Everything you know (about tax cuts) is wrong.

One of the oddest ideas of America’s economic right-wing (the so-called supply siders) is the notion that by reducing tax rates, the government can increase tax revenues. On the surface, this seems plainly bonkers. It’s such a deranged notion that iconic one-term Republican President George Bush called it “voodoo economics,” insinuating in his fashion that there was no reason to expect it to work. So why is this crazy idea so widely accepted and preached?

It turns out it’s based (with a few problematic twists and turns) on a fairly sober economic theory. This original idea is called the Laffer Curve, pictured below:

Famously making his calculations on the back of a diner napkin, economist Arthur Laffer (most significantly a Reagan economic advisor) sketched out his curve (representing tax revenues) on the basis of three notions:

1) If the tax rate is 0%, no one pays taxes. Or rather everyone does, but 0% of anything is nothing.

2) If the tax rate is 100%, no one pays taxes. Because presumably they would rather set fire to anyone attempting to collect taxes at that rate.

3) There is some point between 0% and 100% (he called it t*%) at which tax revenues are optimized — extraction is perfectly balanced with disincentivization and the government is getting as much money out of the economy as it possibly can.

The only one of these notions that’s even remotely controversial is the second, and the controversy is so mild as to be entirely negligible.

Laffer made three crucial mistakes in the construction of his curve:

1) He assumed there was only one optimum position.

2) He drew the curve as a parabola.

3) He tried to explain the curve to a bunch of simpletons.

There’s no reason to suppose that the curve would have the gentle regularity of a parabola, nor to suppose that only one optimum taxation point exists. There’s certainly no reason to suppose that t* would lie precisely in the middle between 0% and 100%. But the mistake made by the simpletons is far more grave. They accepted the notion that the current tax rate was well to the right of t*. History has shown that it was not.

 Now some of you have been following me thus far, you know these “voodoo economics”  were a cornerstone of Reagan’s campaign in 1980 and that he slashed the top marginal rate by a full 20% in 1981. You may even have been taught that this action was responsible for the economic recovery of the 1980s.

You have been mislead.

So what did happen when Reagan cut taxes in 1981? Tax revenues dropped, the economy hit the second dip of a double-dip recession, and Ronald Reagan never cut taxes again, aggressively raising them throughout the remainder of his career. The economy didn’t recover until his second term in 1986, and probably through no fault of his.

Nevertheless, “tax cuts increase revenues/help the economy” is firmly cemented in the deranged psyche of the American right, when that’s not even what Laffer said in the first place.

He said that, under certain conditions (which, for the record, have never been shown to exist in the “western” world) it was possible to increase tax revenues by cutting tax rates.


Memories of Commander Shepard

I loved Mass Effect. And when I say I loved it I mean that the second I picked it up I played it with a fervor and intensity I have rarely bestowed upon any game. I interrupted what was to be a long chain of accomplishment-completing Dragon Age: Origins playthroughs for what I thought would be a short break and haven’t picked DA:O (which I am also quite fond of) since.

Mass Effect had everything I had long been missing in my games: Spaceships, Guns, Swashbuckling Adventure, Hot Blue Alien Chicks, and all wrapped in a compelling Bioware story somehow set in a Space Opera world somehow as deadly as it was silly. Even the morality system was….different. And that in a good way. I had been hesitant to pick up Mass Effect on release, convinced (and frequently vindicated in my belief that) the Shooter and RPG game genres were too diverse to be successfully merged. What someone forgot to tell me is that for all they talked about it, Bioware didn’t even try.

Mass Effect is a shooter, full stop. It has some elements typical of RPGs, but it doesn’t let them get in the way of just blastin’ stuff. It is, in short, Bioware’s idea of a shooter. And it’s immensely fun. Note however that I still want an RPG with spaceships.

Don’t get me wrong, Mass Effect had its flaws: cumbersome inventory system, minimalistic level design (only the mission worlds and the citadel have any real depth and even they’re missing something,) and numerous typical Bioware RPG flaws that just carried on over. But it was the most fun I’d had in years.

