What Really Matters

In these days of turmoil after the undoubtedly historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, whether you agree or disagree with the decision, either on legal or on moral grounds, it is important to keep one thing in mind. As a citizen of the United States, you have implicitly given yourself over to the secular, democratic law of the land. Yes, you could spend time fighting a presumable majority on this issue. Honestly, this amounts to a minor change in what should be a secularized bureaucracy, as legal “marriage” extends to medical, employment, tax, housing, legal realms, which should all be free of the effects of one contentious moral system in a country that prides itself on freedom of religion and so forth. The legal ramifications of the decision may also be troubling to you.

However, none of this matters. Seriously. The best we can hope for is that this decision will put to bed another of the various debates that have been distracting us from the real problems. Global warming, unregulated AI advancements, nuclear proliferation. Extreme biochemical engineering. Massive overpopulation. Unregulated nanotechnology. Space exploration and expansion policy. There are a huge number of threats in the near future which have the potential to wipe human civilization clean off the map. We need to make efforts NOW to make our civilization resilient to threats, and set ourselves up for long-term survival. We need to stop squabbling over social policies that honestly don’t matter all that much, and focus on the huge number of never-before-faced global issues before it is too late.

After all, stopping everyone from being wiped out by grey goo is the first step in evangelism.

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The Other N-word

Nuclear.

The US public is split nearly 50/50 between those who favor nuclear power and those who don’t. Because of this, nuclear is often a dirty word in the political arena. Nobody wants to lose half their constituency over a marginal issue like nuclear power. Before 1979, the political climate was ripe for the rapid expansion of nuclear power. However, the Three Mile Island accident resulted in the cancellation of most new nuclear plant projects. 30 years later, the public was just starting to warm up to the idea of nuclear as part of the so-called “nuclear renaissance.” Then, in a case of incredibly poor timing, the Fukushima disaster struck.

There is a lot of weird cultural weight attached to the “N-word”, not the least due to an entire generation being psychologically scarred by the perceived overhanging threat of nuclear war. Unfortunately, this snubs one of humanity’s greatest hopes for survival.

Nuclear might not be cost-effective as geothermal, wind, or hydro power. It also isn’t as clean as solar. However, I would argue that neither cost-effectiveness nor cleanliness displaces nuclear from being the best “clean” energy source available. And not only would widespread adoption of nuclear energy entirely solve the climate crisis, it would save humanity from eventual extinction by hastening our spread through the universe.

As I see it, the only other power source that is as scalable as nuclear is solar. Solar, however, loses out on two counts. First, it is really expensive compared to, like, any other power source. Second, the energy density of solar is really, really low. We would need to cover 496,805 square kilometers of area with solar panels to satisfy the world’s projected energy consumption in 2030. While the price of solar power has really come down, that’s also in part due to subsidized research. On the other hand, nuclear has a much higher power density, and despite years of marginalization, is still competitive with current cutting-edge solar power. It is also extremely reliable, with fluctuations in power output virtually non-existent. This is something other forms of renewable energy lack.

If we started investing in nuclear research, we could dramatically lower the costs of nuclear power and satisfy a huge portion of the world’s energy demands. Cheap electricity would hasten the wide-spread use of electric cars (okay, this would probably happen anyways). With combustion cars and both natural gas and coal plants replaced, the influx of greenhouse gases into the environment would be greatly reduced. Cheap, portable reactors would allow developing countries to get on their feet in terms of manufacturing capability. Cheap energy would allow us to implement energy-intensive climate engineering schemes. Advanced nuclear technology would lead to the development of closed-core nuclear rockets, allowing safe, clean, and cheap access to space. Portable reactors would jump-start unmanned planetary exploration, interstellar exploration, human colonization, and asteroid mining.

Of course, none of this will happen. Nuclear is still a dirty word, burdened by the historical and cultural baggage it must drag around. The first step to a better, cleaner future is to get the public to accept nuclear power. As long as we are afraid to say the word, we are holding ourselves back from achieving our full potential.

Burn

I’ve been aiming to make a post about this for a while. Here is one preliminary design document I made a while ago. It calls for something similar to the situation described in A Deepness in the Sky.

Game Beginning

You start out as a young man, fleeing a vicious civilization collapse. As the member of a wealthy Qeng Ho family and son of a fleet leader, you are in charge of the only ship that escaped. You are powered down in orbit of a gas giant, watching the aftermath of the Fall. A lot of your archives have been corrupted, so you need to find some other traders or find a world to raise up.

