientific American has an article on "Why We Believe Conspiriacy Theories." The title is not accurate: It's really about the conditions that predispose people to believe conspiracy theories, though the underlying psychology is implied. In brief, conspiranoia is triggered by anxiety and loss of control. Not a surpsie, that. I was more interested to learn that people tend to believe multiple conspiracy theories, in a worldview in which nothing is true and everything is possible: As one of the journal articles cited put it in its title, "NASA Faked the Moon Landing -- Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax." But apparently conspiranoids are not quite so immune to debunking as some studies showed: As long as you can avoid challenge to a person's self-respect, it is sometimes possible to nudge people into reasoning out that a conspiracy theory is hogwash. Dean Shomshak
  12. well, I was thinking of Babylon 5's battles against the Shadows and Vorlons, but yeah, an excellent space battle! (I lost interest in DS9 areound season 5, along with the rest of the /Star Trek franchise. Perhaps I should go back and watch those last two seasons.) Throughout the episode, I was wondering if Seth McFarlane would "pull a Roddenberry" and it would turn out this was all a test, the Kaylons were using stunners and put the Orville in a really big holodeck so there was no real space battle, and then Our Heroes would improbably find some "clever" way to shut down the Kaylons completely, and would they press the button and so justify Kaylon suspicion? Or live up to the Union's ideals and prove that humanity (et al) really had changed from its savage past? And, having passed the test, get a pat on the head from the super-aliens. <retch> I prefer this outcome. There are still a few, um, inconsistencies. Like, why do the Kaylons care about planets? They should be building a Dyson sphere. No need even for gravity or atmosphere. And when they fill the sphere around their star, the Galaxy has plenty of red dwarf stars that apparently nobody else can use. Such questions aside, I like that the Kaylons don't realize they just created the threat they feared. If they'd joined the Union, they could have tried discreetly controlling organic sapients to make sure they never backslide to savagery and become a threat. Dean Shomshak
  13. The March, 2019 Scientifiuc American feaures an article on "The Inner Life of Neutron Stars." It is known that the core of a supernova can collapse until nuclear forces halt the implosion, and that protons and electrons are squished together to leave neutrons; but what actually goes on inside a neutron star? The simplest theory is that it's just a big ball of neutrons, with a few leftover protons, like a miles-wide atomic nucleus. But there are stranger possibilities. For one, the neutronium might be superfluid despite its incredible density. Or, physical density also means energy density, perhaps enough to create "strange" quarks, coverting some of the neutrons into hyperons -- particles that otherwise exist only for gazillionths of a second when they are made in particle accelerators. Or the neutrons might dissolve into a soup of free quarks and gluons -- also superfluid. Specialized telescopes and observation programs are gathering information on neutron star size and mass that can constrain speculation. Neutron star collisions, such as the 2017 event, provide data of even greater value. Physicists are especially eager to learn what goes on in neutron stars because they are among the few places where gravity and nuclear forces are of comparable strength. Hence, a place where relativistic and quantum-mechanical effects are both of comparable strength, and the interaction between them might be inferred. All difficuylt to study from thousands or millions of light-years away, but still easier than creating such conditions here on Earth! Dean Shomshak
  14. Oh, and it's official: Washington state governor Jay Inslee is running for President, to the surprise of no one who had already heard of him. Okay, so he's the first governor to declare. But CNN says he's polling at 0%. And he said he's making combating climate change the centerpiece of his campaign. Wow, this is sure to go nowhere fast. Dean Shomshak
  15. For another bit of semi-silliness: On today's "Week in Review" program on KUOW-FM, host Bill Radke said Michael Cohen's "don't become me" warning to Republicans reminded him of Jacob Marley to Scrooge: "These are the chains I forged in life!" Which led to a bit more "A Christmas Carol" riffing. Dean Shomshak
