Friday, December 25, 2009

The Longest Night

There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet there is no end of all his labor; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labor, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.

- Ecclesiastes 4:8, Skeptic's Annotated Bible

Today is Christmas Day. Normally, I'd have likely gone to the midnight mass held at the Richfield United Methodist Church, where a close friend and her family are members, but this year they are all overseas visiting the eldest daughter, who is herself spending the year studying abroad. Partly for this reason, and partly from curiosity, I decided that my Christmas service this year would be the Longest Night service at Aldersgate United Methodist, a church where I'd participated in a couple of shows for their Theater of the Spirit outreach ministry.

The first I'd heard of so-called 'Blue Christmas' programs was some years ago in the local alt-weekly the City Pages, which did a story on a concert specifically focusing on sad and contemplative music during the holiday season. Those organizing the concert acknowledged that some might find their efforts perverse -- why be sad during what for many is the happiest season of the year? -- yet they understood that the 'for many' in that phrase just passed means that there are some who don't find themselves feeling excited at the prospect of the Christmas and New Year's season. I thought the idea was both thoughtful and curious; after all, to some degree artists depend on the financial patronage of their audience, and while I could attest that there were definitely those who didn't find the thought of the holiday season exciting, I wondered if that audience could sustain such a program.

Years passed, and the underlying ethic of the 'Blue Christmas' concert began to spread within certain denominations: the Methodists and certain Lutheran denominations primarily. (Note: I don't think it's a coincidence that these denominations tend to be more liberal in their politics -- there is a connection, though not necessarily an absolute one, between liberalism and thoughtfulness of the troubles of others.)

The service at Aldersgate was the first such service they'd tried to host; talking with Pastor Aastuen after the service, I learned that she had heard of such services being held in other churches, and decided to host one at Aldersgate, at least in part, because of a surprising number of deaths among the aging parishoners in the previous year, thinking that a service targeted toward those in grief or despair might not just be well-received, but even be spiritually necessary for some of the remaining congregation.

From a pure attendence standpoint, the service might be judged disappointing if not a failure: when I arrived, the audience to that point consisted of me, four other Methodist pastors, and one pastor's husband. By the time the service began, there were twelve of us in the chapel, and the non-ordained outnumbered the ordained, thankfully.

Though I can't say I enjoyed the service (like a Requiem Mass or funeral service, a Longest Night service isn't intended to be enjoyable or entertaining, but cathartic), I did appreciate it, though I appreciated it more for the symbolism and mood than for the specific message. The mood was somber and restrained, as you'd expect of a service targeted at those who are not celebrating the season, and some of the symbolism was fairly profound; for example, in contract to most Christmas services I've attended, where a packed church raises their voices triumphantly, fulling the chapel with the strains of "Joy To The World" or "O, Come All Ye Faithful", our service sang "In the Bleak Midwinter" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", and though a few of us were not unaccomplished as singers, the simple fact that there were just twelve of us meant that we couldn't fill the space, and our mood was such that we didn't have the energy to do so. Instead, our voices were thin and trembling, perfectly fitting the thought of us being wounded or suffering and searching for, if not healing, then at least solace from our pain.

The one part of the service I didn't ultimately appreciate was the focus of the selected Scripture: the service used the traditional Gospel verses regarding the story of the birth of Christ, focusing on the humble surroundings and simply failing to mention the glorification of those surroundings later by the arrival of angels and Wise Men and such (since, of course, glorification would have been out of place for the mood of the service). It also mentioned Isaiah 40, which some might interpret as being fitting for the service (it begins, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.") but which, on reflection, I found to still be too optimistic. For instance, compare the following:

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; (Isaiah 40:4)

with a verse in an earlier book:

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit. That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered. (Ecclesiastes 1:14-15)

I suppose it's too much to ask even of a thoughtful church, but my hope was that the service wouldn't just focus on those who were sad for a reason, or mourning a specific loss, but also serve those who, like the Preacher, find life itself to be vanity, filled with frustration and toil with no obvious reward or even point.

That is, after all, part of what Longest Night is for some people: not just a reflection of the solstice, where sunlight is at a minimum and Seasonal Affective Disorder runs rampant, but a spiritual night, where hope cannot be found and the world is, at best, cloaked in shadow if not drenched in impenetrable darkness.

Perhaps it's too much to ask that a church, whose primary myth at this time of year is a story of glad tidings of great joy, find a way to reach out to those who can't see that light; to treat those people not as though they have some sort of temporary flaw or failure which time and faith will repair, but rather as people in need of actual comfort, companionship, and friendship, not just the promise of same in some ill-defined afterlife.

Perhaps we as humanity will one day find a way to love the unlovable, rather than mindlessly expect that God will take care of the problem once it no longer matters.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Blessed with Suck

1. Every form of strength covers one weakness and creates another, and therefore every form of strength is also a form of weakness and every weakness a strength.
- Bill James, from the 1983 Baseball Abstract, related in Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Generally, this is a blessing to a character that seems to cause nothing but trouble:
- "Blessed with Suck",

By any rational analysis, this past weekend was a really good weekend. On Friday, I ran a session of 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons for a group of friends who, at one point, seemed utterly uninterested in trying out 4th edition D&D. On Saturday, I won a reasonable amount of money playing in a nickel-ante poker game. On Sunday, I attended a Minnesota Vikings game where the home club won a comfortable 35-9 victory.

Then the sun goes down on Sunday evening, and the weekend's events replay themselves in my mind, and I'm reminded not just of Bill James's comments at the start of this essay, but the aphorism about success containing the seeds of failure in order to keep us humble. There are enough seeds for quite a harvest just in this one weekend:

- Friday night involved me creating a series of pre-generated characters. My intention was to put together an interesting, integrated group that would demonstrate the degree of teamwork that 4th edition D&D calls for in successful party composition and execution. Sadly, my own tendency toward procrastination meant that, by Friday morning, I'd only completed one of the five pre-gens, and barely worked out the roughest details of the three-encounter delve that would be the focus of the evening's entertainment. I thought we'd start by 8pm and be done by 10-10:30pm; instead, we started at 8:30pm and weren't done until well after midnight. The session went reasonably well, but by the time the evening was over, the main topic of conversation was how badly most of the pre-gen characters had been designed, which doesn't bode well for future game sessions.

- Saturday night was the most entertaining of all; I don't consider myself a card sharp by any means, and the game was more social than serious. Still, it's fun to win money -- the old adage about money won being twice as sweet as money earned seems just about right from where I'm sitting. Unfortunately, I offended at least one of my friends at the table with my insistence on an odd dealer's-choice game.

(If you're wondering how you can offend someone simply with a game of cards, let me explain with an example, which is not the specific example I encountered on Saturday: say you have a game where the value of wild cards changes frequently -- on one betting round 4s and 7s may be wild, but then the next round may see 3s and Js wild, and the final round before the lay-down may change yet again so that only 8s are wild, and that these changes are essentially unpredictable, save that they'll happen. Someone who prefers to understand how good their own hand is before betting and the likelihood that their own hand may win (or improve enough to win) before deciding to stay in is going to find this kind of game frustrating unless they're also the kind of person who likes juggling multiple sets of probabilities in their head at the same time -- what cards are likeliest to become wild, what are the odd my hand will improve by that change, etc. Someone who just wants to play cards and not feel stupid for betting a ton of money on a hand that becomes worthless just before the lay-down isn't going to appreciate your tour-de-force of rapidly shifting wild cards.)

I don't think I've necessarily lost a friendship through my poker choices on Saturday, but money, even for low stakes (Henry Kissinger would say especially for low stakes), can be a real stickler when it comes to feelings between people. I've apologized, but I'm not sure that'll be enough.

- On Sunday, just the process of getting someone to use the second ticket I'd purchased was like pulling teeth. At first, I thought it'd be a great chance to spend time with an attractive woman, and even had more than one in mind to ask (in order, of course) - none were interested. I then asked other friends who I knew had an interest in football; each one either was uninterested in the game or had some other event going on that they decided should take precedence. I did eventually find someone to take the ticket, but the experience of having so many people, for their own reasons, say that they weren't interested in attending a football game with me started me off on the wrong foot to begin with.

Next, though I'm firmly a bandwagon fan these days, I still have little patience discussing games with people who aren't willing to take even a little time to think about what they're saying. Case in point: third down, five yards to go, coach calls for a running play. Person next to me complains that it's stupid to call a run on third and five.

Well, person, when you have one of the top running backs in the league, who in a good season averages about five yards a carry, that's not so stupid right on its face. Then add in the idea that, if you give the opponent the information that you'll always pass on third and five, that changes the kinds of defenses you'll see, so that passing will become significantly more difficult. You run, even in those situations where you might not make it, to keep the defense honest -- because running now keeps your options open for later. (And 'later' even means games against other opponents, since every NFL game is extensively taped and reviewed by upcoming opponents -- if you establish a pattern of always passing on third and five, every team in the league gets the benefit of that information for when they play you.)

So start with, what for a normal person would be a great weekend, salt in my own personal quirks, and you end up with a string of disappointed and/or offended people, including in an odd way, myself. And the really screwed up part of this whole thing? Even I can see that this reaction to the weekend, skewed and potentially unhealthy as it is, is more interesting and even possibly valuable than simply recounting, "Hey, I ran a game on Friday, won at poker on Saturday, and saw the Vikes kick ass on Sunday. Awesome!"

If you disagree, may I respectfully direct you to the title of this blog?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The March of Progress

Been taking some time this evening to burn some episodes from the "Star Trek Alternate Realities Collective" to disk so that I can carry them around in my iPhone. (Thanks, Andy, for the advice in iPhone Fully Loaded!)

