Saturday, October 22, 2016

Cubs Defeat Dodgers to Clinch First Pennant Since 1945 - The New York Times

By BILLY WITZ OCT. 22, 2016

CHICAGO — David Ross, the grandfatherly catcher, admits to never having paid much attention in history class. Kris Bryant, the precocious young slugger, isn’t much for math, struggling to count back the years since the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series.

For a franchise so saddled by its own history — of bad baseball, bad breaks and billy goat curses — the latest iteration of the Cubs has carried on in a blissful cocoon of ignorance.

“History doesn’t really weigh on this club,” Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president for baseball operations, said before Game 6 on Saturday. “We’re just trying to win tonight’s game. These guys, a lot of them are in their early 20s, and they’re not burdened by that stuff. The organization isn’t. It’s just about trying to win and keeping it simple.”

And in the end, doing simple better, to use one of Manager Joe Maddon’s pet phrases, carried the Cubs all the way to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

The Cubs got there with a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fearsome ace, Clayton Kershaw. The Cubs jumped on him early, added home runs from Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo, and protected the lead with artful pitching from Kyle Hendricks, who allowed just two hits over seven and a third innings.

The Cubs’ opponent in the World Series will be another team with a history of hard luck: the Cleveland Indians, who have not won a championship since 1948. Their futility, of course, pales next to that of the Cubs, who have not won a World Series since 1908. But when the Series begins in Cleveland on Tuesday night, someone’s long drought will be near an end.

The Cubs rolled to the best regular-season record in the major leagues, winning 103 games and clinching a division title with more than two weeks to play, but they have had to prove their mettle in the playoffs.

In their division series, they rallied from four runs down in the ninth inning to finish off battle-tested San Francisco, which had won a record 10 consecutive elimination games in the postseason. And in the National League Championship Series, after being shut out in back-to-back contests, the Cubs bounced back from a two-games-to-one deficit. They did not lose after that, scoring 23 runs in the final three games.

Although the Cubs were home on Saturday, with a loud, insistent Wrigley Field throng urging them on, they knew it would not be easy to beat Kershaw, who had bested them in Game 2 of the series, also at Wrigley, allowing just two hits in seven innings.

They would also have to beat back history. The last time the Cubs had been in this position — playing a Game 6 at home in 2003, needing one victory to capture the National League pennant — they had unraveled, blowing a 3-0 lead to the Florida Marlins after a fan named Steve Bartman accidentally interfered with a foul ball.

On Saturday night, the seat down the left-field line that had been occupied by Bartman — Section 104, Row 8, Seat 113 — was empty until just before game time.

“I sat in it,” said Nancy Mazzone, whose seat was one row in front. “I felt not-bad vibes. It’s all good.”

When a fan arrived to sit in the Bartman seat, he identified himself as Bryan. He said he was 38 and worked for a family-entertainment company, and he was wearing a No. 14 cap in deference to Ernie Banks, one of the great Cubs players who never made it to the World Series.

Bryan was asked by one of a half-dozen reporters present if he knew the history of the seat he was now occupying.

“I kind of do now,” he said. “We’re going to stay out of the way.”

When Maddon had gone out to dinner in Chicago on Friday night, he had gotten a full plate of encouragement from fans, although it came with a side of unease.

“It’s just a fan base that’s been waiting for a while,” Maddon said Saturday before the game. “We’re definitely on the verge of doing something wonderful, and they’re absolutely engaged and involved.”

He added: “You accept it, and you nurture it, and you understand it, but at the end of the day, our boys have got to go out there and play the game like we can tonight, and I want that with a free mind and moment by moment.”

Still, as much as Maddon wanted that from his players, the mix of anxiety and anticipation was hard to ignore as the crowd filtered into Wrigley Field.

“I don’t want to have to say next year — not again,” said Kristine Fuller, 70, a retired nurse whose children chipped in to buy her a ticket to Saturday’s game.

As it turned out, it was not the Cubs who were overcome by jitters but the Dodgers. Left fielder Andrew Toles dropped a fly ball that led to a run in the first, and Josh Reddick was picked off first base in the second.

The baby-faced Hendricks, who graduated from Dartmouth with an economics degree, has made a career out of a pedestrian fastball and operating in the shadows — all the way back to high school when it was his teammate Tyler Matzek who was chosen 11th over all in the draft.

