Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sieg Pink

I went and saw Pink at the Sydney Entertainment Centre last night.  I thought I was going to see a concert but it was actually an all encompassing experience that involved far more than just a bleach blonde acrobat with tattoos singing while hanging upside down over a stage.  Firstly there were the pre entertainment formalities to be taken care of.  The concert started at 7.30, we turned up at 8 still almost an hour before anybody vaguely Pinklike showed her face.

Prior to entering the venue there was the obligatory facebook check in as absolutely everybody I was with announced to the world that they were at the Sydney Entertainment Centre to see Pink.  Frankly with this level of disclosure I'm amazed more people don't get burgled.
"Don't worry about the owners, they're at a Pink concert."
I would push this theme a little harder with snide comments about addiction to facebook but the sad truth of the matter is I also posted a status update announcing my presence.  In my defence I didn't "check in" and in my update I poked gentle fun at my comrades who did but honesty compels me to admit that this was just camouflage.  I hid behind my shelter of general sarcasm while screaming to the world, "Hey look at me!  I'm at a Pink concert!:"  Let's face it the only person who is likely to care about my presence is Pink and that is only because I paid for the ticket.  Actually since I paid in advance its more than likely that she couldn't care less whether I actually turned up or not thus reducing the number of interested people to zero.

Once the facebook ritual was completed there was the gauntlet of the merchandise stand to run.  Only we didn't run it.  My friends strode right up to it and offered ridiculous amounts of money for clothing with the word Pink! on it.  I like to think they have collectively lifted a Bangladeshi family out of poverty.  I did not succumb to the temptation to buy a Pink affiliated t-shirt, nor did I get a Pink glow stick or a Pink clutch purse or a Pink anything else.  My friends pretended to express surprise at my refusal to buy a Pink t-shirt but seemed less pleased when I told them that of course I was going to buy one.  Its just that I'm going to be buying it in six months time from a second hand shop for fifteen dollars.

Having finally got inside the venue of course we had to have a glass (and by glass I mean little plastic cup) of pink champagne or at least pink fizzy stuff with an alcohol content.  Savouring what must have been the product of grapes that even the grapevine was glad to get rid of we wandered in to where the concert was actually going to begin (although not yet).  The warm up band was called Herman Wouk I think and they were pretty good.  Unfortunately they stopped soon after we arrived to allow excitement to build to Pinkworthy levels.

It was fascinating to watch the crowd which would cheer whenever anything happened (and frequently when it didn't).  Naturally there was a Mexican wave (to welcome an American performing in Australia but whatever) and this led me to comment to a friend that a quick glance around explained exactly how dictators managed to get started.  Seriously if Pink had come on stage at that moment and said "Kill the Jews" we would have been herding the chosen people into cattle wagons before you could say "anti semitic diatribe".  There were great cheers when an akubra hat appeared balanced on top of Molly Meldrum and even more cheers for reasons I was never quite able to discover.

Finally when all the preliminaries had been satisfactorily dispensed with Pink appeared and began performing.  She was awesome!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Put Your Hands Up for the Prince of Detroit

Two things in the media have caught my eye today (and by "media" I mean they were mentioned on the Daily Show).  The first is, inevitably, the royal birth.  I'm not up on details but the royal family involved is the British one (is it bad that I can't remember either parents name?).  The media frenzy surrounding the birth peaked at 9.8 on the hyperbole scale.  To get much higher they would actually have to have footage of the queen training at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan.  A number of less experienced commentators have had to be hospitalised with severe neural lacerations and at least one member of the CNN team probably wishes she was.

Frenzy notwithstanding the birth is fantastic news for Britain.  Just when things seemed economically at their worst the royal family stepped forward and gave one for the team.  Now Britain can look forward to a commemorative tea towel led economic recovery, or at least Bangladesh can.  Still, no doubt there will be few jobs in Britain unloading the things from ships.  Sounds like something they can get their army of illegal immigrants to do at cut price, cash in hand wages.