It's a depressing sign of progress that I can generally identify the episodes in Handbrake even though the order of the episodes on the disk doesn't actually match the order listed on the DVDs or on the cover art, and Handbrake doesn't actually give an episode name, just a track number and file length in minutes and seconds.

If the episode is in excess of 50 minutes in running time, it's an original series episode (ST:TOS).

If the episode is just over 45 minutes in running time, it's a Next Generation episode (ST:TNG).

If the episode is just under 44 minutes in running time, it's either a Deep Space Nine (ST:DS9) or Voyager episode (ST:VOY).

If the episode is under 43 minutes in running time, it's an Enterprise episode (ST:ENT).

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, anything that isn't running time is advertising time, at least during the original broadcast of the episodes in question. Sadly, it's not just a broadcast TV problem: episodes of my favorite series at the moment, Leverage, run about 43 minutes (for a one-hour broadcast time slot) or 57 minutes (for a two-hour broadcast time slot).

One more among the many good reasons to skip the broadcast and just go straight for the DVD. If the networks can only stay in business by shrinking the content we actually want to watch, then they should go away and be replaced by something that meets viewers' needs better.


Anger helped make Larry Johnson into a breathtakingly good NFL running back. Anger helped make him famous and successful and rich. Anger helped him fulfill the dreams he had been having since he was a child.

The trouble is, at some point, all those other things faded away. He’s not a breathtakingly good running back now. He’s not especially famous, not particularly successful, and being rich — assuming he has been smart with his money — isn’t enough. This is the the sad thing about Larry Johnson. All he’s left with is the anger.

- Joe Posnanski, in this blog post

[W]e are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit...

- Will Durant, "The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the World's Greatest Philosophers"

You may recall the second of the quotes above being attributed to Aristotle; I know I thought he wrote it, but it turns out that's not true. There's probably an essay in that observation alone, but that's not what I came out here to talk about.

Durant is basically summarizing Aristotle's position on how people acquire virtue, so in a sense the idea is still Aristotle's even if the quote isn't. Still, there's reason to believe that Aristotle, on this topic, was just writing what he thought was obvious, and as a result just blowing smoke out his ass.

On the other hand, Aristotle might actually have something here, but it's sportswriters who are blowing smoke. (Posnanski is a sportswriter, though one of my favorites -- another note to self: update the Five Favorites essay from over three years ago.) The idea that Larry Johnson might believe that his anger is part of what makes him an outstanding athlete, despite not having shown himself to be an outstanding athlete in his chosen field for a few years now, doesn't mean that anger is actually what make Johnson good at football. Being young, being hungry to prove something to the world, having outstanding teammates helping you: all of these things pretty clearly also have something to do with Johnson's success, even if these things are far less under Johnson's direct control.

And that, I think, is where we hit the fundamental fallacy of Aristotle's sentiment (and Durant's words): the illusion of control.

We want to believe that we are responsible for our successes; that we succeed because we are good people doing good things. Though many of us will accept that chance and other factors outside of their personal control may have influenced a given successful outcome, most of us will still assert that, even in the absence of those factors, we would still have succeeded 'in the end', just that the additional factors meant that we had to spend less time and effort on the attempt.

In a case where the thing we personally had control over wasn't really all that significant, then we choose to develop habits that aren't helpful, and in fact can become harmful. When the habit we learned no longer appears useful, frustration develops. Just look at Larry Johnson -- injuries have stolen away some of his athletic ability, and ownership decisions and age have taken his most talented teammates away and not replaced them with equally talented counterparts -- yet Johnson, who appears to believe that his anger was an integral part of his success as a runner (and why wouldn't he believe that, when he was repeatedly told by sportswriters that they believe it themselves?) now has nothing but his anger to fend off a growing sense of frustration.

It behooves each of us, if we are considered successful, to look very closely at the factors that went into that success and not assume that the factor we have control over was the main determinant of that success. Doing so will leave us, years later, with a habit -- but not a habit of excellence, just a habit of self-delusion.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Things That Are Not Rights

- You do not have a right not to be upset or disturbed by troubling news.

- You do not have a right to not be inconvenienced.

- You do not have a right to be trusted or presumed honest.

- You do not have a right to be believed at face value.

- You do not have a right to question someone else's beliefs when you've never questioned your own.

- Unless you invented the game, you do not have the right to make up your own rules.

- You do not have the right to never be presented with information or situations that challenge your beliefs or intellect.

- You do not have the right to act as though an untested belief was true.

- You do not have the right to tell someone how to pronounce his name, nor how to spell her child's name.

- You do not have the right to tell an adult not to do something because 'your parents won't like it'.

- You do not have the right to tell a child that isn't related to you that either doing or not doing something is 'bad' or makes them a 'bad person'. (And even if the child is related, unless it's yours, you should consider still following this advice.)

- You do not have the right to give advice to people whose advice you do not consider.

- You do not have the right to a full explanation of why someone doesn't like you.

- You do not have the right to be automatically treated as though you know what the fuck you're talking about.

- Unless you made the rules, you do not have the right to interpret them. (Depending on the situation, however, you may have the privilege of interpreting them, but don't mistake this for being presumed correct in your interpretation.)

- If you do something in public, you do not have the right to avoid criticism for it.

- No matter how many nice things you've done in your life, you do not have the right to be assumed to be a nice person.

- You do not have the right to treat someone with scorn or anger when the same request can be made politely.

- You do not have the right to blow off requests and expect that people will still treat you politely.

- You do not have the right to assert someone's belief is wrong without proof of your assertion.

- You do not have the right to present an easily falsifiable belief as true, no matter how good it makes you feel.

- You do not have the right to compliment someone if you are aware that person does not wish a compliment.

- You do not have the right to speak one way about someone when she is present, another way when she is absent, and expect to be thought morally or ethically consistent.

- Unless you are the person who paid for the entire pizza, you do not have a right to the last slice.

- You do not have a right to say offensive things and still be thought wise.

- You do not have the right to see anyone's tattoo unless you also have the right to forbid that person from getting a tattoo. The same is true of toenail polish, undergarments, and sexual partners.

- You do not have the right to make decisions you know nothing about.

- You do not have the right to reduce your portion of the bill because you think someone else's tip is too large.

- You do not have the right to get something for nothing.

- You do not have the right to avoid the consequences of your actions.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Nobel Hall of Fame

Since U.S. President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, political organizations all over the United States, and to a lesser degree the world, have been abuzz with the news. Much of the conversation in the U.S. has revolved around the question of whether or not Obama 'deserved' to win the award.

It turns out that this is one of those times in life where being a sports fan actually helps you with a non-sports-related life situation: having listened to arguments, rants, and out-and-out denunciations of various sports award winners over the years, I can say with confidence that the people discussing whether or not Obama deserves the Peace Prize are missing the point: being deserving has very little to do with receiving an award.

Consider a less significant award, such as baseball's Cy Young award or college football's Heisman Trophy. One of a number of different scenarios may apply:

- There may be one candidate who achieves general acceptance that he should win the award. In almost every case, this candidate does end up winning the award without controversy. If for some reason this candidate does not win the award, controversy inevitably results.

- There may be two or more candidates seen as equally qualified to win the award. One of these candidates will generally win the award, but if there are only two such candidates, and their support breaks nearly down the center of the population doing the evaluation for the award, the award may be awarded to 'co-winners' for that given period, usually to avoid controversy, which otherwise almost always occurs.

- There may be no candidates seen as obviously qualified to win the award, yet the award must still be given out. Someone will be chosen, for reasons which either may be revealed or may be left to the imagination, and there will inevitably be controversy over which candidate was chosen and why.

Even in the first scenario above, where there's a single candidate that nearly everyone agrees should win the award, it's not a question of that candidate 'deserving' to win (though supporters will often use the word when describing the candidate and the award). To borrow a concept from Bill James (discussing the baseball Hall of Fame), awards exist to honor the individuals thus awarded. To say that someone deserves a specific honor is a very difficult thing, especially given that most awards are pretty vague as to what it is they are honoring. (For example, nearly every annual sports award is given to the 'best' practitioner of a given sport in that year, usually without defining what 'best' is supposed to mean. How can you say someone 'deserves' to be honored as the best player of a given sport when you can't really even say what is meant to say that a given player is the best?)

Given this, I find that getting all worked up over whether or not Obama 'deserves' the Nobel Peace Prize is about as sensible as getting worked up over whether or not Joe Mauer 'deserves' the American League MVP award; whether or not someone wins an award doesn't change what they've done or what their goals are. Johan Santana was no less admired as a starting pitcher for not being awarded the 2005 American League Cy Young award, nor did winning the Peace Prize in 2002 mean that Jimmy Carter's diplomatic work in Haiti was considered more significant than the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt.

Whether or not someone 'deserves' an award is irrelevant. If you agree, celebrate. If you disagree, congratulate the winner and then bitch to your friends. Preferably in private.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Do It Yourself Reification

I spent some time a few years back talking about my postmodernist worldview, and within that discussion talked a bit about reification: the creation of human items (physical, psychological, philosophical) and then the subsequent 'forgetting' that those items were made by humans. It's a weird game, but it's played almost constantly in our culture, though it's hard sometimes to tell whether or not the people doing the reification are actually forgetting the human-derived nature of their sacred cows, or they're simply ignoring it in the hopes that their ideas will seem more powerful if they're thought to be eternal verities handed down by the ages.