  16. As it happens, I just started reading a book that sort of deals with some of the topics mentioned: Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. It's clearly twice as long as it should be due to authors' ponderous writing style, but their thesis is briefly stated: Economists have asked many times why some societies (notably western Europe and its offshoots) get rich. Maybe the real question is why most societies through history, and still today, stay poor. Their answer is that most societies have political and economic institutions designed to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. Most people have no incentive to try bettering their lives because even if they suceeded in generating greater wealth, it would just be stolen. It's nearly impossible to break such a system, because the elites that benefit from it (feudal lords, bishops and abbots, emperor and high bureaucrats, dictator and cronies, Communist Party, etc. ad nauseum) will fight tooth and nail to protect it (and of course nobody else has much wealth and power to fight back). And if any revolution or invasion succeeds, the new masters inherit a system where every incentive is to just become the new boss, same as the old boss. Only a few societies have ever broken out of this vicious circle, switching from an extractive mode -- harvest what wealth is available, for the benefit of a few -- to an inclusive mode, in which wealth and political power are both spread so people have an incentive to make the entire society wealthier because they will benefit from it themselves. This can create a "virtuous circle" in which larger numbers of people have the resources to demand a political voice, and a larger number of people have the political influence to demand a share of the goodies. There can be mixed cases -- political autocracy/oligarchy but a semi-free economy (as in China), or extreme concentration of wealth with a nominally pluralist government -- but such situations are obviously unstable. It sounds like in this country, Church and State are both trying to induce a phase change from extractive to inclusive, even if they don't have the language to enunciate their intent or full understanding of what this means for them. On the state side, it may be that the monarchy has encountered serious challenge (perhaps powerful barons threaten usurpation?) and is looking for alternate bases of support -- create new centers of power in hopes they can be coopted, instead of the usual despotic practice of trying to crush any rival center of power, no matter the harm to society as a whole. This sounds like there's been a genius -- a political/economic analog to Isaac Newton, who has broken through to a new way of thinking. Or maybe the comparison should be the Buddha, since the religion of Moderation feels kind of Buddhist to me. Or at least a second-generation religion like Buddhism, Confucianism or Christianity, that has developed a philosophy instead of just being about bribing gods with sacrifice and prayer, or treating worship as a ritual of social cohesion. Speaking of which: Is this a world where actual and active gods determine religious practice, or a world in which mortals are chiefly responsible for the forms of religion? (The latter is not inconsistent with their being actual gods -- Lois McMaster Bujold's "World of the Five Gods" is an example of such a setting.) But that's probably a long enough chain of tangents. Dean Shomshak
  17. Possibly relevant and of interest: Today, the radio program Marketplace began a three-part series about the Great Recession. Specifically, why did no one go to jail for massive and blatant fraud and other financial malfeasance? You can hear all three parts on the show's website, marketplace.org. Dean Shomshak
  18. The history of money and banking goes in all sorts of weird and wonderful directions, from grain banking in ancient Egypt (centered on temples, as a matter of fact) to the unique time-nonetizing shell money of Rossel Island, but I'll leave that aside for now. I'm more interested in how a religion of Moderation appears. A few years ago I read a book on comparative religion (IIRC the title was God Is Not One.) Not a great book, but the author has an interesting conceit of distilling each religion examined into a statement of what the essential problem of human existence is, and what the religion proposes as the solution. In Christianity, the problem is sin; the solution is salvation through Jesus Christ. In Buddhism, the problem is karmic attachment to a world of illusion; the solution is enlightenment. Even atheism follows the pattern: The problem is superstition; the solution is reason. Here, the solution is Moderation. How does the religion define the problem? "Fanaticism" or "Dualism" both seem plausible, and might explain how the religion started in the first place. (Assuming it isn't ordained by an actual god, which in a fantasy world is possible.) And it will play a big role in what immediate, social activities the church treats as worth its attention. Dean Shomshak
  19. My internet connection is slow and unstable, so I haven't followed the links Pattern Ghost posted; maybe these points are already made, and likely made better. But here goes. Warren's, ah, malleable approach to her ethnicity unfortunately plays into a narrative that sociologist Arlene Hochschild found among the white conservatives of a Louisiana parish, which she believes are the key to understanding Tea Party and Trumist rage and zeal. Her subjects thought that they weren't getting the economic advancement and social respect that they were due because liberals and minorities were cheating -- "cutting in line" was the phrase Hochschild proposed, and which her subjects affirmed as an apt summary. For instance, they don't see affirmative action as redress for an ongoing unfairness, but as a kind of scam to help minorities (and their liberal elite sponsors). Now, you can't get much more liberal-elite than a Harvard law professor. And wow, it sure looks like Warren used a claim of Native American status as a scam. Maybe it was just liberal desire to identify with an oppressed minority to alleviate a sense of guilt at her white privilege; maybe it was something else; I don't know. But a reasonable person could hypothesize it was a scam. It's hard enough convincing white folks that other people can rise without them falling. I suspect Senator Warren has made it just a little bit harder. Dean Shomshak
