Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If an Icecap Doesn't Melt in the Next Five Minutes I'm Going to Sue the IPCC

Where the hell has global warming got to? It is freaking freezing here. Is it too much to ask while the Barrier Reef is apparently turning the colour of a ghost gum for a little heat to wander this far south? Every year we get a few hot days in Summer and people look at each other knowledgeably and blame global warming. Guys, its Summer! It's supposed to be hot. How about a little global warming in Winter when it would do some good? Certain climate change activists point out that change doesn't necessarily mean warming. If it doesn't what are we worried about. We already know what to do if the world gets colder. More coal fired power stations. Frogs are worrying some people too. Apparently amphibians are dying all over the place. Of course they are, they're freezing to death! Did I mention its really, really cold.

Meanwhile in the northern hemisphere it is Summer. Surprisingly it is hot there at the moment or so various gloating in-laws inform me. Did I mention that its Summer there at the moment. I'm sitting here freezing and the northern hemisphere is baking because of the way the Earth is wandering around the Sun. That sounds like a silly way for seasons to be organised if you ask me.

Global warming had better get its act together swiftly because if not the major danger to the animals around my parts will be mammoths challenging for the local food supply. At least mammoths are hairy, if I could kill one I could wear its hide as a suit. Actually I could probably make a suit, a pair of pyjamas, a new doona cover and carpet my floor. My point here is that mammoths are big, mammoth really.

The plight of the mammoth puts global warming into perspective. Last time the Earth warmed giant hairy elephants died. This time apparently its frogs. I really don't think the planet is trying very hard, do you? In the meantime I am still sitting here freezing while I wait for a mammoth to wander into the sights of my rifle.

Well no more. I am determined not to be cold any longer. I am going to pile up every frog, toad, salamander and axylotl I can lay my hands on and burn them to keep myself warm. If the fire dies down I'll toss some coral onto it to keep it going. Alternatively I could just shut the windows.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How the Siege of Vienna Made Life Worth Living

The year is 1683. Well actually it isn't, that is just a rather pretentious way of announcing that the story about to begin is set in 1683. So, as I was saying; The year is 1683 (cue portentous music) and in the grim Ottoman fortress of Belgrade (yes that Belgrade, it was an unappealing fortress before it became an unappealing city) the massed forces of the Ottoman empire gathered for the greatest military undertaking in over a century. In the presence of Sultan Mehmed IV himself the bashi bazouks, the sipahi and deli horsemen, the engineers and janissaries assembled to watch as the Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa was handed the sultan's seal, the banner of the prophet and the keys to the holy Kaaba in Mecca. From now on, within this army, he would have the authority of the sultan himself. At his command the army marched north. Mehmed waved his soldiers away to war then went hunting. He preferred fighting things that couldn't fight back.

The objective of this vast host was breathtaking, the city of Vienna itself. Vienna; capital (in so far as there was one) of the Holy Roman Empire (in so far as there was one). Once before, over a century ago Ottoman soldiers had stood before the gates of Vienna, then despite the leadership of one of the greatest sultans, Suleiman the Lawgiver (known as the Magnificent in the west) they had been forced to retreat. Kara Mustafa intended to go one better in the name of the deeply mediocre Mehmed IV. Through blasted wastelands, semi populated stretches of Hungary and Croatia the army marched forward gathering the unreliable troops of the deeply suspect local pashas to them and joined by the ferocious horse archers of the Crimean Tatars. The border was crossed and the army moved on driving the out numbered and (as usual) unpaid Habsburg forces before them.

In Vienna Leopold I, Holy Roman emperor, stopped writing music for horse ballets (I'm not kidding) and fled for his life. As he ran he shouted over his shoulder that Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg should command the Vienna garrison. Possibly von Starhemberg was the only person around that the emperor had ever heard of or possibly it was an inspired choice. Leopold preferred us to assume the latter. Von Starhemberg was a hard bitten, deeply experienced soldier in his mid forties and his assumption of command in Vienna hadn't come a moment too soon. He would energise the defence and make them hold on when all appeared lost.

Lest anybody think that Leopold was idling, I can assure you that as the Ottoman forces surrounded his city he was screaming for help to anybody who would listen. Strangely people did. King John III Sobieski of Poland listened for one. As he saw it the Ottomans were just one captured city away from being able to ravage his lands at will. He came and he brought his nobles with him. The Polish nobility had taken a little time off from their usual occupations (fighting each other and making their country ungovernable) to follow their king into battle. When they could be persuaded to stop killing each other for long enough to kill somebody else they were a ferocious opponent. More surprisingly still the ramshackle mess that was the Holy Roman Empire rallied to its emperor. Or to be more specific those bits of it close enough to see the Ottomans on their doorstep rallied to the emperor, after a fair bit of haggling and political concessions. Still troops from Bavaria, Saxony, Swabia, Franconia and a token force from Hannover all gathered under the command of Duke Charles of Lorraine the imperial commander. Since this was a war against the infidel the pope obligingly picked up the bills.

Meanwhile Vienna was being blasted to Hell. The Ottoman army had the best siege engineers in Europe. Saps were swiftly dug, mines tunnelled, siege artillery placed and janissary assault troops readied. Kara Mustafa planned well, with one critical exception. His gaze focused solely on the city itself he neglected to make any defences for his siege camp. If an outside force were to attack it the Ottomans would be in a very big lump of pain. But Kara Mustafa wasn't thinking about this and while the defenders may have been praying for it the grim reality was enough to focus their minds on the here and now. The walls of Vienna weren't that impressive to begin with and the Ottoman siege engineers blasted chunks away with mines and artillery. Then the janissaries, a little past their prime perhaps but still the finest assault troops in the world, stormed the breaches.

Somehow the city held, von Starhemberg invigorated the defence as food ran out, the walls collapsed and bits of the city caught fire. Make shift defences were piled up before the breaches and were defended with ferocity. By September things were going badly, casualties were high, food was running out and the defenders were exhausted. Things weren't much better over in the siege camp where poor hygiene had led to outbreaks of sickness and the failure of the previous assaults had led to a lowering of morale. Still the battle appeared theirs to win. Then the relief army arrived, with the Imperials in the centre and left and the Poles in the position of honour on the right they launched a savage assault on the undefended camp. There was grim fighting but the Ottomans were in a hopeless position and the great army was destroyed. Kara Mustafa fought bravely but aware that the banner of the prophet couldn't fall into unbelievers hands eventually abandoned the field with a handful of cavalry.