One interesting thing to note, though: people on the American political right wing tend to be either really bad (or really good, depending on how you define it) at reifying their belief systems.

Case in point: small-government conservatives and the 'intent of the Founders'. It's a little bit of a stretch to put folks as relatively disparate as Ron Paul, Grover Norquist, and Bill O'Reilly into a bucket as 'small government conservatives', though they do seem to share that general belief. They also seem to share a belief that such an opinion is not only Constitutional (Paul in particular is very keen on arguing that many government programs of the 20th and 21st centuries are unconstitutional, based on little more than his understanding of the Founding Fathers), but opposed to the very spirit of the men who banded together to craft that founding document. The Constitution, to their minds, is a small-government manifesto.

Except that, if you actually look at early American history following the Revolutionary War, you find that this isn't strictly true. Yes, the men who gathered in Philadelphia for the so-called Constitutional Convention were leery of unbridled executive power, having just fought a war to free themselves from the perceived oppression of the British crown, but the former colonies at the time were operating under an organizing document called the Articles of Confederation, in which ultimate power was vested in the governments of the various colonies-turned-states, and the whole reason the gathering was taking place was because of the realization that a confederation of states simply wasn't working as a system of interstate governance.

Granted, not everyone at the Convention was as gung-ho about federalism as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the two men who were the primary authors of the Federalist Papers that both helped define and promote the Constitution during its ratification period, but the people who showed up in Philadelphia recognized that the Articles of Confederation weren't working, became convinced that something else was needed to balance powers between the states, and realized that the best tool to balance states against one another was a plenary federal power.

Those who disagreed? They stayed away. The state of Rhode Island, afraid that the Constitutional Convention would abrogate their powers, boycotted both the convention and refused to ratify the subsequent Constiution. One could make a joke about the size and stature of Rhode Island as an independent state, but...

One notable absentee was Patrick Henry, he of the famous 'if this be treason, make the most of it' line (though ironically, at the time that comment was made, Henry apologized for it). Henry was one of the most well-known anti-federalists (only fellow Virginian anti-federalist Thomas Jefferson would likely be considered more famous at the time); he both agitated against the ratification of the Constitution and then, once it became obvious that the Constitution would pass, lobbied to add the Bill of Rights as the original Constitutional amendments. However, by the end of the 18th century, Henry's anti-federalist opinions had changed (it is said primarily due to the excesses of the French Revolution), and he even spoke out against Jefferson's Kentucky Resolutions which specifically sought to limit the scope of federal Congressional power as defined by the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson is likely the most famous anti-federalist in the early American political landscape, writing both the Declaration of Independence from England and the aforementioned Kentucky Resolutions. His absence from the Constitutional Convention, though, was not so much a philosophical difference with the aims of the convention (he was good friends with Madison, who would keep Jefferson updated of the proceedings by post) as because he was actually in France serving as American ambassador. While Jefferson continued to write and argue against what he considered to be liberties taken on behalf of federal power (even going so far as to repeal federal taxes once elected President in 1801), he also exercised significant federal power himself, working with Congress to purchase the Louisiana Territory from France and passing the Embargo Act of 1807 in the hopes of convincing Britain to respect American naval power. From this, one could argue that all anti-federalists are actually federalists when the chips are down.

In short, very few men involved in the drafting of the Constitution were interested in creating a crippled federal government, and the few who fought against the expanded federal role at the time either recanted or made use of those powers when convenient. Hardly the shining example of small government heroics I'd have expected given the right's reification of the Founders in general, and Jefferson in particular.

Another somewhat bizarre example of the right's seeming need to invent things and forget that they invented them can be seen at the somewhat awkwardly named wiki site Conservapedia: The Conservative Bible Project. Everything you really need to know about the project can be summed up in its first sentence:

Liberal bias has become the single biggest distortion in modern Bible translations.

To which I reply: huh?

The project seems to be deriving its impetus as an alternate translation to the King James Version of the Bible, one of the most oft-printed texts in human history. Their ideas on what needs to be changed, though, seem a bit off.

Let's begin with their first beef with the 'liberal translations' of the Bible (by which I infer that they're talking about texts like the New American Standard edition and the New International Version; to avoid these problems, I'll use the online Skeptic's Annotated Bible where I don't have access to someone's direct translation): that 'liberals' have added words to or mistranslated words in the Bible to support their political agenda. The specific example they give is Luke 23:34, where Jesus says, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," as the soldiers crucifying him throw dice to determine who got to keep his discarded clothing. Conservapedia suggests that the 'liberal' modification of this line to 'they don't know what they are doing' is a corruption of the original. Oddly, in his book "Misquoting Jesus", Bart D. Ehrman, graduate of the Moody Bible College and Wheaton College (the latter being the alma mater of Billy Graham) and head of the department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, translates the original text of the Gospel of Luke exactly in this way: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (p.143) Perhaps the chair of religious studies at Chapel Hill is too liberal even for Conservapedia?

Ironically, Conservapedia glosses over some much more historically and litergically significant differences in Luke. One of them is in Luke 24:12, where after Mary Magdalene and other women have gone to Jesus's tomb to pay their respects and have been frightened by the presence of an angel, it is Peter who discovers that Jesus is no longer physically in the grave: "But Peter, rising up, ran to the tomb, and stooping down he saw the linen cloths alone, and he returned home marvelling at what had happened." Ehrman notes that this text is stylistically different from the rest of Luke's Gospel, and thus there is reason to believe that the verse is not Luke's but that of an orthodox scribe added to Luke's Gospel in order to do two things:

  1. To emphasize that Jesus had a physical body (necessary in order to fight the early Marcionite heresy that said that Jesus did not suffer, because he was not made of physical flesh), and
  2. To put the glory of the discovery of Jesus's resurrection into a man's (Peter's) rather than a woman's (Mary Magdalene's) hand.

Of course, the Conservative Bible Project has no doctrinal or political issue with either of these motives, so the truly suspect verse in Luke may be allowed to remain, while a perfectly valid translation of a different verse is recommended to be modified to support a specific political viewpoint. It's going to get truly interesting when the volunteer Conservapedia translators get to places where the Gospels actually contradict one another: the Passion according to Mark is very different from the Passion according to John, for example, particularly in their willingness to show Jesus as human (Mark has numerous examples of Jesus angry or frightened, where John's Gospel has Jesus as an almost cosmically detached emotional figure, becoming anguished only at the very end).

I could go on, but anyone reading this who hadn't already made up his mind to support these two conservative examples of making shit up and then pretending that they totally didn't make that shit up has probably already gotten the point by now. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The FARKLE Guide to Life

Recently, I've discovered a new Facebook time-waster: FARKLE. It's a dice game where you try to throw as high a score as possible in ten sets of 'tosses'*. Playing it pretty seriously over the past few days has given me an odd insight into peoples' approaches to life in general.

* - There's a 'classic mode' where you play against an opponent and the object is to get the highest total score in ten sets of opposed rolls, but I haven't played that version yet, because you have to earn 'chips' to unlock that game mode, and I'm not even halfway to earning enough chips.

First, the basics. FARKLE is a game where you start with six dice and throw them all at the same time. You score points based on the combinations of numbers that come up; for instance, a '1' scores 100 points, a '5' scores 50 points, and three of a kind scores 100 times the number on the triplet (unless it's trip '1's, in which case it scores 1000 points). There are a few other scoring combinations, but the most common way to score is to throw a '1' or a '5'. This is important, because you set aside the dice that score** and continue to roll the dice that didn't score until one of two things happens:

1. You make a roll that doesn't score any points; this is a FARKLE and ends your set of rolls without allowing you to score any points you previously may have rolled.

2. You choose to 'bank' the current number of points you've rolled, which ends your set of rolls and allows you to score the number of points you've rolled thus far and then begin a new set of rolls with the full set of six dice. You can only do this, however, if your current number of points rolled is 300 or more; otherwise you are required to roll again.

** - You technically don't have to set aside a die that would count as a scoring die, but you also don't get the score on that die if you don't set it aside. I haven't yet figured out a situation where you'd deliberately choose not to set aside a scoring die.

Here's an example, in case that explanation doesn't make sense:

You roll the six dice and get a result of '1', '2', '2', '3', '5', and '6'. The '1' scores 100 points, so it's set aside, while the '5' scores 50 points and it is also set aside. Since you have only 150 points, you don't have enough to bank yet, so you pick up the other four dice and re-roll them. Your second roll comes up '1', '4', '4', and '6'. You score another 100 points for the next '1', set it aside, and are again forced to re-roll, since you now have just 250 points. Your next roll is '2', '3', and '6'. Since this doesn't score, you've just FARKLEd and all 250 points you've rolled this turn are thrown out. You then begin again with a new set of rolls (set 2, in this case) starting with all six dice again.

One other wrinkle; if you score on the dice often enough so that all six dice are set aside before you bank or FARKLE, you then get to start over with all six dice again, only this time you keep your previous points. So if your first roll is '1', '2', '3', '4', '5', and '6' (a special called a 'straight', worth 1500 points), you get to keep the points and start with six dice again.

Another wrinkle, this time strictly for the Facebook version of the game: the game tracks the scores of everyone on your friends list who's also played, and can display the top ten ranked scores of both you and your friends over the past week, the past month, and over the lifetime of the game, giving special emphasis to the top three scores in each grouping. If you're competitive, your goal is to get the top score, or at least get into the top 3.

