30 January 2010

These words make it all worth it.

From someone to me, regarding recent events:

Thank you. The courage you have shown in this endeavor is remarkable. Instead of randomly throwing a pebble in the water, you unleashed a precision guided boulder to which I will enjoy witnessing any resulting tsunamis. No matter what outcomes occur, your intentions were honorable and unselfish and as with all of the other adjectives floating in my head, are demonstrating what everyone strives to be, a leader.

Words fail me.

29 January 2010

My head is spinning

I just completed the craziest, ballsiest thing I've ever done in my life. I'm glad it's all over.

24 January 2010

Communicating Thoughts and Thinking About Communication; The Duality of Reason

I didn't think to post this on my personal blog, and I'm not about to go through the pain of formatting it for the internet yet again. You can read it here. It's about language and thinking.

18 January 2010

New piece coming soon

I just wrapped up an essay I'd been working on for a philosophical conference, and submitted it over to The Spearhead. I am told it should be up within the next day or so. I wouldn't mind becoming a regular contributor over there, but we shall see. If that becomes the case, I could use this blog to merely talk about video games and the military. Haha!

::EDIT:: Here it is.

15 January 2010

Another good comment

I'll get around to generating my own content again shortly (long weekend, competing priorities) but for now, I rather enjoy pointing out good comments on posts that may otherwise go unnoticed.

The comment is a sort of companion diatribe to this analysis (author's blog) of common "feminist" (I use the term loosely and apply it generally - I accept/acknowledge the hypothetical possibility of an honest to goodness, logical "feminist" even though I haven't met one) debate tactics.


[EDIT] Kudos award to this comment for presenting a great dilemma to the advocation of a broadening of the definition of rape. Plus, this keeps language narrow and specific, which we all know I'm a fan of.

And here's some lulz.

13 January 2010

Moral of the Story: Get a Vasectomy

This comment on this post was just too hilarious (and awesome) to let get buried.

TL;DR summary: guy gets a vasectomy. Three months later, he meets a woman with whom he enjoys a casual relationship. She had other designs, however, and about four months into the relationship she plays the "I am pregnant" game, which our hero indulges with a bit of pleasure (knowing obviously the child is not his). After revealing her to be completely crazy and immoral, he performs an awesome coup-de-grace that leaves her sobbing.

Comeuppance! Catharsis! Woo.

10 January 2010

The Lies We Live With - Independence

I contend that it is impossible to live an absolutely honest life. We all live with lies (and by this I mean the simplest definition of a lie: "an inaccurate or false statement," whether it is intentional or not). This could be the result of any number of things - indoctrination, propaganda, self-defense, who knows. One of the lies I lived with for a long time was related to my indoctrination into the modern liberal mindset, a process I had very little choice in.

But I've lived with a variety of other lies. Human memory is faulty, and so we may come to believe things about our past that are untrue. During my exile in Utah, only after deep reflection and a painful confrontation with my past, did I learn that I had convinced myself of an outright falsehood which had fundamentally altered the way I approached relating to other people. How or why this happened, I cannot say for sure.

This is why my ideal is to strive for ever more honesty; we can never be perfectly honest, I think, but we can try.

In what is the first of an intended series of posts, I want to take a closer look at the lie of "independence" in the West, particularly among modern liberal (and by this I mean the type discussed in my link above) thinkers. We are all raised to value our independence and we fancy ourselves independent thinkers, workers, citizens, etc. Most people's first taste of "independence" is when they get their first car at the age of 16 (anecdote: I've always relied on mass transit). Independence is valued in our society and enshrined as a sort of virtue.

Only an extremely small minority of us are independent, however. In fact, most of us have crippling dependencies on "the system" and on society at large. If, overnight, the entire *American infrastructure were to be swept under a rug (the roads, the system of distribution for foodstuffs and water, just to name a few), we would find that most people would quickly die in short order. As a culture, we fancy ourselves as industrious and deserving of our place in the world. When one talks about their hard-won job or hard-earned achievements, they always talk in terms of their struggles inside the system, spending hours and hours studying at the universities or working long nights or whatever the case may be. Their analysis completely ignores the fact that they had a system to work within at all.

For example, I am absolutely positive that there are people who have been born in less advantaged places in the world who were either equal to me in capacity, or superior. However, I am just as certain that they died well before they reached the age of 21. Why? They lost the "genetic lottery," and that's it. They had the poor misfortune of being born into a terrible part of the world that does not have a grand infrastructure like the United States*. If they did survive, it is because they learned how to be truly independent - how to grow their own food, build their own home, and eek out their own living.

So, while we fancy ourselves independent, we can think all sorts of absurdities. I was recently talking to someone who expressed that she could never imagine herself "shackled to a man" in a marriage, how this would be absolutely catastrophic to her "independence." She did not think it was fair game or even relevant for me to point out that she was absolutely taking for granted her day to day dependence upon the social system that has been set up for her sustenance. She does not want to be "dependent" upon one man (a husband), when in reality, she is dependent upon countless men (and some women) who pay taxes and work for the state to build and maintain the institutions she uses to survive.

