October 31, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


    -ESSAY: The Managers: What Strat-O-Matic Meant to Its Creator, Its Fans, and Baseball (Pete Croatto, 7/06/16, Vice)
Other board games had simulated baseball, but Strat-O-Matic was indisputably the best. The randomness of three dice shot some of baseball's chaos into it; pitchers determining the outcome reflected how the sport actually works; real stats from all the players brought it down to earth.

Richman's creation brought baseball's essence into your house. The game's leisurely pace invites other pleasures, leaving plenty of time to drift into managerial wonder. Strat-O-Matic "played to that most basic of baseball fans' instincts, which is to say, 'I can do a better job than the people who are running my team," said the editor and writer Daniel Okrent, the inventor of fantasy baseball. "I think that's the kind of subliminal motivation."

Like any baseball game, Strat-O-Matic features two teams. Each player, batters and pitchers alike, is represented by a card with a table listing the raft of possible outcomes commensurate with his abilities, from Home Run to Ground Out Into As Many Outs As Possible. You roll three dice to get players from here to there. The things a player does most often in real life--strikeout, homer, whatever--will happen most often in the game, because those outcomes, based on the previous year's stats, are pegged to the most common dice combinations.

People are still playing Strat-O-Matic 55 years later, for the same reasons they always have--it's a great game. "I've brought a lot of happiness and a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people, and that's very important to me," Richman said.

Talk to some of those people, for whom Strat-O-Matic was both an escape and a transcendent entertainment, and the memories emerge clear and bright after years packed in storage. For a couple of summers, before girls and jobs barged in, the board game was a staple for Norm Schrager; growing up in Yonkers, New York. He would head over to his friend's house to play for hours in the sunroom, with the Yankees providing visual and audio ambience. A teenage Dan Patrick faked an illness so he could stay home from school to celebrate the arrival of the game's updated player cards. "At the age, you know, kids are trying to look through Playboys and we're looking through Strat-O-Matic cards," the former SportsCenter and current radio host said.

It was all about enjoyment, according to Patrick, who engaged in battles with colleague Gary Miller when the pair worked at CNN and, later, at ESPN. They played constantly--at Atlanta Braves games, in bars, wherever. Patrick recalled one expletive-laden contest concluded with the two not speaking for 48 hours.

Every once in awhile, I get furious with my boys for the number of hours they spend on Xbox. But then I recall the time we spent on such archaic games as Stratomatic, Electric Football & Monday Night Talking Football and calm down. I can only imagine the days and weeks we'd have consumed with better gameplay.

In fact, I kept meaning to try out a sports simulator. All of the Brits, including commentators, journalists and players are mad for Football Manager, but that seemed a bridge too far. then I read a series of uniformly rave reviews this Spring for Out of the Park Baseball.

The company was kind enough to provide a test copy and I even had a project in mind : I thought the Arizona Diamondbacks were loaded with talent at the Major League and high minor league level and that any idiot could run the team better than Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart. I decided I'd try to run the team for a year--162 simulated games--and see if I couldn't improve on their performance.

The first thing to be said about the game is that it is a totally consuming and immersive experience. It was recommended that you just dive in, so I did...into the deep end. At times I got lost and had to back out and I never did figure out how to maximize all the tools that are available. But I was having so much fun it hardly mattered.

Not only do you get to set your roster, make trades, claim waiver players, etc. as the GM, but as the manager you can set line-ups, pull pitchers, pinch hit, etc. Your scouting staff gives you reports for the next series. Other teams make trade offers. Your owner even sends you messages about how you're doing. [I confess to ignoring mine when he said to add another Gold Glove caliber player.]

As the games played out we had some of the same big problems the real Dbacks did--chiefly some under-performance by Paul Goldschidt--.273 23 74 15. On the other hand, a guy who I anticipated good things from in Rotisserie--Phil Gosselin--and then watched never play, got over 600 abs with my squad and went .256 8 72 15. And whereas the real team went 69-93, mine went 74-88. There was even a ten game winning streak that got us to .500 in August!

Even better though were the acquisitions I got to make. To what was already a reasonably good club, I added : Trevor Bauer, Zach Wheeler, Hector Neris and Alex Bregman. And I think we can get James Paxton and more this off season for David Peralta, with Socrates Brito ready to plug right in to the OF. The only major piece I gave up was Shelby Miller, anticipating correctly that he'd disappoint.

I expect the game to get me through the baseball-less Winter and look forward to trying out some classic match-ups. You can basically use players/teams from all of baseball history. Time to see if my beloved 1969 Mets were a complete fluke or not...

