A Phantom Army at the Fall of Jerusalem

In The Histories, Tacitus describes the supernatural events that accompanied the fall of Jerusalem to the armies of Titus in 70AD:

Prodigies had occurred, which this nation, prone to superstition, but hating all religious rites, did not deem it lawful to expiate by offering and sacrifice. There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departingAt the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure. Some few put a fearful meaning on these events, but in most there was a firm persuasion, that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus, but the common people, with the usual blindness of ambition, had interpreted these mighty destinies of themselves, and could not be brought even by disasters to believe the truth. 

Of course, it wasn’t Vespasian and Titus who achieved universal empire, but Christ.

Should We Be Panicking Over #NetNeutrality Rules?

No. Stop that already! We’re panicking entirely too quickly and too much about everything. Just relax, pour yourself a bourbon, watch some Rockford Files on Netflix, and chill the heck out.ball-419199_640

I wrote an analysis piece for the National Catholic Register about the FCC’s move to implement net neutrality rules which can be read here, before the FCC rules were made public. You can read those rules here if ambien isn’t doing the trick for you.

I’ve done a quick scan of the report and there were no real surprises. There’s going to be a lot of noise about “4oo pages of rules.” Wrong. It’s 8 pages of rules, 80 pages of conservative dissent (some I agree with, some I don’t), and the rest is history, precedent, justification, and the like.

The rules are simple: no paid prioritization, no blocking, no throttling.

I have no problem with any of that in theory. Libertarian-leaning conservatives who say there’s no danger to open internet, and thus no need for net neutrality, are all wet. The providers are functional monopolies for most consumers. The market alone cannot ensure the open internet. Anyone saying it can is engaging in a kind of quasi-religious free market fundamentalism, not rational thought.

However, the seizure of regulatory authority by the FCC, in particular the way they’re going about it, bothers me a lot. I’m far more worried about the ever-expanding power of the alphabet agencies than I am about having to wait for “Archer” to buffer.

For this reason, I have to oppose these regulations, even though I support the general goals of net neutrality. They are doing the right thing in the wrong way. And the way a thing is done matters.

Here’s an excerpt from my Register piece:

There is a line between what is desirable and what is possible within the limits of our government. Where legislators are failing, the FCC is attempting to step in, and in doing so they certainly appear to be exceeding their authority.

The current problem is “paid prioritization.” The internet service providers—represented in the public imagination by widely hated companies such as Comcast and Verizon—want to create tiers of service. This allows them to “throttle” internet speeds for high-bandwidth users. Throttling slows down the flow of data between a service and a user. In order to remove those limits so the data can flow at the highest possible speed, the service would have to pay.

The most obvious is example is Netflix. The popular video streaming service consumes approximately 34% of all internet bandwidth in North America. By comparison, superstore Amazon (which also streams music and movies) accounts for less than 3% of all bandwidth.

Last year, customers who watched Netflix through ISPs such as Comcast or Verizon saw their internet speeds throttled, leading to downgraded video quality, buffering delays, and interrupted service.

Read the whole thing. 

Ars compiled this selection of replies from opponents, which is notable most for 1) wingnuttery, 2) lies, 3) idiocy.

Everything in this statement from US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is utter nonsense:

“Ironically, this order will likely do nothing to address the fairness issues raised by Democrats and Internet activists. Rather, under the guise of keeping the Internet ‘free and open’, they simply advocated for an approach that allows Big Brother to step into the shoes of service providers. The government will regulate rates, create its own fast lanes, control the placement of content, and raise fees and taxes. If you like your service plan, you will not be able to keep it. The age of ObamaNet is upon us and I hope the government proves better at running a network than a website, but logic would seem to dictate that I not hold my breath.”

I have very real problems with what the FCC is doing, but we won’t address it by engaging in this kind of soundbite-driven, fear-mongering stupidity. Nothing in the rules would allow the government to “regulate rates, create its own fast lanes, control the placement of content, and raise fees and taxes.” The providers would need to be reclassified as utilities for those things to happen, and I can’t see how that could be done short of Congressional action.

The Democrats are attempting a power grab. The Republicans are responding like howling lunatics. Neither side represents the will of the people.

Dice Games Properly Explained [Book Review]

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“Dice Game Properly Explained” with 36 Chessex 12 mm green dice and chits

I’ve been kind of scattershot about covering games and fun stuff here, but I’m planning to try a Fun Friday feature for a month and see if it’s of any interest. If you like it, give it a share on social media. If the traffic seems to warrant continuing, I will.

My first entry is a little gem that I had on backorder for ages, only to appear in the mail just as Games Magazine, where I was Editor-at-Large for about 17 years, was being shut down. It’s like it arrived just to taunt me.

Reiner Knizia’s classic little volume Dice Games Properly Explained (Blue Terrier Press: $15) packs 150 games into just over 200 pages, and is the best book about its subject in print. Dr. Knizia is the multi-awarding winning designer of more than 500 games, including hits like Lost Cities, Tigris & Euphrates, Lord of the Rings, and many others. With this book, he gives serious consideration to the simplest and oldest form of gaming: rolling dice.

Games that are heavy on dice rolling tend to be shunned by more serious games as being nothing more than a dull cycle of repetitive actions and almost entirely based on luck. Knizia says this is the wrong way to think of it. He divides the book roughly in half between games of luck, “where you have no control over the outcome,” but which still provide suspense and fun, and games of influence, “where you determine your destiny.”

The first four chapters tackle games of luck, with an intermission as Knizia explains the theory of dice and odds. In the realm of “luck,” he offers chapters on scoring games, counter games, and betting games.

One example of a scoring game is Ninety-nine. Someone selects a number between 33 and 99. Each player rolls five dice and then tries to get as close to that number as possible by any application of math, using each rolled number only once. So, for example, if the target number is 83, a roll of 1-3-3-4-6 can be used to make 81 by (6+1) x 4 x 3 – 3.

Most of the games described don’t require that much calculation, and as Knizia moves into the next chapters, counters become a central part of each game’s strategy, and the various ins and outs of casino dice games are considered.

The second half of the book offers chapters about progression, jeopardy, strategic category, and bluffing games. In these examples, luck plays less of a role and players make choices and attempt to influence outcomes. The best known example of a strategic category game is Yacht, packaged and sold as Yahtzee, and offered here with myriad variations. Progression and jeopardy games frequently rely on hitting a target number without going over, but with enough variants and twists to keep things fresh and interesting.

The book was hard to come by for a time, even though the Blue Terrier Press edition doesn’t appear to have gone out of print. It’s available once again on Amazon, which makes this a great opportunity to get it while you can.

Here’s on more example, called Hearts Due:

Any number of people can play, but it’s best for three to five. You need six dice and a notepad for scoring.

On your turn, throw all six dice, then score fie points for each die that belongs to a sequence. Sequences always start with the number 1 and continue with consecutive numbers. A single 1 scores 5 points, 1-2 scores 10, 1-2-3 scores 15 and so on. If a throw contains multiple 1s and more than one sequences, score them all. First person to hit 100 points wins.

Variant rules: 1) Anyone who rolls three 1s loses all points. 2) 1s don’t score, so you start with 5 points for 1-2, and then progress.

Most of these are simple games, which means they’re good for kids (homeschoolers may find some of the games particularly useful for reinforcing math lessons), warm-ups, a quick bit of fun, bar play, and of course, betting, which is where most dice games have their roots.

If you pick up the book at Amazon, grab some dice as well. These Chessex 12mm dice are small, well-made, inexpensive, and come in a variety of colors.