Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why Do We Always Have to Give Something Up?

Someone I know posted a link on Facebook today entitled 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy.  I'm sure the person (or people) who compiled that list did it with the best of intentions and I'm sure there is some cogent advice lurking within the suggestions which many people would do well to follow.  However I'm not entirely sure that as a quick recipe to bliss this is necessarily the best path to follow.  The suggestions are as follows;

1.  Give Up Your Need to be Always Right
2.  Give Up Your Need for Control
3.  Give Up on Blame
4.  Give Up Your Self Defeating Self Talk
5.  Give Up Your Limiting Beliefs
6.  Give Up Complaining
7.  Give Up the Luxury of Criticism
8.  Give Up Your Need to Impress Others
9.  Give Up Your Resistance to Change
10. Give Up Labels
11. Give Up on Your Fears
12. Give Up Your Excuses
13. Give Up the Past
14. Give Up Attachment
15. Give Up Living Your Life to Other People's Expectations

As I said, there is some good advice buried in there if you take it in context and don't go nuts.  Let us admit, however, that the human race does have this tendency to go nuts over various ideas (and the nuttier the idea the more likely it is to happen) and there are times when the wholehearted acceptance of anything leads only to disaster.  Just to play devil's advocate (which pays much better than prosecutor) let's do a little analysis of these suggestions.

1.  Give Up Your Need to be Always Right.  I don't know if I would call it a need but it is certainly nice to be right.  Useful too, particularly when reading a map.  Personally I would rather like to be right all the time.  It would take a lot of the angst out of decision making.  Naturally everybody else would hate me.  People always hate those who are right all the time.  But the only other option is to be deliberately wrong.  This may well lead to temporary happiness up until that point when you confidently assert that the train looming down on you will stop in time.  After that things might get a bit messy.

2.  Give Up Your Need for Control.  Again, its nice to be in control.  Of course you can't control everything and there are some things which arguably you shouldn't control such as the lives of others or (in my case) anything breakable or dangerous.  Still, if the aforementioned train is bearing down on you it might be handy if you could control that.

3.  Give Up on Blame.  A fine sentiment on the surface.  But if everybody gave up on blame then nobody would be blamed for anything.  Which means that nobody would have to face any consequences for their actions.  I'm not sure that this would improve either the world or my personal happiness.

4.  Give Up Your Self Defeating Self Talk.  Yes, I will concede this one despite the tortured syntax.  Defeatism is a terrible drag on going out and doing what needs to be done.  On the other hand if you are manifestly unfit to be doing what you're attempting then a little constructive defeatism might just keep life in your body for a few more years.

5.  Give Up Your Limiting Ideas.  This one would sound fine if they hadn't attempted to emphasise the point by saying "spread your wings and fly".  I earnestly entreat you not to spread your wings and fly otherwise you will find that instead you have flapped your arms and fallen.  Possibly to a hideous death.  Limits are imposed on what we can do.  They aren't imposed by us necessarily, they are imposed by things like gravity, ballistics and inertia.  Ignore them at your peril.

6.  Give Up Complaining.  This won't make you happier but it will certainly make everybody around you happier.  On that basis I'm prepared to accept this one.  Or to put it another way; Shut the fuck up, nobody cares.

7.  Give Up the Luxury of Criticism.  See blame.  Yes criticism, especially unjustified or ignorant criticism is tedious, irritating and frequently an absolute pain in the neck.  I would be firmly in favour of abolishing unjustified criticism as long as we didn't toss justified criticism out with the bathwater.

8.  Give Up Your Need to Impress Others.  This one seems unimpeachable but there is actually a need to impress others.  Nobody builds a genuine relationship whether of love or friendship with somebody who doesn't impress them in some way.  Unless your idea of bliss is to be vaguely well thought of but utterly ignored by absolutely everybody you are going to have to impress somebody and that might take a bit of effort.