But now for the best part...for the duration of the World Series the game is available for just $10. It's well worth the while even at full price and certain to entertain.
    -GAME SITE: Out of the Park Baseball
    -GAME at Amazon
-ESSAY: La Russa's Diamondbacks are a mess (Jeff Gordon, 7/11/16, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
    -ESSAY: Arizona Diamondbacks ponder replacing La Russa, Stewart after just 2 years (Bob Nightengale, 8/22/16, USA TODAY Sports)
    -ESSAY: ESPN's Keith Law: Diamondbacks' 'front office is a laughingstock' (KEVIN ZIMMERMAN, August 18, 2016, Arizona Sports)
    -ESSAY: Looking back at the 2016 Diamondbacks, everything was terrible, even the uniforms (Dayn Perry, Sep 15, 2016, CBS Sports)
    -ESSAY: Diamondbacks' instability stirs potential candidates' skepticism (Nick Piecoro , 10/04/16, azcentral sports)
    -ESSAY: The Managers: What Strat-O-Matic Meant to Its Creator, Its Fans, and Baseball (Pete Croatto, 7/06/16, Vice)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Out of the Park Baseball 17 (MetaCritic)
    -REVIEW: of OOTP 17 (Bryan Wiedey, Sporting News)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Michael Bauman, Knuckleball)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Jake Bridges, The Fantasy Report)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 ((Brad Bortone, The Spitter)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Pasta Padre)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Russell Archey, Gaming Nexus)
    -REVIEW: of 00TPB 17 (The Snake Pit)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (An 8 bit mind in an 8 Gigabyte world)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Matt Wilhelm, GameGrin)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Matthew Pollesell, Gaming Age)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Patrick Rost, Gaming Trend)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Jon, Dark Station)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Unstoppable Gamer)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Dominick DiFucci, Mets Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (GameRankings)
    -REVIEW: of OOTPB 17 (Yahoo Sports)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVE: Out of the Park Baseball 15 (Metacritic)
    -REVIEW: of OOTP 16 (Jeffrey L. Wilson, PC Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of OOTP 11 (Brett Todd, GameSpot)

October 26, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle on His 1995 Song "Cubs in Five" : And what it means to him in 2016. (John Darnielle, 10/26/16, Slate)

It's a good time for baseball--there's a whole lot of characters and great stories, and the arrival of the superstations to the Southern California cable market means I can watch all the Cubs games I want. They're not good yet, but they have character. I'm at my mom's house watching a game while she's at work. Specifically, I'm on the couch strumming my cheap Korean nylon-strung 3/4-size guitar, and at some point, I reflect idly on an on-again, off-again relationship I've been having for the last several years that's given me a great deal of pleasure and at least as much pain. Presently, I'm hoping that I've emerged from the final "pain" phase of the process (spoiler alert: I hadn't), and I'm kidding myself, as one does, thinking: Well, I'm free of all that now; there's a lot of unlikely stuff that'd have to happen before I'd ever dive back into that radiant, glowing, magnificent ocean of high highs and hurt feelings.

That's when I get the conceit for the song, and I ad-lib the first verse and the chorus. Then I mute the TV, do it again, start scribbling down lyrics, and I think, jeez, this one's kind of good, why don't you call Peter, a harmony vocal would be cool, and he's into baseball, too, right?

I didn't keep records of my work then (and I don't now: I like to let things retain their natural anchorless drift), save for the hard evidence: the cassettes, I mean. Peter shows up--he's got the day off from his job as a substitute teacher--and we both sit around my mom's dining room table with my boombox and the tiny guitar I still have on a high shelf in the basement, the one I'd covered in stickers and painted Nick Drake lyrics all over in black and red watercolor, because it looked totally twisted and bizarre. And we sang:

They're gonna find intelligent life up there on the moon,
and The Canterbury Tales will shoot up to the top of the best-seller list,
and stay there for twenty-seven weeks;

And the Chicago Cubs will beat every team in the league,
and the Tampa Bay Bucs will take it all the way through January,
And I will love you again; I will love you like I used to
I will love you again; I will love you, like I used to

"Why don't you love me like you used to do?" ran a song on the outgoing answering machine of the person to whom the song was anonymously directed, at whom I was very angry on that day (for reasons lost to history), but with whom I could never stay angry for long, because that's how it is when you're a fan: You keep cheering, even when the circumstances might tell a less devoted partisan to seek out fairer pastures. You play nine innings. You keep hoping.

No other sport has good songs.
Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Islamic State v. al-Qaida (Owen Bennett-Jones, 11/03/16, London Review of Books)

After some years of mutual respect, tensions between the two organisations came to a head in 2013 when they tussled for control of the Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra. The arguments were so sharp that the al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, eventually said he no longer recognised the existence of the Islamic State in Syria. The former IS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani hit back, saying that al-Qaida was not only pacifist - excessively interested in popularity, mass movements and propaganda - but an 'axe' supporting the destruction of the caliphate.

The disagreements reflect contrasting approaches. Bin Laden - with decreasing success - urged his followers to keep their focus on the 'far enemy', the United States: Islamic State has always been more interested in the 'near enemy' - autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

...was how to turn attention to the Near war instead of the Far war, which toppling Saddam began but which the rise of ISIS was immensely helpful in achieving. The war is now down to everyone against the Salafi, including themselves.  Neither secular dictatorship nor Islamicist regime are alternatives any longer.  

ISIS Failure in Kirkuk Shows Its Loss of Sunni Arab Support (YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, Oct. 26, 2016, WSJ)

Last Friday, just as Iraqi, Kurdish and coalition troops were inching closer to Mosul to retake it, Islamic State launched a similar surprise attack on another major Iraqi city, Kirkuk. As the news of the assault spread, Islamic State authorities in Mosul staged street celebrations to salute the imminent addition of Kirkuk to their caliphate.

That attack, however, quickly ended in failure. The main reason is that Sunni Arabs, many of whom once viewed Islamic State as a liberator from Shiite or Kurdish oppression, have grown increasingly disgusted by the militant group.

