Category Archives: In the News

Shock and Sadness in Connecticut


massacre in CT

Elementary school massacre: 26 dead, including 18 kids, in Connecticut

Today, Ryan Lanza, aged 24, walked into the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT. He was dressed all in black. Ryan, reputedly, pulled out two pistols and started firing into the crowd of students and teachers present, which included his own mother, a Kindegarten teacher at the school. In the ensuing madness, 26 people were murdered, 18 of them children in kindegarten to fourth grade. Among the dead was the alleged shooter’s own mother.

I know that I take a somewhat, er.. sardonic tone in this blog. This is reflective of my personality and sense of humor. I don’t have the heart to do that right now. ‎18 little children were murdered. What did they do, what did anyone do, to deserve such evil? I am revolted and sick at heart. Please, believer or non-believer, find it in your hearts to send thoughts, prayers and good kharma to the families of these murdered innocents today. They’re going to need every ounce of support in the weeks to come.

Words like “Tragedy” just don’t cut it right now. My heart isn’t into the usual gaming and geekery. Pray for the children.

12/15 update: events were still unclear when the above was written yesterday. It appears I was inaccurate due to the deception pulled by younger brother Adam Lanza. Adam used his older brother Ryan’s identification when he went to the school to commit massacre– why, we don’t know. So Ryan’s ID was on Adam’s body. Also, even more tragically, Adam had shot his mother at home before the event. Adam used his mother’s registered firearms to murder the children at school. Those are the facts we know. They only make this tragedy more unfathomable. Why DID Adam go to the school to kill? We’ll likely never know.

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Japanese Ship Visit


Last month, three Japanese naval ships, The JS Kashima, JS Asagiri, and JS Mineyuki visited Norfolk following a training exercise with the U.S. Navy.
The Japanese Navy pays Norfolk a visit

Photobucket

The ships are part of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Training Squadron bringing along 750 sailors and officers with 150 newly commissioned ensigns.

Kempeii
The Children give a traditional shout of Kempeiii!!! to our Japanese allies. They appreciated it.

The purpose of the visit was to provide an opportunity for sailors and officers to understand the important relationship between the JMSDF and U.S. Navy.

The Seemingly Intelligent Blue Cloud


National Priority


I hear back from State Senator Ken Cuccinelli on Abuser Fees



In Which I hear back from another representative

This time from the offices of State Senator Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli is pretty right wing (far more so than I am), but honest, hard working and a fiscal conservative. He recognizes the state needs infrasture improvement but it should NOT be funded through fining people. I liked his response better than Marsden’s.

Dear Mr. Nizz *

Thank you for contacting Senator Cuccinelli about the remedial fees (Albo / Rust provision) in the transportation bill.

Senator Cuccinelli opposed this measure ever since it was first proposed for two reasons: one, it usually penalizes those least able to pay, and, two, it turns traffic courts into a revenue raising mechanism for the Department of Transportation. Also, it disproportionately penalizes Virginians, as these fines cannot be collected from out-of-state drivers. The initial proposal would have made these penalties retroactive and imposed these fines on individuals for tickets that were issued over the last several years. Senator Cuccinelli succeeded in getting the Governor to remove the retroactive portion of the bill. However, he was unable to get this provision removed from the bill entirely.

Toward the end of session, these so called “abuser fees” were rolled into a sub-section of the final compromise transportation package. Senator Cuccinelli opposes using fines to raise transportation revenue but he supported the transportation bill as it came out of the General Assembly.
Senator Cuccinelli continues to oppose these exorbitant fines and would be supportive of a quick repeal of this portion of the transportation package. He has submitted an official request for a special session of the General Assembly to revisit this provision. If enough people are outraged and contact their representatives, we just might be able to get enough support to repeal it this year or first thing next year.

Best regards,

Eve Marie Barner
Legislative Aide
Senator Ken Cuccinelli, II
District 37

* Not my real name. Shocker!

I hear back from Delegate Dave Marsden on the Abuser Fee Law.



In Which I Start to Get a Response from My Letters

Wow, Northern VA politicians are turning on each other faster than a prison snitch in the showers on this issue.

I wrote my delegates a nastygram (one crafted in “loyal Democrat” language, on in “Staunch Republican” cant– I’m neither one). I got their voting records from the sources mentioned in a previous post.

Here’s what Marsden had to say:

Dear Mr. Nizz*

Thank you for your email. I opposed and voted against the stand alone bill that would have instituted abuser fees. However, I felt compelled to support the overall transportation plan, which included these “fees” because of the importance of transportation funding and the desperate need to begin to address this crisis.

I will work to rescind these fees and replace them with something more reasonable and sustainable.

The reason we have these abuser fees is that they are not counted as a tax by those delegates who have signed “no tax pledges”. This will not be easy, but is a perfect illustration of the danger of these so-called pledges.

Sincerely,
Dave Marsden

It started with doublespeak (hey, it was THEM who done it!) and ends with a surprisingly frank admission about how everyone is playing politics.