Hendricks had not lasted more than five and a third innings in four previous playoff starts, but in this game, he was masterly. He allowed a single to Toles on the first pitch of the game, but on the second pitch, Hendricks, who induced more soft contact than any pitcher in baseball this season, got Corey Seager to ground into a double play.

Hendricks did not allow another hit until Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. Maddon then strolled out to the mound to a chorus of boos and replaced Hendricks with closer Aroldis Chapman. The first batter Chapman faced — pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick — hit a line drive that second baseman Javier Baez alertly fielded on a short hop instead of catching it on the fly, which allowed him to turn an easy double play and end the inning.

Meanwhile, the Cubs showed no deference toward Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner. Dexter Fowler lofted a fly ball down the right side that bounced just inside the line and into the stands for a ground-rule double to start off the bottom of the first. Bryant followed with a line-drive single to right, scoring Fowler with the only run the Cubs would need.

After Toles dropped a fly ball hit by Rizzo, Ben Zobrist hit a sacrifice fly to score Bryant, and the Cubs had what seemed like a gift: an early advantage that would limit any anxiety from the crowd.

In the second, Fowler, a .409 career hitter against Kershaw — the highest mark of any active player — hit a two-out single. That scored Addison Russell, who had rattled a double off the left-field wall, and gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead.

Contreras hit a solo home run in the fourth, slugging a line drive down the line that he celebrated with a bat flip, although the ball barely cleared the wall. When Rizzo homered to right-center in the fifth, Kershaw sank to his knees and exclaimed, “No!”

That made the score 5-0. All that was left was for Hendricks to continue carving up the Dodgers and for Chapman to finish them off. The fans passed the time with a rousing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and rose to their feet for the entire top of the ninth, bellowing, “Let’s go, Cubbies.”

There was little anxiety — only anticipation, with some fans wiping away tears and others crossing their fingers until, finally, Yasiel Puig hit a slow bouncing ball with one out and Carlos Ruiz on first. In an echo of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, it was Russell to Baez to Rizzo.

When Rizzo, the first baseman, gloved the ball, the Cubs poured out of the dugout, and the crowd sang the anthem “Go Cubs Go.”

A version of this article appears in print on October 23, 2016, on page SP3 of the New York edition with the headline: Not a Misprint: Cubs Win Pennant.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cubs Thrash Dodgers to Even N.L.C.S. at Two Games Each - The New York Times

Cubs Thrash Dodgers to Even N.L.C.S. at Two Games Each - The New York Times:

"LOS ANGELES — Faced with a moment of truth after being shut out in back-to-back games by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs had all eyes upon them, studying how they would react."

'via Blog this'

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Iraqi Forces Attack Mosul, Seeking to Dislodge Islamic State

By Rod Norland


Iraqi soldiers during a training session for the battle to retake Mosul, as a shepherd led his herd in Bashiqa this month. CreditThaier Al-Sudani/Reuters

ERBIL, Iraq — Mosul’s residents are hoarding food and furtively scrawling resistance slogans on walls, while the city’s Islamic State rulers have feverishly expanded their underground tunnel network and tried to dodge American drones.
After months of maneuvering, the Iraqi government’s battle to reclaim Mosul, the sprawling city whose million-plus population lent the most credence to the Islamic State’s claim to rule a fledgling nation, has finally begun. In the early hours Monday morning, an announcement by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of the campaign’s opening was accompanied by artillery barrages and a rush of armored vehicles toward the front a few miles away from the city’s limits.
Those forces will be fighting to enter a city where for weeks the harsh authoritarian rule of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, has sought to crack down on a population eager to either escape or rebel, according to interviews with roughly three dozen people from Mosul, including refugees who managed to sneak out in recent weeks and residents reached by contraband cellphones in the city.
Just getting out of Mosul had become difficult and dangerous: Those who were caught faced million-dinar fines, unless they were former members of the Iraqi Army or police, in which case the punishment was beheading.
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While the civilians described stockpiling food in basement hiding places, the jihadists were said to be frantically making military preparations within Mosul, temporarily fleeing the streets — most likely to an extensive tunnel network below — at the first signs of an airstrike, according to the new accounts.