After all, it is Iraq's Sunni Arab community that has paid the highest toll in the war unleashed by Islamic State, with their cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah lying in ruins and millions displaced from their homes. This draining support for Islamic State, as demonstrated by its quick defeat in Kirkuk, gives hope that the militant group will struggle to stage a comeback after it loses Mosul and control of other remaining areas in Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


ObamaCare is a disaster. Here's how to fix it. (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, October 26, 2016, The Week)

ObamaCare's combination of mandates, subsidies, and regulations very predictably caused markets to go haywire and become inefficient. But this shouldn't just be a moment for partisan point-scoring. ObamaCare's ostensible goal -- to ensure that every American has a safety net when it comes to health care -- is a laudable one. ObamaCare's failures will hurt millions of families. This is a serious problem that requires a serious solution.

So, how do we fix ObamaCare? By learning from the same principles that made it obvious ObamaCare would fail in the first place.

As I wrote back in 2014, in an article looking at lessons Americans could learn from the rest of the world on health care, there are a few valuable rule of thumbs. Namely, while health care is a unique sector of the economy in some respects, it still shares a defining characteristic with economic sectors like information technology and cars: Consumer choice and competition bring prices down and increases quality.

From these principles, you can sketch out a plan that would ensure all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. Marco Rubio's plan would give Americans who don't already have coverage a refundable tax credit that would allow them to buy the health care of their choice, preferably through a health savings account. The idea is to create a market accessible to all Americans, but not try to manage that market like a Soviet premier.

Even more simple: Allow insurers much more freedom in the kinds of plans they offer on ObamaCare's exchanges. Or ensure that people who get subsidies to buy insurance on the market get 80 percent of that money in a health savings account and 20 percent to put toward a plan covering catastrophic illness or injury.

The point is to nudge the American market away from what all health care experts agree is the biggest problem with American health care -- a problem that ObamaCare entrenches rather than ameliorates -- which is not "government" or "the market" but third-party payments. Whether it's a "private" insurer or the government, when a third party is involved in deciding what you buy and how, the market will go topsy-turvy, because consumers won't be able to exert their power in the marketplace. The business executive David Goldhill explains this perfectly in the single most important article about health care in America. Of course, poorer Americans should get money to buy critical health care that they otherwise can't afford, but the key point is that it should be their money; under ObamaCare (and employer-based insurance, but that is a topic for another day) it is not, actually, their money. It's the government's, or the insurer's, if you can figure out where one begins and the other ends.

Reducing choice, making the policies cost less and the consumption cost more is the key--that means HSAs and high deductible catastrophic plans.
Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Russian Carrier Is Bound for Syria, Flexing Muscle but Risking Malfunction (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, OCT. 21, 2016, NY Times)

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's lone, rather geriatric aircraft carrier, steamed through the English Channel toward the Mediterranean Sea on Friday in the Kremlin's latest attempt to reassert its lost superpower status.

Belching thick black smoke, the Soviet-era warship, previously known more as a threat to its crew than anything else, led a battle group of eight vessels, including an oceangoing tug that traditionally accompanies the carrier, which has a reputation for breaking down. [...]

Many military analysts see the Admiral Kuznetsov as merely a 200-pound gorilla, and consider it a gamble to play gunboat diplomacy with a lumbering tub fit for the scrap heap. The latest excursion is only the eighth long-distance mission for the aircraft carrier, which has been something of a lemon from the start.

"I would sum up its history as 'tortured,'" Mr. Nordenman said.

The carrier underwent repairs from 1996 to 1998, from 2001 to 2004, and in 2008, and its deck and electronic plant were replaced in the past two years, according to Russian news reports.

It is expected back in dry dock after the Syria deployment because its propulsion system needs to be replaced.

Whenever it went to sea over the years, the Admiral Kuznetsov was prone to accidents.

The United States Navy came to its aid during one Mediterranean training exercise in 1996, when the machinery used to distill fresh water from seawater malfunctioned, leaving its crew of nearly 2,000 sailors with a severe shortage of fresh water. The carrier polluted the Irish Sea at one point with a gigantic oil spill, and a fire on board killed a crew member in 2009.

The technology used to launch airplanes is considered obsolete. Most modern carriers fling their fighter jets skyward with a kind of catapult, allowing them to carry a full contingent of fuel and weapons. Planes launched from the Admiral Kuznetsov wobble aloft from a sort of ski jump, forcing them to take off without a full load.

The warship will hug the Syrian coastline, allowing planes to perform bombing runs and return to the ship's deck before running out of fuel, according to an unidentified source cited by the Tass news agency.

Sometimes you're so weak you're beyond even self-humiliation.

October 25, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


The Pentagon's 'Terminator Conundrum': Robots That Could Kill on Their Own : The United States has put artificial intelligence at the center of its defense strategy, with weapons that can identify targets and make decisions. (MATTHEW ROSENBERG and JOHN MARKOFF, OCT. 25, 2016, NY Times Magazine)

The small drone, with its six whirring rotors, swept past the replica of a Middle Eastern village and closed in on a mosque-like structure, its camera scanning for targets.

No humans were remotely piloting the drone, which was nothing more than a machine that could be bought on Amazon. But armed with advanced artificial intelligence software, it had been transformed into a robot that could find and identify the half-dozen men carrying replicas of AK-47s around the village and pretending to be insurgents.

