A Critique of Salary

Articles about business are often full of jargon, ugliness, and imprecision, but I recently discovered an article on salaries that seems to avoid egregious examples of those linguistic evils. I had been looking into the origin of the term “salary” and the bureaucratic inventions based on it: “salaried exempt” and “salaried non-exempt.”

I’m a software engineer, and like most of the people who work on software, I am paid according to the “salaried exempt” rules. This is like a normal salary (I am paid a certain amount of money over the course of the year for my work, rather than per hour), except that my company is not required to pay me if I need to work extra hours to get my job done. Not all companies don’t abuse this policy, and my own actually provides some extra money to a point for overtime. Nevertheless, I have some critical thoughts of the entire concept of salary.

I’m not writing this to just summarize my thoughts on salary, but to compare and contrast them with the article I mentioned, which is titled “4 reasons why companies can ask their employees to work for ‘free'”. Lack of capitalization aside, I already have some problems with this. I’m not interested in why a company can ask their employees to work for free. The answer is intuitively obvious: it’s legal. The author talks about the legality of salaried employees being asked to work extra hours, so at least she covers the title. However, out of her four sections, only half talk about why employers can do this. The other half talk about why they would choose to.

A leaked Urban Outfitters memo from 2015 was the motivation for the article, itself written two years ago. It begins (emphasis mine):

The leaked Urban Outfitters memo asking salaried employees to volunteer one or more weekend shifts at an Urban Outfitters fulfillment center to pick, pack and ship merchandise is really no story at all, despite Internet shaming and sensational claims that Urban Outfitters is making management employees work for “free.”  The request of Urban Outfitters is not unusual; it is just unusual that the request was leaked to the media.  Employers regularly require exempt employees to go over and above a 40-hour work week without additional pay, and this approach is appropriate under wage-hour laws.

My disagreement with the article begins with the first paragraph. We’ll come back to the use of the word “free”, used to describe the hours worked by many salaried employees beyond the contractual obligation they have, and focus for now on the line “this approach is appropriate”. Why is it appropriate? Because it is legal. This is the theme of the article. The salary system in place is legitimate because it is legal, which is almost a tautology. The fact is, I don’t think there are many good reasons to have this system, and I think a lot of people realize that and appeal to the legality of it as justification.

And, while some media commentators have dubbed this as “working for free,” the reality is that the employees are not working for free.  They have agreed to work all required hours in exchange for a certain salary.

This is true, but the “required hours” amount to forty hours every week. What value is an agreement to work forty hours a week if this number is merely a suggestion?

After all, remember that there are salary requirements for exempt employees, so those who are being asked to “volunteer” are being compensated at a higher pay grade, at or above a salary set by our federal and state governments pursuant to public policy considerations.  Therefore, it is in fact “fair” to ask exempt employees for the extra work…

“Fair” in the context of this government means “legal”. It is constantly the reference point for fairness and appropriateness. I think it’s a bad standard though; why is the law written as it is written? The real question is what objectively determines fairness. The author tries to answer this by saying the quantity of money being paid justifies overtime. The salary for exempt employees exceeds an arbitrary government limit in the Fair Labor Standards Act, and is thus “fair”. After another reference to the law, she goes on again to give more rationale:

 The increased responsibility and salary levels of exempt employees also means they likely have more bargaining power in the marketplace and freedom to leave an oppressive employer, so government is less concerned about extra “unpaid” work in their case.

I don’t care what the government is concerned with. I don’t care what the government permits under law. I think it is wrong to require employees to work more hours than they are contractually obligated to work, and I’m convinced the entire concept of “salaried exempt” is absurd. The fact I have “more bargaining power” doesn’t offset this, and it turns out that many salaried exempt positions require such specialized skills that this bargaining is done by more people for fewer jobs anyway.

 1. Employees who are exempt can work over 40 hours without additional compensation.

Her first argument is a restating of the law. Of course employees can be required to work over forty hours without additional pay. We’ve already established this. But the interesting question is why this ought to be the case. Yet another attempt to rationalize this is provided:

Exempt employees take customers to dinner after hours without additional compensation.  They answer after-hour calls and emails without additional compensation.  This happens all the time.  And, it’s legal.

