View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

...but can you live around 'em?

          We've all heard the expression, "You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em."  This is usually said by a man who has just had a run-in with a woman.  Well, buckle up.  I'm going to take a tongue-in-cheek look at the gender wars, and since the only map I have was drawn by a drunken monkey who didn't know what tree he was in, we may leave the pavement at any time; keep your heads and arms inside the blog, please...
          The "initiating event" for this post occurred when I wondered (prompted, no doubt, by some inane sitcom) why it is that when a man expresses his appreciation of a sunset, a butterfly's wing, or a stunning piece of culinary architecture, women reward him by expressing their approval because he is "sensitive," but when he takes that next step, and admires the architecture of a stunning woman, he becomes a lower life form, fit only for castration and imprisonment?
          When faced with a question of general human behavior like this, my approach is to look at what feral humans were doing a couple of million years ago that got us to where we are.  Back when homo erectus was grubbing roots on the Savannah, I'm guessing he was the preferred prey animal of the large predators.  Let's face it, a lion can catch us without breaking into a trot, and once it does, we have no big teeth, no sharp claws, nothing that is going to give a lion the slightest pause.  So, my guess is, proto-humans were dropping like flies.  One tried and true strategy to cope with this is having vast numbers of offspring.  This is a strategy that predates the dinosaurs, and there's no reason to think that it wouldn't have appeared among pressured human populations.
          So, we have a situation in which males, men, have a genetic imperative to not only produce as many children as possible, but to do it with a variety of women in order to diversify the gene pool.  This proclivity to be promiscuous thus becomes part of our genetic baggage.  This is no longer necessary, nor is it socially acceptable, but that drive continues to hang on, because when a strategy has been successful for millions of years, it doesn't go away quietly.  Women know this.  When a man, especially a man with whom they have a personal history and even a genetic common interest, says something like, "Wow, she's pretty," the woman on his arm is most likely to reply, "I'll cut your balls off!"  In fairness to the woman, the assumption she makes, that her man is considering a fling with the admired stranger, is often correct.  Of course, it just as often isn't, but this doesn't really help.  When the basic reproductive contract is so fraught with mistrust, how close and trusting can the overall relationship be?
          Women tend to think in a different manner than men.  Men for centuries have made snide remarks about how pathetic it is when a woman tries to do analytical thinking, but the facts don't support this disparaging attitude.  See, when a man works on solving a problem, he tends to use one hemisphere of his brain almost exclusively.  One deals with abstract symbols, and the other deals with the physical space around him.  The problem solving woman tends to use both as a unified whole.  Return for a moment to the feral humans out on the veldt.  Having fathered all these children, the male has one more job left to do.  That is to make sure as many of them as possible survive to adulthood to start the cycle over.  The male, who is generally larger and stronger (see the stats on size differential between males and females in harem-collecting mammals) is the expendable member of the pair, as he doesn't actually have these children, so that duty falls to him.  If he could stay alive, fine, but if the last resort was to throw himself in front of a sabre-toothed cat so that mom and the kids can make it up a tree, then that's what he did.  This sort of thinking doesn't lend itself to a lot of analytical thinking, in fact, quite the opposite; nobody who is good at predicting consequences is likely to throw himself in front of too many sabre-toothed cats.
          So we have some more genetic baggage:  Men can be demonstrated to have a martyr complex, a willingness to go out in a blaze of glory, and our analytical skills tend to focus on the immediate without too much dwelling on down-the-road consequences.  And yet we see women's abstract thinking skills being ridiculed for centuries as being weak and flawed, an exercise in futility.  How did we get to that?
          Ancient societies are known to have revered women.  Their childbearing ability accorded them immediate awe from men, who had to do something heroic to prove their masculinity, and often their value to a society.  A woman could gain the same status by producing a child, and this "body magic" was only enhanced by their intricate thinking skills.  They were leaders, healers, nurturers, priestesses, interpreters of signs.  I guarantee you, the term "feminine intuition" was not coined by a female.  It is an excuse to placate the male who can't experience what it means to apply both hemispheres to the solving of a problem.
          Then, culture by culture across the world, agriculture was discovered.  Primative humans found that you could put a seed into the dirt, provide water and nutrients, and a tiny plant would emerge, grow to maturity, and make its contribution to the society.  The analagous view of human reproduction was too close for any male to miss.  You put a seed into a woman, kept her safe and nourished, and a tiny human would emerge, grow to maturity, and make his contribution to the society.  The almost mystical regard for women was replaced by one in which she was, not to put too fine a point on it, the dirt in which the male's seed grew, and he was everything of any importance.  Did you know that as recently as the years around 1900 (during the reign of Queen Victoria, for God's sake!) there was a school of thought, not dominant, but considered valid, that held that women weren't really human, but were a sub-species whose only purpose was for breeding?  How are you going  to hold an attitude like that for millennia without having it boil over?  And how can there be any respect between genders?
