What is a terrorist?

On a forum I frequent, there is a rather animated discussion concerning this article. I'll spare you the gory details of the thread, but, suffice it to say, after a brief digression of what constitutes thievery, it's morphed into a discussion on terrorism.

One poster maintains that, since a group like ELF or ALF hasn't actually killed anyone yet, their not really terrorists. My contention is that these groups, while not in the same calibre as Osama bin Laden, IRA or PLO, they are certainly in the same ballpark. Terrorism, in my opinion, is the use of force or the threat of the use of force to effect a change in the social order or political climate.

Protesting in the street and chanting "Bush lied, people died" is not terrorism. Sending an envelope laced with anthrax is. The same thing goes for starting fires or releasing lab animals into the wild. Both cause danger to the people in the area, and the fire certainly causes a danger to the personnel who have to respond. The fact that ELF hasn't killed anyone yet is more a factor of luck than a sincere desire for peaceful redress of grievencess on their side.

Terri Schiavo has died.

Terri Schiavo has died. Regardless of personal feelings on the matter, this whole affair has not been one of America's better moments.


How not to make your customers happy. . .

There is a game company, which I shall call Amazing Infants. Obviously not the real name, but fans of the company should be able to figure it out.

Anyway, close to two years ago, the company released version 2.0 of it's popular pre-painted miniatures game, "Wizard Warrior" (all names are going to be changed to protect the guilty, just so you know). Now, a lot of players are a little aprehensive, but also kinda exited, since it means a whole lot of new stuff, and hopefully a new, well-written rules set.

Long story short, hopes are dashed, but remain smoldering, as people try to use the figures from the original "WW" game with the 2.0 figures. They're not real compatible, but it's close enough that it can be made to work, and indeed, "AI"does indicate that the two can be used together, via various FAQs, etc.

The problem arises, however, when people want to have big games. Really big games. Games with a couple hundred figures on a side, using s game engine that was designed for armies of eight. Now, the version 1.0 rules had an armies version of the game, that addressed the scale issues and had a reasonable (but not good) solution for most of it. The rules for the armies scale were mostly exceptions to the standard rules, so writing new ones for the version 2.0 should be pretty easy, given that 2.0 is essentially the same game as 1.0 with some new bells and whistles, right?


Eighteen months later, "AI" releases a two page version of the armies rules, failing to address any of the issues which will invariably invite abuse. They claim that the rules are unofficial and unsanctioned, which means that you are basically playing at home against your kid brother. At the same time, there are fans posting coherent, concise rules on various fan sites, and trying desperately to get "AI" to put together something good.

Defenders of the new rules say that, since this isn't a normal game format, there is no reason for the company to put any effort into it. I maintain that there are many good reasons:

Top reasons why "AI" should have done a decent job with Armies rules:

1) Profit motive. Right now, there is little reason to buy lots and lots of boosters. Power pieces are available from etailers, and a couple boosters can generally satisfy the need for a hit of plastic crack. But, by providing a format which actively promotes the use of many figures, "AI" can actually sell more product.

2) Profit motive #2 - it might actually spur interest in all those castles, dragons and tanks gathering dust in FLGSs and warehouses across the country.

3) PR - People have been clamoring for Armies for almost 2 years. With a continual "We're working on it" line, the least "AI" could have done is presented a document which appeared to have been the product of at least a couple days work.

4) PR #2 - Presenting a concise and apparently playtested document would give the impression that "AI" is finally attempting to get things right the first time. Even by releasing it as an unofficial beta, if they paid enough attention to notice that 4" + 4" + 30" > 36" (games are played on a table 3" wide, need a starting area at least 4" deep, and need to start 30" apart), it might have improved credibility.

5) PR #3 - By accepting direct player input, "AI" would have shown that they are interested in everyone's input. Instead, players have to hunt down an opponent, play some games, take notes, get in touch with an envoy and hope that the envoy passes them on correctly, in a timely manner, and accurately. Of course, it would also need to be proven that "AI" actually listens to the players in this case, without waiting a year or more to respond to play issues.

6) Proof of competency. As you said, there are great rules out there. Instead of attempting to incporporate them (and anything posted on fan site or the official site belong to "AI"), "AI" gives us this.

7) Proof of competency #2 - Again, lots of potential problems exist. Even for a ruleset which is apparently always going to be unofficial and unsupported, these are the game designers. Can't they do a job at least equal to that of the fans?