Employees often do things after work hours for which they are not paid and it is legal, so therefore companies can ask employees to work more than forty hours a week. It’s not really an argument, but a restating.

2. Volunteering for additional work does not change the employee’s primary duty.

Exempt employees who “volunteer” for  production type duties (e.g. pick, pack, and ship merchandise) do not have their jobs transformed into hourly non-exempt jobs as long as their primary duty remains exempt.

Again, another restating of the fact that companies can do what we’ve already established they can legally do. It gets a little more interesting after this:

3. Production work doubles as leadership training for exempt workers.

…Rolling up their sleeves to help might provide a real eye-opening education for how hard the hourly employees work and how decisions by exempt  personnel affect those hourly workers.  This could be valuable training for managers, administrators and professionals.  Also, isn’t rolling up your sleeves to perform “undesirable” tasks one definition of leadership?  Leaders should not be above any task, no matter how “menial.”

It isn’t doing undesirable tasks that repulses people from the concept of “salaried exempt”. It’s doing those tasks without getting paid for the extra hours worked. This rationale doesn’t even enter into the discussion when the jobs in question are in world of engineering, since there often isn’t any sort of “leadership” in the sense described here going on.

The fact is, we are no closer to answer as to why this is a good practice than we were when we started. One final reason is given:

4. ‘Volunteer’ work can reduce overtime.

Reducing overtime of hourly workers by asking exempt employees to pitch in, as long as the company does it legally, is a perfectly legitimate business decision.

Some people – who don’t get paid extra for working extra hours – can work in place of those who do get paid extra for working extra hours, which if done legally, is a legitimate business decision. Because, as we’ve already seen many times, it is the legality of the practice that makes it fair, legitimate, and appropriate. Overtime doesn’t reduce overtime, even if it means the business isn’t required to pay as much if they shift the employees working overtime around.

My response to all of this is pretty straightforward. An employee who agrees to a contract to work forty hours each week and then proceeds to do just that for $50,000 a year is making $50,000 / (52 * 40) ≈ $24 dollars an hour. Another employee who agrees to the same contract but who is asked to work evenings and weekends, averaging 50 hours of work a week is making $50,000 / (52 * 50) ≈ $19 an hour. This makes sense; 25% more hours worked for the same amount of money means a corresponding decrease in hourly pay.

A government or business can come along and say “we’re paying you for a certain amount of work, not a certain number of hours”, but this isn’t entirely accurate. If it were, an employee could leave the office after getting their work done. This rarely happens for “salary exempt” employees. It’s more accurate to say that “salary exempt” means working a minimum of forty hours a week and a maximum of whatever the managers of the company ask them to work.

While I don’t think the law is wrong to permit what it does, I think people should be a bit wiser than merely repeating what the law says to justify the behavior of companies. I understand that overtime is sometimes required. Companies can’t anticipate everything that might get in the way of an important deadline, and sometimes there isn’t time to hire and teach new employees (who would need to be laid off once the deadline is achieved anyway). This is fine and even fair as an emergency tactic, but it is a terrible policy for normal work.

I’ve often seen companies require employees to work extra hours to avoid hiring new employees, even though the employees working overtime were hired under the pretense of working forty hours a week. It might be legal, but it isn’t fair. I don’t think the government should come and sue the companies doing this sort of thing, but the employees working the mandatory overtime should probably look for jobs elsewhere. The market has already begun correcting this abuse, and companies are even advertising their commitment to a forty hour workweek as a perk.

Medieval peasants worked fewer hours than we wealthy Americans do, and it’s probably part of the cause of our moral decay as a civilization that we give so little time to genuine rest. Companies expect their employees to give up anything to get their jobs done when it turns out that many of the things employees give up are more valuable than the work.

Science News vs Science – Teleportation

Thanks to one of my favorite blogs of all time, my immediate reaction to news headlines and stories regarding scientific topics is extreme skepticism. So far, this extreme skepticism has not failed me.

Today, I offer one example. From TIME we have this utterly modest headline:

Scientists Just Teleported an Object Into Space for the First Time

From the article itself:

Scientists have successfully teleported an object from Earth to space for the first time, paving the way for more ambitious and futuristic breakthroughs.