Looters picked over the siege camp for anything of value and were surprised to find sacks of brown, nut like objects. These were taken back to Vienna whose inhabitants ground them down, infused them in hot water and drank the result and thus coffee was introduced to western Europe.

One way of looking at warfare is to regard it as a sort of highly violent cultural exchange programme. Yes the siege of Vienna was dreadful for all those who took part and the Ottomans would surely point out that the battle afterwards wasn't pleasant for them either. Nor was it good news for Kara Mustafa who was compulsorily retired after the campaign (they strangled him). However I defy anybody of European extraction who likes coffee to deny that it was worth it. Vienna became the cafe capital of Europe and coffee drinking percolated (sorry) down into Italy and eventually across the seas to Australia. So now when I sit in an armchair at my favourite cafe and accept a cup of coffee from the rather cute waitress with the tattoos and body piercings I give silent thanks to the ambition of Kara Mustafa and the courage of Charles of Lorraine, von Starhemberg and John Sobieski of Poland. Collectively they have made life worth living.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Birthday Greetings #8

Happy birthday to Manuel II Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor from 1391-1425. By the time Manuel ascended to the throne the Byzantine empire was a tattered shred consisting of some territory in the Peloponnese and a bit of land around the capital Constantinople. Matters hadn't really been helped by the long and spectacularly undistinguished reign of his father John V. The idiot managed to get himself captured on no fewer than four occasions including twice in his own capital.

Manuel was the second son but the habit of his elder brother of revolting against their father led to his fall from favour. A great deal of Manuel's time was spent sitting in Constantinople while Ottoman armies besieged it. In 1400, five years into the current siege he rather daringly left Constantinople in the hands of his nephew (who had been in his fathers attempts at revolt up to his neck) and travelled to western Europe hoping to gain military support. He is the only Byzantine emperor to have visited England, being welcomed by King Henry IV with a joust in his honour. The sum total of support he received was a little money and a few hundred men sent by Charles VI of France but in the meantime help had come from a rather unusual quarter. In 1402 the main Ottoman field army was destroyed by the forces of Tamerlaine, the Sword of Islam (the Ottomans were Muslim too but, whatever) and the Sultan, Bayezid was captured and lived out the rest of his life in an iron cage. Bayezid's sons needed what was left of their army for a series of highly enthusiastic civil wars between them and not only was the siege of Constantinople lifted but adroit diplomacy by Manuel's nephew regained some territory around the capital and also the city of Thessalonica.

The next few years were relatively easy ones by Manuel's standards, he recaptured a few islands in the Aegean and built a wall across the isthmus of Corinth to defend what was now the largest (and most productive) remnant of the empire. Things didn't last of course and when he backed the wrong side in another Ottoman civil war he wound up being besieged in Constantinople again, this time by Murad II. Another Byzantine engineered uprising resulted in the siege being lifted but Manuel and his son were forced to pay tribute and become vassals of the Sultan.

Manuel died in 1425 by which time it probably came as something of a relief.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Finally a Prime Minister I Wouldn't Mind Sleeping With

Yesterday Julia Gillard decapitated the Labor party with one swift, surgical strike and stitched her own head Frankenstein like onto the corpse. Now the government lurches forward growling inarticulately and groping blindly for prey. Actually for a process that started with a political murder things have progressed pretty smoothly. It was Gillard's predecessor (what was his name again) who seemed to lurch about inarticulately. Well Kevin Rudd may be gone, turfed out by his own party before completing even one term in office but at least he has his legacy. Long after the dust has settled on this latest upheaval Rudd will be remembered for introducing the term "ratfuck" into the diplomatic lexicon. A phrase like "those Chinese fuckers are trying to ratfuck us" is probably going to be remembered even if it does sound better in Mandarin.

Never in the history of politics has a leader gone from untouchable political god to "who was that?" in such a short period of time. The whole period of Rudd's ascendancy confused me. I voted for him but I wasn't that crazy about him and as he swiftly proved that he had every talent except those required to be a good politician I was astonished at his continued popularity. At least he was popular with people who didn't know him particularly well. His colleagues in the Labor party had a variety of opinions ranging from mild dislike to visceral hatred. While he was popular they ground their teeth and accepted a dictatorial control freak as their leader even though they could see it was causing problems. When his standing in the polls dropped so did he.

The funny thing is his poll standing wasn't terrible, just nowhere near as good as it was. The drop however gave Rudd's enemies the opportunity they had been waiting for. Who were his enemies? Pretty much everyone he could describe as a "valued colleague". The word coming out was that his micro management of affairs led to delays, bungles and the exclusion of all but a tiny coterie from any involvement in decision making. To take an example when he announced the half baked super profits tax on the mining industry the Minister for Resources (the guy most likely to be directly involved) learnt about it from the newspapers. Since this particular minister is that rare thing an experienced politician who is also widely respected by the industries who fall under his portfolio keeping him out of the loop was idiotic.

The other thing about Rudd was his staff. Trusting almost no one Rudd closeted himself with a handful of advisers in his own office and listened to almost no one else. These people weren't stupid but they were deeply inexperienced. The brutal hours Rudd worked (and forced those around him to work) meant that with the exception of himself there was nobody in his office over thirty. Older people couldn't stand the pace and these younger types collectively had less "real life" experience than the furniture in Rudd's office.

For all his managerial failings I was delighted to see that the catalyst for Rudd's fall was a bit of political bitching. Gillard, his loyal deputy (and she was loyal to the point where she is now going to have explain why she agreed to a bunch of stupid ideas in the first place), was deeply offended when after giving yet another protestation of loyalty Rudd got one of his staff members to canvas MPs to see the level of his support. This is bad for a couple of reasons; for starters it is a pretty blatant statement that Rudd didn't believe a word his deputy was telling him and secondly if you really feel you need to sound out your support in the party you get one of the whips or a respected backbencher in your camp to do it. You don't get some snot nosed thirty year old who hasn't been elected to anything in his life to bail up MPs demanding protestations of loyalty. In short Rudd didn't go because of the failings of his government or his drop in the opinion polls. He was knifed because he pissed Julia Gillard off by not following accepted etiquette.

Isn't democracy wonderful? Now we have a new Prime Minister, at least until the election. After that we have a choice between her and Tony Abbot. Without any particular reason to vote for either my vote will go to the candidate I would most like to sleep with. Lead on Julia. Sorry Tony, are we still on for dinner on Saturday?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vale Muffy

My beautiful cat is dead. After a short illness she was failing so badly that the only kind thing to do was have her put down. I am devastated. I had not realised how utterly I have come to rely on her company over the past several months. She was the only thing stopping me from feeling completely alone.