So I picked up Mass Effect 2. And to clarify, I loved it. Better than Mass Effect in many ways.

But Mass Effect 2 had its issues.

The most painful moment of my ME2 experience was when I imported my old save, watched an interminable and largely uninteresting cut-scene that managed to simultaneously show and trivialize the death of the ship I had grown to love, and found that none of my lovingly collected and selected hardware had carried over. Though I had to some extent expected it, I was the wrong kind of sad when Maggie Shepard died without a face in the armor she had discarded less than ten minutes into the first ME planetary excursion.

And then of course her arch-nemesis Cerberus resurrected her at immense cost. But what do you expect? This is a universe where there is an entire species of asexual blue-skinned aliens (Not to mention, as of ME2, apparently every other sapient species in the galaxy) somehow manage not only just to have breasts with nipples about where humans normally expect them but to be totally sexually compatible with humanity. And then I’m railroaded into working with a shockingly well-funded terrorist organization. For the good of humanity. To say this plot made somewhat less sense than ME’s is roughly like saying that stars are somewhat larger than planets — generally something of an understatement.

But okay, the new ship’s nice, even if they did insult the old one by naming it after her. And Miranda’s kinda pretty I guess (she doesn’t like girls, but what are you gonna do?) and after a bit of tinkering, I got the new armor looking okay, and I’m good to go.

But I have some problems:

1) Why are my bullets so slow? In ME they were fast projectiles, generally hitting exactly what I aimed at exactly when I pulled the trigger. In ME2, I can actually see them flying at the target, where they often miss because the enemy has moved.

2) Where is the Mako?! I loved the Mako. Sure, its controls were a bit wonky and the planets a bit bland and empty, but it was fun to drive and fun to fight with.

3) Why am I suddenly in charge of scanning planets? Don’t I have people for that?! In ME, I pressed a button and presto! Scanning done. Expanding a single button-push into a tedious mini-game is a bad idea.

4) I thought Joker was still the pilot. Why am I now flying the ship? And why is it now a little cartoon ship that has its own weird physics? Back in ME, I just clicked on where I wanted to go and we just went there. Vastly preferable.

5) Tiered character advancement is kinda neat, but options now seem sparse and meticulous planning necessary to get the most out of a relatively few character points.

6) Thermal Clips?! If the opening cutscene was the most painful experience in ME2, these were the most baffling. In ME1 we kept our guns cool and firing without these confusing doodads, and we generally brought as much of whatever we needed to the mission with us, rather than relying on the enemy to drop it.

7) Wherever Bioware had two choices on how to simplify a game mechanic they picked the wrong one. Morality and Persuasion (Charm/Intimidate) were both good concepts, but linking them into a kind of feedback loop was bad. So Bioware kept the feedback loop and lost the skills. Electronics and Decryption were good concepts, but their associated minigames were annoying. So Bioware dumped both and brought in different minigames instead. So every Soldier is now an expert hacker.

8) Ammo Powers. It’s either ammo (in which case anyone can use it) or it’s a power (in which case it’s not ammo.) It’s not both. Soldiers can have real skills/powers. “I know how to use freeze ammo” is the lamest superpower ever.

9) We’ve gotten rid of the need to accumulate loot, so why is my campaign for the salvation of the galaxy still basically funded by petty larceny and theft?

10) Almost no variety in equipment. There are like three guns (at best) of any one type, and only two or three types of armor for each location. DLCs make things worse, not better, generally offering a piece of equipment (with free irritating Illusive Man E-Mail) you start the game with and would be stupid not to always use. Also, Shep has apparently forgotten to take off her helmet.

11) The suicide mission wasn’t anything of the sort. Everyone (including me) lived. And I wasn’t even trying. It took me some serious Internet searching to figure out how to screw it up.

But so, it was a fun movie even if it had no lesbian love interest and wasn’t much of a game. So I go poking around on line to find something to get excited about concerning the sequel.

And that’s where I find out how ME2 got the way it was.

I have to say, folks, did we play completely different games? Yes, skills effected accuracy in ME, but Shep was still a badass at Level 1. I never had any trouble hitting things. Your shooter skillz are teh lame.