The interesting thing about this game to me is the way that, well...let me explain with another example. Let's call this player Eric.***

*** - Though I have two friends whose names sound like 'Eric', neither actually spells his name like that; this means that either the people involved won't think they are being used as the example (because I didn't spell his name correctly), or, if one does ask if this example was supposed to represent him, allows me to claim that I was using the other as the example. Win-win!

Eric is what might be called 'risk-averse'. Each time he reaches 300 or more points, he banks his result. It's extremely unlikely to roll a FARKLE off the initial six dice (though it does happen occasionally), and although it sometimes happens that a FARKLE occurs before he's reached his 300 point minimum, it doesn't happen often enough to prevent Eric from consistently scoring more than 2000 points in a game. However, likewise, the 'great' rolls, while they do sometimes happen off the initial roll, don't happen consistently enough off of early rolls to ensure really high scores, thus Eric seldom scores higher than 4000 points.

Now, consistently scoring 2000-4000 points might be a great way to consistently win games in FARKLE Classic, where you're going up against a live opponent. But in the 'shoot for the high score' version of FARKLE, it's a good way to stay stuck at the bottom of the top 10 list, if indeed you even manage to get on.

My own strategy has evolved over the past few days so that I occasionally make plays that Eric, if he were looking over my shoulder, would shake his head about and wonder why I was being so foolhardy. A great example is rolling the sixth and final die when it's the only die remaining to be rolled with a score of 350-500 points sitting in the bucket waiting to be banked. Since the only way to score a single die is to roll a '1' or '5', this means that two-thirds of the time, I'll end up FARKLing and scoring nothing instead of getting the 350-500 points I could have banked. If the point of the game is to score points, Eric would wonder, why am I trusting to luck and ending up throwing away these sure-fire points?

There are two possible answers to this question: the FARKLE-specific reason, and the more general philosophical reason.

The FARKLE-specific reason is that, if I want to try to score 8000 or more points in a single game, I'm not going to manage to pull it off without luck -- if I FARKLE out at 350, I wasn't likely to break 8000 that game anyway, but if I get lucky and roll a '5', bumping my score to 400 and allowing me a new set of throws, I might get an additional score before banking that gets me a lot closer to my goal. (There's been at least one occasion where I threw a lucky '5', then tossed a straight with my very next roll, resulting in a net boost of over 1500 points on that turn.) Yes, I'll fail more often than I succeed, and sometimes even if I do succeed, the additional points aren't big enough to get me to my goal anyway, but the point is that I already know that 350 points by themselves aren't going to be enough to get me where I want to go, so I throw the dice and hope for the best (knowing as well that I can always start a new game).

The more philosophic reason is that, while you can easily total up the points you lost by taking a chance and losing, you can't easily, if at all, total up the points you passed up on by playing it safe and banking what you currently have. In that sense, it's always going to look 'smarter' to play it safe rather than take a risk. But is it really? Sure, you can do the math showing that, in the long run, you'll give up at least as many points if not more by risking low-probability throws than by playing it save, but on the other hand all I need is one really lucky game to post my score as the #1 lifetime score among all my FARKLE friends, and that score doesn't go away. Sometimes, you only need to succeed once to make all the losses irrelevant, and likewise playing it safe 'for the long term' doesn't really help because the scale on which you're being judged doesn't care what your overall score was, just your best score.

Take a chance and let yourself be vulnerable to someone; maybe you'll end up hurt and miserable, but one success may be all it takes to make you happy for the rest of your life. Spend a dollar or two on lottery tickets when the prize gets high enough to notice; odds are you'll never see anything like the amount of money you spend over the years you play, but one lucky ticket and none of that matters anymore. Now I'll be the first to admit that it's easier to hold faith in luck when it works in the latter rather than the former fashion; spending two extra dollars in a week almost never deprives you of something you need, while having your heart shattered (yet again) feels like something you simply can't do over and over without losing your mind. The principle is the same in either case, though; just because you can't see or feel the prize doesn't mean that it's impossible for you ever to reach it. Yes, you may never actually get there, so be ready for that, but if you use that as an excuse to stop trying, then you're guaranteed never to get there.

I'll also be the first to admit that I haven't always lived up to this philosophy; as I noted, it's sometimes pretty hard to hold to faith when you feel broken by fate. I'd like to think, though, that it's a lesson that I stay as open to as possible, and occasionally even re-discover after a long, dull routine of playing it safe.

After all, there are only two ways to tell when you're done rolling the dice: either the dice themselves tell you to stop, or you put them aside and stop yourself.


Shortly after posting this, I rolled my best-ever score in FARKLE: 10,600 points. It's a bit behind the highest I've ever seen (among my FARKLE-friends, that score ranks sixth all-time, with the second-highest at 11,850 and highest at 13,100), but it's pretty good.

To quantify what I mean about 'it's harder to realize how many points you may have given up by stopping', I thought I'd track one game here to demonstrate:

  1. Roll to 250, then FARKLE out. No choice here. (Net +0)
  2. Roll to 700 with one die remaining. Take the chance and get a '1'. Then roll trip '1's on the next roll. Bank. (Net +1100)
  3. Roll to 350 with one die left. FARKLE out. (Net +750)
  4. Roll to 550 with three dice left. FARKLE out. (Net +200)
  5. Roll trip '5's on the first roll. Add two '1's on the second. FARKLE out. (Net -1200, since the game imposes a 500 point penalty for three consecutive FARKLES.)
  6. Roll to 600, then FARKLE out. (Net -1800)
  7. Roll three pairs on first roll, then on second roll, up to 850. Roll up to 950. Bank. (Net -1700)
  8. Roll straight on first roll, then start second roll with a pair of '1's and a pair of '5's for a total of 1800. Bank. (Net -1700)
  9. Roll trip '6's and a '1' for 700. FARKLE out. (Net -2400)
  10. Roll trip '4's and a pair of '5's for 500. FARKLE out. (Net -2900)

Final score = 4,050

On one hand, this looks like a good reason not to push too hard -- had I banked at every logical opportunity, I'd have had a final score of 6,950 instead of 4,050. On the other hand, 6,950 is the lowest score among my FARKLE friends who've played this week, and wouldn't even crack the top 10 all-time. You've got to have a game that's capable of being pushed to win a high score; even pushing for good luck won't help you if there's no luck to be had in that game. If there is luck, though, and you don't push for it, you won't get it, either.

One thing I'll add to my method, though -- for FARKLE, be less aggressive about pushing luck where there's a chance for a third FARKLE, since the penalty helps negate whatever luck you've already had. Not sure how that translates to a general life lesson, though.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Note To Future Self #6

The next time someone goes on a rant about the usage of 'ironic' in Alanis Morrissette's song "Ironic", complain about how pop culture also claims that every person in Muskogee, Oklahoma is an upstanding citizen who regularly attends church and has never used illicit drugs or had sex outside of marriage.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Is It Opposite Day Yet?

In the midst of 'new book mania', and enjoying an autobiography/tell-some (but not all) book about the fashion industry by plus-size model Crystal Renn. The book, entitled "Hungry", is an interesting study in contrasts; so much so that it would be borderline irresponsible of me to try to summarize it in some kind of 'review' format right now, before I've had a chance to really digest (pardon the pun) the contents.

Part of my interest in this book comes from the contrast between the way Renn describes both her childhood and her life in the industry with something of an odd yet honorable double-standard: She'll assiduously find good things to say about others, or if she must say something bad, she'll go out of her way either to avoid personally identifying the person she has to bad mouth, finding compensatory values that present that person as more than just a black-hatted 'bad guy', or both (even her biological mother, who gets the worst of this treatment, comes off as sympathetic by the time Renn and her grandmother go to New York to kick off her modeling career). But when it comes to herself, there's little she won't cop to -- she describes her mild OCD as a child which blossoms into full-fledged anorexia when 'discovered' by a modeling scout and told she has to lose dozens of pounds before he'll take a chance on her, she all but paints herself as an exercise-obsessed zombie for the first few years of her modeling life in New York City, and she admits, even after her awakening and acceptance of her body type, being drawn to the odd and the borderline deviant, to the point where I'm expecting that any turn of the page might reveal that Renn has decided to become the 21st century's Bettie Page. She comes across as fiercely honest, at least about her own struggles and flaws, and because of this it's hard not to root for her now that her life seems to have taken a turn for the better and she's getting both positive publicity and personal satisfaction out of her new life choices.

The most amazing part of the book, to me, wasn't the personal revelations or the happily-ever-after ending which sees Renn as, apparently, the first plus-size 'editorial' model (a model who makes art, as opposed to a 'commercial' model who only takes pictures to sell things); it was a lengthy section just before the halfway mark of the book, almost an aside from her narrative about starving herself into shape for her modeling career, where she takes on the concept of 'fat' being equal to 'unhealthy', doing so with a diligence toward relating evidence and following the implications of that evidence to seemingly logical if iconoclastic conclusions that I wondered if Renn hadn't somehow stumbled across Bill James at some point in her bookish youth. When I do decide to discuss the book in greater detail (assuming I get around to it), this section is going to get the lion's share of my attention.

Meanwhile, I thought it might be interesting to point out another double-standard; one that's probably ridiculously obvious, but one I couldn't get out of my head after reading how finally accepting her body's 'natural size' helped bring her entire life into clearer focus.

