Wednesday, August 29, 2007

War With Iran

The President rattled some more sabers against Iran yesterday in a speech before the American Legion. Glenn Greenwald has a long post today raising the alarm anew.
It's hard to know what to make of this. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't be too worried. The downsides of a war with Iran are so profound, the chances of success so slim, that one should be able to dismiss the thought out of hand. Yet Bush, and the various other actors pushing for this war, have a demonstrated record of recklessness so extreme that nothing can be taken off the table.
And clearly, as president and commander-in-chief of the military Bush has it within his power to simply order acts that will necessarily bring on a war. One can argue that this is not what the founders intended and shouldn't be so, but it's the current reality.
Unless the Iranians are utter fools they will avoid any overt act against the United States, so the most likely scenario is an American attack on Iran that will attempt to destroy their WMD, air defense and command & control infrastructure. It may even be a surprise attack, in order to enhance its effectiveness.
Now, for some reason, even though the Bushies and Neocons claim Iranians desire freedom like Americans and everyone else, they can't seem to absorb the fact that Iranians are also proud and patriotic people who love their country like everyone else. When the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor they ended all debate in America and unified us in a grim determination to prevail at any cost. It can be argued that Japan "lost" the war through this one act, in that there was no chance they would achieve their war aims. Can there be any doubt that an American attack on Iran, especially a surprise attack, will fail to unify the Iranians and fill them with an intense resolve to avenge themselves?
We are currently fighting two wars. The one in Afghanistan could be going better, but the long-term prognosis is pretty good, especially once a new administration takes office if it devotes sufficient attention and resources to success. The war in Iraq is not going well, and we're unlikely to leave under happy circumstances. Our political failures in Iraq will have negative consequences for years to come, despite our military successes.
Starting a new war with Iran, however, raises the real possibility of military defeats for us. Iran is much weaker than America, of course, and there's no chance Iranian troops will be marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. But it's idiocy to think defeat requires that scene in order to be a defeat.
Iran is a big country. It has a capable military establishment. And, aroused by an unprovoked U.S. attack (in their eyes), they will be formidably motivated. While powerful, the U.S. cannot use all its power. The Army and Marines are tapped out. There's only so much the Air Force can bomb. Iran is a land-based power the Navy cannot subdue, especially if the Iranians have the support of the rest of the world.
If substantial numbers of Iraqi Shiites turn against us our troops in Iraq will be placed in an untenable position. It's possible entire units could be captured or besieged, especially if regular Iranian units assist the Iraqis. The Iranian Navy has been studying for years how to fight the U.S. Navy. We must be wary that they've succeeded in finding ways to hurt us. Sinking or severely damaging an aircraft carrier would be an tremendous political victory for them, despite its military unimportance.
And the American People, already disillusioned with our current wars, will not be enthusiastic about a new one brought about through questionable circumstances. Wars, even just and successful ones, always involve setbacks. The American people will not be in a proper mood to absorb them in this case.
There is a near certainty of disaster and a minimal chance of success, minimally defined. We would call a man a lunatic if he played Russian Roulette for a buck. What do we call a man who starts a new war when he's failed to win the ones he's already started? The last dudes who did this back, in the 1940s, brought catastrophe. (And the analogy is apt. Japan started its war with the U.S. and Britain despite an ongoing war in China. Germany launched its invasion of Russia despite a defiant, undefeated Britain still in the fight.)

A lack of will

An excellent laying of the blame where it truly belongs:

Monday, August 27, 2007

John Wayne would be mortified, not to mention Patton, Reagan, Audie Murphy or even Rosa Parks

Sad to say, the "Flour Terrorist" story was right here in Connecticut, too.
John Cole of Balloon Juice has an excellent summary here:

Please, people. Let's stop being wusses. It's like the damn "security" at airports. It's stupid and pointless. The inefficiencies introduced into our economy must add up to billions already, with no end in sight.
Meanwhile, this is the same country where people in most states don't even have to wear helmets when riding motorcycles! More people die every year in motorcycle crashes than were killed on 9/11.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Game of the Week: Backgammon

About 25 years ago I remember backgammon had a surge in popularity. It seemed like everybody had a leather-bound travel case with them. The gambling aspect appealed to a lot of folks, I think, although poker seems to have captured the fancy of most young gamblers these days. While its possible to make a living a professional backgammon player, it's money earned bit by bit, without the huge windfalls that make the World Poker Championships on TV so exciting.
Among friends and acquaintances, though backgammon still has its place as a nice past time, with some low-level gambling possibility. The advantage backgammon has over poker is that it's a two-player game, so you don';t need to get a group together like you do for poker.
Backgammon evolved from the ancient "tables" games, examples of which were played by the Romans. The game took its present shape a few hundred years ago, although the doubling cube only came into use in the 1920s. Playing with the doubling cube adds an additional level of strategy while also bringing hopeless games to a close earlier.
Unlike most other classic games, backgammon does include a significant luck factor, which turns off some people. Understanding probabilities is necessary for decent play and I think it's a good mechanism for teaching probability to kids.
Games seem to go through cycles of popularity so I wonder if backgammon will regain some of its popularity anytime soon. It is one of the more popular games online.
One place where there isn't a lot of action is at the casinos. Unlike most other gambling games there's no house advantage, so the game is too fair for casino use.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