As the drone descended slightly, a purple rectangle flickered on a video feed that was being relayed to engineers monitoring the test. The drone had locked onto a man obscured in the shadows, a display of hunting prowess that offered an eerie preview of how the Pentagon plans to transform warfare.

Almost unnoticed outside defense circles, the Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its strategy to maintain the United States' position as the world's dominant military power. It is spending billions of dollars to develop what it calls autonomous and semiautonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race.

The Defense Department is designing robotic fighter jets that would fly into combat alongside manned aircraft. It has tested missiles that can decide what to attack, and it has built ships that can hunt for enemy submarines, stalking those it finds over thousands of miles, without any help from humans.

...as the human cost to us trends towards zero.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Allah Wants ISIS to Retreat : The Caliphate's propagandists are digging through the Quran to prove that getting beaten back in Mosul doesn't stray from the preordained plan. (COLE BUNZEL, OCTOBER 25, 2016, fOREIGN pOLICY)

"Why has the Islamic State lost some of the territories under its control? And why has it lost some of its leaders?" This was the headline of an article published last week by a pro-Islamic State media outlet.

As its leaders are picked off from the sky, as its economic resources run dry, and as its prized "caliphate" slips from its grasp -- Mosul likely being the next casualty -- the Islamic State's supporters are looking for explanations for why the tide of war has turned against them. The facts on the ground, after all, no longer support the Islamic State's triumphalist slogan: Remaining and Expanding (baqiya wa-tatamaddad). How, one may well ask, does a group that projected such unbounded confidence, whose legitimacy seemed to rest on seizing and controlling large territories, adjust its message to less fortunate circumstances?

Nevermind that when Christ returns it will be to offer them an opportunity to accept Him as their savior, the requirement that they hold specific places and establish a state was always going to be fatal in the face of our opposition.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Every day matters with driverless cars (Adam Thierer and Caleb Watney, 10/20/16, tHE hILL)

Let's face it: Humans are really, really bad at driving. Of the 35,000 lives lost every year from car fatalities, 94 percent are attributable to human error. Thousands more are injured each day, and car crashes have many other significant costs for the public.

Even more horrific, we appear to be getting worse at driving during an age of evermore distracting digital devices. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that oversees auto safety, recently reported "an alarming uptick in fatalities" with a 10.4 percent increase in the number of vehicle deaths in the first half of 2016 over the previous year.

This is why driverless car technology is so exciting. Autonomous systems will take the wheel and make us much safer in the process. Put simply, robots don't get distracted, drowsy, or drunk. They don't have blind spots, and they won't text. These facts alone will result in a precipitous drop in the number of auto crashes and corresponding injuries or deaths.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


MY MUSLIM FATHER'S FAITH IN AMERICA (Mohammed Naseehu Ali , 10/24/16, The New Yorker)

It was during one of our late-evening tête-à-têtes before my freshman year that my father finally divulged his reasons for sending me to the United States.

"Allah has blessed that country," he told me. Knowing that such declarations were usually preludes to lengthier reflection, I assumed a ruminative posture and waited for him to continue. "One must wonder why Allah chose to bestow such abundance of wealth and glory on a nation of unbelievers," he said. "Remember, they don't worship Allah; they don't pray five times a day like we do. And yet Allah continues to bestow his blessings on their country." The reason, he said, was very simple: Americans were the ones doing Allah's work, by steadfastly upholding the Islamic tenet of zakat--a form of alms-giving that makes up one of the Five Pillars of Islam. "Their government welcomes people who are seeking a better life," my father said. "They shield and protect the weak, the poor, and the persecuted from all over the world, and, the most important of all, they support orphans and protect the rights of women, as instructed by the Prophet Muhammad in his last sermon."

Father was quick to remind me that, despite the enmity between the Reagan Administration and Ghana's military leadership, "it was America, and not Saudi Arabia," that sent shiploads of food to Ghanaians during the famine that struck our country in 1982. I was only twelve at the time, yet the image of bags of rice and corn and canned Dutch cheese, delivered to our local mosque with "u.s.a.i.d. from the american people" emblazoned in blue and red, remained vivid in my memory. "All of these are good deeds we Muslims are required to practice, but we have allowed the Americans and Europeans to lead in this effort," my father said. "And that's why they are blessed with peace and prosperity while we are afflicted with social distress and civil strife all over the Muslim world. If you think deeper, you'll realize that Americans are the true followers of the Islamic doctrine of peace, charity, and respect for human dignity."

Father also impressed on me that the scholarship funds I had obtained from Bennington College were donated by wealthy Americans specifically to pay for the schooling of African students like me. In his mind, such philanthropy was as Islamic as building a mosque. "By giving education to a Muslim, the wealthy donor had furthered the cause of Islam, and the resultant good karma is enough to keep the United States elevated in the eyes of Allah," he said.

Father had other ideas about American ascendancy. He believed that U.S. leaders were mighty because they were God-fearing (he cited as evidence the country's motto, "In God We Trust"), and that America was bolstered by the prayers of Muslims in Africa and Asia who depended upon the remittances made by their sons and daughters living and working in the United States. "We here pray daily for you and your country, and Allah listens," he once told me, long before I had even considered becoming a U.S. citizen. As risible as his theories sometimes seemed, I have come to make sense of most of them in the past twenty-eight years, as I've comfortably assimilated into American culture.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Hillary's list: An old-fashioned campaign plods ahead (BYRON YORK, 10/24/16, Washington Examiner)

[W]hat is less noticed is that the sheer unimaginative, competent conventionality of Hillary Clinton's campaign is killing Trump, too. On the stump, Clinton is following all the rules that Trump ignores. She is doing it the old-fashioned way -- in a style that doesn't thrill even her supporters but makes her seem a safe and solid choice in an election in which most voters don't seem inclined to gamble.