Muffy was as crazy as a bedbug and possessed of interesting quirks like waking me at three in the morning demanding food. I bought her a ball with a tinkly bell in it once and she ran away from it. She had a love affair with my armchair and spent as much time on it as possible. If someone was sitting on the armchair she sat on them instead. But she was beautiful, warm and great company. Sitting in my armchair with her purring (and drooling) in my lap I felt comforted and loved.

Now she is gone and I miss her terribly. Goodbye Muffy, Radha and I loved you and we both mourn your loss.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Support the Fashion Industry or Naomi Campbell Might be Your Dentist

I am a freaking genius. For some time now my fluffy slippers with the big yellow claws and green fuzzy bits have had a major flaw. I have worn out the bottom near the heels. This means chilly heels when the rest of my feet are toasty warm. Now however thanks to scissors and a leftover newspaper heel chill is a thing of the past. This piece of domestic brilliance is on a par with my judicious use of a stapler to fix the tear in my pyjamas. Shopping for sleepwear has been put off to the indefinite future.

I always feel slightly inferior when I go clothes shopping. I have no idea what might look good or what might suit me. This means I tend to avoid it whenever possible. Walking into a shop where every one of the assistants probably knows more about how I should dress than I do irritates me. Work clothes, no problem. You simply can't go wrong with a fine pinstripe and french cuffs (although last time I bought work clothes I took a friend with me for the sake of safety). Other clothes don't concern me too much, I have a twenty year old t-shirt that I still refer to as my new one because I bought it new rather than second hand.

Second hand shops are great places to buy clothes as long as you don't care particularly what they look like. The only difficulty comes on those rare occasions when I want to look smart but a suit would be overdoing it. Fortunately most of the people I know have got used to my dress sense by now and expect nothing else. It doesn't really matter anyway, all my clothes have a gentle layer of cat fur which no amount of brushing seems to remove. If anybody was asked to describe me they would probably start by saying I'm white and fluffy.

My friend Thomas (who guided my recent suit buying foray) despairs of my casual wardrobe although I can't help thinking that I probably don't have enough clothes with pictures of people playing polo on them for his liking. I can't remember the last time I bought a pair of casual pants that were new, or fitted properly. Eclectic is what I call my wardrobe when challenged. In actual fact it is just a bunch of stuff hanging out in reasonable proximity to each other. The cat sleeps on all of it anyway so obviously it meets with her approval.

I have no fundamental objection to being well dressed, I just refuse to spend any time or money attempting to achieve such a goal. When I see reports on fashion shows I react with a kind of bemused disbelief. How any of the models make it down the runway without collapsing in fits of hysterical laughter at what they're wearing continually amazes me. But I guess they're proud professionals. Grimly they will sit there while the make up artist transforms them into something resembling a slutty panda and the dress makers staple random bits of fabric to their bodies. Then the call comes and they are off, facing the grim challenge of getting from one end of a plank of wood to the other and back again while wearing stilettos made of pasta and decorated with fuzzy disco balls. The female models have it tough too. No wonder they take drugs. I would too if I had to wear that stuff for a living.

Instead I just wear stuff that makes it look as though I spend most of my money on drugs. I don't even look cool and alternative, just badly and cheaply dressed. If ones clothes send a message then the message mine send is "here is someone who spends very little on clothes".

I used to think the fashion industry was pointless and a vast waste of resources that could be better used doing almost anything else but I realise now that I was wrong. Whenever you look at a person or a profession and think "What on earth is the point of that?" just consider what such a person with such a mentality might be up to if they didn't have a career in the fashion industry.

Gangs of stick thin, six foot women would roam the streets beating up pensioners for enough money to buy a decent pair of shoes. People like Giorgio Armani and Yves St Laurent might have gone into architecture or serial killing. Interior decorators would be night club bouncers or airline pilots. The consequences for our civilisation would be catastrophic. Its bad enough that the occasional one wants a music career. Whenever I look at Naomi Campbell and raise my eyebrows I swiftly remind myself that but for modelling she might have been my dentist or my bank manager and then I realise the vast benefit to society of the fashion industry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Efficiency is a Highly Developed Form of Laziness

It appears that more and more students are handing in study papers that consist of large slabs of text they have copied from the internet. This has prompted head shaking, concern and mutters about the dumbing down of our society. Have a little thought for me, I don't know how to download large slabs of text from the internet. That isn't strictly true, I have managed to discover wikipedia which I find to be a fantastic source of dubious information. If anybody is wondering where I get the information for my birthday shout outs wonder no longer. I take the dubiously accurate information from wikipedia, colour it according to my personal prejudices, add to it with stuff I heard from somewhere else or simply made up and post it as my own work. Can I have my PhD now?

People will always cheat. If there is an easy way of doing things they will take it. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. The entire history of human development has been our relentless drive to spend more time sitting around on our collective arses doing nothing. Labour saving devices are called that for a reason. Virtually every bright idea has been had by someone who looked at the way things were being done at the time and said, "Guys, that's way too much like hard work." Indolence, indulgence and buggering about are what built our civilisation. Throughout the ages people have looked at the generally dirty, disease ridden and labour intensive society they occupied and said, "Bugger this, I'm going to cheat."

Oh I suppose a couple of people were genuinely concerned about the human condition and dearly wanted to improve it but most people were just keen to get some extra couch time. Of course this meant inventing couches, televisions and labour laws that allowed us to get home from t'mill in time to watch our favourite shows. Things like Big Brother's Secret Sex Tapes aren't indicative of the decay of our civilisation, they are its apotheosis. Pain free dentistry wasn't invented because of concerns about the well being of patients. It was because dentists got sick of having to physically wrestle their patients into submission. Democracy was invented because people were too lazy to have a revolution. Instead of storming barricades we just wander down to the local school every few years and mark a box. Isn't that an awesome way to change a government? I can see Lenin now, "just mark a box. Why didn't I think of that?" Because you were an idiot Vladimir. You worked and you worked and you worked and what was the result? Stalin.

I could go on but I really couldn't be bothered. There's tennis on the television, a new book on my armchair and porn on the internet. I'm a busy man. As for those plagiaristic little devils don't worry. They'll get caught when they try to use their new credentials and prove to be totally useless. And if they don't get caught obviously plagiarism was good enough. Teachers should be grateful. In twenty years time all they're going to have to do is tell their students how to log on. This too will be progress although I must admit I'm not quite sure where to.

