Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sympathy for a foolish young man

Yesterday, when I was out walking, I saw a shrine at the intersection of SE 43rd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard.

A teenage pedestrian was hit and killed last Friday afternoon by a car speeding down the center turn lane, westbound, on Hawthorne. Eyewitnesses estimate that the vehicle was traveling upwards of 60 miles per hour in an area rife with pedestrians. The driver of the car, Abdulrahman Noorah, faces manslaughter and other charges. (You can read about it here.)

A young life ended and a grieving family left to pick up the pieces of their shattered existence. A terrible tragedy that will leave the survivors, including the victim's mother who saw the event firsthand, forever scarred.

The shrine, decked with flowers and placards posing impossible questions ("Is your convenience worth a death?"), reminded me of the fragility of life, of how everything can change in the blink of an eye.

And while we all grieve for the victimized family, is it impertinent of me to suggest that there might be another party deserving of sympathy?

I mean the perpetrator.

I mean Abdulrahman Noorah.

Almost certainly, he will go to prison.  He is forever cast a villain and outcast.

If he is human enough to care (and the sight of him on the local news, weeping at his arraignment, convinces me that he is), he faces an impossible karmic debt. Even were he to dedicate his life to winning redemption, the odds are long. He can never redress the hurt he has inflicted on his victims. One moment of impetuousness and impatience (Hawthorne Boulevard is interminably congested on Friday afternoons) invoked his doom.

It's a terrible fate, made all the more terrible by the fact that it is utterly just. By our human reckoning, Noorah deserves opprobrium.

But here's the thing. I don't believe he meant to harm anyone with his reckless behavior. Rather, I see him as a foolish young man who made an astoundingly bad decision. When I recall my own youth, enraptured, as I was, with myself, with my priorities, with my desires, I can see how easily I might have shared his fate.

At 20 years of age, Noorah is saddled with a debt for which he must atone. Years from now, he will undoubtedly remember his foolish decision last Friday, and wish with all his being that he had had more wisdom in that fateful moment. To live one's life like that would be an unspeakable horror.

I hope my words won't be interpreted as lacking in sympathy for the victim and her family. But I can't help but remember those times in my life where my own bad decisions have earned me the condemnation of the people around me. It's a lonely and terrible place to be. And it is where Noorah has placed himself, irretrievably, for the rest of his days.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Democrats, say 'no' to complacency!

Hoo boy!

One glance at this election forecast map, created by Nate Silver's organization,, and anyone can see that, as of this moment, Trump is on the verge of destroying the Republican party. Never mind the traditional swing states of Ohio, Virginia, and Florida where she's leading comfortably, as of this writing, Hillary is leading in Arizona! In North Carolina! In Georgia! She's on track to win 365 of the country's 538 electoral votes.

Important note about this map: it estimates the probability that each candidate will win a given state. It does not indicate the polling margins. So, according to the map, Hillary has an 87% chance of winning the general election based on current polling data. She does not have an 87 to 13 lead in the polls!

If it falls out this way, the way this map seems to indicate --well, that's a blowout. It could very well kill off what is left of the Republican party. And I sincerely hope that it comes to pass.

But, of course, as the son of an ultra-competitive football coach, I'm well-acquainted with the folly of taking comfort from an early lead.

