Experiences That Have Shaped My Thinking: The National Security Decision Making Game

Back in 1994, I went to the Origins game convention, which was in San Jose that year. One of the things I did was to play a game called the National Security Decision Making game, which was a simulation run by a couple of guys who had taught at the Naval War College. It was intended to model, in abstract form, most of the major players in international politics and their important interactions. I was all set to mix it up international relations style. However, upon drawing my role, I got to be a region of the United States.

This was 13 years ago, so I don’t remember the game’s details terribly well. I do, however, remember the basic dynamics of the US’s domestic politics in the game, because that was what I mostly had to deal with. There were, I believe, five regions of the US — New England and the Mid-Atlantic, the South, the Midwest, the Plains States, and the West Coast. I was New England. The main objective of the regions was to secure national resources for themselves, in the form of a share of the national budget, which was refigured regularly. A region could accomplish this by lobbying the President, who determined the budget.

There were also three politicians, whose base condition was to be a Senator, but one of whom would be elected President by the regions every so often. I don’t remember the politicians’ names, but let’s call them Senator Gravitas, Senator Unctuous, and Senator Nonentity.

At the beginning of the game, we had a choice to make, and the senators made their pitches. Senator Gravitas seemed intelligent, trustworthy, and possessed of good plans for the nation. Senator Unctuous, meanwhile, mostly seemed ambitious. He said the right things, but his eyes were a little too clearly on the prize, and he just seemed a little sleazy. Senator Nonentity I don’t remember at all; I merely assume he must have existed because I’m pretty sure there were three senators, and we shall not speak of him again. Instead, let us assume he retreated to the ranks of those elder statesmen who are always discussed as potential presidential candidates, and whose chances always seem quite good except for their inability to excite either donors or voters. Needless to say, President Gravitas was elected, and it was morning in America.

The Gravitas administration was probably quite successful; he threw himself into foreign affairs with a will, and things seemed to be mostly going his way. I, however, was not paying that much attention, because I wasn’t allowed into some of the most important stuff, and I was mostly concerned with the fact that my share of the federal budget was not what it could be.  I managed to wheedle some concessions out of the President, but the other regions were pushing hard too, and he had a lot to do.

Shortly before the election rolled around, Senator Unctuous asked if he could have a word with me, the Midwest, and the West Coast. “I have a proposition,” he said. “If you three vote for me, I will give you the entire federal budget.” We were startled. We were a little scandalized. We could do the math. Thus began the Unctuous Administration.

Sen. Gravitas was really pissed off. Here he’d been doing a good job, getting things done, treating everyone fairly, and we had straight up stabbed him in the back. I felt a little bad about it, but I was getting a much bigger slice of the pie, and pie is a wonderful cure for guilt. The South and the Plains States were pretty ticked off too, but there wasn’t a whole lot they could do about it. Unctuous wasn’t about to throw them a bone, because if he annoyed one of the regions in his coalition enough to lose it, he was going down for good.

I don’t remember how the game went from there; it had been running a long time, it was late, and I think I went to bed before we got through another term. Still, I think about that experience a lot when I think about national politics.

originally published on LiveJournal

Unfit for Command

It’s a little late, but I have some tidbits about the whole Unfit for Command foofarah that might be interesting. (A disclaimer: I am not a journalist, and my ability to back some of this up is limited. Anything prefaced with “I am told” is something that I have in fact been told, and have no reason to doubt, but cannot verify.)

I work in a bookstore, you see, and thus selling Unfit for Command, the book written by the head of Swift Boat Vets for Truth, is part of my job. Or it would be, if we could get some in. I wish we could, because then the conservatives might stop yelling at me.

Unfit for Command is published by Regnery Press, a publisher of conservative books of various stripes. (Its owner is also currently involved in setting up an online dating service for heterosexual white Christians, it seems, for fear that they will be outbred by all the dirt people. Perhaps that was needlessly inflammatory. But I digress.) Regnery, it appears, was totally unprepared for the major media blitz that ensued; I am told that they printed 30,000 copies, which is about what you would do for a first novel. Demand was way, way higher.

Ordinarily, one deals with such a situation by sending some portion of each customer’s order. This is not what Regnery did. Instead, I am told they filled some orders fully, but not others. No one in the Bay Area had it, except for Borders, and they ran out within a few days. Some have speculated that Regnery may have tried to focus their efforts on supplying swing states with the book, but I have no evidence on that.

At this point, the angry phone calls began. It appears that right-wing talk show hosts have been telling their listeners that “liberal bookstores” are suppressing the book; at least, that’s what the legions of customers calling with venom in their voice to demand the book said. We will leave aside the question of what sane bookstore would buy dozens of books and then not sell them.

By now, the surge is subsiding; most of the charges the book needed to make are out in the public sphere, I think, so the point is probably sort of moot. Somewhere in there, we got a handful of copies which we used to fill special orders; this helps a bit, in that it’s easier to mollify an enraged conservative by telling them “we’re sold out” than with “we don’t have it yet”.

Ironically, very few of the livid legion actually want to order the book; they just want to test the liberal conspiracy. We may wind up sitting on a pile of books when Regnery finally fills our order.

Originally published on LiveJournal

Recall nonsense

The deeper we get into this recall nonsense, the more annoyed I get at section 11322 of the Elections Code. It’s the section that provides for the election of a replacement.

See, to my mind, a recall should be a mechanism to get rid of a bad official, not to call a do-over of the election. A recall election should, therefore, simply take the official out of office, and he or she should be replaced in the normal way. In this case, the lieutenant governor should take office. That’s what the lieutenant governor is for.

But instead, we’ve given ourselves a situation where anyone with enough cash can force a do-over (let’s face it, you can get enough Californians to equal 12 percent of the last election’s turnout to sign anything if you take enough time), we’ve done it on terms where the official subject to recall faces a more difficult standard than the original election, the state gets to shoulder the cost of a special election at a time when our budget is in shambles, and we’ve now seen a world where Larry Flynt is a gubernatorial candidate. It ain’t right.

Besides, the current state of affairs promotes a distasteful level of game-playing, where the Democrats hesitate to advance a candidate lest a viable Democrat tempt voters to vote for the recall. This is not how elections should be, damn it.

Originally published on LiveJournal