20140722

And it all goes to hell

I alluded to the attacks of Israel on Gaza, a few days ago.  Well, the one part I didn't know at the time was that Hamas was firing missiles at Israel.  I don't think it changes the entire equation, but it's certainly a stupid (if understandable, given their frustration at not being able to control their own homes) provocation for a situation that didn't need any more.

But on the flip side, Israel has now also attacked such insurgent hotbeds as hospitals (to much lower casualties than I would have expected, though I imagine it's "the gift that keeps on giving" as the Palestinians have less ability to treat people wounded in the assault now).

As you'd probably expect, casualties are running about 20:1 Palestinian vs Israeli (honestly, that's a lower ratio than I'd've expected, given that Israel is using tanks and airplanes, while Palestinians are using unguided rockets and handguns).

The one thing I can't figure out is what is the endgame that Israel envisions.  This is supposedly deterrent for three teenagers killed by a radical fringe group.  When does it stop?

And do they really think that this will stop radical fringe groups like that?  I'd bet it gave groups like that virtually unlimited volunteers for further mayhem.

But to get back to Israel's calculus, when do they stop?  They've already passed 100:1 killing of Palestinians vs the three Israeli teens who were the justification for the attack (in fact, my numbers are from this morning's Post, and I wouldn't be surprised if they've cleared 200:1 by now).  Do they stop at 1000:1?  10000:1?  When they've pushed everyone in Gaza into an area of a few acres?  I don't know, but this kind of mass killing is just horrific.

20140719

The Vault of Hades

One thing that did go roughly according to plan was that I followed Hades with finally reading Butcher's Skin Game.  And that took about a day (I can't remember if it made it to two or not).

I mentioned, in reviewing Cold Days, that he had kind of taken a step back, to get more of a strategic view than a tactical one.  Well, not unexpectedly, Skin Game was a step back in, and was very immediately focused around Dresden.

You could certainly see where much of what happened would have wider reverberations in that strategic view from the last book, but it was very tightly focused on Dresden and the people around him.

And the people around him... well, let's just say that I wish I'd re-read the whole series.  Several of the people who showed up were significant in earlier books, but my memories of most of them were very vague.

Basically, Dresden was hired out, by Mab, to Nicodemus of the Denarii.  And he was to help Nicodemus raid the vault of Hades (amusing coincidence, reading this right after The House of Hades) to steal the Holy Grail.  Oddly, the latter point doesn't come out for quite a while, in the book, but I mention it since it somehow made it onto the dust cover summary.

Dresden's mission is to help Nicodemus up to the point of getting the artefact, then find a way to screw Nicodemus as hard as he can.  And survive, somehow.

And Nicodemus' other helpers are not people with whom Dresden wants to be associated, as you'd expect.

My one complaint of the book is that Dresden mentions an ace in the hole fairly early on, and says he can't talk about it; he has to play his cards very close to the chest.  That was how he tried to keep from alienating both Karrin and Butters, to varying degrees of success.  Of course we didn't see the scene where it was set up; no issue there.  But we don't get a hint of it when we're in his thoughts either, and there were several circumstances where he would have at least been thinking about it.  Nobody can play their cards THAT close to their chest.

In any event, when we do find out about it, we find out a system was set up.  It might be worth re-reading the book, just to check on that system.  I'll have to think about it.  And this really made me want to reread a bunch of earlier books.  That's been on my queue for a while; I might need to move it up a bit.

In any event, this book met all my expectations.  The only thing it might have done, that it didn't, was that it hinted again at Dresden's mother, but we still didn't find out anything about her.  I've been looking for that since the first book, when Dresden met Chauncy.  I hope he gets around to it.

I also mentioned, in the last book, about how Dresden had had so many of his toys taken away recently.  Well, he had remade a staff in this one, and he might have gone a heck of a lot further as well for the next book.  Plus, he's got a little bit of money that kind of fell into his hands.  It's unclear how much it is, but certainly a lot more than he's ever had before.

Oh, and Dresden finally met Maggie, and he and Karrin finally decided to pick up where they were right before he got "killed".  Plus, another child enters the picture, in a very odd way.  That part is actually another reason to go back and reread previous books, though I'm not sure how much they'll reveal.