A member of the Iraqi forces checked his weapon at a base about 35 miles from Mosul on Sunday.CreditAhmad Al-Rubaye/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Some of Mosul’s remaining one million or more residents had grown bolder in showing resistance against the Islamic State force ruling the city — numbering 3,000 to 4,500 fighters, the United States military estimated. Graffiti and other displays of dissidence against the Islamic State were more common there in recent weeks, as were executions when the vandals were caught.
Early this month, 58 people were executed for their role in a plot to overturn the Islamic State that was led by an aide of the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Reuters reported.
When fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters forced about 60,000 Iraqi Army and police defenders to abandon Mosul in June 2014, many among its Sunni population cheered their arrival. They saw the militants as fellow Sunnis who would end corruption and abuse at the hands of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and security services.
But much of that local good will dissipated after more than two years ofharsh rule by the militants, a mix of Iraqis and Syrians with a grab bag of foreign fighters.
Mosul residents chafed under social codes banning smoking and calling for splashing acid on body tattoos, summary executions of perceived opponents, whippings of those who missed prayers or trimmed their beards, and destroying “un-Islamic” historical monuments.
“Anyone who has accepted Daesh before? They’ve changed their minds now,” said Azhar Mahmoud, a former Education Ministry official who recently fled his home village near Mosul, and who initially accepted rule by the Islamic State.


A tent camp was being prepared in Khazer, Iraq, to absorb the expected flow of refugees fleeing Mosul. CreditAzad Lashkari/Reuters

In addition, there were recent reports of at least some underground resistance within the city, if mostly symbolic. Photos and oral accounts abounded of the Arabic letter M scrawled on walls — standing for moqawama, or resistance. The Islamic State beheaded two men in front of one such slogan, and posted a video of the killings.
Another execution video identified the victims, punished for internet use, as members of the resistance group Suraya Rimah, according to the group’s leader, Omar Fadil al-Alaf, who is based in the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, about 50 miles east of Mosul.
“People are just waiting for liberation so they can fulfill their promises to take revenge on Daesh and kill them,” Mr. Alaf said.
Compounding the militants’ problems with the population was a growing economic crisis, according to American officials. In recent months, the Islamic State lost control of oil fields near Raqqa in Syria and Qaiyara in Iraq, and trade with ISIS-held parts of Syria was choked off because of the group’s military reversals.
Electricity, once plentiful before Kurdish forces took back the Mosul Dam from militant control, has been typically available in the city for only a couple of hours a day, residents say. Some areas lack running water, with residents forced to use personal generators to pump water from wells.
Schools had not opened at all this year, absent funding and teachers willing to work for nothing.
The local economic crisis hit the militants as well, with reports that they cut the pay for their fighters to less than $100 a month, from $400 in 2014, said Abu Bakr Kanan, a former leader of the Sunni religious affairs office in Mosul, who said he was in regular touch with residents there.

100 Miles
Deir al-Zour
populated areas

Iraqi government
Islamic State
Syrian government

Many of the residents contacted described the militants as conducting a high-profile recruiting drive among 14- to 40-year-old males, depicting enlistment as a religious duty, but with apparently decreasing success.
A car mechanic who left the city just over two weeks ago, and asked not to be identified because he still had relatives there, said that on his final Friday in Mosul he attended prayers at which a prominent Islamic State imam harangued the worshipers about volunteering, but seemingly won no one over.
The militants’ security preparations have been directed not only at the city’s borders — particularly toward the south and east where Iraqi forces, allied militias and Kurdish pesh merga fighters are arrayed — but also internally. Traffic on secondary roads in the city was banned, and house-to-house searches — for weapons and any signs of organized resistance — were carried out in many neighborhoods.
Last month, a YouTube video surfaced of Suraya Rimah fighters appealing to residents of Mosul to kill their ISIS rulers when the offensive began.
Resistance groups in the city — at least five claimed to have a presence — say they concentrated on assassinating individuals, said Abdullah Abu Ahmed, who described himself as a leader of an anti-ISIS brigade in Mosul called The Resistance. He was reached by telephone through intermediaries.
“All Mosul people, whenever they have the chance to fight and kill ISIS terrorists, they do so,” he said. He cited a recent attack on a jewelry market in which two members of the Islamic State were killed.


