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January 27, 2017

Russia Russia Russia

It's not going away, so here are two perspectives. One from the Jacobin, which considering the source, goes about how you'd expect (it's a view i generally agree with and it repeats points i've blogged before), and one from Newsweek which makes the interesting case that Democrats are returning to their hawkish Cold War roots. The problem with the latter view, in my opinion (and this is acknowledged in the article), is that the Soviet Union doesn't exist anymore, and Russia isn't even pretending to follow a Communist ideology. Smearing leftist critics of Hillary Clinton's faction as stooges of Putin just seems laughable to me; i don't understand how anyone can do it with a straight face.

Related to all of this is Syria, of course. I read this today. Can't vouch for its accuracy but it was an interesting read.

By fnord12 | January 27, 2017, 12:48 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

Thomas Frank on How Dems Lost the Midwest


"They were willing to overlook some of the really horrendous things about the candidate who got elected," she told me, "because he said a lot of other things about what they were feeling." Specifically, things Trump said about trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how awful they are.

At first, it surprised me to learn this. I knew that Trump was critical of trade deals, of course. But I have always thought of farmers as big fans of free trade, since the US exports a huge amount of food. Farmers turned against Jimmy Carter because of his grain embargo on the Soviet Union, for example, and farm lobbyists are forever pushing for opening up trade with Cuba.

But these days, things are different. The way Perry tells the story, family farmers are now in the grip of a handful of immensely powerful international food companies, and the trade deals our government has been agreeing to for decades have only helped to strengthen those corporations at their expense.


Then there was Obama himself. None of us city folk remember it today, but in 2008 Obama was regarded as a savior by certain aggrieved small farmers.

Unlike nearly every other national politician, Obama seemed to get it back then: he promised to enforce antitrust laws against big food conglomerates and to do something about corporate livestock operations. "He really ran a campaign that related to agriculture," Rhonda Perry recalls. "Part of his platform," she continues, "was about reining in the corporate power and the monopolies that these companies have - it was about ensuring that there was going to be fair and competitive markets. None of those things happened."


What did crop up persistently when I talked to this group was a disgust with the perceived moral haughtiness of liberals. More than one member of the club referred to himself as one of Hillary Clinton's "deplorables", for example. There was resentment of "Ivy League graduates" who felt entitled to "micromanage the rest of the country". The man who told me that - a fellow wearing a US Army Retired cap - also told me that "if you want to be an obnoxious slob, you have a right to be one".

By min | January 27, 2017, 9:22 AM | Liberal Outrage| Link

I mean, i love it, but...

Dean Baker means well, but this reads more like "How Mexico Can Invite A Coup From The CIA" to me.

By fnord12 | January 27, 2017, 8:30 AM | Liberal Outrage| Link

Shadow Government needed

I've made the point before that that Democrats need some sort of shadow government apparatus in place. Again, i'm not advocating for setting up some sort of Illuminati thing; it just means that you run a parallel mock government so that, as a party, you continue to build policies and react to current events. And it provides a source of bureaucrats (used non-pejoratively) to fill the mid level positions when you get back in power. I'm also realizing, after seeing this Intercept article about people at the EPA who are afraid to speak to the press, that it could provide a safety net to all these people afraid of losing their jobs. It would give them a place to continue doing their work and keep them financially stable. Obviously funding would be a huge issue, and the idea isn't that it could just employ everyone or at full salary. But it just struck me, in this time of #TheResistance, that people in places like the EPA are too terrified to speak out because of the fear of losing their jobs, and there's no support structure from the Democrats to help them.


Not to take away at all from the fact that EPA workers are scared of losing their jobs, i think with good reason, but today the New York Times had this:

Longtime employees at three of the agencies -- including some career environmental regulators who conceded that they remained worried about what President Trump might do on policy matters -- said such orders were not much different from those delivered by the Obama administration as it shifted policies from the departing White House of George W. Bush. They called reactions to the agency memos overblown.

By fnord12 | January 27, 2017, 8:10 AM | Liberal Outrage| Link

January 26, 2017

Sadly, i've internalized this

I didn't even eat any wild mushrooms.  And it's always mean.

This isn't a new Penny Arcade but i think about it a lot when i sit down to write some cranky comic reviews.

By fnord12 | January 26, 2017, 10:04 AM | Comics| Link

January 25, 2017

Caught car. Now what?

A conservative columnist that had been doing full-throated advocacy for "repeal and replace" of Obamacare before the election has now finally looked at the details and determined that it's too complicated and the Republicans should just leave it alone.

He's getting reamed from all sides, understandably. I mean, i appreciate the honesty, but der.

This is getting attention because it "proves" right (obviously it's really just one random guy) liberal pundits who've been saying that Republicans don't really have a plan for the "and replace" part (beyond "something something state lines"). And it also "proves" that Obamacare (formerly Romneycare) really is as "free market" as you can get while still providing (vaguely) universal coverage. So really your choices are to abandon that principle (i.e. ditch the "and replace" part), which Trump has said he's not doing, or go to the left, starting with a Public Option or (better yet) Medicare For All.