In case you think I'm being a little cynical I would like to point out that I do think the birth is good news.  Any time a birth is announced without somebody saying "and the baby was immediately transferred to a humidicrib" is good news if only for the parents.  Plus the economic benefits for Britain go far beyond my smartarse comments about tea towels.  Hordes of people with no discernible skills have found gainful employment speaking to cameras about the royal birth.  I predict a significant bounce for Britain's struggling professional make up and cocaine distribution industries.  Incidentally, I wonder if governments have realised that if they legalised drugs they could not only tax the profits but the incomes of the dealers and kick most of those selling the stuff off the dole?

Legalising drugs may also be the only recourse for the subject of the other news story that lodged in my frontal cortex this evening.  Detroit is bankrupt.  OK, that's not news.  Detroit has been bankrupt for years but now they have made it official.  The city of Detroit has declared bankruptcy with over twenty billion dollars in unfunded liabilities (or debt as I believe it used to be called).  Services are virtually non existent, graffiti is the only thing holding up most of the buildings and anybody capable of getting out has already left.

This is terrible news for Detroit of course and it is particularly terrible news for people who were relying on a city pension to help them get by in those years between retirement and death.  Whether it is bad news for anybody else is rather more problematic.  To begin with, cities don't actually have a god given right to exist.  People congregate in cities because they can get something they want (usually a job) in the city.  If that is no longer the case there is very little point in having the city.  America is littered with ghost towns (so is Australia for that matter), places that boomed when there was a reason to go there and died when there wasn't.  The people living in them didn't vanish off the face of the earth, for the most part they moved somewhere else and got on with their lives.

The people of Detroit shouldn't throw in the towel just yet though.  There is another reason cities last long after one might logically expect them to decay.  That is sentiment.  If a city has a colourful or glorious past then the current inhabitants can leverage that to extract money from passers by.  This has been pretty much the sole raison d'etre of Paris for the last three centuries.  Detroit does have such a history.  It was the "arsenal of democracy" in the second world war and "motor city" for decades afterwards while at the same time nurturing a burgeoning music scene.  Surely that's enough to be going on with.  I'm certain that plenty of people would like to come and see evidence of a time when America had a manufacturing base.  Mind you, there's no point in the people of Detroit being sentimental.  They've got to be hard nosed hustlers chivvying some dollars out of nostalgia addled tourists.

To make this work though Detroit needs a trump card.  There are fewer and fewer people out there who realise America used to have an auto industry.  Detroit needs something special to draw in those knowledge of Detroit is limited to reruns of Robocop (quite a prophetic movie now when I think about it).  I suggest a change of government.  Not a change of politicians but a complete reworking of how the place is run.  The world is littered with corruption riddled democracies but what if Detroit were to turn itself into an independent city-state.  There aren't too many of those hanging around (and most of them are quite successful).  Or even better it could become a principality.  That worked for Monaco and nothing appeals to sentiment quite like your very own royal family.  Fortunately I know of a family that has recently acquired a prince it doesn't really need.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Just an Excuse for a Really Bad Joke

I'm thinking of getting an impala.  It's surprising to me how long I have managed to put up with an impala shaped hole in my life without doing anything about it.  Well all that is about to change.  I know that impalas are not the most popular of pets and they certainly don't make great dinner companions (except, you know, with gravy) but I'm hoping to start a trend.

For some reason impalas have never been particularly popular as pets.  When you go to the pet store the queues for roebucks and springboks are out the door but nobody even looks at the impala section.  Personally I think this is a little antelope snobbery.  All right, I know there are dark clouds over the impala's past.  There were the terrible rumours of satanism and bloody sacrifices to vile gods.  It was certainly true that there was a time when you couldn't walk into an impala bar without getting a horn through your midriff but come on people.  The last impala related atrocity took place in 1997.  Time to forgive and forget.