An Iraqi woman and child at the Kurdish-run Dibaga refugee camp south of Erbil after leaving Mosul last month. CreditSafin Hamed/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Over the past few weeks, coalition airstrikes began more intensively targeting the suspected homes of senior Islamic State figures in Mosul. Residents said those senior militants, many of whom had relatively high public profiles in the city, became conspicuous by their absence on the streets.
There have also been a notable number of desertions from the Islamic State. Kurdish officials said they had found 300 suspected ISIS deserters, or potential infiltrators, in recent months. Most were caught among the refugees escaping from ISIS-held territory who arrived at the Kurdish-run Dibaga Camp, the main site for refugees, south of Erbil, said Ardalan Mohiadin, who is in charge of the camp’s reception center.
Dibaga Camp now has 43,000 refugees from Mosul and other Islamic State strongholds, with about 11,000 arriving in September alone, Mr. Mohiadin said.
Despite months of preparation for a much larger wave of refugees from the city, aid officials warned that it was unlikely to be nearly enough once the fighting intensified.
“The United Nations is deeply concerned that in a worst-case scenario, the operation in Mosul could be the most complex and largest in the world in 2016, and we fear as many as one million civilians may be forced to flee their homes,” said Lise Grande, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.
Airstrikes on the militants in Mosul led many of them to move in among civilian residents, the locals said.


Iraqi villagers welcomed an army soldier after the defeat of Islamic State fighters in the Ramadi area last week. CreditUncredited/Associated Press

A woman who arrived at Dibaga Camp recently said her family had been forced to take in a Chechen ISIS fighter, and shortly afterward an airstrike hit the home, killing the militant but also two members of the family. The woman’s 9-year-old daughter was trapped under a collapsed wall.
The girl survived and is with her mother in the camp now.
Nearly all of the Mosul residents contacted spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of ISIS retaliation. Even most refugees did not want to be identified because they still had relatives in Mosul.
“We are suffering from so many problems, we feel like the living dead,” said a woman who identified herself only by the initials S. A.
In addition to American air support, President Obama this month approved 615 more American troops to aid the Mosul offensive by providing intelligence and logistical assistance. That brings the American forces in Iraq to more than 5,000.
Some in Mosul described how militants had begun going house to house to collect used tires that could be set on fire to generate smoke screens.
“We expect everything,” said Sabah al-Numan, the spokesman for the Iraqi Counterterrorism Force. “We know this is the last station for ISIS — there is nowhere else for them to go. We have to prepare for a very tough fight.”