I’m still voting against the guy on principle, and I voted for him last time.

Mister Nizz

* (not my real name, shocker!)

Voting Record on the new Virginia Punitive Fee legistation


… And who voted for what (take note)

As reported in the voting record:

These legislators were in favor of the new punitive fees described in the previous post:

HB 3202 Transportation funding; authority to certain localities to impose additional fees therefor, report.

floor: 02/24/07 House: VOTE: ADOPTION (64-Y 34-N)

—————————————————-

YEAS–
Albo
Alexander
BaCote
Bell
Bulova
Byron
Callahan
Caputo
Carrico
Cline
Cosgrove
Cox
Crockett-Stark
Dance
Dudley
Fralin
Gilbert
Griffith
Hamilton
Hargrove
Hogan
Howell A.T.
Hugo
Hurt
Iaquinto
Ingram
Janis
Jones S.C.
Kilgore
Landes
Lewis
Lingamfelter
Lohr
Marsden
Marshall D.W.
May
McQuigg
Miller J.H
Miller, P.J
Morgan
Nixon
Nutter
O’Bannon
Oder
Orrock
Peace
Poisson
Purkey
Putney
Reid
Rust
Saxman
Scott, E.T.
Shannon
Sherwood
Sickles
Suit
Tata
Waddell
Wardrup
Welch
Wittman
Wright, Mr. Speaker–64.

These voted against it:

NAYS–Abbitt, Amundson, Armstrong, Barlow, Bowling, Brink, Cole, Ebbin, Eisenberg, Englin, Gear, Hall, Hull, Joannou, Johnson, Jones, D.C., Marshall, R.G., McClellan, McEachin, Melvin, Moran, Phillips, Plum, Rapp, Scott, J.M., Shuler, Spruill, Toscano, Tyler, Valentine, Ward, Ware, O., Ware, R.L., Watts–34.

ABSTENTIONS–0.

NOT VOTING–Athey, Frederick–2.

Delegate Frederick recording as not voting. Intended to vote nay.

Delegate Athey recorded as not voting. Intended to vote yea.

Who is your legislator

Tuesday’s Post article

Virginia Enacts Horrendous Fees



Blind, Greedy Justice

If you are a Virginia resident, you should be aware of this new and ridiculous law beginning July 1, 2007. Please sign the petition to stop this madness before we all go broke in order to “generate revenue” for our state.
<http://www.petitiononline.com/va3202/petition.html>

Please read and sign the petition below.
<http://www.petitiononline.com/va3202/petition.html>

We, the citizens of Virginia, are opposed to the outrageous and unjust traffic fines imposed as “civil remedial fees” in House Bill 3202 for the following reasons:

1. The fines inflict a punishment on drivers that is disproportionate to the degree of the offense they committed.

2. The fines are mandatory, and judges are given no discretion in sentencing.

3. The language of the bill states that the purpose is to “generate revenue” and hence the fines have nothing to do with traffic safety.

4. The bill’s sponsor, Del. David Albo (R- 42nd District(R-Fairfax)) is a partner in a law firm that specializes in traffic court cases and stands to benefit personally from this legislation. This type of conflict of interest should not be tolerated.

5. The fines in the bill apply ONLY to Virginia residents, hence unfairly creating different penalties for the same traffic offense based solely on residency.

6. In order to generate additional revenue, points for driving offenses remain on the offender’s license for up to 11 years. This will unnecessarily increase the offender’s insurance rates for a time frame that is incongruent with the degree of the offense.

Subtitle: Virginia legislator introduces new speeding ticket tax that boosts penalties beyond $3550, driving business to his traffic law firm.

Virginia motorists convicted of minor traffic violations will face a new, multi-year tax beginning July 1. Led by state Delegate David B. Albo (R-Springfield), lawmakers slipped a driver responsibility tax into a larger transportation funding bill signed by Governor Tim Kaine (D) in April. Albo, a senior partner in the Albo & Oblon, LLP traffic law firm, can expect to see a significant increase in business as motorists seek to protect their wallet from traffic tickets that come with assessments of up to $3000 in addition to an annual point tax that tops out at $700 a year for as long as the points remain.

“The purpose of the civil remedial fees imposed in this section is to generate revenue,” the new law states. (Virginia Code 46.2-206.1)

Driving as little as 15 MPH over the limit on an interstate highway now brings six license demerit points, a fine of up to $2500, up to one year in jail, and a new mandatory $1050 tax. The law also imposes an additional annual fee of up to $100 if a prior conviction leaves the motorist with a balance of eight demerit points, plus $75 for each additional point (up to $700 a year). The conviction in this example remains on the record for five years.

Other six-point convictions include “failing to give a proper signal,” “passing a school bus” or “driving with an obstructed view.” The same $1050 assessment applies, but the conviction remains on the record for eleven years.