Frankly I think impalas have been unfairly targeted.  Every impala related incident gets wide media coverage while there seems to be a conspiracy of silence about what elk and spotted deer are getting up to.  Put it this way, if you knew what I did about spotted deer every time you watched Bambi you'd be cheering for the hunter.

Of course there are issues with keeping an impala as a pet.  For starters there is the matter of veldt.  You can't really have an impala unless you have a veldt to keep it in.  This will be awkward as I live in an apartment in the middle of the city.  However I have recently downloaded the veldt app for my iPhone which I can use to remodel my balcony.  My neighbours will certainly be surprised at the appearance of a few hundred square kilometres of lightly wooded scrubland on my balcony and they are really going to be surprised by the leopards.  Let's face it, you can't have veldt without leopards.  The two go together like alcohol and car wrecks.  Still I'm hoping my neighbours will be understanding.  I never complain about the loud music or the young lady who apparently feels the need to open all her windows before having an orgasm so I figure what's a few leopards between friends.  I wonder if I will need to get council approval before I start?

Anyway, I think I have most of the bugs ironed out.  I am definitely going to get an impala.  I'm going to name it Vlad.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Another Silly After Action Report

In October 1940 Italy invaded Greece.  Why?  Good question, nobody had a good answer at the time and seventy years have failed to produce one since.  In their Greek debacle the Italians reached their World War 2 apotheosis of incompetence, stupidity, disorganisation and sheer relentless dedication to fuck up.  The decision making process (to give it a title it didn't really deserve) went something like this.  Mussolini decided to invade Greece, then he didn't, then he did again, then the invasion was definitely off, then the troops were going across the border.  Granted this was World War 2 and the invasion of small weak nations was rather de rigeur at the time but one can't help suspecting that Greece was chosen largely because it was conveniently placed, bordering as it did Italian occupied Albania.  If the decision to invade seems to have been somewhat chaotic then the planning for the actual invasion itself appears nothing short of demented.

The Italian force in Albania although outnumbering the Greek border troops was comfortably outnumbered by the Greek army as a whole once reserves had been recalled.  The Italian commander on the ground, one Sebastiani Visconti-Prasca, pooh poohed the need for more troops.  He would conquer Greece with what he had.  At least one author has suggested that Visconti-Prasca's motivation was simply that more troops would have meant a higher level headquarters to command them and he wouldn't have been in charge any more.  To compound this the plan Visconti-Prasca came up with wasn't actually an invasion of Greece but rather an invasion of Epiros, the province that bordered Albania.  It was cut off from the rest of Greece by a mountain range and Visconti-Prasca seems to have thought he could launch his forces into Epiros while the rest of Greece remained a disinterested bystander.

To help his field commander make the most complete mess of things possible Mussolini decided to demobilise half his army (in the middle of a war) and send them home to help get in the harvest.  Then he decided to invade Greece again and hastily recalled troops had to be rushed to Albania to fill the gaps in the units there.  So the Italians swapped their garrison troops (unenthusiastic and poorly led but at least trained and familiar with the terrain) with guys straight from the recruiting depot some of whom had to be taught how to handle their rifles on the march.  All the dithering over whether to invade or not had wasted the Summer weather so when the Italians did invade they did it in late Autumn under freezing, torrential rain and the promise of an early Winter.  They didn't get very far.  In fact they only got far enough to get into terrible trouble.  With the bulk of the Italian force squelching through frozen mud in Epiros the Greeks gathered their entire army and launched a counter attack from the rest of Greece into Albania.  Suddenly at risk of being cut off the Italians went from laggardly advance to desperate retreat while the scanty forces Visconti-Prasca had assigned as a flank guard (you know, just in case the rest of Greece took an interest in proceedings) suddenly found themselves under attack by an enemy larger and far more enthusiastic than they were.