8) Unique hook. D&D mass combat rules are terrible. Don't know if anyone has written mass combat rules for SWCMG. If "AI" wants to distinguish themselves in the CCMG market, a good set of mass-combat rules, coupled with renewed interest in dragons, titans, tanks, etc would have been a good visual sales hook.

9) Great opportunity to reach out to disenfranchised players. By creating a ruleset which, even though it is unofficial, provides complete backwards compatability, older players will be able to use their 1.0 figures. Stores might actually see 1.0 sales pick up, which would be a good thing.

10) Maximum benefit for minimal work. This follows points 1-9, inclusive. For the investment of 16 hours of an interns time, "AI" would pay perhaps $320 dollars (including SS tax, Medicare, etc) - but would probably generate several thousands of dollars of goodwill from former detractors. Many of the dectractors are 80/20 customers and/or alpha gamers. (80/20 customer - one of the 20% who provide 80% of the sales, alpha gamer is a gamer who tends to demo games or otherwise work on getting them going in an area.) "AI" could even blow the $50 for someone to issue a once a month update to a FAQ or provide a minimal errata. These would cost some money, but the returns would outweigh the cost.

The sad thing is that the people that did all the hard work for the company, acting as unpaid sales reps in the field, devoting hundreds of hours to running product demos and tournaments, while remaining essentially unpaid, have largely quit because there is the prevailing attitude that the company does not listen to criticism. In their stead, the company has hired sycophants, who proclaim that all is well, and that there is no decline in sales.

It's sad really. . . I liked the game, and tried to make it better even after they canned me for privately questioning the company line.


Random thought on pain

I was watching CBS last night, and they did a story on an Ultramarathon. During the course of the story, they repeat the hypothesis that women manage pain better than men. If this is the case, then why do companies like Motrin run ad campaigns with the tagline "For moms who don't fool around with pain," or have ads where the only man present is the unseen announcer? Most advertisements for pain medication are geared toward women - and while women may be the primary shopper of pain medications, I suspect that they are the primary consumers as well.


Terry Schiavo. . . .

I have followed this story with some minor interest, and while I am not pleased that Congress saw a need to intervene, I can understand it. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject:

I find it disturibing that she will be starved to death. We don't do that to dogs, and someone who is terminally ill (in some areas) can get a lethal cocktail of painkillers. But, because some experts believe that she cannot feel pain, starvation is okay. If she is going to be killed (and let's face it, she's not on a ventilator or a heart/lung machine - she's on a permanent feeding tube. Big difference in degree), then oughtn't we, as a society, do so in a manner known to be quick and painless?

I severely distrust Michael Schiavo's "I'm Catholic, and don't believe in divorce" argument. If he didn't believe in divorce, he also shouldn't be sleeping with another woman (and having children with her). You cannot openly break faith with your church and then try to wrap yourself in its sacrements when people complain about you. Mr. Schiavo has a severe conflict of interest in this case - and the courts should have recognized that. I am fairly certain that it is only his testimony that she would wish to die, the courts should err on the side of caution, and release her into the care of her parents. In my opinion, Congress was hoping that a federal court would do this, since state courts had thus far failed in that duty.

Hard cases make for bad law, and this is a hard case. It does make clear the need to have this discussion with family members beforehand, and, more importantly, to write it down.


Oh yeah. . .

Meant to post this earlier this week:

The Incredibles is out. Go get your copy. The extras are all on a seperate disc (including the shorts Jak-jak Attack and Boundin'), which is a little annoying, but I can deal with that.

Titanic in space?

Yep, that's how George Lucas is describing the last installment in the Star Wars prequels: Revenge of the Sith.

Before I discuss how I feel about that description, I need to fill you in on some background. I am a Star Wars fan. The only thing that prevents me from turning the entire basement into some sort of shrine to the Dark Side is money. Plus, my wife would blow a gasket, and I would have no place to store my gaming stuff, but those are secondary concerns. So, instead of buying Stormtrooper armor, I just watch the movies. It's a comprimise that I can live with, but am sometimes unhappy about. (True story - when my wife and I first started dating, I told her: "Love me, tolerate gaming, tolerate Star Wars." )

So, when I downloaded the trailer to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, I whispered a little prayer of thanks. Sadly, while the trailer looked kewl, the horror of Jar-Jar Binks was not readily apparent until I watch the film in the theatre. I can understand the need to have some character with which the children can empathize, but even the kids in the audience were offended. (Again, I am also the guy who cheers when the Stormtroopers slaughter the Ewoks, but that's just my Dark Side showing through.)