The very first thing you do is name your family branch. Then you figure out how to take inventory of your ship systems, and how to scan surrounding space. You learn about light-lag. You have just enough fuel to get up to operating velocity. You can choose a target system.

Your aim is to become the leader of the Qeng Ho. This is not an easy feat; the Qeng Ho is a diffuse trading race, with no clear organizational hierarchy. There are several trading “families”, each with large offshoot branches (e.g. Vinh 2.0.3). The objective is to gain enough influence, and then call a meeting of the Qeng Ho. At this meeting you either convince all the families to follow you, or perform a hostile takeover.

You have as many years as are in your life to do this. Note that if you meet a civilization with hyper-advanced medical technology, this means a time bonus. You do have cryo-freeze for the time in transit between stars.

Personal Mechanics

Throughout the game there are personalities on your ship and on other ships that you can talk with. What you say affects what they think of you. If they hear bad things about you from others, they will enter into relations with poor expectations. Reputation influences the trades you can get, as well as favors you can ask.

If you gain a high enough reputation and interact enough with a person, you may become friends. You are not notified whether or not they consider you a friend until you bring it up. Friends will vouch for you or join in on a plan. Friends are much more likely to answer a distress signal you put out.

Traders that are well known often have available profiles. When you trade for someone’s profile, you can see their reputation with others, their personality, and most of their history. By gaining enough reputation with a person, you can find out what they think of other people.

Interstellar Travel Mechanics

A Bussard ramjet is used to travel quickly between star systems. A ramjet can only go so far before the mechanism breaks down. A ramjet needs to move at a certain fraction of the speed of light in order to scoop up enough fuel to continue operating. While flying above that threshold, your fuel tanks fill up. When decelerating, accelerating, or maneuvering, you burn fuel without regaining any. It is only possible to accelerate up to 30% the speed of light; a lot of energy is spent accelerating floating interstellar hydrogen up to your speed.

Ramjet engines can not be repaired on the fly. In order to fully repair an engine, you need to trade with a civilization that has the requisite technological level. This means that you may have to raise a civilization to high-tech in order to continue flying.

If your engine breaks down mid-flight, you will very slowly lose speed (from colliding with interstellar particles), and continue to drift until you either exit the galaxy, crash into a star, or are picked up.

Note that different regions of space have different interstellar medium densities. For instance, our local cluster lies inside a relatively sparse region, making ramjets less feasible. One aspect of choosing a destination in the game is navigating around low-density “bubbles”.

Choosing your target is important. Since you can only hear transmissions from the past, you have to judge whether or not a civilization will be as advanced as you want it to be when you arrive. Flying to a system that is at a peak level of technological advancement will probably have collapsed by the time your fleet arrives. This just means you have to spend time (although you have cryogenics, you still usually come out of it every so many months to make sure the fleet is still on track) helping them get back up to a sufficient level to repair your fleet.

Trading Mechanics

Planetary civilizations rarely want materials. They can mine almost everything they need from their system, and the price of lugging raw materials across interstellar space is too high for you. The exception is high-tech equipment. Civilizations will pay dearly for technology that they either cannot physically manufacture (as with Beyond relics) or are nowhere near the technological sophistication needed to synthesize the tech.

Civilizations value information more than anything. A faction will pay a grand sum for anything that will let them dominate their opponents. Advanced secrets help advanced civilizations keep their expanding infrastructure under control. Usually you can broadcast such information ahead of you, as long as its encrypted. This gives the civilization warning that you are coming, and when you get there you can trade away the keys needed to decrypt the information (on this note, the Qeng Ho constantly broadcast a certain amount of information for free to make sure that civilizations they meet have similar measurement standards, language, etc.).

Conversely, traders have a huge store of knowledge, but lack the infrastructure or resources to maintain themselves. Spacefleets will often bargain limited pieces of technology in order to buy volatiles, fuel, and new equipment. Sometimes civilizations will provide these for free to weasel better deals from you.

Occasionally a civilization will become exceedingly advanced in one area of technology. They will invent something truly revolutionary. If you get your hands on one of these pieces of technology, you will have leverage over all other Traders. You may have to bargain hard to wrest the technology from the civilization at hand.

Combat Mechanics

Be warned. Consistent use of weapons will cause other traders to shun you and make civilizations bar you from their systems. Someone might even try to hunt you down if you destroy their civilization but leave even part of a defense fleet.