This then is the scene for ASL scenario ASLUG15, Mount Pissoderi.  Here my Italians shall attempt to hold a hill mass from the oncoming Greek juggernaut.  The hill is almost bare of cover, there are virtually no fortifications and the Italians can't set up concealed.  This is going to get ugly.  To cover the retreat of my colleagues in Epiros I get nine first line squads, a pair of 45mm mortars, a medium machine gun, a pair of lights, and a 65mm artillery piece.  Officers were represented by an 8-1 (adequate) and a 7-0 (really not)  To bolster what threatens to rapidly become a very brittle defence are reinforcements in the form of an armoured car, a wretched little L3 tank and two lorry loads of extra squads.

Jeremy Dibben, my opponent commanded the Greeks, eight first line squads, a heavy machine gun, an anti tank rifle (more than good enough to deal with the L3) and a light machine gun with a 9-1 and 8-0 officers commanding.  Coming in to assist are reinforcements in the shape of five more squads with an extra lmg and 8-0.

At first glance the Greek job looks daunting, after all they have to march down their hill mass, into a valley and then up mine into the teeth of (I hope) furious fire and seize their objective from Italians grimly determined to defend to the last (again, I hope).  Working in the Greek favour, their first line squads have better firepower, longer range and better morale than my shaky, crappily equipped force.  Plus an hmg directed by a 9-1 leader is a thing to be feared, particularly when the Italians don't have any defences.

The objective for the game is simple, there is one (count them) foxhole in the Italian set up area.  Whoever controls that foxhole at the end of the game wins.  My defence is set up on board 9, a hill mass with three distinct peaks and plenty of cliffs.  The middle peak contains the foxhole.  Sitting above everything else on the board and ringed on three sides by cliffs it was the only sane place to put my medium machine gun, I added another squad and the 8-1 officer.  That was the easy bit, now what to do with the rest of my force?  The trouble is if you try and hide then the Greeks can just charge across the board.  If you set up a defence on the hill the Greeks can shoot it to pieces and then charge across the board.  I decided to split the difference.  The one great thing about the victory location was it was only approachable from two directions.  One directly in front and the other by swinging around the hill mass and approaching it from behind.  Over on the right side hill I set up my 65mm gun positioned to cover the frontal route.  I also set up one of my mortars a couple of hexes behind it for extra cover.  The left hill I left uncovered.  My mighty L3 was coming in from that direction and surely that would be defence enough.  On the centre hill I placed a mortar squad in a draw hidden from enemy fire (but with the 7-0 boldly up on a high level hex to spot).  I placed three squads and an lmg scattered along the forward slope of the hill in what looked like useful positions.  Another squad went forward to the woods at the base of the hill to act as a speed bump.  The other three squads plus the remaining lmg were hidden on the reverse slope, unable to see but also unable to be shot by anything.  My plan was this,  the squads on the forward slope (assuming any survived his initial fire phase would swap their rifles for shovels and dig foxholes.  The guys hiding to the rear would dig foxholes in their own locations to act as rally points (rally terrain being conspicuous by its absence) and also conveniently guard the rear access to the victory hex.  My infantry reinforcements would slink along behind the hill to reinforce the stop outs and from time to time as losses mounted among the front line troops one would summon up the courage to advance onto the forward slope to take up the fight.  The armoured car would cover the road between the right and centre hills to ward off a flank attack there and the L3 would do likewise on the left.

Jeremy surprised me by setting up a little more forward than I expected.  Sure his hmg was sitting back on a hill summit ready to inflict mass death but the rest of his troops were positioned forward and on his right away from my apparently threatening 65mm and mortar.  If that is what guided his thinking then it was the only contribution the damn gun made during the entire game.  It was obvious that with his reinforcements coming up on his right that my centre and left was where the battle would be fought.