Renn explains that she's five-feet nine-inches in height, and fluctuates between one-hundred-sixty and one-hundred-seventy-five pounds in weight, depending on mood and other circumstances. This makes her 'plus size' in the modeling world, and while she says that she's neither the largest nor the smallest plus-size model working today, she's significantly larger than the 'straight size' models against whom she now competes for editorial work. In the world of editorial modeling, she's a giant, arguably in both senses. So I thought it would be interesting to compare her with a couple of other 'giants' of roughly similar size from different walks of life:

- Doug Flutie (5' 9", 180 lbs)

Crystal Renn is the same height and about five to twenty pounds lighter than Doug Flutie was during much of the latter's football career. Like Renn, Flutie found success in his chosen profession, though, also like Renn, he didn't find it on what most would assume to be the largest stage of that profession.

As a quarterback at Boston College, Flutie threw arguably the most famous touchdown pass in the history of college football, a pass that won a game against the defending national champions. Flutie also was the first NCAA quarterback to break 10,000 yards passing in his collegiate career, and won the Heisman Trophy as the top college player in 1984.

However, when Flutie graduated, he had extreme difficulty landing and holding a full-time job as an NFL quarterback, largely due to concerns over his size. Flutie, you see, was too small to play quarterback in the NFL.

Flutie was originally taken by the USFL's New Jersey Generals, but after the rival league folded, Flutie finally got a chance to play in the NFL, starting one game for the Chicago Bears in 1986, then one game for the New England Patriots in 1987. (It's hard to know how much Flutie's decision to cross the NFLPA's picket line during the 1987 player's strike to serve as a 'replacement player' harmed Flutie's reputation in the NFL.) After a couple of more seasons with the Patriots, during which time it became clear that the Pats had no interest in declaring Flutie the starter, Flutie decided to leave the NFL and went north to play in the Canadian Football League.

As a CFL quarterback, Flutie came into his own, winning three Grey Cup championships and being lauded as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play in the Canadian league. His success enabled him to return to the NFL nearly a decade after he left, even earning a starting job with the Buffalo Bills, for whom he won 17 of 25 starts before finally being demoted. Throughout Flutie's two stints in the NFL, commentators would frequently ascribe his mistakes to being too small to see over his linemen.

Doug Flutie, too small to play quarterback.

- Bill Mazeroski (5' 11', 183 lbs)

Renn tells the tale in her memoir of becoming a cheerleader in Clinton, Mississippi, and being utterly unable to do gymnastic handsprings. It would be easy, given the subject of her book, to imagine that Renn was simply 'too big' to be acrobatic (though Renn also describes taking and excelling in martial arts training as a younger child in Florida, which you'd think would be good prep work for a gymnastic career). Any doubt over whether someone of Renn's size can be acrobatic, however, should be settled by this comparison.

Bill Mazeroski is generally, almost universally considered the greatest defensive second-baseman the game of major-league baseball has ever seen. He was not a tremendous hitter; in fact, there were a number of years where Mazeroski hit just barely enough to keep his job. Still, his defense was amazing, and the cornerstone of his defensive skills was his ability to turn the 'pivot' on the double play. This involves fielding a throw from either the shortstop or third baseman, tagging the bag with a runner advancing from first base to force the first out, then 'pivoting' to get a strong throw to first base to force the batter for a second out, completing the double play. In Maz's day, runners from first were routinely taught to try to 'take out' the second baseman on his pivot, especially given that, having to face toward the infielder making the initial throw, the second baseman would not always be in an ideal position to protect himself from a hard-charging baserunner intent on 'breaking up' the double play. (Conversely, when a shortstop would take a throw from second, he was already facing in the same direction as the first baseman, and could thus see the approaching baserunner and position himself appropriately to get out of his way.)

Despite this, Maz turned more double plays than any other second baseman of his era. Not only this, but on a per-game basis, Maz turned more double plays than any other second baseman for which there are reliable box scores, which is to say at least since World War II and possibly since before World War I. His overall outstanding defense, and particularly his agility and quickness on the double play, eventually got him recognized by the Veterans' Committee and Maz was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

Bill Mazeroski, the smoothest, slickest fielder second base has ever known, despite being two inches taller and one-to-two dozen pounds heavier than Crystal Renn.

I could go on -- fans of the Minnesota Vikings will remember Leo Lewis, a wide receiver and punt returner during the 1980s who stood 5'9' and weighed 170 lbs and was known as 'little Leo Lewis' for much of his ten-year career -- but I think this makes the point. In the right context, Renn's size would either be a non-issue or a worrying deficiency, but as a model she's 'plus-sized' and supposed to settle for a life of selling clothes to overweight women.

Clearly she didn't think that was good enough, and I appreciate the results of her rebellion. We could use more like it, in all walks of life.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Why I Am Leery of Enjoying FAILblog Too Much

Alan Wiggins was one of the key success stories for the San Diego Padres in 1984. Making the very difficult move from the outfield to second base, he had gotten along well defensively and contributed steadily on offense, enabling the Padres to get an extra bat in the lineup. In spring training of 1985 Wiggins confessed that he had developed a dependence on drugs, and needed to fight his way clear of it. The Padres were understanding of this, up to a point, but in the second week of the season Wiggins had a relapse, and had to seek further treatment.

It was late June when he was ready to return to the team, but by this time the Padres were playing real well, and they had reached the conclusion that they didn't really need Alan Wiggins -- not only that they didn't need him, but that he did not deserve to walk among them anymore; yessir, they took a vote on it, and they decided that they just didn't want any of his kind around. The owner of the team took the same position, and took it with such determination that it was clear she would, if need be, fight in court for the right to throw Alan Wiggins away like a lump of rotten cheese.

Now that was, to tell the truth, a right arrogant, self-righteous attitude, and as I think I mentioned earlier in the book, it has been my experience that the Lord rarely wastes much time in punishing this particular failing in us. I mean, I've found that a lot of times it is just damned difficult to figure out what the Old Bugger is up to; I don't know too much about it, but I was raised to believe in God, and there are a number of areas which I was led to believe were his assignment to which it seems to me he don't pay as much attention as he might. He is, however, quite alert to punishing arrogance and re-instructing us in humility; in fact, I think this is the only one among his deific duties that he really enjoys, and I've found that he can be tremendously creative in accomplishing this task swiftly."

- Bill James, originally from the San Diego Padres comment in the 1986 Baseball Abstract, reprinted in This Time Let's Not Eat The Bones

Blast From The Past: The Canonical D&D 3.5 Alignments, As Chosen By Me

Before I started my first Contrarian Bias blog, I used to write a little-known and unremembered gaming blog called Simulation 16 on the TypePad service. Unfortunately, when I left TypePad, I didn't think to take my writing with me.

Enter the Internet Wayback Machine.

It's not perfect, but it's enabled me to find some of the writing I did back when I didn't know how to write for the web. One of my favorite pieces is the following, a list of the nine D&D alignments as they existed prior to the new 4th edition, and the iconic characters I decided to associate with each of those alignments.

(Note: Many of the links from the original post are now, sadly, defunct, but I've left in a few that I could confirm still function, years after the original essay was posted.)

* * *

Wizards of the Coast seems to have introduced the concept of the 'iconic character' to D&D - there are a number of characters in the Player's Handbook intended mainly to give players an idea of the 'look and feel' of the various classes in the game. The same is true of the various prestige classes listed in different WotC-published D&D supplements (to the point where, even before D&D 3.5 came out, Ed Stark noted that there are more iconic characters than character classes).

Interestingly, there have never really been characters created to illustrate the game's alignment rules. One could argue that you could 'retrofit' the existing iconic class-characters to illustrate the alignment grid - for instance, the iconic paladin would also be the iconic lawful good character - but there are a couple of limitations to this approach. First, because none of the 'core iconics' are actually evil - you have to go into the DMG to find even a couple of evil iconics (the assassin and blackguard). More importantly, the rulebooks don't really take time to explore the attitudes and behavior of the iconic characters, which is really where alignment can be most readily seen. And if you turn to the various works of D&D fiction containing the iconic characters, then you run right back into the first problem - the main characters are usually good, occasionally neutral, never evil.

So I'm going to attempt to fill this void, somewhat, by naming a collection of what I think are the nine iconic characters corresponding to the D&D alignments. Rather than drawing them from the D&D universe, though, I'll draw them from the larger sphere of popular culture. With any luck, this will give the chance to show not only that the D&D alignment system is much more broadly applicable and useful that some of its detractors claim, but also to dispel a few misconceptions about the D&D alignment system.

Lawful Good: Victor Lazlo

I know a good deal more about you than you suspect. I know, for instance, that you're in love with a woman. It is perhaps a strange circumstance that we both should be in love with the same woman. The first evening I came to this café, I knew there was something between you and Ilsa. Since no one is to blame, I - I demand no explanation. I ask only one thing. You won't give me the letters of transit: all right, but I want my wife to be safe. I ask you as a favor, to use the letters to take her away from Casablanca.

At first, I toyed with the idea of doing the entire 'alignment wheel' just out of characters from the classic 1942 film Casablanca, but ultimately decided against it because it would have required a few stretches to fill some of the alignment roles. But there's no doubt in my mind that Lazlo is a paragon of lawful good, perhaps the best example of a secular paladin in popular culture.