PS. Honesty compells me to admit that I didn't make up the title for this blog. Somebody else (Reg Smythe) did and I just pinched it because it was easier than thinking of a title myself.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Execution Saturday, Drinks will be Served Afterwards

Somebody has been executed for murder in the United States. I can already hear you yawn. It probably wasn't Tony Hayward so why get interested? The interesting thing about this execution was that it was conducted by firing squad. At least the media seemed to find this interesting, I'm not entirely sure why. Is there something intrinsically more fascinating about riddling somebodies carcass with bullets than there is about pumping poison into their veins? The recipient is going to wind up just as dead either way. Still, for some reason it caught whatever it is that the news media uses instead of imagination.

Execution by firing squad is legal in Utah and only at the request of the recipient. Excuse me, that needle looks dirty, do mind shooting me instead? As I understand it the Mormon faith (quite strong in Utah) believes in blood expiation. That is you can atone for your sins by shedding your own blood. Since most forms of execution don't actually shed blood death row inmates in Utah are given the option of death by firing squad which does. Especially if its done badly.

Take Marshal Ion Antonescu for example. He was dictator of Romania during the Second World War and led his country against the Soviet Union at Hitler's side. In Romania political miscalculation wasn't a hanging offence, it was a firing squad offence. After the war the communists took over and Antonescu, quite predictably, wound up with his back against a wall. Antonescu was fully aware of the shortcomings of the Romanian army and when the firing squad didn't actually manage to kill him his last words were said to be "You can't get anything right". The officer charged with delivering the coup de grace then proved him wrong.

Firing squads have always been popular in the army and various military aligned criminals (eg Hermann Goering) were terribly miffed when sentenced to hang rather than be shot. I must confess by the time the judge put the black cap on his head I would have lost interest in the proceedings but I suppose it matters to some people.

Frankly, if you're going to go the blood expiation route I can't help thinking the guillotine is the baby you want. Although possibly the authorities in Utah felt it was a little too French. Methods of execution have changed over the years as people have noticed that killing folk tends to hurt. Somehow ending somebodies life is a lot more acceptable if they don't suffer too much.

The truth of the matter is that a humane execution is much easier on the people watching. It is a lot easier to be comfortable with the death penalty if the person most directly involved isn't screaming for twenty minutes. If you really wish to ban capital punishment you shouldn't make executions less painful you should make them more painful. There would be very few people who would be prepared to stomache an execution if the method used was a chainsaw.

In the same way that funerals have very little to do with the actual dead person so executions have very little to do with the condemned person. Funerals and executions both exist largely so that the living can feel better about themselves and move on with their lives. This isn't a bad thing since the subject of both either has, or soon will have, no interest in proceedings whatsoever.

Does anybody honestly believe that a dead person is monitoring their own funeral to see how many people turn up and whether a good show was put on? I won't be. I fully intend to have better things to do with my afterlife than hanging around something as depressing as a funeral, particularly my own. Similarly an execution, the condemned is probably more interested in making sure his last meal is well cooked than what happens later. Like most things funerals and executions are designed for the spectators rather than the participants. Don't tell the condemned though, for many of them this will be their one moment in the spotlight and you don't want to ruin it for them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Thar She Craps

Hooray! The earth is saved. Global warming, assuming it ever existed, is fated to enter the dustbin of history along with Trotsky. The reason: Whale shit! Apparently sperm whales are a blubber laden carbon sink. For years it was assumed that because they exhaled they were contributing to increased carbon dioxide emissions but no, sperm whales have learnt to crap in an environmentally responsible way.

Sperm whales find their food in the dark, icy depths of the ocean but, sensibly not wishing to foul their own kitchen, they tend to excrete very close to the surface. This is great news (unless you happen to be swimming nearby) because sperm whale shit is incredibly high in iron and is a natural breeding ground for phytoplankton (whatever that is) which just yums up the CO2. Sperm whales are helping to fight global warming. Its a pity we killed most of them really. Oh well, live and learn.

The thing to do now, of course, is to embark on a crash sperm whale breeding programme until we get their numbers back up to pre "Call me Ishmael" levels. Admittedly I'm not quite sure how to do this but porn seems to work for pandas so I suggest we start there. We'll need some hot fluke on fluke action and a flat screen and dvd player that work under water. Surely this is not beyond our capabilities.

Once the oceans are swarming with sperm whales we can adjust our emissions to coincide with whale levels. Forget carbon trading, we're going to have a Blubber Index. Polluting industries will have their yearly emissions measured and they will be informed of the number of sperm whales they will need to provide to cover the increase. I envision that makers of whale porn are going to be very busy indeed, although probably not as busy as the whales. I estimate that by the year 2045 the oceans will be so full of sperm whales that we'll be able to walk from Canada to South Africa without getting our feet wet. Always assuming we were unfortunate enough to be in Canada or South Africa to begin with of course.

I have stated before that the greatest survival technique an animal can learn is to be useful to humans. Since climate change is the "terror de jour" I think the sperm whales are on to a winner. According to my research (by which I mean according to the research done by the writer of the article I read) it was a team led by Trish Lavery at the School of Biological Sciences at Flinders University who made the discovery. Personally I suspect the whales have simply hired a good PR team. One can almost imagine the strategy session.
"Come on, we've got find a reason for humans not to kill you".
"Well, you know how our shit smells like rust? Maybe we can do something with that".
I understand there was intense lobbying from People for the Ethical Treatment of Phytoplankton as well (don't laugh if there isn't such a group, there will be). Well, its all come good now, the sperm whale is saved. For a while anyway.

Naturally there will be risks attached to a cetacean governed climate policy. At some point as technology marches on we will no doubt actually start to decrease our own carbon emissions. With all the whales flopping about this could lead to the risk that too much carbon dioxide is sucked from the atmosphere leading to a global freeze and a new ice age. Gosh the climate is a fickle little minx isn't she? There will need to be careful monitoring to determine when the whales start soaking up more than we're putting in. At this point the solution is simple; we start killing them again. Call me Ishmael, in about thirty years time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More Silly After Action Reports

JunoBear came and went with much rejoicing from the assembled masses. In a room above that bustling Mecca of urban sophistication that is Paddington RSL we gathered to play ASL until it came out our ears. Over two days I played three games and fundamentally had my arse handed to me in a sack. Before the suicidal lows however there was a brief high. Hi!