9.  Give Up Your Resistance to Change.  Yes, embrace change.  Remember this when somebody suggests your entrails might look better on the outside of your body for a change.  Resistance to change is not some piece of stupid dogmatism it is a survival technique.  For every bold adventurer who stepped forth into the unknown and returned covered in glory there are a hundred who stepped forth straight into a lion's jaws.  I don't say you should be violently opposed to change but I do suggest that you walk around change, inspect it closely from all angles and assure yourself as far as you can that it isn't simply bloody silly.

10.  Give Up Labels.  This would be self evidently stupid if they hadn't gone on to say "Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different and try opening your mind."  This is good advice but keep the labels handy anyway.  Its entirely possible that once you have opened your mind and accepted these people or events that you didn't understand you will come to realise that they are still weird and different (and quite possibly insane).  Then it will be helpful to have a label to tag them with so you don't get caught out next time.

11.  Give Up On Your Fears.  They punctuate this point by quoting Franklin D Roosevelt "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" and possibly Nazis and polio.  Fear has its place.  I don't keep my hands out of the fire for the hell of it, I'm just afraid of getting burnt.  If the human race were without fear by this stage we would also be without humans.  Fear does a pretty good job of counteracting people's natural stupidity.

12.  Give Up Your Excuses.  Indeed.  From now on accept that every slight, failure, loss and miserable occurrence is all your own fault.  This will make you much happier.  I actually support this one but not because I think it will increase anyones happiness.

13.  Give Up the Past.  Understandable advice but difficult.  The past is the only thing we actually own.  The present is shared between everybody else and Christ knows who's going to be running the future.  Beside the past has valuable lessons to teach us.  If you did something in the past which made you miserable your future happiness is unlikely to be improved by ignoring that.

14.  Give Up Attachment.  No!  We are all attached to each other.  Some of the bonds are stronger than others, some are so faint as to be almost invisible but they are there.  The writer points out that he doesn't mean to give up loving but merely attachment because that comes from fear.  At this point he is talking total rubbish.  I love books but I'm not attached to them.  The love I have for my friends and family comes with attachment.  I am linked to them as I am not to my books (no matter how much I might say I love them) and I would consign all my books to the flames tomorrow to help friends or family.  I would not burn my friends for the sake of my books.  That's the difference between love with and without attachments.

15.  Give Up Living Your Life to Other Peoples Expectations.  Sound advice within reason.  There are some occasions when it is very wise to live your life to other peoples expectations particularly if those other people are your employers or a parole board for example.  Beyond that there are certain people who make us better than we are because we don't want to disappoint them.

In conclusion (finally) if one succeeded in giving up all of the above possibly you would be happy but you would have given up so much of yourself that it is difficult to see what exactly would be happy.  Certainly it wouldn't be anyone your friends or family would recognise or, in all likelihood, want to spend much time with.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Bread and Dynamite

Never cast your bread upon the water.  For one thing it makes the bread all soggy.  Secondly there seems to be little point unless you enjoy the sight of your sandwich floating gently down the stream.

What was the origin of that particular phrase I wonder?  I've read Tom Sawyer so I know that once upon a time people used bread to find bodies that had been taken by the river but unless you have a fetish for waterlogged corpses (and if you do please don't leave a comment) I don't really see the point.  After all you don't want to be tripping over time expired corpses every time you toss a loaf into the water.  Feeding ducks would become a thing of horror.

In fact the only reason I can think of for throwing a loaf of bread into a river is if you're hoping to hit a fish.  A yummy fish dinner would certainly make up for the fact that you're definitely not going to be having toast.  Still if that is your intention you would probably do better to cast dynamite upon the water.  Then you'll be able to have fish and toast and the gunpowder will probably provide a little seasoning.