By fnord12 | January 25, 2017, 4:05 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

to snitch

'Not maths?'

I didn't see these ads when i was a kid so i never got the opportunity to turn in my teacher. Not sure if my middle school's copies of Oregon Trails and Logo were legit.

By fnord12 | January 25, 2017, 2:21 PM | Liberal Outrage & Video Games| Link

January 24, 2017

If you want unity, get behind us for a change

Good article from Sarah Jones.

Key line: "...the same camp that is championing establishment ideology is also claiming that any attacks on that ideology are a blow to Democratic unity". Plenty in there about our horrible Senator, Cory Booker, too.

By fnord12 | January 24, 2017, 2:59 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

Winning the unions

Michael Tracey has a write-up of Trump's nixing of the TPP and it's pretty good, but i was hoping he'd incorporate a related development that he highlighted on Twitter. Namely that after formally cancelling the TPP (or ending the US' involvement with it, which is effectively the same thing), Trump met with the leaders of Hillary supporting unions, and the leaders walked away being very pleased with the meeting. As people note in the "comments", this is potentially really dangerous to Democrats. The Democratic party relies heavily on the unions' money and ground game. The Dems better get a message for them.

By fnord12 | January 24, 2017, 1:04 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link


Well, we were complaining that they were only eating the bushes over to the right, making them all skinny and sad-looking compared to the rest. So i guess we can't complain now.

They still only target the middles of the bushes. Guess there's no point in straining your neck when there's plenty to eat at face level. Guess it wouldn't be wise to ask that our neighborhood get a sudden influx of giraffes.

I always have to remind myself that it's awesome that this beautiful wildlife just wanders around in our backyard. Because the initial reaction to seeing deer eating your bushes is, "Fuckers! Get da fug out of here!". Hey, those bushes are the only thing keeping us from having to interact with our neighbors in the summer, so you can't blame us.

By fnord12 | January 24, 2017, 8:12 AM | My stupid life| Link

January 23, 2017

Can we please revise the mission statements of "fact checkers"?

Jan 14th: Bernie Sanders's claim that '36,000 people will die yearly' if Obamacare is repealed is given four Pinocchios by the Washington Post's fact checker.

Today in the Washington Post: Repealing the Affordable Care Act will kill more than 43,000 people annually. And no, the problem wasn't that Bernie undercounted by 7,000.

To be fair, the latter is actually a rebuttal of the former, and kudos to the Post for publishing it. But how do you go from awarding something four Pinocchios (which is such a weird metric. It's been a while, but i don't remember Pinocchio cloning himself every time he lied.) to publishing an article saying that it's true? And the headline even uses the dangerous word "will", which was what caused the original claim to get bumped from three to four Pinocchios. And it's not like the Post has issued a correction or any caveats. Their "fact check" still remains on their website completely divorced from this article. Basically you can have any reality you want.

Fact checkers should really be limited to verifying actual facts. They should leave policy analysis for policy analysts, and in that capacity they need to recognize that there are a lot of variables and possible interpretations. A lot of the caveats in the first article were just fine (e.g. a lot depends on exactly what the "replace" part of "repeal and replace" would be), but when you end with issuing Pinocchios or whatever, you're not just providing necessary context to readers. You're actually giving them a false sense of certainty.

By fnord12 | January 23, 2017, 12:42 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

January 22, 2017

News captured

Guys, a garbage can was on fire during the Trump protests. Luckily there were one or two reporters around to get a picture of it.

Nice work, guys. The Washingtonian has more.

Also i hear that someone punched a Nazi in the face. I have a photo of that:

By fnord12 | January 22, 2017, 12:46 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

January 20, 2017

Luke and Jabba team up to fight the Empire

David Brock his gross. He found a loophole in campaign finance laws so that his Super-Pac could collude directly with Hillary Clinton, he attacked Bernie Sanders on specious, ridiculous grounds (the Podesta email hacks reveal that even other Hillary supporters thought they did more harm than good), and he even paid an army of trolls to attack Bernie supporters online.

David Sirota, on the other hand, is a really good reporter with a lot of integrity. And is a firm progressive (e.g. was a Bernie supporter). I read him regularly.

So this is a big surprise that i'm having trouble wrapping my head around.

This is the line that makes me feel best about it:

The move suggests that a shattered and divided Democratic Party establishment is looking to embrace the combative, progressive wing that backed Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Primary.

This line, second best:

Sirota replaces Peter Daou.

Daou was Brock's Salacious Crumb, so Sirota replacing him, if he retains his integrity, can only be a step up.

By fnord12 | January 20, 2017, 12:56 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

Billionaires getting nervous

Davos Elite Seeks Fixes to Defend the System From Populists. They're even considering conceding to a "higher tax burden" to pay for more social spending.