3rd RTR in the Rain

My first scenario was 3rd RTR in the Rain, opponent was Peter Palmer who took the British and gave away an extra German squad to do so. I would defend in all three scenarios and you'd think that I would get better at it but nooo.

The ATG went into T4 to cover the road. I bulked up in building P4 to extract casualties early and scattered the remainder of my defence across R5 and S6. My tanks would help cover the southern flank in case Peter tried a flanking manoeuvre through the woods.

The British struck in two directions at once, the main attack coming across the plowed field heading for P4 and a generous diversion heading south. Initial defensive fire shots send a couple of units scurrying back in rout including the mortar HS, oh joy. His tanks trundled forward looking to gain the wall at P6-P7. Three turns in and despite defensive fire his main force had closed up to P4 and was exchanging fire with the stalwart defenders who more than held their own. My tanks came on and were given an abrupt reality check when Peter destroyed the MkIV with his first shot from an A9. With two tanks guarding the wall Peter sent his remaining armour north to help break into P4, my ATG took out an A9 but the Vickers and an A13 pushed forward and soon my defenders were under severe pressure. VBM freeze allowed his troops into the building while my MkIIIs lurked nervously in the background and soon P4 was in danger of falling. With two turns to go and British squads infiltrating north of P4 to threaten the ATG and sieze buildings bravely defended by dummies I took two risky moves. I moved my tanks across the front of the British vehicles now safely behind their wall to challenge the tanks in the village and finally I committed myself to God and charged two squads and my 9-1 into close combat to retake P4. I killed a squad and lost one plus the leader. Bad, especially as his remaining tanks now moved forward as well. His A13 in the village immobilised a MkIII but the ATG immobilised the Vickers, both crews remained gallantly at their posts. Seeking to capitalise on his position Peter reinforced the melee in P4 with another squad and his own 9-1. In CC I killed them all and the game turned. Finally scored a tank victory when my surviving MkIII took out an A13 and the ATG took out the other A9. With victory within my grasp I damn near threw it away trying to recapture lost buildings (I could have just held tight) but fortunately the CC gods were kind and at the end Peter didn't have the time or the manpower to gain his objectives. A victory, yay Neil.

Ne Pas Subir

Yay not so Neil. I faced David Wallace in Ne Pas Subir where my heroic Germans were attempting to defend themselves against the scurrilous French who unreasonably wanted their country back. In contrast to 3rd RTR I never really felt I knew what I was doing here, David helped me realise that I was right, I didn't.

I hid my ATG behind a hedge near one bridge and set up the bulk of my forces in a pair of buildings covering the bridge. Then I just had to wait for the French to arrive. Arrive they did, squads charging forward to occupy the factory on board 23 and the dreaded Char Bs clunking forward in support. After that point I was simply shot to pieces. Two squads, an 8-1 and an lmg traded fire with a pair of French squads across the river. All wound up broken, the impact on the French? One squad became fanatic. Across from the factory my hmg and 9-1 likewise traded fire with a stack of French squads, hmg and 9-1. The result, he broke his hmg and generated a hero (not simultaneously) my 9-1 and HS crew likewise fled for the rear. My armour came on and was promptly dispatched by the Char Bs which were nosing across the bridge and doing great execution. My MkIII survived by hiding behind a building. Slowly but relentlessly the Char Bs smashed position after position my only response was a couple of shock results from my ATG firing into their rear. In turn five he sent his infantry across, my surviving units fought hard and broke some units but ultimately I was doomed and I conceded with tears in my eyes.

Melee Near the Coast

My third and final defence saw me commanding the Chinese as they attempt to hold back rampaging Japanese attackers. I actually quite liked the Chinese in this one and cheerfully chose them while Dave Wilson selected the attacking Japs. The mmg, a squad and the 8-1 went on the hill in the north while a pair of chunky stacks went into the jungle. A mix of squads and dummies served as speed bumps in the buildings near the creek. A mortar went up on the ridge and would soon prove its utter worthlessness. A couple more speed bumps on board 47 and the remaining squads went to defend the village that I confidently (and accurately) expected my shattered forces to retreat onto.

Dave sent a large force through the jungle while all his mortars and a smaller force went for the buildings near the stream. Luck was with me as his mortars couldn't buy a smoke shell and one of them ran out of WP as well. He matched my two stacks in the jungle with two of his own and charged forward stripping their concealment and then heading into CC. My defensive fire had some effect but my stack of two squads, 8-0 and lmg pinned on his advance fire and died completely in CC for no result. The other stack did better killing a squad and an officer and falling back in reasonable order. On the other side of the board he closed up to the buildings near the stream and in the next couple of turns ground his way through them. He banzai'ed out of the stream but the remnants of my force fell back in reasonable order (routing skillfully) leaving a broken mortar behind them. My reinforcements came on securing a couple of rear buildings as he closed up on the village. In turn five I thought it looked good for me. In turn six I thought it looked ok. In turn seven I shook Dave's hand as he crushed my positions and one deeply annoying HS ruined my last counter attack. Sigh!

Much fun had by all, thanks to Aaron who organised a great tournament with a very good turnout.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Australia: Come for the Sharks, Stay for Dinner

I love newspapers, the tiny little snippets of news they give to fill out the commercials frequently fill me with joy. Just the other day I read about an heroic surf boarder who punched a shark and then rode a wave to safety. What a guy! Very impressive of course but I would have been happier if it had been the other way round. Imagine how cool it would have been if he had punched a wave and then rode a twenty four foot, fin bedecked killing machine to safety. The shark would have come to a stop on the sand with a screech and he could have jumped off looking all cool and chiseled. His mates would have been impressed and his mates younger sister who has had a crush on him since she was twelve would have thrown herself at his feet. Opportunity missed son.

We in Australia have a strange relationship with sharks. We love the fact that our sharks are some of the most go to predators in the world but then we get all worked up when the occasional one predates on us. We can't get through a Summer without having the "Should we kill every shark in the world just to be on the safe side" debate. Sharks kill fewer people each year than a good Saturday night at the pub but the debate continues nevertheless. Personally I think we are under utilizing our shark resources. Humans love dangerous, risky activities while at the same time being terrified of quite ordinary things. A sixteen year old girl sails solo round the world and she's a hero but if a ten year old plays in the park alone Social Services will be visiting her parents.

