Monday, April 29, 2002

I know the race of the week is coming up on becoming the race of the month, but I'm afraid there just isn't enough time to update it. You'll just have to wait.

As he has done a number of times in the past, Dad has demonstrated what may be a certain amount of Spirit-led foresight in predicting the next major issue of policy I will have to deal with. Namely, how do I deal with friends when they do things I don't think they should? And as usual, M'lakMavet has phrased the answer to that question (which I formulated as far back as middle school) in away that reminds the twenty-year old me what the thirteen-year old me had already figured out. If you think that this paragraph refers to you or someone you know, you may be right. However, it refers to nothing and nobody specifically.

It is good to have the Cardinal and Ish around, even if they're only "around" in a digital sense. My relationship with them is a pretty clear example to me that the Internet can be a very, very good thing - and a clear example that God keeps pace with the developments of human civilization.

I was encouraged this week to run into the Soprano at Campus Crusade. I don't know her very well but I suspect that she's one of those women, like the Caryatid (who's getting married on Memorial Day weekend! *squeal*) and the Fiance (who's getting married on July 27! *squeal squared*) who is a veritable pillar in her spiritual community. The kind of woman who epitomizes what it means to be a woman of God, and by extension to be female. This was encouraging to me not only because I think I needed such a woman to convince me to give this "fellowship" institution another try (thereby demonstrating that my Sweet One still has my back) but also because it reminded me that such women do exist. There is such a thing as a woman who is "all fair" and in whom "is no spot" (Song 4:7). If I demand such a woman to marry my search will not be in vain. Do I consider myself worthy of such a woman? Ha! It is to laugh. But I will be. Wait and see.

Star Wars II will be coming out on May 16, as many of you know. Remarkably, I will be home, and it is therefore possible that I could see it. This will be the first Star Wars movie that I have not seen in the theaters with Thea and Princess. I find that thought somewhat sad. Princess still goes to Northwestern of course, so she won't be available (even if it were possible to contact her without an act of God, which I don't think it is) ... but Thea might be. Maybe I should contact her and see if we can arrange to get together for lunch and a movie, for old times' sake. I had planned to see it with the crew, but I bet they'd understand if I could swing another date with Thea. I wonder if she's still going with the Historian.

Testimony's spring show is on May 4, which is the day before my twenty-first birthday. I have thoughts about that but it's late and I should go to bed. Good night, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Back home it's prom time, and Mr. Clean has gone and acquired himself a girlfriend - or, at any rate, she's acquired herself a boyfriend who happens to be him, which makes it pretty safe to assume that he's acquired himself a girlfriend who happens to be her. What with the time of year, and my birthday, I'm kind of being immersed in thoughts about boys and girls and what happens when they meet. In honor of the occasion I'm listening to my favorites from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, which is my favorite movie musical of all time even if the commercial soundtrack was a bitter disappointment.

The comment about my birthday refers to the only way in which I actually feel old. I would not describe myself as old (except in jest, but my friends do that often enough that I rarely feel the need), but I am somewhat old for my grade and older than all but two of my friends up here. I do not feel old, and I don't expect to feel old for a good long time. However, there is one way in which I "feel my age," if you will:

I want a family.

Now, generally speaking I consider statements like that to be a warning alarm for character flaws, so in all fairness to my own heuristic I should qualify that. I do want a family - just a wife at first; kids later - but I do not truly want a family right now. I am not done with school. And I would say the fact that I clearly have no romantic prospects at the moment is a fairly clear sign from God that I shouldn't be moving on yet. That will do as good as any segue for a brief monologue on dating, which I feel has been due for a while.

To begin with, let me answer the Great Question: do I believe in love at first sight?

The short answer to that is no, but the real answer is that in Natalie that is a null question. The Natalian definition of love (courtesy of Mr. Lewis) is to seek another's good. That is, seek//pursue//create. The phrase "at first sight" here has the connotation of "pre-interaction," and it is therefore logically impossible to have love at first sight on the Natalian conception.

So on to the second Great Question: do I believe in The One?