So, in the interest of firing up my fellow liberals and progressives, consider what we stand to gain if Trump is routed in November:
  • This would be the fourth popular vote victory for Democrats in the last 5 national elections. Republicans have long known that they're losing the demographic war, but a blowout this year means it's over. It means they have lost. The much-mentioned-but-ultimately-ignored GOP autopsy performed by Reince Priebus in the wake of Romney's 2012 loss will have proven both prophetic and futile. In spite of recognizing the need to build bridges with minority voters, the GOP will have proved itself incapable of overcoming the racism they began nurturing with their infamous Southern Strategy
  • A Hillary victory will mean anywhere from 1 to 3 Supreme Court nominations from a Democrat rather than a Republican. For many years, progressives have endured horrendous decisions handed down by an anachronistic, reactionary court shaped by Republican presidents. (Citizens United is the most egregious example.) But, with Antonin Scalia's death earlier this year, and with Anthony Kennedy (80) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (83) getting a little --er --long in the tooth, we have the chance to pack the court with young(ish) progressive justices. As we all know, the Supreme Court molds our national culture as much or more than does the President, or even Congress.
  • And here's a tantalizing morsel for any Bernie Bros out there who can scarcely stomach the thought of voting for Hillary: if the Republican party collapses, the Democratic party won't be far behind. I wrote a piece about this idea back in 2010 (you can read it here). My hopes that year didn't bear fruit, but I think the idea is still valid. Quoting from my earlier post:
"If the GOP ceases to exist, it will kill the Democrats! If the Democrats are deprived of their ability to define themselves against the Republicans, they will fracture into their component parts: labor unions, environmentalists, racial and religious minorities, blue-collar workers, et alia. New alliances and coalitions would necessarily form, unrestrained by the corrupted two-party system. At long last, progressives would have a chance to make real change. We'd have to do it the way liberals always do: by bringing people together, building coalitions, working with others. But we'd have a better chance than we have now."
Folks, complacency is our enemy. Donald Trump's shocking implosion offers tantalizing possibilities for reshaping the political landscape. But it will only happen if he is not just beaten, but crushed.

So don't get overconfident in this period when Trump seems to be crashing and burning. The polls (and thus, the probabilities) will change. And, as we learned on that terrible day of November 2, 2004, one must never underestimate the stupidity of the American people.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Here's why it's Hillary

Like a whole lot of Republicans, I've got a problem or two with Hillary Clinton. But, unlike Republicans, they have nothing to do with her personal email server or Benghazi.

I'm a Bernie guy. My issues with Mrs. Clinton have to do with her shameful compliance when the chips were down in 2002. She voted "aye" to the lies. She cut Junior loose on Iraq. I haven't forgotten.

But you better believe I'm going to vote for her.

And, although in itself it is incentive enough, the fact that her opponent is a mob orator, an avatar of the ugliest parts of America, is not the only reason I'm going to give her my vote. I'm going to vote for Hillary, not just against Donald Trump.

Here's why: Bernie Sanders and his supporters won a great victory this primary season. Although they could not carry the nomination, that awoke something. The groundswell of support the Sanders campaign received surprised everyone. Sanders ran a fully-funded campaign, receiving donations from some 7 million people! Even with an average donation of $27, that's a lot of money. But more importantly, Sanders won the votes of young people by overwhelming numbers, outpacing Trump and Hillary combined!

Folks, we're at the dawn of a new era. The Sanders campaign, progressive politics, is the future of the Democratic party. Access to health care, racial and religious tolerance, justice both economic and social, affordable education: there is a great groundswell of support for these ideas.

Hillary, the consummate politician, can smell what's in the wind. Just as her husband did, when he mastered the art of political triangulation halfway through his first term, Hillary will position herself to be at the front of this new movement.

And as for the caricature that Fox News and the Republicans created? Well, they've been doing a multi-million dollar hit job on the woman for 25 years now. One can hardly be surprised that many people believe she is Jezebel incarnate.

She has her warts, like all politicians. But I believe she's a competent, even an exceptional, administrator. She will surround herself with competent people. And, far from fighting progress at every turn, she will encourage it.

So, yes, Hillary. Hillary 2016!

Friday, July 01, 2016

In the end, it will be the racism that kills the GOP

Just the first of many racist comments by the presumptive GOP nominee
Even though, as of this writing, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton appears to be walloping her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, in the polls I expect that between now and November, there will be enough fluctuation in the numbers to have liberal hearts palpitating like those of frightened rabbits.

Nonetheless, I believe, ultimately, the GOP will crash and burn this fall. In an historic fashion. Because history teaches that any cause that has  racism and hatred at the core of its philosophy is doomed to betray itself.

Example 1: The Third Reich

In the summer of 1941, the German Wehrmacht was rolling across the steppes of the Ukraine, swallowing whole divisions of Red Army troops. The Ukrainians, who had only recently been overrun and oppressed by Russia, at first welcomed the Germans as liberators.

Kiev or bust!
But they soon learned the error of their ways.

As bigwig Nazi and lead administrator of occupied Ukraine Erich Koch said: "[Gernans] are a master race that must remember that the lowliest German worker is racially and biologically a thousand times more valuable than the population here."