By fnord12 | January 20, 2017, 8:20 AM | Liberal Outrage| Link

Healthcare in America

Ryan Cooper has three related articles. One on why Obamacare sucks. One on why repealing it will nonetheless kill thousands of people. And a (devastating) case study of someone trying to navigate the current system.

By fnord12 | January 20, 2017, 7:54 AM | Liberal Outrage| Link

January 16, 2017

Democratic socialist, actually

Ending MLK day with the strange but apparently necessary reminder that he was not a conservative.

By fnord12 | January 16, 2017, 7:21 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

January 12, 2017

Civ 6

I've been playing the Civilization series since Civ 1, and i think the first three games are among the greatest computer games. When Civ 4 came out, i gave it a quick try but it was at a busy time in my life and i couldn't handle all the changes and gave up without giving it a fair chance. Civ 5 got universally bad reviews so i skipped that as well. But over the past few years Min and i have occasionally fired up Civ 3 for some local multiplayer marathons. And sometimes we'd run into little glitches or annoyances - most notably a problem with camera behavior in multiplayer - and whenever we'd complain we'd have to stop and remind ourselves that we were playing a game that was over 15 years old. So when Civ 6 was announced, we got excited. Surely all those little problems would be fixed, so it was time for us to take the time to learn the new game. And our winter break was the time to do it.

System Requirements
We ran into our first roadblock immediately. Our laptops are not "gaming" laptops. We have 20 gigs of RAM and processors that were the best available for the Thinkpad T450s at the time we bought them. Our computers can more than handle everything we normally do, including heavy multi-track audio recording. But they have integrated (i.e. not dedicated) video cards. And because of that, we didn't meet the minimum specs for Civ 6. Which is insane. Civ isn't a first person shooter where framerate and 3-D rendering should be important. It's a turn based, top down strategy game. Graphics-wise, i don't care if it looks like the Commodore 64. I can see taking advantage of better graphics capabilities if they're available, but you'd think they'd design it to degrade gracefully for people with regular laptops. A game like Civ has a different audience than, say, Doom, and it's weird to exclude casual gamers with heavy video card requirements.

The good news is that we have another computer attached to our television that we were considering upgrading, and this pushed us over the edge on that decision. So for now we wouldn't play multiplayer, but we could at least try the game together (and bicker about whether to build city improvements or troops!). A side note: once we had the game, i did install it on my laptop to see how bad it was. The load times were prohibitive, but once the game finally loaded - and we're talking several minutes - it seemed to run and look ok. I didn't keep playing to see if the time between turns got worse as the game went on and the AI had more to do. The game also comes with a Benchmark feature that seems to test your computer to see how well it can handle the game. But the feature took so long to run i assumed it was hanging and ended it. We also ran the Benchmark feature on the TV computer, and it turns out the results are incomprehensible to me anyway.

min: OMG people do not know how to make graphs anymore. Label your axes, people! And there should be a legend!

Griping about minor changes
Now on to the game itself. We knew going in that there would be changes. I was skeptical about some of the major announced changes, but they seemed interesting and i was looking forward to seeing how they'd work. I also knew from my Civ 4 experience that a lot of smaller things would change. On this front, i know that i really ought to just accept it. It's a new game, i should expect that things will have changed. But in truth i find these little changes to be very frustrating. What i am talking about here is not new features or changes to gameplay, but changes to how elements that have always existed in the game work. For example, changing what the benefits of building a temple are, or what a great wonder like the Hanging Gardens does, or what you get after researching a new tech improvement like Writing or Mathematics.

Just as examples, in Civ 3, Writing allows you to engage in diplomacy, and unlocks the new tech improvements Literature (which lets you build libraries), Philosophy, Code of Laws, and Map Making. In Civ 6, Writing lets you build libraries, and unlocks Currency (only). In Civ 3, Mathematics lets you build catapults and unlocks Construction and Currency. In Civ 6, Mathematics increases the speed of your naval units by one and is unlocked by Currency. I'm not even saying that Civ 3 is right and Civ 6 is wrong. Just that the changes seem entirely arbitrary, and serve mainly to make sure that people coming in from previous versions have to learn everything from scratch. And the whole point of me choosing to play Civ 6 as opposed to, say, Age of Empires or any other random similar game, is that i have some familiarity with the system and like it. I don't want to learn a whole new game. The Civ name is what brought me here.

To be fair, things have always changed between games, but in the past it's always seemed to be in service of making the game more balanced or accommodating larger rule changes. For example, i accept that Temples no longer reduce unhappiness in cities, because a) managing citizen happiness no longer seems to be a factor at all in Civ 6 and because religion has become a major new aspect of the game. But i can't see why they'd flip around the attributes of Mathematics and Writing, etc., in what feels like a completely random way.