This thinking is poisonous. We devalue community and cooperation in favor of "independence," but yet again, we're not even talking about "independence." True independence would be off-the-grid living, growing your own crops and perhaps tending to your own herds for sustenance. Such living is often ridiculed as backwards and "crazy." So when people talk about how they're very "independent," what they're probably talking about is how they're very ignorant and very irresponsible. They feel no responsibility to society and see no reason why they should contribute back, and often pursue purely luxurious endeavors - things like art. (Art is great, and I am a fan of it. But it contributes nothing to our survival.)

Yet another example, methinks, of a thought-terminating cliché or doublespeak. I would love to see all those enlightened, "open-minded" college students (in whom these attitudes seem to be very prevalent) have to do things like build their own schools, pave their own roads, provide for their own defense, make their own budgets, grow their own food, and on and on... They might finally learn what being "independent" is really all about.

*I mention the US specifically, but these arguments could apply to any civilization. If you do not grow your own food and provide for your own basic sustenance and survival needs (to include defense from hostile aggressors - be they bandits or be they invaders), you are not independent, and in fact you are dependent upon the system to provide a method for you to acquire the things you need to survive. In case you're wondering, I'm entirely dependent. There's nothing inherently "wrong" with being dependent, but there is something wrong with being ignorant about it.

09 January 2010


I just finished organizing my blog, somewhat. I've revamped labels and applied applicable labels to every post in the blog, as well as removing redundant ones. If you've a label suggestion for a post, recommend it in the comments - if you've a question as to why something was labeled the way it was, ask in the comments! Check out the sidebar for all the labels I'm using.

I've also gotten rid of any references to my actual name and cleaned up some posts that had too much jargon which made them hard to read.

Next step to organizing: have a "most important" posts sort of column, perhaps for the major labels, ala Female Misogynist's blog.

Video Games and the Suspension of Disbelief


First off, I've been rather stressed out lately. I haven't been writing here as much as I'd like to, probably because I am not in optimal condition to digest and interpret matters which I take rather seriously. Therefore, I'm going to take a break (even if for but a post) from major examinations of philosophy and society to talk about something that I usually derive great pleasure from: video games.

This is not a post that will attempt to establish that video games are art. I am no expert when it comes to art, and I am not the sort that could attempt to establish and support such a thesis. I have a pretty liberal idea of what constitutes "art" in any case, and my line of thinking is similar to this quote from Man on Fire: "A man can be an artist... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece." To me, video games can be art, there is an art to warfare ("The Art of War"), writing is an art form, and so on.

Generally, there is not nearly so much controversy when one asserts that writing/literature is art, and I am going to apply the idea of "suspension of disbelief" to a discussion about video games. I once fancied myself a writer and wanted to pursue being a novelist, so I understand more about the art of writing than I do about other art forms. I've also been playing video games for years and years, so combining ideas from both seems rather natural.

The main thesis is that once that suspension of disbelief is broken, a gamer stops playing a game - much like a reader would stop reading a book.

Initial Concerns - Interface

I believe it is fair to boil down the idea of "suspension of disbelief" in literature to the idea that the reader must buy into the writer's world, that even though the reader knows what's going on is fiction, they choose to suspend their disbelief and behave as though what they were reading was not fiction, to get into the mood. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, and it does not necessarily mean a writer need be overly concerned with realism or describing the mechanics of their fictional (and sometimes fantastic) universes; but if a reader will not suspend their disbelief, it is unlikely they will continue reading. Therefore, it's a critical concern. When it comes to a video game and for the purpose of my analysis, "suspension of disbelief" refers to the gamer's willingness to continue playing a video game despite objections the gamer may have to the various stages of game play - from interface, to mechanics, to immersion.

Video games are a unique medium with a unique interface. Generally, one needn't worry about interface concerns when it comes to writing - we are all very used to interfacing with books and the written word. Not many surprises there - black ink on white paper, read from left to right and top to bottom, usually in book form...you get the idea. With a video game, however, we don't interface this way, even though the ability to read may be crucial to enjoying the game. There are many other factors, and the interface may be a big enough hurdle that some people give up before they've even began playing (stereotypical example: old people).

I agree with a lot of what David Sirlin has to say about interface. Here's a quote from one of his interviews (responding to why he thinks designers make a lot of mistakes with interface):

I think there are many reasons that all contribute to that. One of them is that game designers like to think about system or story―big ideas. And that [interface] is not big ideas. It’s mundane and boring and not sexy to care about. And yet you can end up with this great story that’s written in children’s handwriting. It’s ridiculous. It’s that extra level of polish that we as an industry need to care about more.

Sometimes, however, bad interface choices are defended by fans of certain games, claiming that they add elements of "tension" or "excitement" to the game. One example is with Resident Evil 5, where you can't pause the game to manage your inventory and you only get a limited number of spaces. Fans claim this creates tension in a firefight. This is analogous to claiming that using an illegible or cryptic font style in a novel adds tension to a fight scene. Why would you ever think it is a good idea to make it harder to interface with your product? Stellar ideas are the ones that are easily accessed and still brilliant, not ones that are hidden away under layers of bad interface choices.