          Early '60s.  Women's Lib.  I was there.  It wasn't pretty.  Life in America was supposedly exemplified by Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver.  Of course, everyone knows that that was Hollywood's caricature of suburban life, but I grew up in one of those 'burbs, and what I remember is more similarities than differences.  Women all had the domestic role.  My grandma was Rosie the Riveter.  She kept her factory job after the War, and was viewed by my neighborhood playmates as an aberration; a real woman would limit her concerns to laundry and cooking, like their moms.  My mother, as noted elsewhere, was a professional gambler and part-time card room bouncer, and I defy anyone without a psychology degree to figure out what the neighborhood kids made of her!
          And then women, young women my own age, started acting in a way I had never been trained for.  Or maybe I had; having had no men involved in my upbringing, there was never anyone around to teach me that it was OK to treat a woman like a piece of meat.  I had been raised by a family of strong women, but it was still culture shock for me when women began to shun the chivalrous attitudes I had been brought up with.  I have been laughed at for offering my seat on a bus, and cursed at for holding a door.  I have been castigated for the turn of a phrase, and never told what I'd done wrong, instead being told, "If you don't know, I'm certainly not going to tell you!"  I don't know to this day, and I'm guessing other guys around 60 have had similar experiences.
          The pendulum has swung, and like any pendulum that has been held high on one side, it has swung far beyond the center.  That's the two-million year road we've taken to get to here, and any call for understanding is likely to fall on deaf ears.  I know that I don't particularly like younger women; they don't act like they want to be liked.  What they want is to be respected, and I guess that they feel that familiarity brings with it contempt.  That's too bad.  Not counting Bonnie and my blood descendants, I have one female friend.  She is about twenty years younger than me, and works like a man in a traditional male profession (she fuels airplanes with the motors running).  We talk, we laugh, we joke, we compare notes about how we raised our children; in fact, she follows this blog, and The Tyler Gang.  I enjoy our conversations, and wouldn't object to being exposed to a wider variety, but it took years of mutual respect in our intersecting professions to get to this point.  I don't have time to develop another one.
          Okay, having spent the last two hours rambling around on a collection of distantly related subjects, I'm not sure I'm any closer to answering my initial question, but I've at least opened the door to discussion.  I'd love to continue in Comments, or on the Chat Board.  If you have some information to add to my education, please, jump in.  There are no unwelcome comments here.  And ladies, I wasn't raised to think that you are any less human than I am; some other men weren't either.  I plead for the benefit of the doubt.  By all means, defend yourselves from that which might harm you.  I won't.  If you smile when I greet you, and say hello, you just might not regret it...
          Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don't be Left 4 Dead!

          Literally from the time I was able to sit up and hold a deck of cards in my tiny hands, I have been a gamer of one sort or another.  I've never been a big proponent of self-analysis, but as the lonely child of no parents, maybe I found the acceptance my blood relatives never accorded me in the wink of the one-eyed jack.  It hardly matters at this point, I am who I am.  For thirty of my sixty years of gaming, I was a wargamer.  Wargaming, from its introduction to the general public in the years around 1900, has ever remained a fringe hobby, pursued by people who would fit the general definition of geeks, and often generating controversy, at least in my generation, due to its perceived glorification of violence.
          For several months I have been tip-toeing around the idea of a post to cover my involvement in this hobby, but have been unable to find the key ingredient to make it "jell" into something with a wider interest than a simple bio/nostalgia piece.  That ingredient was provided over the weekend by my young cyber-friend, CT, on his wide-ranging blog, Nerd Lunch.  He is a lover of comic books, another hobby viewed as nerdy by those who don't partake, and his post concerns itself mainly with the pending reboot of the DC Lineup.  In his general remarks, he touches on how comics are going more and more digital, and there, friends and neighbors, is my hook, because this is happening to everybody in every aspect of life, work and play.
          First, some background.  In 1958, a brash young entrepreneur named Charles Roberts opened a small publishing house he called Avalon Hill, and for forty years, this little company both dominated and supported the hobby it had created.  In the first year, it published Tactics II, an abstract study of military operations, and Gettysburg, the first true historical wargame.  I encountered Gettysburg at a friend's house in 1961, was blown out of my socks, and requested and received it for Christmas of that year.  I.  Never.  Looked.  Back!
