Monday, March 25, 2013

The Weather Is Always Weather When its Weather

It occurs to me on a cursory glance over my previous blog entries that phrases like "blasted hellscape" seem to crop up a little more than is healthy and furthermore there are disturbingly frequent references to cannibalism.  A casual reader (and I doubt if I have any other kind) could be forgiven for thinking I'm an apocalyptic nutcase with a cannibalism fetish.  I would like to assure everyone that this is not entirely correct.

With that out of the way I can get on with today's blog entry.  It is a blazing hot day which puts me in mind of a cannibalistic hellscape.  No wait, I mean its a warm tranquil day that reminds me of the carefree years of my childhood.  OK, I think I saved that one.  Summer it seems has come late this year.  Which, since Summer was supposed to start last year should surprise no one.  It seems that Autumn is being crowded out of the picture entirely.  By the time Autumn is ready to go Winter will be tapping on its shoulder.  I suspect there will be one day sometime in May when every leaf will suddenly fall off the trees and then it will start snowing.

Now that Autumn has been reduced to little more than a footnote we can start working on Spring.  I don't honestly think we need more than two seasons really.  In fact we could probably reduce it to one and rename it Weather.  Then, no matter what the weather was like we could say, "It's Weather, what do you expect?" and all of the other self evident and totally useless phrases we use for discussing the weather.  In fact with a bit of luck we can stop talking about the weather entirely.

I can't stress how much of a benefit to society ceasing to talk about the weather would be.  My research (and by research I mean I just made it up) indicates that approximately one third of all conversations involve the weather to some degree.  Think of all the time that would be saved.  Productivity would soar, boredom would be reduced and best of all people who really didn't want to talk to each other wouldn't feel the obligation to do so.  This last really could be the salvation of society.

How many wars have been started because people who really shouldn't associate have been brought together against their will by inadvertent discussions about the weather?  Flaming hatreds have been born where before it is likely that they would have remained as merely surly disregard.  It has been suggested that interaction can breed tolerance and understanding.  This is quite possibly true but it is equally likely that interaction can merely reinforce and exacerbate the low opinion one had of ones interlocutor on first meeting.  Talking leads to arguing, arguing leads to fighting and fighting leads to war.  Before you know it we're back in blasted hellscape and cannibalism territory again.  I don't think anybody wants that.  Or at least I feel a majority of people would view such an outcome with a certain level of disapproval.  I hope.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Double "O" My God!

There was an article in the paper the other day entitled "the Dark Side of Hezbollah".  Which is rather like writing an article called "the Disadvantages of Dying Horribly in a Car Accident".  Apparently some chap is under arrest in Cyprus because he is a Hezbollah under cover agent and was plotting to blow up Israeli tourists or some such.  He has confessed (Cypriot police insist only acceptable levels of torture were used) and faces a long gaol sentence.

Seriously this is something that Cyprus doesn't need right now.  The economy of Cyprus (in so far as it has one) depends on the twin pillars of tourism and laundering money for the Russian mafia.  Since apparently being fronts for organised crime wasn't enough to protect the financial institutions of Cyprus from the global financial crisis that leaves tourism as the sole thing keeping the wolf from the Cypriot door.  The Cypriot authorities are unlikely to look kindly on somebody threatening the only thing between them and national bankruptcy, particularly when their version of national bankruptcy is likely to involve heavily armed Russian psychopaths turning up and demanding their money.

There is good news on the Hezbollah front though at least for the world in general if not for Cyprus in particular.  Apparently they've been training some of their operatives in old school intelligence tactics and have actually got rather good at them.  This makes them the ideal villain for the next James Bond movie.  A heavily armed militia with its own intelligence arm, perfect.  Of course we may need a bigger plot hook than collateral damage to the Cypriot economy but I think that can be arranged.

You see it isn't just Russian mobsters who have been laundering money through the banks of Cyprus.  A lot of "legitimate" Russian "businessmen" have been doing so as well.  That means that one of the aforementioned heavily armed Russian psychopaths knocking at the door is likely to be Vladimir Putin.  It shouldn't be hard to craft a James Bond plot from that lot particularly when you throw in a likely civil revolt as well.

Are the people of Cyprus on the edge of revolt?  Well they are now thanks to the latest piece of demented insanity that the EU has come up with to deal with Cyprus' financial woes.  In order to stave off the aforementioned bankruptcy the EU has agreed to provide eight billion dollars in loans. To part pay for this largesse the EU has demanded that the Cypriot government kick in some money by looting (sorry, taxing) ten percent of the contents of every individual bank account in Cyprus.  The Cypriot government managed to fiddle this a bit so small account holders pay less but it still results effectively in an EU directive that the Cypriot government rob its own people.