However, interface is certainly a matter of "suspension of disbelief." Different people have different tolerances when it comes to clunky interface design, and may choose to play a game with frustrating controls so long as the game has something else to offer - is lots of fun, deeply engaging, tells a great story, whatever the case may be. Having a good interface is never a bad thing, but having a poor interface isn't necessarily deal breaking either. It contributes overall to the suspension of disbelief, and interface ranks at different levels of importance for different gamers.

Intermediate Concerns - Mechanics

One of the earliest reasons, I would argue, that games ever caught on in the first place is that people found them to be a lot of fun. This is primarily due to game mechanics - a great game design that is executed well. This is a meaty subject that fuels a lot of thinking and debating, and is usually the major topic of concern for those who talk about "game design." You'll see Sirlin talk about mechanics all the time. Mechanics factor into suspension of disbelief insofar as one may give up playing a game if one does not like the mechanics of that game. Like interface, objections over mechanics may not yet be enough to break a gamer's suspension of disbelief - particularly in games that are more about immersion. This is more true of seasoned gamers than it is newbies, who may have bowed out already at the interface stage. (The analogy to literature holds true, still - an early reader, such as a middle schooler, is not going to want to read War and Peace, despite any literary merit it has. The early reader hasn't mastered the interface in the same way an adult reader may have - such as having a large enough vocabulary or long enough attention span - and may be more prone to appreciating style rather than substance.)

If I ever got into reviewing video games, I would forego the conventional wisdom that arbitrarily assigns scores to arbitrary facets of a game (look at any game review site and you'll likely find this breakdown: Graphics - 9, Sound - 8, Story - 7, Gameplay - 10, Tilt - 7 Overall 8...just for example) and instead focus solely on interface, mechanics and immersion. Assigning arbitrary scores here would not make much sense either, and I would talk merely about the things done correctly or incorrectly in each of these categories, perhaps suggesting how much time one could expect to spend with a game (while acknowledging that ten hours spent with one game may be more fulfilling than one hundred with another, for various reasons)...but I'm getting off topic.

Mechanics basically boils down to concern over whether or not the game is pleasurable to play. Is there enough challenge, and is the game challenging in a way that is fair or in a way that is cheap? If it is strategy focused, does it have depth and allow for creative use of game assets, or is it shallow and affords the player only canned strategies? If it's about action, is it fast and furious or light and, well, boring? Again, there are a ton of things that factor into game mechanics, and no game will ever have the perfect formula (I define the perfect formula as being one that succeeds so brilliantly you would never need to play any other game ever again - and furthermore, all people would agree that it is the perfect game). There is the possibility that you may find the perfect game for you, but I highly doubt it. I thought I had found such games, but I also found that after a significant investment of time, I eventually grew bored and turned to other games.

Certain genres of video games are designed to rely on mechanics more than are other video games. Examples would include action games, fighting games, or platforming games. People don't generally play these games because they tell a great story or otherwise immerse a player in a fantastic game world (escapism). People generally play these games because they are fun to play, because the game mechanics are smartly designed and satisfying to learn. Interface is usually important in primarily mechanical games, though not necessarily so - some interfaces are hard to learn initially but can be wielded with impunity after a certain amount of investment, at which point the mechanics can shine through. Likewise, immersive factors can be ignored - a game that initially looks or sounds 'ugly' will still attract a large audience if the mechanics are highly refined.

Advanced Concerns - Immersion

As games have evolved, so too have their reasons for being played. It is hard to call any 8-bit game a pleasure to visually behold, but nowadays, games can be very visually enticing. In about two decades, games went from the visuals offered in the first picture (left) to the visuals offered in the second (below, right). This is from the same series of video games (Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy XIII, for the non gaming audience - an in depth analysis tracking the growth of this series can be found here) depicting the same mechanics (a battle sequence). Even the first screenshot is worlds ahead of the earliest video games, especially in the same genre - some were purely text-based adventures akin to a "choose your own adventure" novel! Visuals are just one area where games have improved, however. Increased technology has allowed for better visuals, more realistic sounds and more memory (allowing for things like, initially, more text, and later, more video and audio data storage - all contributing factors to 'better stories'). The "old guard" of video game reviewers have understood that people like shiny things, and thus given consideration to the artistic and technical merits of graphics. They've considered the artistic and technical merits of a video game's sound-scape, and even discussed the artistic and technical merits of a game's story. No large game review outlet that I have seen has successfully weaved these seemingly disparate elements together into a single cohesive theory, however. I doubt very much that a person will play a game for very long that is merely very pretty but has no other merits, or merely sounds very good without any other merits, or has a great story without any other merits. The reason all of the things discussed in this paragraph matter is because they all contribute to a game's immersion.

For this discussion, however, a game's immersion is a high-level factor of consideration for a gamer's suspension of disbelief. It is possible that a gamer may play a game that is hard to control (poor interface), and not very fun (poor mechanics) if the game is superbly immersive. Some games get by on their immersion alone, offering convoluted or clunky interfaces and stale mechanics but satiating a gamer's desire to escape to another realm (see also: World of Warcraft).