Related to this is the fact that the country leaders have changed. This isn't super important since in my opinion the leaders should be eliminated or selected randomly anyway. But it's just jarring for Pericles, not Alexander the Great, to now be the leader of the Greeks. It's even weirder for the Romans to not be included in the game at all. In part, the idea seems to be an attempt at adding diversity; Gorgo, Queen of Sparta is also a choice for the Greek leader, for example. But not every country has a choice of male and female leaders. And i suspect that the real motivation here is the ability to sell expansion packs that include additional civilizations and leaders.

I also want to acknowledge that we're coming in from two versions behind, so maybe these changes felt more gradual to people that were keeping up. But imo that just pushes the source of the problem back. Firaxis should be very careful with every minor arbitrary change that they make if they don't want to alienate older loyal players. And if nothing else, it shows my state of mind (disoriented and cranky, which, granted, is nothing new) when it came time to evaluate the bigger changes.

min: He was so cranky. But the new tech tree is pretty bad. It seems bloated with lots of useless tech that don't give you meaningful gains. After spending 10 turns researching something, you want to get something useful in return. Not some crappy policy card that gives you an unimpressive +1 to a "Harbor Adjacency Bonus". Bwah.

The Bigger Changes
We knew going in that there were two major changes to Civ with this version: 1) the concept of districts and 2) the removal of the ability to stack military units. It turns out that there were some additional changes that i also consider "major". Again, some of them may have been introduced in previous versions but they were new to us.

This was touted as the major change in the promotional material prior to the release of the game. The idea is that instead of your city occupying a single tile, you build your central city in that tile and then you can zone the surrounding tiles as districts in which buildings specific to that zone can be built. So instead of building a marketplace directly in your city, you first zone a commercial district and then you can build the marketplace, and later a stock exchange, etc., in that district. This concept isn't inherently logical. Every town in America has main street that can include a shop, a church, and a library. They didn't have to designate a commercial district, a Holy Site district, and a campus district in order to get those buildings. But i was open to the idea since it seemed like it would give Civ a little bit of a SimCity flavor to it. And you'll notice i've been using the word "zone", which is what you do in SimCity. But in Civ you actually have to "build" the district, and the districts are very expensive/time-intensive to build. So whereas in earlier games of Civ you could pump out a temple very quickly after creating your city, in Civ 6 it takes a long time to build the religious district, and only then can you build the temple (actually, first you build a "shrine"; temples come later in the game, but i'm equating Civ 3 temples to Civ 6 shrines). The districts themselves provide a very minor benefit (see Great Leaders), but it's now a major investment to build anything. When weighing the cost of building a marketplace versus, say, pumping out some troops, you now have to factor in the time it takes to build a commercial district. And on top of that, districts have specific terrain requirements. The campus district, for example, for some reason gets a bonus if it's next to a mountain. And most districts can't be built on certain types of terrain at all. So even if your (core) city itself is on good terrain, you simply can not build a commercial district, and therefore a marketplace, if you are mostly in the desert (and have used up the good terrain on other things)(and in addition to districts, aqueducts also take up external tiles, and so do Great Wonders). There are also population requirements; if your city is of size 1-3 you can only build 2 districts. If it's size 4-6, you can only build 3 districts. So you basically can't have a barracks, a temple, a marketplace, and a library until your city has grown quite a bit. And your city basically just sprawls out in all directions. You're not really building Manhattans; you're building Jacksonville, Florida.

Urban sprawl around the capital.

This is theoretically by design, the idea being that cities will now have to specialize instead of every city building every improvement. Kind of like how Detroit (in its day) was an industrial powerhouse but never became the financial capital that New York was (and vice versa). But ofc Detroit did indeed have some marketplaces and New York did have some factories. And Civ 3 managed to approximate all of that fairly well without making it explicit. I've had plenty of cities that, thanks to their locations, had better production and/or commercial power than others. But i was still able to marginally improve the abilities of other cities by building factories, marketplaces, etc..

An additional complication is that within districts you have more choices. The one that sticks out is that after building an Encampment district, you can either build a barracks or a stable. Barracks makes your ground troops better, whereas a stable improves your cavalry. So it's not even that you have to devote a city to specialize in building troops. You will actually need two such cities if you intend to have a mix of units.

min: because, apparently, you can't possibly have both a barracks and a stable in your encampment. either my horses have a place to sleep or my soldiers do but not both? this makes sense how?

I was open to this idea and i still think the concept could be interesting. I think the biggest blocker is the cost of the districts. I think in the future Firaxis should consider going with more of the SimCity "zoning" concept, but i think an even better idea is to come up with a way for districts to grow organically. For example, if i continue to emphasis commercial improvements, it may naturally occur that i get a commercial district, and based on terrain and population restrictions that may therefore cause me to forgo getting an industrial district in that city. So i like the idea, but in practice it was backwards and prohibitive.