And I *loved* the Mako. Not saying ME2’s level design wasn’t better off without it, but I sure did miss it.

Everything you know (about the free market) is wrong.

One of the problems in American politics today is that a lot of people are advocates for what they think is the free market. They’ve been taught that creating one will build an economy that requires no management, and simply works on its own, instantly producing (through the action of something called the Invisible Hand) the best solutions to every possible problem. Don’t laugh. This is serious economic theory and it’s something a large number of fairly serious academics (to say nothing of lunatic radicals) actually believe. And it’s actually true. The problem is that most people advocating for free markets are speaking a language they don’t understand. They know what the effects of a Free Market are, but they don’t know what a Free Market is.

Free Beer

The fundamental thing that’s confusing is the word “free.” This has several meanings, the most important of which are what the free software community refer to as “free as in freedom” and “free as in free beer.” The first is the human right of reasonably unencumbered agency or action, liberty in other words. The other is exactly what it says on the tin: Getting things without paying for them. Americans are very fond of both usages, but the first is more popular in American politics. Unfortunately, as it happens, the “Free” in “Free Market” is a kind of Free Beer.

A Free Market is one in which three conditions exist:

-There is no cost to enter the market.

-There is no cost to exit the market.

-There is no cost to continue in the market.

This creates a condition that economists fancifully term “perfect competition.” It’s called this because there is no longer any tactical aspect to the market. No means now exist to drive a competitor from the market. The only things that matter to profitability are the popularity (not to say quality) of a product and the efficiency with which it can be produced.

All the World’s a Stage

Of course, as it would happen, we need one more thing to summon the Invisible Hand and imbue it with its mystical agency. That thing is called a “microeconomic actor” and it’s a truly bizarre critter. It’s a very simplified economic model of a human being, and as soon as I describe it for you, you should immediately spot the problems with it.

A microeconomic actor is a being who:

-Always acts with enlightened self-interest

-Has resources

Now the problem, for the 30% of the class that missed it, is that humans are neither enlightened nor self-interested enough to fit the bill. As a matter of fact, humans are stupid, gullible, and altruistic. Only the last is seen as a virtue, and the first two are an absolute disaster when set loose in the Free Market. As it happens, not all humans have resources either, but that’s mostly their problem, except for the altruism thing.

There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Of course, laying aside the inadequacies of humans for a moment, we still have to deal with the problem of where Free Beer comes from. You may have heard that nothing in life is free. It’s true, and the Laws of Thermodynamics demand that it be so. This is obviously going to be a problem of implementation for our Free Market. Fortunately we have something that is an outside actor as far as our economic system is concerned. We call that thing a “Government.”

Governments can cause economies to reach a reasonable approximation of perfect competition (let’s call it “good competition”) by simply thwacking any entity that gets large enough. It turns out governments are good at this, since their only tool (which they exist to create and protect a monopoly on) is coercion. Because no entities are large, none have the leverage necessary to dominate a market and drive away competitors. Of course, that still leaves significant problems with entry and exit costs*. Governments can limit these to varying degrees by providing entities looking to enter or exit the market with grants, loans, and subsidies to limit their costs. The funds for these of course must be provided through various acts of thuggery and extortion, which governments happen to be good at. These of course need to be as market-neutral as possible. This gives us what I’ll call “better competition,” but do note that it’s still not perfect.

If governments do none of these things, far from “unshackling” the Invisible Hand, they have all but cut it off.

Chasing Unicorns

So now we have Better Competition, but we still don’t have any source of microeconomic actors. Fortunately, through the magic of government intervention, we can create a better approximation of one than your garden-variety human. If microeconomic actors are unicorns, these are more like horses, so through the powers of analogy and bad punnery, I hereby pronounce them (since I am unaware of a term for them) microequinomic actors. Humans are stupid, but they can learn. To serve this end, governments must provide for the education of people it wants to be active in markets (read: everybody.) You could call this practice “compulsory universal education” if you like. Punishing stupidity and dishonesty (while rewarding intelligence and honesty) further help to curb the effects of these human failings. Altruism’s effects can be curbed by providing those without it with additional resources to account for it.