To a certain extent, a game must pass a gamer's bare minimum for interface and mechanical checks - if an interface is simply too cumbersome or mechanics are simply too boring or disengaging, a gamer isn't going to stick around to get immersed - no matter how beautiful the graphics, how fitting the music or how wonderfully penned and executed the story. Furthermore, some gamers plain won't give a shit about the immersion at all! Then there are the types of gamers who may be able to forgive poor interface and poor mechanics, but who won't be able to be immersed in a game which is of a genre they dislike. For example, I think Braid is an amazingly well designed game, but if a gamer does not enjoy platforming or puzzle games, it is unlikely they will be able to play and appreciate Braid. (More on Braid later - Braid was originally going to be the subject of this post, but I thought a more general discussion of video games would serve me well here).


I am a fan of trying to communicate and explain things in ways that people can understand. The goal here was to communicate my thoughts on why people play games and why they may bow out of the process at various stages. It all starts with interface and whether or not a person will agree to play the game, basically. After that, the next hurdle is mechanical - is the game fun or otherwise enjoyable to play? If a game succeeds brilliantly on its mechanics alone, that may be enough to keep gamers coming back for more. If not, the game needs to be immersive - it needs to draw the gamer in and keep them coming back in order to be a part of a fully realized alternative game world.

I hope this was not a complete waste of time for either the non-gaming or gaming members of my reading audience. Expect a post on Braid next.

05 January 2010

It's all fun and games, until you break your nose

Yesterday, my nose was broken for the first time. Here's how it happened.


Cpl Whiskey was scheduled to run a martial arts course with the intention of training Marines who currently hold a Grey Belt in MCMAP up to Green Belt proficiency. At the end of this course, we were to test out with an actual Martial Arts Instructor to be awarded our new belts. I was part of this course along with about a dozen other Marines. Yesterday was the first day of training.

Cpl Whiskey had duty in the barracks, meaning he could not be there when we commenced at 0630. That being the case, Sgt Bravo was there instead. We started the day off with calisthenics - albeit in our camouflage uniform with boots and "flak" vests on (so not ideal running gear). After warming up with a half-mile jog, we did a circuit course of Sgt Bravo's design. We had cones set up to designate certain "stations," if you will. The cones were set up in a rectangular fashion, and I'd say the short sides were about 20 yards apart and the long sides about 40 yards apart. We started by sprinting the 40 yard length, then doing twenty push ups. We sprinted diagonally (so, slightly more than 40 yards) to another cone where we did 20 "4-count mountain climbers." (Mountain climbers are an exercise where you get into push up position, and alternate bringing your knees up to your elbows. Starting with your left leg, when your left knee comes up near your left elbow, that is 1 count. On the next count, you kick your left leg straight and cock your right leg up, so the right knee is near your right elbow. That's the 2nd count. On the third count, you kick your right leg and cock your left leg. On the fourth count, you kick your left leg and cock your right leg - that is one "4-count" mountain climber.) After the mountain climbers, we sprinted the 40 yards and did twenty more push ups, then sprinted the other diagonal and did another set of 20 4-count mountain climbers to complete the circuit.

We ran 4 circuits in total before getting a five minute break to catch our breath and get some water. (Note: Sgt Bravo did the circuits with us, in case anyone was wondering.) During this time, Sgt Bravo rearranged the cones into a tighter circular pattern (and added a few more cones). He explained the stations each cone represented and how we would move from station to station. We would move from the first station by low crawling ("belly on the deck" at all times), from the second station by high crawling (hands and knees), and the third station by bear crawling (hands and feet); then the cycle would repeat. Our first station exercise was 15 8-count body builders (1st count is to go from standing to crouching with your palms on the deck, 2nd count is to kick your legs behind you and be in push up position, 3rd count is to kick your legs out and have them spread wide, 4th count is to kick them back in to push up position, 5th count is to go down as when you are doing a push up, 6th count is to push back up, 7th count is to kick your legs back up so you're nearly in the crouching position from the 1st count, and the 8th count is to stand up). The second station was to do 15 4-count dying cockroaches (sit on the ground with your legs off the deck and your knees bent in to your chest. 1st count is to shoot your legs out, 2nd count is to bring them back to a bend, 3rd is to shoot them out, and 4th is to bring them back in). The third station was 15 "Marine Corps" push ups (Marine Corps push ups are simply push ups done on a 4 count, so 15 Marine Corps push ups is pretty much just 30 push ups). The fourth station was 15 air squats. The fifth station was 15 diamond push ups. The sixth station was 15 "scissor jacks" (an exercise where you perform a lunge, but instead of stepping each time, you jump into position each time). The seventh station was 15 "dive-bomber" push ups (a sort of push up that involves a snaking motion - hard to explain). The eigth station was 15 sit ups. Then we went back to the starting station and finished off with 15 more 8-count body builders.

After we completed this (all told we spent about an hour to do everything I wrote up) we went over to the gym. From here we reviewed martial arts techniques from the lowest level of proficiency - the Tan Belt. Things like stances, angles of movement, upper and lower body strikes, chokes, throws and takedowns. We did this for about two hours until Cpl Whiskey showed up. Once he showed up we reviewed a few more techniques until we put on boxing gloves and face protection and did some light sparring (body shots only). Each Marine sparred for 4 minutes (broken up into 2 minute rounds), and for those of you who've never been in a fight or anything like it, 2 minutes can feel like an awful long time. I took a couple of shots to the bladder I would describe as "less than fun" to receive. After the sparring we went back to reviewing more techniques and learned two maneuvers from the Green Belt syllabus (I'd already seen these moves before from another Green Belt course I'd been on - perhaps a story for another time).

