Challenge versus Interest

NaNoWriMo – more formally known as National Novel Writing Month, and less formally known as NaNoIThoughtICouldWriMo – wraps up today.  I suppose depending where you live it might not end till it's tomorrow for me, but let's not get picky here.  Once again, I thought I would participate, and once again, I find myself staring at a not-really-that-near-20,000 word manuscript, most of it awful writing.  In other words, I'm about a third done.  This will, I tell myself again, be my last year, and I mean it!

The appeal of NaNo to me is the challenge.  Now I'm not always good at going after challenging things, but "it's hard" is something I've mostly learned to see as a good reason to at least try something, even if I'm not good at actually following through.  One reason I'm not actually good at then doing things is lack of interest.  When it comes to writing, simply as writing, that's something I don't have much interest in.  So every time the choice is between, "Write two thousand words today for a story that barely has a plot or a concept and isn't going at all where it was supposed to," or "Write some other thing on a topic I'm interested in," whether here on the blog, or (mainly) on Team Liquid, or, "Do some other thing that's actually interesting to me for what it is," the choice kept coming down to not-NaNo.  The plain facts are that I'd rather blog about NaNo than actually do it, and most of the time I'd probably rather play a game of chess than do either.

For good or bad, all this failure doesn't really bother me.  I knew going in everything I just said above was true, except maybe I thought I was less not good at doing something every day.  So here I am.  It's not exactly a lack-of-accomplishment to be proud of.  I didn't even learn anything, except that being able to type without looking at the keyboard is impressive to some people.



The events at the various Occupy Wall Street protests have made me realize something: I can find it hard to evaluate events objectively when I find myself either opposed to someone's opinion, or even apathetic.  The bald fact is that I have very little sympathy for the OWS folks, for any number of reasons: here are some of them.

In the first place, their grievances are, for the most part, wildly generic, and run in one of two general channels: either the rich should get less, or the poor should get more; in either case The Government should make sure something equitable happens.  (The Tea Party complaint, that the government needs to stop the "bailouts" and super-regulatory state which ends up encouraging these (often publicly-financed) bonuses), is occasionally heard even at OWS but is antithetical to their main complaints.  To illustrate: the Tea Party wants to stop bailouts, period; the OWS folks, even those concerned about the issue, are more likely to try to pass regulations making it illegal to accept bailout money.  The Tea Party would limit government; OWS, the private sector.)  As I happen to believe that less government, beyond necessity, is usually better, and I tend to think that the necessary amount of government is kind of low, ideologically I have no common ground.

In the second place, the nature of the protests has been ridiculous, and not defensible as "free speech".  Camping, as in NYC and elsewhere, is not speech.  It doesn't even fit any reasonable definition of "assembly".  Shutting down a port, as in Oakland, is not speech.  (And what exactly was the Oakland port doing wrong, anyway?)

In the third place, I find the protests – at least as covered in the media – to be disturbingly unpolitical.  There is no agenda.  There is no political organization on any meaningful scale.  There is not even a denouncement of the current political organization, beyond a few particular policy differences.  I'd prefer to deal with out-and-out communists, totalitarians, or shariaists, from an ideas standpoint.  You can't argue with, "Everybody should have food," when the proposed mechanism to make this happen is, "Somebody (meaning somebody else) should figure out how."  Which is to say, the protestors demonstrate a dependent mindset in many ways, which I find childish if not repellant.

At the same time, we are hearing reports of police brutality, in varying degrees; what is hard to tell, very hard to determine, is whether this "brutality" is being provoked – I won't say justified, but at the same time there are also reports of criminal activity (from drug use to thefts to rapes) which would demand a police presence, and I get the impression that the police are largely not welcomed.

If police – or other government force – is being employed illegitimately, this is bad and should stop.  At the same time, I'm finding that I have trouble caring, not because I think the protesters are wrong, exactly, but more because I far as I can tell their wasting time and space and media attention on ...exactly what, anyway?  As regards the protestors, I'm apathetic.


Thought Experiment: NFL and Relegation

One thing I do from time to time is imagine ways to fix various things that don't really need fixing.  One of my favorite hypothetical things to imagine is introducing relegation into the NFL.