The other thing that we knew going in was that you couldn't stack military units any more. In older Civ games, you could build a hundred tank units, put them all on a single tile, and roll them up to an enemy city. In response, the other player would load that city up with a hundred defensive units. To me it wasn't a major fault of the previous versions, but i can see how some people might have thought it was unwieldy. And it definitely forced you into an arms race mentality, where you felt the need to constantly build troops. In Civ 6, you can only have one unit per tile (for the most part). So (since the tiles are hexagons) the most units that can attack a city at once are 6. And an interesting development is that the cities themselves have an inherent defense, so even if there is no unit in the city, it can still defend itself like a unit would (having a unit in the city does bolster the defense, ofc). The city's defense can be improved with city walls and similar. The city can even bombard nearby enemy troops, so it can "fight back", not just defend. The attackers can build siege towers and battering rams and other such supplemental units to circumvent or destroy the walls. I like the idea a lot. For one thing, you no longer feel the need to stack multiple troops in each of your cities (although a garrison can still provide other benefits). And the battles are therefore shorter and more intense.

You do eventually get to research tech that allows you to stack two units (and later more) into an "army" but we found two stacked units to be significantly less effective than two individual units (and that seems to be the general internet consensus). I think Firaxis should have just stuck to its guns here and kept it at one unit per tile.

min: What is the point of stacking my units if they're going to be worse than 2 separate units? Why even make that an option? Who would want to do that? Now instead of 2 units that can each attack once per turn and each do 40+ points of damage, i have 1 unit that goes once in a turn and does mebbe 50 points of damage. Do you see the problem here? Are you following me? Can you do basic arithmetic?

Ignoring the "armies", i think this was a good change, entirely in the plus column.

Here's the first change that we came across that we weren't expecting. In older versions of Civ, you can build workers, and they can mine the hills, irrigate the grasslands, clear swamplands, and build roads. Doing each action takes a number of turns depending on the action and the terrain, but workers last forever and by the end of the game you tend to accumulate a lot of them. Which is good because eventually they'll be needed to build railroads and clear pollution. But they can be hard to manage because you have to order them around one by one. You can automate them, but the automation (as of Civ 3) was rudimentary. You can tell them to go around and "clear swamplands" but then that's all they'll do, and they'll do it (basically) randomly. You can tell them to "build roads" (or later railroads) but, again, it would be random (i,e. just in random squares around your cities but not necessarily between cities), or you can order them to build a road or railroad from city A to city B. The problem was when you have 20 workers and you want them all to do like a big intercontinental railroad project; you'd either have to tell 20 workers one by one to build a railroad from city A to city E and hope they'd hit B-D as they went, or you'd have to direct them from A to B to C, etc., again, one by one. And if you wanted workers to embark on some new project, you have to catch them while they were in between tasks while on automation. If some worker was set to build mines and you now wanted workers to build railroads because that tech became available, you could either interrupt the worker in the middle of building the mine (and lose all that effort) or keep an eye on him every round until he was finished and then take him out of automation. Keeping track of that for 20 (or more) workers was impossible.

So what i would have liked to have seen is the ability to manage workers at a macro level. Set percentages for workers that are doing irrigation vs. mining, or whatever. Have a worker queue so that you could change orders but only after they finished their current jobs. Give orders like "build roads between all cities" to 10 workers at once.

Firaxis clearly saw that managing workers was a problem, but they solved it in a very different way. First, workers now only have a certain number of "charges". Three by default, can be expanded a bit based on tech and policies. Second, they don't build roads anymore. So a worker can irrigate a grassland and build two mines, and then he's gone and you have to build another one (and they aren't super cheap). There is no automation anymore (obviously, with only 3 charges, you wouldn't want the computer deciding what to do).

As for roads, they are built by traders, which is a truly bizarre decision. Managing trade routes in this game is a nightmare that deserves its own section (but this review is already too long), but the idea that you get roads by sending traders to a city is weird in and of itself. I didn't know that Marco Polo pooped out a road behind him when he traveled to China. And if i just want roads between my own cities, i have to send traders to each city? There is no indication of which of your cities have had traders sent to them already when you're on the trade route selection screen. It's impossible to manage. A later upgrade to the worker unit allows them to build roads, but then you are back to the problem of charges.

I don't know why "charges" were applied to workers but not to military units. The same logic that says a worker can only build three things before becoming exhausted should apply to how many times a soldier can fight, too. Not that i want that, but the selective application of this concept raises questions. This does "solve" the problem of managing a large group of automated workers, but in the same way that strangling your children in the third grade would solve the problem of paying for their college.

min: They stop being cute around age 5 anyway.