To the extent that governments fail to protect humans from their fundamental failings, the Invisible Hand is shackled to the very limited abilities of those who are active in markets.

It should go without saying that the funding for these actions must necessarily be provided through acts of market-neutral thuggery and extortion.

Free Markets vs. Freedom

By now we’ve got a lot of thuggery and extortion going on, and you might rightly feel somewhat disquiet about it if you come from the nation whose unofficial motto was and is “Don’t tread on me.” Unfortunately, perfect freedom is as unachievable in fact as free beer. You may already be aware that individual rights can conflict, but there is a further problem that no one is truly free if there are things he must do or that he cannot do.

Shackles are affixed to our agency through the very bodies we inhabit. We must eat to live, at the very least, and our bodies can break down and become diseased, leaving us in a pitiful state which is a mockery of freedom. We have further shackles in our minds, a common morality that tells us we must sacrifice for others, if only our spouses, our spawn, or our friends.

Wealth grants us power to overcome the weaknesses of flesh and discharge the duties we impose upon ourselves, but the only ways of creating wealth require shackles and the best ways of creating wealth need government interference.

So in the end, we find that freedom isn’t free (and not in the way you thought, either,) and that the people who want to create a free market are in reality doing their level best to destroy the best approximation of one our deeply flawed system of government (created and enacted by stupid, gullible, altruistic humans) has been able to create.



*If you were wondering, starvation is an exit cost.


Oh hell, here I go again.

I wasn’t thinking clearly over the summer and my SAP appeal is late and may not be approved because I forgot to ask my doctor to write me a note when I went in to see him earlier this month.

So that sucks.

I’ve been getting more and more emotional for a while now, I was in an apparently moderation-worthy dust-up on classicbattletech (and have voluntarily exiled myself from the site until the matter is resolved, either by a reversal of the Official Warning or by a year going by to clear it,) and I’ve just been getting surlier and surlier since. I can feel myself slipping into a debilitating depression and the thing is that I have no real way to stop myself when something like this happens.

So it’s going to suck to be me, or to be around me, for a while.

I apologise in advance for anything I’m going to say and in retrospect for anything I’ve already said because I just hate myself and the world right now.


Reproductive strategies

Much has been said, by many people, and in many sources, about the supposed optimal reproductive strategies of men and women. The basic idea is that men are supposed to want to have (procreative) sex with as many different women as possible, as this would serve to expand their gene base. Women, conversely, are supposed to be more choosy, picking out a successful man because either his high-quality genes will lead to greater success in her offspring or because he will be better able to help her care for them.

The problem is that this is bunk.

Humans have a single, unified reproductive strategy. We don’t just spam out young and abandon them in the hope that a few will make it to adulthood. Neither our bodies nor our food supplies could support that and the trail of death and despair we’d leave in our wakes doesn’t bear thinking on. Humans, in short, are not turtles. Humans are nurturers, we produce a few offspring and encourage their individual success through our efforts as parents. A man who tries to pursue the strategy detailed above has set himself up to fail, as he can’t (even if he could find enough willing and available women and keep up that kind of punishing pace) spam out enough kids to succeed in turtle-fashion and he’s unable to nurture to that many children at once. He’s going to be less reproductively successful than the man who breeds with only a few women (or even just one!) but remains invested in his children’s success.

Likewise, women shouldn’t produce to their maximum either. Tossing out another kid (or preferably twins or triplets) every nine months might be possible, but it’s not conducive to the pursuit of the Human Reproductive Strategy, as it tends to be a somewhat debilitating process. A better strategy would be to achieve a sufficiency (with appropriately spaced offspring) and then to invest as an adult in the success of those offspring. A resourceful woman need not involve a man in the raising of her children, or she can even hire one if it does prove necessary. As to the genes argument, that might well be a good idea, but successful men won’t necessarily have either “good genes” (which is a pretty simplistic concept that fails to reflect the biological realities) or genes that will combine with those of the woman in question to create a successful offspring. There’s more to success than genetics, and there’s more to genetics than meets the eye.