For some reason fishing with dynamite does seem to be a little frowned on by purists.  I'm not entirely sure why.  Personally I can't see a heck of a lot of difference between killing fish with the locally acquired equivalent of a depth charge and dragging them from their native habitat by ramming a steel hook into the roof of their mouth.  I know which I would prefer if given a choice.  I suspect there is a bit of snobbery behind the entire prejudice against dynamite.  Dynamite fishing is considered to be the preserve of semi literate rednecks whereas angling is the preserve of semi literate rednecks who can afford fishing gear.

Of course the truly destitute are reduced to hurling lumps of bread at passing fish and hoping for the best.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chasing the Fuzzy Green Dragon

Ha ha!  The days of chilly feet are over.  I have just taken delivery of my brand new, fuzzy, green dragon slippers.  No longer will my ankles feel as though they are teetering on unstable blocks of ice.  I can face the upcoming Winter with casual aplomb secure in the knowledge that my feet are nestled in the dragons embrace.

At what point in human development was it decided that civilisation would not advance another step until somebody invented novelty slippers?  What is even more surprising is that civilisation (or some unreasonable facsimile of it) continued to advance after their invention.  Personally I'm amazed that we didn't just collapse in a welter of self indulgent decadence as all our best and brightest wallowed in the sheer delight of novelty slippers.  I know that I was incredibly tempted to take the day off simply so I could bury my feet in my dragons and relax.

I suppose the human race is fortunate that its destiny is guided by people who have a greater sense of duty than I do.  These paragons of virtue eschew the enervating luxury of novelty slippers to better guide the people of Earth to a safer and happier tomorrow.  Pity them, these sacrifices to duty, as they go about their tasks their feet adorned not with funky bunny slippers or furry bear claws but instead the sensible, stylish footwear which both symbolises and epitomises the stern and crushing burden they have shouldered on our behalf.

Only the grim satisfaction of duty well done can go some small way to alleviate the slipperless deprivation in which they are forced to live out their existence (one could hardly call it a life).  Of course its possible I'm giving them too much credit.  For all I know as soon as the cameras taking the official photos have departed our political leaders toss aside their hated footwear of authority and revel in the most extravagant slippers of all.  That would certainly explain why the world is in such a mess.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Freeze to an Unbelievable Level is Coming

The sun is shining, the day is cold and crisp.  It is a perfect Winter's day.  The only problem is, it isn't Winter.  Officially we still have a few weeks of Autumn or, as our American cousins insist on calling it, Fall.  As season names go it has the advantage of brevity but I don't understand why the Americans didn't go the whole hog and rename the other seasons Burn, Freeze and Grow respectively.  Possibly because college students would feel like idiots going to Cancun on Grow Break.  And would Donna Summer have been quite so popular if her name was Donna Burn?

This is the sort of question that occupies my mind when I should be studying for my AML diploma.  The only time my mind thinks about AML is when I'm boring others who have absolutely no interest in the topic.  Hopefully my exam will be in the format of a conversation with the disinterested.

Still, I wouldn't mind calling Summer, Burn.  The only problem with naming the seasons like this is that it becomes a little too location specific.  Burn, Fall, Freeze and Grow might be fine for the United States and parts of Europe but the equivalent in Antarctica would be Freeze, Freeze More, Freeze to an Unbelievable Level and Still Freeze but with Penguins Hatching.  This would probably become annoying after a while.

Speaking of penguins has anybody noticed that emperor penguins are the only southern hemisphere animal to travel south for the Winter?  Apparently the coastline of Antarctica just isn't cold, bleak and desolate enough for them.  I can actually understand the rationale behind this.  If you can adapt to living in a frozen hell (and bits of Hell are frozen, just ask Dante) then predators and competitors for the local food supply are likely to be few and far between.  Although so is the local food supply.

Personally I think penguins should have stuck to more temperate climes.  Yes; the competition would have been fiercer but any bird that can adapt to living in the antarctic can surely adapt to this.  All it would have to do is grow bigger, fiercer, faster and get some serious teeth and claws.  Oh wait a minute.  Some penguins did do that only when they did it we started calling them tigers.