World Boardgame Championships

Well, this year I was able to pop in to the WBC for a day, at least.
I had a good time, if not a particularly successful one, at the con.
I was able to play Battle Cry. I got my hopes up with an early victory in the first game of the 3-round Swiss-style tournament (New Market scenario- CSA) but the next two games came a cropper. My opponent in the New Hope scenario was able to get some good early shots in, which didn't give me the time I needed to really pick apart his defenses. As a matter of fact, he was able to be aggressive and attack me and I wasn't able to make that into the mistake it should have been. I was the USA in that one.
The final round was Brandy Station. The tournament was large enough that it was clear that only players with 3-0 records were going to advance, so my opponent and I already knew this game was the final one for each of us. I tried some aggressive moves that didn't pay off and the game ended fairly quickly, albeit bloodily. I was again the USA.
I enjoyed wandering around the vendor area, A lot of interesting stuff was available, but I restrained myself from much in the way of new game purchases. I picked up the Battle Line reprint, which I've wanted for quite a while. It's a highly regarded game on Boardgame Geek. As far as brand-new designs, the only one I go was Cowboys: The Way of the Gun, the Wild West Gunfight game by Worthington. It looks like a very streamlined version of Gunslinger, which is one of my favorite games. Unfortunately it'd be very hard to get someone into Gunslinger these days as its a really complex, detailed and slow-moving game, which is why I decided to pick up Cowboys, which is much more in tune with today's gaming community.
I also picked up some additional material for BattleLore, Wizard Kings, Down In Flames, Close Action and Heroscape.
The highlight of the trip, however, was finding my friend Harve Mossman in the Open Gaming area. He was busy playtesting Columbia's upcoming game Athens & Sparta, but we had time to catch up a bit on things and make arrangements for a visit later this year.
I wish I could have spent more time at the con, of course, but I'm thankful for the time I did get.

Friday, August 3, 2007

War and Spin

The Iraqi parliament has left for a month-long vacation, although it doesn't appear that they'll be particularly missed, as they're not accomplishing anything anyway.
The administration and its allies are busy laying the groundwork for the September-is-too-soon-to-judge argument about the "surge" and we should give Petreaus at least until November now. This is, of course, merely a variation on the tried and true "the next six months is critical" story line we used to get during the pre-Petreaus era. Like tomorrow, the next six months never comes, though. It's always in the future.
The administration's allies have been energetic lately, with aggressive attacks on bad-news bearers and defeatists. They've drummed up some selective statistics and made up others when needed to provide a veneer of respectability to their arguments. They have been especially energetic in arguing that we are making some "military' progress with the surge strategy and therefore it's working.
Of course, in a counterinsurgency it's fairly common for there to be "military" successes. Indeed, any military "failures" such as a base being overrun, a platoon or company-sized unit being defeated in battle or the insurgents seizing nontemporary control of a town or region is a serious sign of the probable imminent collapse of the government.
What we are seeing very little evidence of is any progress at all on the political front, which is by far the most important part. Absent something there, the endgame will be the same.
The American people, however, are past spinning, and the administration and its allies in punditry are fast running out of time. Having been told September is the time, I'm not sure how much more time Bush can buy himself. I suspect that the clock will run out for good with the end of the year and Americans will demand an end to the war in 2008. 2009 will not be an option.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Game of the Week: Dominoes

During a visit to Jamaica last summer I was struck by how much of a game-playing culture it was -- of at least one game, anyway, dominoes. In Kingston, especially, there were thousands of tiny street-side pubs (which usually had a half-dozen stools or so) and almost invariably had a hand-built sturdy dominoes table in front. More often than not there was a game in progress, too.
When Jamaicans play dominoes, it's obligatory to slap the domino down firmly with a loud crack. The sturdy little domino tables are carefully fashioned to help make that sound, with a relatively thin table top well-mounted within the thick frame. The overall effect is similar to a well-built Japanese Go game, albeit with a rustic island feel instead of the painstakingly wood-worked construction used in Japan.
In the U.S. dominoes is usually played with a rule that a player without a play must keep drawing from the graveyard until play is possible. In Jamaica the style is is allow a player without a legal play to merely pass.
This style of play probably keeps the games a little closer than the alternative U.S. rule, which can result in someone getting stuck with a big draw out of the graveyard that kills any chance of winning that round.
Dominoes are like standard playing cards in that the term really describes a set of game-playing fools, rather than a distinct game because many games can be played using the same tools. Still, there seems to be a basic "dominoes" that most people understand as being "the game" whereas card games are more distinctly differentiated in popular use into games like poker, bridge, war or solitaire.