Fast forward a bit, and we get to Episode II: Attack of the Clones. This time, my prayer was "Please, be better than the last one." And, in some ways it was - Jar-Jar had a lot less screen time, and the whiny dialogue of young Anakin is proof that he and Luke are related. But, still, the movie just wasn't that good. Not when stacked up against the original trilogy.

Now, having watched both trailers for Episode III, my prayer is "Please, let it not suck." I'm not asking for much: I know that Anakin goes to the Dark Side and becomes Vader. I know that Palpatine seizes power, and lots of Jedi get killed. But I'm a lot more leery when I hear it being called "Titanic in space." I could barely sit through Titanic. I found the dialogue stilted and wooden, and the characters flat. The film just didn't move me - by the time the ship actually sank, I was rooting for the iceberg.

It's not because it was a chick flick. I can sit through those, and while I might make fun of them, I do the same thing to action films. Titanic just got so overhyped that the reality was far short of what the film actually delivered. I hope that I am not saying the same thing about Revenge of the Sith in a couple of months.


Home alone. . .

Well, for various and sundry reasons (none bad), I am able to enjoy an entire 2 days at home, without taking care of Kevin. It's amazing how a little person, who stumbles around like a drunken sailor, making truck noises, can fill a house. And how empty and quiet is seems without him.

I'm getting a lot of things done - working on my "business" (such as it is - still building inventory and so no attempts to sell just yet), cleaning the house, and just relaxing. It's nice, but I sure do miss the little guy.

And, it's nice to know that he misses me. Apparently, he wandered around his grandparent's house today, saying "dada" and looking for me.


Allen Hall redux

Several more students have chimed in on the debate, and I am seriously beginning to wonder what exactly they are learning at the U of I.

For example, the first letter mentions that comparing the Weathermen to Osama bin Laden, Matthew Hale or the Unibomber is incorrect, since the Weathermen only killed one person. (Not entirely true - three Weathermen were killed when their bomb factory detonoated. If they hadn't been building the bombs, then they wouldn't have died. Ergo, the actions of the Weathermen are at least indirectly responsible.) This might be a decent argument, but the real questions are of degree, and of actions. Stealing is wrong, but stealing $45.67 is much different from stealing $213,546.08. The bombs may have been "bloodless" (in that, aside from the three fatalities, no one else was hurt), but that's a matter of luck (and, to be honest, some planning). But even so, bombs don't distinguish between legitimate symbolic target and old lday who happens to be crossing the street. If a radical anti-abortionist was bombing clinics at 3 a.m., I doubt that, 30 years later, many people would choose to ignore the actions of their youth.

The second letter complains that they (the author) attended several of the lectures and never heard Ayers or Dorhn talk about any of the ideas expressed in the DI editorial. Possible, but even so, the past actions of Ayers/Dohrn should matter. I don't care what good works Matthew Hale does, or what rhetoric he gives about education reform - he would still be a racist. Had Ayers or Dorhn protested via civil disobedience or dodged the draft, I wouldn't care. But, again, planting bombs does pretty much qualify you as a domestic terrorist. Sorry - not sure that society, as a whole, should be so quick to forgive.

I really liked this quote in the last letter:

Bringing "former terrorists" onto University property should not be in question, as it seems one of them holds the title of Distinguished Professor at one of our own University campuses. The ideals of academic integrity should not be hindered by unfair and unfounded prejudices.

Again, I'm not sure that using Ayers own words and pastv actions against him is an unfair or unfounded prejudice. I can understand that he was against Vietnam, and I have no problem with that. A lot of people were against the war. But not many of bombed the Pentagon because of it - most just went to Canada or jail. And yes, Ayers is a Distinguished Professor at U of I Chicago. I'm not going to go into a whole "Are universities liberal or conservative" thread here, but I do wonder WTF U of I Chicago was thinking when they hired him.


I'm gonna need a laptop. . .

I've found something else to add on to my never-ending cycle of crazy ideas. Right now, I am a full-time, SAHD, trying to start up one home business, doing demo work for a game company (and various other, time-consuming projects for same), working on research for another home business (of sorts), and training for a marathon.

Obviously, I need to do something to relax.

So, in one of my random forays to the library, I found this book, and checked it out. Now, I have written short stories over the years, and even sent off a couple of (very) short ones to contests. Never won, but at least I tried. I have, in the past, sat down and started novels, but they always seem to peter out about 2000 words in or so.

So, after reading this book, I think I am going to take up the challenge, with a caveat. I know where I do my most constructive work, and it's not where my computer is. Right now, I am trying to raise money for GenCon, but after that, I am going to try to raise cash for a cheap laptop.