An object! This is incredible! Soon, we’ll all be able to subscribe to Amazon Prime to get our objects next second! The failure rate isn’t great, though (emphasis mine):

For about a month, the scientists beamed up millions of photons from their ground station in Tibet to the low-orbiting satellite. They were successful in more than 900 cases.

You may have thought, given the headline, that these scientists were teleporting laptops and coffee up into space, but it turns out it was a whole lot of photons. Still impressive, but an important detail is left out of the article that even the Wikipedia article for quantum teleportation includes in its opening description. But first, one parting shot from TIME, just to keep you misled about the nature of what’s happening:

Scientists at that time determined quantum teleportation, which is often depicted as a futuristic tool in science-fiction films, is in fact possible.

In TV and film, what is depicted is not quantum teleportation, but a sci-fi sort of teleportation that permits objects the size of warships – not to mention human beings – from one location to another nearly instantly. This is not what quantum teleportation is, and quantum teleportation is not what is depicted in science-fiction films as a futuristic tool. From Wikipedia:

Although the name is inspired by the teleportation commonly used in fiction, there is no relationship outside the name, because quantum teleportation concerns only the transfer of information. Quantum teleportation is not a form of transport, but of communication; it provides a way of transporting a qubit from one location to another, without having to move a physical particle along with it.

Don’t trust Science News stories. Their authors are journalists, not scientists, and their goal is audience for their sponsors, not the conference of knowledge or wisdom.

The Purpose of Fatherhood

My oldest when he wasn’t so old

“It is difficult for the father of a family not to regard as a personal enemy the author of a bad book that brings corruption into the hearts of his children.” -Louis de Bonald 

Less than two years ago, I met my oldest son for the first time. Since then, I’ve also met his younger brother and in the future, I hope to meet his younger brothers and sisters, however many of them there may be.

Until the day I was able to see my oldest son for the first time, I did not think myself ready for being a father. I was convinced that fatherhood was something that was years down the road (despite being in my mid-twenties). It quickly became obvious that a lot of this misconception was rooted in my own immaturity. It turns out that becoming a father forces an adolescent boy to become a man, and it illuminates the selfishness and childishness that were easy to hide before being forced to take care of every need and want of a helpless human being.

I say all of this as a preamble. I am not an “expert” in any meaningful sense about fatherhood when compared to men who have been fathers for twenty or thirty times longer than I have. It was only recently that I began to think about any of this stuff. Despite my lack of experience, I think I’ve discovered a few of the things that give fatherhood purpose.

First, fatherhood forces men to realize how selfish they are. This has already been mentioned, but I want to emphasize that this is a positive thing, and something for which it is difficult to think of an equally powerful substitute. Certainly the Apostle Paul, as he spoke of forgoing marriage and fatherhood to focus on God, had in mind that Christian men – whether they were married with children or not – would die to themselves and their own selfishness. And while there are unmarried or childless Christian men today who pursue this with success as God provides other methods, I can’t help but think that many men (of which I was one until recently) are more selfish than they know, and have no mirror to see it.

Second, fatherhood forces men to give up their selfishness to a degree. Knowing you are selfish is required to fixing the problem, but fatherhood goes further than conferring knowledge. Seeing your child sick or injured or hungry or frightened is enough to make you reorder your priorities, but it goes further than this. Until I had children, I went to work every day with the sensation that I was acquiring money so my wife and I could enjoy ourselves now and in the future. Once we started having children, my concern became with their well-being. It didn’t happen all at once, but within the past two years, I’ve started taking work much more seriously and have pursued side-work and overtime (things I hated in the past) just to find the extra money to provide for my children. Given the abysmal results of America’s public schools and the hellish indoctrination that flows down from the Department of Education, I want my children to attend private schools or be home-schooled. Fun careers doing hobbies part-time aren’t an option anymore.

