Friday, October 14, 2016

Now, the waiting

Storm's comin'.
Everything is prepared. What can be packed is packed. What can be arranged is arranged. Now, the  waiting.

Maty, woman of industry, had done the most of it in the days before she left. The tasks that remained to me were minimal. And now I've done. Except for the waiting. Which I am doing now.

Portland, the Rose City, is waiting as well. Heavy winds and rain are on the way. Local news is breathless with it. Typhoon residue, they say. We may lose power.

Everyone is waiting.

In twenty-four hours I'll be waiting in the airport lounge at JFK.

Not long after that, I will be in Dakar --in Senegal --with my wife. And six weeks of waiting will be over.  


Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Last night, the two major party nominees squared off for the first general election debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

It was a highly unsettling affair.

My nutshell impression is that the debate went to Hillary.

Yes, she came across as cold --almost imperious. Yes, her attempts to loosen up (for example, her "Whew! OK..." response to a Trump rant) were calculated and insincere. No, she did nothing to solve her "likeability" problem.

And yet, she won.

Or so it seemed to me.

Trump, under-prepared and undisciplined as always, appeared unhinged. He constantly interrupted Hillary, attempted to wrestle control of the debate away from hapless Lester Holt, and tossed out word salad responses that were largely incoherent. Example:
HOLT: Why is your judgment -- why is your judgment any different than Mrs. Clinton's judgment?

TRUMP: Well, I have much better judgment than she does. There's no question about that. I also have a much better temperament than she has, you know?


I have a much better -- she spent -- let me tell you -- she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on an advertising -- you know, they get Madison Avenue into a room, they put names -- oh, temperament, let's go after -- I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win. She does not have a...

HOLT: Secretary Clinton?

TRUMP: Wait. The AFL-CIO the other day, behind the blue screen, I don't know who you were talking to, Secretary Clinton, but you were totally out of control. I said, there's a person with a temperament that's got a problem.
Can anyone guess what he was trying to say here?

Trump's remarks ranged from ugly to downright destabilizing. For example, consider this:
TRUMP: And, number two, I said, and very strongly, NATO could be obsolete, because -- and I was very strong on this, and it was actually covered very accurately in the New York Times, which is unusual for the New York Times, to be honest -- but I said, they do not focus on terror. And I was very strong. And I said it numerous times.
One must wonder what governments in France, Germany and the United Kingdom must think when they hear the nominee of a major party in the United States cast doubt on NATO. With his cavalier, off-the-cuff remarks, Trump has managed to shake the stability of an alliance that has held together for 70 years!

Well, as I stated, I believe Hillary won the debate. But I'll be the first to admit that I'm not objective. To the husband of an immigrant, black, Muslim woman, and to a Mexican-American, Trump's rhetoric was alarming in the extreme. From my point of view, anyone who votes for Trump is expressing hostility toward me and my family.

But here's the rub: Trump's unscripted, cynical responses are right on the money for those who are already in the tank for him. This is what those people call "telling it like it is." Despite Hillary's seeming victory, the polls (which are tight as a drum) won't likely move very much.

As of this moment, it is unclear whether most voters will be motivated by hope or by fear. Fifty-six days to go, people. Let's see what happens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heart in Africa

A bygone moment of bliss
Cast adrift. Aimless and sad. Maty is half a world away.

I keep myself busy with friends. I focus on work. I take advantage of the liberties afforded by her absence.

But life is dreary.

Mundane tasks (laundry, preparing meals, cleaning) are devoid of importance now she is not here to remind me that I matter. If for no other reason than to love her.

I miss it all. Not only the laughter and the intimacy, but the silly disputes: what to watch on television? Where to go for dinner?

This bereavement is part of the price one pays when one is married to an immigrant. There are times when we must be apart.

She has people, half a world away, that she loves and must visit. And loving her, I must do what I can to help.

For her, it must be worse. There is nowhere in the world where she can be close to all the people she loves. Wherever she goes, she is separated by continents and vast oceans. It is this knowledge that keeps me from indulging overmuch in self-pity.

But today, and for the next several weeks, my heart is in Africa.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

ASL: Stalinié Prostori Campaign Game (Pt. I)

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, again, ASL players. I present here another series of blog posts dedicated to the hobby that we all love so much. This time, my opponent is Stewart King, another of the former Berserk Commissars, and an old friend. We have a Gentlemen's Agreement that Stewart will not read my blog for the duration of our campaign game.

Stewart and I will be playing the Tactiques Campaign Game "Stalinié Prostori" (Plains of Steel) which depicts action during the Wehrmacht's Operation Citadel. That's right: the last great German offensive on the eastern front, and the biggest tank battle in history, commonly known as the Battle of Kursk. Stewart is commanding the evil Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler, 1st SS Panzer Division. I'll have the valiant V Guards Tank Army, striving to keep the very worst of the Wehrmacht from penetrating the defenses.

Readers are encouraged to comment! Do you see a weakness? Do you have a better idea for a tank trap? Proclaim it in the comments!

Thanks to Rodney Kinney for developing the VASL gaming engine which I've used to capture images.
A ferocious fight

I've never played this CG before, but one look at the respective OBs  reveals that both sides are "loaded for bear," as the saying goes. The Germans have a huge armored force and elite SS infantry, fully supported by artillery and air support. But my Red Army heroes have plenty themselves: elite infantry, ample artillery and air support, and a horde of tanks. The Russian tanks may not quite match the German armor, but after all, for the Russians this is a game of attrition. Whittle them down in anticipation of the final CG scenario where, hopefully, they will be drained and exhausted by the time they make their push for the village in the final scenario.