I can't say too much about this because it kind of caught us by surprise. But apparently religion is very important in Civ 6! Early in the game we passed on the decision to build shrines, thanks to the cost of first building a Holy Site and the fact that (as noted above) shrines no longer affect citizen happiness. The description said something about +2 Faith points per round and the ability to build missionaries and that all sounded like something we weren't interested in. But then later we saw Indian Hindu missionaries coming into our cities and converting our citizens and pretty soon India was well on its way to a Religious Victory. So we then looked into this missionary stuff and it turns out that you have to build your own missionaries to "fight" off "enemy" missionaries and this is all done without any kind of declaration of war (having a city converted to an enemy religion can be a "casus belli" for war later in that game, although we never saw that option). So ok, fine, we'll build some shrines and stuff. Except it turns out that in order to form your own religion, you have to attract one of four Great Prophets that exist in the game, and there are more than four civilizations in the game and by the time we figured all this out all the Prophets had been recruited and we simply could not form a religion and therefore had no way of defending ourselves from these missionaries.

min: goddamned missionaries! where's my Atheist Prophet? why couldn't i defend against missionaries with science!

So we simply attacked India militarily (hey, we were playing as Norse vikings) min: also der. you send missionaries, we send infantry.. If it weren't for other factors, i would say that we should play another game now that we understand the religious aspect and give it a fair shake min: no! no religion! *shudder* god talk gives me the heebie jeebies.. I'm a little uncomfortable with religion being so prominent in the game - i have a friend who for a while refused to build temples, etc. at all because he didn't want to drug his people with the opiate of the masses - but of course religion has been an important part of the history of civilization so i understand it being in the game.

For what it's worth, we tortured ourselves by playing through the tutorial before starting a real game, and the tutorial made no mention of all this religious stuff, so i don't accept 100% of the blame for missing how important religion was.

It was with Civ 6's government system that i realized how dumbed down the game has gotten. I was initially pretty excited because i saw that in addition to government, there was now a sub-concept called Policies. I imagined being able to select policies like "Universal Health Care" where maybe your population growth and happiness increased but so did your expenses. Or maybe going back a level and being able to choose policies like "Democratic Socialism" vs. "Capitalism" as Policies within the Democracy government with appropriate benefits and penalties for each. Turns out i was way overthinking it.

In Civ 1-3, there were only a few forms of government, and each one came with its own plusses and negatives. For example, Democracy increased economic growth but citizens became war weary much faster. Whereas in Communism production was spread out equally among all of your cities (itself a positive and negative). I'm oversimplifying and there were multiple benefits and detriments to each government type, which made weighing the differences between them a lot of fun and also fairly consequential. In Civ 6 there are twice as many governments, some of them very granular (e.g. Merchant Republic), but the choice doesn't feel very important. Each government type provides what feels like a minor bonus, and no negatives. Each government type allows for a different mix of policy slots. For example, Merchant Republic gives a bonus of "+2 Trade Routes and 15% discount on gold purchases", and allows one military policy, two economic policies, one diplomatic policy, and two wildcard policies (which can be filled with any of the other types or a special fourth type). For comparison, Monarchy's bonus is "+2 housing in any city with medieval walls and 20% bonus influence points" and has three military policies, one economic policy, one diplomatic policy, and one wildcard. Without getting into all the details of the game, i assure you that the bonuses of either government types are not game changers. And the policies are even less significant. A typical Military policy is "Logistics: +1 Movement if starting turn in friendly territory". That's basically garbage, so whether you get 3 of those or 1 in comparison to your number of economic policies ("Skyscrapers: +15% production toward Industrial era and later wonders") is meaningless. And you get new policies constantly based on the tech you research, so just about every other round we sat and agonized over these inconsequential choices. It eventually occurred to me that these policies - which are shaped like cards that you drag into your deck - are based on games like Magic: The Gathering or Munchkin. You're not really setting policies, you're just picking which (minor) bonuses you want.

So this was really disappointing. Not only did Policies turn out to be a dud, but the basic concept of Governments has been watered down to the point where it doesn't really matter.

Great Leaders
This is a new concept that feels almost redundant to Great Wonders, but i guess it adds a new facet to the game. The idea is that when you build districts and other improvements, you generate a certain number of Great Leader points each round. There are Great Generals, Great Scientists, Great Artists, etc.. Building an encampment earns you Great General points every round, building a campus earns you Great Scientist points, etc.. And the idea is that you are competing against the other civs to "buy" these Great Leaders. You want to earn your 1,000 points to buy, say, Charles Darwin before the Indians do. Which of course sounds just like real life. There's something very circular about it, too. You build campuses and libraries and the like to earn Darwin, but the main function of those buildings is to improve your scientific output. But the bonus for earning Darwin is also a boost to your scientific output. So it's a "rich get richer" sort of thing. In that sense, it's different than a Great Wonder where (in Civ 3 at least) you might build the Great Library because you are falling behind the other civilizations in science and the Library brings you back up to parity. So the Great Wonders are (potentially) a way to catch up, whereas the Great Leaders reinforce the things you were already good at. That's not a terrible idea, but, again, the Leaders turn out to not be all that important. Since old habits die hard, i made a point of building an encampment and a barracks in most of our cities, and therefore we recruited a lot of Great Generals, and they basically just provided minor, non-noticeable bonuses to our troops.

min: you could also "buy" them with any "Faith" points you've accumulated. why is there so much religion in my Civ game!?