The short answer to that is yes, but the real answer is rather more complicated. I believe that God has created a single woman whom he plans for me to marry. I cannot back that belief up with any sort of verifiable truth, though, so my belief doesn't count for much. It's essentially something I hope because I think it would be nice. In point of fact I challenge//defy any of you to prove to me that the "One" hypothesis is the only one justified by a sensitive reading of Scripture. For all I know M'lakMavet is right and God doesn't have one person specially in mind for me; only certain standards that a girl must meet to be my wife (as I must meet for her, of course). The short answer to this question is yes because logic and our knowledge of physics necessitates that God exists independent of the dimension we label "time," and therefore it seems reasonable to assume that God already knows who I will marry.

So, with the formalities out of the way, what did I actually want to talk about?

First, let me revise my earlier comment that "if you're not in a life position to marry a girl, don't bother dating her," followed by the comment that "this is, of course, something that I already believe." I do believe//affirm that statement. No, I don't think that you should only date a girl if you have the financial capacity to support a household. Yes, I think you should only marry a girl if you two can provide for your own household, but that's another issue.

What I do mean by that statement is that you both ought to be in a position personally to marry. This is necessitated by the idea of Christians only dating to evaluate each other for marriage. If you aren't ready for marriage, then there's nothing to evaluate - and if you try, your instruments probably won't be calibrated correctly. What do I mean by ready? For starters, both people should be emotionally whole - free from any glaring emotional deficiencies - and have proven character. Are they self-controlled? Are they patient? Are they kind? Are they gentle? Do they seek others' good? Do they love the Lord in a way that transcends mere emotions? Do they also love the Lord in a way that transcends mere intellect? And are these things true of them not just often, but almost always?

Perfect? Of course not. But growing, consistently. If you are not already becoming more perfect before you date somebody then I don't think you will be loving your significant other. In my view dating absolutely must not have anything to do with fixing either person. If either needs fixing, terminate the romantic part of the relationship - in deed, not in word - and get fixed.

The other salient point in my dating philosophy is that God should tell you both to date one another. This is essentially an extension of my romantic nature. If you don't mind generalizing, I think every decision a Christian makes can be divided into Little Deals and Big Deals.

For Little Deals, you assume God is okay with it unless he tells you otherwise. I confess that I don't inquire of the Lord whether I should eat a hamburger or pizza for lunch (shocking ...). Things like that. If a Little Deal can't be traced to a basic Biblical principle that okays it in general, I'd be suspicious of the classification, but most "everyday" decisions can be.

Big Deals are those decisions so momentous that you assume God is not okay with it until he tells you otherwise. These are the decisions where you say with Moses, "if Your Presence does not go with me, do not bring me up from here." I would classify choosing your college as a common Big Deal.

I also choose to classify dating as a Big Deal. I couldn't call myself a romantic and not treat dating as a momentous thing. I expect that dating will at some point have a significant impact on the course of my life - certainly a bigger impact than my choice of college! It seems to me it would be inconsistent to make the bigger of the two decisions without waiting for explicit confirmation from the Father.

What about the idea that I might miss The One by doing that? I doubt it. If there is a One, then she's the One because God made her that way. God may think I'm being silly by deciding not to date a girl he hasn't explicitly told me to go for, but the root motivation there is a desire to submit my romantic life to his leading. And it would be patently out of character for God to penalize me for that.

I just realized that I've been throwing the word "dating" around a lot and haven't defined it. I am afraid that is because I am incapable at the moment of defining dating in a truly precise way. Allow me to posulate the following, however: dating is, fundamentally, emotional pair-bonding. Contrast to marriage, which is simply an emotional pair-bond that has no option to terminate. Do or die, come on you apes, you wanna live forever, and all that jazz. No, I can't give you a definition of "pair-bond." Make of that what you will. You'll just have to get a sense of what I mean by it by listening to me talk.

Those of you familiar with Time Enough for Love will point out that Lazarus Long doesn't define permanency as part of marriage, and would probably therefore view my two definitions as equivalent. I disagree with Mr. Long, of course, but that's because we come from different universes. His hypothetical point does illustrate a basic idea of my father's that I have decided to adopt until further notice: the emotional relationship between a man and woman while dating and married are different only in degree, not in kind. That is, "dating" and "marriage" are on the same spectrum, emotionally speaking.