If you've seen Casablanca, then you know what I mean. If you haven't, here's a quick rundown:

  • A Romanian, Lazlo lived in Warsaw prior to the outbreak of World War II, publishing a newspaper calling out against the Nazi regime in Germany (the highest ranking German officer in the film refers to "lies and propaganda", as you might expect) until the very day the Germans invaded Poland.
  • Lazlo becomes a member, and then a leader, of the underground resistance fighting the Nazi occupation of Europe.
  • At some point, Lazlo is captured by the Nazis, placed in a concentration camp, and tortured. (I assume this occured after Lazlo became identified as a leader of the resistance.)
  • Lazlo escapes, beginning a chase across Europe that involves acts of organized partisanship, more "propaganda", and various heroic deeds. They're not spelled out in the film, but are impressive enough so that the cynical Rick Blaine congratulates Lazlo on his "work" the first time they meet. Lazlo modestly responds, "I try," to which Rick replies, "We all try. You succeed."
  • While in Casablanca, Lazlo stands up to the German officer assigned to bring him back to Europe, attends a meeting of the local underground despite the danger of being followed by German agents, leads the patrons of Rick's Cafe in a stirring rendition of Les Marsellaise that drowns out a German attempt to use the same melody as a drinking song, and utters the quotation above when it becomes obvious that Rick has the letters of transit that will allow Lazlo to escape to the relative safety of America.

Belonging to a higher calling, concern for others over and above anything that might happen to oneself, unflinching courage and competence in trying circumstances. I'm not saying that every paladin should look and act like Lazlo, but if more of them did, there would likely be many fewer 'when paladins attack' moments.

Neutral Good: Blossom

Being a Powerpuff Girl isn't about getting your way, or having the best stuff, or being popular or powerful. It's about using your own unique abilities to help people, and the world we all live in. And you, little girl, have done nothing worthy of the name Powerpuff.

Gamers would know of Aaron Williams's Nodwick and the duct-tape-wielding cleric Piffany. And in many ways, Piffany is a great example of Neutral Good behavior. She's even quoted in one story as having entered an ecumenical organization so that she can uphold Good across the board. Yet Piffany's naivete, while endearing to her own character, isn't something that I identify as classically Neutral Good, or even Good. Instead, I turn to the leader of the Powerpuff Girls to serve as my iconic Neutral Good character.

The episode "Stuck Up, Up, and Away" (Episode 14, for those Comic Book Guy wanna-bes) from which the quote above comes from is an excellent example of why Blossom makes an outstanding representative of Neutral Good. When Princess's snooty behavior endangers Twiggy the hamster, it's Blossom that gives the orders that allow the Powerpuffs to rescue the poor creature (and creates the dramatic urge that drives the rest of the episode when Princess decides she wants to be a Powerpuff Girl). Blossom even defends Princess at first - noting that she's new and probably isn't good at making friends, so they should give her another chance. When Princess, in her first super-outfit, turns a routine bank robbery into an embrassing spectacle, Blossom again spares Princess the ire of her sister and tries to be understanding, only to see Power-Armor Princess stop by the very next day and threaten to destroy the Powerpuff Girls. In fact, Princess does defeat both Buttercup and Bubbles, then engages in the classic villain taunt to try to humble Blossom - who isn't having any of it. In a classic execution of judo-strategy, Blossom gets Princess to overcommit, then not only puts her off balance, but gets her sisters to chime in, in true leader-fashion, to finally defeat her.

Now, Blossom isn't perfect - when Bubbles, thinking that she's actually Mojo Jojo, clocks Blossom in a later episode, she originally wants to retaliate before Buttercup reminds her that it's not really a sisterly thing to do. And Blossom even commits a crime - swiping a set of uber-golf-clubs that Professor Utonium reeeeeealy wants because she can't afford to pay for them, then framing Mojo Jojo for the deed. But when Blossom does do wrong, she realizes it and corrects her action. In the first example, Blossom eventually has to restrain Buttercup from kicking Bubbles/Mojo's tush after a well-aimed barb hits home, while she ends the latter episode in jail for her crime, serving her debt to society as required. She does the right thing - which is the essense of Neutral Good, after all.

Chaotic Good: Cyrano de Bergerac

To sing, to laugh, to dream,
To walk in my own way and be alone,
Free, with an eye to see things as they are,
A voice that means manhood -- to cock my hat
Where I choose -- At a word, a Yes, a No,
To fight -- or write.

It is a delicious irony in these days of 'freedom fries' to note that the man who embodies what most American men would see as their national ideal is, in fact, a Frenchman. But Cyrano, as he points out in his own epitaph, is "not like other men."

For starters, while he embarasses the pompous Montfleury for daring to make a pass as his beloved Roxane, he willingly enters into a bargain with Christian to provide words to bolster the latter's good looks so as not to disappoint his beloved. After Christian dismisses Cyrano as no longer useful to him (a dismissal which proves hasty on Christian's part), Cyrano not only forgives the young fool without another thought, but wins the lad a kiss (and ultimately, a marriage). Then, instead of fighting his arch-rival DeGuiche (as he defeated DeGuiche's catspaw in the first act), he delays his rival with a whimsical story of a trip to the moon. Promising that Christian should write every day while away at war, Cyrano runs a nightly siege blockade to deliver those promised letters. And, at the moment when it seems Cyrano might finally have his happiness after all, he instead allows himself to honor his dying friend Christian by keeping his secret faithfully until the day of his own death.

Yes, Cyrano kicks a lot of ass. But no one's ass is kicked who doesn't deserve it, and in some cases, the lesson is taught without an ass-kicking, but rather with more humilating weapons - wit, charm, and fiery honesty. It's also interesting to note that there are only three characters other than Cyrano himself that appear in all five acts of Rostand's play - Roxane, Cyrano's love; DeGuiche, Cyrano's arch-rival; and Ragueneau, the pastry cook and poet who is one of Cyrano's dearest friends. Cyrano does not lack the 'looking out for the little guy' aspect of the classic Chaotic Good - indeed, his closing line in the first act of the play might well be the call-sign for all well-played Chaotic Good heroes: "Did you not ask why against this one singer they send a hundred swords? Because they know this one man for a friend of mine!"

Lawful Neutral: Sir Te

In matters of the heart, even great heroes can be idiots.

This might be another choice that pushes the envelope of 'popular culture', since Sihung Lung's character probably isn't the first you'll remember from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and if you do remember him, you probably remember him as a father-figure to two of the main characters, Li Mu Bai and Shu Lien. Yet Sir Te is also a highly placed and effective bureaucrat in the government of medieval China, an age that prized law not just for it's own sake, but for its essence as expressed in diplomacy, manners, hospitality, and etiquette. Indeed, the scene where Sir Te meets with the newly-arrived General Yu, shows him the Green Destiny sword that Li Mu Bai has entrusted to him, and exhorts him to cultivate contacts in the Giang Hu underworld, despite Yu being the minister of security with the job of ostensibly opposing such criminals, marks him as being a true student of law and efficiency, regardless of whether or not the common understanding would take the means as 'good' or 'evil'.

'True' Neutral: Cool Animal Strong Bad

"(gurgling sound)"

Part of the problem with identifying a canonical Neutral character is that there are two generally accepted 'flavors' of neutrality. There is what I call apathetic-neutral, where the person simply doesn't care about morality or ethics and simply blows in the prevailing winds. Then there is what I call activist-neutral, which is more concerned with maintaining a 'balance' in the world between competing moral and ethical principles. (There is technically a third sort of neutrality, where the actor simply doesn't have the intelligence required to make moral or ethical choices, which is why all animals, constructs, and most other mindless or low-intelligence creatures default to neutrality in current D&D - animated undead being the significant exception these days.)

That's why I'm going with Cool Animal Strong Bad as my neutral iconic character. He has all the cool animal accessories: tentacles, claws, horns, mandibles, multi-faceted eyes, and a proboscis (as well as other traits you'll have to discover by watching the Strong Bad e-mail Flash cartoon called 'Animal'), but pretty much all he does is sit in one place, looking funky and cool, and gurgling when you ask him any question. On one hand, this may seem like I'm being unfair to those who prefer the concept of activist-neutrality, typically portrayed by druid characters. On the other hand, there's a Book of Exalted Deeds for good alignments, and a Book of Vile Darkness for evil characters, but can you name the equivalent book for neutrals without looking it up in the DMG? I can't.

(gurgling sounds fade out)

Chaotic Neutral: Calvin

Calvin: "Boy, did I get in trouble at school today. Wow."
Hobbes: "What happened?"
Calvin: "I don't even want to talk about it."
Hobbes: "Did it have anything to do with all those sirens about noon?"
Calvin: "I SAID I don't want to talk about it."

One of the great disservices done to the D&D alignment system was when TSR began to forcefully equate the Chaotic Neutral alignment with insanity and mental illness. It's one of the reasons I dismiss the Planescape setting to this day. Unlike fans of the setting who seem to have seen it as morally complex and ambiguous, I see the setting as morally two-faced: unlike the typical setting where reductive players use detect evil and similar divinations to distinguish between characters to interact with and those to simply be destroyed, Planescape allows reductive players to distinguish between characters who express personality traits or emotions atypical for their alignment 'type' (the ones to interact with) and characters slavishly devoted to their alignment 'type' (the ones to destroy). In the former case, you get murderous celestials who rationalize their crimes as necessary for 'the greater good' interacting with infernal characters capable of feeling and even understanding 'higher' emotions like love and sympathy (but who, because they're evil, still get to dress in funky leather or mailed costumes with - at least in the female NPC cases - an awful lot of exposed skin). In the latter case, you get the modrons, largely mindless minions of utter law whose very form follows a rigid Euclidian heirarchy, and the slaadi, masters of madness whose primary ability is to force their opponents to act based on random die rolls (the still-clunky-even-in-3.5 confusion mechanic).

It took Bill Watterston to point out that true chaos isn't found in non-Euclidian spaces or amphibian terrors cribbed from H.P. Lovecraft, but in the mind of a young boy with a hyperactive imagination.

