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DShomshak

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DShomshak last won the day on August 8

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  1. Well, there are countries where nobody has to pay taxes. It may be the law, but the government has no power to collect. Try Afghanistan or the Central African Republic. At least, nobody pays taxes to the state. They pay a great deal to illegitimate collectors, from the clerk who demands a bribe to do his job to the bandit warlord who demands tribute not to kill your entire village. There are systems of extraction that deliver far less in return than taxation to a democratic state. Once again, see Why Nations Fail. Dean Shomshak
  2. DShomshak

    Gods in RPGs

    My current favorite Fantasy treatment of gods is Bujold's Curse of Chalion and other stories set in the World of the Five Gods. People know perfectly well the gods are real; their saints work miracles. But you don't see big, splashy manifestations. The guiding principle, as one saint explains, is that "The gods have no hands in the world but ours." The gods cannot force their will on anyone. Even the miracles, channeled by mortals who can set their wills aside to serve as vessels for divinity, tend to be subtle. It's a world in which gods are very important -- but they work through religion. Dean Shomshak
  3. I actually find myself offering a half-hearted defense of Middle East Forever Wars as possibly the least bad option. Others have mentioned the problems with simply throwing up our hands and walking away. ISIS rebuilds (or the next generation, possibly even more virulent, as ISIS was more virulent than Al-Qaeda). The Kurds, one of our few allies, get slaughtered. Russia and Iran increase their influence; American credibility plummets. The great problem with the Middle East is that what happens there, doesn't stay there. For comparison, Africa regularly produces horrors that make the Middle East look tame. Think of the long trench war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the decades of bandid anarchy through Central Africa, and the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. But they don't metastasize, the natural resources keep flowing out; and so we cluck our tongues in concern, then do nothing. But the Middle East has produced a movement that doesn't just want local power. Jihadists want to kill us for being us. When Osama bin Laden listed his grievances, they weren't limited to political issues such as support for Israel or American military bases on sacred Sudi sand, which Western governments could in theory do something about. He listed music, movies and TV as intolerable affronts. Jihadists won't leave us alone, because from their POV the West is engaged in a relentless propaganda assault to lead people to Hell. Our governments can't stop this, and I don't want them to try. At the other pole, instead of Get Out we could Get Tough. Accept that the only way to contain the Middle East is to rule it as its people are accustomed to being ruled. This is not nation building: It's empire building in the old style. Brutal punishment for anyone who steps out of line (and their families). Extract resources to pay for it all. Appoint satraps to do the rough stuff, collect the taxes and tribute, and take the fall in rebellions. Let favorites get filthy rich at the people's expense, but occasionally execute them without warning. In a technical sense, I think it would work. It's how the Ottomans ruled, and lots of empires before them. But I don't think we could do it. 19th-century colonialism, in all its many-layered brutality, relied on the colonized people being invisible to the colonizers back home. The more people saw, the less they liked it. The genocidal horror of the Congo Free State was undone to a great degree by journalists. At least I hope we couldn't rule the Middle East as the latest despot keeping order, because we wouldn't be us anymore. So what's left? I would like a better alternative than endless whack-a-mole against Jihadists and knocking down strongmen as they arise, spending trillions and spending lives. But I haven't heard one yet. Well, maybe there's one slim hope: We do have cultural influence. Young people are getting different ideas and wider perspectives. Some groups are trying to get their crap together and govern -- notably the Iraqi Kurds, who (I recall hearing, mostly on BBC newscasts) in the years between the Gulf Wars were resolving their infighting and administer northern Iraq in a competent and non-horrible way. So, while playing whack-a-mole find the people who are least bad and try to help them grow. I guess this would be nation-building, but starting with the proposition that we don't have to start with existing borders. It also requires accepting that this is a labor of decades. One problem I see with past failed attempts is that the US always acted with one eye on the exit, letting the entrepreneurs of violence and fanaticism know that they could out-wait us. (A taliban fighter interviewed for a documentary about the movement said this flat out: To paraphrase: You'll get bored and tired of dead soldiers. We won't. You'll leave. We'll still be here and take power again. The prediction seems accurate.) It all sucks, but we may be the onbes who need to pull up our big-boy pants and accept that some things may need to be done even when they are slow, hard and uncertain of success. Dean Shomshak