One can understand the EU's irritation.  Here they are essentially bailing out a gang of money launderers because they proved to be incompetent at even running a criminal banking industry and there must have been a sense of schadenfreude from the EU bureaucrat who suggested that they steal from the Russian mob to help pay for it.  Unfortunately they are also stealing from every single Cypriot provident enough to put away some money for the future and silly enough to trust it to a Cypriot bank.  For some reason the EU thinks that officially taking money out of Cypriot bank accounts without permission is likely to restore the health of the Cypriot banking sector (you know as opposed to persuading every single person with funds in such an account to withdraw it and hide it under a mattress).  The Cypriot government in their only intelligent move so far has kept banks closed since the news was broken to avoid a run.  The people, understandably are wrath (or is it wroth?).  They're not happy anyway.

So the scene for the Cypriot government at the moment is they look like having their front door kicked in by outraged Russian mobsters at the same time their back door is assailed by a mob of justifiably infuriated citizens while Vladimir Putin lands a hang glider on the roof with a nuclear weapon in each hand and a knife between his teeth and the postman keeps delivering snippy letters from the EU demanding to know why they haven't seen the money yet.  Oh yes and Hezbollah is ruining the tourist trade.

So; here is my plot synopsis for the next James Bond movie.

Bond is in the Caribbean (Why? Who cares?  He's always there).  Cut to standard scenes of white beaches, translucent waters and an endless sea of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models wearing bikinis a size too small.  Try to avoid getting shots of spring breakers vomiting on each other and fortyish women getting onto cruise liners while giving money (just to help out their family) to the handsome young black men they made such a connection with last night.  Daniel Craig is there looking coolly dangerous or dangerously cool (is there no acting feat too difficult for this man?  Answer; no. I saw him in Tomb Raider).  At some point (but within the first fifteen seconds) somebody Bond is supposed to meet gets murdered or somebody he's supposed to murder stays stubbornly alive setting off a chase scene involving at least nine different types of automobile, a jet boat, a toboggan, a carnival float and if we can manage it the Large Hadron Collider.  During the course of this chase most of wherever it is Bond is gets demolished and the enemy he was chasing gets away or the ally he was attempting to help gets killed.

Leaving the tropical island paradise looking rather like Haiti after a visit by Angelina Jolie Bond repairs to London where he is told in no uncertain terms by his superiors that he is a complete fuck up and given an even more important job to do.  Apparently the dead friend (or escaped enemy) possessed vital information relating to a shadowy plot that seems to involve Russian mafiosi and Hezbollah collaborating to blow up Cyprus with nuclear weapons or some such.  Bond must deal with this first by flying to Macau (or Hanoi or somewhere else picturesque in Asia) to meet with the only other person who might be able to give them a lead (because the British Secret Service apparently hasn't heard of skype).  In Hanoi (or Macau or wherever) Asian flavour is added by having the Sports Illustrated models wearing something that might resemble a fetishwear designers idea of what traditional Asian dress is supposed to look like.  Bond will sleep with one of them (it doesn't matter who) she will get killed (it doesn't matter why) and amid all the action Bond will find something that leads him to Cyprus.

Arriving in Cyprus Bond will be menaced by Russian thugs of various persuasions (mobsters, FSB, aggressive time share salesmen? It doesn't really matter) and will proceed to kill most of the Russians on the island (there are only about twenty thousand of them so it shouldn't take him more than fifteen minutes or so).  Towards the end of this impromptu ethnic cleansing Bond will learn that the Russians are as baffled by the nuclear weapons plot as he is and so he links up with the few of them he's left alive to assault the Hezbollah headquarters cunningly hidden in a Lebanese carpet warehouse.  Mass automatic weapons fire ensues as well as at least one excruciatingly long one on one combat with somebody who looks like the only reason he doesn't take steroids is because his naturally antibodies would probably beat them up.  Bond will kill this person, demolish part of the building but the chief bad guy will escape and there will be no sign of the nuclear weapons.