Antilles is the logically trained one around here, so he may be able to point me up on this, but I believe that philosophy leaves room for "dates" (a guy and a girl doing something for the purpose of enjoying one another's company) outside of "dating." I had a "date" with Shanah this evening, but I hope that neither she nor Cloud thinks I am interesting in dating her (I'm not, for the record)!

I do think that it is remarkably easy to slip into a pair-bond with someone. I did it last year while telling myself I wasn't, and I'm fairly certain the same thing happened to Ransom and Chariessa this year. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but I think it deserves to be said, because this is the fundamental reason behind my renewed resovle to be cautious around girls. I can't fully control my feelings of attraction, but I can control whether or not I cultivate them - and while I think pair-bonding requires cultivation, in many cases it seems to require remarkably little. Like Mr. Lewis, I believe that the human machine was designed in two parts. Like an alkaline, those parts have a remarkable tendency to bond with random species in the solution of life with very little prompting.

I suppose that's about all I had to say. I have once again behaved irresponsibly by staying up past my bedtime. I should go to bed now, I think.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Dear Diary,

I hate my music class! Today in section we were doing rhythm dictation and I just felt so stupid and the class didn't even get through half of what the teacher wanted to. I hate it when everyone else gets something that I don't. Greek was fun today though. We were reading about this guy Simon, and he was like in love with this boy that the defendant was also in love with (like, major ew!) and Simon got drunk and came to this other guy's house and broke down the door and went into the women's rooms with a bunch of his friends. OMG, Diary, can you imagine? Last night Shanah and I were at rehearsal with Testimony. OMG, he is so cute! Shanah likes him, she told me. She wants me to ask him out for her, but I don't know. I kind of like him too. What should I do? Sigh.

- Danielle

Well, that was amusing. Those of you at rehearsal last night probably know where that came from; if you weren't there last night just accept it as a manifestation of my secret longing to be acting again and my deep-seated fascination with the female psyche.

I don't actually hate my music class, although section seems very much more difficult than lecture. There's an obvious reason for that, of course: in lecture we learn music in English; in section we learn music in music. Now, I suppose that's the intended structure of the course, but I don't speak music, which makes it a little daunting at times. I'm sure that I'll pick it up just as I would pick up Spanish if you put me in Mexico for long enough, and I think that's probably the best way to learn a language. But it's still a little frustrating sometimes. I could pronounce any text in Greek after like my first week of class, and everything after that has been extracting meaning from the sound. I know that there is plenty of meaning behind the sound in music, but not only can I not get at it, I can't even pronounce the "words." That's a very frustrating feeling.

Testimony is not a new blogname for a person, by the way, and I wouldn't have a crush on him even if he was. However, we do look darn good in our casual costumes. Yeah. The question of formalwear remains unsolved, but that's okay for now I guess. I think that the ladies look very good personally in their black and gray, but I still agree with the costume designers in my family that gray makes a bad costume.

The question of whether or not I'll be coming back to Testimony next year has come up again. I am not truly concerned - I'll come back if I feel like God tells me he has a place for me there still; if he tells me he doesn't then I won't - but it has raised the issue of what I would do here if I didn't do Testimony. Theatre? It would be fun to be back on stage. .I'm just scared of auditioning - well, actually, I'm scared of two things. One is monologues. I don't have a problem delivering monologues, but I don't have any. Stupid objection; I know. I could find more monologues than I could shake a stick at if I bothered to look; I am sitting on top of several million books. I'm also scared of dancing. That is, dance routines. Not that that would come up all the time, of course. And Stand and Deliver proved to myself that I really do like acting, not just musical theatre.

I've also decided to take fencing next year. I discovered something in my research for Phoenix Earth about the difference between foil and epee. The practical differences are that foil puts a lot more rules on the fencers as far as when they can do something and where they can strike. The reason for this is that foil developed between 1670 and 1680 (or so I'm told) as a method for Renaissance fencing masters to teach folks how to survive and win a duel, whereas epee developed as a sport because as fencing lessons became more common people realized how fun it could be. All the rules in foil therefore break down to one of two principles:

1). Don't attack somebody where you can't kill them (hence only chest and head hits count in foil)
2). Your first priority is to not get hit, not to hit the other person

Hence the basic foil principle that you aren't even allowed to attack your opponent if he is attacking you - the point is to teach you how to think so you'll stay alive! This is a very attractive idea to me. So I'm going to give Beginning Fencing a try, which is conveniently enough focusing on foil technique. I've been wanting to try a martial art for some time, and sword work appeals to me more than a hand-to-hand style or competitive shooting. And since there's nobody around here who can teach me how to use a broadsword, small sword\\foil technique will have to do.