  4. I just heard a fascinating episode of "On The Media" (public radio program(. First half on conspiracy thinking, with some historical perspective. Historian Richard Hofstadter (in "The Paranoid Style in American Politics") thought conspiracy theories were a product of marginal people, especially extremists, to explain their marginality. Guest interviewed suggests there's a second strain, at least as strong, of the powerful spinning, and believing, conspiracy theories to explain why the world doesn't obey them. J. Edgar Hoover's Communist obsession and the rest of the Red Scare as an example. Useful distinction given: "The liar knows he's lying. The BSer doesn't care." Trump is very clearly a BSer. And yes, the drug dealer's Rule Two was brought up: "Never try your own supply." Trump and many of the people around him either believe their own loony scenarios or, as BSers, simply never consider or care what's true. Second half devoted to the Ukraine affair and the Trump campaign's long entanglement with that oligarch-riddled, disinformation-plagued country. Very useful in laying out the cast of characters, their interconnections, and the timeline of who was really doing what and when the lies were told. Dean Shomshak
  5. Humiliation is a powerful force. After 9/11, reporters asked Jihadists what drove their hatred of the West in general, and the US in particular, and they often heard about humiliation. Humiliated by the US being so powerful when their governments are so weak. Humiliated by American cultural dominance. Humiliated by not getting good jobs despite college degrees. Humiliated in a thousand ways, large and small, which they found it convenient to blame on the US. Humiliation so deep it was worth killing themselves to strike back. I've read similar reports about Trump loyalists, from Hochschild's Strangers in their Own Land to a Cracked.com article on "Five Reasons People Voted for Trump." Many Americans feel humiliated by their perceived loss of caste privilege, their loss of certainty in a good job, of being dismissed by people with more education. They'd rather burn the house down with themselves inside it than live with that humiliation. It may seem stupid and crazy, but it's how people think. I can't swear I wouldn't act the same way under the proper circumstances. Dean Shomshak
  6. This is the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" problem. How can so many people vote against their obvious material interest? The answer is that not everyone values material interest as highly as liberals think they should. Many people value other things more. One thing I hear again and again about Trump supporters is they love him because he enhances their self-respect by attacking the "elites" whom they think sneer at people like them. To try understanding this, several months ago I heard about a study in which people were asked what they would give up to maintain a good reputation. Significant percentages, IIRC, said they would rather lose an arm than be thought a child molester, for instance. (I don't recall the exact examples, but it was stuff like that.) So let's try that. How much money would you need not to care if people thought you were... * a homophobe? * a KKK member? * a rapist? * Or whatever. If you can find a reputation so vile that no amount of money could compensate, congratulations, you've discovered transcendent values. You may not like the transcendent values for which Trump loyalists would (literally or metaphorically) lose the farm; you may think they are irrational (I do); but try to consider that they may not be acting from flat-out stupidity. Dean Shomshak
  7. This is the "What's the Matter with Kansas?" problem. How can so many people vote against their obvious material interest? The answer is that not everyone values material interest as highly as liberals think they should. Many people value other things more. One thing I hear again and again about Trump supporters is they love him because he enhances their self-respect by attacking the "elites" whom they think sneer at people like them. To try understanding this, several months ago I heard about a study in which people were asked what they would give up to maintain a good reputation. Significant percentages, IIRC, said they would rather lose an arm than be thought a child molester, for instance. (I don't recall the exact examples, but it was stuff like that.) So let's try that. How much money would you need not to care if people thought you were... * a homophobe? * a KKK member? * a rapist? * Or whatever. If you can find a reputation so vile that no amount of money could compensate, congratulations, you've discovered transcendent values. You may not like the transcendent values for which Trump loyalists would (literally or metaphorically) lose the farm; you may think they are irrational (I do); but try to consider that they may not be acting from flat-out stupidity. Dean Shomshak