Anyway, it was an excellent book, and I'm anxiously awaiting the next volume.

Out of the Underworld?

It took considerably longer than I expected (the World Cup didn't help, obviously), but I did finish Riordan's latest, The House of Hades, several days ago.  I think I'm just getting a bit tired of the format; it wasn't bad, but obviously didn't hold my attention as well as his earlier books did.

In sections, it was very good, but didn't hold together as well as many of his earlier books.

Part of that is my fault, of course; I have far more distractions, these days.  But I think part of it is just getting a bit tired of the format.  Travel a ways, part of the group splits off for a small-group quest, they succeed, repeat.

And the other part is that it's a larger group, so you don't get nearly as invested in any group.  There's some pluses to that, in that you can get different variations via different combinations, but it doesn't balance out for me.

And several of the quests just seemed too easy to me.  Or, at least, the difficulty was only shown externally, maybe.  I'm having a hard time explaining it, I think.

As far as continuing the storyline, it does a good job.  The heroes soldier on for the book, and find some unexpected allies along the way.

Frank got two big scenes, neither of which did much for me.  The first involved killing a bunch of monsters that weren't threatening when they were left alone.  So it didn't seem especially heroic to me.  The second was a little better, but... It was along the lines of leading an army which, while important, is not as personally involving.  Perhaps, also, that part was explained in less detail (not enough of movements, and why each one was important, maybe).

Anyway, I'll still get the last book (I'm pretty sure there'll only be one more), but a lot of the excitement and enjoyment was lacking.  Perhaps if I re-read the original Jason and the Argonauts (which I haven't read since middle school), that would help.  Though my suspicion is that this series isn't nearly as much a retelling of Jason and the Argonauts as the Percy Jackson series was a retelling of the Labors of Hercules.

20140714

Deutschland ueber alles

Ok, maybe that's a bit much; let's all be glad that isn't the nationanl anthem any more (though I did just find out that the model of the "perfect aryan child" used by the Third Reich was Jewish, which is hilariously ironic).

My prediction of the score was definitely way off the mark, and Germany's match against Argentina was far more of a piece with the rest of this World Cup.

Argentina, still missing di Maria, was largely content to sit back against the Germans, and attempt counterattacks.  And that strategy worked ok for them, as all of their chances came on the counterattack.  But they had a bit of bad luck, as Higuain (called hig-wayne by one of the commentators; think rhyming with lil' wayne's older brother) put the shot off to the side of the net on his first chance, when he tried to chip Neuer* (Boateng might well have been able to head it away if it had been on target).  And Higuain was called offside on his second chance, which did end up in the net; his celebration went halfway around the field before he noticed the flag.

* A small shout-out to the German midfielder who headed it over his defense, and straight to Higuain to give him that chance.

But the Germans had even less luck.  Repeatedly going into the teeth of a harsh and ready defense, they had few chances; none as good as either of those by Higuain.

The only decent chance I can remember from Argentina in the second half had them again shooting wide from in-close, but I have no notes on the game, so I can't say when it happened.  Or exactly who had it, for that matter.

In any event, Germany had some good chances in the second, but only forced one good save that I can recall.

So, into extra time they went, again tied at nil (for the fifth time, by my count).  And really, not much was going on there.  Nobody got terribly close (there were several dangerous free kicks, but none were close to scoring) before Goetze received the ball in the box in the 113th minute.  He had some time, but was still quick to blast it past Romero for the lead.  And for the win, as it turned out.

Argentina tried pushing forward, but had no luck.  Their best chance came in stoppage time, when Messi had a 25-yard or so free kick, but the direct shot went well over the net.

And, with that, Argentina's chances dimished to nil, and the Germans started celebrating.

Loew, like van Gaal, also showed some class, subbing Mertesacker in for Oezil just before stoppage time.  I assume that was mostly as a career thank-you for Mertesacker, who has given yeoman service to the national team in the past, but played very little in this tournament (I think he might have been a late sub in one previous game.  Maybe).

So, despite a bunch of surprises along the way, the tournament ended with a predictable bunch, and a predictable victor.  In fact, I seem to recall a friend telling me that a computer simulation (done by ESPN with the latest FIFA game, I think) came up with Germany as the winner before play started.