My twenty-first birthday is coming up in sixteen days. Shanah asked me what I was going to do for it. I don't know, really. I'm certainly not going to do any of the things that I'm suddenly allowed to do by virtue of being twenty-one. I won't cry if dinner alcohol becomes part of my lifestyle, but I see no reason to hurry the process any more than I see any reason to become a coffee drinker if it doesn't happen naturally.

What I'd really like to do, I think, is go back home to the Twilight Zone to hang out, roleplay, and smash. Maybe we'd even play some Illuminati, although I think Trent's disconnection from the crew has sort of closed that door. But I can't do that, since Testimony's spring show is the day before my birthday and that would leave me insufficient time to be home for the weekend. I'd also like to go to dinner and a movie with somebody, except that that would be more a birthday gift than a celebration. It's been a long time since I smiled as big or as long as I used to smile after a date with Princess or Thea. A movie night might be cool. I dunno. On the plus side, I will hopefully be able to go home sometime after my birthday.

This week in dance we learned redowas (or just redowa?) and canter pivots, which means - that's right! - we were back to waltz! That was quite a bit of fun, and I got to dance with someone I hadn't danced with in a long time and don't have a blogname for but is one of my favorite waltz partners. Ah, the waltz. Charming.

Saturday, April 13, 2002

Before I begin the body of this post, I'd like to say that I really like Empire Earth. The game does a remarkably good job of creating the impressionistic feel of historical combat - I say impressionistic because this is a game, like most RTS's, that is about as close to real combat as chess (yes, I'm aware of the fact that chess was supposed to simulate combat. That's the point). I am very fond of the idea of unit relationships: very fun, and I daresay very much in line with the calculating spirit of a genre that is essentially twentieth century chess. I would like to see the following ideas implemented, however:

1). Alternate weapons. I can think of very few military units throughout history that have been effectively armed with a single offensive weapon (e.g., Macedonian phalangites and - I would argue - modern infantry regulars). The idea of unit relationships could be made infinitely more nuanced if units had multiple attack types appropriate to their historical archetypes, and if it took time to switch between them. Napoleonic infantry should be able to fix bayonets and thereby resist a cavalry charge - but be made vulnerable to enemy infantry. Archers should be forced to use a secondary melee weapon when attacking at point blank range, thereby giving you an actual reason to charge them with - and to protect them from contact with - melee infantry. Tanks should have three - yes, three! - attack types: armor-piercing shells for engaging other armored targets, high explosive shells for engaging buildings and soft targets, and machine guns (good Lord, did somebody suggest putting machine guns on tanks?) for engaging infantry. (And as long as we're talking about machine guns, just once I would like to see a machine gun in a computer game that is more powerful than an assault rifle, with a longer range, better accuracy, and higher sustained rate of fire. To judge by most games, EE included, you'd think there was some sort of physical law that said there's an inverse relationship between projectile power and rate of fire). The list goes on and on. But wouldn't that mean that virtually anything could be conceivably countered by anything, you ask? Why yes, it would ... but before you go saying that's too complicated for today's gamers, ask yourself if the same statement applies to StarCraft.
2). Unit experience. One of the coolest things about LucasArts' Force Commander was the way they handled upgrading equipment. If you gave a rookie crew a top-of-the-line AT-ST with all the latest upgrade packages, they performed somewhat better than if you had given them a walker with no upgrade packages, but not much better. However, if you moved a crack crew from their stock walker to one with all the latest bells and whistles, you could really see the difference. I think this is a very cool way of saying "the machinery counts, but it's the men who push it to its full potential." That idea - that upgrades become more worth it the better your men are - is so cool that I count it a grave injustice that it was only implemented in Force Commander.

With that little rant out of the way, I'd like to move on to what I intended this post to be about. It's one of my favorite subjects and likely one of yours, too: girls. More specifically, dating girls.

