THE HUMAN ELEMENT SEEMS TO HAVE FAILED US HERE

Posted in Rants on December 5th, 2016 by Ed

As an obsessive consumer of books, movies, and TV from the Cold War era about living under the threat of nuclear annihilation, one thing that becomes apparent is that the fear of accidental apocalypse was easily as prominent (or, in the view of some scholars, more prominent than) as the fear that some madman bent on destroying the world would gain access to the Big Red Button. It was broadly recognized, particularly once the hydrogen bomb and the ICBM entered the picture in the early 1960s, that a nuclear war was not "winnable" and that even the evil, bloodthirsty Commie understood that well enough that no sane man would initiate one. Ivan knew that Uncle Sam was ready to hit him back hard enough to return the planet to the Stone Age, and both Eastern and Western political systems were robust enough (in their own very different ways) to prevent the elevation of the kind of lunatic who would say "Screw it, let's all die!" into a position of authority.

The biggest fear, then, was that once a massive apparatus of global annihilation was created humans would somehow lose control of it – that like a careless child who finds dad's gun, we would blow the planet up without intending to do so. On the American side, the heavy reliance on automation and seemingly half-crazed SAC Generals combined with the sheer size of the nuclear arsenal strained the ability of the civilian leadership to ensure that nothing happened that was not supposed to happen. For the Soviets, perversely, it was the lack of effective command and control, combined with the doddering character of their political leadership after Kruschchev, that raised the red flags (pun intended). That the world could come to an end because an American computer or a Soviet radio hookup from the 1930s malfunctioned was more plausible to most people than a cartoon villain President or General launching the missiles with a bloodthirsty laugh.

The most popular and in many ways best depiction of this fear in the arts is, of course, Dr. Strangelove:

Muffley: Well I assume then, that the planes will return automatically once they reach their failsafe points.

Turgidson: Well, sir, I'm afraid not. You see the planes were holding at their failsafe points when the go code was issued. Now, once they fly beyond failsafe they do not require a second order to proceed. They will fly until they reach their targets.

Muffley: Then why haven't you radioed the planes countermanding the go code?

Turgidson: Well, I'm afraid we're unable to communicate with any of the aircraft.

Muffley: Why?

Turgidson: As you may recall, sir, one of the provisions of plan R provides that once the go code is received the normal SSB radios in the aircraft are switched into a special coded device, which I believe is designated as CRM114. Now, in order to prevent the enemy from issuing fake or confusing orders, CRM114 is designed not to receive at all, unless the message is preceded by the correct three letter code group prefix.

Muffley: Then do you mean to tell me, General Turgidson, that you will be unable to recall the aircraft?

Turgidson: That's about the size of it. However, we are plowing through every possible three letter combination of the code. But since there are seventeen thousand permutations it's going to take us about two and a half days to transmit them all.

Muffley: How soon did you say the planes would penetrate Russian radar cover?

Turgidson: About eighteen minutes from now, sir.

This is, as we have already been reminded with the Taiwan Phone Call Crisis, the fear we once again have to live with as a nation. If for no other reason than self-interest, we can safely assume that Donald Trump does not actually want to get us all killed. The problem is that he's exactly the kind of person who would blunder into it. Shoot first – from the hip, naturally – and ask questions later. Act with an open disdain for forethought. Be "disruptive" and then let others rush in to clean up the mess you just made. This is, as the well worn saying goes, precisely how accidents happen. I'm not worried that Donald Trump wants to start a war. I'm worried that Donald Trump will start a war, at which point his intent will be irrelevant. That refusal to think about things he says and does that was pointed out throughout the campaign is not a bug. It's a feature. He states explicitly that he wants to be "unpredictable" in foreign policy. It doesn't take much imagination to envision how the infamously irony-deficient Chinese or Russian leadership are going to react to Diplomacy by Coked Up 3 AM Twitter Zinger.

"He wouldn't do that" is only reassuring inasmuch as the "he" in question is conscious of the potential consequences of his words and actions. Your dog doesn't want to knock over the glass perched on the edge of the kitchen table, but dammit if he doesn't do it every time he gets excited.

YOU WERE HERE FIRST

Posted in Quick Hits on December 4th, 2016 by Ed

It's kind of ridiculous how many of the Everything is Terrible All the Time shirts you guys have ordered, but if you really want that "In on the ground floor" credibility when visiting your respective clurbs there are still a handful of the original Follow Me to the Clurb shirts and bumper stickers waiting for loving homes. Christmas is just around the corner.