"Maybe it's kind of a woman thing," Clinton said at an appearance here at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Sunday evening. "We make lists, right? We make our lists, and then we try to figure out what we're going to get done and cross it off." That's exactly what Clinton is doing in her campaign, and it's what she did in Charlotte, the biggest city in perhaps the most critical swing state in the nation. She had a list, and she methodically followed it.

As Bernie was everything the Left had ever hoped for in a candidate, so is Donald the avatar of the Right.  And Hillary is napping her way to trouncing them both.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Battle of Agincourt: 10 reasons why the French lost to Henry V's army (Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Isabelle Fraser, 23 Oct 2015, The Telegraph)

Despite significantly outnumbering the English army, the French were easily defeated by King Henry V's forces at the battle in northern France.
How did the English win? . [...]

Use of longbow arrows

In the longbow, the English had perfected an extraordinary weapon that gave them a considerable advantage over the French crossbow. A trained archer could shoot six aimed arrows a minute which could wound at 400 yards, kill at 200 and penetrate armour at 100 yards.

The continuous volleys of English arrow fire also maddened the French horses, which trampled through the close-packed ranks of French foot soldiers.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


October 25, 1983: Grenada and Operation Urgent Fury (Rick Atkinson, 10/24/11, The History Reader)

Perhaps unconsciously, the American military had been waiting ten long years for Operation Urgent Fury. Symbols like Maya Lin's wall in Washington were important to help heal the rift between the Republic and its armed forces. But for professional soldiers, the demons of Vietnam could be fully exorcised only by the passage of time and an opportunity to demonstrate again valorous competence on the battlefield. If few wished for war -- and few did who had experienced the carnage of Southeast Asia -- nevertheless there persisted a yearning among military men to prove themselves. When that chance came on an obscure Caribbean island in October 1983, the Army and its sister services leaped to seize both the island and, they hoped, renewed self-confidence.

Grenada seemed an unlikely target for the fury, urgent or otherwise, of American military power. Barely twenty miles long and twelve miles wide, with the ragged oval shape of a crab's claw, the isle had been discovered by Columbus on his third voyage to the New World, in 1498. Not much had happened since. The somnolent capital of St. George's --population, 35,000 -- was wrapped picturesquely around a small harbor on the west coast. Grenada's principal industries centered on nutmeg, bananas, and tourism.

The politics of this tiny, torpid remnant of the British Empire, however, were complicated. In 1979, a pro-Western prime minister had been toppled in a bloodless coup by Maurice Bishop, a lanky, articulate Marxist who sported a salt-and-pepper beard and headed a home-grown political organization called the New Jewel Movement. Finding the taste of autocratic power to his liking, Bishop quickly aligned himself with Moscow and Havana, and reneged on his promise to establish a modern democracy.

To Ronald Reagan, already obsessed with the new leftist state in Nicaragua, Bishop was one more intolerable neighbor, particularly when he began to build a nine-thousand-foot runway on the sandy promontory of Point Salines. Events came to a head in mid October 1983, when Bishop was placed under house arrest by one of his more radical New Jewel minions, Bernard Coard. Six days later, on Wednesday, October 19, Bishop was freed by several thousand chanting supporters. Three armored personnel carriers manned by Coard's PRA troops fired on the crowd, killing at least fifty people. The soldiers again seized Bishop and several others. At one P.M., as he knelt against a stucco wall beneath a basketball backboard, Bishop was executed by a four-man firing squad.

Preliminary U.S. military planning had begun on October 14, when the National Security Council asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to begin considering the evacuation from Grenada of several hundred Americans, most of them students at St. George's University School of Medicine. Yet the Pentagon's zeal to prove itself -- to exorcise those demons from Vietnam -- quickly colored the planning and influenced the shape of Urgent Fury. Precisely because Grenada was the first sustained American military action in a decade, each of the four services was hungry for a piece of the action. "It doesn't matter which war you were in," according to a military truism, "as long as it was the last one." No one wanted to be left behind.

Moreover, the psychology of the American military had been deeply affected by the catastrophic rescue attempt in April 1980 of the embassy hostages in Tehran. Led by Charlie Beckwith, the mission had been aborted after a helicopter and a C-130 fuel tanker collided in the Iranian desert, burning eight servicemen to death. Many factors contributed to the flaming debacle at Desert One, but one of the catastrophe's lasting effects was an overkill mentality. "If a mission requires two divisions, send four. If it requires ten aircraft, send twenty," said one Army general in describing the military's state of mind before Grenada. "Don't go at the margin. Double it. We're not going to fail because of a lack of troops."

Paradoxically, the turning point in the Cold War came when Vietnam fell and boat people began fleeing (followed a few years later by the Mariel refugees).  People willing to risk so much to escape Communism put the lie to the notion it was just another alternative form of government.  And then when Jimmy Carter--to his credit--began arming the Afghans and Reagan accelerated it, the USSR began reeling rather quickly.  But it was the actual retaking of territory, however minor, that signaled how the rest of the War was going to play out.  All that remained was determining the speed of their collapse. 
Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Renewables overtake coal as world's largest source of power capacity (Pilita Clark, 10/18/16, Financial Times)

About 500,000 solar panels were installed every day last year as a record-shattering surge in green electricity saw renewables overtake coal as the world's largest source of installed power capacity.