I've finished I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and surprised myself by agreeing with pretty much all of it. A large reason for this, I believe, is the fact that Josh Harris is rather like me in that he's a hopeless romantic who just can't wait to sweep a girl off her feet. Well, ok, he's married now and presumably having a blast with his wife. But the point is that I Kissed Dating Goodbye was written by a guy who looks at the romantic world pretty much the same way I do, and that made me feel very comfortable with his book. It also immeasurably improves my opinion of him that (it turns out) he is not the man behind the courtship fad, and in fact views that rules-based approach to wooing a girl in a very negative light. As it should be, if you ask me. If I'm going to woo a girl, I want to woo her, as an individual!

The basic point of IKDG is this: if you're not in a life position to marry a girl, don't bother dating her. That has a very important corollary the following principle: that Christians should date to weigh the possibility of marriage and for no other reason. I stipulate "Christians" because both of Harris' books are written for Christians, and his arguments only have weight within the context of a Christian worldview. That doesn't mean that I don't think what he has to say is good advice for everybody - just that if you're not Christian, I doubt you'll care what my deity thinks about dating.

This is, of course, something that I already believe. It is not, sadly, a set of principles that I honestly followed in the only dating relationship I've had to date (which was a dating relationship in all the ways that are relevant for this discussion, even if I didn't call it that). For this reason I am glad that I read this book. It's a reminder to me that romance is not romance without common sense (my study of Greek has recently led me to the idea that the sense of the phrase "common sense" is universal sense; sense that is applicable to all situations in life). I certainly know people who would disagree with me about that, but none of them have marriages I respect and very few of them have marriages at all. Conversely, all the people I know who agree with me about that do have marriages I respect. For this reason I have chosen to conclude that real knock-your-socks-off romance requires common sense. That may not be true, but I hope you'll agree with me that given my data it's a logical conclusion.

It may surprise you to know that my reading of Robert Heinlein has dovetailed quite nicely with my reading of Joshua Harris. But it has. Twilight once suggested, only half in jest, that if I wanted to know whether or not I'd get along with someone I should ask them what they think of the works of Robert Heinlein. Time Enough for Love is essentially about the sanctity and the utility of marriage. I believe that both books (properly read) strongly reinforce the idea that a girl should only be pursued if you're prepared - not just emotionally and physically but circumstantially - to take it all the way through to marriage. Heinlein adds, though not in so many words, that if both parties understand that it's just for fun that's ok.

That last is certainly a principle I have been living by up here, but what about it? Let's apply another of my life principles and try to tear that one down (this principle being that if you can't defend a belief you hold then you don't have any business holding it). Harris would probably say that flirting for fun is awakening love before it pleases (c.f. Song 3:5 and others like it in that book). I would counter that it's impossible not to awaken love before it pleases (more on this below). At that point I would bust out two more life principles, two of my most deeply held:

1). You have very little control over your feelings. You have complete control over your actions.
2). Feelings never necessitate action.

To return to my former track, then, I would say that if love gets awakened all by itself that's fine and doesn't mean anything. By principle 1)., God's charge in the Song of Solomon doesn't mean that I should never be attracted to a girl. That's not going to happen and in any case attraction is merely a feeling. However, evidently I have been charged not to tailor my actions that they encourage attraction in me before I'm prepared to act on that attraction by marrying its object.

In short then, I conclude that it is not fitting for me to hold the principles I hold and also believe that flirting for fun is perfectly innocent. One or the other must go, and I choose the latter. And I have the added proof of God speaking to my heart about this for several months now, using strong language that I choose not to post here.

This does not mean that I refuse to snuggle with girls any longer; nor does it mean that I refuse to give or accept backrubs. The reason for that is that those activities have legitimate purposes in my life other than awakening or expressing attraction. It does mean that I choose to go overboard and no longer initiate such activities with girls who are not in my nuclear family.

This is another principle that Harris has reminded me I believe: that it is worth it to go overboard if that's what it takes. He gives the example of Billy Graham and his cabal of evangelists, who made it a rule early in their careers not to be alone with a woman in the same room. Not because there's anything wrong with being alone with a man being alone a woman, but because people at the time had a very poor opinion of the sexual habits of televangelists and their ilk. Graham and his folks did what they did because it was the only way they could get people to believe that they weren't like that.