NPF: DOUBLING DOWN, APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH

Posted in No Politics Friday, Skip this if you hate sports on December 3rd, 2016 by Ed

I haven't used the "Skip this" tag in over a year, so if it applies to you just bear with this post.

Gary Bettman has done a lot of good things for the NHL. When he became commissioner in 1993 the league was struggling to attract revenue beyond the gate (i.e., other than ticket sales) and it was a niche sport in the US on par with soccer or tennis. He thoroughly modernized the league, something even his biggest detractors admit, and in the process has probably been a net positive.

His Achilles Heel, though, has been the insistence on bringing hockey to the Sun Belt in the US. On paper it makes sense, although owners in 1993 were rightly incredulous. He had the foresight to point out how much of the US population would move to the Sun Belt, and his predictions came true. Unfortunately expanding to the Sun Belt has been a mixed bag at best because the fundamental premise – that Midwest / New England transplants to the South will want to see their favorite teams come to town for road games – is badly flawed. If the team can't build a local fan base because local fans simply don't care about hockey, the franchise is doomed. Atlanta lasted all of seven years. The Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes have been a ward of the league several times and don't attract flies to their expensive Glendale arena even though the team has been good recently, making the playoffs multiple times and even knocking off the 3-time Cup winning Blackhawks in 2011. Florida has been a basketcase / zombie franchise in a Miami market that could not care less about it for over 20 years now.

The two teams that succeeded in the Sun Belt – Tampa Bay and Nashville – did so because their ownership groups were intelligent enough not to rely on old fans coming to see their team on the road as a fan base. They both sustained huge short term losses by giving away tickets (especially to kids, knowing that the parents would have to come too) by the bushel. For every 10 free tickets, 1 person came and realized "Hey, I like this!" and they slowly built a local base. Having good teams helped a lot too (TB has won 1 Cup and runner-upped a second). So Bettman will, with some justification, point out that Sun Belt hockey can work.

And now he's doubling down on Las Vegas. Las Vegas is going to be a goddamn disaster. My suggestion on a popular hockey site for the team nickname (which ended up being the atrocious "Black Knights", as generic a name as you can find) was the Nordiques, because this team is going to be in Quebec in ten years or I'll eat my hat. Las Vegas has nothing that suggests it can ever support a pro sports team, and especially not hockey.

The obvious flaw in the Vegas market is that even the local population is transient. People, usually younger people, move to Vegas to work for a few years before burning out on the "Sin City" atmosphere and moving somewhere normal. It's not a place any sane person can take for very long. The other part of the population is retirees who are only going to care inasmuch as they can see the Bruins or Blackhawks come to town a couple times per year. It is beyond unlikely that a hockey team – assuming for a second that anyone in the desert even is predisposed to care about hockey – is going to build a strong local following in a place where the population is constantly churning.

They'll sell out in year one for the novelty factor – At the very least the league will strong arm casinos into gobbling up season tickets to give away for free – and I'm guessing that by the end of year two there will be more people on the ice than in the seats. Even if the team is good, which isn't likely given the expansion draft rules adopted last summer, this has all the makings of a non-starter.

Winnipeg's new team, the ex-Atlanta Thrashers, proves that when in doubt, NHL teams belong in Canada. Statistical analysis suggests that even though it is the 4th largest city in the US, Houston (pop. 6,500,000) has fewer people who like hockey enough to buy tickets than Saskatoon (pop. 260,000). Insiders were floored that Quebec City, with its billionaire ownership group willing to self-fund an arena and where the Nordiques (now Colorado Avalanche) are still missed, was not awarded an expansion team in favor of Vegas. Something tells me that they'll be getting their team soon enough. Despite the US/Canadian exchange rate issue, which Bettman blamed for the QC group's rejection, can't override the basic fact that people in Quebec will go to the games and nobody in Vegas will.

The worst outcome will be Bettman choosing to die on the hill of a Vegas franchise as he has stubbornly refused all attempts to relocate Phoenix or Florida despite them both being clear failures and money losers in their current markets. Bettman's getting old and he could decide to dig in his heels. But if 10% of the league's teams – 3 of 30 – are money losing Bettman pet projects, I think the owners are likely to rebel. So it's time for Hamilton and Quebec City to make sure that the local owners' groups and arena plans are ready to roll because this Vegas adventure is likely to be as short lived as it is poorly thought out.