More importantly, though, nobody actually acts like this, and if someone starts trending in that direction, we usually call them names.


What Might Have Been (Part 9)

Ducal Estate
Lyran Commonwealth
28 May 3006

Frederick Steiner stared restlessly through the window at the rain. A man of 38, he felt a bit childish at the caged feeling mere falling water out of a heavily overcast sky still gave him. As if he’d be running around outside playing if it weren’t raining.

“Your expected guest is here, sir.”

Frederick thanked the man — he didn’t recall the name. The fellow worked for Aldo Lestrade, at whose estate he was staying while visiting Summer. He supposed he didn’t see a need to remember the names of minor underlings of minor noblemen. He’d be archon soon enough and Aldo? The fellow might think he would be an easily manipulated puppet, but Frederick knew who had the upper hand in that relationship.

His guest was from outside this situation. He’d never met the man, which had made it an act of some boldness or desperation to approach one of the realm’s highest nobility unsolicited even if he were a Steiner (of a lesser branch, but a Steiner nonetheless) himself. He understood the man to be an ally of his cousin, Katrina Steiner, which made his request for an audience even more interesting. What could his cousin want? Had she decided to come out of hiding?

The doors to the auxillary audience room swung open and his guest — David Steiner — entered. He wore the uniform of an LCAF Hauptmann, which along with his name gave him just enough social standing to have requested this audience. He saluted, a gesture which Frederick automatically returned.

“Are we secure here, sir?”

“As secure as Lestrade’s people and mine can make us, which I imagine should be secure enough.”

“Then may I speak freely, sir?”

He had expected that. His cousin had something to tell him that she wouldn’t want their uncle to know. Perhaps she meant to propose an alliance, or trick him in some way to gain an advantage. Or both. Katrina was tricky, he’d have to ultimately go over any proposal with Aldo.

“Permission granted, Hauptmann.”

“Sir, your cousin is missing.”

Katrina had vanished months ago, rumors had it even the Archon’s agents couldn’t find her. Certainly Aldo’s people had no idea where she was. But everyone knew about that.

“That’s not exactly news to me.” despite his best efforts Frederick Steiner couldn’t quite keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

“General Steiner missed her last check-in, sir. She was supposed to be back in the Commonwealth by now. Sir, we have no idea where she is, and we think the Archon’s people — we think Loki may have been involved.”

“Then you’re?”

“Heimdall, sir. They sent me here to protect you.”

What Might Have Been (Part 8)

Clan Snow Raven Warship Storm Crow
Nadir Jump Point
Near Periphery
2 February, 3006

“Battlestations!” Star Commander Arianna Shu barked out an order she had never expected to issue at this point in her career as the unthinkable happened. In an uninhabited system, nearly thirty light-years from any object of strategic or human significance except for the weak M-class star at the system’s heart, another vessel was materialising less than a thousand kilometers off Storm Crow‘s bow.

Klaxons sounded as her order was put into effect and one of the veteran technicians who manned Storm Crow‘s night shift began speaking calmly over the massive vessel’s Public Address System “All hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill. Repeat: This is not a drill. All hands…”

Arianna had been left in command of Storm Crow‘s bridge precisely because such a situation was vanishingly unlikely. Senior officers had better things to do — such as paperwork — than sit idly on the bridge for days at a time, and it was thought that such a watch was the perfect opportunity for a junior naval oficer to get a taste of command. Storm Crow had had many such watches, punctuated only by drills, since leaving the Homeworlds six months ago. Dispatched by Khan Magnus McKenna in anticipation of the acceptance of his plan to assess the condition of abandoned Star League bases in the near Periphery, Storm Crow was only now approaching its first objective, an antique automated supply yard and drydock.

Had they been followed or their itenerary leaked? Was this an attempt by a lesser Clan to destroy or capture the Sovetskii Soyuz-Class Heavy Cruiser far from support? Taken alone, there were no shortage of hostile vessels that could be expected to overpower Storm Crow herself.