Finally, about the idea that it is impossible to not awaken love before it pleases - i.e., to not become attracted to a girl before you're ready to marry her. The obvious reason for this is because guys are built to be attracted to girls. If you're a girl and you're in my presence, there is a non-zero chance that I will become attracted to you by reason of your existence. That's nobody's fault; it's just the way things are (see above for why I don't think this is sinful).

But how can you, as a girl (if you're a girl) help me, your brother (if you're my sister) to not awaken love before it pleases? I don't really think you can. As I see it there are basically four broad options for how you can behave towards me.

A. You can be sexy. Traditional Christian views will reject this option but I suggest we keep it open for consideration. I believe that Heinlein rightly points out that the essence of this kind of sexiness is that it makes a man happy. If you're doing something sexy because you know it will delight me and you want to delight me (and I do mean delight), then I thank you. Assuming that you're not doing something that will cause me to lust after you, in which case I definitely do not thank you! To give you an idea of something sexy that makes me happy but is unlikely to make me lust, take hair: I really like hairstyles that are mostly down but have some hair (or better yet, little braids) swept back to form a kind of circlet.
B. You can be chaste. I consider the Hawaiian to be the best personal example of this. Someone who loves God, serves others, dresses modestly, speaks circumspectly, the whole bit. That's all well and good. But in case you didn't know, ladies, I should tell you now: chastity is sexy. Sexiness is, I think, about congruity of implied beliefs. That is, the things I find sexy are things I like. I like skirts, for instance. I think it's sexy when a girl wears a skirt. I also like Jesus. I think it's sexy when a girl likes Jesus.
C. You can go out of your way to be repugnant to me.
D. You can forget trying to tailor your behavior with an eye towards my existence.

I'm sure none of you will choose C, and probably if you're reading this you love me too much to choose D. Which means that basically whatever you do, I'm going to find some of it sexy. I don't think that's a bad thing, and the responsibility for acting properly in light of your sexiness is on me. However, if you wish my advice about whether to choose either A or B most of the time, I recommend B. It will be better for you than A. Moreover, a girl is at her sexiest when she's not trying to be sexy. So B is better for you and ends up delighting me more, and we all win.

Well, that was rather long. I probably shouldn't post for a while to let you all read that.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

When I have a brand-new hairdo
With my eyelashes all in curl
I float as the clouds on air do
I enjoy being a girl!

Okay, not really. But following sure is fun! Specifically following in a dance. And even more specifically following in lindy hop, which is what we did today in Social III because the Dance Master figured we'd all be rather tired from the time change, and therefore didn't want to do more hustle straight off. Wise in all the ways of social dancers is the Dance Master.

My enthusiasm for Social Dance had been flagging of late; wherefore I do not know. I suspect it had to do with my general lack of enthusiasm for school this quarter - last night I told Marion that I'm getting more and more ready to be back at school, and she asked when I go back. Case in point, ayia? But at least I am getting ready to be back. Two girls in a row told me they were the best guy they'd danced with when we did that. Which of course made me feel good, but more importantly made me feel on a level with other people in that class. Call me silly (I'm doing it) but I have hitherto felt rather inadequate in Social III. I just haven't felt like my dancing is good, and while I do enjoy hustle, it's not a dance I have as much of a handle on as swing or waltz. So it was particularly good time to get a compliment on my dancing today.

I'm also enjoying Music 19 more the more I go to it. Which is good. When I signed up for a section the professor asked me if I could read music. I wasn't sure how to answer. Sure I can tell you what the notes on the page are, and if you give me enough time I could tell you what the intervals were, the key, and maybe do some rudimentary analysis of the piece. But is that really reading music?

What I mean is this: what good does it do me to be able to read music if I can't speak it? If I can't sing the piece in front of me, how can I prove to you that I know what it says? When I can do that I will consider myself a singer. But I can't right now, which means that in my mind I can't read music. Then again, I'm probably being a little unfair: I can't speak in Attic, but I can read it if you give me enough time. Just because I can't explain to you what I'm reading in the language it was written in doesn't mean I can't read it. Isn't that analogous? So basically I'm setting my standards too high. But (despite the figure of speech) I'd say that's not such a bad thing.