That Thing Too Embarrassed to Show its own Face is Democracy

Big news from the United States.  Mike the Headless Chicken has thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for the 2012 presidential election.  It remains to be seen what exactly will differentiate him from the headless chickens already in the race.  Nevertheless this remains the most significant political news to come out of America since Cthulhu ran for president under the slogan "Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?"

It must be conceded there are a few stumbling blocks to Mike's campaign.  Firstly; he's dead, although to be fair that didn't stop Reagan winning a second term.  Secondly; he's a chicken but since he can produce evidence that he was born in the United States that shouldn't be a problem.  Perhaps his biggest difficulty will be mobilising nationwide support.  He's popular locally (there's a statue to him in his home town) but Rudy Giuliani proved how difficult it is to translate local support into a genuine broad based movement.  Still, I can't wait for the candidate debates.  Democracy can only be the winner.

To see a place where democracy is a loser you only have to travel to Greece.  The Greeks have just had an election the only tangible results of which were terror on the financial markets and a stern injunction from their president to do it again and get it right this time.  The Greeks voted for a kaleidoscope of parties from the lunar right to the nut case left with the only consistent theme being that the mainstream parties should be hung upside down and bastinadoed until their feet fell off.  Not surprisingly no party could cobble together a coalition and the Greeks are going to have to go through the whole tedious process again in a few weeks.

The response to this has been panic across Europe as policy makers realise that the prospects of Greece paying its bills, not defaulting and staying in the euro are diminishing by the hour.  All in all Greece hasn't had this sort of impact on the world since the days of Alexander the Great.  Personally I don't have much sympathy for the Europeans; they are in the position of owners of a family company who suddenly realise that their idiot cousin has blown all of the company's money on coke and hookers.  My lack of sympathy derives from the fact that the people currently throwing up their hands in horror were the ones who promoted the idiot cousin to the board in the first place.  Although if the Greeks really had spent all that money on coke and hookers its arguable that their economy would likely be in better shape.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Another Silly After Action Report

On September 1st 1942 elements of the German army on the eastern front prepared to launch a counter attack to eliminate the Soviet bridgehead at Serafomovich.  But who cares about that?  A little further down the line the soldiers of the Italian "Tridentina" alpine division are hitching up their belts, chasing the chickens out of their tanks and trying to remember where they left their ammunition.  They too are preparing to attack.

Yesterdays ASL game saw me pitted against Ivan Kent in Scenario J130: The Art of Dying.  Ivan and I have similar skill levels (he's new, I'm an idiot) so the signs were auspicious for a good game.  The Art of Dying pits a force of fourteen Italian squads (half elite, half first line) attempting to capture a small village against a defending force of six and a half Soviet squads.  The Soviets have a medium machine gun, a pair of 76mm artillery pieces and a 9-0 commissar to tend to the men's political needs.  The Italian attack force is bolstered by a mmg, a flamethrower, a pair of demo charges and five L6/40 light tanks.  Starting on turn 2 the beleaguered Soviet garrison is reinforced by nine more squads (three of them elite), a pair of T-60 tanks (easily a match for the L6s in general crappiness) and an awesome 10-0 commissar.

So, to begin:  Ivan set up the bulk of his force a little back from the front line defending the woods and the graveyard.  The halfsquad with the mmg was naturally in the church steeple, lord of all it surveyed, and a squad each in the two outlying buildings in the west.  The commissar lurked on the ground floor of the church ready to issue the "last ration of the Soviet state" to anybody who broke under fire.  One of the 76s was placed near the church to cover the road and the graveyard and the other nestled in the western hex of the X13 building overlay.