For reference, the current alignment of the NFL is in eight divisions, roughly split by geography and/or league history, as follows:

East: New England Patriots, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins
North: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals
South: Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans
West: Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers

East: New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys
South: Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints
North: Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
West: St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers.

And here's a map, courtesy of wikipedia.  I didn't feel like labeling each individual team, so use your powers of geography and work it out for yourself?

So, relegation.  My plan calls for eight-team divisions.  Since I'm going to be completely ignoring current alignment anyway, I'm simply going to dispense with league history, and attempt to group teams together as closely as possible geographically.*

West: Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs
South: Houston Texans, New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers
Midwest: Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns
Northeast: Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, New York Giants, New England Patriots

Each division would be re-aligned each year into two subdivisions based on record.  For instance, at the beginning of the 2011 season we would have had:

West A: Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks
West B: Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos

South A: Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars
South B: Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers

Midwest A: Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams
Midwest B: Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals

Northeast A: New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets
Northeast B: Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills


Every team would play one game against each other team in the division, and against two of the three same-class subdivisions outside their division on a rotating basis, for 15 games total.  (Alternatively, could play all three same-class subdivisions for 19 games.)  Game sites would be determined by site of last meeting (if last home then away and vice versa), modified by last result (can be moved if home win or away loss), so that each team has either 4 away and 3 home or 3 away and 4 home in division, alternating each year; and 8 home and 7 away or vice versa, alternating each year if possible (19 games: 10 home and 9 away or vice versa).  If further movement is necessary, random draw to move games.

Atlanta's schedule this year might have been games against: New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Miami, Houston, Tennessee, Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay, Indianapolis, St. Louis, New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New York Jets; West Division off schedule by rotation.

Playoff spots would remain at the current twelve, but the now-artificial AFC-NFC distinction is removed completely.  Seeds would be: 1-4 subdivision A winners, by record (overall record, division record, head-to-head); 5-8 best record from Subdivision A teams, by record (overall record, head-to-head, common opponents, strength of schedule, scoring margin?), unless not enough teams with winning record; 9-12 (plus any extra 5-8 seeds remaining) best remaining record among all teams as before.  Seeds 1-4 would have byes.  5 plays 12, 6 plays 11, etc.  The next round is reseeded so that 1 plays the lowest remaining seed, etc.; after this winner of 1 vs ? plays winner of 4 vs ? and winner of 2 vs ? plays winner of 3 vs ?.  The Super Bowl is the last remaining teams.  (Duh.)

Relegation: Each season each division is re-seeded by record.  Overall record, division record, and head-to-head are considered in that order.  Any playoff team is exempt from relegation to Subdivision B unless another playoff team with a better record in the same division displaces them (this would require 5 playoff teams from one division, which is unlikely but I don't feel like running the math to see if it's possible).

While I'm at it, I'm also going to remove overtime from regular-season games and institute overtime for playoff games as two ten-minute periods, followed by a single sudden-death un-timed period if necessary.

As plans go, it's not brilliant, but it's an idea.


*In the interest of fair competition.  There's some evidence, this years' 49ers notwithstanding, that jetlag, especially on West to East flights, is a significant handicap beyond the "normal" stress of an away game.  The other option would be to split the league horizontally, into several "bands" each encompassing most time zones, but this distributes the problem equally instead of trying to eliminate it.  Also trying to make it work is hilariously implausible.

Lawyers are Not Wealth Creators

The following quotation (pulled from a comment on a friend's facebook post on something only vaguely related) is typical of liberal impressions I have seen of conservative ideals (bracketed edits made by me for clarity or to remove vulgarity):

"Yeah well, [conservatives] been delusional since at least [Reagan's presidency]. I still can't figure out why they think Reagan was so amazing, other than the fact that he won the election and he was a Republican. His policies were [bad] - his "Trickle Down" theory has been [completely] unsuccessful but the campaign [they're] running now is exactly the same as then - "Let the Job Creators keep more money and it will all trickle down". Yeah, trickle down right into their offshore accounts. Trickling golden bathtubs. Trickling Ponzi schemes."