“Based on long-range transit, bogey is expected to be a Merchant-class or similar Jumpship. We cannot rule out a Warship.” That was the report from the sensors section, that last bit undoubtedly meant to remind the rookie commander that she should be cautious. I know that, but what is the right move? If it were a Merchant, keeping her distance until it could be confirmed would be seen as overly timid. If it were a heavier warship, closing with the vessel, still known only as a heat contact since it had yet to fully resolve in the system, could be disasterous, even fatal.

The worst thing a Clan Warrior could appear to be was timid. Brave and dead was considerably better.

“Give me maximum thrust. Close to optimum weapons range and ready for action.”

It was only moments later that Star Admiral Robert McKenna entered the bridge, beating his juniors by luck or foresight.

“Captain on the bridge!” Arianna snapped to her feet in the one and a half gravities of a Warship under acceleration and saluted, moving to one of the bridge tactical stations.

“At ease! Report!” the Star Admiral barked as he took his place at the heart of the bridge and switched on his tactal monitors.

“One Bogey, confirmed Merchant-Class Jumpship with two Dropships. Astrometry guesses those as Union and Fury classes. Range is eight-two-five kilometers and closing.”

“Identify us to the unidentified vessels. My compliments to their Captains and crew and I demand their immediate and unconditional surrender. I will not ask again.”


It has occurred to me recently that if you believe a supernatural being created the world, you need to make sure to give him full credit for having done so, as in this priceless Mony Python parody:

All things dull and ugly,
all creatures short and squat.
All things rude and nasty,
the Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,
each little wasp that stings.
He made their brutish venum,
he made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous
All evil great and small.
All things foul and dangerous,
the Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
each beastly little squid,
Who made the spiny urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
all pox both great and small.
Putrid foul and gangrenous,
the Lord God made them all.

On the nature of truth

I am, by the necessity of my training and to a lesser extent as a consequence of my disposition, something of a lightweight mathematician. I’m not going to forge ahead in new fields or solve the old riddles, I may not even pass my Calculus class in truth, but I understand the philosophy behind math. I understand and can do proofs, at least the most rudimentary ones, based on ideas with which I am familiar. One thing I have learned is that nothing can really be considered true.

Mathematicians give themselves a certain pride of place in saying that they’re the only people who really prove things. They’re right to an extent, mathematics is the only discipline in which one takes universally accepted axioms and applies them to inescapable conclusions. But even mathematicians rely on a number of ‘just-so’ statements (premises or assumptions — those very axioms which are the basis of every proof) and the things they prove are not even about the real world, but rather about an imaginary world that at best superficially resembles the objective universe we can’t even be fully sure exists. So even mathematics doesn’t have any truth.

How much more so is this the case for the debased cousin of mathematics, science? At least one of science’s key propositions (called the Principle of Parsimony or Ockham’s Razor) is actually absurd, no matter how useful it and everything that descends from it happens to be in practice. There’s no especially good reason to select the simplest of two explanations with equal predictive value. That’s really just a kludge for simplicity’s sake, and it has often been proven hillariously wrong.

But at least it’s useful. Science is the cornerstone of our modern world. Without it, we might still be living in the Iron Age (or more likely, no person like either of us would be alive,) and you’d not be reading this blog.

And then you have Science’s chief rival, at least in the sense of a body of explanatory ideas. There are arguments to suggest that Religions may be useful. Many people have found comfort in them, just as many have found paths to power, but the value of religion in this sense is sharply limited. Religion can’t make airplanes or computers or even tasty breakfast cereal. As a technological (as opposed to social, I suppose) application, Religion is broadly useless.

Math, I would say, is clearly superior to science (which relies upon it) and both clearly superior to religion (which relies on neither, but offers nothing the others don’t.) And, to reiterate the above, neither holds a single idea that we can definitively say is true. But of course, I’m talking about things from a strictly instrumentalist point of view at this point. I’ve abandoned the idea of truth in its entirety and choose only to give credence to things I consider (for no reason I can fully verify — remember, no concept of truth) to be more useful.