Pausing to leave the girl (I didn't mention the girl, just slot her in where it seems convenient, no doubt Bond will) Bond takes to the air (or the sea or whatever other totally hostile environment can be provided five minutes from downtown Nicosia) and runs the villain to earth where there is a combination of brutal combat interspersed with plot exposition. Bond will thus learn that there never were any nuclear weapons and the entire plot was just a diversion to distract British intelligence's attention from Hezbollah's infiltration of the EU where it is busy issuing insane directives in an attempt to destroy European unity (Hezbollah touchingly believing that the destruction of European unity requires outside assistance).  Finally the chief villain is dispatched in a dramatic way and Vladimir Putin turns up leading reinforcements and offers to deal with Hezbollah once and for all by nuking Brussels.  Bond's answer is unrecorded but he definitely doesn't say "No".

There we are the perfect Bond film.  Somebody please pass this along to the people who make the James Bond movies and get Daniel Craig to call me.  Not about the movie, I just thinks he's hot.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Read All About It or at Least Read Something About Some of It

The Sydney Morning Herald has adopted a tabloid format after over a century and a half as a broadsheet. Traditionalists everywhere will no doubt sigh in despair at this evidence of declining standards.  I wouldn't worry too much about that, for a traditionalist pretty much everything is evidence of declining standards "We didn't have any of this namby pamby fire shit when I was a boy.  We just ate our meat raw like real men.  And flu, give me a break, it was plague or it was nothing."  If traditionalists are genuinely worried about newspapers they might give more attention to declining circulation than declining standards. The simple fact of the matter is this is likely to be little more than a final spasmodic jerk before the Herald slides into its grave.  You can almost smell a whiff of decay about it when you buy the paper (although that may just be the cheap printers ink they use).

Still if this is a genuine attempt at rejuvenation rather than a last wave before sinking forever then there are a couple of things that the publishers should be aware of.  Firstly a sober and restrained front page works fine for a broadsheet where people are essentially buying snob value.  It doesn't work so well for a tabloid when half the people who buy it do so to clean up their dogs crap.  At first glance the Sydney Morning Herald now looks rather like the Blue Mountains Gazette which, while a fine paper in its own way, is probably not going to rescue the Herald's circulation figures.  I realise that it is early days but I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Herald may not have any later days.  Take a lesson from the Telegraph which has been doing this a lot longer than you and get those multi syllable words off the front page.  Bigger pictures, bold font, emotive (and short) words.  I realise that you're probably trying to preserve as much of the old Herald as possible but lets face it if that was going to work then it would still be a broadsheet wouldn't it?

Print media is dying.  This is hardly an insightful or original comment.  It has been noticed around the world.  Frankly I suspect that print media will cling to life for probably about as long as Rupert Murdoch does.  When he goes the last press baron who genuinely loves newspapers will have departed and I doubt if print media in any serious form will long survive him.  The task facing newspaper publishers today is to squeeze as much money as possible out of a terminally ill cash cow while setting up the electronic media platforms which are going to be their source of revenue in future decades.  Actually providing some news content for these platforms would be nice but is probably not essential.

Actually I wonder if news content is necessary at all.  Pretty much every political and social commentator plus every ill informed halfwit with an axe to grind has a blog these days (yes I am aware of the irony).  On top of this most sporting codes upload the results of their matches and drug tests to the internet and every political, business and charitable organisation has online press releases.  Running a media platform should consist of nothing more than gathering together a bunch of links to various sites in one place and then charging advertisers for space on it.  Don't try charging your readership, they will always be able to access the information elsewhere with a little effort.

Some people might point out that simply providing access to a group of vested interests and special pleaders is hardly a substitute for fearless, independent journalism.  To which I respond that this method has served the media pretty well in print and I don't see why it shouldn't translate to electronic media as well.  The idea of an independent press impartially reporting the news of the day is pretty much a myth propagated by (you guessed it) the media.  Virtually every newspaper in existence came into being not because the owner wanted the public better informed but because the owner wanted the public to think more like them.  Along the way, and largely as an accidental byproduct, a lot of important stories got broken and the public found out some things that it otherwise mightn't.  I see no reason why this should cease to be the case simply because people are pushing their views on the internet rather than dead trees.  In the meantime I shall continue to read the Herald; on the internet as long as they don't charge for it and in my local cafe once they do.  Who actually buys a newspaper nowadays?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yet Another Silly After Action Report

Just as there are a couple of comedy routines before the main drama so World War 2 was preceded by a couple of trivial (compared to what was to come) squabbles between the tinpot dictatorships of Eastern Europe.  In 1939 Germany occupied the left hand half of Czechoslovakia and convinced the right hand half to declare "independence" as the brand new nation of Slovakia.  This was great news, for the Hungarians who promptly invaded and ripped off a bit of the country for themselves.  To deter future attempts the Slovakians decided to formalise their vassal status with Nazi Germany by means of an alliance.  The immediate result of this was another invasion as the Hungarians attempted to snatch a bit more territory before the German and Slovak diplomats could get ink onto paper.  Unwilling to let matters stand the Slovaks gathered their travesty of an army and attempted a counter attack.