To be completely honest, I've never been entirely sold on the Reagan hype myself.  His message while campaigning may have been "sound conservatism", but his actual policies were a fairly mixed bag (at least by my own essentially laissez-faire standards), as detailed here*.  In fact Reagan's policies, as a mixed bag and considering they did little to nothing to dismantle the structure of the federal welfare program-driven bureaucracy, in fact have not provided any sort of testing ground to prove or disprove the theory he campaigned on.  As far as I can tell, the last president under which the United States had something resembling the ideal currently promulgated of a free market economy was Calvin Coolidge.  And his record shows that it is – or was, at least – possible to lower taxes and the debt, and the way to do that was cutting Federal spending.

The liberals' theory – try to raise taxes, and then raise spending whether or not taxes are raised, and ignore the deficit question almost completely even in the face of Greece (and Spain, and Italy, and Ireland) spiraling into an economic disaster driven by an exaggerated version of these same policies and only slightly mitigated by essentially unwilling action by foreign powers trying to find the least worst of multiple bad choices – completely fails to make any sense, let alone answer these serious concerns.  The most reasonable thing they have to say is that maybe we need to raise taxes to cut the deficit, which at least is a rational and sensible conclusion.  (Whether it works or not at this point is anyone's guess.)

I admit we're talking about a different scale here than we were ninety years ago.  I would hazard a guess that our various governments did not, back then, employ one sixth of the population.  And so trying to draw down that much of an investment – to redirect it to private enterprise and freedom where I think, with most conservatives, that it belongs – will call for more concerted effort and more forethought.  That doesn't make it impossible, or change the fact that it ought to be done.

The fundamental problem with leftist policy is that it diminishes the number of people available to actually accomplish things.  Someone starts a company and hires three people: great.  Add another government program to supplement or subsidize or replace him, and you get four people working and have to find a fifth to supervise a new department, meaning he's not doing something actually useful any more.  Subsidize, replace, or regulate an area of private enterprise, and you get more bureaucrats.  Back in 1998, the IRS – one agency, and arguably one of the at least marginally useful ones, since somebody has to collect taxes – employed over one hundred thousand people.  While those numbers were declining at the time – and notice that they declined with the ascendancy of the Republican party in Congress (although they had risen during Bush Sr.'s presidency, to be fair) – I doubt it has shrunk much more over the last dozen years.  Okay, so that's not that many people, relatively speaking: 0.03% of the population, more or less.  But it would be a pretty large corporation, and it's only one agency.  (Not sure where the rest of the one sixth come from.)  For comparison, if we take that 100,000 number as accurate, it's about one-fifteenth of the size of the US military.  Which means... at this point I have no idea, actually.  I'm just throwing around numbers and trying to make sense of them, and failing.  Which is sort of a point in and of itself: granted I'm not a trained economist or politician, but I have approximately no idea what the US Federal government's current existence actually means in economic or day-to-day fact, or even really what it is.  If for no other reason, I want a smaller government so that I can understand the thing.  It's my job as a voter to understand what I'm voting for, and at this point that's an impossibility on any but the vaguest terms.

This is what we're looking at: unfathomable numbers of government wonks trying to keep track of policies and see them enforced.  There's part of just war theory, dating at least to Aquinas, that says one of the reasons for going to war appropriately is, in all but the most dire cases, possibility of success.  The leftist regulatory and bureaucratic state does not have a "possibility of success", even if we grant that its aims are valid.

Obviously there's a role for lawyers, just like there's a role for soldiers.  There's even a need for tax collectors, police, and firemen.  But these things are due to unfortunate facts of life, and the necessity means they do not exist as inherently good things.  I would like to live in a world where police are unnecessary.  The left largely wants to limit the size of the military for these reasons.  (Then again, so do many on the right, these days, even if they don't have pride of place on the big-party stage.)  The right also wants to limit the size of the bureaucracy, for similar reasons – and are resisted in the name of I'm not even sure what any more.