Back to sharks; we need to market them. We need to promote Australia as a shark friendly environment. At the present moment we have whacking great nets that fence off a number of beaches during the Summer months. The intention is to keep sharks on the other side so people can swim in safety. What they actually do is kill marine life (except for seahorses which like them, something else I learned in the paper). My proposition is this; remove the nets from all beaches and then market swimming at them as an adrenaline sport. We can charge thrill seekers simply for dipping a toe in the water on the offchance that a hungry sea denizen will bite it off.

Australia has always been a little short of impressive killer animals. Yes we do have some of the deadliest animals in the world but they're not the right type. Kenya has lions, we have funnel web spiders. In Kenya the presence of lions has led to safari parks, high end tourist traffic and Big Cat Diaries. The presence of funnel webs has led to nothing more than a slight increase in sales of pesticide. Funnel webs are about as deadly as small animals get but nobody is going to pay thousand of dollars to be driven around the bush in a land rover looking for one. Especially when you can find them in your bed free after heavy rain. We have snakes too of course, again some of the deadliest in the world but lets face it, nobody goes to see a snake unless its around the neck of a stripper and those usually aren't the deadly ones.

What we do have is sharks. The extreme swimming idea is just the beginning. People pay to go whale watching, that is they shell out good money to go and watch gargantuan lumps of blubber wallow about the ocean. Surely people would pay more to go shark watching, particularly if there was a danger of being eaten. For starters sharks are more interactive than whales. People can swim up to and on occasion climb on top of whales. Try that with a shark. Even if the swimmer himself isn't pleased with the result I'll bet it will be must see viewing for everybody else on the tourist boat. Then of course we can have the shark activists who will be complaining about the cruel exploitation of these misunderstood Samaritans of the deep and will try to ram fishing vessels that catch them. At this point I can hear Japanese fishermen banging their heads and wondering if they can ever win a trick but the sacrifice (by them not us) will be worth it. Shark activists will publicise sharks and bring people flocking to see them, play with them, feed them and occasionally die horribly in close proximity to them. If the shark activists really get bent out of shape we can point out that being exploited by humans is how other animals survive. Despite all the beef eating the cow isn't exactly an endangered species.

Hopefully after a few years of this policy the nations coffers will be full once again and sharks will have heard the news and come flocking if not to our shores then at least to our just offshores. Come on sharks, you know it makes sense. Crocodiles have been carrying the burden for far too long.

Birthday Greetings #7

Happy birthday to Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor 1658-1705. A younger son of emperor Ferdinand III Leopold was originally intended for the church but when his older brother died he found himself at the head of the Habsburg family domains and in 1685 was elected Holy Roman Emperor after his fathers death. By this time the Holy Roman Empire was little more than lines on a map as all of the collection of statelets that comprised it tended to do whatever they wanted. The emperor couldn't guarantee to get their attention much less their obedience. Despite this events played into Leopold's hands somewhat as a series of wars with France and the Ottomans (along with judiciously granted concessions) encouraged at least some of the states to fall in line with their imperial "master".

Leopold might be better known if he hadn't lived at the time when Louis XIV was sun kinging around France. As it was Leopold got into three wars with France over various issues but essentially due to the fact that most people thought the King of France was quite powerful enough already. Fortunately for Leopold "most people" included Britain (once they got over Charles II's infatuation with Louis and dumped an appropriately Protestant monarch on the throne). In addition to military support Britain provided the perennially broke Habsburgs with the money needed to maintain armies and fight wars. Honours were divided in the first two conflicts but in the third, the War of the Spanish Succession, the House of Habsburg came out a clear winner although Leopold was dead by the time it was over.

When he wasn't occupied with France Leopold spent his time dealing with the other two problems that never went away for the Habsburgs. Rebellion in Hungary and war with the Ottoman Turks. Leopold had defeated (not personally, he never commanded his armies in the field) the Turks early in his reign but had let them down lightly in the peace talks because he needed his army to fight one of his wars with France. Hungary at this time was split in two; most of it was ruled by semi independent Turkish pashas who ultimately owed allegiance to the Sultan in Constantinople. The northern strip was still under Habsburg control but this control was exercised through a self willed Magyar nobility who essentially remained loyal to the Habsburgs as long as the Habsburgs didn't tell them what to do. Leopold's victory over the Turks first delighted and then disgusted the Magyars as it seemed he threw away the fruits of victory in a shameful peace. Nothing loathe they decided to continue the war on their own account. When Leopold tried to stop them they rose in revolt.

The revolt was quickly crushed but Leopold went too far and attempted to make the Hungarian nobility pay for his occupying force. Furthermore he forbade them from simply passing the costs onto the Hungarian peasantry which was their normal reaction to royal taxation. Grim faced Catholic priests also descended on a Hungary at least partly Calvinist and it wasn't long before most of Hungary was in an uproar again. The next peace treaty was far more conciliatory.

Then the Ottomans invaded, marched on Vienna (with a goodly proportion of the Magyar nobility cheering discreetly in the background) and besieged it for several months. Leopold fled his capital but persuaded the Polish king to take it back for him. With victory over the Turks Leopold's army pursued and reconquered pretty much all of Hungary for the first time in over a century.

Flushed with victory Leopold then got into another war with Louis XIVs France. Fortunately for the House of Habsburg something unusual happened; they got a military genius to command their army. In 1683 a nineteen year old member of some pissant Italo-French nobility asked Louis XIV for command of a company in the French army. Louis refused, "the request was modest, not so the petitioner" was his comment later. In what some might consider an overreaction the petitioner turned his back on his king and offered his sword to Leopold. His name was Eugene of Savoy and he would prove to have the ability to back up his opinion of himself. He fought at the siege of Vienna, won a staggering victory against the Turks at the Battle of Zenta and then returned to command Imperial forces on the Rhine where he combined with the British Duke of Marlborough in one of the most successful military partnerships of all time. Leopold contented himself with cheering them on from the sidelines.

When he wasn't organising wars, crushing Hungarians and selling Protestant preachers as galley slaves (look it up) Leopold wrote music and attempted to bring some order to the rather chaotic administration of his lands. He dismissed his chancellor for corruption but even the audit committee found itself unable to disentangle the web of corruption and was forced to make guesses as to the amount of money the chancellor had actually stolen.

Leopold died in 1705 while the War of the Spanish Succession was still going on. There was some talk of posthumously christening him Leopold the Great in recognition of the conquests made in his name but eventually everyone decided on Leopold the More or Less Good Enough.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Vote for Neil is a Vote for Depraved Insanity

A pale yellow disc appeared in the skies today causing consternation among the people. Peasants cowered fearfully in their huts and various religions vied to proclaim their own particular end of days. My grandfather told me there was no need to worry; the disc, he said, was called the Sun and it was once very common in the days before the rain. I don't know whether to believe him or not, he has been dead for several years and is probably not up to speed with today's weather conditions.