Saturday, October 15, 2016

A New Biography of Hitler Separates the Man From the Myths

Adolf Hitler, spring 1927. CreditFrom "Hitler: Ascent"
Ascent 1889-1939
By Volker Ullrich
Translated by Jefferson Chase
Illustrated. 998 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $40.
When Adolf Hitler turned 30, in 1919, his life was more than half over, yet he had made not the slightest mark on the world. He had no close friends and was probably still a virgin. As a young man, he had dreamed of being a painter or an architect, but he was rejected twice from Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. He had never held a job; during his years in the Austrian capital before World War I, he survived by peddling his paintings and postcards, and was sometimes homeless. When war broke out in 1914, he entered the German Army as a private, and when the war ended four years later, he was still a private. He was never promoted, the regimental adjutant explained, because he “lacked leadership qualities.”
Yet within a few years, large crowds of Nazi supporters would be hailing this anonymous failure as their Führer. At 43, Hitler became the chancellor of Germany, and by 52 he could claim to be the most powerful man in the history of Europe, with an empire that spanned the continent. In the sheer unlikely speed of his rise — and then of his catastrophic fall — Hitler was a phenomenon with few precedents in world history. Extraordinary, too, was the amount of destruction and suffering for which he was responsible: the tens of millions of soldiers and civilians killed in World War II, the six million Jews exterminated in the Holocaust, the countless prisoners tortured and murdered in his concentration camps. Hitler’s very face has become a universally recognizable icon of evil, along with the swastika, the symbol of his Nazi Party.
Ever since Hitler came to power in 1933, writers have been trying to fathom him, and he is already the subject of major biographies by Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw. The goal of these books, and thousands of others, is — in the words of the title of Ron Rosenbaum’s fascinating study — “explaining Hitler.” Hitler cries out for explanation, and perhaps always will, because even when we know all the facts, his story remains incredible, unacceptable. How could so insignificant a man have become so potent a force for evil? How could the world have allowed it to happen? And always, the unspoken fear: Could it happen again?
The latest attempt to come to grips with these questions is “Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939,” the first of two planned volumes of a new biography by the German historian and journalist Volker Ullrich. Every generation of historians produces its own version of Hitler, and Ullrich, writing more than 15 years after Kershaw, is no exception. He has taken on board the latest primary scholarship; but more important, he writes, is his desire “to refocus attention on Hitler” the man. This means treating him as neither a myth, as many of Hitler’s admirers and enemies were inclined to do, nor as a nonentity who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to capitalize on Germany’s rage and disorder. Rather, Ullrich sees his subject as a consummate political tactician, and still more important, as a gifted actor, able to show each of his audiences — from the rowdies at mass meetings in beer halls to the elites in the salons of rich industrialists — the leader it wanted to see.
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Like most biographers of Hitler, Ullrich passes quickly over his subject’s early years, which are little documented, in part because one of his last orders before his suicide in 1945 was for all his private papers to be burned. The story of Hitler’s public life doesn’t really begin until 1919, when he emerged in Munich as a far-right agitator, one of many who capitalized on the chaos in Germany created by the world war and a short-lived leftist revolution in Bavaria.
By 1923, his National Socialist German Workers’ Party had grown bold enough to try to overthrow the provincial government, in what became known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The coup failed, however, and after a short stint in jail, Hitler decided it would be easier to destroy the deeply unpopular Weimar Republic by legal means. He maneuvered ruthlessly toward this goal, aided by widespread despair over hyperinflation and then the Great Depression, until his triumphant elevation to the chancellorship. Notably, the Nazis never won a majority of the vote in any free election. Hitler came to power because other, more respectable politicians thought they would be able to control him.
Once in office, Hitler quickly proved them wrong. With dizzying speed, he banned and imprisoned political opponents, had his party rivals murdered, overrode the constitution and made himself the center of a cult of personality to rival Stalin’s. These moves did not dent Hitler’s popularity. On the contrary, after years of internecine ideological warfare, the German people went wild with enthusiasm for a man who claimed to be above politics. The fact that he hated Jews with a demented passion only added to his popularity in a deeply anti-Semitic society. Ullrich’s first volume concludes in the spring of 1939, on the eve of Germany’s invasion of Poland, which would set off World War II and lead to Hitler’s destruction.
Of course, these events were much larger than the life of one man, and Hitler sometimes disappears from Ullrich’s narrative for pages at a time. But if “Hitler: Ascent” is as much a work of history as a biography, this is only appropriate. For Hitler was a man who evacuated his inner self, as much as possible, in order to become a vessel for history and what he believed to be the people’s will. On a podium, he could mesmerize huge crowds with his rhetoric about Germany’s destiny. But everything we learn from Ullrich about Hitler’s personal life — what he ate for breakfast (cookies and chocolate), how he bored his guests with endless monologues, even his clandestine love affair with Eva Braun — is commonplace. He was himself conscious, on some level, that he was a thoroughly undistinguished person. When in the company of intellectuals or aristocrats, what Ullrich calls his “inferiority complex” was inflamed, and he grew fidgety and irritable.
Hitler’s mediocrity is all the more noticeable in this book because Ullrich strives not to mythologize his subject, knowing how many myths are already in circulation. There is a tendency, in stories about Hitler, to try to locate the magic key that explains him. Thus people sometimes say that he hated Jews because a Jewish doctor failed to save his mother from cancer, or that he was sexually neurotic because he was missing part of his genitals. Ullrich summarily dismisses both of these legends, noting that Hitler actually had a good relationship with his mother’s doctor, and that records of his medical examinations reveal no physical abnormality.
More important, Ullrich is consistently skeptical of the myths Hitler tried to create about himself. Much of the evidence we possess about the early life comes from the stories he told, and from the tendentious propaganda of “Mein Kampf.” These were designed to further Hitler’s image as a man of destiny, which meant that they were highly melodramatic. For instance, in 1939, while visiting the Bayreuth Festival, Hitler remarked that it was seeing a performance of Wagner’s opera “Rienzi” as a teenager that first gave him a sense of his heroic destiny: “That was the hour everything started.” Ullrich chalks this story up to “Hitler’s need for exaggerated self-importance.”
Yet he doesn’t deny that Wagnerian opera had a profound influence on the young Hitler’s view of the world. In fact, the strange thing about Hitler is not that he imagined himself as the leading figure in a historic drama — many people have such grandiose fantasies — but that life ended up vindicating him. It might have taken a world war, the Great Depression and other calamities to prepare the way, but in the end Germany decided to see Hitler just as he saw himself; the country matched his psychosis with its own. What is truly frightening, and monitory, in Ullrich’s book is not that a Hitler could exist, but that so many people seemed to be secretly waiting for him.