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Perhaps I’d be more apt to believe in it if one or more of those reformer candidates was advocating popular uprising against the Supreme Leader, aka the Ayatollah who actually makes all the real meaningful decisions in the Iranian government.

Like it is with most all modern asian governments, “democracies” included, real structural change will only come when the military turns against strong man or the oligarchy. The Shia religious element is something to take into account with Iran as well — crushed in on western and eastern borders by heavily armed volatile Sunni-majority nations — but I still think the central tenet of asian governance holds firm: political authority is predicated through the implicit or explicit threat of violent force.

Yes, this is a post about video games.

Creative Assembly obviously took a long, hard look at Paradox Interactive games–Victoria and Europa Universalis 3 in particular–while designing their latest Total War title.

Empire Total War‘s strategic-level map and its pretty and in-depth information windows is a dead ringer for EU3’s. The new technology research trees and national prestige tally calls to mind Victoria. The problem is that the similarities are only so at first glance.

One of the best things about Victoria was the way it modeled a balance of power between nations. Prestige was more or less a scoring system, but with many more implications than simply “nation with the highest number by Year X wins,” a la Empire. Prestige could be won or lost depending on your actions: furthering Western culture and technology was a boost, declaring excessive wars of aggression against nations, especially those of Western Europe, a massive detriment. Lose too much prestige and you earned those infamous “bad boy points,” a representation of international hostility toward your country. The number determined the effectiveness of your diplomacy and the willingness of civilized nations to declare war on your unsavory practices.

There lies another of Victoria’s innovations, the split between “civilized” (Westernized and industrialized) and “uncivilized” nations. A colonial power suffered no bad boy penalty for subjugating countries deemed uncivilized, so playing as said “savages”, you had a vested interest in pushing your country toward civilized status by building up prestige, culture and technology. I’m somewhat surprised CA didn’t implement a similar system into Empire. The effect was that, at least in Western Europe where every nation was oh so civil, a balance was struck. No one could really go blitzkrieg on the continent without international outrage and an endless stream of declarations of war dropping on top of your head. So, naturally, you looked outward. No historical basis to that, right? Pure sci-fi.

The pick of time period for Empire is a little strange as well. Not to say that the 18th Century, with its upheavals, aren’t interesting, but just to a layman of history it seems like CA chose a “safe” century in between two others filled with so much ripe material. The thing is, CA’s technique since the beginning has been to go with time periods readily identifiable to the layman. Everyone has a general idea of what samurai, Roman legionaries and medieval knights are like. My guess is that they skipped over the Renaissance and the Thirty Years’ War because the layman doesn’t readily associate the Renaissance with warfare at all, and what the hell is the Thirty Years’ War? My question then is why did they choose the 1700s over the incredibly ripe 1800s?

It seems shocking that the game ends in 1799, right before Napoleon, until you realize that’s almost certainly cut off to be packaged into the expansion and/or the sequel. As for the sequel, the “evolutionary” game, the logical assumption for this gunpowder-based engine is either the 19th Century or a Thirty Years’ War game, the latter of which is already hinted at as most nations start out with a few regiments of obsolete pike squares. Perhaps if that happens it means we’re seeing the beginning of a newfound urge in CA to venture into lesser-known periods in history and we can finally get that Asia Total War game set in the pre-Mongol 13th Century that plenty of Total War fanatics want so badly (including me).

Watch as everyone’s predictions go wrong and we get Pern: Total War.

The San Francisco Chronicle could be dead by the end of the year if it doesn’t find a buyer.

Personally, I don’t think the Chronicle is expecting to actually shutter this year (planning on it is another story). The SF daily has too much name recognition value and local prestige for prospective buyers to let something so traumatic as a total annihilation scenario play out.

I imagine a lot of media speculators and bullshitters (such as myself) in Colorado smugly rattled off the same assumption earlier this year, though. Ouch.

If anything, the Chronicle will face conglomeration, the subsequent mass downsizing (down from its already-sliced numbers) and a slow-to-gradual slide into conglomerated obscurity/passivity, such as MediaNews’ San Jose Mercury News, a formerly world-famous newspaper.