Well, the Nazis acted on that sentiment. During the occupation, whole villages were lined up and shot. Men, women, children. Those who weren't killed outright were enslaved and worked to death. If you've got the stomach for it, you can read more here.

Soon, Ukrainians began forming partisan paramilitary groups to fight the German occupiers. No longer were the Germans liberators, but brutal oppressors. Rather than a welcoming populace, they faced a desperate, no-tomorrow resistance that contributed mightily to their defeat.

The Nazi creed was infested with the cancer of racism. Even as they drove for Moscow, that cancer was eating away at them.

Example 2: Confederate States of America

Or consider the case of the Confederacy during the War Between the States:

In 1862, the Confederate States of America were at the height of their success. They had successfully stymied Union advances into Confederate territory. Their morale was high and bungling Union generals seemed impotent against the military mystique of Robert. E. Lee and his lieutenants.

Confederates fought to preserve their "property rights"
Things looked so rosy for Jeff Davis and his gang that Britain and France, ever wary of the growing power of the United States, considered official recognition of the Confederacy as a nation, which would have been a tremendous boon to the "Cause."

But what stayed the foreign interventionists' hand was the institutional racism of slavery. Britain had abolished slavery in 1833; France in 1794. Slavery was so abhorrent to the British and French populations at large that their governments dared not recognize the CSA.

The inherent racism of the Confederacy closed off the life line of international recognition that they so desperately needed. Although it took another 3 years for them to recognize it, their cause was doomed from the start.

GOP today

Which brings us back around to Donald Trump and today's GOP.

Let's not get carried away here. The GOP's evil is but a pale shadow of the Confederacy's, and not at all comparable to that of the Nazis. Nonetheless, with modern-day racists flocking to the Trump banner , one must accept that Trump's message resonates with them.

"[Trump] has sparked an insurgency," frothed Don Black, founder of Stormfront, a white nationalist group.

Making friends all over the world.
With every racist pronouncement that Donald Trump makes, he wins ardent support from a certain element in this country. But at the same time, he drives away people who might agree with his trade policies (such as they are) or who are attracted to his thumb-your-nose-at-authority rhetoric, but who are absolutely repelled by his demagoguery against Muslims, Mexicans, and women.

Just as the Nazis and the Confederacy enjoyed early success in their horrific efforts, despite any successes the Trump movement may have as we progress toward November, the malignancy of racism dooms it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The future of Sound and Fury

A serene stretch of the wild and raucous Deschutes River
Funny, isn't it, how things change?

The Sound and Fury blog has been running for nearly 9 years. As of this writing, there are a total of  1387 posts. However, over the past several years, posts have been a lot less frequent.

There are a number of reasons for this:
  1. When first I conceived this blog, the idea was that I would produce 5 posts per week. I held more or less true to that goal for six and a half years. Frankly, I don't know how I did it. The burden to write something original, that revealed genuine insight, was huge. Sometimes I succeeded, as with this post: Witchery. Other times, I mailed it in, as with this post: Teem. Well, the truth of the matter is that, with increased responsibilities at home, in my social life, and at work, I simply don't have time to throw together (an accurate description of my writing technique) 5 posts per week.
  2. Whatever it may say about my passions, much of the drive for this blog came from my utter rejection of Junior Bush. Anger and abhorrence fueled most of the political posts that I wrote. Some of the more successful political posts included these:
    Senator Gordon Smith: Moderate? Hardly!
    The Problem with Hillary
    Junior Bush: Still cashin' in on Iraq

    But Junior is gone now. And while an even greater demagogue is at the helm of the GOP, I (perhaps foolishly) view Donald Trump as a joke and the final nail in the party's coffin. (By the way, for what it's worth, I've been predicting the crack-up of the GOP since at least 2011: GOP Crumble.)  Watching the GOP die in such an ugly and obvious fashion doesn't inspire passion so much as disgust. And disgust is not the most inspiring of emotions.
  3. This one is painful to admit: I committed so much of my credibility to writing and completing the story, River, that when I hit a creative roadblock that, try as I might, I could not overcome, my confidence as a writer plummeted. Everything I wrote after that seemed trite and empty.
However, I've made the decision to continue this blog. When it was going successfully, when I was producing mostly quality output on a regular basis, I had as much self-esteem and sense of purpose as I've ever had in my life. Further, certain folks (I guess I can accurately refer to them as "readers") have expressed disappointment in my decreased activity.