It's clearly not getting the job done.  Social Security is spiraling out of control: no reforms are allowed.  Medicare and Medicaid are precarious: ditto.  Government agencies keep getting in the way and failing: public schools fall behind the rest of the world and people scrape and save to homeschool or send kids to private schools for the sake of a better education; the public school system demands more money, better salaries, and more compliance with the unions.  The EPA passes regulations or doesn't pass regulations, and nobody understands why.  A company builds a new plant to hire more people while expanding an existing plant, and union leftists threaten strikes and political leftists support them.  And of course there's that 2000 page boondoggle of a medical bill that some clowns passed and nobody understands, even now going into effect, if we knew what the effect was.  Then there are the ongoing assaults against religious liberty in the name of "nondiscrimination" (and "liberty" to kill infants), and so on and so forth.  It makes no sense.

The leftist expansion of government has brought us a government that thinks it can do anything, and is proceeding to do it, regardless of the fact that half the population disagrees with its favored policies.  Democracy?  Heh.  And the people benefitting, for the most part, are the politicians and their lawyer and union friends – not the people stuck on welfare because business owners can't afford to meet the regulations to hire more people because demand isn't growing because people are stuck on welfare because wait I was already here wasn't I.

Bureaucrats and lawyers are necessary, but they're maintenance people, not architects and builders.  They're the people leftist policy pays: this leads me to conclude that leftism is not interested in growth but in maintenance.**  But maintenance depends on having something to maintain.  At some point, a plumber and a cleaner and a painter step back from a building, and say, "We need a builder to come in and fix this wing."  When they find out there are no builders left (because the building code is now three thousand pages long), as the Soviet Union did, the thing falls apart.

Leftist policy will eventually lead to collapse under its own pressure, as in the Soviet Union or Greece, or to draconian measures which please nobody but sort of manage to keep things together, as in modern China – at least until the tyranny falls apart because of its own failings as a system of government, as the Roman Empire did.


* In matters of historical record, I tend to view wikipedia as an acceptable resource, for the following reasons: first, reputation; second, a habit of allowing and actually encouraging an in fact over-critical attitude to anything remotely questionable; and finally, the insistence on citing everything.  Also, for internet discussion, it is a highly accessible source.  At the same time, it must be allowed that the overall attitude of wikipedia's interpretation of facts (like that of much of the rest of "the internet") is fairly left-wing.
** Oddly enough, this is born out by several correlating data points, among which are: shrinking birth rates in more thoroughly leftist countries; the alliance of hyperenvironmentalists and generally unsavory people like "Dr." Singer with leftist causes; an apparently general leftist antipathy towards large families; support for abortion (even apart from the ethical question which renders the practice obviously evil).


Applied Linguistics

I've managed to not-really-learn several languages over the years.  On the whole, it's a good thing, but there's one major problem.  My brain has never quite managed to sort them into "English" and "not English".  As a result, I have a bad habit of peppering otherwise normal conversations with snippets of foreign languages, mostly German.

Occasionally, it sidetracks class.  Today, trying to get a student who was very quiet to speak up, I asked, "Was ist es?"

"...That's creepy."
"What is?"
"You spoke German."
"No one here speaks German."
"Well I do, a little."
"Well it's creepy!"


Quick Review: The Three Musketeers

Somebody decided to make a new Three Musketeers movie.  I suppose in this day of rehashing old plots it's at least a good place to start.  I had seen the trailer, I forget why, and thought it looked suitably silly so last night I went and saw it.

I loved it.  Sure, if historical accuracy or any pretension thereof is your thing, you will end up twitching violently, but we're going to assume for the sake of argument you can deal with that if you know it's coming.  To give you an idea of the flavor, take the original book by Dumas, introduce it to the Foglios (of Girl Genius fame), and put Errol Flynn in charge of the whole shebang.

While I haven't read the novel for a while and disclaim perfect knowledge, one thing that struck me as significant is that despite some of the more creative licenses taken with the setting, the plot set-up and characterizations remain essentially identical to the original.  Of course, it's a well known story, so there are limits to what is practical to change, but still.

I admit I have a fairly low taste in movies at times.  But I tend to think of Dumas as one of the original action writers, so I'm even inclined to think he would have thoroughly appreciated this take on his story.