It doesn't have to be good - I don't need to play games on it. It doesn't need to connect to the 'Net in any way, shape or form. It just needs to have or do the following:

  • work. This is probably pretty obvious, but it's not worth my time (see above for the schedule) to buy a couple inoperative laptops and assemble them into my own Frankenstein creation. This means that I need a hard drive, working keyboard, etc.
  • have an OS. Yeah, I could install one. I might, if I have to, but I'd rather not have to bother. An otherwise perfect laptop without an OS would still be an option, but again, it's something that I would prefer not to deal with right now. Later, I'll install Linux or something.
  • have either a CD burner or a floppy drive. I'd prefer the former (obviously), but the latter would work. Actually, if it has a USB port and can use something like this, that would work fine as well.
  • have Word, Notepad, or some other word-processing program. I could write everything in emacs, and I might, but for ease of transport, it might be best to use a (unfortunately) fairly common word processing program.
  • have a battery/all required cables. Again, not a deal breaker if these are missing, but it's a big plus.

Yeah, I know - laptops aren't that expensive. But, since I shelled out a lot of money for some "toys" for my "business" (such as it is), buying a laptop that is anywhere near SOTA is beyond me.

So, anyway, if any of my loyal reader(s) know of a very cheap laptop, please pass word along to me - but not for a couple months.

PS - 50,000 words is about 1700 a day. This post would only grant me about 500. But still, getting into a habit here is going to be good practice for November.


What's up with Allen Hall?

There has to be something in the drinking water at Allen Hall. One of the plusses to living in that res hall (at UIUC) is the Guests in Residence program. Basically, various learned people from around the world come and live in the dorm for a few days to several weeks. While there, they give various talks around the university, and have discussions with the students of the hall.

So, the current guests are Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who, aside from their academic credits, are former members of the Weathermen. Most reads under the age of 40 won't recognize the name, so if you don't, check the link and come back.

Okay, so now you know that, during the Vietnam War, the Weatherman were, basically, a terrorist organization. Really, I cannot think of another term to describe anyone who plants explosive devices. I don't care if you are looking for "non-lethal targets" - there is always the chance for collateral damage. If it was wrong for the US government to drop bombs in an indescriminate fashion, then it is no less wrong for you to plant them in a similar fashion.

Anyway, the Daily Illini (which, sadly, I still read, even though I graduated years ago) first did a story on this the 28th. Since then, the DI has editorialized about it, and students have written in to express their opinions, and Ayers and Dorn have written the DI as well.

I admit that I haven't yet verified this quote, but Mr Ayers said (in a profile printed in the New York Times, on, ironically enough, the morning of 9/11/01):

"I don't regret setting bombs [against non-human targets]. I believe we didn't do enough."

I don't doubt the quote much. I'm going to read through the FBI links on wikipedia, but my hunch is, since Mr Ayers has written a book about his time with the Weathermen, it's probably true. History News Network also has at least a couple different articles on the subject as well.

So, yanking back onto topic: the U of I has a couple unrepentent, former terrorists living at a student residence hall. They might have gone on and reintegrated themselves into society, but I don't think that they should be lauded for it. I'm sorry- but they planted bombs! If, perhaps, had they done jail time and were repentent, I might not care, but this is not the case.

I still want to know why they got invited. I believe that the residents of Allen Hall get to vote on whom they would like to invite (from a prepared list). Were these two listed as educators or former terrorists?


Random thoughts on Social Security, etc.

Now, this was partially inspired by this post.

Right now, Social Security (and Medicare, which is not being addressed) have the same problem: both will eventually pay out more money than they take in. (Actually, Medicare hit this point in 2004 - I guess the administration is limited to tackling one issue at a time. Pity it wasn't the one that's already in "crisis".)

Personally, I am not a huge fan of Bush's plan, though I think it is a good thing that at least politicians are talking about action. (It should be worth noting that, the previous administration called for action, though in a different direction). So, here are some of my thoughts on Social Security. They might not all work, but at least they're good for a Gedankenexperiment.

  • Institute means testing. Sure, it's not fair, but if you have a certain level of income independent of SS, then maybe you shouldn't be drawing from the pool. Even though Bill Gates contributes to the SS fund, he probably isn't going to need it when he retires.
  • Raise the bar on taxable income. Instead of the current cap of $90k, raise it to $200k or so.
  • Stop taxing the first $20k. SS is inherently a regressive tax. If you're a family of four with an annual income of $120k, that 6% on the first 90k might be mildly painful, but unless you're in an area with an abnormally high cost of living, then you're doing pretty darned well. If you're a family of four with an annual income of 28k, 6% is a lot more noticeable*. So, I suggest reducing or eliminating the employee payment on the first 20k, but continue to require the employer payment and use government funds to match it. This may not be terribly feasible, but I think that with means testing and a higher cap on taxable income, it could be made to work.
  • Allow for some privatization. Perhaps allow 2%, instead of the proposed 4% (though the employer funds would still go into the SS pool), and make it voluntary. I wouldn't limit the accounts to only certain funds - I'd allow people to invest in whichever stocks or bonds they wished.