So, for those interested, look for new posts. They will appear less frequently than before. (I won't be producing 5 posts a week.) My goal is to produce on a weekly basis. Subject matter will be as it has been: Politics, movie and book reviews, verse, travel logs, Advanced Squad Leader replays, posts in Spanish, posts about family and friends, short fiction. I might even resurrect the River story.

And so, dear reader, please forgive the self-indulgent nature of this post. There will be more, and better, posts to come. In the meantime, please know that I am deeply honored by your interest.

With gratitude,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Oregon comes through for Bernie

Not so fast, Hillary.

This morning, Oregonians awoke to the news that Senator Bernie Sanders won a big victory in our state's Democratic presidential primary election. Polling data before the election was sparse, but the polls I saw had Hillary ahead by a significant margin. So, this was a big upset. The margin of victory? A whopping 12 points!

Nonetheless, Hillary's delegate lead of ~700 delegates still seems insurmountable. The realist in me is resigned to it: Mrs. Clinton will be the Democratic nominee.

But Bernie's victory in Oregon, especially when aggregated with his other victories earlier in the season, is still important. Bernie has won approximately 43% of the popular vote (or roughly 10 million votes) in the primaries. That's a lot of voters, and it illuminates a very import political reality: Hillary needs the support of Bernie voters if she's going to win the general election in November.

I'm not among those who believe that a Clinton victory over the Republicans is assured. Hillary's "unfavorables," on the Left and the Right, are very high. There is a large portion of the electorate that will never vote for her.

Hillary knows that; and she knows that without Bernie's supporters, she will lose. Even to Donald Trump. So the manner in which the primaries conclude, and the manner in which the Democratic convention is conducted, becomes very important.

While they march to victory, the Clinton campaign is invested in making sure that Bernie supporters feel heard and respected. And the way to make that happen is to adopt positions that Sanders supporters can get excited about. Access to education, universal health care, increasing the federal minimum wage, Wall Street reform-- these are all issues on which Hillary must move to the left. Indeed, she has already done so on a number of issues. The campaign she is running today has changed for the better as a result of Bernie's success.

Today, I'm very proud of Oregon. We held true to our values in spite of the enormous weight of inevitability. It's going to pay off for us, too. Watch and see.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

ASL scenario replay: Clearing Kamienka

Note to readers: This post won't make a lick of sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the Advanced Squad Leader game system.

Greetings fellow ASL players!  After a several-year hiatus, an old familiar sound has returned to the Cariaga Hacienda: the merry clacking of dice tumbling through the tower. That's right! I'm plunging once again into a world of hours spent hunched over a game table arranging little squares of cardboard on a map while nimbly performing arithmetic calisthenics. In a word, ASL.

As usual, my nemesis, Dave Hauth, is the face across the table. And the game? Clearing Kamienka by Vic Provost. It looks like a barn-burner. A mostly infantry fight pitting elite Wehrmacht troops against sturdy Russian rifles in the early days of Barbarossa. 

Dave and I are both going to blog our experience as we go. We've a Gentleman's Agreement that neither of us will read his opponent's blog until given express permission to do so. 

You can read Dave's blog here.

Readers are encouraged to comment!  Speak your piece! Just be sure not to inadvertently reveal any information about Dave's plan to me or vice-versa. 

Thanks to Vic Provost for designing this great-looking scenario. And thanks to my old friend, Rodney Kinney for developing the VASL gaming engine which I've used to capture images. 

Well, here we go. Barbarossa, July 1941. German units are pouring across the frontier, swallowing up whole armies of Russians.

According to the arcane meta-game rules that Dave and I have developed over decades of gaming together, I have choice of sides for this engagement. I choose the Reds. They have a strong defensive position, plenty of cover, and the potential to set up some lethal ambushes for Germans advancing across soft terrain. (Besides, I'm something of a leftist.)

The German force I'm facing is awesome. Assault engineers with all their toys, great leadership, big ordnance, elite troops , a platoon of assault guns --that's quite a bit.

Both sides receive reinforcements at different points in the game.