So what does that make me? An instrumentalist, certainly. An athiest, at least in the sense that I don’t believe in or worship any particular concept of a god and actively disbelieve in (or at least actively dislike) several others. An agnostic, perhaps, in that I accept that the existence of any particular god can only be conclusively (that is, usefully) demonstrated in the positive. A materialist? Sure. At least in the sense that I’ve found no real use in concepts that seem to transcend the material. And I guess you’d say I’m a humanist.

And, oddly, enough, it makes me a strange kind of skeptic. I have the right frame of mind, starting from the position of questioning or actively disbelieving everything, but unlike other skeptics, I don’t have the luxury of considering any given idea to be true.

I disagree with other atheists. The only thing that commonly binds Atheists is that we do not accept any religion as true. Thus while many atheists are sexual hedonists and/or anarchists, I am not (I have found no use for the first philosophy, and the second I consider plainly useless on its face.)

I disagree with other agnostics, specifically on the idea that it’s impossible to prove a god exists, or that the undecidability of the question ought necessarily to stay my hand from active disbelief.

I disagree with other skeptics, even the scientific variety (as opposed to those skeptical of science — whether it be medicine, geology, or global warming, whose propositions I find even less useful.) Many are politically conservative or libertarians, which shows that they have either failed to embrace humanism, or are less trusting of other fields of science than the ones that hold their chief interest. In fairness, I suppose it makes more sense to distrust the softer sciences (economics, sociology, anthropolgy…) than the harder ones (astronomy, geology, biology…) but I see no particular use in this position. We have no better models than the best provided us by those soft sciences, and it’s an inevitable consequence of humanism combined with instrumentalism to be firmly lead to progressive positions in light of them.

And I disagree with other materialists, specifically in the vehemence with which many of them will insist that there is nothing spiritual and nothing after death. From where I stand, the question is undecidable, and the idea they espouse saved from uselessness only by the fact that no opposing viewpoint has yet proven to have any use.

For that matter, I’ll even disagree with other humanists and progressives, in that they will often act as if things that have yet to gain solid scientific foundation are Absolute and Eternal Truth (which, of course, I know doesn’t exist,) or paint in painfully broad strokes on a very nuanced issue.

So, to sum that up, nothing’s true, and I probably disagree with you. With that I open the floor for comment.

What Might Have Been (Part 7)

Hall of the Khans
Strana Mechty
25 December 3005

“Order, my Khans! Please!” Nadia Winson hammered furiously at the podium with her gavel, in a futile attempt to draw attention that for the moment simply seemed to add to the general din in the Great Hall. Resigned for the moment she just relaxed and let the noise wash over her. It was thrilling in a way, even if it seemed for a moment there that the Khans would come to blows. Magnus McKenna and Thaddeus Jorgensson had not got far into their presentation before the Khans had abandoned their traditional decorum in favor of a shouting match. Jorgensson, for his part seemed to simply be biding his time, waiting for the right moment.

“Silence!” he barked as the moment came. Nadia had no idea how, but it worked. The Khans settled into a kind of constrained, moody mumbling over which the Snow Raven Khan could be heard to clearly state “If you have questions, we will take them, but please, one at a time. Khan Smoke Jaguar.”

This last was directed at the massive Khan of Clan Smoke Jaguar who had thrust his massive hand petulantly into the air in the middle of the statement, and who now proceeded to speak.

“What is the purpose of this general warship refit you are proposing?”

The junior Diamond Shark Khan interrupted before Magnus could respond “Why to force you to spend your resources in his shipyard, of course.” There was another general explosion, but this time Nadia’s furious hammering brought the expected response and she turned the floor back over to Magnus.

“While we suspect that the Inner Sphere lacks large modern Warship forces and thus our older units should be adequate to defeat whatever they may supply to oppose us, They do stil have a large and well-organized aerospace corps. Our ships are of a traditional design and so lack significant small-scale defenses of their own. The proposed refits would simply remedy these and some other operational inadequecies in order to ready our fleet for the kind of action they can expect in the Inner Sphere.”