  20. Speaking of gerrymandering... That's why I suspect that Badger's notion of giving each Congressional district one electoral vote would likely create as many problems as it solves. The parties have already become too skilled at picking their voters. The extreme case I heard about some months back is the major city in Texas -- Houston, maybe? -- that has a Democratic mayor and city government, but is represented in Congress by five Republicans. The city's been divided among five districts, combined with other areas so Dems can never have a majority. At least with state-by-state voting, the parties are stuck with boundaries they have no way to change. Dean Shomshak
  21. The Economist article notes the atmosphere difficulty. OTOH the felloow proposing this -- Hang Shuang, at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics -- has built a prototype x-ray transciever for "a particular, specialized purpose": Communication with spacecraft during the early stage of re-entry when a sheath of plasma around the vehicle blocks radio communication. The air is still thin enough for x-rays to penetrate. It's a two-step process: the spacecraft uses x-rays to communicate with a satellite in orbit, which relays messages to the ground by radio. I'm not sure how big a problem the radio blackout period is in practice, and I'm not sure I'd want to be on a spaceship with x-rays beamed at it, but it's an innovative proposal. As for missile defense... heh. The article notes: "America does not skimp on shooting missiles out of the sky. Its 2018 budget allocates #19.3bn to the task -- roughly equivalent to the entire defense budget of Canada or Turkey. Since 2001 it has splashed out over $130bn." For ground-based midcourse defense against as-yet hypothetical ICBMs from North Korea or Iran, it has spend $67bn (and rising), making it "the Pentagon's fourth-most expensive weapons system." Four interceptors supposedly have a 97% chance of stopping a single missile. Against 12 missiles, it is still 30% likely that one missile gets through. "The average revolver offers better odds for a game of Russian roulette." Still better than all 12 definitely landing on American cities, but still not great. Dean Shomshak
  22. Also: What kind of fantasy is this? At one extreme, a setting could be soaked in gods, spirits and magic, like (say) the setting of White Wolf's game Exalted. Or at the other extreme it could be very naturalistic, with magic quite rare, as in Middle-Earth. Knowing more about the world will help us make suggestions you can use. Dean Shomshak
  23. A few days ago on on one of the public radio programs I listen to (I forget whether it was All Things Considered or The Daily), someone from the Brennan Center think tank discussed some of the laws that presidents can suspend by declaring a National Emergency. Apparently, there's quite a lot of them. One mention: Bank accounts can be seized without due process. Another: Laws forbidding tests of chemical and biological weapons on unsuspecting civilian populations can be suspended. (Um. I would have thought there were plenty of other laws that would forbid this without any need to specify it, but whatever.} Now, my sieve-like memory makes me not the best third-hand reporter, so perhaps someone else can find and post a better source. But declaring a National Emergency where none exists suggests unsavory possibilities and unsavory intent. Dean Shomshak
  24. Plus I just find her voice really annoying. She always sounds so earnest , like whatever she says is so important for you to understand. Vocal mannerisms are not at all a rational ground for favoring or disfavoring a candidate, but well, there it is. Dean Shomshak
  25. That's a point. Fantasy races do tend to be a bit, ah, "one note." Helps make them distinctive from each other, but... As others have mentioned, ranged weapons are particularly good for deserts. Dunes won't change this, because you can't quickly duck behind a hundred-foot dune to evade attack the way you'd duck behind a tree. (Unless you can move really fast.) Slings and bows are the two classic ranged weapons that just about every culture develops. If you want to get a little more exotic, combine them as the sling bow -- a real weapon, though not as common as either slings or bows. It's like a bow, but instead of firing an arrow the bowstring has a cup for firing a bullet. The staff sling is another variation/elaboration. A little harder to make and use, perhaps, but the staff that extends the user's arm (and consequent force) could also be a goad for driving animals, a walking-staff, a rod of office, or anything else for which people have used sticks. Dean Shomshak
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