The Victory Conditions state that the Germans must control at least 24 building locations east of hexrow P. A quick tally off the map reveals that there are 30 such locations in total. Therefore, in order to win, I must retain 7 building locations east of hexrow P. By SSR, any locations that are rubbled or ablaze count as German-controlled, and given that the German OB includes a 150mm howitzer, it is not unlikely that we will see some rubbling and fire-setting in this game.

So, taking all this into consideration, here's what I came up with...

Clearing Kamienka set up. Acquisition markers indicate bore-sighted locations.
As you can see, I've set up in strength to defend the walled building complex on board 43. My reasoning? If the German is going to win, he is almost compelled to control all the building locations in that complex. He can't bypass it, and if he must commit to attacking it, I want him to completely commit to that attack, rather than cause mischief with lesser attacks on my flanks. The approaches to the board 43 building complex are all soft cover (grain, brush, open ground), and I've got everything trained on them.

My turn 1 reinforcements, which arrive on the western half of the northern board edge, will hustle into the buildings on board 42 to await the Germans when they overwhelm the board 43 defenders. (And they will overwhelm them.)

Organizationally, I've divided my on board forces into three groups. Facing west, we have: center, left flank and right flank.

Central defense
Pretty straightforward here. A light mortar is out in front with a dummy stack. The hidden half-squad in O7.1 will act as spotter for the mortar to avoid all those grain hex hindrances. The Commissar will direct the fire of the MMG in O7, looking to lay firelanes to hinder Germans advancing through the grain. The same goes for the 447 with LMG in the 08 ground location, while the HIP 9-1 leader and 248 manning the heavy will save their hidden status until they get a good clean shot at a leader, or a torch-wielding engineer, or maybe at the big howitzer. Once they give up their HIP status, they'll move to the ground floor post haste. The upper level will be a death trap once the Germans know they're up there. The 10-0 commissar waits with the reserves behind the building complex to provide back up support.

Left flank

I've placed 7 of my 12 allotted dummy counters in this area to make it appear stronger than it is. There are only 2 actual units over here: the 76* howitzer, which is set to subject enfilading fire on Germans approaching the board 43 building cluster through the grain, and a 447 with LMG that is there to protect the gun from infantry. If the Germans push for the P2 woods cluster, the units in 43O7 will fire to interdict.

Right flank
Counting on those reinforcements. The 447 with the ATR is hidden.
On the right flank I've placed the AT gun and the big mortar, plus some supporting infantry. The 447 with the ATR gets HIP status, completing my HIP allotment for the scenario. These units will be bolstered on Turn 1 by the reinforcing infantry and they'll need it. If the German is going to win the scenario, he will have to invest the buildings on board 42, and to get to them, he'll have to smash this force. But he can do it.

The commissar and MMG in 43L10 can offer some crossfire support if the German approaches this position through the grain, as can the 447 with LMG in 43N9.


I've aimed to put as much fire as I can onto the two big grain fields on either board that represent the most direct approach to the victory buildings.

The German force is intimidating. But we Reds are a wiley bunch. If I can avoid his hay-makers and nick him repeatedly, I can whittle him down so that he doesn't have enough at the end of the scenario to succeed in his final push.

At your leisure, Herr Hauth. Russian set up as seen by German player.
Dave and I will play some time after Christmas. I'll post an AAR when we're done. Wish me luck, comrades!

Update: Alas and alack! Dave and I got around to playing this game two days after Christmas. Our playing revealed it to be strongly unbalanced in favor of the Russian. Dave fired smoke with his big howitzer and two of his tank destroyers, but it wasn't enough. The Germans advanced into murderous fire. As strong as is the German order of battle, it's not enough to overcome the strength of the Russian position. I think, with a few adjustments, this could be a tight scenario and a lot of fun to play for both sides. My considered recommendation for balancing this game are these:
  1. Remove the radio and 80mm Mtr OBA from the German OBA and replace it with a guaranteed Smoke FFE which occurs during the turn 1 German Prep Fire phase in a hex designated by the German player prior to all setup.
  2. Allow the Stugs, AA gun, and 150mm howitzer to set up on either board, within the German setup area. Remove the unarmored half-tracks from the German OB.
  3. Disallow Russian bore-sighting.
If anybody wants to try the scenario with my suggestions, let me know and we'll play it sometime. I'll even give choice of sides.