Space combat is a fickle subject to approach. It is best summed up by these two pages on Atomic Rockets, although every page there provides good insight.

Interplanetary Flight

This will probably be some sort of simplified KSP-like interface. That is, you initiate maneuvers to change orbit. The problem here is balancing technical details against flexibility and realism. Optimally, players should be able to identify their desire to conserve fuel against time constraints, and let the computer select the best orbital maneuvers to transfer between planets, space stations, Lagrange point colonies, etc. However, because players may want to do wonky things in orbit during a battle sequence (establish oblique orbits, do hard burns, etc.)

I guess you could distinguish between normal navigation and battles. Battles would probably happen around one central body, unless there was a moon involved. However, battles would probably happen really fast (over in minutes) or really slow (taking months).


And that’s as far as I got in describing it.

Sim State

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. This idea really started when I watched Day[9] play the new Sim City, and then picked up Sim City 4 again. I wanted to create a game which brought the ideas of micromanaging infrastructure and government into a larger scale. The player would be able to control education, government type, military, trade, etc. Eventually it grew into a sort of “third-world country simulator”, since that seemed like the most interesting route to people I pitched the general concept to.

The basic premise is that you are the leader of a small country, recently put in power by a violent revolution. This country is located in a faux South or Central America, but there is also the possibility for having multiple templates: African, Southeast Asian, etc. The player can only really see the small land area he controls, plus some of the bordering sovereignties. There is no global map (and this isn’t a game about conquest), but there are references to current global institutions (or fictitious characterizations thereof) like the UN and US, or WHO, etc.

Winning the game means pulling your country out of poverty and onto the world stage. This requires many parts, including building infrastructure, establishing governmental rule, and appeasing the international community. However, the win condition is gaining control over every province in your nation. Control just means being the dominant power faction. Routes to control include stamping out resistance (militarily) and appeasing interest groups. Thus a large part of the game is balancing political control; keep the military leaders on your side, stop workers from striking, and stay elected. The last one may mean establishing a dictatorship, rigging elections, or spending a lot of resources maintaining public image.

At the start of the game, your country is poor and unequipped. There are two forms of currency: money, and international repute. International repute can be spent on relief or treaties; perhaps getting a foreign oil company to leave your country. On the other hand, if you drive out the oil company by force, some factions in your own country may approve, while the international community may impose sanctions. Similarly, if their are pirate along the coast, you could demand tribute or try to exterminate them at a potentially great cost. If the world catches wind that you are allowing pirates to operate, however, you will lose repute.

The other form of currency is money. A little macro-economics comes into play here, since you have to manage your currency (printing money), and real “world dollars”. Rapid inflation can be bad for your industries, but it attracts tourists (but only to good parts – nobody is going to visit the region controlled by drug cartels). Real dollars come from exports, mainly. One way to get a boost in the beginning of the game is to exploit your natural resources: cut down rain forests, strip mine mountains, etc. However, you have to establish a more mature manufacturing industry at some point, otherwise you will exhaust your resources and fall back down into poverty.

In terms of infrastructure the player has to build, the main forms are education and industry. Industry includes transportation networks and resource collection, as well as processing. Industry also means municipal improvements, since nice cities attract high-tech corporations and commercial companies. Another route to improving the quality of your workforce, reducing crime, and eliminating overpopulation is education. Building schools takes a lot of resources for little immediate payoff, but it will start to improve your country greatly. It is also a great way for dictators to indoctrinate the population.

Late-game opportunities may include hosting Olympic Games or researching nuclear technology.

As you can see, there is a lot of room for expansions; this is more of a framework for a game, rather than a fleshed out game idea. I know there are games like this, such as Tropico. I think this would be more political and deep than Tropico, but obviously I would aim to offer a different experience overall were I to build this.

Traditional Values

As you may have heard, Dan Cathy, president of Chic-Fil-A, came out and denounced same-sex marriage, citing support for the “biblical definition of a family”. As you can imagine, this turned into a huge media firestorm, which consequently got the fast food chain banned from Chicago. Then Santorum and Huckabee decided to get behind the company’s statement and declared a “Chic-Fil-A day”.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
-Dan Cathy

I believe the first thing to do when investigating this delicate situation is to look further into what exactly was said by Cathy. Most news sources are citing this interview. In it, Cathy states that the company is firmly based around Christian values. Just to clarify, I am totally on board with that. It’s pretty incredible that a huge company, especially a fast food chain, would have the balls to do that in this modern age of anti-Christian rage. Some examples of this support include being closed on Sunday and training employees in Christian values and excellent customer service.