Although the amount of the tax can add up quickly, the law forbids judges from reducing or suspending it in any way. The tax applies only to Virginia residents, so that out-of-state motorists only need to pay the regular ticket amount. Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Texas also impose a somewhat more modest driver responsibility tax which they apply to out-of-state residents.

The Virginia Supreme Court provides a full explanation of the new penalties for each traffic infraction in the 34k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Civil Remedial Fees (Executive Secretary, Virginia Supreme Court

Noticed in Information Week


Bastards for Hire

You know, I could do this job.. and that’s scarey, that someone thought of a way to make money off of it!

By Mitch Wagner
InformationWeekWed Jun 27, 7:06 PM ET

Worried about long lines to buy an iPhone on Friday? A San Francisco man said he and his band of pranksters will create a diversion to distract everybody else in line and allow you to slide right up to the front.

The company — called “Over Here, Jerks!” — will go to Apple or AT&T stores and release a wild animal, let loose a bad smell, or do something else disgusting, shocking, or scary. The plan: Everybody in line runs away, except for the company’s client, who’ll be first up for service.

“You might even have time to grab a few lawn chairs, sleeping bags, and sandwiches amid the mayhem!” according to the group’s Craigslist ad.

The company will work Market Street in San Francisco, charging $50 for the first three attempts and $10 for each additional attempt. “It’s like a text-messaging plan,” said organizer Matt Grimmer of San Francisco, who works by day as a biologist and cancer researcher.

The group includes amateur magicians, people who work at a petting zoo, and people with skills in camouflage techniques.

The iPhone event is just the launch of the company, which plans to go into business creating divisions for other events, Grimmer said.

“If you’re bad at chess, if you want to get your neighbor back for something, you can hire us,” he said. “We won’t get involved in a crime, but we’ll create a diversion to give people an opportunity to do what they need to do.”

This will be the company’s professional debut at causing diversions. Past attempts, done for love rather than money, included dressing a man up in a banana suit and having him fake a seizure at a high school graduation, Grimmer said.

“We wanted to cause a goof to get people distracted to mess up the order of things while it was going on,” Grimmer said. “When there’s a number of people walking in a group, we thought we could throw one little hitch into the ceremony and the whole thing collapses.”

He added, “It wasn’t as successful as we’d like it to be, but we started talking about it, and we’re confident we can do better.”

For one thing, the company plans to incorporate animals into its diversions, rather than people in costumes. For another, it plans to cause multiple diversions in rapid succession.

“We’ll put a dirty diaper on someone’s back, and get someone to yell, then get something disgusting or frightening coming from another direction. Nothing harmful. Play on people’s weaknesses for about 10 seconds, that’s all it takes,” Grimmer said.
— Copyright, 2007, Information Week

Hmmm.. Maybe I’ll send them my c.v.

USS New York


The Navy’s Phoenix Ship

U.S.S. New York

It was built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center .

It is the fifth in a new class of warship – designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. It will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.

Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite , LA to cast the ship’s bow section. When it was poured into the molds on Sept. 9, 2003 , “those big rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence,” recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing, who was there. “It was a spiritual moment for everybody there.”

Junior Chavers, foundry operations manager, said that when the trade center steel first arrived, he touched it with his hand and the “hair on my neck stood up.” “It had a big meaning to it for all of us,” he said. “They knocked us down. They can’t keep us down. We’re going to be back.”

The ship’s motto? “Never Forget”

Please keep this going so everyone can see what we are made of in this country!

.

hey Look!


Nice media coverage for a change!

Check out this article in the News Tribune! It’s actually not condenscendng, patronzing or paranoid about the notion of grown men playing with toys! Will the wonders ever cease?

Photograph copyright Janet Jenson and the News Tribune

Barzan al-Tikriti executed, beheaded


Pop-Top!


More deaths in the Iraqi “Justice” show over the weekend. Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother and Awad Hamad al-Bandar, a judge under the Hussein regime, took the long jump over the weekend. Tikriti’s death was particularly gruesome:

One of those present, public prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi, told the BBC that when the trap door opened, he could only see the rope dangling.

“I thought the convict Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti had escaped the noose. I shouted that he’s escaped the noose, go down and look for him. I went down a few steps ahead of the others to see: I found out that his head had separated from his body.

(source: BBC, copyright 2007 — FULL STORY)

Unlike the case of Saddam, where I was somewhat ambivelant about execution, I really was repelled at this event. As I’ve posted many times, I remain a staunch opponent of capital punishment (not just here in the states, but elsewhere). Here in the states, there are a few states left that allow hanging as a means of execution. The concept behind hanging is that the massive jolt to your spinal column snaps it, causing instant death. Alas, that’s only if the knot has been tied by a reasonably experienced hangman. There have been far too many instances where the intended victim has slowly twisted at the end of a rope, gradually suffocating. Or in a case where the victim is too heavy or has dropped too far and too fast, having his head pulled right off of his body, as was the case here– Tikriti doesn’t look very overweight in that photo.