Calvin sometimes does good. He seldom does anything blatantly evil, though 'naughty' is a word that applies to nearly all of Calvin's pranks. And while he has the wisdom of his imaginary pal/stuffed tiger Hobbes available to him, he's remarkably resistant to any sort of 'corrective influence' Hobbes might be. (Indeed, Hobbes is frequently a co-conspirator in Calvin's less sociopathic schemes, particularly the invention of bizarre clubs with their attendant rituals.)

The best example of pure chaos coming from Calvin's brain, however, is something that's even entered the game theory lexicon: Calvinball, a game where the rules are literally made up as one goes along. And part of the fun of watching Calvinball is realizing that Hobbes is often better at the game than Calvin himself is, which perhaps says something profound about what wisdom is capable of.

Or not. After all, this is Calvin we're talking about.

Lawful Evil: Darth Vader

Apology accepted, Captain Needa.

For an entire generation, those young enough to revel in Star Wars when it first came out but old enough to appreciate the subtler, more adult shadings of The Empire Strikes Back (from which the quote is drawn), Darth Vader was not just the embodiment of evil, but the embodiment of cool evil. He had a cool black armored costume, a spooky sound effect that announced his presence even when you couldn't see him, a tricked-out space fighter, and acres of unflappability. Despite those of us who ran around pretending to be Vader in kid-like play or later RPGs, Vader himself wasn't wanton or capricious in his choice of targets - he focused on those who challenged him, either his authority or his traditions, and made it known that failure always carried a terrible price where he was concerned. And in the second film, we even got to see some measure of his devotion to his even more evil master, the Emporer, which covers the lawful part both ways. And, because Vader is evil, not neutral, we also got to see that Vader was, all the time, plotting the overthrow of his master with the help of his son rather than being content to serve as the galaxy's number-two bad guy.

As an aside, part of the problem I have with the recent/'earlier' Star Wars films isn't necessarily that Lucas is trying to retrofit a galaxy that wasn't anywhere near as detailed when he made the first film than it is now. It's that, instead of a tale of the heroic journey of Luke, these 'earlier' films recast the entire story as a chronicle of the fall and redemption of Anakin/Vader. And while I'm willing to suspend my disbelief a little more to see what Lucas might come up with in the soon-to-be-released Revenge of the Sith, I'm finding that I can't quite reconcile the scheming, lawful Vader of the 'later' movies with the impetuous, frankly chaotic Anakin of the 'earlier' films. It's not impossible for a character's alignment to change* - even under AD&D rules, where the penalties were probably most severe - but convincing me of this one is going to take a trick of storyteller legerdemain that I'm not sure Lucas can pull off.

(And while I don't mean to turn this entry into yet another internet screed against George Lucas, who is about five hundred million times more successful than I am, it's pleasingly ironic that our canonically opposed alignment character once states, in the midst of one of his own rants, "Shall I labor night and day, to build a reputation on one song, and never write another?" Though I admit the quote isn't quite fair to the guy who also directed American Graffiti.)

* - Speaking of alignment change, one of the reasons I'm drawn to the Ravenloft setting is the rule that incorporates madness, not with a specific alignment (see Chaotic Neutral above), but with involuntary alignment change. Not only does it allow for the dramatically interesting portrayal of a character whose ethical and moral outlooks suddenly shift, resulting in a fracturing of that characters 'reality', but it also doesn't restrict the madness mechanic to merely shifting to an evil alignment (though admittedly there are many more ways to shift to evil in Ravenloft than there are to shift to good) - an apathetic neutral who suddenly finds herself with the moral attitude of a paladin might just as easily slide into madness (which is why, in my own Ravenloft campaign, if you decide you want to go after Elena Faith-Hold, you're in for a rude shock).

Neutral Evil: Hank Scorpio

But Homer, on your way out if you want to kill somebody, it would help me a lot.

At first glance, it might be hard to think of the charismatic CEO of the Globex Corporation as evil. After all, he gives Homer Simpson an influential, high-paying management job, one that comes with a tricked-out high-tech house in a managed community. He refuses to apply traditional labels to himself and his activities, like "boss" and "work". He even listens to and helps implement Homer's odd-sounding scheme for morale-building. He's a great guy.

Except for the blackmail of the U.N. And the blowing up of the 59th Street Bridge to demonstrate his willingness to back up his threats. And the attempted slow torture of an agent sent to defeat his evil plot. And the manaical glee he shows when brandishing a flamethrower against the assault team sent to try to thwart his plan at the last possible moment. Oh, and the plot involves doing something nasty to France, but he'd be the first to point out that it's not entirely his fault.

Let's face it; evil doesn't have to be slavering, clumsy, and obvious. Sure, it's easier to identify evil when it's massacring women and children, but that's not the real danger of evil. To borrow an observation from another film, the Antichrist isn't likely to be a hundred feet tall with tentacles and dark flames erupting from every pore and orifice; he's more likely to be a nice-looking, nice-sounding guy who simply convinces us to lower our standards, bit by little bit, until we're willing to do or believe anything. The most dangerous evil is cool evil, in my mind at least.

Scorpio best exemplifies the 'anything for evil's sake' methodology of the classic Neutral Evil, but with a twist - not everyone is a potential carcass or speed-bump on the road to world domination. He can be nice, outgoing, even magnanimous to those who will take that magnanimity and use it to work himself and his underlings that much more efficiently on the nuclear device or weather control machine. If you set yourself against him, you're going down, but until that point, he can be your best friend.

Chaotic Evil: Richard III

Let not our babbling dreams affright our souls;
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devis’d at first to keep the strong in awe:
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
March on, join bravely, let us to ’t pell-mell;
If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell.

As the quote should make clear, I'm referring to Shakespeare's Richard III, not necessarily the historical man. (There is in fact some controversy over whether Richard really was all that bad a person or a king.)

Skakespeare's Duke of Gloucester is a swaggering, self-described villain. He manipulates his brother the king into imprisoning his other brother, the Duke of Clarence, then has Clarence killed in order to implicate the king. He pretends to piety to rally public support behind his own attempt at the throne. He has two little kids killed off because they might one day choose to challenge the legitimacy of his reign as king. He kills another of his rivals, then seduces the rival's wife at the funeral. These acts show the sort of brass cojones that guys like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity can only fantasize about.

In the play, Richard is defeated by the return from exile of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond - portrayed by Shakespeare as less a man than a force of divine retribution heralding the end of the War of the Roses. (It should be noted that Elizabeth, Shakespeare's patron, was also a Tudor.) But, in classic Chaotic Evil style, by the time Richard finally does go down, there are few significant rivals or even allies who haven't gone down before him. If a man's gotta go, after all, then the true Chaotic Evil takes as many folks nearby with him to the Abyss before he punches his own ticket.

Right Conclusion, Wrong Premises

Logic can be a powerful thing.

I remember first stumbling across symbolic and predicate logic as a teenager, and being astonished that I'd discovered a sure-fire blueprint for winning any argument -- construct correct premises, put them into a valid logical structure, and the conclusion must be true. It was a liberating, eye-opening experience. (One that should have told me that law, not theater or technology, was my best career destination, but I digress.)

It took me a while to realize that logic isn't actually foolproof.

It's entirely possible to take false premises, put them into a logically sound argument structure, and end up with a true conclusion anyway. One example:

- The moon is made of cheese.
- No cheese existed on earth prior to the Apollo 11 mission.
- Therefore, the Apollo 11 mission went to the moon.

This is a highly simplified version of a truly rigorous logical argument, but given that the premises are nonsense, it's not really necessary to have the argument be totally rigorous to show the point -- logic is a powerful tool when used properly, but it's also only as good as your facts.

This rumination on logic was inspired by reading a CNET piece by Matt Asay, who comes by his solid conclusion through some seriously messed-up premises.

- To overcome an incumbent's advantage in the marketplace, a competitor must pursue a 'disruptive' strategy; i.e: do something the leader does not do, or at least do something well that the leader does not do well.
- Nokia is attempting to upset Apple in the mobile space by ditching their open-sourced Symbian mobile OS in favor of an alliance with Microsoft, who has been struggling in the mobile space for longer than Apple has been in it.
- Motorola is attempting to upset Apple in the mobile space by adopting Google's open-source 'Android' mobile OS, but Google isn't committing the 'resources' necessary to make Android a compelling alternative to Apple's iPhone mobile OS.
- Therefore, Nokia and Motorola will fail to overcome Apple's leadership in the mobile marketplace.

I have no problem whatsoever with the conclusion, but each of the premises is quite silly, and can be corrected simply by checking the work of other, sharper technology thinkers.

The first premise looks like the most reasonable -- differentiation in the marketplace is a long-standing method to gain market- and mind-share, and in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad idea. The problem comes in when trying to apply this premise to Apple's position in the mobile marketplace.

Few companies or products challenge an incumbent, at least not on its own turf. Disruption is required to displace an incumbent, following Clayton Christensen's thinking in "The Innovator's Dilemma."

All of which makes me doubt Google's efforts to beat Apple in smartphones, and suggests Nokia and Motorola aren't going to fare much better. They simply aren't disruptive enough.

For starters, under some interpretations, it's arguable that Apple isn't even a player in the mobile phone marketplace -- the estimate of Apple's total market share for mobile phones runs at about 1.3%. Nokia, the 800-pound gorilla by this estimate, should be 'dominating' the global marketplace, since Nokia is estimated to be shipping nearly 40% of all global phones sold. (Same link.)

Interestingly enough, though, Apple is a serious player by another measure -- percentage of market profits. Nokia, the big gorilla, earns nearly 60% of the global profits from the cellular marketplace, while Apple, with less than 1/25 of Nokia's sales, earns about 20% of the global profits from the cellular marketplace. (We'll get to Motorola later, but for the purpose of this comparison, we'll note that Motorola isn't even profitable.)