  8. Yay! I was able to do a search and copy a link without getting booted offline! Fresh Air For Oct. 3, 2019: Trump's 'Border Wars' : NPR www.npr.org/.../2019/10/03/766531424/fresh-air-for-oct-3-2019-trumps-border-wars Fresh Air For Oct. 3, 2019: Trump's 'Border Wars' Hear the Fresh Air program for October 3, 2019 Two points stand out in the reporters' results of their interviews with 150 or so members of the Trump administration (including a half our with The Great Man himself) about Trump's campaign to curb immigration and build the wall: * As Old Man likes to say, the cruelty is the point. Trumo kept having ways to make the wall not just a barrier, but punitive: Paint it black so it gets real hot and burns people who try to climb it. Concertina wire to slash crossers, Spikes on the top -- not just against crossers, but to prevent birds from perching on his it and defacing his beautiful wall with their poop. And yes, a moat with snakes and alligators. Plus casual viciouslness such as wanting border agents to shoot stone-throwers. * And Trump is not a secret evil genius with a master plan; in private he's even more of a deranged half-wit than when he seems when in front of the cameras. It isn't just that people have to keep telling him, "Sir, you can't order that, it's illegal." (Which just makes Trump angry.) It's that an hour or a day later he's forgotten and makes the same suggestion. No information penetrates unless it fits his current fit of temper. We already knew most of this, but it's freshly appalling to hear it all laid out in one place, on one focused topic. Dean Shomshak
  9. Speaking of which, I finally got around to scanning this satiric fable from Feinberg and Shapiro's Life Beyond Earth (published 1980) -- in this case, making fun of what they considered prematurely pessimistic interpretations of the Viking lander test results: Fable 3 The results of the fifth space probe of minor planetoid three were being described at the Jovian Conference on Space Research. Sarpedon, the chief scientist in charge of the probe, reported on it: The probe passed through the thin atmosphere of planetoid three successfully. From the experience that we gained by previous unsuccessful probes, we were able to construct this probe out of special materials that could resist the extreme environment at the gasliquid interface of the planetoid. The highly' oxidized outer coating of the probe enabled it to avoid the fate of probes number one through four, which rapidly combined with a toxic gas in the planetoid's atmosphere. When the probe reached the interface, it was subjected to the chemical action of the hydrogen-oxygen liquid compound that forms the main component of the interface. This gradually removed the oxidized protective coating of the probe and so exposed the inner machinery to the toxic atmosphere. As a result, only seventy-two minutes of data were obtained. But this data is enough to confirm the previous opinion of the best scientists— that life is impossible on such planetoids. If the toxic atmosphere and liquid surface were not enough to show this, an immense flux of deadly radiation of optical light was detected at the surface, which was hardly screened by the thin atmosphere. This radiation can dissociate many chemical compounds that are essential to life, and is more intense at the interface of planetoid three even than in outer space near our planet. Also, the temperature at the interface is as low as that in the uppermost levels of our planet. This means that chemical reactions proceed very slowly, and life processes would be extremely sluggish, if indeed there has been time enough for life to evolve there. Finally, none of the complex molecules with which we associate life could be detected at the interface. A sample of the liquid region showed the overwhelming part of its composition to be oxide of hydrogen, with small amounts of dissolved sodium chloride and other metallic salts. There are minor traces of dissolved oxide of carbon, as well as traces of volatile carbon compounds of a type not known on Jupiter. One mobile subprobe was lost in an unknown way, apparently falling into a floating mixture of hydrogen oxide with solidified and nitrogenized carbon compounds. The high temperature of the probe eventually melted this mixture, but not until the probe had been dissolved and oxidized. Small amounts of solid material from the interface were recovered by' another subprobe and placed in a nutrient solution containing essentials of life such as hydrogen cyanide, at an absolute temperature twice the normal value at the interface. At first, the solid material reacted chemically with the nutrients, liberating various gases. But after a short time, the reactions stopped and no further activity was observed. The unwillingness of any hypothetical organism to use rich nutrients is a serious blow to the belief that planetoid three is a home of life. On the basis of these results, it appears safe to conclude that planetoid three is not a place where life can exist, and no further biological probes of that planetoid are warranted. Our future studies of the minor planetoids should concentrate on planetoid two, whose thick atmosphere and high temperature at the interface make conditions there much more similar to those on our own world, the only one that we know is hospitable to life. Perhaps life, as we know it, can exist (if only in an attenuated form) on the second planetoid from the central star, but