Iraq is a sovereign nation and the justice system is still going through birthing pains, but I hope it isn’t going down the path of vengeance. The hangings over the weekend do not inspire confidence.

Farewell Saddam


Mature Content. Do not click unless…

You want to see something somewhat gory.

And thus passes our convenient stooge in the Fertile Crescent, Saddam. Once a convenient bludgeon against the Iranians (back in the days when we once bankrolled him, back when he was gleefully committing atrocities.. but more importantly, he was killing Iranians) …

… and now he takes the long jump for his crimes. How do I feel about it? Almost indifferent. I considered him an enemy of the state when he was alive, so his death enters that fuzzy area where I don’t carp as much about violating my sense of disgust over capital punishment. It was kinda, sorta, happening as an act during wartime.

On the other hand, I wonder if it truly was neccesary. Saddam’s time in the sun has been over for three years. He was finished. Was this act of political vengeance neccesary, considering the price that will be paid in lives? Time will tell.

Why Games Matter


Someone passed me an interesting article from the NEW YORK MAGAZINE by Niall Fersuson. Some interesting conclusions here, but I get the feeling the author needed to do his homework about grand strategy games.

How to Win a War
With a nuclear North Korea and Iran on the way, the geopolitical situation is evolving in unpredictable ways. Can a hypersophisticated World War II simulation teach us 21st-century global strategy? An eminent historian rates the state of play.

By Niall Ferguson

All my life I have played va banque [go for broke],” said Hitler. Churchill too was a gambler, once literally deluging his wife with his casino winnings. Eisenhower preferred the bridge table. For Homo ludens (“playing man,” a phrase coined by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga in 1938), war is the great game and World War II was the greatest game of them all.

My sons, ages 7 and 12, play these games compulsively. For a while, their GameCube favorite was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Then they discovered Call of Duty. The latest fad is Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, which they play online on their PCs.

To say that I’m interested in World War II would be an understatement. For the past few years, I have been toiling to write its history, skulking in my study and neglecting my children in the process. In theory, games like Medal of Honor ought to have helped our family to reconnect when I finally emerged from my books. But no. Unfortunately—and to the disappointment of my sons—I hate them. And that’s despite the fact that I sincerely believe computer games have a potentially revolutionary role to play in the teaching of history.

I’ll go further. There’s never been a more important time for people to play World War II games. For the last five years, politicians from the president down have been recycling the rhetoric of that conflict. September 11 was “a day of infamy.” Saddam/Ahmadinejad/Kim Jong Il is the new Hitler. And yet few of these politicians seem to have any real understanding of the strategic risks involved in global conflict.

So why do I hate Medal of Honor? The trouble is—and the same could be said of nearly all its competitors—it’s profoundly unhistorical. It’s what’s known in the games trade as a first-person shooter (FPS) game. As a player, you take on the role of Lieutenant Mike Powell of the U.S. Army Rangers. You see the battlefield—a Normandy beach, for instance—from his vantage point. As Lieutenant Powell, you do pretty much what you feel like—which is to bag as many Germans as you can. In reality, an officer’s principal concern on Omaha Beach was somehow to maintain the cohesion of his unit in the face of a lethal storm of steel.

Second, the cost of a miscalculation is low. Wounds merely deduct points from your “health.” Death—usually and rather grotesquely signaled by a grunt and the descent of a red mist over the screen—simply means the end of one game and the start of the next.

In fairness, games like Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, and Soldiers have taught my sons an amazing amount about World War II hardware. But at root, they’re just playing Space Invaders—make that Beach Invaders—with fancy graphics.

Part of the problem may be the games’ unconscious anachronism—many of them are inspired, if not directly based, on software recently developed by the U.S. military for training purposes.

If you want to see the future of the war-games industry, it’s a good idea to check out the annual conference of darpa (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) or to monitor the latest output of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. The problem is that the situations the Army wants to simulate today are very different from the ones experienced by soldiers in the early forties.

To the historian, in any case, tactics and the individual soldier’s battlefield experience are only some of the war’s many facets. Of more importance by far is the question of strategy. D-day was a decisive Allied victory, but not a preordained one. On the eve of the operation, Eisenhower was sufficiently conscious of the risks involved to draft the statement he would issue in the event of its failure.

“What if D-day had gone wrong?” is only one of scores of counterfactual questions historians have asked about the war. What if the Nazis had invaded Britain in 1940? What if Hitler had captured Moscow in 1941? What if the Japanese had won the Battle of Midway in 1942? These are questions that computer games ought, in theory, to be able to help answer. And yet no military historian, to my knowledge, has made use of them. This is doubly surprising. Not only is there a long and respectable tradition of war games within the military academy, but games also played a central role in Cold War strategy, advancing an entire branch of mathematics—game theory—in the process.