Two wind turbines went up every hour in countries such as China, according to International Energy Agency officials who have sharply upgraded their forecasts of how fast renewable energy sources will keep growing.

"We are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables," said Fatih Birol, executive director of the global energy advisory agency.

Part of the growth was caused by falls in the cost of solar and onshore wind power that Mr Birol said would have been "unthinkable" only five years ago.

Average global generation costs for new onshore wind farms fell by an estimated 30 per cent between 2010 and 2015 while those for big solar panel plants fell by an even steeper two-thirds, an IEA report published on Tuesday showed.

The Paris-based agency thinks costs are likely to fall even further over the next five years, by 15 per cent on average for wind and by a quarter for solar power.

October 24, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


US Special Operators Accelerate Killings of ISIS Leaders (KEVIN BARON, OCTOBER 23, 2016, Defense One)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a Sunday visit with American and coalition forces at the Joint Operations Center in Erbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq, said he commended American fighters here who are supporting "elements in Syria" and working to envelop Raqqa. Quickening the pace of targeting ISIS leaders, known in military parlance as "high-value targets" or "high-value individuals," has hurt the terrorist group's ability to launch external "attacks aimed at our own people, our own country, and friends and allies," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Socialism Kills More Babies than War (Chelsea Follett, October 19, 2016, FEE)

Recent reports that infants now die at a higher rate in Venezuela than in war-torn Syria were, sadly, unsurprising - the results of socialist economics are predictable. Venezuela's infant mortality rate has actually been above Syria's since 2008. [...]

Chile's infant mortality rate in 1960 was actually above that of both Venezuela and Syria. It managed to outperform Syria by the mid-1960s, but was still woefully behind its richer northern cousin, Venezuela.  In the early 1970s, Chile's progress slowed to a crawl as its elite flirted with socialist policies. Once its government abandoned socialism and began economic reforms in the mid-1970s, the pace of progress sped up again, and soon Chile's infants were safer than Venezuela's. Today, Chile's infant mortality rate is similar to that of the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Regulators taking another look at costs of Wall St. safety rule (Patrick Rucker and Jonathan Spicer, 10/24/16, Reuters)

At issue is the requirement that the largest U.S. banks set aside $6 of capital for every $100 of assets on their books - double what they had to hold before.

Because this so-called Supplementary Leverage Ratio (SLR) rule applies to all bank assets including Treasuries, it has made owning that ultra-safe government debt and related trades more expensive.

Wall Street has complained about costs of many measures designed to make the financial system safer, but regulators have been firm. However, when banks argue that the SLR, which came into force early last year, unnecessarily burdens short-term financing, current and former officials say they may have a point.

"It has turned out to be quantitatively more of a problem than some people had anticipated," said Jeremy Stein, who was a Fed governor when the supplementary leverage ratio was adopted. Stein left the central bank for Harvard University in 2014.

Any softening of the regulation could signal that, nearly a decade after Wall Street's meltdown sparked a global recession, a safety-first approach may be giving way to a more nuanced one where costs play a greater role in regulators' considerations.

Privately, some regulators are now asking themselves whether the cost of complying with the rule may diminish its benefits, according to people familiar with internal discussions. The Federal Reserve and other central banks are analyzing the rule and its impacts.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


WikiLeaks' Gift to American Democracy (Jim Rutenberg, OCT. 23, 2016, NY Times)

[T]he whole thing seems to be backfiring. In this, the year of the leak, the hackers are contributing to a phenomenon -- raw transparency -- that should make democracy stronger.

Taken together, this year's big breaches -- nefarious and otherwise -- are bringing a dose of reality to this reality television campaign, exposing what the candidates or their aides say and do when they think no one is looking.

And they have pulled back the curtain on the political-celebrity mythmaking that the American media too often abets.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Clinton oppo files portrayed Sanders as a failed lawmaker : The documents, discovered in the hacked emails released by WikiLeaks, depict the Vermont senator as an extremist who accomplished little over his long career. (GABRIEL DEBENEDETTI, 10/22/16, Politico)

Perhaps the harshest potential knocks against Sanders, however, came in a section branding him a lousy manager who failed to make much of a mark in his 25 years on Capitol Hill.

Titled "Can't Work With People To Get Things Done," the section in the "Sanders Top Hits - Thematics" document has sub-sections including, "No Accomplishments," "Sanders Does Not Work Well With Other Lawmakers," "Not A Good Boss," and "Abrasive Leadership in Vermont."

Over six pages, it dives into his history of going it alone on legislation, noting, "Sanders only sponsored one substantive bill that became law." While Sanders' supporters often pointed to his work passing amendments, the document points out, "None of Sanders' House Amendments had Co-Sponsors."

It recalls that when he was mayor of Burlington, Sanders "and the Board of Aldermen fought so intensely that it attracted crowds from 30 miles away."

It cites a report labeling him one of the 10 "least cooperative" senators with the other party, quotes a 1983 Burlington Free Press editorial comparing him to "the kid who starts a fight and then screams when he gets hit back," and even points to a local Vermont report from August 2015 that quoted former staffers trashing him anonymously.