surely not in the wholly alien conditions of the third planetoid. Sarpedon stopped burping spurts of hydrogen sulfide, which was his method of communicating with his fellow scientists. They, in turn, signaled their approval of his conclusions by producing small pulses of heat, intense enough to boil some of the magnesium chloride crystals contained in parts of their bodies. The result was a small train of bubbles in the dense hydrogen surrounding them all, forming a beautiful but transient pattern pleasing to the speaker and audience alike. On planetoid three, known to a few of its inhabitants as Earth, countless living things were being born, existing, and dying every second, unaware of the negative verdict about their possible existence which had been rendered by Jupiter's leading scientists. ----- Feinberg and Shapiro tried to think outside the box to identify every imaginable habitat for Life As We Don't Know It. One critic said they thought so far outside the box they lost sight of the box completely. But they provide some excellent ideas for SF. Dean Shomshak
  10. It is possible I misunderstood wat Mr Vance said, or (after several months) am conflating it with other impeachment discussions. IIRC the House does nave a Sergeant-at-Arms, or something like that, who is in fact armed. But I do not know the limits of what the House can order its one troop to do, or if the House could deputize additional sergeants to assist it in its constitutional duties, so I'll withdraw the point. Dean Shomshak
  11. The Sep 28, 2019 issue of The Economist discusses the impeachment inquiry a bit, with a parallel discussion of the UK Supreme Court slapping down Boris Johnson (look at their cover if you can, it's a hoot.) In their leader discussing the pros and cons of impeachment, the editors offer this warning to reluctant Republicans: "Declining to impeach Mr Trump would set a precedent for future presidents: anything up to and including what the 45th president has done would be fair game. Republican partisans should consider to what depth a future Democratic president, thus emboldened, could stoop. "It would also signal to America's allies and foes that snooping on Americans who are influential or might become so was a fine way to curry favor with a president. There would beno need for the dirt even to be true. Russia and China, are you listening?" (The disturbing rejoinder to the first point is that some Republican zealots might imagine that with eight years of Trump producing a sufficiently conservative and compliant Supreme Court, they can prune the electorate sufficiently through voter-suppression laws that there will be no future Democratic presidents.) They acknowledge the electoral risks, but conclude: "But Mr Trump appears to be becoming more brazen as re-election draws near. The president's behavior needs investigating, with the extra authority that the impeachment process confers. Better, therefore, to lean towards principle than pragmatism. But it is a risky and perilous path." Dean Shomshak
  12. Some months back on the KUOW Week in Review program, former Washington State Republican Party chairman (and now independent) Chris Vance talked about impeachment (he wants it, btw): To paraphrase as best I can, since impeachment is a constitutional process, no other law applies. No more executive privilege; no more ordering flunkies not to show up; once the gavel comes down and the Speaker declares the impeachment process has begun, the House's investigative power becomes nearly infinite. They can demand Trump's tax returns and the IRS must cough them up; they can send armed troops to drag witnesses in by their hair, if that's what it takes. Witnesses can take the Fifth, but they can't refuse to show up. He made it sound like the closest this world comes to the Last Judgment when all the books are opened. That may be an exaggeration, but I'd like to put it to the test. Dean Shomshak
  13. At the library now, so I can get a link to the Economist article I mentioned above. Quite a web of intrigue. Black snow - Rudy Giuliani's Ukrainian adventure | United ... https://www.economist.com › united-states › 2019/09/21 › rudy-giulianis-... Cached Sep 21, 2019 - The Economist - Homepage ... At least part of the complaint, they say, concerns Ukraine. ... Fittingly, Mr Giuliani's main source of disinformation on Ukraine was Yuriy Lutsenko, a controversial former prosecutor-general. Dean Shomshak
  14. One for my psychic Third Eye, which tells me our cultural and political danger have just become even greater than before. (And I don't know why the forum software multiple-posts me, but it's quite annoying.) I tried to get a link but the internet is not kind to my poverty-row dial-up connection today. There can't really be a tl;dr because the number and details of Giulinani's meetings are the point. The article does note that organized crime is pervasive in Ukraine; everyone knows the rules for dealing with the Mob; and the article bluntly calls Giuliani Trump's consigliere. When the Mob boss' consigliere wants a meeting, you take it. Dean Shomshak
  15. I heard about this on the radio yesterday. I was going to ask for an article link if anyone hadn't posted one already, so thank you! Dean Shomshak
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