Saturday, April 06, 2002

You'd think that by now the City of Angels soundtrack would be old. But it's not. Favorite song right now? "What You Don't Know About Women" - sure it's a girls' duet, but what do I care about that? I can still sing it, can't I? Sure can. Singing is fun.

Even when it shouldn't be. Yesterday I was in the recording studio until about 0300, along with a bunch of other Tmony folks, recording solos and harmonies. Funny thing about recording - there's rarely any gratification after you're done. I suppose that film actors must experience a similar thing: you finish the shoot and then you go home. When you're performing people applaud you and you can see, right in front of you, the reason you do it. No such thing in a studio. Despite this I had a really good time yesterday. For one thing, if I may be permitted to say so, I sounded really good. And I sounded even better with the Wizard's harmony over my solo ... we just sound good together.

So of course it's always nice to do work that you're honestly proud of, and it felt good to sing a solo and feel like I was actually singing a song. Not that I don't enjoy singing bass background; after all, the whole reason that I joined an a cappella group was to sing bass background. But anyway, more importantly I enjoyed yesterday because everybody else sounded really good. That pleases me for a number of reasons, one of which is that it sort of restored my will to do this project. It was restoring to hear that we can make good-sounding music, and not just music that'll have to do because we're running out of time and money.

Speaking of music, I'm taking Intro to Music Theory this quarter. I don't really want to - it's scary and early in the morning (0900 MWF) and I really don't want to compose music. I'm told that it won't be hard, and I suppose that's probably true. It doesn't mean I'll enjoy taking the class. However, I feel like I should improve my music theory for the following reasons.

1). it's desirable to be a Renaissance man
2). there's no guarantee Simba will return to Testimony next year, which would mean that bass section leadership would devolve upon me
3). practically everybody I know up here has more music theory than I do and I'm tired of feeling totally out of the informational loop.

In short, I'm shaming myself into taking a class that I don't want to take. I'm letting myself do that because I'm trusting in the principle that what I want to do has only a passing acquaintance with what I ought to do. Of course, of the three reasons above only one is truly valid. 1). is true, but I would argue that there's no point in becoming a Renaissance man if I don't want to be. 3). is just plain stupid, and if I'm going to choose to let my insecurities get the best of me then I have no cause to complain. 2). has some merit to it, but it's only a "what if." Which leaves me admitting that even if my basic principle is sound (which I'm not sure I believe), only one third of my reasons for taking this class are reasons I would actually defend. Which in turn suggests that I shouldn't take this class because I don't want to. But I'm going to press ahead and see if my attitude changes. I can always drop it in a few weeks if it doesn't, or else just dislike the class in return for gaining some useful knowledge.

On a happier note, I met with Eliani and Archimedes to discuss the holes in the Phoenix Earth storyline, and I am quite satisfied with what we came up with. I think the crew will find their session in the Phoenix Earth Explainotron quite satisfactory as well. I'm looking forward to that. And of course I'm definitely looking forward to the last Terratopia session, and to my own ride in the Terratopia and Atlantis Explainotrons.

I don't actually know precisely how many people read this, but I've noticed a marked increase in Stanford people showing interest in Phoenix Earth lately. People wishing me well on the sessions, and asking me how it's going, and helping me work stuff out, and even asking if there's any way they can help. I don't know if that's because they've been reading this and they know how important Phoenix Earth is to me, or because they've just picked it up based on how much time I've been spending on it. And I don't know if they're asking about it because it's just that cool (which might be true but is a little hard for me to believe) or because they just love me and they've figured out that this is a good way of letting me know that. I don't really care, mind you, since all of those possibilities boil down to something good. But I just thought I'd let anybody who happens to be reading this that I've got good friends up here, and let those friends know that I appreciate what they're doing.

Finally, I think I'm going to go post a little review about Empire Earth here in case you care to hear me talk about computer games. EE has been taking up plenty of my time lately (though that's about to change) and I just finished my first multiplayer game of it with Wedge. I've saved this till the end so if you don't care about my thoughts on this matter you can stop reading now. I've got some thoughts about I Kissed Dating Goodbye, too, but I'm going to hold off on those for a bit.