While citing the Bible as providing a Christian definition of marriage is fine (it is quite clear on the subject that marriage is only between a man and a woman), I don’t think it should be used to dictate the law. And I really don’t think it is proper to cite the Bible as a reason against homosexuality. Not only is the good book’s stance questionable when it comes to gays, but it also has some other “values” that the company seems to disregard. Take for example, Leviticus 19:19.

“Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
-New International Version

Wat. Guess you’re going to Hell for wearing those polyester-cotton blends. In fact, it seems that Chic-Fil-A employee uniform shirts are 55/45 cotton/poly.

“…a deep blue, ¾-sleeve, 55/45 cotton/poly woven shirt with stain-protection and wrinkle-resistant treatments, and flat-front, 60/40 cotton/poly pants with soil-release properties.”
Nicole Rollender

And that chicken Chic-Fil-A is serving? Bet that was bred to be the meatiest chicken possible.

“We are proud to have many long-standing relationships with our chicken suppliers, who highly value their association with the family farms where the chickens grow. Often these farms are diversified – they raise a variety of crops and livestock. Our suppliers follow strict animal welfare and nutrient management practices.”
Chic-Fil-A’s website

But wait! Many, including myself, would argue that when Jesus makes the New Covenant, the Mosaic Law no longer applies to Christians. Ok, so that nullifies any argument made with the Old Testament. And by the way, those arguments tend to cite the destruction of Sodom and Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination”
-Leviticus 18:22
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.”
-Leviticus 20:13

Ok, so where in the New Testament is homosexuality denounced? In fact, the subject is only mentioned in 3 passages: 1 Romans:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:8–11.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
-1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NRSV

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
-1 Timothy 1:8–11, NRSV

Two of these passages, specifically those in 1st Corinthians and 1st Timothy, only mention homosexuals in passing, if at all. The offending terms are placed in the middle of a generic laundry list of undesirable people. This is the equivalent of using the term “gang banger” to refer to any sort of any delinquent. Moreover, the translation of the Greek to “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” is questionable. Here I cite from William O’ Walker.

“The Greek word translated as ‘male prostitutes’ is the adjective malakoi (plural of malakos). This adjective means ‘soft,’ as in a ‘soft’ bed or a ‘soft’ pillow. When applied to people, it can mean ‘lazy,’ ‘self-indulgent,’ ‘cowardly,’ ‘lacking in self-control,’ and the like. When applied to males, it generally refers to what are commonly regarded as feminine-like ‘weaknesses:’ such men might be regarded as ‘soft,’ ‘flabby,’ ‘weak,’ ‘cowardly,’ ‘unmanly,’ or ‘effeminate.’ But to call a male ‘effeminate’ might or might not carry implications of homosexuality.”
The Fourth R

He goes on to explain how the terms “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” could be interpreted in many different ways.

People have assumed that malakoi does refer to homosexuality in 1 Corinthians primarily because the next term in the list is arsenokoitai (defined below)—the assumption being, of course, that the two words are somehow linked in meaning because they appear side by side in the list. This, however, is by no means necessarily the case. “The greedy” and “drunkards” are also juxtaposed in the list, and it would be difficult to see any link between them.

But even if malakoi and arsenokoitai are somehow linked in meaning, it is not at all clear just how arsenokoitai should be translated. It comes from two Greek words: arsen, which means “male” (as opposed to “female”), and koite which literally means “bed” but by extension can be a euphemism for sexual intercourse (like “going to bed” with someone). This would appear to suggest that arsenokoitai refers to males who “go to bed” with other males. But Dale B. Martin has pointed out that the meaning of a compound word cannot necessarily be determined by breaking it apart, looking at the meaning of each of its parts, and then simply combining these meanings to determine the meaning of the compound word. As an example, Martin cites the English word, “understand,” which has nothing to do with either “standing” or “being under.”