But Cold War games are now obsolete. Then, there were just two players, each armed to the teeth with nukes. Today we live in a multipolar, multiplayer world. Some players are much better armed than others. In that sense, today’s strategic problems are more like those of the World War II era. Sure, the U.S. can invade Iraq. But what will the French do? The Russians? The Chinese? What if invading Iraq ends up benefiting Iran? The question is, where to learn this kind of stuff? Sure, there are already some games that offer World War II scenarios. But Civilization and Empire Earth, to take perhaps the best-known examples, are not what the historian needs, since what they provide is such a crude caricature of the historical process. In both games, the player quickly learns that it is prudent to build up one’s economic capabilities before embarking on a war. But this is a universal truth, as valid for Julius Caesar as for Benito Mussolini. Behind the graphics, neither game tells you much about the specifics of 1939 to 1945. The warring sides therefore might as well be hobbits and orcs or teenage wizards and dementors.

Up until now, the best my sons and I could do when it came to replaying World War II was in fact an old-fashioned board game, Axis & Allies. Similar in its mode of operation to the earlier strategy game Risk, Axis & Allies offers a reasonable approximation to the strategic position in 1942. But I stress approximation. The game vastly understates the economic power of the United States, for example. The best thing about Axis & Allies is that battles are decided by a combination of firepower and luck. Dice are thrown, but the odds are weighted in favor of the player with the most men and hardware. (Each time I play, I’m impressed by the calibration of these weightings.) Luck did matter in the war; Pearl Harbor would have been a much bigger disaster if the American aircraft carriers had not been absent on maneuvers; the success of D-day was heavily dependent on the weather. But luck mattered only within limits set by what Stalin liked to call the constellation of forces. In Axis & Allies, it is clearly possible for the Axis powers to win, provided they strike quickly against badly led Allies. I know this because I watched my elder son, in the role of Hitler, trounce me the first time we played the game. But did this convince me that the real Hitler could have won the war? Or did it just mean that my son got lucky? Good though it is as a board game, Axis & Allies is still a very long way from historical reality. Which is why I’m so glad I discoveredMaking History: The Calm & the Storm,a pioneering computer game devised by Muzzy Lane, a software company in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Based on a combination of system dynamics, a technology designed to generate simulated scenarios from real-world data, The Calm & the Storm has a completely different feel from any other war game I’ve played. To begin with, it is based on a quite astonishing quantity of factual information about the war.

Like Axis & Allies or Civilization III, the graphic interface is a map. But the level of detail is quite unique. Not just national borders but provincial borders are visible. And all the world’s countries are depicted; players can choose from up to eleven governments, including China’s.

And the balance between military capability and economic resources is represented in a far more sophisticated way than I’ve ever seen. Play the part of Britain in September 1938—during the crisis over Czechoslovakia—and you quickly discover (as historians have long maintained) that Britain’s pace of rearmament cannot be accelerated.

Other games reduce war to a crapshoot. This game makes it clear that strategy is about diplomacy as well as pitched battles. If you use the first of the currently available scenarios in The Calm & the Storm, “The Politics of Appeasement,” you have the option of trying to avoid war altogether, seeing if you can do better than Neville Chamberlain. Alternatively, you can do what I did: implement a Churchillian strategy aimed at fighting Germany sooner rather than later. We call this preemption nowadays.

I argue in my new history that confronting Hitler in 1938 would have paid handsome dividends. Even if it had come to war over Czechoslovakia, Germany would not have won. Germany’s defenses were not yet ready for a two-front war. So how did my preemptive strategy stand up to a computer stress test? Not as well as I had hoped, I have to confess. The Calm & the Storm made it clear that lining up an anti-German coalition in 1938 might have been harder than I’d assumed. To my horror, the French turned down the alliance I proposed to them. It also turned out that, when I did go to war with Germany, my own position was pretty weak. The nadir was a successful German invasion of England, a scenario my book rules out as militarily too risky.

That’s not to imply that the game is weighted in Germany’s favor. When I switched roles and became the German dictator for a day, things went even worse. In my book, I consider various ways in which Hitler might conceivably have won the war. One obvious scenario imagines Hitler not attacking Western Europe but taking on the Soviet Union straight after Poland. I tried this, aiming to defeat Poland and then launch an early Operation Barbarossa in 1940. But I made a fatal mistake. I decided to dispense with the Nazi-Soviet pact and defeat Poland single-handed. It didn’t work. And as soon as things began to go wrong, I found myself entirely alone. By the end of the game, Berlin had fallen and the whole of Eastern Europe was in Stalin’s hands. I had discovered, in short, that unilateral action can lead to disastrous isolation.

eeling from my catastrophic failure to improve on Hitler’s strategy, I called up Dave McCool, the president of Muzzy Lane. Had he ever won as Germany? Yes, he had.

I was playing as Germany and attacked Poland in the spring of 1939,” he told me in an e-mail debriefing. “The western Allies did not intervene, so I was able to finish off Poland and not have a western front to worry about. I spent some time building up my forces and deploying along the Soviet frontier. When my forces were about two-thirds the size of the Soviets, I attacked in the center and the north along the Polish-Soviet frontier.