"Anonymous Sources Who Claimed To Have Previously Worked For Sanders Said That, As An Employer, He Often Mistreated His Employees," reads the header.

...but she didn't achieve anything in the Senate either, even if she did work well with everyone.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Leaked Emails Offer Clues to How Clinton Would Govern (Alexis Simendinger, October 24, 2016, RCP)

[T]he communications offer insights about governance questions and ways of operating inside the modern White House.

Here are some examples:

Rationale for a Clinton Presidency: The Podesta emails, covering everything from internal campaign spats to Italian cooking tips to entreaties from climate-change warriors seeking to fund-raise off the candidate, offer insights into one of the essential challenges all presidents face: What are his or her core beliefs? Without the vision thing - which is not the same as a policy agenda - presidents throughout American history have struggled to lead and succeed.

The emails reveal how Clinton's team labored to lock in a rationale for the candidate's second bid for the White House, especially in a political environment in which her 1990s-era bona fides and her determination to stick close to President Obama cut her adrift from Americans who saw her as yesterday's choice. Bernie Sanders, on the left, and Trump, on the right, encouraged frustrated voters eager for change to view Clinton as a disappointing appendage to Bill Clinton's presidency as well as to President Obama's White House tenure.

While writing the address that launched Clinton's campaign in the spring of 2015, her speechwriting team chewed on the problem before the candidate reviewed an initial draft.

"`The Vision Thing,'" wrote lead speechwriter Dan Schwerin in an email that distributed an early text to colleagues. "This remains a challenge. As you read, does it feel like a vision for the future comes through? If not, that's a place we really need to focus." [...]

Preparation to Govern. Clinton has navigated - not always smoothly -- some of the thorniest governance challenges of the modern era, from health care reform and the shrinking middle class to the Iraq War and the rise of the Islamic State. President Obama tells voters that his former Cabinet official is the most experienced presidential candidate ever to face the voters.

The emails underscore what Clinton has argued on the stump: She would enter the White House with reams of policy positions she has internalized, accompanied by budget breakdowns, and gaggles of advocates and experts flapping over each.

Clinton is a politician who has been publicly rebuked for lacking vision while also being commended for a lifelong commitment to the good that government can do. She is a planner who favors control, and she does not relish the high wire of improvisation. Clinton is comforted by a command of the smallest details -- and the hacked emails once again showcase her dependency on a tight circle of loyalists who give her the briefings and materials to appear a mile wide on policy as well as 10-feet deep when it comes to her opponents.

While it's great that she's not an ideologue, she has an even less ambitious agenda than the UR, who barely had any.  It's hard to see her achieving much meaningful and easy to see her being a one-termer, like the very similar GHWB.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


What has Jesus got to do with ISIS? A lot (TAHIR NASSER, 10/22/16,  Religion News Service)

Research into the motivating beliefs behind ISIS confirms that its theology is apocalyptic. Its members believe that fighting Western powers will precipitate the appearance of an individual called "The Guided One" (Mahdi) -- and the second coming of Jesus. Jesus will then lead ISIS to victory against all the nations of the Earth, apparently. Indeed, its mouthpiece, "Dabiq," is named after the city in Syria that its members believe will precipitate this apocalypse -- the city that, incidentally, they just lost to Kurdish fighters. [...]

The prophecies ISIS draw on do not originate from the Quran, but from various hadith, or traditions, attributed to the Prophet Muhammad but varying in their reliability. They state that when the second coming of Jesus appears, he would fight against the "Dajjal," also known as the Antichrist. The Dajjal would be easy to spot, according to the narrations, since he would be known by the donkey he would ride. Various traditions say the donkey would eat fire and breathe smoke, and ride over land, sea and air so fast that "a month's journey would become a day's." The donkey would also have one foot in the East and the other in the West, and would jump from nation to nation. Other traditions describe the donkey as possessing compartments in its belly, into which passengers could climb, and journey with it.

According to ISIS, all this is literal. Jesus himself will return and slay the Dajjal and his donkey, after which Jesus would establish the caliphate. Confused yet? Hasn't ISIS already established the caliphate? So where is Jesus? Indeed, ISIS grew tired of waiting for its warrior-messiah and the Antichrist's remarkable donkey, and established the caliphate itself, in a bid to hasten Jesus' return.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Residents of Kansas city rally in support of Muslims : Christian community stands together with Somali immigrants after a foiled bomb plot in Garden City targeted them. (Ali Younes, 10/23/16, Al Jazeera)

Residents of this small American city rallied to support the local Muslim community after federal investigators uncovered a plot by local militia members to bomb an apartment complex where many of them live.

US law enforcement agencies announced the arrest of three men on October 14, charging them in a domestic "terrorism plot" to bomb an apartment complex in Wichita suburbs where several Somali immigrant families lived.

The Muslim community in Garden City - mostly refugees or asylum seekers from Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan - numbers about 1,000 out of a population of 28,000. Almost all of them work at Tyson's Fresh Meat packing factory in the area.

Reverend Denise Pass, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Garden City, organised the rally last week to show support for the Somali community.