          Gettysburg looked like this in its original 1958 incarnation.  By the time my aunt Marie found a copy in 1961, it had gone through its first "reboot," and my copy had luridly colored hexagonal spaces and square unit counters.  It was disappointing after watching those lines of infantry marching along country roads, making contact with the enemy, and swinging into those wide Civil War battle lines I'd read so much about, but it grew on me, and I continued to burrow into the hobby with every dime I could lay hands on.
          Avalon Hill was part of a larger publisher that made its profits elsewhere, and for the first decade or so, it followed a very slow publishing schedule of one or two wargames (it was also publishing in other genres) per year.  They had, for the most part, clean, attractive graphics, a reasonable playing time (two to six hours was the norm), and simple rules that produced a result to the battle that you could accept as plausible without excluding the casual gamer.  All that changed in 1969.
Berlin 1985, a typical SPI offering
          In that year, Jim Dunnigan founded SPI, and the whole landscape changed.  SPI produced a game a month, bound into their hobby trade magazine, Strategy & Tactics (S&T).  You bought their magazine, which was a little pricey, but not outrageously so, and you got a game.  The production values were a little rough, but they put irresistible pressure on Avalon Hill.  Let's face it, you can't stay in business producing one Cadillac a year when the guy across the street is turning out a dozen Fairlanes.  But there was more to it than that.  Mr. Dunnigan believed, and staffed his company with designers who believed that no detail was too small to be included.  An example will suffice:  In an Avalon Hill game, a unit would have a "movement factor" that defined how many spaces it could move over clear terrain.  If it had to cross a river, it typically cost it one extra movement factor to get across.  In an SPI game, you had to track the weather so you would know when it rained last, and how hard.  Then you went to a table that cross-referenced that information with possible river conditions, and rolled a die to see what exact thing the river was doing at that point, and then you cross-referenced that result with the type of unit making the crossing (foot, horsed, wheeled, tracked, amphibious capability, etc.).  This was to get one unit across one space on the map, and while you may have needed to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure out these rules, you certainly didn't need to be one to see what effect they were going to have.
Gettysburg 1977
          Avalon Hill felt the pressure to keep up.  They began to publish a lot more games, and the quality suffered accordingly.  Oh, they still published the landmark games of the hobby, the ones we remember and speak fondly of today, but gone were the days when the purchase of an Avalon Hill product guaranteed satisfaction; now you had to do your homework.  The complexity went up as well.  Gettysburg, the beloved title from the dawn of the hobby, had its third reboot and grew into what you see to the right, an unplayable monster with two rulebooks that totaled over a hundred pages.  Games were no longer played in a day, nor even in a weekend.  You needed a place to set up a map, with all the accessory components arranged around it, where it would be undisturbed for a period of weeks, or even months, until you and whoever you found with a similar level of obsession could finish it, likely at a pace of one turn per day.
          This, in its turn, had the effect of splitting the hobby into two factions, the casuals (into which you can securely place yours truly), and the hardcores.  The hardcores viewed us as less than real gamers, piddling around with some fantasyland version of history, while we viewed the hardcores as raving lunatics with no grasp on reality, since if they had one, they would put down their rulebooks, come outside, and live in it.  This hobby was never big.  In San Diego, which in the '70s was reaching toward its first million in population, I, immersed in the hobby as I was, knew of less than fifty gamers in the region, and now we were divided against each other.  Well, not against each other, but divided into two seperate hobbies, really, and never the twain shall meet.  And then the next coffin nail was driven home.
          Around the end of the '70s, while this internal battle was raging, an insidious little cancer called Dungeons & Dragons came out of its lair to conquer the gaming hobby.  Casuals and hardcores alike united in our disdain for all the little fairies playing with their elves.  Probably the same disdain that buggy whip manufacturers displayed when the first horseless carriage drove by.  While we were looking down our noses at a pastime we considered barely suitable for the kiddies to occupy themselves while we played real games, D&D took over our world, and Adventure Gaming became the tail that wagged the Wargaming dog.  SPI went under in 1982, driven into Oblivion by armies of miniature wizards and barbarians, and then the real Shadowlord made its appearance.