“Also, our vessels will need to be ready to withstand nuclear strikes.” This comment from Thaddeus Jorgensson might have provoked another roar of confused dissention, but somehow the Khans settled into a kind of shocked silence. Utterly serious and contemplative for once as a group. It was Khan Kerlin Ward of the Wolves who broke the silence.

“You truly believe they would stoop to nuclear weapons to destroy us?” There was a sneer of contempt in his voice, but it rang false against his earlier silence. It seemed clear to all that he had never considered the possibility. And yet…

“Intelser has asserted and confirmed that nuclear weapons played an important part in the devastation of the Succession Wars and that each House maintains a significant stock of weapons as a deterrent. We would be fools to discount this. It is a very real threat, and one we must be prepared to counter.” Thaddeus Jorgensson again.

The Smoke Jaguar Khan waited to be recognized again before speaking “But what is the purpose of spending so much of our effort on Warships? Do you not intend to destroy the enemy on the ground as the Founder intended? Surely you do not mean to answer nuclear weapons with orbital bombardment!”

Magnus shook his head “No, of course not. We intend the Warships to act in a supporting role as troop transports and as part of a blockade fleet. Any destruction of enemy Battlemech forces will be accomplished by conventional means.”

Any Destruction?” That would be the Khan of the Coyotes. The Coyotes were generally content to remain silent in Council and simply follow the lead of the Wolves. But trust them to pick up on a subtle philosophical point like the implicit possibility that such destruction might not be necessary.

Thaddeus Jorgensson chuckled. “Do not worry. There will be plenty of fighting for our Mechwarriors to do, I expect. The purpose of the blockading forces is to cut down the ability of the Inner Sphere lords to mobilize. If we can destroy enough of their ships, they will be unable to reposition their forces to oppose us. If we destroy their ability to move their forces, we destroy their ability to wage war on an interstellar scale. Ending the enemy’s capacity to wage war is the end goal in any real war, and make no mistake my Khans, this will be a real war.”

Magnus continued “A Successor State exists only so long as it excersises power across dozens or hundreds of worlds. If we can cut off Jumpship traffic, seize hyperpulse stations, and destroy factories, we can topple their regimes simply by rendering them meaningless. A united Lyran Commonwealth or Draconis Combine is a threat, but thousands of individual worlds are nothing. Once we have toppled these pretenders to the Star League Throne it is simply a matter of pacifying our territory, which we may do at our leisure. Intelser even suggests that most planets would not be unwilling to swear allegiance to a Clan as their interstellar protector.”

“This task, of course, is not as easy as it would appear. First we need better reconaissance. To this end, we are proposing that the Grand Council authorize the creation of five new Galaxy-sized units answerable to the ilKhan and to this Conclave. Wolf’s Dragoons have drawn significant attention by their size and by the oddity of their ways, but these new units can put what Wolf’s Dragoons have learned to work to blend into Inner Sphere society. Thus positioned, with one unit seeming to serve each of the Pretender Lords, they will gather intelligence and wait for the signal to strike. When we invade, they will act as our first wave, striking targets of vital import and sowing confusion in advance of our general invasion.”

“Five Galaxies?!” One of the Fire Mandrill Khans, no doubt contemplating the fact that such a force would outmatch his entire Clan, to say nothing of his own Kindraa.

“Five Galaxies. But we know this is a nontrivial force, and that we asked you for five Galaxies before. Therefore, we intend to raise only one such Galaxy every four years, assigning each as it is comissioned to the state that Wolf’s Dragoons has most recently departed. In the meantime, we will be building supply infrastructure for a grand envelopment campaign against the Inner Sphere. We have divided the Inner Sphere into twelve occupation zones, each of which will be the responsibility of a single Clan. If a Clan is unable to meet Grand Council objectives in that zone, it will be replaced.”

The Khans continued to argue over the details for several more hours. Finally, a vote was called. In the end, it was nearly unanimous. The Crusaders felt this would finally give them the promised Return, while the Wardens hoped that the McKenna-Jorgensson plan would delay matters long enough for them to rally support and crush the idea outright. Twenty-five years was a very long time, after all.

But for now, the Clans were officially at war.