"When I heard this tragic news, it came to my mind that we - as members of this community and as Christians - should support and protect the local Muslim community," Pass told Al Jazeera.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Cubs fans are swapping 'Hamilton' tickets for World Series tickets (Dean Balsamini, October 23, 2016, NY Post)

Jim O'Hara told Chicago's WBBM-TV he wants to swap four December "Hamilton" tickets for two Series seats. His wife hasn't signed off on the plan yet.

"I have floated the idea," O'Hara said. "She thinks we're still going to 'Hamilton.'"

...we're selling our tickets if they hit Broadway prices.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Fed's Bullard says one rate increase is all that's needed for now (Reuters, 10/24/16)

St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said on Monday that a single U.S. interest rate rise would be all that was necessary for the time being, repeating comments he had made recently.

It would just be to demonstrate their hawk bona fides, which is always a mistake.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM

tiny desk : Drive-By Truckers (Lars Gotrich, 10/24/16, NPR)


"Guns Of Umpqua"
"What It Means"
"Once They Banned Imagine"

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Liberals Worried as Sheryl Sandberg Eyed for Treasury Secretary (Daniel J. Solomon, October 24, 2016, Forward)

Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer and women's empowerment advocate, could be leaning in too far for some in the Democratic Party's liberal base, according to a report in Politico.

Rumored to be a top pick for Treasury Secretary in a potential Clinton administration, she is turning heads among many lefties who see her as too corporate and not committed enough to progressive economic ideas.

"She's a proxy for this growing problem that is the hegemony of five to 10 major Silicon Valley platforms," David Segal, the head of the liberal group Demand Progress, told Politico.

In order to have half her cabinet be female, Hillary is going to have to pick executives from major corporations and governors, meaning that they're going to be at least crypto-Republican. No one would let a Progressive run a serious company or state.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Julian Assange tests 'total transparency' thesis on Clinton campaign (Raphael Satter, 10/24/16, Associated Press)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange first outlined the hypothesis nearly a decade ago: Can total transparency defeat an entrenched group of insiders?

"Consider what would happen," Assange wrote in 2006, if one of America's two major parties had their emails, faxes, campaign briefings, internal polls and donor data all exposed to public scrutiny.

...the most insider candidate ever will win in a landslide.  But I'm dubious that's what he meant.

October 23, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Missing From Hacked Emails: Hillary Clinton Herself (PETER NICHOLAS,  COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON and  BYRON TAU, Oct. 16, 2016, WSJ)

One person conspicuously absent so far in the thousands of hacked emails showing the internal workings of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid is Hillary Clinton herself.

Time and again, it is Mrs. Clinton's top aides who in a round robin of emails debate and shape major campaign speeches and strategy. When Mrs. Clinton is heard from, it typically is second hand: through an email sent by a confidante to other aides.

In the few missives that have emerged directly from Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee usually makes arrangements for issues to be discussed in meetings and phone calls--and that is when she will make the final call on how to proceed.

It is a process that seems to be working. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Microsoft's tablet deal with the NFL has been a disaster (Daniel Roberts, October 21, 2016, Yahoo!)

The Microsoft Surface tablet is so bad that the best coach in the NFL would rather use paper. At least that's the opinion of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who has the best record of any current active coach, and who speaks out so rarely that any time he describes something in detail, it is instant catnip for the media. It may not be a fair review of the Surface, but unfortunately for Microsoft, it has become a major story this week.

On Tuesday, Belichick, notoriously stingy with answering questions, unloaded on the Surface tablets for a full five minutes in a team press conference. "I'm done with the tablets," he said. "They're just too undependable for me.... I'll use the paper pictures from here on, because I have given it my best shot." The tablets, which are used by coaches and players to view high-res photos of plays in-game, frequently fail to load the images. Belichick has run out of patience.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Aussie Bank's 7000-Mile Blockchain Experiment Could Change Trade (Emily Cadman, October 23, 2016, Bloomberg)

As port staff scan the bales, an update to an electronic contract will be triggered, transferring ownership of the goods and authorizing the release of payment. The deceptively-simple sounding process is only possible because digital-ledger technology encrypts and stores the parameters of the contract, ensuring all parties are working off the same synchronized version, which cannot be unilaterally altered or tampered with.

This assurance allows the various phases of the transaction to be coded into the smart contract, and triggered automatically when certain conditions are met, without the need for a long-winded paper trail and human authorization. The experiment offers a glimpse into how transactions might one day be managed in the $4 trillion trade-finance industry, a global business that's been in the spotlight in recent years owing to high-profile fraud cases.

"This is a truly innovative step," said Scott Farrell, a Sydney-based partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons who sits on the Australian government's financial technology advisory body. "This experiment turns up the dial," he said in a telephone interview.

While other banks have researched blockchain solutions for trade finance, Commonwealth Bank and Wells Fargo appear to be the only ones to publicly announce a real-world transaction for one of the most cumbersome processes in global finance. Reams of paper, faxed statements and multiple contracts typically follow the movement of goods around the world through the hands of exporters, shipping companies and importers -- and all of these must be kept synchronized.
As well as the risk of human error, the process is also highly vulnerable to fraud. Qingdao, where the ship will dock, was at the center of a multi-billion dollar scam in 2014. The Chinese government discovered that firms were taking advantage of inefficiencies in the paper-based system to use the same stockpile of metals to secure multiple loans.

"Trade finance is one the most clunky processes in business," Michael Eidel, head of transactions at Commonwealth Bank, said in an interview at the bank's office in Sydney. "It is ripe for disruption."

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