The first fire phase was quite kind to me really.  Only two of my forward squads were broken by his prep fire and fled back behind the hill.  With them out of the way Jeremy started moving.  Recklessly sending a stack of two squads and the 9-1 leader into the valley he mocked me and demanded I do my worst. With a cocky grin I unveiled the 65mm and took an easy shot, and broke the damn gun.  Unconcerned I opened fire with the gun's companion mortar and broke that as well.  My right flank had been effectively neutralised, unfortunately for Jeremy most of his troops were on my left and centre and he was in no position to take advantage.  Despite the fact that both of us proved inept at understanding line of sight rules (why did I choose a scenario with mountains?) he moved most of his forces forward under cover, or what I thought was cover or what he thought was cover and I wasn't confident enough to challenge.  His reinforcements arrived and started ploughing through the woods towards the shooting.

In my turn I managed to dig precisely no foxholes and used my other mortar to no effect.  The mmg did manage to break a squad and my reinforcements arrived and started making their way towards the rear of my position.  Thanks to the intermittent cover Jeremy's attack got a little disjointed.  A couple of squads were broken but a couple of others (plus the fearsome 9-1) closed up to the base of my hill and started the ascent.  His reinforcements came up slowly on his right but weren't a threat for the first couple of turns.

By turn three I had my reinforcements in place and my L3 was trundling down the road just in time as his reinforcements had got to the summit of the left hill.  A bounding fire shot broke one squad but to my intense disappointment an overrun attempted a turn later produced no result.  I had even managed to dig some foxholes.  By the end of the game I had dug enough to recreate the Somme.  Meanwhile in the centre Jeremy was trying his hand at a frontal assault, perhaps lulled into false security by my breaking weapons and the uselessness of my surviving mortar.  With two Greek squads in the open I succumbed to total self indulgence and attempted a truck overrun.  Sadly he shot it to bits (neither truck would survive the game) but when a squad urged on by his 9-1 got a little cocky and strolled into the mmg line of sight things got ugly.  His 9-1 survived the ensuing morale check of course but the squad rolled snakes - heat of battle.  Alas, Allied minors are not much better at dealing with these than Italians, suddenly a Greek squad was rushing towards the Italian position with their hands in the air.  I was very tempted but human decency prevailed and I accepted their surrender.  This left Jeremy with a 9-1 sitting in the open by itself.  He advanced into close combat with my mortar spotter 7-0.  The ensuing melee was indecisive but in my next turn I advanced in a squad and butchered his best leader in the most one sided close combat I have ever seen.  Meanwhile my attempts to repair the broken 65mm and mortar had merely resulted in my destroying them completely.  Thank God Jeremy didn't go that side.

His centre attack was stalled with bits of broken squads lying around the place but he was building up a genuine force on my left despite the best efforts of my L3.  Still I wasn't worried,  with my entire reserve force snugly encased in foxholes and my mmg still ruling the front I looked in good shape at the end of turn four.  At the beginning of turn five I broke the mmg, an lmg, the remaining mortar and the main armament of my armoured car.  I know Italian equipment was crap but this was beyond a joke.  Fortunately you can't break rifles (although if you could I'm pretty sure I would have) and although Jeremy managed to break a squad or two of defenders he still had to cross open ground against plenty of warm bodies.  His first attempts resulted in failure and another broken squad.  With one turn remaining, half his force down, a patch of open ground swept by fire to run through, the L3 lurking menacingly in his rear, a foxhole to assault and his wife out in the car honking the horn Jeremy decided to concede.  In deference to the fact he helped me pack up I decided to eschew the victory dance.

Historically the Greeks crashed through but the Italians held for just long enough to allow the shattered remnants of their invasion force to escape back to Albania.  Mussolini poured in reinforcements with no orders, organisation or in at least one instance maps which explains why the newly arrived "Wolves of Tuscany" division on attempting to take up their positions simply walked into the Greek front line by mistake where most of them were captured.  The conquest of Greece would have to wait for the Germans to turn up.  When they did they conquered the place in a few weeks and wondered why it had taken the Italians six months to simply not be completely beaten.  In the meantime French people had started posting signs on their border with Italy saying "this is French territory, Greeks advance no further".