“Things quickly turned into a couple of big attrition battles in the center and the north, with both sides feeding troops in to keep from losing. After many turns of this I noticed that they had left things pretty bare in the south, so I diverted my new troops there and pushed through. I was able to send armored divisions into the Caucasus and capture the oil fields, while turning my other forces north and cutting off the big battles we were fighting.

“With him out of supply and unable to reinforce, the battles tipped in my favor and I was able to destroy most of his forces in the west. From that point on it was a matter of slogging east and hunting down the rest. The USSR surrendered in the summer of 1941.”

Now ask yourself: How many other companies in the world are run by a man who has led Germany to victory in World War II?

Of course, no one at Muzzy Lane pretends that their game precisely replicates the world in 1938 or 1939. Nevertheless, the parallel pasts the game conjures up have an undoubted intellectual value—which is why McCool and his partners have hitherto concentrated their energies in marketing their product to educators.

I too can readily imagine the value The Calm & the Storm would add to an undergraduate course on World War II. Indeed, I can hardly wait to set up a game-based seminar at Harvard, having heard one group of students last term hold an impromptu and high-octane discussion on the historical merits of Axis & Allies.

My sons were in no doubt that The Calm & the Storm was more challenging than their favorite FPS games. However, when I suggested that this should be regarded as an alternative to their usual history homework, rather than as an alternative to Grand Theft Auto, they were filled with enthusiasm. I have no doubt they’d learn more from playing a game like this than from any school-textbook assignment.

Muzzy Lane is already planning games that will be based on other conflicts ranging from the American Revolution through the Cold War to the present war in Iraq. Just imagine: Instead of Monday-morning quarterbacks pontificating vaguely about how they could have cleaned up the Iraq mess with a few thousand extra troops in 2003, we will be able to replay the post-9/11 crisis as a carefully calibrated game of diplomacy, strategy, and counterinsurgency. Those who have found it so easy to heap scorn on the Bush administration may well be vindicated. Or they may discover—as I did when I played the parts of Churchill and then Hitler—that there were worse possible outcomes than the one we know. That’s obviously true in the case of the Cold War. Two players less coolheaded than Kennedy and Khrushchev could easily blow the world apart over Cuba.

Gaming history is not a crass attempt to make the subject relevant to today’s kids. Rather it’s an attempt to revitalize history with the kind of technology that kids have pioneered. And why not? After all, the Game Boy generation is growing up. And, as they seek a deeper understanding of the world we live in, they may not turn first to the bookshelves. They may demand to play—or rather replay—the great game of history for themselves. And who knows? When they come to make real strategic decisions, maybe this strategically savvy generation will do a better job than we did.

Copyright 2006 New York Magazine

With a nuclear North Korea and Iran on the way, the geopolitical situation is evolving in unpredictable ways. Can a hypersophisticated World War II simulation teach us 21st-century global strategy? An eminent historian rates the state of play.

By Niall Ferguson

“All my life I have played va banque [go for broke],” said Hitler. Churchill too was a gambler, once literally deluging his wife with his casino winnings. Eisenhower preferred the bridge table. For Homo ludens (“playing man,” a phrase coined by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga in 1938), war is the great game and World War II was the greatest game of them all.

My sons, ages 7 and 12, play these games compulsively. For a while, their GameCube favorite was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Then they discovered Call of Duty. The latest fad is Soldiers: Heroes of World War II, which they play online on their PCs.

To say that I’m interested in World War II would be an understatement. For the past few years, I have been toiling to write its history, skulking in my study and neglecting my children in the process. In theory, games like Medal of Honor ought to have helped our family to reconnect when I finally emerged from my books. But no. Unfortunately—and to the disappointment of my sons—I hate them. And that’s despite the fact that I sincerely believe computer games have a potentially revolutionary role to play in the teaching of history.

I’ll go further. There’s never been a more important time for people to play World War II games. For the last five years, politicians from the president down have been recycling the rhetoric of that conflict. September 11 was “a day of infamy.” Saddam/Ahmadinejad/Kim Jong Il is the new Hitler. And yet few of these politicians seem to have any real understanding of the strategic risks involved in global conflict.

So why do I hate Medal of Honor? The trouble is—and the same could be said of nearly all its competitors—it’s profoundly unhistorical. It’s what’s known in the games trade as a first-person shooter (FPS) game. As a player, you take on the role of Lieutenant Mike Powell of the U.S. Army Rangers. You see the battlefield—a Normandy beach, for instance—from his vantage point. As Lieutenant Powell, you do pretty much what you feel like—which is to bag as many Germans as you can. In reality, an officer’s principal concern on Omaha Beach was somehow to maintain the cohesion of his unit in the face of a lethal storm of steel.

Second, the cost of a miscalculation is low. Wounds merely deduct points from your “health.” Death—usually and rather grotesquely signaled by a grunt and the descent of a red mist over the screen—simply means the end of one game and the start of the next.