Asay seems to thank that it's Nokia's job to do something 'disruptive' to cut into Apple's market position, when in fact precisely the opposite is happening -- Apple's iPhone, combined with its App Store, has sliced off 20% of the profits in the global mobile market in less than three years, and Apple is the one that's 'disrupting' Nokia.

The reason for this comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes the technology business run; a leftover artifact from the first days of the personal computer.

In the 1970s, the personal computer was primarily viewed as a toy: one of the most popular models, the Commodore 64, was far better known as a gaming device, competing with the Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision game consoles in the consumer space rather than against the Apple II in the education space. Only futurists saw a role for computers in business, however.

That changed in 1981 when IBM introduced the first IBM-PC. (As if to point out that even then they were more than just a technology company, Apple took out a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to explain just what IBM's decision might mean, and found themselves both vindicated and buried by their foresight.) Slowly, the PC made inroads into the business world, and people's decisions on personal computers became less driven by entertainment considerations and more driven by compatibility with their work PC. (In these days, when you needed to work on a presentation at home, you'd copy the file to a 5.25" floppy disk and take it with you; a habit that seems both hopelessly backward and suicidally insecure these days.)

Microsoft helped drive the overall strategy of personal computing in those days, working with their hardware vendors to maintain a two-tiered system: higher-end computers for business, who could afford the expense, and lower-end machines for consumers, who largely couldn't pay what business would pay. Though it was possible to sell a high-end machine into the consumer market, the reality was that Microsoft's licensing model paid them largely the same money regardless of where the machine that their OS was installed ended up, so they encouraged an environment that came to view 'market share' in terms of units shipped; he who sold the most computers was the winner in Microsoft's eyes, and thus in the eyes of the Microsoft-adoring tech press.

This model may have worked fine in 1986, when most consumers didn't ask much of a computer except that it run the same software being run at work, which the consumer had no choice over anyway. Then, during the 1990's, Microsoft's operating system dominance concealed the reality of the computer hardware market -- computer hardware was much more like any other physical product than it was different. In effect, the computer hardware market was much more like the automobile market than people (except Apple fans) believed.

Consider the 2008 automotive global market. The largest player, with 15% global market share, is General Motors -- which just went through a government-shepherded bankruptcy proceeding and is trying desperately to remain profitable. Meanwhile, BMW controls just 2% of the global market, yet it's share of global profits in the automotive market rivals, if not exceeds Apple's in the mobile phone market. (That's not to say that BMW isn't being prudent in the face of a declining global economy -- they've announced that they're exiting Forumula 1 racing to save money.)

Now granted, the global mobile phone market, up until a few years ago, still believed and followed slavishly the premise that 'more units = more good'; carriers would pay to subsidize particular 'exclusive' phone models, which would be differentiated from the exclusive models of other carriers, but all of which were being offered on the same terms as Gillette famously offered razors -- sell the holder for little or nothing, and make your profit on the blades. In the carriers' case, what they were making profit on was the cellular service, not the hardware. In this environment, it makes sense for hardware to become commodity, lowest-common-denominator stuff. (The technical economic term for this system is vendor lock-in.)

Yet that premise was under siege even before Apple's entry into the mobile market, as RIM copied IBM's 1981 personal computer strategy with the first BlackBerry 'smartphone'. (From that market share link far above, you can see that RIM is also making huge inroads into Nokia's profits for little cost -- RIM has only about 2% of global phone shipments, but about 18% of the profits, making them similar to, though not quite as efficient as, Apple.)

You'd think that Asay's very point in his initial premise -- that Apple is the leader, despite having very little share of total units shipped -- would convince him that units shipped don't really matter when it comes to market position. Yet in his second premise, he falls right back into that old chestnut, talking, not about Nokia's plans for mobile phones, but about their plans for Windows netbooks.

Nokia, for its part, made a big gamble open-sourcing Symbian after years of nurturing it as proprietary software to run mobile devices. The company has now discarded Symbian for its foray into Netbooks by partnering with Microsoft, a move that exacerbates its weak-kneed decision to bolster its mobile strategy with Microsoft Office. Nokia's approach leaves pundits like Joel West wondering "how Nokia will have an advantage on scale, innovation, features, branding or distribution over existing netbook makers," not to mention traditional mobile and laptop makers.

The problem with looking at netbooks as a bellwether for the mobile phone market is that, as we've just described above, 'more units = more good' only works if that's the model your competitors are all using. PC makers are rushing to come up with competing netbooks because even their mid-range consumer hardware has such poor margins that the market share of a few million netbooks might mean the difference between profitability and bankruptcy. Apple, as we'll discuss in more detail below, isn't playing that game, and thus doesn't feel compelled to join the race for the bottom.

But 'more units = more good' isn't the only Microsoft-inspired market principle that isn't really true anymore, despite tech writers' insistence that the world hasn't changed since 1986. There's another gulf between what used to be and what is today, and Microsoft is on the wrong side of that gulf as well:

Microsoft compounds the error by playing up its more expensive application for Windows Marketplace for Mobile, a strategy doomed to fail. Microsoft is playing to the developers' wish to make more money per customer, but if those customers prefer the iPhone, who cares how much Microsoft lets developers charge?

Again, Asay touches the heart of the matter without really comprehending it. It's the same kind of impulse that makes folks like Joe Hewitt, developer of Facebook 3.0 for iPhone, complain about the Apple App Store process and how it's hostile to developers, without really understanding who the App Store and its policies are directed toward.

Again, flash back to 1986. Most users want the same software that runs on their machines at work to run on their machines at home. Most of these users don't really understand how software works, and wouldn't care if they did, because again, they're not controlling their own purchasing decisions.

However, as computers have become more mainstream, and more applications exist that are consumer-based rather than business-based, consumers become pickier about what apps they pick and use. Sure, some users will always just launch Windows Paint because that's what they're used to when it comes time to edit their photos. But more and more, consumers are demanding options when it comes to both the quality and the features of the applications they want to run, and many of those are willing to pay for a superior product. That's where Apple has lived since Steve Jobs's return as CEO, and it informs nearly everything Apple does, from their operating system, to their retail stores, to the iPhone.

The iPhone App Store doesn't exist for developers -- it exists for consumers. One observer who gets this is Farhad Manjoo, the last regular technology writer for (before they decided to subscribe to Malik Om's GigaOm Network for their tech content):

The platform's [Android's] openness is certainly a boon for developers. You can submit an app to the Android store and have it appear on customers' phones more or less immediately—the same process takes weeks or months on the iPhone. The trouble is, even though it's easy to develop apps for Android, there aren't many incentives to do so. The iPhone's got all those ravenous customers; it's worth waiting weeks to have your program in the App Store. Without great phones—and thus without a lot of customers—developers see little reason to bother coding up programs for yet another mobile app store.

Microsoft was notoriously developer-centric in the 1980s and 1990s because that was the reality of the computing business in those days -- if your platform didn't have the apps customers needed, they couldn't buy your platform. In 2009, though, there are already more apps than customers can ever use, to do more things than they have time to do. Now, more than ever, it's the people who hold the purse strings who are calling the tune, and Apple seems to be the only computer company who understands this.

Speaking of Android, Asay does talk about Android and Google, but again falls into the trap of thinking that the world of computing still works by 20th century rules:

Google, for its part, has attempted to disrupt Apple's iPhone in its apparent area of weakness: its closed nature. Google open-sourced the Android platform and invited the world of third-party developers to flock to it.

They never came.

As Slate's Farhoo [sic] Manjoo writes, "Even though it's far friendlier to developers, Android has failed to attract anywhere near the number of apps now clogging the iPhone." Android may be open, but it's not cool, and "cool" is where customers and, hence, developers are.

Asay seems to think that developers aren't writing for Android because Android somehow isn't 'cool' enough, instead of making the obvious leap (as Manjoo does, which Asay still doesn't seem to get) that developers aren't writing for Android because they can't make any money writing for Android. We've covered this point before with respect to Linux, but it's true for all 'open source' platforms -- people who expect to get their OS for free are also going to be people who expect to get their applications for that OS for free, and if they don't want to pay, there's not much money to be made there.

The solution, according to Asay? Do what Microsoft used to do in the face of competition in the '90s and outspend it:

Which leaves me with my original question: if a vendor finds itself playing catch up, should it even bother running the race? In response I'd suggest that unless a vendor is willing to commit significant resources to a disruptive strategy, it might as well give up.

Of the companies mentioned above, only Google has a disruptive strategy, but it isn't spending nearly enough resources to tackle Apple's iPhone. Until it does, it will lose, open source or not.

So to recap the accurate syllogism:

- Apple (and RIM) are disrupting the traditional mobile phone market and taking control of the nascent 'smartphone' market by catering to users rather than developers and focusing on the high-end, high-margin cultural pace-setters first, then bringing in the larger consumer market later.
- Nokia is responding to this assault on their market leadership by attempting to turn back the clock to 1986, ignoring significant changes in both the computing and cellular marketplaces since that time.
- Motorola is trying to stay in the game by turning to a free OS alternative which should lower costs and create buzz by doing something Apple isn't doing, but which won't solve their primary problem of simply not bringing in enough money to cover their costs.
- Therefore, Nokia and Motorola (and Google) will fail to overcome Apple's positive inertia and eventual leadership in the mobile phone and 'smartphone' markets.

There, that wasn't so hard, was it?