In order for the German to win the CG, he must capture a huge number of strategic locations (building locations, bridges, rubble, and level-2 hill hexes). In this initial scenario, most of the strategic locations are on the northern half of board 10 and on board 24. It seems to me that, with the German forces coiled like a spring for the initial assault, there is little chance of denying them the board 10 buildings, but I'll make him earn them. My hope is to prevent him from gaining the board 24 buildings and the the level 2 hill hexes on board 18.

So, with that in mind, here is what I came up with.

Here are my initial forces:

  • Guards Rifle Coy
    458 x 12
    9-2, 8-1, 7-0
    MMG x 2, LMG x 2, ATR x2, Lt. Mtr x 2
  • Guards Rifle Coy
    458 x 12
    9-1, 7-0
    MMG x 2, LMG x 2, ATR x 2, Lt. Mtr. x 2
  • Medium AT Battery (depleted)
    45LL ATG x 3
    228 x 3
  • Heavy Artillery
  • 40 Fortification Points
All in all, not too bad. My ATG battery is depleted, but I did score a 9-2 leader for one of my elite rifle companies. I have 12 CPP to spend. My purchases are these:
  • Guards SMG Coy
    628 x 10
    9-2, 8-1
    LMG x 2, ATR x 2
  • SP ART Battery
    SU 76m x 4
  • 40 Fortification Points
  • Sturmoviks (!)
This first group of purchases may set up on board. The Sturmoviks will be interesting. Since the Germans will undoubtedly have Stukas, we have the potential for aerial dogfights, something that I've never before experienced in ASL. But honestly, I suspect that as the game unfolds, I'll be more concerned with German armor than with trying to shoot down Stukas.

My 80 fortification points are allotted as follows:
  • ATM x 7
  • HIP vehicles x 4
  • HIP squads x 3
  • Trench x 3
  • ? x 13
Then there are my reinforcements (both purchased and allotted) that are set to enter on the northern board edge on Turn 3:
  • T70 Platoon
    T70 x 3
    9-2 AL
  • T34 M41 Platoon (Inexperienced)
    T34 M41 x 3
  • T34 M43 Platoon (Depleted)
    T34 M43 x2
    8-1 AL
  • T34 M43 Platoon
    T34 M43 x 3
Boxcars on my armor leader roll for the T34 M41s! Inexperienced crews! A big disadvantage. But at least it will simplify any future decisions about which tanks to sacrifice, should the need arise. (And I'm sure it will!)

Now a breakdown of my setup.

Board 10 Village

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
Given the strength of the attacking force, the board 10 village seems destined to fall. But I aim to bleed the Germans in the taking. And the task of the leeching falls to my largely unsupported elite SMG company. The idea here is to lure the Germans into a street fight. I've placed hidden squads at various points that seem likely to afford street-fighting opportunities as the German tanks come rolling in. I fully expect the Germans will possess this village at the end of the scenario. But the units I've placed here will not attempt to escape. They're not under any illusions. No one will be seeing them in the chow line this night.

Western defenses

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
Here, the objective is to place fire on the Germans as they emerge from the board 10 village and attempt to push further north. If the Germans push for the board 24 village, the crest-status infantry in hexes A9-C10 will use the gully to fall back toward the village.  The two hidden SU76 M artillery pieces will protect the infantry from being overrun, hopefully. And the 9-2 with his MMG stack will attempt to entrench, but he'll be prepared to fall back to the gully post-haste against a major German thrust. I'm hoping that the board 24 village will prove to be beyond the German tether.

Eastern defenses

Units surrounded by a red square are HIP
I've strung an AT mine field (1 factor each) on the near side of the forest road that goes through 16B5 and across the gap between the woods masses to the west (16C9 through 16F10). I hope that this gap will appear inviting to the German panzer commanders who might imagine that it will allow them to advance en masse rather than through choke points like the B5 road hex.

Woe upon them! When they hit the mines, I open up with the 45LL ATG (18E5), the 2 hidden SU-76M SPAs, and the infantry light mortars to the north. That minefield is Hot with a capital "H."

The 45LL ATG is emplaced on the forest road in 19X2, aimed at the open ground to the west. But his position allows for easy man-handling to 19X1 to guard against a German advance on Board 18 as well. The infantry in the area are there to place fire on the mine fields to the south and to protect the ATG against infantry.

The hill

Keep those binoculars clean, Comrade!
Besides being Victory Locations, the level 2 hill hexes on Board 18 offer a sweeping view of the potential German approach for my artillery observer who is entrenched and hidden in 18Y7. Not only can I see important locations on Board 16, there are some long lines of sight that allow for calling down some 150mm love on the big grain field on Board 33. I have a couple squads up there to protect the field phone observer.

Nein, Henrich! Not this way....
The idea with the artillery is to drop harrassing fire on the Germans in the early game, while they are massed up. With luck, this will strip off tank riders and impede the advance for his infantry, perhaps separating them from the advancing panzers. Anything I get beyond that one fire mission I'll count as gravy. Subsequent fire missions will drop concentration on whichever tanks are foremost.
...nor this!


My armor arrives on Turn 3 and will enter to confront any German breakthroughs. My tanks are outgunned and out-armored by the big Tiger tanks, but have an advantage in maneuver. The problem, of course, is that Stewart will have plenty of versatile STUGs and PzIVs to engage my tanks as I attempt to flank the Tigers. By the time we get to Turn 3, it will probably be apparent as to where they should deploy. I'll just have to wait and see.

So, there it is: The initial Russian defense in the Plains of Steel CG. Looking at my forces, I feel very strong. Stewart would seem to have a daunting task before him. let's see how it plays out!


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!