This then is scenario J148, "Last Minute War" which pits a small force of elite and first line Hungarian squads (which would count as second rate in any serious army) attempting to defend their ill gotten gains against a rampaging mob of Slovakians with approximately the same military capacity as your local neighbourhood watch group.  To bolster their rather thin defence the Hungarians have a 37mm anti tank gun, a 20mm anti aircraft gun and some seriously unreliable artillery on speed dial.  To add a little edge to their attack the Slovaks have scraped up some of the crappiest AFVs you will ever encounter outside an Italian order of battle.

My opponent Ivan Kent took the attacking Slovaks and found himself the proud possessor of fourteen first line squads, eight conscript squads, four OA vz 30 armoured cars (slow, mechanically unreliable and no reverse gear) plus one LT vz 35 tank (for the time and place actually not a bad machine) plus a complement of automatic (but heavy) weapons.  My Hungarians defend with eight first line squads, a single elite squad, a few foxholes, some dummy counters to spread the pain and the aforementioned guns and artillery.  For laughs both sides also get air support.

I sacrificed a goat to the artillery gods and started to plan my defence.  My initial impression?  Oh crap!  There are so many Slovakians.  OK they're not fast and they're not well motivated but if they just continue oozing forward there is a distinct likelihood that the Hungarians will run out of bullets before they run out of bodies.

Ivan has to get his troops across the width of board 44 in order to seize at least eleven buildings in a village on board 56.  I can set up anywhere on board 56 and on hexes with a number of 4 or less on board 44.  Board 44 can be divided into three rough sectors.  The northwest where forest, brush and a small hill hinder but don't really block a flanking movement, the centre where a road leads straight into the village and the south west with lots of open ground to cover.  I can't possibly cover all of this with my forces.  To defend up front might work for a turn or two but would probably then result in my entire force being swamped.  Defending from the rear gives away much of the village and allows Ivan plenty of time to take what's left.  A bit of mix and match is in order.

In the woods and brush in the northwest I set up groups of dummies nestling in foxholes for added verisimilitude.  Hopefully these will persuade Ivan to try somewhere else.  Alternatively he might waste a turn or two on a formal attack.  Either would be good.  To keep him honest I've included one genuine squad among the dummies just so he doesn't waltz through.  Further back on board 56 I've posted the 37mm in building K7 where it can either shoot up a flank attack and also has a line of sight to the centre road.  A squad in L8 provides the gun with a little protection.

Most of my remaining troops go in the village.  A pair of lmg squads defend R9 and P9 and are essentially there to provide a little delay before falling back to the stone buildings behind.  Building Q9 is my fortress with an lmg squad on the ground floor, a 9-1 leader with an elite half squad and an mmg on level one.  A second squad is on level one in R4 to add as a machine gun fetcher should the others go down.  The other mmg is with the second elite half squad and the 8-1 leader in building R6.  Hopefully they plus whatever survives of my delaying force can hold Ivan at bay.  A couple more dummies and a squad go in the village buildings to the south and the entire western flank is covered by a single squad in building Y4 and the 20mm in W7.  Both are hoping to get some shots along the road.

In summary I'm defending the north by bluff, the centre by fire and the south by (cross fingers) artillery.

Ivan attacked in two main groups in the centre and south.  In the south a mass of infantry (largely conscripts as it turned out) bolstered by the tank moved slowly onto the board.  In the centre a second mass of infantry with the four armoured cars parading down the road pushed directly at the village.  Two half squads were all that Ivan devoted to my bluffing force in the north.  Fire from the single real squad killed one of them but in revenge an armoured car broke the squad who would never return to combat and would wind up as prisoners.  Still the bluff worked, with the exception of one half squad Ivan was committed to the centre and south and my northern flank was pretty safe.