How It Happened

After learning the new techniques and taking a break, Sgt Bravo informed us we were to do some ground sparring (sometimes called "grappling"). As always, proper safety protocols were in place - Marines would stay on their knees at all times, tap-out procedures applied, strikes were prohibited, no eye gouges or small joint manipulations (IE, don't grab another Marine's finger and try to tweak it to get them to submit). The format was to be "bull in the ring," meaning each Marine would take turns being in the middle of a circle and would have to face up to three opponents in 1-minute rounds apiece (so 3 minutes total of grappling). If the "bull" caused an opponent to submit, that opponent would become the new bull. If the opponent caused the bull to submit, time was paused while the fighters reset and then the match continued. I volunteered to go first.

I was outmatched in by my first two opponents - both being stronger and having better technique than me. Between the two of them I think I submitted three times. (Hey, it happens.) I had a few close calls where I nearly caused them to submit, but I wasn't able to sink the chokes in fully and they were able to muscle their way out of them. My third opponent was outmatched by me - had I taken him on "fresh" it would have been an easy fight. As it was, I was fairly tired from the previous two bouts and had reduced capacity to muscle him around.

At one point he had me in his "guard." What this means is, his back was on the ground and his legs were wrapped around my waist. Doing this allows you to control your opponent, since you can use your legs to bring him in close and you can also push him away if you want. There are techniques available from the guard that end in armbars or chokes as well. There are techniques to escape the guard, too. I used one such technique, which ends with me tossing my opponent using his leg so that he had his stomach on the ground and back exposed to me - a very "dangerous" situation for him. I was going to "move in for the kill" when, in a panic, my opponent twisted his body very quickly and accidentally struck me square in the nose with his elbow. Such a rapid twist of the body generates a lot of power and my nose was instantly shattered.


At the moment of impact, however, I just thought I'd taken "a good one." I was about to resume fighting when I noticed everything had stopped - my opponent wasn't struggling against me, there wasn't any conversation going on from the spectators. I touched my hand to my nose and looked at my hand, which was covered in blood. "Oh," I thought. "That explains it." I didn't really feel any pain but I excused myself to go to the restroom to take care of my nose and stop the bleeding. Cpl Whiskey was right behind me and asked me if I thought my nose was broken. "No," I replied. I'd never had a broken nose before but I'd imagined breaking it would be a lot more painful than what was going on right then.

I was losing a lot of blood. That, combined with the physical exertion of the day (4 hours, all said and done) and zero food intake for the day was quickly sapping me of energy. Cpl Whiskey told me to look in the mirror, as my nose was "definitely" broken (I didn't believe him). When I checked, my nose was like a diagonal line across my face instead of a vertical one. "Oh," I said. "I guess you're right." He asked if I had ever had a broken nose or popped one back into place before. "No," I replied. And then I took my hand and tried to pop it back into place. At the time, I noticed that my nose felt like it was in pieces, but the import of this observation escaped me until much later, when I thought back over the whole incident. I was more focused on trying to stop the bleeding.

After the bleeding calmed down (but did not stop completely), Cpl Whiskey took me to the medical clinic where eventually a commissioned officer saw me. He explained that my options were to try to reset the nose myself, have him attempt to, or go up to the hospital and have them see what they could do. I was more interested in immediate aid, since the longer it took to have the nose worked on, the more "set" it would be and likely the more painful it would be to try to reset it (or so I figured). So, the doctor stood behind me while I sat in a chair, and put my nose in a sort of vise grip between his palms. There was a lot of cracking and popping and squeemish grunts from the onlookers (Cpl Whiskey couldn't watch). We stood up to go inspect the results in a mirror, as he told me it wasn't quite straight. I investigated and agreed - it was now in a sort of ">" shape, almost like a lightning bolt. As he spoke to me, I began to white out - too much blood loss, not enough replenishment. I told him I needed to sit down.

He had me take a break for a few minutes and then he came in again and told me he could try again if I'd like. He said he hadn't gone full force, so I told him to do so. This time the adjustment was painful, and my nose began bleeding profusely like when it was first injured. I inspect in the mirror again and it's slightly better but still crooked. Satisfied that we had done all we could, I figured that was the end of my visit to the clinic and the best I could hope for regarding my nose. I mentally adapted to having the extra "character" in my face.

The doc ordered me up some opiate-derivative painkillers and also had my vitals taken and ordered x-rays to be done. He mandated I take 14 days of light duty - no more physical training for two weeks, basically - and also scheduled me for an appointment at the Naval Hospital north of my Camp on Wednesday (tomorrow). He explained that either they would drug me out of my mind, rebreak my nose and try to reset it again, or look into surgery.

Seems like an awful waste of taxpayer dollars for what basically amounts to cosmetic surgery, but oh well. Perhaps they're worried that leaving my nose as is will lead to long term breathing or sinus complications. I hope so. I'd hate to be receiving cosmetic surgery.