EE runs into the same problem that all RTS games face: what exactly do the absurdly small numbers of men in the scenario represent? The problem here is more acute than normal because of the game's historical theme - I mean, are we supposed to imagine that the Battle of Agincourt was fought with seventy-one men on the English side? I don't think so. There are basically two ways of dealing with this problem. One is the method taken by games like Gettysburg! and Lords of the Realm: each man-shaped icon on the screen represents a great number of men, so even if there are only six men on your screen it's understood that there are, say, two hundred and forty involved in the engagement. The other method is that adopted by WarCraft III: simply say yes, these engagements take place between very small numbers of men.

That isn't really an option for EE, of course, but the game doesn't ever actually say which method it's adopted. I've decided to assume it adopts the former method, since the rest of the game is absurdly scaled; on some maps your men can walk across Greece in about two minutes. Which lends some legitimacy to the multiple-men theory.

I mention that because what really interests me about EE is that it tries to find a halfway point between the traditional run-into-the-middle-of-the-map-and-bash-away "tactics" of RTS games like those made by Blizzard (which are fine games, but they don't even try to depict realistic combat) and those RTS games which really do do a pretty good job of depicting a tactical situation, like the ones that Sid Meier makes. EE has the familiar base-building and resource-gathering elements that have been standard in RTS games ever since Westwood's Dune 2 and a healthy sci-fi/fantasy element, but it's also got a greater-than-normal historicity in its tactics.

The way EE achieves this is by what it calls "unit relationships:" every epoch of history in the game (there are 14) has a number of different unit types based on method of combat. Each type of unit is best countered by one or more other types of units, and is in turn particularly effective against one or more unit types. Unit relationships are the governing principle of combat in Empire Earth, which is much more satisfying (at least in a historically-themed game) than the fairly arbitrary nuances that govern combat in a game like StarCraft. In addition, there are a total of seven discrete sets of unit relationships, which means there are essentially seven sets of tactics to master.

I approve of the whole principle behind here - it's something as old as Broderbund's Ancient Art of War, and I'm glad to see it return to gaming. I have two complaints about the system. One is that as good a job as they've done identifying the fundamental types of units in each of the epochs they're treating, in some cases their treatment is too simplistic. Second, sometimes they've simply miscategorized units.

The case of the first unit relationship dynamic will illustrate both points nicely. All the way up to the Middle Ages, combat is governed by the rock-paper-scissors relationship of shock weapons-arrow weapons-piercing weapons. "Shock" weapons are swords and maces - weapons designed to be used up close and personal - the weapon of choice against bow weapons, but not something that works well against another melee weapon with greater reach. "Piercing" weapons are spears and javelins, impaling weapons that are supposed to be used at a distance - fine against shock weapons, but making the user cumbersome and therefore an easy target for archers. And archers work well against heavily armored spearmen but are vulnerable to fast-moving troops armed with close-range weapons.

At first glance that all seems well enough, but it breaks down when you try to apply it to actual historical unit types. Consider the case of the gladius-wielding Roman legionary versus a Greek hoplite. Granted that particular match-up almost never happened, but in EE it can happen quite frequently. EE basically assumes that everybody is an expert with his weapon - and if that were true I'd agree that a spear is a good defense against a short sword; I assume there's a reason that half a dozen martial arts schools call the spear the "king of weapons." But of course for most of European history spears have not been wielded by martial artists, and the experience of legionaries against Hellenistic phalangites strongly suggests that the a legionary and a hoplite would be reasonably well-matched, with edge to the legionary. Not so in EE; the hoplite will win every time.

Another example of lack of nuance: the idea that arrows are good weapons against heavily armored soldiers. Sure that's true in some cases - a crossbow or longbow are perfectly good ways of punching through plate armor. But a self short bow - or even a short composite bow - is totally inadequate for such a task. So why is a man armed with a self short bow going to kill an armored knight or hoplite?

And then there's the question of just what exactly is what. Hoplites were definitely shock troops; the idea of fighting at a distance was as antithetical to the hoplite as it was to the legionary. They were comparably armored and fought in comparable ways - so why is a legionary classified "shock" while a hoplite is classified "pierce?" Once you get out of antiquity the system works well enough - long bows are great against knights or squares of pikemen; swordsmen are next to helpless against a bristling row of pikes. But they really needed a separate dynamic for antiquity. Their later dynamics look pretty good to me but I haven't played them much, so I'll let you know once I do.