Lastly – and maybe most importantly – fathers shoulder the innumerable horrors of the world so that their children can have innocent wonder and, by having wonder, come to know God. War, disease, natural disaster, human evil, demonic forces, and sin abound in a world which children enter with a certain innocence that they lose as they get older. All people – children included – are part of a fallen race, but children begin untainted by the extreme evil outside of themselves. This is what we mean when we talk about “losing one’s innocence”. It isn’t that someone suddenly begins to do wrong (my toddler can be a master at selfishness and disobedience, especially when tired). It’s that children naturally have an innocent wonder at the world around them. They see things without the taint of the rest of the world corrupting their thoughts and tempting them. They are civilians who eventually need to enter spiritual combat, but who are not ready to do so.

The world hates children. It destroys them through abortion, it corrupts them through media and increasingly through public education, and it tries to break apart families through divorce. At root, it seems clear that the world hates children because children are innocent, and it causes even those with dead consciences to feel guilt and shame to see an innocent child.

As a father, it is my job to shield my children from the world. I know that someday they’ll be old enough to teach and to train, and eventually even to go out into the world on their own. But until that day actually comes, I want them to be able to have innocent awe and wonder at the good things in the world, and by through this, know that this world has a good and awesome God intuitively.

All of these things combine to form one cohesive whole: Fatherhood is sacred. It is God’s method to conform fathers to the likeness of Christ as they, to their own children, act as stewards of His own divine fatherhood. The relationship – not exclusively, but uniquely – makes Christians out of men and makes God real to their children.

These are my thoughts on fatherhood’s purposes, at least.

Consent is Weak

How do you tell if an act is moral? If you ask a typical college student or any of their professors, they’ll have the answer for you right away: If everyone involved in the act consents, it is moral. If anyone does not consent, it is immoral. We’ll call people like this Consent Theorists. It sounds more elaborate than it really deserves.

Consent is a pretty basic concept. As part of one’s moral framework, it has a number of uses, from dealing with contracts and promises to preventing people from forcing people to do things against their will or conscience. However, as basis for moral acts – as it is often presented in the academic and pop culture worlds – it is a miserable failure.

Consent Theory breaks down immediately when you consider criminal law. Criminals don’t consent to being imprisoned or fined for their actions. A Consent Theorist may squirm enough to find a crack and suggest that by committing a crime, a person forfeits their right to demand for consent. This isn’t so much an escape from the problem as an admission that things are even weaker than we thought. Now, consent must obey a higher law. It fails outright at being the basis for morality.

There are other problems with consent as a basis for one’s ethical views. Consent is easily manipulated. You can get someone to consent to anything with the right threats or lies. A Consent Theorist may suggest that such things are wrong; that consent proper requires that someone makes it free of threats and with all of the relevant facts presented to them. This, like criminal law, leads to the problem of a higher law being in place. If consent determines whether acts are moral or immoral, what standard do we have to determine whether one form of consent is better than another?

Aside from these and many other cases where consent quickly gets superseded by some higher moral imperative, it turns out that even if we ignored all of them, consent can only address questions of whether we can do something morally. It fails utterly at compelling us to do things we ought to do. If you see someone drowning, should you throw them a life preserver? Consent says nothing. Sure, both you and the drowning victim could consent to the arrangement, but if you don’t consent yourself, the guy in the water is out of luck. Now, we’re left with the fact that consent is too weak to deal with the real world and too amoral to deal with acts we know are morally required of us in the same axiomatic sense that we know the real world exists.

Why should we even obey the rule of consent in the first place, though? Consent Theory has nothing to say about this. If we ought to seek consent before an act is made moral, why? A Consent Theorist could say that if we consent to Consent Theory, we are compelled to follow it, but this does nothing to those who refuse to do so. It’s a moral outlook that can’t compel anyone to follow it in the first place.

Moral duties and values, however, are strong enough to ground a moral framework, and the fact that Consent Theory must appeal to them proves they precede it. We are compelled to act morally and to abstain from acting immorally. Consent is merely a part of this process; when we engage in acts with others which are morally neutral on their face, consent makes sure we don’t force people to do things they don’t want to do. On the other hand, consent doesn’t make immoral acts moral; it can say nothing of whether engaging in same-sex relations, engaging in pre-marital sexual relations, or assisted suicide are moral or immoral. If those acts are immoral, consent can’t justify them.