For those wondering, I did not get the rest of the day "off" from work. Not that I was able to accomplish much, drained of energy and drugged up on near-opiates as I was. I didn't even get to rest when I got home - we had "field day" which amounts to "clean your room to white-glove inspection standard" so I didn't get to go to sleep until about 10 PM (my adventurous day began around 6 AM). Today, I decided to forego the pain killers and deal with the headache and sensitivity so I could actually accomplish things at work.

Anecdotally, the MCMAP course was cancelled. This was less due to the fact that I was injured and more due to the fact that Cpl Whiskey and Sgt Bravo had never received approval to run such a course, as neither were Martial Arts Instructor (MAIs). MAIs are required for any sort of "combat simulation" activity, such as boxing, ground fighting, pugil stick bouts and so on. Non-MAIs with advanced belt levels (brown and beyond, like Cpl Whiskey and Sgt Bravo) can and are encouraged to lead "sustainment" training, which is basically review of the various techniques in MCMAP.

Furthermore, I was tickled during an e-mail conversation when someone tried to excuse possible slip-ups due to having too much coffee. I tried to excuse excessive abrasiveness due to receiving a gale-force elbow that shattered my nose and required three resets that still couldn't straighten it out. Sometimes I enjoy being contrary and rude.

Not equipped

I just found out the hard way that I am not equipped to handle so much disappointment so fast and so frequently. Blogger's replaced flesh and blood as my confidant, so it's the first and last to hear of such talk.

More substantive post on an entirely different topic incoming soon.

03 January 2010

Communication Loss - Loose Lips Sink Ships

There's an old saying in the military that "loose lips sink ships." This is a reference to operational security, in that gossiping to people carelessly about the location of your unit or your deployment plans could start a chain of gossip that eventually falls into enemy hands and compromises missions.

I think loose language can "sink ships" too, by which I mean to say that careless language can have catastrophic consequence. The catalyst for writing this post was the musings of one blogger who likened Plato and Socrates unto poets (actually, in her words, "Plato and Socrates WERE poets"), despite admitting to having never read either of them.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively minor misuse of language with little consequence. Sometimes it is fun to make metaphors and explore them, though the responsible thing to do would be to assert your metaphors as such, rather than as facts. (It is one thing to say that Plato and Socrates were poets, metaphorically speaking, and quite another to say that they were poets and leave it at that.) However, I believe this is representative of a modern tendency to expand the meanings of words with vagaries that bog everyone down with needless communication loss. Nuance and ambiguity have their applications and value in certain arenas (literature, poems, "art") but the increasing intrusions of such sensibilities into everyday language and more mundane pursuits (such as science, debate, and politics) is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.

I'll give an example to illustrate my point.


Imagine, if you will, a good natured, attractive and popular girl in high school who is genuinely kind to everyone. (Yes, this is a hypothetical situation.) She often tosses around the phrase "I love you" or any variation thereof ("love ya," "lots of love," so on and so forth). Suppose she sees a boy sitting by himself at lunch, and emboldened by her noble spirit, deigns to sit with him and have a chat, as she feels it is wrong for someone to eat lunch by themselves. Suppose also this boy is known to be something of a pariah, not the sort popular people should be seen with - this does not deter our young heroine. Once the lunch period breaks after a pleasant conversation that seems to have cheered the boy's mood considerably, she departs, finishing the conversation with her ritual employment of the "I love you" phrase. This creates a wellspring of emotion in the boy, who understands love as a very serious concept shared only by very important people. He tries to actively pursue this girl, perhaps coming off as creepy, and only after several months figures out that she did not mean the word "love" in the same way as he understood it, and winds up dejected and heartbroken as a result.

Who is at fault here? Should we be angry with the girl for her careless use of language, or should we attribute culpability to the boy who should have known better? Before we start playing the blame game, maybe it would be informative to look up the word "love" in a dictionary. I propose we use dictionary.com, as it is a freely available web dictionary which many people probably use to try and get a clearer sense of what a word means. Here's what dictionary.com has to say about love:

love  [luhv] Show IPA noun, verb, loved, lov⋅ing.
1. a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
2. a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
3. sexual passion or desire.
4. a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
5. (used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, love?
6. a love affair; an intensely amorous incident; amour.
7. sexual intercourse; copulation.
8. (initial capital letter) a personification of sexual affection, as Eros or Cupid.
9. affectionate concern for the well-being of others: the love of one's neighbor.
10. strong predilection, enthusiasm, or liking for anything: her love of books.
11. the object or thing so liked: The theater was her great love.
12. the benevolent affection of God for His creatures, or the reverent affection due from them to God.
13. Chiefly Tennis. a score of zero; nothing.
14. a word formerly used in communications to represent the letter L.

Clear as mud! There's obviously some non-sequitur definitions here, but there's also a lot of room for personal interpretation. Definitions 5, 9, and perhaps 2 might support the girl's interpretations and defend her from blame, whereas definitions 1, 4, and 6 lend themselves to the boy's interpretation. Moreover, the preponderance of definitions that deal with sexual matters lend credibility to an interpretation of "love" more serious than the one understood by the girl, giving more favor to the boy. But before we go around blaming people for the nasty feelings and disappointment the boy wound up with, let me change the scenario just a hair.