Spies and Traders
Spies and Traders aren't related, but we had the same complaints about both. Both spies and traders require major amounts of micromanagement. In Civ 3, once you got the Espionage tech, you could plant a spy in an enemy civilization. That automatically got you some intel on the civilization. The spy could then perform one of a few missions (see enemy troop locations, steal technology, sabotage production in a city), at a cost of money and at a risk of getting caught. In Civ 6, you first have to build a spy. Then you have to send the spy to a specific enemy city, and then wait for the spy to travel there. Then you have to tell the spy what to do (and actions are limited by what's in the city). Then you have to wait several rounds for them to do it. Then after a few rounds the spy is done and you have to give them a new job. It took forever and provided very little (we learned such important things as "this Greek city is building a granary").

I noted the weird road building aspect of traders above, but you also have to manage the routes for each trader that you build, and after they complete a route you have to choose a new route and weigh the very minor rewards of that route. And there's a weird limitation (that we never quite understood) to what cities you can reach. You can trade between your own cities or with other civilizations' cities, if you can reach them. So every few rounds you're dealing with a trade screen and after staring at it for a while we'd just pick something at random and it never felt like it mattered.

I have a vague recollection that you could build traders or convoys in Civ 2, but i liked the way it worked in Civ 3, where you just negotiated with other countries to trade resources. Actually, that aspect is in this game as well so i don't know why we also needed to build and manage traders.

min: i think it was so that we could get frustrated by more pop-ups blocking the board.

This is where it all really fell apart. I know that i'm cranky, i try to be patient and force myself to stay open to changes and keep playing. But some of the more basic elements of the game were a complete fail, making it not worth trying to get used to the changes.

This was the main reason we decided we needed to "upgrade" our Civ. In Civ 3 single player, the camera is pretty good about keeping focus on the right things. If you're in the middle of a fight with 6 troops attacking a city, the camera knows to stay on troop #2 after troop #1 attacks, instead of suddenly panning to troop #7 standing at some random place somewhere else. And if you're being attacked by an enemy civilization on its turn, the camera shows you that. Great! I mean, honestly, it's something you'd never even think needed to be mentioned. But in Civ 3 multiplayer, the camera did everything wrong, basically the opposite of what's described above. But, ok, Civ 3 is an old game and multiplayer was probably a bit of an afterthought. We should play Civ 6. Well, we can't play Civ 6 multiplayer because of the hardware issue. But i would have never imagined that playing Civ 6 in single player mode would have all the same camera problems as Civ 3 multiplayer. But it does! It's constantly panning away from the area that i've dragged the camera over to. The only way you know that you're being attacked between your turns is because of little notifications that come up on the sidebar. This is like basic stuff, but it's a disaster. Virtually unplayable because that alone.

Then there's the tooltips. Good god. In Civ 3, if you wanted to know the details of the terrain (e.g. how good is it for production, commerce, etc.), you could right click on it and get a little info. In Civ 6, wherever you put your mouse cursor, and annoying box pops up to tell you about the tile, no matter what you are trying to do.

What the? Get out of my way i just want to look at my city!

min: i blame Mac users with their stupid 1-button mouse. they were jealous of our right-clicking abilities.

There is a "tooltip delay" option in the settings, but the maximum time is 2 seconds, which is barely anything.
So there is just constantly a tooltip floating around, blocking your view. On top of that, the tooltips only tell you about the terrain info, which is useful information when you are first settling a new city and that's about it. In Civ 3 you could right click on a unit to learn the fighting capabilities of that unit, right click on a city to get options, etc.. The tooltips even have a higher z-index than other important information, so for example those notifications i mentioned earlier about how you might have been attacked between rounds can get covered up because the game thinks it's more important to tell you about the productivity of the soil underneath the message.

Barbarians where? Where?!

Different tooltips do appear on the city product screen, where they mainly serve to obscure the other items on the list when you're trying to decide what to build next.

Can't... see... list...!

The tooltips are a big part of it, but generally speaking the UI is a lot messier and more difficult to navigate. A lot of effort was clearly spent to make the board look "better" (hence the graphics card requirements), but they therefore chose to eliminate a lot of the menu screens and do everything on the main board or with a few "reports". There is no military advisor view, for example, and you can't get a list of all your cities and what they are working on. Basically a ton of screens have been eliminated or replaced with less useful pop-ups that are overly rendered and hard to look at. I've seen that a lot of people dislike the more bright and cartoony look and feel of the board itself. I'm not sure if the cartoony part is the problem, exactly, but it's just kind of hard to tell what is background and what is important, since it's all rendered the same way.