Numerous other examples could be cited, but I want to mention one that is closer to the topic under consideration. The word I have in mind is the vulgar term, “mother-fucker.” We know what this word means literally. But when people use it, they typically are not referring to someone who has sexual intercourse with his mother (or even with someone else’s mother). In fact, the word normally does not refer to sexual activity at all. The point is, however, that its original sexual meaning is often not apparent in its actual usage. And the same thing may very well be true of the Greek word arsenokoitai. It is a rare word. According to Martin, though, when the word does appear independently, it is typically found in conjunction not with sins of sexual immorality but rather with sins related to economic injustice or exploitation. … We often use sexual language to talk about things that have nothing to do with sex. For example, someone might say, “I really fucked up!” without having sex in mind at all. Or think about how we sometimes use the word “screw.” If I say, “I really got screwed on that business deal,” I’m not talking about sex, but I am talking about exploitation. … The bottom line is that we simply do not know what the word meant or how it was used in the first century.

In a way similar to how slave traders quoted parts of the Bible that, out of context or interpreted in certain ways, seemed to legitimatize their actions, those opposed to homosexuality or homosexual marriage could easily use these passages to support their advocation of the “traditional” family.

Leaving those passages aside for now, let’s examine what Paul says about homosexuality in his letter to the Roman church. In short, homosexuality is not mentioned as a sin, per se, but as punishment by God for idol worship. I’m not sure what the Bible has to say about Masochism, but if it does forbid the enjoyment of punishment, then why are anti-gay groups only targeting gays? They should also go after the greedy (recording industry), gossips and slanderers (news corporations), and God-haters (anti-Christian groups). Also those who disobey their parents.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

-1 Romans 1:21-32, NIV

As for the argument that homosexuality is somehow a “sin against nature” or otherwise unnatural, I find it interesting that such an argument would be made in the first place. First of all I’m not even sure what that is supposed to mean; would a proponent of that argue that anything specifically human is a sin against nature? In that case, homosexuality wouldn’t even fall under that category, since animals also show homosexual behavior. On the other hand, technology, speech, and writing actually ARE sins against nature.

But why hold up animals as a standard for behavior? Animals eat their children sometimes, but we don’t do that. At least not usually. Well, think about it this way: animalistic behaviors in humans can be divided into three categories; necessary, unnecessary, and harmful. Necessary behaviors are things like breathing, eating, pooping, etc. Unnecessary are things like playing. Both of these categories are legal. Harmful activities, like killing, raping, cannibalism, and infanticide are, with the last one being an exception, illegal. Since innocent homosexual behavior is neither harmful nor necessary, I see no reason to think it any more unnatural than playful behavior.

Of course, I digress. When Dan Cathy said that his company adheres to Christian values and he supports the “biblical” definition of a family, he wasn’t denouncing homosexuality (although I’m sure he has some beef with it). After really thinking about the controversy, I don’t actually see any conflict of interest.

All Cathy is saying is that he and his company stand behind one definition of a term. The government might stand behind a different definition. Activists may support another. The point is that if I announce “I believe that marriage can only happen between two people of the Caucasian race, regardless of gender” (which I don’t), that doesn’t mean that I can legally discriminate against married couples that fit a different definition. In fact, what I think doesn’t matter to anyone, until I make actions based on those opinions.

Obviously, whether or not the government thinks gay marriage should be legal is a MUCH bigger deal. And while we’re on the subject, I might as well give my two cents.

The only reason marriage exists in the legal system at all is because of tradition; but while its there, it might as well serve its purpose. When you think about it, the only possible reason the government should care about whether two people are symbolically bound together in an arbitrary ceremony is that children are born afterwards. The difference in taxes and other legal differences as a result of marriage are merely helpers to this function; marriage is not for the taxes, the taxes are for marriage. The government needs to ensure that children are being raised in an environment that will not turn them into criminals.

Based off of this definition of why legal marriage exists, one could make the argument that gay marriage should not be legally recognized because two people of the same sex cannot produce children. But by the same logic, a marriage in which one or more of the partners is sterile should also not be recognized legally. But of course both straight and gay married couples have the option of adoption. Following this line of reasoning to its conclusion, allowing gay marriage but disallowing gay adoption is paradoxical and a waste of government resources. The two rights should, by necessity, come bundled together.

Thus, the only remaining line of defense for those opposed to gay marriage and/or adoption would be that children raised by a gay couple are somehow deficient when compared to those raised “traditionally”. In response, I quote Judith Stacey, a professor at USC and holder of the Streisand Professorship in Contemporary Gender Studies. From the sound of the article the quote comes from, homosexual parenting is actually beneficial in many ways.

“We found that despite the ‘no differences’ mantra, many studies do report evidence of some intriguing differences, and even of some potential advantages of lesbian parenthood. A difference is not necessarily a deficit.”
Judith Stacey

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