And I was certainly hoping for German victory, so I was happy with the result (and I can't express just how much happier I am that it didn't go to penalty kicks).  I wonder how Klinsmann feels...

(And I feel a bit sorry for Messi, who's undoubtedly getting a great deal of undeserved criticism from Argentinian fans.)

No consolation

It seemed like it would be impossible for Brazil's finish to the World Cup to get worse, after a 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany (their first competitive loss at home in 62 matches).  And they certainly came out fired up to show that that was a fluke.

The Netherlands got the ball to start, and the hosts were chasing the ball, on defense, all the way back to the goalie.  But the Dutch dealt with that pressure, and after the ball getting all the way back to the goalie, they pushed it way upfield with a couple of passes.  One of those went to van Persie in the air, and he headed it straight up in the air.   It came down at his feet, with him facing his own goal.  He saw Robben breaking, to his left, and turned and put it into space behind the defense.

Robben ran to the ball, and Silva, who'd been on van Persie, had to pull Robben down by his jersey at the top of the box.  It was a weird call by the ref, who awarded the penalty kick and gave Silva a yellow card.  Normally, a foul at that spot would be a foot or so outside the box, but it was a foul by the last defender and clearly should have been a red card.

By the time they finished arguing that out, and van Persie put the penalty kick into the top-right corner, it was still only the third minute of the game.  The Brazilians were clearly off-kilter, though, at being behind so early, and it took them a while to settle down.  Before they did, however, the Orangemen scored again with a run down the right side that went all the way to the touch line.  From there, it was centered back to Blind, in the middle, who might have had enough time to drink a coffee while he took three touches, in place, to get a controlled shot into the net.

That was in the seventeenth minute, and was pretty much the end of the match, competitively speaking.  The Brazilians did get several chances over the balance of the game, but were unable to convert any of them, putting it off to the side a couple of times.

Ramires, who'd had a decent game against Germany (one of the few; he came on as a sub for Hulk around halftime), and who looked decent against the Dutch, went out in favor of Hulk around halftime.

Hulk tried to repeat his runs down the left that showed some threat against Germany, but it was nothing doing.

The final score of the game didn't come until stoppage time, when Wijnaldum was left alone in the middle (this seems familiar, somehow) to knit a sweater for a relative.  Or put the ball past Cesar, he had a difficult decision.

I've been very impressed by the Dutch coach, van Gaal, and he showed his class by subbing in his third-string goalie, Vorm, a minute or two after that.  With that move, he'd managed to get his entire line-up onto the pitch at some point in the tournament.  My understanding is that van Gaal is going to Man U for next season, and I think that'll work well for both him and the team.

In any event, while the Dutch went home fairly happy (but not going into space; nice PR move to make that offer), for the second time, hosting the World Cup ended in misery for the Brazilians (maybe they'll look for a co-lo host next time).  It was the first time that they had lost consecutive home games of any sort in seventy-odd years; I can't imagine what the locker room was like afterwards.

In any event, it left only the title game to be played, with Germany taking on Argentina.

20140710

Palestine's getting worse

I don't really know what I want to say here.  The ongoing violence is horrific, and the people in charge (that would be the Israelis, as they're the ones with the money, big guns and bombs) need to make it stop.

Responding to a small-scale terrorist act with large-scale bombing just shows a government lacking in ... well, I was going to say legitimacy, but at that point you're really getting to the point of lacking basic humanity.

Bombing random people never, ever works.  Well, not unless you're willing to bomb them back to the stone age.  It just makes more people who are ready to perpetuate the violence.

The whole situation is just awful.

Patent-ability

I just listened to Planet Money's latest podcast, The Case Against Patents, and had several comments on it.  (And perhaps I should preface this by mentioning that I'm a regular reader of TechDirt, and if you search for patents there, you'll find a lot of problems with the system.  And probably links to the works of the economists interviewed for the show.)

My biggest problem with the podcast has to do with the language used.  In particular, referring to working from someone else's patent as "stealing".  It isn't stealing; nothing is being taken.  And if I invent something, and can't use that idea better than someone reading my patent, I deserve to lose the possible opportunity cost losses from that person using that idea.  That opportunity loss is the only thing "taken", and under no circumstances should that be referred to as stealing.