In fairness, games like Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, and Soldiers have taught my sons an amazing amount about World War II hardware. But at root, they’re just playing Space Invaders—make that Beach Invaders—with fancy graphics.

Part of the problem may be the games’ unconscious anachronism—many of them are inspired, if not directly based, on software recently developed by the U.S. military for training purposes.

If you want to see the future of the war-games industry, it’s a good idea to check out the annual conference of darpa (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) or to monitor the latest output of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation. The problem is that the situations the Army wants to simulate today are very different from the ones experienced by soldiers in the early forties.

To the historian, in any case, tactics and the individual soldier’s battlefield experience are only some of the war’s many facets. Of more importance by far is the question of strategy. D-day was a decisive Allied victory, but not a preordained one. On the eve of the operation, Eisenhower was sufficiently conscious of the risks involved to draft the statement he would issue in the event of its failure.

“What if D-day had gone wrong?” is only one of scores of counterfactual questions historians have asked about the war. What if the Nazis had invaded Britain in 1940? What if Hitler had captured Moscow in 1941? What if the Japanese had won the Battle of Midway in 1942? These are questions that computer games ought, in theory, to be able to help answer. And yet no military historian, to my knowledge, has made use of them. This is doubly surprising. Not only is there a long and respectable tradition of war games within the military academy, but games also played a central role in Cold War strategy, advancing an entire branch of mathematics—game theory—in the process.

But Cold War games are now obsolete. Then, there were just two players, each armed to the teeth with nukes. Today we live in a multipolar, multiplayer world. Some players are much better armed than others. In that sense, today’s strategic problems are more like those of the World War II era. Sure, the U.S. can invade Iraq. But what will the French do? The Russians? The Chinese? What if invading Iraq ends up benefiting Iran? The question is, where to learn this kind of stuff? Sure, there are already some games that offer World War II scenarios. But Civilization and Empire Earth, to take perhaps the best-known examples, are not what the historian needs, since what they provide is such a crude caricature of the historical process. In both games, the player quickly learns that it is prudent to build up one’s economic capabilities before embarking on a war. But this is a universal truth, as valid for Julius Caesar as for Benito Mussolini. Behind the graphics, neither game tells you much about the specifics of 1939 to 1945. The warring sides therefore might as well be hobbits and orcs or teenage wizards and dementors.

Up until now, the best my sons and I could do when it came to replaying World War II was in fact an old-fashioned board game, Axis & Allies. Similar in its mode of operation to the earlier strategy game Risk, Axis & Allies offers a reasonable approximation to the strategic position in 1942. But I stress approximation. The game vastly understates the economic power of the United States, for example. The best thing about Axis & Allies is that battles are decided by a combination of firepower and luck. Dice are thrown, but the odds are weighted in favor of the player with the most men and hardware. (Each time I play, I’m impressed by the calibration of these weightings.) Luck did matter in the war; Pearl Harbor would have been a much bigger disaster if the American aircraft carriers had not been absent on maneuvers; the success of D-day was heavily dependent on the weather. But luck mattered only within limits set by what Stalin liked to call the constellation of forces. In Axis & Allies, it is clearly possible for the Axis powers to win, provided they strike quickly against badly led Allies. I know this because I watched my elder son, in the role of Hitler, trounce me the first time we played the game. But did this convince me that the real Hitler could have won the war? Or did it just mean that my son got lucky? Good though it is as a board game, Axis & Allies is still a very long way from historical reality. Which is why I’m so glad I discoveredMaking History: The Calm & the Storm,a pioneering computer game devised by Muzzy Lane, a software company in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Based on a combination of system dynamics, a technology designed to generate simulated scenarios from real-world data, The Calm & the Storm has a completely different feel from any other war game I’ve played. To begin with, it is based on a quite astonishing quantity of factual information about the war.

Like Axis & Allies or Civilization III, the graphic interface is a map. But the level of detail is quite unique. Not just national borders but provincial borders are visible. And all the world’s countries are depicted; players can choose from up to eleven governments, including China’s.

And the balance between military capability and economic resources is represented in a far more sophisticated way than I’ve ever seen. Play the part of Britain in September 1938—during the crisis over Czechoslovakia—and you quickly discover (as historians have long maintained) that Britain’s pace of rearmament cannot be accelerated.

Other games reduce war to a crapshoot. This game makes it clear that strategy is about diplomacy as well as pitched battles. If you use the first of the currently available scenarios in The Calm & the Storm, “The Politics of Appeasement,” you have the option of trying to avoid war altogether, seeing if you can do better than Neville Chamberlain. Alternatively, you can do what I did: implement a Churchillian strategy aimed at fighting Germany sooner rather than later. We call this preemption nowadays.