My initial attack plan focused on taking out the two immediate threats, the mmg and what was obviously a squad with an ATR set up in 19N2 a little separate from his main defensive line that was obviously hoping to take out a tank or two.  These two locations plus a little preparation to deal with the upcoming reinforcements dictated my initial deployment.  I set up the bulk of the elite troops in and around the eastern edge of the woods to deal with that outlying squad and hopefully set myself up for some mmg shots at the steeple crew.  I put a 346 with an lmg in the grainfield from where it could easily establish itself in a building and cover the southern part of his reinforcements entry area.  Two 346 squads plus the 7-0 leader were placed far to the west to do a diversionary loop round the hill mass and hopefully give the his mmg something relatively unimportant to shoot at.  I brought one tank in straight up over the hill in the hopes of taking out that mmg while the other four advanced up the open ground to the east to cover the rest of the reinforcement entry area.

Oddly immediate success turned out to be almost unsettling as failure.  True, first blood went to Ivan when I idiotically moved a 346 squad up onto the hill only to have it killed outright by the mmg crew but everything else went according to plan.  My diversionary force (which diverted virtually nothing) made it around the hill and advanced daringly into the open.  The remainder of my force crawled forward through the forest, elite units on the right regulars on the left, to position themselves for a brutal struggle next turn.  Only it didn't quite happen like that.  True his mmg broke and ELRed one of my diversionary squads sending it yelping back to the 7-0 waiting in the woods for just such an occurrence but everything else went my way.  A lucky shot broke the mmg HS in the steeple and his isolated ATR squad in N2 crumbled before my elite troops the surviving HS surrendering.  I began my second turn with much of my firepower in the east against no opposition while three first line squads and flamethrower and DC toting halfsquads were pretty much all that could directly attack his main defensive line.

In my second turn I made some gains and also a dreadful mistake which almost cost me the game.  My tank on the hill rolled down to freeze one of his building squads in VBM thus affording a certain amount of security to the left flank of the main attack (although it also managed to break its main armament at the same time).  Safe(ish) on the left I moved 346 squads up to the graveyard hoping to draw some fire and give an easy path for my flamethrower and DC half squads.  It didn't work quite like that.  The DC half squad broke while trying to place the DC and the first of the 76s was revealed covering the graveyard.  The elite squads spent the turn reorganising themselves and moving up to support their 346 brethren and start flanking the church.  Fire was exchanged on both sides and broken units of both nationalities fled to their respective leaders for succour.  My two 8-1 leaders, lurking modestly in the woods did a sterling job of rallying the faint hearted (even newly created conscripts) and sending them back into battle.  Unfortunately for Ivan his 9-0 commissar went on a demented killing spree.  Starting with the HS crewing the mmg this charmer murdered a squad and a half of his own troops in unsuccessful rally attempts.  I think Ivan was more pleased that I was when the flamethrower reduced him to a greasy stain on the church wall.  I left one elite squad with the mmg in the forest covering the open ground to the east.  This would turn out to be a critical act particularly in light of the mistake I made.  What was this mistake?  With four L6/40 tanks strung out along the board covering the anticipated entry of Ivan's reinforcements I decided they would shoot even better if they they had a good view so I made them all crew exposed.  I had forgotten that the L6 has a one man turret and if the commander is looking around at the countryside he can't be firing his gun.  In one brilliant stroke I had converted four tanks into free standing steel sculptures of no particular value just as his reinforcements started pouring out of the woods.  Matters weren't helped when the mmg broke on its first shot.  Ivan sent his pair of tanks around the grainfield in the south, parked right next to one of my helpless L6s and cheerfully shot it to bits.  This would be the only tank on tank success for either side.  I should have been swamped by the reinforcements but fortunately my only well positioned squad (he of the broken mmg) managed to kill a 7-0 and CR an elite squad with him after which the remainder showed some circumspection which bought me just enough time to capture the church.  Broken units from this attack were rallied by my officers and I sent them east to form at least a pretense of a defensive line against the oncoming horde.  The propensity of Ivan's commissar for killing his own men greatly helped the attack on the church and when a morale check caused by the 76 resulted in an elite 447 going berserk and charging the gun crew I managed to capture not just the church but the gun as well.