Speaking of things related to the Merc, Dean Singleton might be one of the buyers in the running to pick up the Chronicle and the bills picking it up will entail. A connection inside the MediaNews fold recently told me that Singleton is the only feasible candidate for the SF paper, since the guy already has a number of East and South Bay papers in his pocket under the MediaNews imprint. All these papers share editorial content and their sales staffs can sell space in each others’ papers (a fact that said connections tells me causes innumerable bureaucratic headaches, especially regarding the Mercury News). Is the future a South Bay Super Daily under several assumed names? My question would be “where do I apply?”

Of course, this is all somewhat out of character for me. A pessimist has the satisfaction of being right most of the time and pleasantly surprised the rest of the time.

I’ve always been torn on Rousseau and Locke. The social contract is a noble concept, probably one of the noblest, but even the most cursory glance at current events and back at history will make it plain that natural rights are a sham. Nation states and the contract of rights they grant and/or deny to their citizenry are based on a foundation of violence either explicit or implicit, directed toward its own citizens or outwards towards perceived foreign enemies.

One of my favorite examples is Turkey’s republican democracy: it’s marked with multiple occasions on which the military, whose command structure is largely staffed with scions of Turkey’s highly educated, secular intellectual class, has directly intervened in elections to depose presidents with Islamic fundamentalist leanings. They do this on the claim that key to Turkey’s constitution is a section forever establishing the republic as a secular state. Are the rights of the citizenry–the right to govern themselves, being violated by their military? I would say yes, but not condemn the act. After all, they are violating the democracy in order to depose people who would more than likely erode the democracy much more dramatically had they been left in office.

The firewall between the military and politics is largely a Western, First-World conceit. Imagine if the U.S. military weighed into elections to depose any religious fundamentalists who happened to make it into office.

This is all pure speculation.

Mark I. Pinksy of The New Republic has beaten me to the draw with my own hypothesis for the future of journalism: a government-subsidized central trust, with a strong preservationist/legacy bent to render appearances more benign, around which the surviving private enterprises all orbit, picking up/freely exchanging information and aspiring talent along the way.

WNYC’s On the Media program interviewed Pinsky and profiled the Federal Writers Project. The latter was treated rather fondly–Pinsky’s reception was somewhat harsher. Fair enough, there are legitimate concerns and risks associated with the state funding of any industry previously the sole domain of private enterprise.

Honestly though, I’ve sensed a knee-jerk reaction in not just the brass, but much of journalism’s rank-and-file against the idea of BBC-style “journalism handouts.” An assumption, absolute in its faith, that integrity can only be maintained in the trade through the continued existence of the fiscal wing of the office building as a private entity.

It never ceases to amaze me how eager modern journalists are to help out the blades sawing at their own wrists and jugulars.

Having already been beaten to the chase by Pinsky on one front, I will preempt the other and declare myself what the journalists described above would be wont to call me if I mattered: “Defeatist Journalist.” I won’t give them the satisfaction of having coined that term.

This is all pure speculation.

If most Western liberal democracies have taken the view of von Clausewitz that wars are an extension of politics, rendering a military’s commanders subordinates to the civilian government, and that total war is an untenable military or political posture, then does that not render a conversion to full-on libertarian, Athenian direct democracy a geopolitical impossibility (short of majority-mandated nuclear hellfire)?

Of course, the libertarian response, and it’s as good one, would be that nation states would play a much smaller part in each others’ domestic affairs than they do now. But still assuming there has been a full return to direct democracy (my conceit here is the assumption that the advancement of libertarian ideals would involve the overhaul of representative democracy/republicanism), then I highly doubt that there would be no highly influential, highly populous voting demographics in the U.S., much less any other nuclear-equipped nation, that won’t harbor a knee-jerk, button-press approach to foreign affairs. In that sense, libertarianism then faces the same problem Marxist-Leninism did: the justification that communism cannot work unless the entire world is communist.

Republican Spain had a democratic army. George Orwell in Homage to Catalonia speaks of it positively, primarily for the fact that it worked as well as it did, but of course we all know how well it panned out for Republican Spain.

This is all pure speculation.

[20:00] Sync: there’s only one forecast I have that I can say with utmost certainty

[20:00] Sync: the quality of American reportage will decline

[20:00] _____: how is that even possible?