I called in my artillery and had the pleasure of watching my spotting round wander about as far away from the target as it could and still remain on the board.  Ivan would ooze forward with impunity in this turn.  Over in the south Ivan was learning why conscripts should not be brought on too far from the action.  Slowly they moved forward and spent the first two and a half turns completely out of position.  To add insult to injury Ivan had shocking luck with his tank, the finest weapon in his armoury.  It came on, moved three hexes and bogged.  The next turn it dragged itself out of the mud, moved forward another couple of hexes and bogged again.  On turn three it broke down completely and was immobilised in a totally useless position.  The conscripts were on their own.

In the centre I corrected my artillery and started bringing down harassing fire on the centre mob.  The results weren't spectacular but the writing was on the wall and Ivan started being very careful with his troops.  A few pins and the odd break later and he wasn't much further ahead at the end of turn two than he was on turn one.  Except for his armoured cars.  Ignoring the shrapnel clattering off their shells they continued on down the road towards the village and my 37mm which managed to kill two of them.  The other two got past and rumbled gamely onwards.  In my turn two my air support turned up, failed its sighting task check and went off to sulk in the corner of the board for a while.  Over in the south the conscripts crawled a little closer and a 9-1 encouraging a first line squad took the point, straight into the LOS of my AA gun.  Snakes on the IFT roll and and Ivan's best leader and a first line squad were dead.

Turn three saw Ivan moving very cautiously through artillery fire with a few more pins and breaks but not much forward movement.  Another black chit for battery access ensured the pain would continue.  The surviving armoured cars rumbled into the village and stopped next to my outpost position where they would endure a positive rain of mg fire with good humour and little damage.  Turn three also saw me unleash my aircraft on his conscripts pinning and breaking some more (yes, a successful air attack yippee!) but the remainder continued their slow but apparently remorseless march positioning themselves to take out the AA gun in the next month or two.  A half squad that ventured into artillery fire in the centre was in quick succession battle hardened, produced a hero and got killed all in the same fire phase.  The hero led another half squad into close combat against one of my outpost squads where both he and his half squad died.  In my turn I had a brain snap and abandoned a perfectly serviceable building to engage one of the armoured cars in close combat.  I failed to kill it and with the defender out of position Ivan pushed a half squad through to capture a building behind him.  The only good thing about this move was that I survived the fire put down by the armoured cars and actually managed to kill the damn thing in CC next turn.

Ivan's attack was now looking rough.  The artillery had badly beaten up his centre force, partially through breaks and partially by forcing them to keep their heads down when they really had to be moving.  Over in the south my scanty blocking force was about to be overwhelmed by a surging mass of conscripts which even another successful air attack couldn't discourage.

Feeling the centre to be under control I moved the artillery over to the south (another black chit thanks very much) and brought down a rain of steel on the unfortunate conscripts.  Due to their position I also had to bring it down on my AA gun crew as well.  Guess who broke?  While my gun crew fled yelping for a building the conscripts shrugged off 1MCs and prepared to move forward.

His fourth turn finally delivered his air support but I was mostly in buildings and the ongoing artillery storm finally started doing some appreciable damage to the conscript mass.  In the centre the remnants of his force were reduced to exchanging fire with my outpost line and his building taking half squad jumped into CC with a 7-0 leader I had left unaccountably unprotected.  Neither of these two worthies proved capable of killing each other and the melee would still be going at game end.  In the south he had managed to break the squad in building I7 and my defences were open but his poor conscripts just couldn't do it.  Moving out under artillery fire they pinned, broke and disrupted.

At the beginning of turn five with only seven and a half good order squads remaining to him Ivan surrendered giving me a win which had far more to do with good luck than good management.

How did I win?  Simple, artillery and air support.  These things worked almost flawlessly for me all game.  Scarce ammo bedamned I pulled three black chits in a row and Ivan paid the price.  The air support also did far more than I expected.  This, plus Ivan's bad luck with the tank (and it really was a terrible set of numbers he rolled trying to get that damned thing moving) pretty much doomed him.  I would not like to contemplate how the battle might have gone if I had pulled a red chit or two and if my aircraft had continued to fail their sighting checks.  Ivan made a couple of mistakes, he needed to push harder than he did (easy to say when you're not the one sitting under artillery fire) and some judicious VBM sleazing on the part of his surviving armoured cars would have helped him forward as well but if there was luck hanging around it went my way.

Hero of the day was undoubtedly the artillery.  Half my force didn't fire a shot.  Stalin called artillery "the God of War" and Louis XIV called it "the final argument of kings" both of which I toss in just to show how damned well read I am.