Is that my boat over there or just an image indicating that i've enabled a fishing improvement?

In definite proof that i am a crank, i've seen very little of the above complaints in other reviews of the game. However, complaints about the AI are common, and i agree with them. One of the benefits of this game is that the AI is more upfront about what they are upset at you about. But they are still not very logical. We had Gorgo constantly popping up to yell at us because we were running away from barbarians instead of fighting them, when in reality the barbarians were running away from us and we just couldn't catch up. There's a new option in the game to raise an objection when a civilization plops down a city in the middle of what is clearly your territory, which is good. But in our game India created a city right in the middle of three of our cities, nowhere near their other cities, and when we complained about it Gandhi (Gandhi!) told us to fuck off. And this was on a low difficulty level. In general, the other countries pop up constantly and are belligerent for inexplicable reasons. And then there's the weirdness of having a little animated movie with the leader saying their line, and then loading another screen where their words are repeated and you only have the option of clicking OK. Either give me a chance to respond, or don't show me the same thing twice.

Other Stuff
We actually have a lot more complaints:

  • The city interior view has been replaced with some pop-up menus that suck.
  • No city production queue?!?!
  • Another problem in Civ 3 that we were hoping would get fixed around escorting civilian units actually got worse.
  • Sean Bean did not need to read a random quote to us every time we researched a new tech. Why on earth would you pay a celebrity to do that?
  • The Civilopedia seems greatly diminished from previous versions. min: the Civilopedia, once a great resource, is the most useless piece of crap in Civ 6. there's hardly any info on the actual thing the entry is supposed to be about followed by a 3 paragraph thesis on the history of the thing. i don't care about the history of cavalry units! i want to know what i can do with a cavalry unit in this game, what i need to get one, and what it can upgrade to. instead, we get what basically amounts to "Cavalry are military units". 0_o

What we liked
Ok, to end on a positive note:

  • The idea that there are little city states that you can either try to conquer or you can compete with other civilizations to influence and become their suzerain was fun.
  • Sea travel was always a pain in earlier versions of Civ. In this version, once you have a level of sea travel tech, your land units automatically can "become" sea units when they go into a water square. So you don't have to wait rounds to build a transport ship in order to travel across a body of water. As noted above, escorting units is still a problem, but being able to walk directly into the water is cool. min: he turned into a boat! the horse turned into a boat!!!
  • The fact that you can cite a "casus belli" when declaring war, which reduces or eliminates your warmongering penalty depending on the type, is nice. This is the sort of minor tweaking and updating that i wished Firaxis had focused on instead of the major sweeping changes.

I guess my overall thesis is that Civ 3 was great and just needed a few fixes and instead we got a very changed and kind of unfinished game.

By fnord12 | January 12, 2017, 3:39 PM | Video Games| Link

Cory Booker is a bad liar

Jezebel has a response from Booker on why he voted against the drug amendment:

I support the importation of prescription drugs as a key part of a strategy to help control the skyrocketing cost of medications. Any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn't meet this test. The rising cost of medications is a life-and-death issue for millions of Americans, which is why I also voted for amendments last night that bring drug prices down and protect Medicare's prescription drug benefit. I‎'m committed to finding solutions that allow for prescription drug importation with adequate safety standards.

Suuuuure. I'd be really concerned about importing drugs from that third world hellhole, Canada. Without looking anything up, i will guarantee that Canada's safety standards are much higher than ours, so Booker's position is bullshit. And of course the point of this bill isn't to actually do it, but to highlight how ridiculous it is that the same drugs that are sold here in the US are sold in Canada at a fraction of the cost. But i'll remember Booker's explanation the next time a real progressive is lectured about "making the perfect the enemy of the good".

By fnord12 | January 12, 2017, 3:01 PM | Liberal Outrage| Link

Cory Booker is horrible

Cory Booker was one of 13 Democrats who just voted against the Sanders-Klobuchar amendment to import drugs from Canada. Here's Bernie's (pre-vote) video on the subject (Facebook warning, but i was able to watch it without an account; just click "not now"). The vote was 46-52 and would have passed if it wasn't for these 13 "Democrats". (To be sure, might not have passed in the House, but as Sanders notes in the video, Trump is in favor of doing something about drug prices, and there were some surprise Republican votes in the Senate, like Ted Cruz).

Booker also recently endorsed the Goldman-Sachs candidate for governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, over Assemblyman John Wisniewski (a Bernie supporter in the primaries). Anyone who remembers Corzine knows we don't need another Goldman-Sachs exec for a governor.

Our other horrible senator, Robert Menendez also voted against the amendment and endorsed Murphy. But i'll be surprised if his corrupt ass makes it all the way to his 2018 primary, whereas Booker is expected to run for president in 2020.

By fnord12 | January 12, 2017, 7:57 AM | Liberal Outrage| Link

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