Further to that point, developing a patent is roughtly one percent of the cost of developing a product.  If I develop that patent first, I've got a leg up on doing that other 99%; I've started first.

And frankly, if the market opportunity itself isn't enough incentive, in its own right, to turn that idea into a product, then the idea isn't worth a patent anyway (or shouldn't be).

And a note on drugs: putting the government more directly in charge of choosing directions would certainly have some downsides, but here's one upside.  There would be development on antibiotics again; right now, there's almost nothing, because it doesn't pay well enough.  They'd rather develop drugs for chronic conditions, because it forces people to keep buying the drug.

Also, the governments review all the studies that drive approval forward already, so the government knows how it's done.

There's another benefit as well.  When studies show bad side effects, they are sometimes re-done to try to avoid those showing up (which is one of the reasons we get things like Fenphen and Ephedra going on the market, even though they'll sometimes kill people.  Not the only reason, but it does happen).  When those studies are re-done, the government usually doesn't see the bad studies until after the fact (if ever).  If the government is directly running the studies, they'll see all of them.

20140709

Quiescence

As busy as the action was in the Germany-Brazil semifinal, the Netherlands-Argentina semifinal was a real snoozer.

I didn't realize it before the game started but di Maria was out with a minor injury; I didn't hear whether he'd be back for the last game (final or third place).

The only thing I really found interesting about the play was that the Dutch were playing a possession game, rather than a counterattacking one.  I wonder if that was a sign of respect for the Argentine attack; certainly, it shows that the Dutch are well-coached.

It was a game marked by defense; very closely marked, in fact.  So much so that there was very little room for anyone in the attacking third.  When Robben or van Persie got the ball, they only had space for a single touch.  When Messi got it, he had someone with him at almost all times.

But the Argentinians had far more chances for a long while.  It turned out that there was only one shot on net in the entire first half, and that was a Messi free kick (skirted the left side of the wall, and struck hard, but still not a hard save for the keeper).

As far as chances, I didn't count, but those from the land of silver definitely had more of them (though really, there were very few really good ones, and those were mostly shot off-net).

The second half played pretty evenly, maybe slightly still in favor of the Argentines.  But again, there wasn't much going on; neither team did much in the attacking third of the pitch.

So regulation expired without anything much having happened.

Extra time came, and saw the play definitely favor the Dutch, who had a few good chances, but they still couldn't convert any of them.  The Argentines did manage a couple of chances, at least one of which was very good, but spoiled again.

Neither goalie was really pushed much.  By the end of extra time, they'd made six saves between them, and I don't think any of those were especially good saves.

So the ho-hum game went to penalty kicks, which was at least going to force the goalies to work a bit.  The Dutch were out of subs by that point (they'd used their third sub to put Huntelaar in for van Persie a short bit into extra time), which I think they regretted.  Not only were they missing van Persie's shots, but they couldn't put Krul in at goalie again, either.

But it likely didn't matter; Vlaar came up for the first kick, and put it waist-high on the left.  The Argentine goalie dove out to his right and knocked it in the air and back to him.

I was surprised to see Messi come out first for Argentina, and you knew he wouldn't miss (top-center, if you're wondering about placement).

Robben came out next for the Netherlands, and you knew he was good for it too, putting it hard into the right side of the net.

Garay was next for the South Americans, putting it low and left, just below the diving keeper to keep Argentina ahead.

Sneijder came up next, and you were sure he wouldn't mess it up.  But he put it in the goalie's reach, and it was knockout well away from the goal to largely guarantee loss for the Europeans.

Aguero, who was a late sub, came up next and clinically kept the pressure on the Orangemen.

Kuyt came up next, with a very long run-up, and put it bottom-right to stay alive.

But then Maxi Rodriguez came up; it took me a few minutes to place his name.  He'd had the unbelievable goal in the 2006 World Cup (quite possibly the prettiest of that World Cup) against Mexico to win that game.  Well, he calmly finished this one (with some luck; the goalie deflected it up, but into the back of the crossbar) for the win, also.