With Ivan's reinforcements not yet in the battlezone I was able to deploy most of my firepower to winkling out the two squads now sitting isolated in the buildings to the west.  More VBM sleaze from my helpful L6 gave the one surviving squad from my diversionary force the opportunity to capture a building abandoned by a routing squad despite a positive rain of ATR fire.  Over to the east my tankers dropped back into their turrets and looked to see if there was anything they could do.  Seeing how useful VBM could be Ivan promptly brought his tanks up to freeze the bulk of my defensive line while his reinforcements scurried across to the woods near the X13 building which Ivan had obviously identified as his last line of defense.  The contribution my tanks made to all this?  One of them fired on a T-60, broke its main armament and then failed its repair roll and discreetly exited the scene.  At this point things stabilised for a while.  I had the flamethrower in the church, a captured mmg and the 76 next to it throwing firepower into building X13.  Ivan had his remaining 76 holding one hex and kept feeding reinforcements into the other hex to replace the ones my flamethrower burned out.  His 10-0 commissar was obviously made of sterner stuff than his 9-0 comrade because he managed to drive his singed troops back into battle with inspiring quotes from Stalin and blood curdling threats to their families.  I had four buildings and one gun.  I needed another gun or another building hex but I didn't see how I could get it.  His seventy six and rotating reinforcements solidly held X13 and I couldn't quite apply enough firepower to suppress enough of them to convince my (now predominantly conscript) force to dash out into the street.

My breakthrough came when Ivan decided to boost the firepower of his defending force by infiltrating one of his tanks (he didn't fail an independent movement roll all game) into the street between the two buildings.  Unfortunately in doing so he presented it as a target to my freshly acquired 76.  Captured use penalties be damned.  Hit, kill, burn.  Suddenly a pall of smoke was rising between us and with this impromptu smokescreen my conscripts felt a little better about stepping out into the street.  It also meant I could concentrate all my firepower on just one hex.  A few surviving squads with an lmg were sent through the woods just to completely divert the occupants of the eastern hex of the building and then I opened up with everything I had on his gun position.  The results weren't particularly impressive but Ivan obviously saw the writing on the wall because he took a move that astonished me completely.  On the theory that both the building hex and the gun occupying it were now significantly more vulnerable he used a squad to help the gun crew manhandle the gun out of the building to what he considered the safety of the open ground to the rear.  The 10-0 commissar also joined the fun.  It would turn out disastrously for him though.  Firstly with the gun gone my conscripts became very brave indeed and stormed into the building hex (my forest dwellers in the east having lost much blood to divert the troops in the other building hex) and then one of my L6s finally earned its pay.  I looked at the squad, gun crew and commissar in the open, counted the hexes, said a quiet prayer and launched my nearest tank on an overrun mission.  His shot with the 76 went wide and suddenly six tons of clanking, badly designed death was upon them.  The commissar and the squad broke, the gun crew was pinned and my little L6 emerged out the other side covered in glory (and body parts).

With five out of six building hexes lost, one gun captured (and the other about to be seized in CC from its pinned owners) and his sole surviving officer down Ivan conceded giving me a not entirely deserved victory.

Hero of the Week award goes to the flamethrower team who behaved like a pack of pyromaniacs on PCP.  Idiot of the Century award goes to me for that one man turret screw up and finally the Most Stereotypical Italian Behaviour award goes to the diversionary squad which if you recall was broken right at the beginning of the game and reduced to a conscript.  These heroes failed their first morale check (ok they were under DM).  They then rolled snakes on their second morale check and subsequently attempted to surrender.  With no Soviets in sight they settled for disrupting.  On their third morale check they rolled snakes again and again attempted, without success, to surrender.  On their fourth morale check seeing that surrendering wasn't working for them they attempted suicide, boxcars reducing them to a disrupted, conscript half squad.  On their fifth morale check what was left of them actually rallied by which time they were far too far away to make any sort of an impact on the battle but just managed to turn up at the end and pretend they had been there all along.  Heroes every one of them.