Consent isn’t in the business of making immoral acts into moral acts. In its rightful place, it is a servant of moral values and duties. When university professors and media personalities skip over moral values and duties – and their origin – and focus instead of consent, all they do is hide the really interesting and important things. I suppose you’d want to do this if you had a sense what you were doing was wrong. Best not to shine a light on darkness if you love the dark.

A Simple Argument for Good Government

The founders, probably not thinking about adding a “right to free alcohol and tobacco” to the bill of rights.

1. Small government is less likely to do evil to you than big government, so small government is better.

2. People who struggle through life encourage the growth of government.

3. Therefore, given (1) and (2), it is better to help people not struggle through life.

4. Two of the primary causes of people struggling through life are coming from broken homes and living life irresponsibly.

5. Therefore, given (3) and (4), it is better to discourage both of those things.

6. Government can choose to do things that limit broken homes and living life irresponsibly.

7. Therefore, given (5) and (6), government ought to actively seek strong families and moral, responsible living.

While most conservatives likely agree with everything, many libertarians accept premise (1) but reject the conclusion (7), despite agreeing with many of the items along the way.

This line of reasoning is one of the reasons I am a conservative myself, and not a libertarian. Large government is directly tied to the needs people have and for which they then petition the government to address.

A village in a valley that floods might petition the government for something they can’t build by themselves (a dam, for instance). A child who is practically abandoned by his parents due to divorce and subsequent demands on the parents needs help in many areas of life, and so the government steps in in the name of benevolence. An adult who engages in behavior which result in disease and a broken life needs government assistance. Big government thrives on human need.

What is better is not having policies which encourage the situation in the first place. Unfortunately, a large government wants to increase in size, and so doesn’t discourage the situation. A government can’t stop a valley from flooding by changing the laws of nature, but a government can certainly prevent divorces by making them hard to get instead of more simple and convenient than filling out warranty paperwork for a refrigerator.

Misconception Monday – Awareness

Not only a new post – the first in a month – but a Misconception Monday! Excuses abound, but I’ll spare you those.

Back in the olden days before indoor plumbing and antibiotics, “awareness” wasn’t a virtue. It became a virtue in all but name during the information age. And why should we expect things to have gone any differently? We must be made aware of information, and information is king. Or so we are told.

I’m not convinced that awareness in the modern sense is of much benefit. We talk of breast cancer awareness (we even have a month dedicated to it). Is there any literate person in the Western world who does not know about breast cancer? I know very few who know that the highest cause of death for women is heart disease.

But this trades on the difference between knowledge and awareness. The former is the sum total of what information and experience we have with a particular thing, while the latter is our conscience thinking of (and often cautiously watching for) it.

We could know about the army our enemy’s have in the field, but we want to be aware of it. On the other hand, we are often aware that we are thirsty or hungry and would prefer to know that we are not after addressing the problem.

These are old fashioned ways of looking at both terms. In our enlightened era, awareness is a virtue. The more we are aware of, the better, right? Isn’t that part of the reason people voluntarily bombard themselves every waking moment with 160-character strings of text?

We’re probably best avoiding all of the “awareness” nonsense. We should avoid being aware of particular facts as we are manipulated into hearing them.

 

Pre-Existing Conditions

President Trump recently signed a variant of Obamacare into law. Despite being pretty consistent with the law it replaced, many articles (and many comments responding to those articles) have brought up all of the old debate topics that popped up when Obama signed the original massive healthcare bill.

One topic in particular that seems to consistently divide people is insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions. If someone wants to buy health insurance but already has a medical condition for which health insurance would help alleviate costs, some argue that it is cruel to deprive them of the opportunity. Who needs it more, after all?

Answering this concern is straightforward and simple, and it’s a good lesson in how to respond to fuzzy emotional complaints (which are a terrible grounding for law). There are straightforward economic reasons that it’s actually impossible for health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions.

By “insurance”, I am referring to a system in which a large number of people pay money in proportion to some risk they may incur into a fund and out of which fund a small percentage of those people may withdraw money should they realize the risk accidentally. Paying money “in proportion to risk” simply means that some people are more likely to incur whatever risk the insurance hedges against, and so pay extra as a result to balance the flow of money in and out of the fund. The reason the risk must be realized accidentally is to avoid fraud.