I argue in my new history that confronting Hitler in 1938 would have paid handsome dividends. Even if it had come to war over Czechoslovakia, Germany would not have won. Germany’s defenses were not yet ready for a two-front war. So how did my preemptive strategy stand up to a computer stress test? Not as well as I had hoped, I have to confess. The Calm & the Storm made it clear that lining up an anti-German coalition in 1938 might have been harder than I’d assumed. To my horror, the French turned down the alliance I proposed to them. It also turned out that, when I did go to war with Germany, my own position was pretty weak. The nadir was a successful German invasion of England, a scenario my book rules out as militarily too risky.

That’s not to imply that the game is weighted in Germany’s favor. When I switched roles and became the German dictator for a day, things went even worse. In my book, I consider various ways in which Hitler might conceivably have won the war. One obvious scenario imagines Hitler not attacking Western Europe but taking on the Soviet Union straight after Poland. I tried this, aiming to defeat Poland and then launch an early Operation Barbarossa in 1940. But I made a fatal mistake. I decided to dispense with the Nazi-Soviet pact and defeat Poland single-handed. It didn’t work. And as soon as things began to go wrong, I found myself entirely alone. By the end of the game, Berlin had fallen and the whole of Eastern Europe was in Stalin’s hands. I had discovered, in short, that unilateral action can lead to disastrous isolation.

Reeling from my catastrophic failure to improve on Hitler’s strategy, I called up Dave McCool, the president of Muzzy Lane. Had he ever won as Germany? Yes, he had.

“I was playing as Germany and attacked Poland in the spring of 1939,” he told me in an e-mail debriefing. “The western Allies did not intervene, so I was able to finish off Poland and not have a western front to worry about. I spent some time building up my forces and deploying along the Soviet frontier. When my forces were about two-thirds the size of the Soviets, I attacked in the center and the north along the Polish-Soviet frontier.

“Things quickly turned into a couple of big attrition battles in the center and the north, with both sides feeding troops in to keep from losing. After many turns of this I noticed that they had left things pretty bare in the south, so I diverted my new troops there and pushed through. I was able to send armored divisions into the Caucasus and capture the oil fields, while turning my other forces north and cutting off the big battles we were fighting.

“With him out of supply and unable to reinforce, the battles tipped in my favor and I was able to destroy most of his forces in the west. From that point on it was a matter of slogging east and hunting down the rest. The USSR surrendered in the summer of 1941.”

Now ask yourself: How many other companies in the world are run by a man who has led Germany to victory in World War II?

Of course, no one at Muzzy Lane pretends that their game precisely replicates the world in 1938 or 1939. Nevertheless, the parallel pasts the game conjures up have an undoubted intellectual value—which is why McCool and his partners have hitherto concentrated their energies in marketing their product to educators.

I too can readily imagine the value The Calm & the Storm would add to an undergraduate course on World War II. Indeed, I can hardly wait to set up a game-based seminar at Harvard, having heard one group of students last term hold an impromptu and high-octane discussion on the historical merits of Axis & Allies.

My sons were in no doubt that The Calm & the Storm was more challenging than their favorite FPS games. However, when I suggested that this should be regarded as an alternative to their usual history homework, rather than as an alternative to Grand Theft Auto, they were filled with enthusiasm. I have no doubt they’d learn more from playing a game like this than from any school-textbook assignment.

Muzzy Lane is already planning games that will be based on other conflicts ranging from the American Revolution through the Cold War to the present war in Iraq. Just imagine: Instead of Monday-morning quarterbacks pontificating vaguely about how they could have cleaned up the Iraq mess with a few thousand extra troops in 2003, we will be able to replay the post-9/11 crisis as a carefully calibrated game of diplomacy, strategy, and counterinsurgency. Those who have found it so easy to heap scorn on the Bush administration may well be vindicated. Or they may discover—as I did when I played the parts of Churchill and then Hitler—that there were worse possible outcomes than the one we know. That’s obviously true in the case of the Cold War. Two players less coolheaded than Kennedy and Khrushchev could easily blow the world apart over Cuba.

Gaming history is not a crass attempt to make the subject relevant to today’s kids. Rather it’s an attempt to revitalize history with the kind of technology that kids have pioneered. And why not? After all, the Game Boy generation is growing up. And, as they seek a deeper understanding of the world we live in, they may not turn first to the bookshelves. They may demand to play—or rather replay—the great game of history for themselves. And who knows? When they come to make real strategic decisions, maybe this strategically savvy generation will do a better job than we did.

Copyright 2006 New York Magazine

hmm. Hope you haven’t spent all the Seinfeld money, Michael..


.. because I think your career is heading for palookaville

LOS ANGELES // Michael Richards said Monday he spewed racial epithets during a stand-up comedy routine because he lost his cool while being heckled and not because he’s a bigot.

Read the rest of the story at THE BALTIMORE SUN.

So it’s clear to me that he kinda, sorta meant it when he blew his stack like that. That wasn’t an act. I feel pity for him, but I do think he deserves magically becoming unhireable from now on.

See how quickly Seinfeld and Julia Louis Dreyfus will be to distance themselves from this (of course, they have careers),…