It has been an interesting week on the weather front (get it) in New South Wales. Mini tornadoes have hit a couple of areas and left litter all over the place. Our state premier (the cute blonde with the American accent for those who can't remember or desire to forget) declared a state of emergency at Lennox Head but didn't seem to have any TV advertising ready. It isn't really an emergency if it doesn't have a sizeable publicity budget.

Of course it's entirely possible that the emergency the premier declared was a reference to the state of her government. On reviewing the previous sentence I realise I should have used inverted commas around the last word. Following hard on the heels of the resignation in disgrace of the MP for Penrith the government has now lost three ministers in a fortnight. The Minister for Transport decided to spend more time with his wife after being caught leaving a gay bathhouse. The Minister for Special Events resigned after being caught accepting favours from an industry connected to his portfolio and the Minister for Juvenile Justice resigned on what appears to be, at first glance, a matter of principle. Apparently the government was juvenile enough for him but didn't possess enough justice.

Seriously, the Minister for Juvenile Justice resigned after conducting a review into the entire system of juvenile justice and making a series of recommendations that were ignored in their entirety by the government. In these circumstances the minister felt he had to resign. Who would have thought we had such ministers left to us. Well we don't, he just resigned. Rather than take the risk of promoting somebody else the premier chopped up all of these portfolios and scattered them around those ministers possessed of such little sense of shame that they still turn up to collect their pay. We don't get an election until March which means there is time to have another three premiers before then.

For those people too nauseated to think about it let's review the list of premiers provided to us by the ruling political party. Firstly there was Bob Carr who was premier for ten years and provided an illusion of efficiency by robbing Peter to pay Paul. He fled just before everybody realised that Peter was us ten years later. He was replaced by Morris Iemma who actually won an election shortly afterwards which can only be explained by pointing out that the opposition is a worthless bucket of crap as well. Morris may have been able to see off the opposition but he wasn't able to defeat his colleagues. With the state's infrastructure disintegrating around him poor old Morris tried to do the only thing he could; sell the governments one remaining money spinner, electricity generation, for enough money to at least patch some of the leaks in the roof. The unions didn't like that idea and they arranged for Iemma and his treasurer to both be tossed out and replaced. Iemma's replacement was Nathan Rees a man whose major qualification was that he hadn't done anything and therefore couldn't be proved to have done anything wrong. Sadly for Rees the premiership seems to have gone to his head. Realising that the public were getting increasingly disgusted at the backroom dealing and shadowy king making that typified the government he attempted to assert his independence and name his own cabinet. The backroom dealers and shadowy kingmakers promptly ambushed him, tossed his knife riddled carcass into the gutter and proclaimed Kristina Keneally premier. So far her role has been to protest continually that she isn't a puppet and to accept the resignation of one minister after another.

I do feel sorry for David Campbell, the Minister for Transport although even as I type those words I feel disgusted with them. The simple fact of the matter is he was a wretched minister in a wretched government who should have been hounded over a cliff by a pack of hunting dogs years ago. What he did not deserve was to be followed on his own time by a media outlet with a grudge to settle and have what he did in his spare time splashed all over the news. Said media outlet did try to make some pretence of there being a public interest but I was pleased to see that most of the interested public responded with disgust (against the media outlet not Campbell just for the record). Barely had Campbell's carcass been dragged from the floor like a bear at the end of a baiting when all the other resignations turned up. If things keep going at this rate I might be premier myself by the end of January.

If I am premier my reign shall be harsh and capricious. I will sell the states electricity generation business but I will sell it to myself for a dollar. I will ban all religions except the Jehovah's Witnesses and force everybody to spend twenty hours a week knocking on each others doors to spread the word. Just when it appears that everyone has accepted the new religion I will deify myself and get everyone to start again. I will hand responsibility for the health department over to the Federal government but keep all of the funding and finally I will declare war on Lord Howe Island. My ministers shall be chosen on the basis of who can dance on broken glass for longest and I will solve traffic congestion problems by demolishing Sydney and turning it into a carpark. My birthday will be declared a state holiday and woe betide the interest group who doesn't turn up laden with choice presents.

Of course the election will be in March so, assuming I take power in January, I will only have three months to implement all of this. I'm not worried though, with the current state of the opposition I could probably take the above to the people as an election manifesto and be returned with an increased majority. Hear me ye mortals, for Neil the God is coming and I shall bring unto your lives misery, suffering, despair and unreliable electricity generation. In short it will be remarkably like the state government we have right now.

Vote 1 Neil.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Mozambique Update!!

Good news for Mozambique. One of their citizens, a certain Mohamed Bachir Suleman has just been proclaimed a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker by the US government. This is great for Mozambique, finally they can claim to have "arrived". No longer will compliance and security websites demeaningly write off Mozambique as a potential criminal haven due to the lack of a sophisticated financial industry to launder drug profits. Mr Suleman has really put his country on the map. It's in the lower bit of Africa to the right of Zimbabwe.

Amusingly it took less time for Mr Suleman to be recognised by the US government than it did the entire country of Mozambique. There are already plans being made to cash in on the nations new found fame as tourist industries prepare for a sudden influx of American law enforcement officials. While they're there perhaps they could enjoy some retail therapy at the Maputo Shopping Centre in the capital. On second thoughts better not, it happens to be owned by Mr Suleman and has likewise been designated a SDNT. Something to remember if you find yourself in downtown Mozambique and want to pick up a couple of postcards.

Congratulations Mozambique and kudos to Mr Suleman. In one swoop you have made your country as well known in certain American circles as Guinea-Bissau and Colombia. The aid dollars to upgrade your police force should be flowing any time now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Let's Hope Mozambique Can Make the Commonwealth Proud

It's almost World Cup time. All over South Africa people are polishing sports stadiums, giving the animals in the safari parks a final manicure and trying to persuade the murderers and rapists to take the fortnight off. Australia is there of course; with the possible exception of Afghanistan's pro-am buzkashi tournament there isn't a single sporting competition in the world we can stay away from. We even compete in elephant polo for god's sake.