All insurance works this way. Millions of people pay a car insurance company to protect their cars. Younger drivers, elderly drivers, and drivers with a history of traffic violations all pay more. More expensive cars also end up costing more, regardless of who is driving them. Thankfully, most people don’t get into car accidents, and so most of the people paying into the system never get anything out of it but peace of mind (or, in some places, the ability to legally drive their car). If someone goes out and bashes their car with a baseball bat in order to obtain a new one from insurance, their insurance company will decline the request; fraud would ruin the system.

Now imagine if suddenly, car insurance companies were required to cover cars which are already damaged. If you don’t have car insurance and you get into an accident, the car insurance company under penalty of law cannot decline you as a client. Nor can they hold you as a client indefinitely; you can always leave an insurance contract after a period of time. What would this do to the system?

Well, no one would buy car insurance until they got into a car crash. Why pay for something that does absolutely nothing for you? But can you see what this does to the equation? If 1000 people each pay $100 into car insurance each year and only 10 get into a car crash (we’ll estimate $10,000 as an average cost of each accident), then you have 1000 x $100 = $100,000 coming into the fund and 10 x $10,000 = $100,000 going out.

But if car insurance can be purchased on the spot even after a car accident to cover the car accident, 990 of those people won’t be paying anything. Why would they! They could get the benefits of insurance any time they actually needed them. The new equation is 10 x $100 = $1000 coming into the fund and 10 x $10,000 = $100,000 going out. $99,000 short to cover the expenses. The insurance company would foot the bill and would close. No company could take $99 in loss for every $1 of income.

This same analysis applies to medical insurance. No one would purchase medical insurance until they had a condition if it covered “pre-existing conditions”. This means that the only people paying into the fund are those who need to withdraw from it. You can hopefully see where this is going: “buying insurance” would cost as much, if not more, than paying out-of-pocket for all medical costs.

“But wait”, I hear you say. “What if the government also forced everyone to buy insurance?” This is exactly what they’d need to do. But now you’ve got an even bigger problem. First, in the United States, it is simply unconstitutional for the government to force citizens to buy a product or service. The Supreme Court, sympathetic to Obama, knew this. That’s why, despite Obama selling his Obamacare plan as something that would not raise taxes, the Supreme Court was forced to say that it increased taxes. Without forcing citizens to pay into the system, it would collapse.

But this isn’t the only problem, and it’s the reason the system collapses everywhere it is tried.

The more that insurance covers, the more expensive it is. That seems pretty straightforward. But the more it covers, the more expensive it also makes the services it covers. When insurance is used exclusively to pay for a particular service – and no one ever needs to pay out-of-pocket for it – that service increases in price. There’s no competition or bartering going on. The insurance company can raise rates and there isn’t much you can do about it.

This leads to a single-payer sort of system, where insurance companies simply can’t keep up with the demands of the government and are eventually just made into a government bureaucracy of their own. This costs incredible amounts of money (as it automatically raises the costs of services without limit), and is unreliable over longer periods of time and over populations with varied wealth and medical needs.

Much of this is beyond the scope of the problems with single-payer health care, but you can see already how it is all tied together, one problem necessitating a solution which itself becomes a problem, etc. The point is, any insurance which purports to cover “pre-existing conditions” isn’t insurance. It’s just an extra cost and added hassle on your way to paying the full cost of whatever service you want.

American Vices

They say you can tell a lot about a person by seeing what he loves. I think you can tell a lot by what a person hates, too. And not the sort of obvious denunciation-laden hatred that you see at Westboro Baptist “Church” protests. The hatred I’m speaking of is a silent contempt so ingrained in the people who hold it that they don’t consciously think about it.

For instance, American Christians often hold contempt for ritual and tradition. Sometimes this is expressed outwardly, but often it can be seen more clearly in other ways. For example, churches often consider it “progress” to substitute hymns for more modern forms of music, regardless of the quality of content or form that the music takes. While you might overhear people whisper their contempt for those curmudgeons who stand in the way of progress, you’ll often just see it in the shallow theology of the members. Hymns are a very efficient way of sowing theological truths into congregants, and this is lost when they are replaced.