          That's right, kids, the PC finally arrived to sound the death knell of this feuding little fiefdom.  Granted, the early PCs weren't much.  Avalon Hill took a stab at programming some of their products for IBM, Commodore, and TRS, but they didn't pan out.  Then, in 1994, software publisher SSI released their flagship product, Panzer GeneralFor the first time, a lifelong wargamer could look at his PC screen and see a beautifully rendered wargame map.  Casual and hardcore alike could throw away their rulebooks.  You clicked your mouse on a unit, and every space it could reach, regardless of terrain, was instantly highlighted.  The cherry on top was the fog of war.  You no longer sat on the throne of Zeus, looking down at the whole battlefield with omnipotent knowledge of everything in sight.  Are those woods being held by a third-rate conscript unit, or is the lead strike element of a panzer division lurking in there?  Really want to find out?  Send some poor bastard to take a look!
          That was it, done.  In 1998, the Avalon Hill brand was sold to Hasbro for enough money to settle their outstanding debts.  It can still be seen on the Axis & Allies series, and a few others, but it no longer has anything to do with traditional wargames.  It's sad for those of us (Chops) whose napes still tingle at the very mention of Avalon Hill.  Better to have met a warrior's end; 21-gun salute, and over the side.  Gone, but fondly remembered.  Wargames, in their traditional form, are still produced by tiny companies, and played by nostalgic gamers on dining room tables.  For me, Panzer General and its progeny are my outlet.  It's just too easy to click that mouse and see it all light up for me to go back to flipping through a rulebook, looking for the section on River Crossings Under Fire, but I understand why they do it.
          See, I don't own a Kindle.  I like to feel the crisp edge run along my fingertip as I turn the page.  I like to put a bookmark in that thick block of paper, and hear the thump as I lay it on the nightstand.  My grandchildren have difficulty understanding the concept of clockwise.  I wonder whether their grandchildren will have any idea what a book was.
          As a young man, I watched and loved Star Trek.  When Shatner would whip out that communicator and call up anybody in the galaxy, when Kelley would put you on the table that diagnosed every ill, when Nimoy said, "Computer, call up all information on..." I have to admit I was profoundly jealous.  I wanted to live in that world, and control those gadgets.  Well, guess what.  In a lot of respects, the world has caught up to Roddenberry's mid-sixties vision, and you know what?  I don't want it.  I don't need that much organization in my life, I don't want to be controlled.
          It's here.  How many times have been in the middle of a conversation with a live human being, maybe with someone you like, or conducting business of vital importance to your personal situation?  How many times has your cell phone/i-pod/e-pad/artificial brain played a catchy little tune, or given a single chirp, and you have cut that person off in the middle of a word to kowtow to your electronic master?  How many times has that been done to you?  Have you ever liked it even once?  I have considered taking people off my A-List for it.  Ever been in a crowded room and heard an electronic chirp?  Isn't it hilarious how everyone drops what they're doing to check their devices?  Or are you one of them?  Sorry...
          Like it or not, computers are in the process of taking over society.  Your representatives are discussing the future of the U. S. Postal Service as I write this.  Are we going to get mail delivery three days a week (or less)?  Will our children play in a park that used to be the neighborhood Post Office?  Everybody sends e-mail; who needs the Post Office?  Personally, I don't feel that three or four carefully sterilized sentences on a computer screen take the place of a letter that someone felt emotionally engaged enough to sit down and write, put it in an envelope, buy a stamp, and put in the mail.  But that's just me, and it's an indication of how out of touch I am.  I've had my cell phone, a model with very few features, for three years, and my personal e-mail account for eight months.  I don't own a credit card, and I pay my bills with personal checks.  I am proud and happy to have lived in a society where you interacted with other human beings.  I miss it, and will cling to every bit that's left until they put me in the box, an event I'm sure will be fully digitized by the time I check out...
          One last caveat about all this digitization:  At some point, some measure of security is going to have to be perfected.  I've heard all the experts who are quick to say, "Can't be done, the next hacker's always out there," etc.  Well, it better be done.  My employer, the Government of the United States, doesn't cut paychecks.  If I want to get paid, I have to have direct deposit, and that means a bank has all my financial records.  My medical records are held on computer by an HMO.  There are many others.  You can't turn on the news without seeing the latest story of how a hacker has crashed into Sony and gained access to a hundred million customer accounts, or that CitiBank has lost control of the financial records of tens of millions of customers, exposing them all to malicious activity through no fault of their own.  This has to cease.
          As does this post.  I've gone on far too long, which is an indication of my level of interest.  I hope you enjoyed something here.  If not, maybe you'll enjoy pondering this little conundrum:
          If vegetable oil is made from vegetables, what, pray tell, is baby oil made from?

          Be safe, and watch out for each other.  Now, get out there and live life like you mean it!