So Argentina will go up against Germany in the final, with the Dutch falling into a rematch of their knockout game with Brazil in the last World Cup.  I don't see the Brazilians being heavily favored, this time.  Nor do I see the hosts winning, unless the Dutch fail to take the game seriously (which I highly doubt).

In Sunday night's final between Argentina and Germany... It's funny, thinking about it; all the upsets and surprise eliminations in pool play, and even a casual fan would be likely to get at least three of the final four right.  And a Germany Argentina final was probably considered one of the more likely possibilities, even back then.

I'm going to have to go with my ancestry, and pick Germany.  Messi will definitely be the best player on the pitch (by a pretty good margin), but the Germans will hound him relentlessly.  And the Europeans will attack in waves as well.  A 3-1 result would not surprise me in the least (though it would be a bit out of character for this World Cup, which has seen far too many knock-out games go scoreless in regulation); if the one was a pretty Messi score, that would be perfect, in my book.

Pounding away

I still need to write up my notes on the quarter-finals of the World Cup, but holy crap! that game yesterday.

I figured it'd be close to a toss-up with both teams at full strength, so with Silva and Neymar out, I did expect a German victory.  But man, did Brazil crap the bed.

I joked to a friend of mine, after the third goal, that it looked like Brazil had already given up.  He responded that they were doing the traditional turtling, defensively, except that this turtle was on its back and thrashing.

And then there were a couple more German goals, in short order.  After that stretch, figured the Germans would score a few more.

What I didn't realize, going in, was how key Silva was at the back end.  I knew how big a deal Neymar missing was, but didn't know that Silva was the coordination for the defense.  At least, I hope that was it, because there was no coordination on the back end.

For a while, not only were Germans finding space anywhere they wanted to, but they weren't even being pressed until they got within ten yards of the Brazilian box.  It was incredible.

When Mueller scored in the 11th minute, on the Germans' first corner, he was basically uncovered.  I saw a tweet saying that he'd "found a thiago silva-sized hole", and that seems about right.

It took about ten more minutes for the Germans to score again (Klose, this time, with a generous feed from Mueller and a bit of luck on a rebound.  That was enough to give him the all-time World Cup goal-scoring record), but then they scored three more in rapid succession after that.  The remaining fifteen minutes or so of the first half went fairly quickly,  with the Germans able to move about at will, but unable to score.

The second half finally showed a bit of spine from the Brazilians; in fact, they had several good scoring chances in the first few minutes of the half.  Some of that was due to the German's playing extremely avoiding of any fouls, and thereby giving a lot of space.  That still might have been a good strategy, though, as the Brazilians were diving all over the place, and that might have been less obvious.

But Schuerrle came in for Klose not too long after, and he got into the scoring act with a pair of his own (to match Kroos' brace and exceed Khedira's lone tally).

The rest of the game was pretty desultory, with occasional attempts by each team to score (Oezil missed a nearly-empty net off to the side some time around the 85th minute), but the only remaining score can from Oscar in the 90th minute.  I was surprised the ref gave them as much stoppage time as he did, but it was still two minutes.

I saw a funny tweet doing scoring equivalents of that final margin.  Though funny, it seems a bit off-base, in some of those sports.  Baseball being twenty-two seems reasonable.  NFL seems twenty or so points high as well (it's been well over 800 games (how many all-time World Cup games there've been) since anyone has scored even 80 points in an NFL game.  Actually, just did a bit of research, and highest score since 1940 seems to be 73 (when the Bears beat the Redskins for the title; hadn't realized that was highest-scoring game since then).  So 107 is pretty bizarre.

And the NBA one is just wacky-land.  I'm fairly sure no one has ever scored even half that many in a single game.  One quarter that many is well short of an everyday occurence.  484 is eight points a minute.  That's at least three baskets a minute over an entire game.  Crazy.

And I might need to rethink that NHL comparison.  Since the 1917-18 season, there have been eight games with 14+ goals scored by one team (none in almost thirty-three years).  Eight in almost a hundred years.  Over 12000k games just in the last eleven seasons.

One in 800+ would be significantly less than that, and this was not the most lopsided result ever seen in the World Cup, so probably eleven or twelve would be a more reasonable number for NHL equivalence.