One particular example comes to mind above all others though: wearing formal clothing to church. Putting aside the obviously contemptible reasons to wear a suit and tie when going to church (to appear better than others, to show off, to imagine oneself as more spiritual for doing so), there aren’t too many good reasons to avoid dressing one’s best when attending church.

It is good to dress and look one’s best when attending a funeral, a wedding, or a job interview. You want to give a good impression, but you also have some reverence of the event (at least in the first two scenarios). You know in the back of your mind that these are important things, and you should act importantly, no matter what you feel. But Americans love what the deem authenticity – that situation where you do or say whatever you like without reservation. So when it comes to church, many American Christians think it is actually wrong to dress well. They won’t often say this verbatim (although I’ve heard it). Instead, they’ll treat it as a spiritual accomplishment to no longer be concerned with their own appearance.

For instance, you might hear something like: “I learned it didn’t matter if I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans or a suit. It’s not about the outward appearance, but about the heart.”

On the face of it, who could argue? Of course the clothing we wear doesn’t have a salutary effect on us. Of course the health of our souls is not dictated by our clothing selection. But there is a silent contempt here veiled in spiritual language. For instance, consider this: “I learned it didn’t matter if I told my children that I loved them or not. It’s not about the outward appearance, but about the heart”.

“Aha”, I hear you say. “That’s different. If you love your children, you’ll tell them. The inward has an effect on the outward.” To which I can only agree, and by agreeing, prove my own point. The clothing we wear reflects the seriousness of organized worship.

Someone told me – and I think he was serious – that it was impossible to really know what was meant by “dressing one’s best”. What qualified as “best”? The Sun King of France had something very different in mind than Charles Spurgeon, for instance. But the fact of the matter is that everyone has an idea of what is best in their particular context, else we couldn’t even talk about it. What is “best” might have some subjective variability, but what is “best” is still a superlative, and we can’t make any comparisons without it. If it is better to wear a suit and tie (if you have the means) than to wear underwear alone, the existence of the superlative is already implied.

At the end of the day, it is wiser to dress your best than to argue that it doesn’t matter what you wear. And it is wiser to know what you secretly despise than to find out by having it challenged by someone who doesn’t make the same assumptions about the world as you.

This could easily dovetail into the objective nature of beauty, but I think I’ll save that for another post.

A Citybuilder I’m Building

I absolutely love Caesar 3. It’s a city-building game set in ancient Rome and it was so good that the demo, despite being extremely limited, was something I played over and over as a kid. The graphical style, the music, and the essence itself of the game was practically magical.

Five years later I learned to program. Ten years after that, I started working on my own city builder, and that’s what this is. I call it “Rise of Man”, but that isn’t the first name it’s had and it may not be the last. The game is a city builder with a twist (every game these days needs a twist). In the case of this game, the twist is an epoch-spanning civilization-customizing experience.

Players begin with a band of nomadic hunter-gatherers wandering the world. As players build up their cities and focus on particular methods of getting food, travelling, developing tools, entertaining their citizens, and forming governments, those choices have long-term impacts that define the sort of civilization that will develop. A player that focuses on spearing shore fish, for instance, may soon develop fishing rafts. And fishing rafts, if focused on, may give rise to a Polynesian-style culture that travels from island to distant island. Or, a player may simply be satisfied with rudimentary shipbuilding, focusing instead on gathering and ultimately farming so that permanent settlements and colonies will be possible.

This is a big project. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, but the core of the engine is in place. Below are some of the preliminary screenshots.

Pristine. Simple. In need of human involvement.
A tent has been built! Civilization advances!
A few starting structures, including a village center, some roads, and some build sites.
The world map, being world map-y.

March 2017 Update

The end of February was a busy, busy time, and this blog was not the only thing I neglected to maintain. I took a very nice week off of work, but instead of spending the time working on projects, I spent most of it with my family. It was good.

At the moment, this blog is only one of several simultaneous demands I need to meet. I’m also working on two video game projects (one of which has its own blog I’ll link to soon in a full post), some home renovations, and some online content creation. This, on top of being a father, husband, and working full time. This isn’t to complain about any of those things, but to suggest that this blog might become a place for me to, beyond what I already use it for, serve as a way to document all of these other projects.

I’ll probably have some posts about the two game projects soon.