I'm not really a liberal or a conservative on this topic. Something needs to be done, and it will be much easier to do it now (on in the next couple years) than to wait until 2018/2042/whenever. Medicare should have been looked into years ago, but now, any changes will have to be drastic, and possibly draconian, to bring the system back into long-term solvency.

Concerning the inheritance tax: I understand where both sides are coming from on this issue. The right dislikes the idea of someone having to pay taxes on revenue/property for which the previous owner already paid taxes. The left dislikes the idea that failure to tax inheritances can cause a concentration of wealth. I've looked through some articles, and while I haven't checked the references on this one, I can see the need for some possible reform. (The official IRS site wasn't much help - unless I want to open all the attendant forms and go through the math, I cannot quantify how much anyone pays**.) So, unless current tax law alerady does this, here is my compromise solution:

  • The first $500k in real estate may be passed on, tax-free, to spouses/children/family. This would allow homes, farms, small businesses, etc to be passed out without a significant tax burden. If a business is bequeathed to a parter, it is taxed under the normal rules.
  • The first $250k in monetary assets (cash, stocks, non-real estate property, etc) is passed on without taxes under the same proviso as above.
  • Any inheritance beyond the above would be taxed according to the recipients current tax bracket (thus, someone in the lowest tax bracket who recieved a windfall would pay the lowest bracket amount, regardless of the size of the windfall).
  • NB - If someone bequeaths a business valued at $1.5 million to a spouse and two children, then the first $500k is exempt, and (presuming an equal distribution of shares in said business), each beneficiary would be responsible for the taxes on $333k.

Thus, some property and money could be passed on without taxation, but truly large estates would still have a tax burden. Seems fair to me, though the numbers (as always) could be adjusted.

* I have lived at or below the poverty level at several points in my life. At each point, I cursed the amount that SS took from each paycheck, because it often would have meant the difference between being able to buy something other than generic mac-n-cheese and ramen. Unless you count every dime, $12.36 a week may not sound like much (6% of a 40-hour week, @ $5.15 per hour), but $49.44 a month is a utility bill, or groceries for a week (or more - I've eaten for close to a month on less), gas or bus passes to get to work, etc. That kind of tax hurts - and it hurts hard.

** Look for an additional post in the near future about the need to reform the US tax code. Anything so Byzantine should be removed from the government post haste. While I won't be calling for a flat tax, I'd love to close up a lot of loopholes and simplify the whole code.


Inspired by a billboard I saw while driving. . .

I took Kevin to the doctor today for his one year checkup (and the required shots). On the way back, I saw a billboard with the following message:

Babies were born to breastfeed.

Nice message, I thought.

When I got home, I checked out the website, out of random curiosity. It's the address for The National Women's Health Information Center. Again, random curiosity led me to try www.4man.gov.

Nope. The site doesn't exist. You can find information for men's health off the women's health homepage. As far as I can tell, there is no equivalent office for men.
Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and Senator Michael Crapo (R-ID) have introduced the Men's Health Act of 2005. This act would create an office to mirror the National Women's Health Information Center.

The WHIC has done some great work in improving the general health of women in America. Given that men die younger in each of the top 10 causes of death*, maybe we ought to do something about men's health too.

* I suspect that one of my 2-3 readers per day will point out that more women than men die of heart attacks. A search turns up this table, which, considering that any google search for "heart disease men women" turns up pages about how women are more at risk, is no mean accomplishment. Again, it is true that more women (total) die of heart attacks than men - the problem is that more men per capita die in each age category. Since more women live to adulthood and byond, it should not be surprising that more women will eventually die of heart disease.


Not forgotten, just busy

I'll try to get something up later today. In the meantime, it's been a busy week. Kevin's birthday was Saturday, and Monday I had 30lbs of minis dropped off on my doorstep.

So, in addition to taking care of the son, and trying to get a hobby-based business going, and getting ready for a slew of relatives arriving, I have 350 little metal men to trim and prime before May.

I think I'll just give up sleep in favor of more caffeine.