Imagine the scenario is exactly the same as before. The girl and boy still have all the same qualities, to include the girl's motivation for engaging the boy in conversation. Suppose now that the only difference in the situation is that, through the course of conversation, the girl feels a deep and profound emotional connection to the boy. She begins to see him in a new light, and she thinks that she might be falling for him. When the lunch bell rings and they have to part ways, she has only a small window of opportunity to express her epiphany, and she expresses to the boy "I love you." Later, the boy carefully considers the situation and perhaps even looks up the word "love" to help guide his actions. He knows that she is given to using the word "love" rather freely, and he is hesitant to emotionally invest himself in a prospect that seems likely to end in disappointment. He therefore concludes that she meant "love" in a less profound way (more like definition 9, say) - after all, she was probably just taking pity on him for sitting alone and was being a good Samaritan, love they neighbor and all that. The girl is anguished over the boy's seeming rejection and complete indifference to her profound expression of her deepest feelings and now feels similar levels of disappointment and dejection as our boy had felt in the previous scenario.


If you haven't figured it out yet, it's kind of a trick question. Neither the boy nor the girl is at fault nor responsible for the miscommunication and resultant emotional harm caused, in either scenario. Sure, perhaps we could chide them for not being "more clear" or not "elaborating" more, but life is rarely perfect and there are times where we only get one shot at phrasing something. Perhaps I could have concocted a more compelling situation to convince you of the "one-shot" angle, but that's ultimately irrelevant to my main point. My main point is that our language has become too vague, and there are, often, far too many different definitions for the same word. Simple math will tell you that as you increase the number of disparate definitions for the same word, you increase the odds that the speaker and listener of any conversation will have different operating definitions of that word.

What do I mean by operating definitions? I contend that people are not dictionaries, and they do not walk around carrying seven different definitions for the same word in their head - at least not for every single word that has multiple definitions. In general, it is more natural for a person to pick one definition and stick to it - though they may be aware to varying degrees of competing definitions. There may be cases where they are totally unaware of the different definitions a word has. In any case, the operating definition a person has is their assumed definition - the one they use when they either speak or hear the word.

In scenario 1, the girl's operating definition of the word "love" was, we'll say, definition/meaning 9 provided above. The boy's operating definition was, we'll say, definition/meaning 4. It is natural to assume, when conversing with another person, they understand the definitions of the words that we use - especially very common words, like "love." When the girl used her operating definition, she meant to convey meaning 4, and assumed that the boy received meaning 4. What actually happened was that the boy received meaning 9, because he had a different operating definition of the same word. Meaning 4 and meaning 9 are different enough that, at one point in time, they used to be separate words. Instead of saying love when we meant meaning 9, we might say something like "I like you" or "I care about you."

The only change in scenario 2 is that the operating definitions are reversed, more or less (to get real technical, the boy didn't have an operating definition, perhaps because he was cognizant of the disparate definitions available to the word love, and reasoned his way to definition 4). Sometimes we get the opportunity to work out miscommunication that results from different operating definitions of the same word - questions like "what do you mean by that?" provide an opportunity to clarify what's really going on in a conversation. But it is naive to assume that we always have this luxury, and especially in the high-pace arena of politics and public debate, rarely is time spent working out the definitions of important words under discussion. (See this post for an example of some slippery words. Other ones off the top of my head: communism, socialism, feminism, Marxism, universal health care... there's probably others, but I don't watch the news overmuch because I easily get peeved at careless use of language.) Miscommunication that would be relatively harmless in the private sphere suddenly becomes a matter of national import and grave concern.

Perhaps you think I am exaggerating? I think "feminism" more than proves my point. Most people have an operating definition of feminism as being a movement that is concerned chiefly with "equal rights for equal work," (operating definition A) but that is a far cry from what feminism actually is. Some critics, who are familiar with what feminism actually is (operating definition B), decry it. Their message is often dead on arrival, however, because most people assume that operating definition A is what is under assault when they hear the word "feminism." This doesn't even account for the slipperiness of operating definition A (any time I hear the word "equal" in the context of political discourse, I become wary) either.


I see two possible solutions. Perhaps this means I am stuck in a fallacious way of thinking (the false dilemma), who knows. In any case, the first option is to have all of the dictionaries of the world revised overnight to remove ambiguities from every definition, and to ensure that each and every word means only one thing. The second option would be to have the speaker of the word clarify before transmitting their message precisely what operation definition they are using. "I love you" becomes something like "I love you...by which I mean to say like a neighbor." Alternative options may exist on some kind of gradient between the two, and allowing for the listener to ask for clarification when possible.

I believe the most sensible and practical approach is to hold the speaker more accountable for misuse of language or vagaries. The speaker has more opportunity to clarify intent before speaking than the listener often has opportunity to clarify after something has been spoken. This is especially the case in one way communications - things like emails from your boss that you cannot respond to. In two way communication, things can be more efficient and productive if the speaker exercises caution and carefully considers what words are employed, clarifying murkiness as it comes up. For example: "I think that feminism - by which I mean the virulent brand promulgated by..."