[20:00] _____: American media is already crap

[20:14] Sync: it’s possible

[20:14] Sync: man

[20:14] Sync: if that journalism outsourcing actually takes off soon

[20:14] Sync: Asia could stand to make a fucking killing in the next decade

[20:15] Sync: (as in killing me and my career)

[20:24] Sync: well, to refer back to the original point

[20:24] Sync: just look at the state of american journalism’s command structure as of right now

[20:25] Sync: the current aging dinosaur bosses and owners of media outlets seem to have little desire or initiative to change up and vastly overhaul the business model of modern journalism into something that will actually work

[20:25] Sync: and the next generation coming to replace them?

[20:27] Sync: They seem to be happy being eternally happy-go-lucky about blogging and the unfettered nature of the Internet, not bothering to be very concerned about how online journalists will make any money

[20:28] Sync: I’ve described them essentially as sitting there with their emo glasses and dumb grins on their faces more than happy as they stab themselves repeatedly in the belly

[20:28] Sync: slitting their own hamstrings


[20:30] Sync: so there will be a gazillion free-to-access, free-to-work for online sources of reportage

[20:31] Sync: “staffed” almost entirely by part-time “citizen reporters,” ie: people already connected tenuously and questionably to the stories they have leads on in their local areas

[20:31] Sync: who almost certainly work other jobs totally unrelated to journalism to make a living and aren’t trained as professional journalists

[20:32] Sync: hence: the quality of American reportage will decline


“Periods of transition are always periods of mismanagement; thus the predominant demand of the time was for efficiency. Acutely conscious of the prevailing insecurity, that small section of the populace which exercised its influence was in general prepared to accept any government which could guarantee peace and order.”

“Few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right rather than live in comfort under one which they hold to be wrong.”

– C.V. Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War (pg. 19)

In the past two or three years I’ve grown increasingly skeptical– or simply cautious– of the distinctly modern worldview that views liberal democracy as the best recourse for effective governance the world over. Of course, this was a keystone in the now largely defunct Neoconservative philosophy for foreign affairs, but in another way it seems to have become part of the First World Left’s philosophy (only as much as the First World Left can be said to have a coherent philosophy, which is mostly does not anymore) as well.

The usual example cited in your run-of-the-mill Tyranny of the Majority criticisms of democratic systems is the one of the Nazi Party being democratically elected to office. The important part to remember about the Nazis’ ascension is that the citizenry of Germany had been suffering under the ineptitude and crippled nature of the Weimar Republic ever since the end of the First World War. To say they hungered for efficiency is most likely an understatement– and of course the Nazis marketed themselves as “National Socialists,” socialism being the Platonic image of efficient governance at the time (Market liberalism was not exactly in the hottest of states in the 1930s, was it?) Of course, I am not condoning the Nazi Party or any of their philosophies, but simply look at it from a Machiavellian viewpoint (something more intelligent people should be doing about more issues more often): For much of the 1930s provided one fit the ethnic, social and political criteria for Nazi affiliation, life in Germany was relatively good.

In Turkey, multiple presidents have been deposed by a largely independent military for attempting to betray the constitution of the Turkish state, in particular the clause establishing secular rule. As journalist and author Robert Kaplan describes in his book Eastward to Tartary, the majority of commissioned officers in the Turkish military are progeny of an established intellectual class: committed to democratic ideals, but even more committed to the preservation of secularism. And a majority of Turks support these somewhat systematic coup de’tat moves. Really, can you blame them? I’ve found that I cannot. After all, we’ve seen the effectiveness of theocracies in providing their subjects a stable, prosperous quality of life in the Taiping Rebellion and the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan, not to mention most all of Mesopotamia’s history since Hulagu Khan’s sacking of Baghdad in the 13th Century.

After all, aren’t all governments founded on violence either explicit or implicit? Social contracts are well and good, and I don’t say that sarcastically, but look at it practically: what is a law in its rawest form other than a promise of implied violence attached to a self-evident moral code of culture in which it is established? Again, that’s not to say that laws are ludicrous– I’m more or less through with anarchism– but is it not important to attempt to see things as they really are? (“Reality” is the providence of journalists, “truth” that of philosophers)

There are already books out that imply that the system which governs a polity is more attached to that state’s cultural and physical geography more than impersonal international political philosophies (Neo-Marxists are you listening?) With things going the way they are, I figure more books are on the way.

This is all pure speculation.