What I find amazing is how soccer (sorry, football) which is only of passing interest to most Australians in the general run of things suddenly becomes desperately important with every world cup. We watch, we agonise, we comment knowledgeably on the injuries to our star players and hope that this time it will be our year. Which is crazy because until recently Australia's football league was little more than an excuse for Serbian and Croatian immigrants to beat each other up. Things have changed in the last few years and we now actually have an Australian competition which has almost as much credibility as our basketball league. Still, football not exactly the top pick of sports played in this land. Nevertheless we will be devastated if our team (specially retrieved from the overseas clubs they play for) doesn't astonish the world. Personally I hope we can beat the United States, another great football nation.

You may find this odd but I think the US might be a nation to watch out for in the football stakes. Immigration from Central America has reached a point where California could probably field its own team for the world cup. Football will only get bigger in America mark my words.

We have an embarrassment of riches in the sporting field at the moment. Later this year the Commonwealth Games will be held in India. For those who don't know the Commonwealth Games is a sporting competition held between those nations that used to be part of the British Empire plus Mozambique and Rwanda for reasons nobody can really explain. Seventy two teams will compete for the glory of taking home medals that will seem impressive until the athletes in question come fifth at the Olympic Games two years later.

Why are Rwanda and Mozambique in the Commonwealth? Of course it is now known as the Commonwealth of Nations rather than the British Commonwealth for reasons that are obscure but probably have something to do with political correctness. Apparently its OK to have an association based on places that Britain used to rule as long as nobody mentions the fact. But Britain never ruled Rwanda or Mozambique. Rwanda was ruled (rather unpleasantly) by the Belgians and Mozambique was ruled (or rather mismanaged) by the Portuguese. I can't help thinking that at some point the rulers of those nations saw most of their neighbours jetting off to junkets in countries far more appealing than their own and decided to get a little of that action.

Rwanda is just recovering from a period of hideous genocide and according to recent media reports is preparing enthusiastically for the next one while Mozambique is a positive success story with a democratic government and economic growth despite the fact that the main crop is still landmines left over from their own civil war. With foundations like these it is easy to see that they will have a long and successful membership of the Commonwealth. At the present moment Algeria, Sudan, Madagascar and Yemen have all applied for membership of the Commonwealth. I have nothing against any of these nations (except maybe Sudan) but come on. If we keep letting people in at this rate the Commonwealth is going to wind up as bad as the UN. Sudan and Yemen at least can claim to have been oppressed by the British at some point in their past but Algeria and Madagascar were French. Shouldn't the French have their own Commonwealth of Nations Who Kicked the French Out in a Bloody Civil War? There is something called the Francophonie (glorious name by the way) which is a collection of nations that speak French. Naturally Greece and Romania are members and Mozambique has observer status. What, precisely are they observing? Hey look there's a bunch of people speaking French, and occasionally Romanian or Greek.

Mozambique just loves the international bodies. As well as being a member of the Commonwealth and observers of the Francophonie they actually started their own group as well, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries which is a collection of nations linked to Portugal and the Portuguese language. It has eight members all of whom speak Portuguese but watch this space because Romania is trying to angle in here as well, its bid for observer status will be discussed at the next meeting in 2012. Romania needs to start its own group; Association of Nations Who Speak Their Own Language but Love Foreign Travel comes to mind as an appropriate title.

No doubt in the fullness of time the Francophonie and the CPLC will have their own games (if they don't already) where athletes will strive to compete for medals that even Commonwealth Games title holders will look down upon. When that day happens I'm prepared to bet that Australia will somehow wangle an invite to send a team.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maybe Israel and Foxconn Should Swap Leadership

Two things seem to be occupying the news at the moment. The regrettable habit employees at a giant Chinese factory have of killing themselves and the equally regrettable habit of the Israelis in finding new ways to screw up their public image.

First to China where a company called Foxconn manufactures iThings for the delectation of the rest of the world. At the moment it would appear that this is only a sideline. The main thing the company is doing right now is mopping bits of its employees off the sidewalks. Dark mutterings have been made about working conditions, pay, stress and so on. Foxconn stick to your guns! There are millions more poverty stricken peasants in rural China who will leap to fill any positions prematurely emptied by the lemming like activities of your current workforce. I realise this sounds cruel but I own an iPod, an iTouch and various other electronic whateverthehells. I don't plan to mail them back to China any time soon. Those who enjoy these sophisticated little toys will either have to do without or become comfortable with the fact that they are horrible people.

I thought it was rather courageous of the boss of the company to hold a media conference in front of a completely empty company swimming pool while a steady rain of employees whistled to their deaths in the background. One way Foxconn could improve their public image is by introducing a new company motto: "Foxconn, we have nothing to do with Israel".

Which leads us on to Israel. Israel, I have just one question. What the fuck? I mean what did you, who thought that, I mean oh Jesus Christ, God Almighty and by the beard of the Prophet are you channeling George W Bush or what? Seriously Israel, you have got to get over this addiction to cool special forces operations. Its become a sickness. I call it Entebbe Syndrome. It works sometimes but when it doesn't it really screws up.

I must admit I have very little sympathy for the people who died. If you attack an Israeli commando with an iron bar I would say that being killed is probably the best outcome you could hope for but lets look at the big picture here. The activists on this flotilla set a trap for Israel. The Israelis didn't walk into it, oh no. They took a helicopter. They actually sought out the trap and then rappelled into it. Now everybody who hates Israel is howling like a banshee and even those of us who like them are wondering seriously about their judgement. This was never going to be an easy one to win but there were ways of mitigating the fall out.

Israel; listen very carefully, this is what you should have done. Leave the commandos at home. Wait until the ships hit your territorial waters and then surround them in broad daylight with your navy. Contact the flotilla and tell them simply that you're coming aboard, that the troops you're sending will be armed and that they have orders to respond to any violence with deadly force. At the same time guarantee that any non military aid on board will be permitted through to Gaza via Israeli distribution points. After that you board the vessels and take them over. All the time you're doing this you have film crews recording the action and uploading it live to the internet so that the world can see in real time what you're doing and what the activists are doing to you in response. There may still be violence, there may still be deaths and of course those who wish to blame Israel for absolutely anything will still blame you for what happens but your friends will be able to defend you with a clear conscience and without having to look embarrassed at the press conferences. It may sometimes seem like you're alone in the world but you're not unless you persuade those who like you that you're just too unstable to be trusted.

Since you didn't follow this advice at least try to put a positive spin on things. You could, for instance, point out that the operation still has a lower death toll than working at Foxconn.

Incidentally, Foxconn has announced that there will be generous pay rises for their employees. Their share price dropped two percent on the news. Purchasers of iStuff get ready for higher prices.