Nobody can be perfect, and I know I am not. But we can all strive to be better speakers and be more mindful of what we say before we say it. Creating ambiguity and nuance is great when we're writing literature or poems.

But, as I hinted at when I started this post, we're not all poets. Intentionally inflating the definition of "poet" (for example) to include everyone (such as people who do not compose poetry) represents a behavior that is antithetical to the way I approach communication.

02 January 2010

Someone else always does it better.

See also, this analysis. This is the sort of thing I'd always hoped to write one day, but someone else has done it and probably better than I ever could. Bravo.

Is There Anything Good About Men?

So I took a break from doing serious reading or thinking for a while, distracting myself with a perfectly mindless video game (Torchlight - if you like Diablo style games, I recommend it!). But now it's time to return to the real world, I suppose.

Through a series of links, I eventually found myself reading Is There Anything Good About Men? by Dr. Roy F. Baumeister. As always, I would encourage you to go read the article yourself first and then read my two cents, but I can't control you and certainly won't attempt to.

He seems to reject, or at least minimize, the idea that one gender is "better" or "more capable" than the other gender in favor of a theory that asserts two things: men and women have different motivations (which manifest themselves in ways that confuse us into thinking men and women have different abilities) and men and women socialize differently.

According to Baumeister, women prefer intimate one-on-one social interactions, which he claims are vital for the continued existence of the species. Men, however, favor "shallower" and less personable group interactions. Men are more likely to be attracted to the impersonal group socialization of a corporate hierarchy, for instance. He has several examples that illustrate and flesh out these points.

The upshot of all of this is a rejection of the feminist conception of the world being organized as a patriarchy designed to oppress women (which Baumeister calls at one point a "conspiracy theory.") Instead, he says this (emphasis from original link retained):

Note that all those things I listed — literature, art, science, etc — are optional. Women were doing what was vital for the survival of the species. Without intimate care and nurturance, children won’t survive, and the group will die out. Women contributed the necessities of life. Men’s contributions were more optional, luxuries perhaps. But culture is a powerful engine of making life better. Across many generations, culture can create large amounts of wealth, knowledge, and power. Culture did this — but mainly in the men’s sphere.

Thus, the reason for the emergence of gender inequality may have little to do with men pushing women down in some dubious patriarchal conspiracy. Rather, it came from the fact that wealth, knowledge, and power were created in the men’s sphere. This is what pushed the men’s sphere ahead. Not oppression.

An undercurrent for his entire discourse is a fact he asserts early on - today's human population is descended from twice as many women as men. He discusses at length the implications of this - because women are more assured of reproductive success, for instance, they may have evolved to have more "safe" behaviors whereas men evolved to have more risky behaviors, and so on.

He gives an alternative interpretation of one of FM's favorite allegories (see mistake #5), which I found interesting if only because I recognized it before:

Throughout most of history and prehistory, giving birth was at the center of the women’s sphere, and men were totally excluded. Men were rarely or never present at childbirth, nor was the knowledge about birthing even shared with them. But not very long ago, men were finally allowed to get involved, and the men were able to figure out ways to make childbirth safer for both mother and baby. Think of it: the most quintessentially female activity, and yet the men were able to improve on it in ways the women had not discovered for thousands and thousands of years.

Let’s not overstate. The women had after all managed childbirth pretty well for all those centuries. The species had survived, which is the bottom line. The women had managed to get the essential job done. What the men added was, from the perspective of the group or species at least, optional, a bonus: some mothers and babies survived who would otherwise have died. Still, the improvements show some value coming from the male way of being social. Large networks can collect and accumulate information better than small ones, and so in a relatively short time the men were able to discover improvements that the women hadn’t been able to find. Again, it’s not that the men were smarter or more capable. It’s just that the women shared their knowledge individually, from mother to daughter, or from one midwife to another, and in the long run this could not accumulate and progress as effectively as in the larger groups of shallower relationships favored by men.

He hits on a lot of common ground and themes I've seen before (e.g., the phrase "women and children" in the context of reporting deaths in a newspaper literally means men are worth less than either of those two groups - building to the point that men are more expendable to society). Or another that has bugged me personally, in the past: "...there is still some sense that manhood must be earned. Every adult female is a woman and is entitled to respect as such, but many cultures withhold respect from the males until and unless the lads prove themselves."

Ultimately, it's all about getting laid:

The essence of how culture uses men depends on a basic social insecurity. This insecurity is in fact social, existential, and biological. Built into the male role is the danger of not being good enough to be accepted and respected and even the danger of not being able to do well enough to create offspring.

The basic social insecurity of manhood is stressful for the men, and it is hardly surprising that so many men crack up or do evil or heroic things or die younger than women. But that insecurity is useful and productive for the culture, the system.

Again, I’m not saying it’s right, or fair, or proper. But it has worked. The cultures that have succeeded have used this formula, and that is one reason that they have succeeded instead of their rivals.

After years of listening to, reading about and debating whether or not men and women have different biological abilities that determine their fate, it was, at the very least, a refreshing change of pace to read something that provided a seemingly cogent alternative. The problem is that it's from a professor of psychology (which isn't exactly yet a hard science - but that may change with time and increased understanding of the mechanics of the brain) and there wasn't any sources cited to investigate further.